All posts by Alan Storm

No Turn Driving Stress

I dislike driving, but I did enough traveling in the American north east to get used to the various interchange styles and downtown driving rules.

It wasn’t until I moved to Portland that I learned how to easily cope with “No Left/Right Turns” in a stress free way.

This sign is near PSU, and there’s another like it on a 405 exit in NW Portland. I’d heard the phrase “Three rights make a left” or “Three lefts make a right” a thousand times before, but it never clicked as a strategy for dealing with one way streets in a downtown environment. This also led me to realize that, by design, every other street is one way downtown.

So Thank You™ anonymous-city-official-with-an-appreciation-for-information-design.

Small Bits of Sanity

I walk across the Hawthorne Bridge a few times a week. Sometimes it’s a nice day and I just enjoy being outside, other times I’m feeling claustrophobic and don’t want to jam into a rush hour bus. A week or so ago this small thing reminded me why I like living in Portland.

Cross the bridge west to east, on the south side of the bridge, you reach a point where you (as a pedestrian) need to veer off onto the off ramp down to MLK, and/or take stairs down under the bridge. Hardly anyone (including me) ever does this; we usually scamper across the off ramp, and walk down the narrow shoulder/curb next to the bike lane in order to stay on Hawthorne.  

In most other American cities this pattern of behavior would elicit additional pedestrian barriers, and semi-regular visits from the Police for jaywalking violations and fund raising. In Portland?  An explicit pedestrian walkway is added, as well as additional improvements to the bike lane with new physical barriers. 


I’ve been on the west coast for eight years now — what was once a mecca is now everyday life. Portland has it’s own set of problems and challenges around growth, race, poverty, and class, but little things like this remind me that for all it’s flaws, it’s still a place people want to be, and want to make better. 

I still can’t think of anywhere I’d rather live. 

Wilhelm Portland Memorial Flower Rooms

Part of my fascination with the Wilhelm Portland Memorial is the combination of the ornate with the mundane, and the unconsidered problems of running an indoor cemetery. This all comes together in the flower rooms.

People bring flowers to graves.  Outdoors this isn’t a problem — but how do you leave flowers when a headstone may be 10 feet over your head?

Every grave in mausoleum has a small vase attached to it.  On a few of the older historic graves these are a granite extension of the headstone or attached in a permanent fashion  — on the newer graves there’s a small ring that holds a detachable vase. These are the vases Tender Branson stole his flowers from.

So that solves the problem of where to put the flowers — but what about people who show up with a full bouquet that’s not going to fit into the small vase?  Each floor of the mausoleum has several flower rooms.  These are rooms or alcoves with a sink, extension claw for placing the vases, garbage can, and a set of flower clippers attached to the sink via a chain. 

These rooms are a time machine through the history of commercial kitchen/bathroom design.  Sometimes you’ll have several decades of design trends in a single, frankenstein-ish room.

The flower rooms are a bizarre intrusion of the practical into the otherwise dream-ish world of the dead.

That Never Goes Out

The quality of the light at the Wilhelm Portland Memorial is a considerable  part of its creepy spell.  You may find yourself in a dark corner, squinting at the indirect light dimly illuminating the corridor. Turn the corner and full panel fluorescence with their faint hum will stare back at you from the ceilings and walls — unless you’re under the moss and rust covered skylights that illuminate sections of the lower floors.

The memorial has 8 floors of tombs, but that’s deceptive.  Ground level is the fifth floor, and floors 1 – 4 are carved into the side of a ridge overlooking the Oak Bottom Wildlife refuge.  This means when you make a left from the long corridors of tombs on any particular floor into the northern chapel areas, your eyes will be assaulted by sunlight from the full windows in the west facing wall. 

This sunlight is also peppered through the twister corridors of tombs via opaque windows. Some are priceless stained glass, others glazed glass or plastic that’d be more at home in a 70s bathroom set.

All this puts your pupils in a contant state of adjustment, and with the slight burning that comes from the scent funeral homes use to mask the smell of formaldehyde and the dead, combined with the smell of formaldehyde and the dead, your psyche is left open to any suggestion the thousands of sleeping dead may have. 

Deco to Disco

Movers have been carting things out of Deco to Disco (1960 SE Hawthorne) for the past few days, and were finishing up in the early evening on Friday when I snapped this shot.

I’m unsure if the business is closing, or just moving.  I’ve had my eye on a ludicrous set of lamps with crushed velvet shades in here for years. 

This is one of those Portland Landmark buildings for me, and if it’s being torn down for condos I’m going to find Adam Smith’s invisible hand and chop it off.

Portland Business

One of the small things that makes Portland a nicer place to live that most places in the states is a small cardre of business owners who aren’t so focused on growth that they grind their employees into meat bits.

Case in point: If a New York based resturant owner was to come to Portland, they’d immediatly start lobbying to recind the minimum wage for servers since they get tips (the state of affairs in most other places).

In Portland? There’s resturant owners who want the city to require that employees have paid sick leave. It’s not that Portland’s a workers paradise or anything (this is America after all), but there are small pockets where even people making lower middle class to poverty level wages can claim a bit of human dignity.