I’m a compulsive reader. I’ve admitted that before and there’s probably nothing wrong with it. Lately I’ve found my dwindling attention span has kept me from having an interest in long form publications like books which make billboards perfect reading material. They’re set up to be attention grabbing with big lettering and simple concepts. I’ve read them all, the ones I’ve seen anyway. When I started to notice billboards together with signs that combined to form either a condtradictory message or a theme, I realized I had a concept for a blog post.

The Spark

This is not John Wayne in a movie!

A couple of springs ago, I noticed a coincidental placement of John Wayne’s cowboy claded head peering over the Bison Coffeehouse in the Cully neighborhood, which I have since learned is the only Native American owned coffee shop in the Portland area. It put the idea in my head a long time ago about odd billboard placement that could combine with either other billboards or businesses to form unintended statements or a clash of cultures imagery.

Vice Corner

Time to get busy.

Above the building that houses the Arbor Lodge coffee shop and Revolver bike shop sits a billboard duo that, I’ll admit can be challenging to photograph. I didn’t let it stop me when I spotted two signs together promoting vices, albeit legal ones. There’s an exponential power telling us get high and gamble. Years ago these vices would have been found under more shadowy circumstances, now there’s open encouragement. Whether it’s wise to do both at the same time, well, that’s beyond my comprehension.

Beer & Bar

It’s Miller time.

There doesn’t seem anything more appropriate than a billboard advertising beer outside a bar besides maybe an advertisement for a DUI attorney, but that would be tacky, wouldn’t it? Seeing the brand of beer that seemed antithetical to the type of beer sold in most Portland bars had me gearing up for a rare occurrence in my line of blog work–the investigative phone call. It wasn’t until I hoofed it up the street early one evening to take a picture of the Lombard Pub, formerly the Foggy Notion, that I saw the banner sign calling attention to the Miller beer special. Art is reflecting life and there’s truth in that advertising—almost all is right with the universe.

Is it special enough?


Pick your poison.

This billboard jumped out at me the second time I drove past it. The man in the picture is the image of health and vitality that is either proof that the tanning product works exceptionally well or that this gentleman/model/push up performer doesn’t need the product at all!

Jesus & Tequila

Do I have to decide?

These two advertisements appreared to represent a kind of fork in the road made all the more momentous by what appears to be a halo of golden clouds. I imagine this image as a kind of sign from heaven or an enticement from the underworld. Beelzebub will be your bartender tonight! Pardon the melodrama, but this billboard grouping seems to create the choice of either going to the liquor store or straight to church. In my mind it’s not possible to balance the two although Jesus was more likely to turn water into wine than to preach temperance.

Next: The first in an epic series of Kingsmen/”Louie Louie” related posts.

Magic Happens

 magic happens

I read billboards. Sure they’re an annoying blight on the horizon but if someone displays a message, as a compulsive reader, I’m duty bound to read it. Billboards keep it simple. It’s a giant magazine advertisement that leaps off the page and into the roadway. Billboards for local casinos have been calling out to me. My reading addiction overpowers my gambling compulsion so mostly I stay home.

The idea of an evening out listening to a cacophony of slot machine chimes is a siren’s wail I can barely resist. I couldn’t pull the trigger on the Year of the Ram celebration or the weekly seafood buffet which is on a week night but when I saw the “Magic Happens” sign I began imagining a magic show at the casino that seemed to be the perfect entertainment concoction to inspire me to get out of the house. I’m thinking old school magic show, tuxedo clad magician, burlesque attired assistant who would get cut in half to end the show. There would have to be something else going on at the casino to keep me there longer than the half hour it would take for me to gamble away the family nest egg. I thought of it as an nice evening out for my wife and me. Then I realized I didn’t know if she liked magic shows. She confirmed that she didn’t like magic shows much but she would go if I asked her.

After several attempts of getting a satisfying picture of the billboard it hit me that the sign might just be a bit of advertising mumbo jumbo implying that if you go to the casino you may hit the right button or pull down the right slot machine arm and money would magically swirl around you and fall into your pockets or a pile to be carted home in a wheelbarrow. Maybe I was too literal in my interpretation of the billboard. Could it mean no magic show? There was no evidence of any performing magicians appearing at the casino when I looked on the website which meant it was time to put my crack team of investigators on the case and pick up the phone.

magic 6

To be honest, my crack team is really me flying solo. I talked to an operator at the casino who told me that they don’t do magic shows. She had not seen the billboard and didn’t know what it meant. The operator was friendly and really nice about my investigation into this magic billboard conspiracy. I did ask if they would ever have magic shows at the Casino and I believe her answer was, “no, I’m sure they won’t.” The finality of that statement hit home. I asked why and she sweetly suggested I take my questions to a higher authority. I was given the extension of the promotions director. I’m not KOIN news you know, I’m not watching out for you or anyone except, maybe, myself. I’m not giving up either. I can speculate that the don’t want anyone getting stuck with swords when the magician does his cut the lady in half act and sticks the box with several blades or however that trick goes, but I’ve never been to the Palace Casino so I don’t know if they even have the proper performance space for a magic show. Besides if I really need to go to a magic show there’s probably ten going on any given night in Portland. They probably do basement magic shows. I will seek them out. There’s no way I’m going to convince anyone at the Palace Casino to put on a magic show or build a magic show performance space addition. Not with one phone call or arm twist. I can’t make the kind of magic I want happen but that doesn’t mean it can’t be found.

magic happens


Sarah Mirk Talks Pie Not PI


Sarah Mirk is my journalism hero in Portland. I enjoyed reading her writing when she was a staff writer for the Portland Mercury. She left the paper to work for Bitch Media where she’s the online editor. I’ve heard her appearances on the OPB talk show Think Out Loud doing News Roundtable segments many times and have always appreciated her opinions. It was Sarah’s comments on the podcast Karl Show (starring Jason), when she shared her appreciation for pie, that inspired this email interview. Sarah is the author of Sex From Scratch: Making Your Own Relationship Rules.

3 Questions for Sarah Mirk

What makes pie one of your favorite desserts or even meals?
Pie is a meditative process to make—mixing the crust and rolling out the dough takes time, and that’s good. It’s also tied up in history. I use my family’s recipe, which involves measuring blobs of crisco, but I like hearing other peoples’ stories about their memories of pie. Pie always reminds me of my dad, whose annual tradition is making way too many pies at Thanksgiving. It’s a food that many people have a strong opinions about. Of course, the most obvious reason to like pie is that it’s delicious. My favorite kinds of pie are rhubarb and cherry.

What are some of your favorite Portland area places for pie?
Actually, my favorite place to get pie is at roadside diners whenever I’m driving somewhere far away. I like stopping in a random small town diner for coffee and a huge wedge of berry pie and getting a feel of the town. In Portland, I don’t go out for pie that much. But you really can’t beat Random Order and Loretta Jean’s for a classic pie. I’m vegan these days, so I’ve been eating a lot of flaky pie-like pastries from Sweetpea.

Ever been to Shari’s for their Wednesday night pie special (free slice of pie with the order of an entree)?
You know, I’ve only been to Shari’s once, when some friends and I drove out to the Pendleton Round-Up. On the way back, we stopped at what my friends insisted was the first-ever Shari’s in the world, which is just like every other Shari’s and is in a parking lot somewhere in Eastern Oregon. I got a slice of pie and it was pretty dang mediocre.

Note: This is not meant as an advertisement or commercial endorsement for Shari’s Cafe.

Read all about Sarah:

Listen to the podcast interview that inspired this interview:

Next year I hope to be doing a live remote PI Day broadcast from a Shari’s Cafe parking lot while being beaten about the head and shoulders by a gang of protractor wielding mathematicians.

billboard after 2