I Live Here: Carl Abbott

I Live Here: Carl Abbott

Name & Age: Carl Abbott.

Hometown: Dayton, Ohio.

Current Neighborhood: Irvington/Sabin overlap zone. I say Sabin when I want to identify with The People (or, now, upwardly mobile progressives who’ve started families). I say Irvington whenever I think that a Westhillsider may still be timid about the east side (Domino’s in the 1980s declared that Irvington was unsafe for pizza delivery).

How do you pay the rent and what is your slash? I work at Portland State University, teaching urban studies, planning, and history. I really like the mix of students, especially the mix of ages in the classroom. I’m lucky to have a job I like (most of the time).

What do you create? I write books about Portland, about the history of American cities, and about science fiction and other contemporary literature. I’m a synthesizer, commentator, and interpreter. When I was in college I wanted to be a science fiction writer and progressed as far as getting a handwritten rejection note from Fred Pohl at Galaxy, but the law of comparative advantage convinced me to turn (wisely) elsewhere.

How did you land in Portland? My wife and I had been living in southern Virginia and wanted to get back to our version of the real world outside the former Confederacy. We decided we wanted to live in a large city in the West, near mountains, and, out of pure prejudice, not California. That meant—to us—Denver, Seattle, or Portland.  If either of us got a job in any of these cities that would support us, we’d move. She did, and we did. That was 1978 when the city was beginning to capitalize on its first decade of grassroots activism. We were hooked, and converted to Portlandism, even though you’d never believe how few good restaurants there were.

What is the last book you read? I read books by the zillions, but a recent book that has me thinking is China Mieville’s The City and the City. It’s a science fiction tour de force that imagines two cities existing literally side by side, with inhabitants of each learning to “unsee” the other. There’s more than one metaphor and analogy packed into a noir detective format. I just reread Douglas Coupland’s Girlfriend in a Coma, which gets my prize for one of the best titles ever. And my most careful recent read was the proofs for my new book Portland in Three Centuries: The Place and the People, just published this fall.

Name your favorite tattoo. I’m too old to get needled myself, and my students have a wide enough array that I don’t want to play favorites.

What was the last thing you ate at a food cart? I don’t (!!!!!) I eat lunch at my desk with whatever was left over in the frig. My motto: Give the taxpayers their money’s worth, even if they don’t believe it.

Oregonian, Willamette Week, or Mercury? I read them all. As the Oregonian gets skinnier, I’m looking more at the Mercury, even if the editors’ collective mothers didn’t teach them to be very polite. I also read the Hollywood Star for its reporting on neighborhood land development issues.

What is your favorite bridge and why? The Steel Bridge without any question! It does more tricks that any of the others. With a perfect conjunction of the transportation planets, you could simultaneously see light rail, bus, heavy rail, pedestrians, and bikers crossing at the same time, with a barge tow waiting for the lift to raise. It’s a reminder that Portland still manages to juggle the best of three centuries of development.

Stumptown Coffee or _________? I decaffeinated myself three years ago while hiking in Glacier NP, so now I brew my own morning decaf—but I’m happy to meet you at Café Destino on NE Fremont.

Coast or Mountains? Mountains. If you’ve seen one crashing wave, you’ve basically seen them all, but the Cascades have almost infinite possibilities to explore. My golden retriever loves the logging roads. Do the relatively easy hike to the top of Chindere Mountain above Whatum Lake to see Washington, Jefferson, Hood, Adams, St. Helens, Rainier, and a thin trace of the Olympics. And I know a good place to harvest chanterelles (I’m not telling).

Only in Portland moment? I have lots of answers here. On the large scale, the huge turnout in Waterfront Park for Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign. On a small scale, a bunch of folks pedaling bicycles past my house while towing, carting, and balancing bundles and boxes and obviously helping someone move house—Bekins or North American Van Lines not needed. And kids who’ve been reading about Ramona Quimby and Henry Huggins discovering that I live on a real Klickitat Street.

A favorite local business? How about the nonprofit Architectural Heritage Center on SE Grand, since my favorite for-profit business is the last great restaurant where I ate and the last bookstore where I shopped.

Are you a car person or a bike person? I am, alas, a car person (although I traded my pickup). I’m a child of the 1950s who grew up in a General Motors town, although we were a Studebaker family. Meanwhile, all you bike people . . . PLEASE DON’T RIDE AROUND IN THE RAINY DARK IN BLACK CLOTHES WITH NO LIGHTS! You know who you are. I see one of you every day or two, but one day someone won’t see you.

If you could change one thing about Portland, what would it be? Thirty years ago, the Willamette River was the city’s social divide. Now it is 82nd Avenue. Hip Portland Progressives need to take the people between 82nd and the Sandy River just as seriously as we take each other. And the second thing—I’d swap the Trailblazers for a major league baseball team in an instant.

And finally, where can we find you on the web? I have a website at www.theurbanwest.com

I Live Here: Carl Abbott

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