The first time I felt the darkness I was in the eighth grade: My girlfriend had just broken up with me. It was a full moon and there were no city lights for miles, so it was clear and bright in the mountains of Bailey, Colorado—the entire area lit with a luminous white light. The shadows—stark and defined—cast menacing shapes against the cool, dry earth. The pale stars were white on black, like an observatory, the universe a thick black ink beyond it. I sat alone on the back deck of my house, swaying in one of those outdoor patio swings, contemplating the meaning of life.
I looked up into the sky and saw fast moving clouds just above the ridge of ponderosa pine trees across the field from my house. Dark, ominous clouds. They soon covered the moon and plunged the entire area into darkness and deep shadow. This girlfriend didn’t mean that much to me. In fact, she basically admitted to cheating on me by having a contest with some other guy where they licked each other’s eyeballs. Still, first break ups are always hard. Swinging there, I thought about those clouds felt like a symbol of life in general.
The darkness overtaking the light.
* * *
Eighth grade. That was the same year my eighth-grade teacher wheeled a T.V. into the classroom early on the morning of September 11th telling us a plane had been hijacked. I honestly couldn’t understand why our no-nonsense teacher would bring a T.V. all the way into social studies classroom first thing in the morning to show us a bit of news. She clicked on the T.V. though and everyone went quiet. The fear and horror on the faces of all the adults scared us kids more than the images on the screen.
I don’t think many of us understood exactly what was happening. We were in a small-mountain town of Colorado, thousands of miles away from New York City, a city most of us had never been to or even conceived of outside of movies. That morning meant nothing to me, not really, not in a way that I could truly comprehend, and yet it was, in many ways, the defining moment of our generation as we came of age, setting into motion the next two decades of foreign policy, Middle East invasions, and the war against terrorism. I can’t remember a world in which these words have not existed. We all learned that day what others around the world had grown up knowing—that the world was a dangerous place and no one was safe or immune from its violence or dangers. Darkness overtook the light that day. And from that darkness more darkness spread. Sometimes spread by our own country in its messy pursuit of justice.
* * *
I was fifteen or sixteen at Camp ID-RA-HA-JE—an Evangelical Christian summer camp just over the ridge of pine trees from my house, when the darkness returned. Camp ID-RA-HA-JE was undoubtedly a mouthful for a camp name but that’s because it was an acronym, the first two letters of each word making up the name: I’D RAther HAve JEsus. ID-RA-HA-JE. It was not, as some people thought, some cool Native American word like Camp Fly with Eagles.
One night I asked the weekly pastor if I could talk with him after the evening’s sermon. I’d been feeling weird, in the head I mean, and figured I should talk to someone.
I’d talked to my dad about the feeling once before, but he always said the same thing, “Just make sure to eat right, sleep good, and get plenty of exercise.” While the phrase perturbed me for its simplicity at the time, looking back on it now, I realize my father was not far off from how one should combat depression. He was the director of a residential treatment facility for young men and a licensed professional counselor specializing in mental health and addiction, but he was also, of course, my boring dad.
I asked the pastor if we could talk alone and we moved over to the secluded section of the dining hall. The carpet was all pixelated grey and the walls wood paneled in some shitty-faux pine.
“What’s up?” he asked.
“Well …” I began, “Everything in my life just seems kind of unexciting and grey and I don’t know … colorless.”
“Do you have any sin in your life?” he asked me.
I thought about it.
“I mean, I guess we all have sin in our life,” I said.
“Yes, that’s true, but sin sometimes has the power to block out any love from God we might normally receive.”
“I would start there, really examine your heart,” he said.
I walked outside and down the rickety deck stairs to my bunk.
I knew it. It was all the masturbating and the time I got drunk last year, for the second time. Possibly the two times I smoked pot. I would have to clean up my act. Perhaps then God would restore the color to my world. I was sixteen, considered a “rebel” in my church, but a naïve Christian good boy by nearly everyone at school.
I didn’t think I was headed straight to hell necessarily, but I was frustrated at how often my “flesh” rebelled against my spirit. I wanted to belong to God, yet my sin kept getting in the way.
Funny how such a small encounter, dwarfed by other messages of love and forgiveness about God, came to consume me with guilt and a constant need to do and be better. How it still consumes me. This need to do better. This feeling that I will never be good enough. Will never be able to get my act together. Darkness overtaking the light inside of me. Eight grade and the following years marked my loss of innocence I guess you could say.
This body of sin I’d tried to mold into the body of a saint … and failed.
What do you do with the darkness of terrorism? The darkness of nations and presidents and people whipped up by fear and the fog of war? What do you do with the darkness inside of you? The darkness that possesses you, that you belong to, whether you want it to or not. None of us think that we’re the villain of our story, but the hero. (I for one, am often going around life confused why others don’t see that I, of course, am the center of the universe). And yet we all have the capacity for tremendous good or evil. Sometimes our arms bend back.
Register below to see me on the big (laptop) screen and join me for the launch and reading of Utah! A Novel. Would love to see you there! This is the ONLY place for signed, personalized copies (at least, for the foreseeable future).
Annie Bloom’s welcomes Portland author Levi Rogers for the livestream launch of his debut novel, Utah! A Novel.
Fleeing from ever present wildfires and the threat of the Yellowstone Supervolcano erupting, Lee, Becca, and their daughter Analise embark on a road-trip through the state of Utah to a wedding in Zion National Park. Set in the not-too-distant-future, Utah! is a novel about climate change and the intricacies of relationships-between family, partners, religious structures, nature, and the American West. Featuring a litany of intriguing Utah residents including ex and current Mormons, doomsday preppers, military vets, Presbyterian ministers, and Colombian housewives, these characters eventually find their paths crossing in violence, disaster, and friendship. Through desert islands, climbing gyms, beer bars, suburbia, mountains, coffee shops, long drives, and mass shootings, Utah! seeks to show the true diversity, beauty, and yes, sometimes peculiar, aspects of one of the most misunderstood states. It’s a novel about the smoldering darkness beneath the surface of our individual selves and society … and what happens when we refuse to acknowledge our past transgressions. Utah! is a slow burn of a novel that ends with an explosive finish.
About Levi Rogers:
Levi Rogers has an MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles and a Bachelors of English from the University of Utah. In July of 2018 Rogers attended The Tin House Summer Workshop and is currently working with the new broadside literary journal Meow Meow Pow Pow as a blog editor. He’s published essays, poetry, and reviews in Entropy, Sojourners, Lunch Ticket, Drunk Monkeys, Akashic Books, Hoot, Daily Coffee News, and Devour Magazine, amongst others. He owns and runs a coffee roasting company, La Barba Coffee, in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he lived for the last eight years before moving to Portland, Oregon. He lives with his wife Cat, his daughter Evangeline, his dog Amelie, and two cats–Chicken and Waffles. Utah! A Novel is his first book. He is also working on a book about faith, depression, and belonging called All We Can Hope For in This Dark and Beautiful World: Memoirs on Belonging.Event date: Tuesday, April 20, 2021 – 7:00pm to 8:00pm
Or, What Growing up in a Small Mountain Town Has Taught me About the Rural v. Urban Divide
Even as Joe Biden clinched the presidential nomination this past Saturday, the fact that this race was “close” at all (or perhaps “delayed” is a better term?) is a major harbinger of continuing division in our country and for what’s to come in the next four years. The United States is two very different United States. As the 2020 elections draws to a close one thing is for sure, people have not abandoned their support for Donald Trump. If anything, they have doubled down. It was mostly white people, including white women and white evangelicals, yet more Hispanics also voted for Trump in 2020 than in 2016. Many of them were rural (something that was talked about to death after 2016, i.e., the white rural voter and what it meant) but many Trump supporters were also from places like Orange County, Miami, Los Angeles, and even New York City. What does it all mean? Other than the fact that Black women quite literally saved our democracy?
It appears we occupy two very different identities inside this country called America. “It shouldn’t be this close,” was the common refrain I heard from this in my social stratosphere. Yet more people voted for the President this year than last year. The fact alone is confounding to many of us. The problem is not polarization, it’s schizophrenia (maybe we should split up now, amicably, before civil war and political violence are sure to ensure). But how would we become two different countries even if we wanted to? We are a country made up of dense populations dots of blue amidst a sea of vast, outstretched redlands.
One thing has also become clear in this election, the rural (mostly white) voting bloc still came out for Trump, though many courageous gains were made in states like Arizona, Georgia, and Nevada, (bolstered by black and native organizers). If we want to understand this division between liberal and conservative, if progressives truly want to sway voters in coming elections, the rural vs. urban divide is once again a place we need to continue to look.
This was made fresh in my brain after reading a Tweet by the writer Dean Bakopoulos, who started a thread as such:
I grew up in the small mountain town of Bailey, Colorado you see. It was a strange mixture of rednecks, libertarians, conservative Christians, hippies, new age folk, and people who commuted to the suburbs of Denver for jobs in nondescript business centers. People who liked to keep to themselves. People who didn’t like the government. People who liked to disappear. People who wanted to be left alone. There was a meth house two houses away from mine. There were a lot of meth houses, if you got back into the hills far enough, the neighborhoods surrounded by aspens and ponderosa pines and dirt roads and herds of deer and elk munching their way through the hillsides and fields.
Bailey was spread out among hills and rocks and rivers. The actual town itself was no bigger than football field, located at the bottom of Crow Hill alongside highway 285 by the South Platte River. You could blink and never see it. You could yawn and miss it. It was a lower-middle-class, blue-collar bedroom community of Denver in Park County with sites of recreational activities like hunting, fishing, boating, mountain biking, and climbing. It was also a moderately alcoholic, economically challenged rural county. The least churched county in Colorado as my dad would say, even though my family went to church three times a week and both my parents were raised in Christian households. It wasn’t Colorado Springs I guess my dad was trying to say, where the conservative group Focus on the Family had headquarters. Park County and the nearby towns of Fairplay, Evergreen, Littleton, and Golden are basically where the satirical adult animation show South Park is set. Like the character Token, in South Park, there was only one black kid in my graduating class.
There was one stoplight in our town, at the top of Crow Hill. One year there were two, when they were doing construction and making on and off ramps. The one stoplight was by the Loaf N’ Jug, which was built when I was in the ninth grade and contained a Subway. Everyone went crazy when Subway came to town. Shit just got real.
We lived in a log house in Bailey, one my dad added on to and built out incessantly—adding a spare bedroom and wrap-around deck, a deck made from logs he felled and peeled himself. A new pellet stove and an older cast iron wood stove provided our only source of heat, which was plenty. Each morning in the winter my dad would rise early and light the kindling and faded newspapers until the smoke and heat began to rise, slowly warming up our wooden house. The aspen trees outside skeletal, the snow crystallized. I am reminded now of that poem by Robert Hayden:
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
Unlike the father in Hayden’s poem however, we never feared my dad’s anger; he was kind and affectionate.
My mom decorated our house in a rustic cabin aesthetic with bears and moose and antiques and various items of lodge and mountain cabin kitsch. Each morning she’d come downstairs thickly layered in sweatpants, a bathrobe, and a thick blanket, and pour herself a cup of coffee, coffee she’d then mix with Splenda and a dash of creamer. Coffee was first for both my parents. Coffee they’d reheat over and over in the microwave as the cold Colorado air cooled it almost instantaneously.
In Bailey I grew up playing ice hockey on ponds and making out with girls in yellow buses, where the bus driver, my friend Randy’s mom, knew both of our parents and threatened to tell them if we didn’t stop. I grew up small and Colorado. I climbed rocks. I hiked mountains.
We had two acres in Bailey and one horse named Shasta and I think my dad secretly wanted me to be cowboy—like he was for a period of time, riding broncos and breaking his nose—but I was more interested in skateboarding and going to hardcore shows. So, my sister took up riding horses while I spent my time hitting up what little pavement existed in our small town.
While I still love the outdoors, I think it’s funny that with all that country I was around, I only wanted concrete to shred. But my father never pushed me to do anything I didn’t want to do. Even if I didn’t like horses we both liked being outside and so we did that together. He even told me I didn’t have to go college, “I spent four years after high school training horses,” he said, “And then I went to school and met your mom and got a masters. It’s different for everyone.”
For many years my association with growing up in my hometown of Bailey was a positive one. That would all change in the years and culture wars to come.
* * *
I grew up rural but I now live urban and have since I left home at 18. I’m 32 now which means in four years I will have lived half my life in the country and half my life in the city. I can codeswitch between my rural, mountain upbringing and my now progressive city-dwelling life. It’s not an entirely unique point of view, but it does give one an interesting perspective. I can understand the disconnect on the many areas of disagreement between rural v. urban communities—on everything from the economy, to the second amendment, religion and each’s view of social institutions like the police.
For instance, most residents in Bailey knew the police, unlike cities, where the majority of the police force live in communities outside of where they work, On average, among the 75 U.S. cities with the largest police forces, 60 percent of police officers reside outside the city limits[i]” (in Portland, where I live now, only 17% of the police live here in Portland, which is perhaps why we see such brutality unleashed by the PPB against protestors. The police do not view protestors as members of their own community, because they are not[ii]). Yet the police were members of our small community. You saw them in the grocery store, at the post office, walking their dogs. You knew where they lived.
The school “resource officer” at my high school—Platte Canyon High—was a man named John Tighe. He was a quite tall, well-built man with nicely combed white hair and a thick grey mustache. Like most “school resource officers” he was also police officer. He was not just any cop though, John Tighe was also our high school’s driver’s ed teacher. I passed my driving test to get my license with the man. But he was not just a school resource office, policeman, and driver’s ed teacher. He was also a congregant at Platte Canyon Community church where my family went. The Tighe family was hard to miss. I would see him and all three of his extremely tall kids and tall wife each Sunday standing in the front middle rows of our sanctuary, towering over nearly everyone else as we worshipped together. I worked with his oldest daughter Lindsey, at Camp ID-RA-HA-JE as an outdoor adventure counselor the summer after I graduated high school.
* * *
In 2006, the same year I had left for college, a drifter walked into our high school and took six girl’s hostage. I was a freshman at Western University in Gunnison, Colorado walking to the student union across the freshly watered green campus lawn when I got the call from my mom.
“Have you heard the news?” she asked, clearly panicked.
“News?” I asked. “No.”
“There’s been a shooting,” she said.
I immediately thought of Columbine. We all know about Columbine of course now, but growing up in Colorado we had friend of friends or church parishioners who knew people who had actually gone to Columbine. The school was only a forty-five minutes away from Bailey in the suburbs of Denver. The Columbine shooting hit all of us Coloradans particularly hard. Back in time when mass shootings were rare and not an everyday occurence.
“It’s okay though,” she said, “Toby (my brother) is locked down in the middle school and Alyssa was on a field trip. Thank God.”
I didn’t know what to do. There was no Twitter. No live updates. I had to wait until later that night to hear the news.
Shortly after I hung with my mom that afternoon, SWAT showed up to the high school and began to negotiate with the white domestic terrorist. The man let some of the girls go. Then one girl, Emily Keyes, tried to escape and he shot her, fatally, before shooting himself.
In many ways, it turned out to be the singularly defining tragedy of our small town. To this day, when you look up “Bailey, Colorado,” online, it is one of the first items of news you see.
Some years later, a man shot three deputies while they tried to evict him, killing one of them. The officer who was shot, Cpl. Nate Carrigan, was also a beloved baseball and football coach at our high school.
It was because of events like these that we viewed the police as our protectors. We respected them. We admired their bravery and mourned their deaths. Also, it probably didn’t hurt that they were white and most of us were white, which was what the origins of the police in America were built for—to protect white and wealthy people from immigrants and labor-union organizers (the original police force in the South were slave catchers after all).[iii]
* * *
Most of the people in Bailey Colorado were also gun owners and libertarians. Many of them have served in the military. Every Sunday at church we would pray for those in the military and Israel:
“Lord, we pray for the nation of Israel and we pray for our troops,” an older gentleman named Doug would always pray each Sunday. “We pray for the President and our country,” others would say. “We pray for those persecuted Christians around the world. And one guy, a big bellied bearded jolly biker would say this prayer:
“Lord, we know it’s not that important, but we do want to lift up The Denver Broncos today as well.”
Every Fourth of July we’d sing patriotic hymns like America the Beautiful and The Battle Hymn of the Republic. There were also a lot of stoner-hippie-New-Agey folks in our community, but I didn’t know many of them as I grew up in a bubble of American Conservative Evangelicalism. Thus, our communities support for the police was also tied up in theology and nationalism.
Yet, as polarization has come to dominate the American landscape, I find it harder and harder to empathize and care for the same people I grew up with, even as this might be the most important work to do in the next four years. For it seems they also find it harder and harder to empathize with many of the same people I now consider friends and family. People I met beyond my small mountain town. Muslim, black, Jewish, and queer people. On Facebook, many of the people I grew up with are now unashamed supporters of 45 who post slogans like “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter.” I’ve debated many of them in the comment sections of the internet on Facebook and Instagram (including my old youth pastor and his wife, whose daughter is now married to a police officer). Yet many of them think the organization Black Lives Matter is a radical leftist terrorist/Marxist organization. I find myself questioning how we are to bridge such wide gaps of cultural and ideological divides. My old Sunday school teacher, for instance, who recently praised the death of an Austin, Texas Antifa shooting on Instagram saying that Antifa members need to be shot down in the street because they are destroying our country. We cannot agree on what it even means to be “American” or what or who America is for. Perhaps it always been this way and we are just now coming to terms with the myth falling apart. Yet I don’t have to return to Bailey to see this dynamic at play. I only need to drive thirty minutes outside of Portland to find the same sort of people. And while I think it’s entirely possible for someone to vote for Trump and not be a racist, if you are part of the cult of Trumpism in any way, you have to know that you belong to a fascist, white nationalist ideology. Of course, the Trumpists do not see it this way, but that is because they are under a demonic spell.
My own naïve hope is that if people just got to know each other and took some time to understand the “other,” the world would be a better place. If an East Coast Liberal from New York City could meet someone from Bailey, Colorado, if our communities could merge somehow, if people in conservative bubbles from small white mountain towns could get to know a black or a gay or trans person in the big city, perhaps we could all get along, see that we are more alike than different. But maybe we have already created our own bubbles and divisions. Maybe it is already too late.
* * *
I now live in Portland, Oregon and have spent the last fifteen years of my life in Western cities like Portland, Denver, and Salt Lake. As white as these cities in the West are, they are still more diverse than the rural areas outside of them. Is race a factor? Undoubtedly.
Here is my very simple point: If you live in a rural area, you do not meet the same type of people that you would by living in a city. That’s it. There is very little diversity in rural or western America. Likely because those places were considered (or are still) unsafe by minorities (just look up Sundown Towns if you don’t believe me. Towns where if you were black and caught after dark you could be killed).
While many rural residents would deny any labels of racism, their failure to acknowledge any sort of past mistakes or systemic injustice makes them blind to the plight of black Americans today. Most of the people I grew up with, most people in rural areas, don’t know anyone who is Black or even Jewish, Muslim, Gay, Native, or Asian. Now, people in rural areas may rant all day about how “Washington” and the “Federal Government” don’t understand their small towns, but they also don’t understand the plights of their fellow citizens because they don’t know any people like them or choose to empathize with others outside of their community. The end result of this is that we belong to two different communities. White and rural. Diverse and urban (and yet still, the fact that many people even in urban areas voted for Trump is an indicator of his cult-like reach into conservative ideology).
I also think many liberals and democrats may discount how important something such as abortion is to a majority of conservative religious voters who make up rural and suburban communities. These people are willing to overlook the fascist antics of the president and the party’s animosity towards refugees, immigrants, women, the LGBTQ community, and people of color in favor of a strong “economy” and single-issue politics like abortion. I can understand it, even though it also drives me crazy. Yet, the depths of schizophrenia, duality, and disassociation in the mind of the “Christian” conservative who voted for Trump and is “Pro-Life,” and yet disregards Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in favor of war, capital punishment, and doesn’t mind if Trump has to teargas some protestors for a photo op in front a church, is unreal. As a someone who follows the way of Jesus myself, it boggles the mind. I try not to paint everyone with so broad of a brush, but at the end of the day, if you stood by the man, I don’t know what to tell you.
It’s clear that there was no blue wave this year. Democrats shunned the more progressive party platforms of people like AOC and Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and tried to appeal to centrist Republicans and it did virtually nothing for them. They even lost many seats. I tell you now, I don’t care about the democrats. Even though I’ve been forced to vote democrat so our democracy doesn’t crumble the last four years, I pledge no allegiance to either party. The fact that so many “Christians” have fallen for Trump’s antics as someone who supports their “Christianity,” to think he cares about them, just shows they have built an idol out of a man rather than God.
If any type of healing is to come, it is to come by not just trying to understand why rural, white communities are voting for Trump, but to do outreach in these communities. As Bakpoulos noted in his thread:
“You’re not going to change red state culture campaigning for presidents. You need to do it by working with young people. Changing a culture. The few after school programs in rural white communities are often evangelical church-related, or focus on gun culture in some way.” (Read the whole thread for context).
So I think now of what outreach I can do in more rural communities, many of which are facing chronic economic and drug issues. To me it really all comes down to this. Where are people going to find belonging? They’re going to find it somewhere. And if it’s not somewhere healthy they’re going to join a white nationalist group or radical political organization. We humans in 2020 are hungry for community and yet also isolated and in our own echo chambers because of social media algorithms (which is why Qanon is a thing), pushed to the brink even further by a global pandemic and roiling protests. How do we begin to understand one another? Is there any hope?
* * *
Now that my parents and sister and even Grandpa have moved out to Oregon, I have no reason to ever return to my small mountain town. Strange for me, considering that even when I wasn’t living there I visited Bailey at least once a year for almost thirty-years. One day I would like to go back though, take my daughter, show her where I grew up, just for fun. But though I miss the Colorado mountains, to be honest, I don’t really miss Bailey. Though I am always interested to hear news and gossip and see what new developments alongside 285 and in the town itself are now taking place, (there’s a good micro-brewery now for instance) I think it’ll be some time before I return.
Even if you live in Bailey or Miami, one thing is clear: we are moving in a new direction as a country and that gives a lot of hope to people I know. For now, a breath. Tomorrow, we keep pushing to create a world where everyone belongs.
In which I attempt to answer the questions: Who are the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer? And, What Does It Mean For Our Country When We Speak the Same Language But Can No Longer Understand Each Other? And Have We Forgotten How To Belong to Each Other?
September 25th 2020
Tomorrow there is another chance for extreme violence in Portland, Oregon as the Proud Boys (a “Western Chauvinist” and far right neo-fascist group) plan to stage a demonstration in Delta Park on Saturday September 26th.[i] The location itself is an affront to anyone who supports the black community of Oregon as it is where the former historic black neighborhood of Vanport used to be located before it was demolished by a flood. These Proud Boys are demonstrating for “Love for American and Western values” and protesting the death of a member of Patriot Prayer who was shot last month in downtown Portland. They also want to free Kyle Rittenhouse (the teenager who murdered two protestors in Kenosha last month, who then walked towards the cop with his hands up and was politely cuffed).
counter anti-fascist protestors are holding a community solidarity event
against fascism in Peninsula Park, so while the groups should be separated by a
few miles, there is also talk of a smaller counter protest against the Proud
Boys that is going to take place in Delta Park, and it’s also possible that the
Proud Boys will drive over to the counter protestors site. Who knows what’s
going to happen (I plan on going to the event at Peninsula Park and will let
It is important to note that many of these Proud Boys and members of Patriot Prayer (more on them in a sec) are not even from Oregon—though some of them hail from Vancouver just over the Columbia. Some of them are literally traveling to Portland looking for a fight. And while the City of Portland has denied them a permit to gather, they are coming anyways. Whenever these types of events happen, violence is sure to follow.
violence and guns brought to the streets of Oregon since early August have only
increased. Last month, after over 90 days of protests, a caravan of over a
thousand Trump supporters in big lifted black trucks with blue flags came to downtown
Portland from Clackamas to instigate violence, (shooting BLM and anti-fascist protestors
with paintball guns and spraying them with gas) when someone finally ended up
dead. The man who was killed was a member of Patriot Prayer. His killer, a
self-described Antifa member, was later shot and killed by police when they
came to arrest him a couple days later.
same Trump supporters, Proud Boys, and Patriot Prayer members showed up the
weekend before to pick a fight and the Portland Police Bureau were nowhere in
sight, only showing up to arrest those on the left later in the evening (PPB claimed
they were “understaffed”).
Unfortunately, these street brawls between Antifascist groups and alt-right groups like the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer are nothing new in Portland, they’ve been going on since Trump was elected. But last month ended in the first death of a member of Patriot Prayer. Patriot Prayer is an alt-right “Christian” group, mostly from Vancouver, WA, who have ties to white nationalist ideology. As a Christian myself, as someone who truly does his best to try to follow the way of love and of Jesus, the group makes my blood boil (I haven’t even been able to write about them before this because of how angry and depressed I know I will become just thinking about the group’s existence.)
leader of Patriot Prayer is Joey Gibson, a controversial figure to say the
least. A man whose failed bid for public office seemed to lead him to a darker
place of political organizing. The group claims to be about “freedom,” and some
other fairly generic, conservative talking points, including, of course, the
second amendment, but for some reason wherever they go, violence follows
(though they say the same thing about “Antifa”). Patriot Prayer rallies were
once attended by Jeremy Christian, a man who later slashed the throats of two
men on the Max train who stood up to defend the two Muslim women he was
harassing (though Patriot Prayer distanced themselves from Jeremy Christian and
claims he was not a member, still, there had to be some sort of rhetoric that
drew Christian to Patriot Prayer in the first place). Many of these people wear
cross patches stitched onto their bulletproof vests while holding AR-15s, literally
claiming allegiance to God, Guns, and Country.
I can take a step back and look at it objectively (and not see Patriot Prayer’s
own twisted nationalist version of faith as a personal affront to the God and
Jesus I know and the entire message of the Gospel), I find the group
objectively fascinating. Sergio Olmos, an incredibly brave reporter who has
covered the Portland protests nearly every day for Oregon Public Radio since
the spring, spent some time getting to know Patriot Prayer and “freedom fighter
Joey Gibson,” last year finding that “those in Gibson’s orbit find a sense of
purpose, camaraderie in violent right-wing nationalism.” In an article for The
Columbian Olmos interviews Brad Galloway, who for 13 years led the Canadian
chapter of Volksfront, a violent neo-nazi gang founded in Portland:
seeking belonging, identity,” Galloway says. “there’s this sense of loneliness,
especially in this age of the internet, sitting around hour upon hour, in echo
chambers online. And they find (their identity) in the collective identity of
Olmos’s article, Gibson talks about how he used to be a football coach and
misses that comradery and team effort. Now he gets the same solidarity by
bleeding in the street with his Patriot prayer brothers battling Antifa: “So,
at a rally, you show up, right, and you yeah, when you bleed together over and
over again, you build that camaraderie.”
can only think that something is sincerely wrong with our society, (and men in
particular) when the only way for us to find belonging and community is by
street fighting other groups of people. Yet in other ways, this is nothing new.
Perhaps Portland’s return to a Gangs of New York-style-street-brawls are
the greatest indicator that modern society is not as “progressive” as we would
like to think, or that the United States of America has been built on a myth
all along, one that is finally crumbling.
my opinion, many people join groups like the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer
because they are seeking this type of belonging. I mean, if the pull of
belonging wasn’t so strong, I can think of no other reason why someone else
would join a violent radical group like the Proud Boys. Belonging is so
powerful it not only makes you commit yourself to sex cults, but to groups that
shun masturbation entirely!
as polarization grows, it seems as if we have forgotten how to belong to each
other in this country. And if we don’t consider ourselves as belonging to each
other, than how are we to change our society?
As the activist Grace Lee Boggs says: “You cannot change any society unless you take responsibility for it, unless you see yourself as belonging to it and taking responsibility for it.”
I am not very hopeful however.
In a New Yorker article titled “The
Myth of America,” writer and contributor Robin Wright says that after the Civil
“The cultural divide and cleavages are still deep. Three hundred
and thirty million people may identify as Americans, but they define what that
means—and what rights and responsibilities are involved—in vastly different
ways. The American promise has not delivered for many Blacks, Jews, Latinos,
Asian-Americans, myriad immigrant groups, and even some whites as well. Hate
crimes—acts of violence against people or property based on race, religion,
disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or gender identity—are a growing problem. A bipartisan group in the House warned in August that, “as uncertainty rises, we have seen hatred
When Athens and Sparta went to war, in the fifth century B.C., the
Greek general and historian Thucydides observed, “The Greeks did not understand
each other any longer, though they spoke the same language.”
If we can no longer speak the same language, if we live in our own
echo chambers and consume different types of media and news (due to social media
algorithms), if we can no longer agree on what is truth, i.e., facts, if we disagree
with science and can’t even agree to wear masks because we are so stubbornly
independent, than what future do we have?
Ironically, the same ideals of rugged American
individualism and freedoms we hold to so dearly, are now the same ones making
us incapable of adapting to the modern world. Yet the way in which we have
approached politics and the various conservative/liberal ideological issues over
the past decade shows our lack of willingness to belong to each other. As
Sebastian Junger says in his book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging.
eternal argument over so-called entitlement programs—and more broadly, over
liberal and conservative though—will never be resolved because each side represents
an ancient and absolutely essential component of our evolutionary past. So how
do you unify a secure, wealthy country that has sunk into a zero-sum political
game with itself? How do you make veterans feel that they are returning to a
cohesive society that was worth fighting for in the first place? I put that
question to Rachel Yehuda of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Yehuda has
seen, up close, the effect of such antisocial divisions on traumatized vets.
‘If you want to make a society work, then you don’t keep underscoring the
places where you’re different—you underscore your shared humanity,’ she told
me. ‘I’m appalled by how much people focus on differences. Why are you focusing
on how different you are from one another, and not on the things that unite
us.” The United States is so powerful that the only country capable of
destroying her might be the United States herself, which means that the
ultimate terrorist strategy would be to just leave the country alone … The
ultimate betrayal of tribe isn’t acting competitively—that should be
encouraged—but predicating your power on the excommunication of others from the
group.” (Tribe 128)
I for one, am indifferent to the
notion of the “United” states. I say we break it up. Let Texas and California
and Alaska go. All hail Cascadia! Let’s make the U.S. into some sort of
Amerizone. That way people can move to whatever part of the country they find
ideologically drawn to and we can quit fighting with each other. I mean, at
this point, I don’t think a Civil War is that far away, seriously.
I still find it tremendously sad
though, that we have forgotten how to belong to each other in this country. I mean,
what has happenend? It’s like a portion of the population is under some type of
demonic force or dark, magical spell. Maybe that’s the spell of nationalism. Or
just plain stupidity. For as anti-Nazi theologian and martyr Dietrich
Bonhoeffer once wrote about Hitler’s rise to power:
“Upon closer observation, it becomes apparent
that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political
or a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity. … The
power of the one needs the stupidity of the other. The process at work here is
not that particular human capacities, for instance, the intellect, suddenly
atrophy or fail. Instead, it seems that under the overwhelming impact of
rising power, humans are deprived of their inner independence and, more or less
consciously, give up establishing an autonomous position toward the emerging
circumstances. The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not
blind us to the fact that he is not independent. In conversation with him,
one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with him as a person, but
with slogans, catchwords, and the like that have taken possession of him. He is
under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being. Having thus
become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and
at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. This is where the danger
of diabolical misuse lurks, for it is this that can once and for all destroy
I can think
of no better words that sum up those who have fallen under the spell of
nationalistic fervor and Trump devotion.
What do we do then? I struggle daily to not
give in to despair and defeatism, yet while there might be violence tomorrow, I
can only hope and pray that we can create a society in the future where
If you don’t feel comfortable going to the
protests in person to protest fascists, one thing you can make sure to do is vote
this November, and I would encourage you to look at your vote this year as not
for Trump or Biden, but as one for either autocracy or democracy.
I didn’t want to go to the protest. As an introvert, and
someone who deals with depression and anxiety, I dislike large crowds and
festivals in general, (I don’t even really like going to shows anymore) not to
mention that there was a whole pandemic going around. It’s just hard to get up
the energy to go get tear gassed you know? Not to mention, why did I want to
go? Just to say that I went and post some pics and assuage my white guilt for a
night. Maybe. I would have much preferred to sip a drink in the comfort of my
home and read a book on inequality and racism, maybe write, or watch Dark.
But I felt compelled to go. For once I needed to get out my head, put my books
and words and restless thoughts down, and hit the streets.
Cat and Evangeline and I had gone to smaller, local
neighborhood BLM protests but I had yet to make it downtown after some fifty +
nights of protesting that was happening at the Justice Center on SW 3rd
in downtown Portland.
As I biked with my black mask and yellow helmet through the
streets and neighborhoods of downtown Portland I was struck by how many people
were outside, all eating and drinking on patios. It was like any other summer
night—as if there were no protests or pandemic. The sun was setting as I biked
across the Burnside bridge, and I am still, always, in awe of how beautiful
Portland is with its bridges and river.
I locked my bike up by Voodoo doughnuts, hung snowboard
goggles around my neck in case of tear gas that was sure to hit the streets as
the night wore on, and walked a few blocks down third avenue.
The first thing you notice when you get to the Justice
center is that it is not just any protest. It feels like a street festival. The
smell of charcoal and ribs float through the air. Small tables are set up
selling shirts, masks, and gear. It’s like some strange mix of Saturday Market
and a protest. My favorite part is Riot Ribs. There are multiple gazebos that
make up Riot Ribs, a large food tent made up of entirely free food donations
and staffed by volunteers who hand out free water, hot dogs, and ribs cooked on
some bad ass Traeger grills. The whole atmosphere was like a street fair, only
one that ends in tear gas. I grabbed a water and walked around. I would have
felt safe bringing my daughter with me for the first couple hours.
Chants of “Black Lives Matter,” “Say His Name” “Whose
Streets, Our Streets!” “Donald Trump Go Home!” “This is what democracy looks
like!” filled the air. The energy was electric. Something special was
definitely happening in Portland. You knew that just by being there you were a
part of something special in history, and the speakers reminded us of as much.
Now, there are two main buildings where the action
happens—the courthouse and the justice center. Literally, everything is
contained to two square blocks (and Portland blocks are tiny). The graffiti is
even limited to these two blocks. You could walk three blocks down third and go
to a bustling pod of food carts if you wanted and not even be bothered by the
protest. Anyone who claims the protests are hurting local businesses (which is
what most of our local and even national news says) is getting these protests
twisted with covid-19, which is why many stores were already boarded up in the
first place. Downtown has been a ghost town since April. But on Friday night
those two blocks were PACKED. I would say two-three thousand people easily.
Most everyone wore masks. Some had gas masks and plastic shields.
Riot Ribs sits in a park in front of the courthouse where a
large black fence was recently set up by the Feds and where the federal agents
employed by DHS are holed up until protestors start provoking them later on in
I walked to the next block of the Justice Center to hear
black speakers give speeches and lead chants. The rapper Amine (I’m pretty
sure?) spoke along with Portland’s first black city council woman Jo Ann Hardesty.
One man spoke about connecting the dots between the police, the
military-industrial complex, patriarchy, and capitalism.
The wall of moms soon showed up, donned all in yellow and
the crowd cheered. There was also a street preacher who kept trying to steal
the spotlight (literally) and the crowd booed him multiple times. One thing I
noticed was that within minutes of being down there I started sneezing and
coughing. Not a lot, just as if my allergies were acting up. No tear gas had
been set off yet but it felt like the whole two blocks of this city were still
poisoned with cs gas from previous nights. What is the long term effects of that
going to be?
Around 11 protestors started lighting off fireworks and
shaking the fence. I flinched when the fireworks went off. They were very loud.
A small burst of tear gas filled the air and some flash bangs soon followed,
tossed out by the feds. The flash bangs were also loud.
I was pretty far back in the crowd by this point but I got a
strong whiff of spicy air. I pulled the googles over my face. More tear gas and
several members of the crowd began to retreat and after a few more minutes of
watching protestors throw some random things over the fence, I joined them. As
I walked away with the first wave, there was already a second wave of
protestors who were walking towards the justice center, all donned with gas
masks and plastic shields, and dressed in black, as I was, and yes, most of
them were white. If this night is like most other nights, a familiar pattern
and cycle will occur. The feds will eventually emerge. A riot will be declared.
Some protestors will battle them with umbrellas and leaf blowers.
What if, for once, those in power did not escalate the
situation? What if they just stayed put? Why not try it? Just once? The head of
DHS says that protestors would burn the building to the ground if they didn’t
“defend” it. What I saw instead was a community in action, engaged, and
unwilling to back down or be intimidated. I didn’t agree with everything I saw.
But you can’t deny the movement that’s happening. This will not be ending
Could the whole thing devolve or has it? into a spectacle or
performative activism that detracts from black voices, yes, that is a possibility.
But I don’t think that’s happening, not yet.
What I saw was a largely peaceful protest. Yes, some shit
goes down later at night into the early hours. But the present conflict we
inhabit is always messier than the past we often sanitize and present in our
future textbooks and analysis of history.
I love Portland. I love that if the Feds, or the Proud Boys,
DHS, the President, or any other alt-right political stunters want to come into
our city to stir shit up, Portland is going to show up and hold it down.
Hello sweetie. Today is March 18th, 2020. You are five days short of becoming twenty-two months old. I am writing to you now because something has happened. Something which we will likely tell you stories about in the future. It will likely alter our future in ways you will not notice. They will be normal to you, strange to us.
I’m sure you will hear us tell stories about this one day, as my parent’s heard stories about World War II, or your grandparent’s heard stories from their parents about what it was like to live through The Great Depression.
You see: At first we thought it was no big deal.
flu kills way more people” we said. Which was true initially, if you just
looked at the numbers. But not true percentagewise, or contagious-wise, we’d
soon come to learn. Even NPR ran an early story about how many people the Flu
killed each year (multiple thousands, millions infected) as if it was supposed
to soothe our fears.
Yet for some reason, I don’t know why, I thought it this virus might be a bigger deal than many thought. For once, I was the paranoid and cautious one, your mom the skeptic. I tried not to freak out. Others fled to the grocery stores and stockpiled toilet paper, and flour, and ground beef.
could be a big deal, I thought, but it would not really affect us
that much. I mean, sure, it might spread a little bit, but the media and
everyone was overhyping it. Of course. What could happen to us? We were the
United States of America!
Yet we in the U.S. had also grown arrogant lately, thinking we were immune from the natural disasters and viruses that strike others across the globe. So, at first we did not take it so seriously.
Your mom’s best friend, Laura, has had to cancel her wedding in Utah at the end of March—a wedding in which your mom was supposed to be a bridesmaid and you were supposed to be the flower girl. I was going to walk you down the aisle. Your mom is still very sad about it.
I still go into work downtown everyday, but pretty much everyone else except me and another are guy are walking from home (I have to roast coffee and can’t really take a coffee roaster home).
Portland is deserted. Schools are shutdown. Masks are in short supply. We
practice “social distancing” as we go out for a bike-ride or make a trip to the
grocery store for essentials. Yet, there is no traffic, so that’s good I guess?
Falling carbon emissions and all.
There’s a very good chance that my business, the coffee roasting company I helped co-found eight years ago in Salt Lake City—La Barba Coffee—will go out of business. The only thing keeping as afloat is our grocery and online sales. This will likely be the end of small businesses as we know it, which is just, crazy.
now, Governors in many states are forcing cafes and restaurants to close their
doors or pivot to a “take-out” only option. This will force many businesses to
close. Business is all about maintaining good cash flow and there’s no way most
businesses have the proper cash flow to float them for two to three months with
no revenue coming in. If the government doesn’t seriously step up and offer
loans or some type of bailout many small businesses (and even large) will go
out of business.
at first I took the threat of the virus and the need to quarantine very
seriously, now I wonder about the economic costs of forcing businesses to
close. It’s basically a choice we have to make at this point, one between going
into an economic recession or saving lives. Yet recessions also lower the
quality of life for all. I don’t know. There are no easy answers or calls to
make right now.
We’ve started going on lots of bike rides. We have this new rear bike seat that you ride in and you love it. You try to say the words “helmet” and “bike.” We take lots of walks. Amelie, our dog, is very happy.
On Wednesday your Mom went into work. I tried to watch you at home AND get some work done. HA. That was a good one. I was optimistic at first. You could just watch Daniel Tiger all day! But no, you’re too young to be occupied by anything (including T.V.) for more than 15 minutes. We survived, but barely. You dumped your food and toys out all over the floor. You screamed to go outside. You didn’t take a nap. Tigertastic!
Today was tough for me. All you wanted to do
was two things:
1. Go play in the snow and
2. Go on the swings.
We could do neither, but I let you put on your
snowsuit and we walked to the park.
You can barely talk but you kept saying the same things “esnow” and “swing” and “pease?” Asking all nice and being all cute. But I kept having to say no to you.
“No sweetie, we can’t go on the swings, we can’t play in the snow or the park or go visit your cousins because there’s this thing called COVID-19 and we could hurt people like great grandpa or even your aunt Alyssa, and I know you don’t understand any of this and I swear I’m not trying to be bad or mean dad, we just can’t, and I’m sorry for drinking and smoking too much cause I want to live as long as your alive but I’m also stressed out and thank you for understanding in whatever way you can and not screaming at me even though I feel like I deserve it. I promise, sweetie, one day this will all be over…”
Rather than feeling frustrated and anxious and
mildly perturbed by this whole thing, now I just feel sad.
Saturday April 4th
Saturday we went up to the snow to get you your snow. We drove up to Mt. Hood and parked outside Ski Bowl and just played in the snow in the parking lot for twenty minutes. All the trails and ski resorts and sledding hills closed. You laughed and giggled and smiled. The hour and a half drive totally worth it.
Sunday April 5th
You wake up early. Man, I am so
exhausted of trying to take care of you and keep the house clean and take care
of the animals and try to get some work and/or writing done that at times I
feel just this utter frustration coupled with anxiety tied with exhaustion. I am
so so so tired. I try to write but I can’t focus. I want to go for a run but I
just end up eating too much.
Luckily your mom takes second watch
and lets me take a nap and I watch some Netflix. Alas, if only I was childless
and could binge the third season of Ozark and lay on the couch all day! But,
no. There is still all of life to do and get done during this
quarantine—laundry, cooking, dishes, childrearing, work—only now it takes place
within a designated space. This is not vacation.
Monday April 6th
I bounced back on Monday. Monday I
watched you again while Mom went off to work (really not that unusual as I
often watch you on Fridays and Saturdays). In some ways, as an introverted
homebody, my life has not changed much. Only now I am forced to stay inside and
not go to parties or bars or trails and there are no parks or story times or
indoor play centers to take you to.
I kept the coffee and exercise
flowing throughout the day. We painted. We gardened and dug in the dirt. I
mowed the lawn. Took the weed-eater out for a spin. Stained the railing on the
front porch while you danced around the front yard in your diaper. Went on a
bike ride along the Springwater trail with your mom once she was done with
I began the rising process on my first ever Sourdough starter loaf, (which I am eating now as I write this, two days later). Delicious, airy, tangy. Crunchy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside. The butter slowly melting through the cavernous fermented insides. God this sourdough bread is better than any cigarettes or alcohol or sex I’ve ever had! I plan on entering it into the Great White American Bake Fest that is apparently taking place all over the Internet.
Well sweetie, it is now Day fifteen
since the Governor of Oregon issued a stay-at-home order for all Oregonians. Thirty
days since my office issued social distancing practices barring all but two
workers in the office at a time. Two weeks since your daycare closed. Restaurants
are closed. Parks and playgrounds are closed. Trails are closed. The Forest!
Nature itself! Closed. Everything is
As of today, there have been
374,320 cases and 12,064 deaths in the U.S. And we have not yet reached the
peak, so it makes sense that we are doing all this, but that doesn’t make it
I’m only going into work on
Tuesdays and Thursday now. To cup and roast and ship some packages out. Keep
the samples flowing.
Saturday April 11th
The U.S. is now officially the country with the highest death toll in the world, surpassing Italy, at over 18,000 deaths. Wait, I wrote that sentence late Saturday night, now it’s 20,000 by the next day. Wait, now it’s, 20, 30, 40, 50 thousand and April is the cruelest month and somehow over so soon.
Friday May 1st
Somehow March lasted forever and April just flew by. March we waited for what was to come. April meant that quarantines and stay-at-home orders came and we adjusted as well as we could, on the fly. I guess we are getting used to a new normal? Keeping busy? I don’t know.
You are staying at grandma and
grandpa’s (or as you call them, nana and papa) this weekend while your Mom and
I get a much needed break as we’ve spent the last six weeks with you with no
break. Grandma has been seeing your cousins every week but now is she going to
watch you for the weekend and then self-quarantine for two weeks and then go
back to watching your cousins. Such is life. It seems as if we have hit the
plateau though. Cases and deaths are dropping. Restaurants are opening back up
for take-out. But one thing is for sure, things will not be returning to normal
anytime soon. In fact, they might not ever return.
When will this end? I have no idea.
Now people are protesting stay-at-home orders. Some of them bring guns to state
capitols as a form of, well, I really have no idea. They just like their guns
and protesting the federal government I guess.
I am all fine with social
distancing and quarantining for the foreseeable future, but please, open the
outdoors, just a little bit. I get National Parks being closed. But trailheads
with no bathroom and it’s literally just a parking lot and a wide trail and the
woods? Why do we have to close those?
It feels like there has to be some
middle ground between total state lockdowns and letting the virus roam free.
Make county-by-county or state-by-state decisions or something, which I guess
is kinda what’s happening as no one in the White House has the skills or
temperament to lead us through this.
Unfortunately, this whole pandemic
has become yet another politically divisive issue. People point fingers and
blame each other.
Still, there have been some
inspiring stories. The good of humanity continues to endure.
I’m sure you will hear us tell
stories about this one day, as my parent’s heard stories about World War II, or
your grandparent’s heard stories from their parents about what it was like to
live through The Great Depression.
What a time to be alive!
Oh, great, now I see from my news feed that giant murderous hornet have recently invaded Washington! *deep breath*
Now I must return to the kitchen to feed my sourdough starter and check on the kombucha fermenting on the counter.
May 3rd 2020
We broke quarantine and headed to Hood River to pick you up and stay the night. We went to see your Great Grandpa at his senior care facility as well. I feel so bad for him. He’s all alone in his senior living center. The old folks there cannot eat together. They cannot walk together. Bingo is out. As are all other games and activities. They are basically forced to sit in their rooms and await the meals placed outside their door.
We said hello to Great-Grandpa
Rogers on the back patio, keeping appropriate distance and making sure you did
not touch anything. As bad as I feel for your Great Grandpa, the last thing I
want to do is to be an asymptomatic carrier for COVID-19 that then unleashes it
at an old folks home unknowingly.
Afterwards we took a long walk on the Indian Creek trail. Then I helped your my dad hang some plywood in his wood shop. Then we got take out from The Hood River Taqueria and are it alongside Columbia.
“Moon,” you said and pointed to the
moon, a pale-white, downward facing Pac Man, barely noticeable in the blue sky.
“Tree” you said and pointed to the
green fauna around us.
“Choo choo” you said, as a train
sped alongside the Columbia on the Washington side.
“Boat,” you said as a white and red-rusted tug boat fought the current East.
“Blue,” you said and pointed to the water.
While this whole thing has really stretched my patience and mental health, things could be much, much worse. They are for many others. We are doing fine, all things considered.
So, now I say to you others reading this: Stay safe out there friends. We will get through this.
If you’ve seen my stomach, you know that I consume a lot of pizza—and bagels, and booze, and A LOT of salad actually (heavy on the croutons), but mostly, pizza! Pizza’s been my favorite food since like, forever, and while I used to consume a fair amount of frozen pizzas and Pizza Hut (remember those Pizza Hut Reading Rewards you would get for reading and then eating at Pizza Hut? Weren’t those just the best!) now my taste for pizza has elevated (as has my standard for coffee, beer, wine, and other food). So here lies a guide to my favorite pizza joints in Portland—the pizza capitol of the West Coast. I used to live in Salt Lake City and they had virtually no good pizza until a couple years ago (From Scratch, Fireside, Este, and Pizza Nono notwithstanding, The Pie is just plain gross) so I was very excited to move back here.
And, with this whole Coronavirus-Covid-19 thing, pizza is one thing you can definitely still get as take-out from many places and local businesses. Thank God! Support your local pizza restaurant!
A few things first. Lists are kind dumb, I know. Every place on here is great. They’re just different and it really comes down to what kind of pizza you prefer—Deep dish, Detroit-style, New Haven, Neapolitan? (Will explain each of these below).
Also, I really don’t get the hate for Hawaiian pizza. I have excellent culinary taste (in wine, coffee, and pizza I’ll have you know) and one of my favorite pizzas is Hawaiian, (if it’s done right). One of my current favorite pies comes from Pizza Jerk on NE 42nd called “It’s Always Sunny in Cully,” and it has pepperoni, pineapple, basil, Bunk hot peppers, and honey. It’s slightly spicy and sweet and just the best.
So without further ado, here is my totally subjective list of the best pizza places in Portland.
Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty (N Mississippi)
Seasonal farm-to-table creative toppings make this an elevated technique on the pizza genre. Vibe is warm and cozy and they also have the best ice cream in town. I’ve only been here once which should tell you how much it stood out in my mind. You’ll probably have to wait (make it a nice date night) but take a stroll up Mississippi to Paxton Gate and check out all the strange but fascinating taxonomic gift store.
Apizza Scholl’s (SE Hawthorne)
The #1 spot for pizza for most Portland people and critics. I pretty much agree. New haven-style pizza (thin crust, charred) with an arcade room. Nothing on the menu is particularly inventive but everything is just done better than everywhere else. As good old racist Papa John’s once said, “Better toppings, better ingredients, better pizza,” except that it’s actually freaking true in this case. You can only have 2-3 toppings per pie and there’s no substitutions cause the customer is not always right. You have to wait in line for a while unless you’re like me and have kids in which case go as soon as they open their doors at 5 on a Tuesday.
Red Sauce (NE Fremont and 47th)
Charred crust, great combinations and
balance, and solid consistency time after time. A “pretty good” place that is
now one of my favorites. Also New-Haven style it mixes the seasonal ingredients
of Lovely’s with the charred crust and traditional toppings of Apizza.
Pizza Jerk (NE 42nd)
New haven style pizza with some of the most
creative menu options.
Dove Vive (NE Glisan and 28th)
The word for this place begins and ends
with their crust. It’s a cornmeal crust that’s unlike any other pizza place in
town and seasonally creative toppings make it one-of-a-kind.
Handsome Pizza (Ne Killingsworth and 18th
Handsome Pizza is really good, It’s
wood-fired pizza with excellent and creative toppings. However, I am just not a
fam of whole-wheat crust and have never been able to find a pie of theirs that
really did it for me. But it’s good enough to stay on the list for sure!
Pizzeria Otto (NE Sandy and 67th)
This place is proudly Neapolitan in their
approach to pizza (special Italian tomatoes and only mozzarella cheese) and
refuses to char their crust or make it “crunchy” focusing instead on having a
chewy, melt-in-your-mouth type crust. I admire the approach of Neapolitan style
pizza and it’s emphasis on tradition, and I also appreciate that Pizzeria Otto
is the closest pizza joint to my house, but I really just prefer charred crust
New-Haven style Pizza.
Sizzle Pie (W Burnside and others)
Sizzle Pie has classic street pizza
and great vegan options. It’s greasy. They play loud music, and you can’t go
Ranch Pizza (NE Dekum)
This is Detroit-style pizza (think thick cut of squares) and
it is delicious and my favorite takeout. But it’s also greasy and really bready
and kinda sticks in your stomach for a while as if you’ve just eaten a whole loaf
of bread (which you kinda have) like but I love it even more for this reason. This
what you want to eat when you’re ready to lie on the couch Sunday afternoon and
watch T.V. the rest of the day.
Life of Pie (N Williams and NW 23rd)
Really solid, wood-fired pizza with a good
Double Mountain and Rogue: Really good pies for a brewery!
Seriously, but you can also tell it’s not their main event.
Ken’s Artisan Pizza (SE 28th)
I have not had this pizza and so I can’t evaluate it but I hear it’s great and is next on my list!
Scottie’s Pizza Parlor (SE 28th and Division)
I had a slice from here once and it was amazing. Note to self: NEED to go back soon!
Also Haven’t Had but REALLY Want to Try: Secret Pizza Society Blackbird, East Glisan Pizza, Oven and Shaker.
SweetHeart (SW Waterfront and Lloyd District) Good, but inconsistent. It totally depends on who’s making your pizza. When I worked at this coffee shop called Con Leche in the South Waterfront, we would trade coffee for pizza with a SweetHeart location across the street (we got the better end of the deal by far). Whenever this one girl was working the pizzas were bomb, freaking amazing. And whenever these two bros were making the same thing they seemed kinda, I don’t bland, especially as they cooled. SweetHeart does have a pretty salty crust though, which I like.
Pizzicato (Multiple Locations) It’s fine. I consider it like Chipotle in that it’s informal, good slices, and fast.
21st Century Pizza and Escape from New York: Solid NY slices, but nothing worth writing about.
Hogan’s Goat Pizza (NE Sacremento and 52nd) This pizza is really good. At first I though it was Goat Cheese only pizza but it’s all regular and good stuff. They also have brunch and a pastry chef on hand.
Bella Pizza: Great spot for slices on Alberta and 18th.
Via Chicago (Alberta and 18th): Excellent deep dish pizza named after a Wilco song, what more could you want? This Chicago deep dish style isn’t really my personal preference for pizza but it’s still really good.
Baby Doll: I hear it’s good!
Hot Lips: I ate too much Hot Lips in college (sometimes even dumpstered Hot Lips) and so now I just can’t stomach it. Sorry Hot Lips! It’s probably not you, it’s me.
Pizza Schmizza: I don’t get it. There was too much cheese and it all felt kinda thrown together and not balanced.
Best Frozen Pizza:
Screamin Sicilian, Digiorno (of course), and sometimes you just really need a Tony’s or Red Baron pizza. The CPK pizzas are overpriced and terrible and Freschetta is just like the poor cousin to Digiorno and there many fancy frozen pizzas out there at Whole Food but for the price you might as well just order a large pie for $20 from somewhere local.
Also, I won’t even bother with those national chains because if you live in Portland there’s absolutely no excuse to go there!
What did I miss? Tell me!
Also, I like to make pizza. The biggest problem with making pizza is not having a pizza oven. Whenever I’m rich and famous the first thing I’m going to buy is a pizza oven (or make one) and then I’m going to buy a legit-one group espresso machine.
Here’s all you need to make your own pizza dough. The only
annoying thing is that for best results you need to let sit overnight in the
4 ½ cups of flour
2 tbsps. of yeast
2 tbsp. of olive oil
2 teaspoons of salt
1 and ¾ cup warm water
Dissolve yeast into warm water in a bowl and let sit for two
minutes. Mix in rest of ingredients. Mix and knead for 4-5 minutes on a floured
surface until solid ball takes shape. Cut into 4 different slices and roll
these into balls. Put two in the refrigerator for tomorrow night and two in the
freezer for next week.
It’s my day off, Friday, and my twenty-one-month-old daughter Evangeline and I are sitting at Lardo off Hawthorne in Portland, Oregon. Lardo is a sandwich shop serving delicious, but not exactly toddler-friendly-health-food. I order my daughter some mac salad but as we sit down to eat she decides to dump out half the bowl instead and starts going for my parmesan and rosemary dusted fries. Now she is dipping them in ketchup to lick them off. I let her dip a few small fries but soon she takes her ketchup-covered hand and wipes it across her face, a face that is already smeared with boogers and snot. Good god, she is a mess! My wife is going to be so pissed.
Yet, are you even a toddler if you
don’t have a snotty nose? It makes me a terrible father, I know, giving French
fries to a toddler and not fruits or veggies, but it’s not like I ONLY feed her
French fries. Earlier this morning I fed her milk and eggs and one of those
fruit pouches. I also tried to feed her some of my Bronx bomber sandwich with
steak and onions and cheese and aioli but she wasn’t having any of it.
Taking a toddler out to eat is
often more hassle than it’s worth, but I’m doing it for a reason. On my day off
I like to visit a new restaurant or coffeeshop in Portland (of which there are
many, too many possibly, to even go to all of them in one lifetime) and remind
myself why I have chosen to live here.
You have to have things to give you hope here in the Pacific Northwest, things that will outweigh the rain and the traffic and the daily winter darkness that descends from October-February. Otherwise you forget why you have chosen to leave the sunny Rocky Mountains for such a gloomy place. So, you go out to eat and let your daughter dunk French fries.
* * *
Sometimes you get tired of the
place you live in after all. Sometimes you get tired of your partner. Sometimes
you get tired of yourself.
This is my dumb solution: Make
dates. With yourself, your partner, even the place you live in. Remind yourself
why you love them. It’s not very difficult of an idea, it’s maybe even an
obvious or cliché one. It’s the execution and the follow through that makes
this task of dating so challenging.
On the one hand, through apps like
Tindr, Bumble, and Grindr, we are dating now more than ever before. It’s a
whole new world out there (one I sadly, or perhaps luckily, missed). And yet I
don’t think anyone would argue that while the quantity of our dates has
gone up, the quality of said dates has gone down.
An article on Digital Trends called
“More Americans Are Using Online Dating Than Ever Before, But it Still Sucks,”
seems to back this up. As the article says:
“A new poll published Thursday by
Pew Research Center found that three in ten Americans have used a dating app,
more than ever before, even though many found the process
surveyed nearly 5,000 U.S. adults, 45% of which who’ve used a dating app said
their recent experience “left them feeling more frustrated than hopeful.”
I think we need to get better at
dating. Our partners, the place we live in, and ourselves.
After the French fries and the
ketchup and snot-smeared face, my daughter and I drive up to Hood River where
my sister and her kids and my parents live (my wife was working). Hood River is
an hour drive east of Portland through the breathtaking Columbia River Gorge.
It’s my happy place. The prettiest place on earth. As close to Rivendell and
Elven immortality that us mortals will ever get to experience. And yet, even
so, I get tired of the drive.
I mean, I know that I’m a restless and slightly depressive person, but how in the world is it possible that one could get tired of this drive? There are literally dozens of waterfalls, bridges, majestic clouds, moss-covered rock faces, and Douglas Firs the size of skyscrapers as you drive alongside the Columbia. There are even bald eagles! Motherfreaking bald eagles! And yet, I still take it for granted, or forget that’s it there, and choose instead to make up stupid arguments in my head with my boss and wife while I drive.
Today I need a reminder of how
beautiful this drive is and my daughter and I get one. It’s cloudy as we drive,
but warm outside (miraculously warm and not even raining), and as we pass the
world-famous Multnomah Falls I see a thin ray of sun light up the green trees
of Washington across the Columbia. I’m listening to Wye Oak through the
speakers and suddenly feel a huge surge of hope and am nearly crying.
For the past month I’d been depressed
as hell for a whole slew of reasons—Seasonal affective disorder of course, but
I was also recovering from a shoulder surgery (a torn labrum) and it was a long
ass recovery process in the dark of winter and I hadn’t been doing much but
going to work and drinking and smoking whole plates of cigarettes.
This brief glimpse of sun through
the Gorge lit me up. I was full from the sandwich we ate earlier, properly
caffeinated, and I’d even slept well the night before. Sometimes that’s what
you need I guess—a little sun, a little sleep perhaps, a good ass sandwich, and
coffee of course.
So those were my dates with the
places I live in—a drive through a Columbia Gorge and a bomb sandwich—both of
which technically count as double dates because as I did them with my
Yet, I also try to take my partner
out. Last week my wife and I went on a date to Bamboo Sushi in downtown
Portland and then out to a reading at Powell’s Books for Lidia Yuknavitch’s new
release. This weekend we’re going to a house show. And yes, technically these also
count as double dates—one for me, one for my partner—since these are things I
would go to on my own anyways, and so, yes, I’m not exactly being totally
selfless, but still, it’s something, right?! Right wife? *In my defense my wife
only likes to go on dumb, stupid dates like go to Broadway shows or the ballet
or symphony (gross) or have picnics in the park (unsanitary) so that’s why I
plan most of our dates.
When my daughter was born, my wife didn’t go
on a date for over a year. It was just too much with the kid—everything, all of
it—and for the first three months we didn’t live around family. Now we’re
getting better. But it took some work and planning and time and that doesn’t
come easy when you’re always have to clean up the Tupperware your toddler has
tossed all about over the kitchen floor.
I don’t really date myself all that
often—my dates are mostly with bottles of whiskey and packs of American Spirits
and maybe a movie. When I actually do have time not dominated by raising a
child or going to work, I’ll take myself to a coffee shop and try to get some
writing done, (though I haven’t read it, I know the book, “The Artist’s Way,”
says to take yourself on an artistic date every week). But mostly? Mostly I’ll
just feel tired and will go home and put myself to bed.
Can a nap count as a date? Yes, I
think a nap can count as a date, or at the very least, “Self-care” which is
what we’re really talking about when we’re talking about dating yourself.
God, it’s so hard to go out and get
anything done for yourself isn’t it? You practically have to summon your
spirits as Captain Ahab does in pursuit of the while wale: “Awake! Rise! To the
Boats! Move! Thar she blows! Pour another coffee down the hatch and get to art!”
Except the battle to care for
yourself is working on an essay no one will ever read or care about and Captain
Ahab is about to get his head snapped clean fucking off by the jaws of
depression and lack of sleep.
I’m glad that I never had a chance
to date online. I think I would like it a bit too much. I would just keep
swiping, keep meeting, keep dating, thinking that with each next swipe I would
find the perfect solution to all my problems. Perhaps that’s why people are
dating and swiping more than ever, and yet still remain single. But that’s not
necessarily a bad thing as an article in the Observer reports:
“Whether they’re waiting
longer to settle down, choosing to enjoy monogamy outside the legal constraints
of a marriage, or choosing to forgo the institution altogether, the numbers are
startling, record-breaking, and for many, empowering. In a 2017 census report, 55 percent of Americans
expressed the belief that getting married is not an important milestone in
leading a happy adulthood. As the new year unfolds, single Americans will find
themselves navigating a dating world transformed by technology, fraught with
uncertainty, but luckily, still paved by genuine emotion.[i]”
Not for me, for better or worse, I
am stuck with a stupid baby and a wife (and there was a time when I really did
begin to resent this). Yet I don’t want to live a bitter life and so I know
that you either have to give up on a certain situation or try to make it right.
Hence, you got to date. Yourself,
your partner, the place you live in.
As I finish editing this article at
Prince Coffee on NE Fremont on this President’s day, February 17, 2020, I feel
enormously grateful that I have a day off work and was able to sleep in while
my beautiful wife took our beautiful daughter to daycare hence giving me my
first full toddler-wife-work-free day in what feels like months, if not two years.
I’m thinking of the many ways in which to take advantage of said off day, but
in the end, I’ll probably finish editing and then go back to sleep. Sometimes
your bed is the best date you can take yourself on.