Saturday, August 30, 2014

Pete's Exit Interview

Instagram Selfie by Pete Brook
After nearly three years in Portland, Pete Brook is moving today to San Francisco. At this very moment he and his honey are in a U-Haul somewhere on I-5, headed due south. Pete has stripped off the rental tuxedo, his cigs are handy, and he's trying to clear his head from last night's blowout moving bash. 650 miles! It will be a monotonous drive unless they stop at a few prisons. But their trip is bound to have a happy ending, and maybe two or three of them.

Goodbye, Portland. It's the end of an era, albeit a rather short one. I took the opportunity to ask Pete a few questions about the Rose City.

BA: Why did you move to Portland initially? 

PB: The goats, the brews, the double decker bikes. Seriously, I see double-decker bikes every week. They are here and they are real. 

In truth, I needed a place to land after my 2011 road trip. You remember that one. You cheered down the home-strait by you with a beer in EugeneBefore going on the road, I'd lived in Seattle for 3 years. I put all my stuff in my friend’s basement in Portland and then did some driving, prison visits, college lectures and a bunch of interviews.  

I always knew I was headed to Portland. I’ve been on the west coast ever since I pitched up in America. So where to go? Options are slim. San Diego is the most boring city in America. Los Angeles is big and energetic and I love to visit but I wasn’t going to move there. San Francisco was too expensive and besides most of my best buddies from Northern California (where I first lived after swapping UK for the US) had moved out — many to Portland. The list was basically Portland, Portland or Portland.

Why are you leaving?

To be in the same city as my partner. We’ve done long distance for a year and the time is now to switch up the situation. I hate to leave Portland. It’s a great place to live. It’s easy. It’s got real seasons (complaints about the rain are overplayed). There’s great food and drink in every neighbourhood. With fewer financial burdens and low costs-of-living, there’s opportunities here to craft life into what you want or need. I tend to see people here finding a nice balance between employment and outside-of-work passions.

Mt. Hood — Pete Brook

Before living there, what did you expect the city to be like?

Like Seattle but less corporate.

In retrospect what surprised you most about the city?

The creeping corporateness.

How would you describe the photo scene in Portland?

Pretty solid. I dip into it to be social, so it meets my needs. It’s really friendly. I don’t know how it is to make a living here as a photographer, but no one seems to be complaining too loudly. Nike and Adidas support the ad agencies and photographers find work there. Even if you’re not full-time photographer, there’s a million and one side-projects happening in the city that you can get into. It’s what you make of it, but there are lots of doors always open and a host of generous collaborators. 

There’s a lot of photographers here just doing it for the love of it and I greatly admire that. 

I know you have your reservations, but I still like the photo section in Powell’s. Ampersand is a finely curated space of books. They have monthly exhibits with free beer. Nicolas Lampert spoke there last week, to give you an idea of the calibre of events. 

Never go to any galleries on First Thursday if you can help it. It’s a clusterflock. Take the time and you’ll see great imagery at Newspace, Blue Sky, Charles Hartmann. There’s a massive show happening at Portland Art Museum this fall about 40 years of photography in OregonThe show is basically anchoring itself on Blue Sky, which is the oldest non-profit photo gallery in the country.

Portland has its fair share of crappy landscape and flower photographers but where doesn’t?

I think the photo scene benefits from a good video scene and a good design scene. PICA, PNCA, COPS, and c3:initiative all remind us that photography serves art and not the other way round.

"Pretty solid example of my #portlandpaintedgreen series
which is 900 images strong on Instagram. It helped me see (and share) the city." — Pete Brook
It seems every other week some media outlet in Portland writes about how great Portland is. And here I am blogging about it. Is Portland too fucking self-absorbed for its own good? 

Last week, I had friends come in from Seattle. Before we met up, they went for a sandwich. They showed up at my house laughing because they’d just listened to three bearded sleeve-tattooed dudes at the table next to them in the diner talk for 45-minutes about how much better Portland was than Seattle.

But if Monocle says so it must be true. I jest. I think Monocle digs Portland because the Brits like to fetishise and still hold out hope America isn’t as fat as the stereotypes have it.

On the topic of stereotypes, there’s a lot of ridiculous ones and Portlanders have quickly found a way to laugh about those (or ignore them). And, let's be honest, Portlandia is basically talking about that strain of peculiar self-centered absorption that grips the hippies, locavores and hipsters of any American coastal city.

On the other hand, I reckon Portlanders have found a way to embrace the favorable quirky stereotypes and media coverage. They’re right to want to talk about their home. It is a good place. I don’t mind people celebrating the good life. 

We need to add a caveat here though. Not everyone in Portland has it easy. There’s a dark underside to Portland that reveals itself when you get out of the core and newly emerging trendy districts. Portland has some real problems with poverty and drug addiction. Sex trafficking occurs here as it does in other cities. The police department is getting better, but it showed its true stripes during Occupy and the level of intimidation it used. The homeless in Portland are targeted by the authorities.

So, my only worry about all the hype surrounding Portland is that it diverts attention from the urgent social needs here. If the city is to continue growing into its blooming reputation it needs to build in a way that addresses the needs of all socio-economic groups.

Favorite place in Portland to eat lunch outside?

Produce Row, Sen Yai, Red Fox, Roadside Attraction, Vendetta, Parkway Tavern.

Favorite downtown character?

Stumped on this one. But if you wanna see PDX characters, look no further.

Favorite restaurant?

Taqueria Santa Cruz in St. Johns, Pok Pok Noi, Luc Lac (just not 2am on a Friday or Saturday), Tasty & Sons for bacon and cheddar and chard, Biwa for fancy asian fusion, H’Val for vietnamese soups, Hen Ya for all things vietnamese. Miho for Japanese (not sushi). Frank’s Noodle House.

"Selfie from the Bye & Bye, my fave bar.
Probably between a WIRED draft." —Pete Brook
Favorite building?

Portland is hardly known for its architecture. It’s all quite limited. The Portland Building is ridiculous: Michael Graves PoMo acid. The churches of Pietro Belluschi are incredible: St. Thomas More Catholic Church and Central Lutheran Church.

If you’re happy to go through airport style metal detectors get to the cupola at the top of the court house right in Pioneer Square, I recommend it. OSHU’s views are amazing, as is the cable car up to it.

Favorite bar?

Bye & Bye. Some of my best writing was done at the Bye & Bye. Super friendly staff. I’d go there once a week late at night and they’d sort me out. They didn’t need to be that nice, I mean, I was that guy with the laptop who sat in front of a glowing screen in the corner while others tried to forget about work and be social. It felt like an office I didn’t pay rent on.

A shout out to Tiga, my other local. It’s closing shortly and it’s a sad loss. Also Secret Society, B-Side, Liberty Glass.

Favorite neighborhood to stroll in?

PPG —Pete Brook
I have to say the NE. It’s where most Portland Painted Green was made. Love this neighbourhood.

Portland's best drug (legal or illegal)?

Ayahuasca is making a come back, apparently. Never done it like but I’ve heard a few acolytes talking it up.

Heroin prices are falling sharply and a couple friends who work as physicians or service providers downtown say it’s becoming the drug of choice for many of the addicted and/or homeless. It’s replacing meth. Scary stuff.

Briefly describe the time in Portland when your reality was most altered, either through drugs, alcohol, dancing, exhaustion, or whatever.

Wandering back through town with my sleeping bag after three days at my first Pickathon (2012). I went there as press with WIRED, and it took me a year to write an article that was pretty much junk. All the personal spirit quest stuff I couldn’t include.

"Made these t-shirts with Sharita Towne this weekend.
Search Oregonian for blue room for more info."
Were you ever nude in public in Portland?

Never, I only let the freshest mountain breezes tickle my fancies. Of course, with the world’s biggest naked bike ride there’s plenty of opportunity, but I’m too much of a prude.

What will you miss most about the city?

My mates. Cheap gigs, jumping off bridges on the Washougal River, super weird menus and booze at local joints. Every pub legally must serve food, so you get playful menus with just a few items but they’re super good and varied.

Forest Park trails — my Saturday morning run kept me sane man. Nothing like them. Gorgeous every time of the year.

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