Thursday, December 6, 2007

PDX Part One: The Mayor of Portland

Portland was great. The flight was short and cheap and the bike made it in one peice. Our host Terry was super nice and his family was friendly, patient and accomidating. We didn't have to worry or think about a thing and hope we weren't to much of a pain in the a$$ to them. A big thank you to Terry, Michelle, Katie & Jackie.

Our flight out was uneventful and pretty fast. I sat next to a super cool older couple that was going to watch the Davis Cup. The conversation made the flight seem very quick. Thursday night we went out for pizza and stuffed our bellies with delicious pie and some tasty Fat Tire ale. With the travel, the time change and winter daylight it was a long, dark day.

The "sunrise" was a welcome sight Friday morning but the sky was grey and angry. It only drizzled lightly as we headed into the city to sample the local culture. North, South, East, West? The lack of sun had me confused as to which way we were pointing, rendering my normally sharp spacial intelligence useless. This really threw me off, but Mike seemed ok with it all. Our host pointed out elements of the the cycling friendly infrastructure that weren't obvious (so much of it was): dedicated bike paths, bike only bridges, an abundance of bike racks, etc. There were people riding everywhere, and everyone of them knew what they were doing. There were business men with racks and panniers, messengers on simple machines zipping this way and that, hard core cyclists with head to toe gore tex and dyno hubs, and women in high heeled boots trackstanding at intersections waiting for the light to change... that's straight sexy.

We stopped in at Molly Cameron's Veloshop, a functional establishment lacking obvious bling factor, but on closer inspection you'd notice the FMBs with the custom Racing Ralphs tread. Next was Bike Central, a fixie/track/messenger joint with a cool selection of frames, parts, clothing and bags for those who'd rather pass on derailleurs. The owner and his gf/wife were chatty, and we learned a good deal about how serious these folks take their non-geared cycling. With the discovery that Mike was a framebuilder, his campaign for mayor of Portland was launched right there at that shop. It seemed that where ever we went, Mike was the center of attention with old friends or people who were familiar with his work and just wanted to talk to him. Portlanders "get it" when it comes to cycling. The hot chocolate at Stumptown roasters wasn't on par with that of Dunkin Donuts, but it was far superior to that from Starbucks. Apple powerbooks dominated the laps of those seated enjoying their warm beverages in that place.

Back to West Linn Friday night to pick up Terry's pal Chris (a solid individual) and then into the city again for some delicious Mexican food at Cha Cha Cha. On the way there, I noticed that the daily life of the Portlander did not stop due to rain. I saw at least a dozen landscaping crews planting, pruning, and even blowing leaves in the rain. Construction and sewer projects continued as usual as well. In NE rain means you take a day off and wait for a better one, which will probably come in a day or two at the most. There... what are you going to wait for.... June? Two final "it rains alot in Portland" notes: despite very heavy rains through the rest of the weekend, the roads, sidewalks, lawns, and just about everything else looked as though they had just started to get wet. I didn't see any standing or streaming water anywhere, no erosion, no real evidence of sustained rainfall outside of the thick vegitation and heavy moss growth on everything and anything not moving. A good rain coat and some rubber boots were pretty much all that you needed to stay comfortable, and everyone (except Shino) had them on all the time. Secondly, the bike shops there carried more rain gear than I've ever knew existed. Nice stuff, and clearly 100% required equipment. Ok, enough on the "Culture of the Drenched."

Friday night we went to an art exhibition at the Vanilla bicycles shop in East Portland, "the soul" of the city per our host Terry (who referred to the West side as "the money"). Sasha's shop was cool and nicely appointed and the art on display didn't look out of place or forced. It looked as though the art was there all of the time, and who knows maybe it was, I never asked. The fixtures of Sasha's shop (for those unfamiliar) were crafted tastefully, blending form and function, creating a gallerly like appearance of their own. The sliding main barn door, tidy hand made wooden drawers, vast shelves, organized tool areas, many cool jigs, a somewhat bohemian loft area and a few bike/parts display elements at the front of the shop that clearly weren't brought in just for the show. This place was "manicured," if I can be so bold as to use that word to describe what amounts to a metal/machine shop.

After meeting some really nice people (including Shino, Big Chanty, & Tony Periera) and listening to them talk about bikes, racing, Vanilla and Mike's ongoing campaign for mayor of Portland, it was clear to see why Sasha has a 4-5 year waiting list. They make beautiful bikes with sweet custom dropouts, clever and creative design elements, and great color choices. Anywhere else and there might be some interest, but he does this in a city that is gaga about cycling and he serves a popluation that is willing to lay out the cash to get one. He's also come up with some brilliant business strategies, such as the Speedvagen, which has only intensified the demand. If Zank wins the Portland mayoral race, moves to Oregon and figures out a way to market his frames along the precision/engineering/detail angle the way Sasha has the art and beauty of his, they would be splitting that waiting list. I'm not saying that Vanilla's aren't well engineered or precise or that Zanconatos aren't beautiful, only that these seem to the be the spot they occupy in the consumer's eye. In actuality, they are built in nearly the same manner with the same tools. Portlanders appreciate beautiful and functional bicycles.

Stay tuned for part 2... "The Muddy Curmudgeon"

1 comment:

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