Name & Age: Ben Thompson – 35 (If you have a child under the age of 4 then you probably know me as Mr. Ben.)
Hometown: Portland, OR! (born in Madison, WI)
Current Neighborhood: Kenton
How do you pay the rent and what is your slash? Did you know that there is a magical land where “children’s musician” is a viable career option? There is. It’s Portland.
What do you create? I play music for kids and families at favorite local spots like Mississippi Treehouse, Eco Baby Gear, and Milagros Boutique. I create new songs whenever possible. I also make groovy instrument displays from reclaimed stuff (my friend and business partner, Jen, actually does most of the building…okay…all of the building, but it was my idea…we’re a team.
How did you land in Portland? 3 Years ago I was living in Scottsdale, AZ with my then girlfriend, now wife, Erin (Mrs. Ben, as she has come to be known). I was teaching guitar lessons and working odd jobs and Erin was working in the mortgage industry. Apparently she pushed the wrong button or something because one day the entire mortgage industry exploded.
We had both talked about the Pacific NW as an ideal forever home, and the housing crisis seemed like as good an excuse as any to hit the road. I had some family here, so that cinched it – we packed up a U-haul trailer and headed North with our faithful canine companions, Wallace and Beatrice, and all our worldly possessions.
What is the last book you read? Last night I read Frederick, by Leo Lionni, to my 4 month old son, Makai. The last book I read for me was The Grand Design, by Stephen Hawking, which was also the first book I ever read on an e-reader – my wife’s Kindle.
Name your favorite tattoo. I only have one tattoo. It’s a blue Grateful Dead dancing bear in the middle of my right calf. I got it when I was 14 years old and in the throws of what would turn out to be a very intense but short lived dead-head phase. The plan was to get a line of bears in a ring around my calf, then have a complete sock of Grateful Dead inspired images extending from the dancing bears all the way down to my toes. That plan, needless to say, was never brought to fruition. So now I just have that one lonely bear. I think I will name him Billy. Billy bear.
What was the last thing you ate at a food cart? Ha! Sitting right next to me are the leftovers of a Mississippi bowl from Native Bowl that I’ve been enjoying while typing these responses. No joke.
Oregonian, Willamette Week, or Mercury? I feel like I need to pick one, but the truth is that I don’t read any of them. If I choose one I’ll be implying that I’ve read them all enough to have formed a decision about which is my fave. That would be a lie. I can’t tell you the last time I read a paper that was actually made of paper, but it wasn’t within the last three years so it didn’t happen in Portland.
What is your favorite bridge and why? St. Johns Bridge, hands down. I love its height and its beauty. I love that when I’m crossing it I’m usually going somewhere fun and that you can see all the other bridges in the distance. Also, a friend and I once helped a family pick their small fishing boat up off the concrete and put it back back onto their trailer after it fell off while they were driving up the steep incline of the bridge. That kind of thing doesn’t happen just anywhere you know.
Stumptown Coffee or _________? Extracto! (In the spirit of full disclosure, I should mention that I gave ukulele lessons to the children of the owners of Extracto – but their coffee is my favorite regardless.)
Coast or Mountains? Growing up in Wisconsin we used to go sledding at a man-made hill. I kid you not. It was a bump in the ground, but people would come from miles around to sled down it. I dreamt of sledding (and later snow-boarding) on runs that took longer than 30 seconds to complete.
The first time I saw the ocean I was 19 years old and had flown to LA to attend a huge musical instrument trade show as a buyer for the guitar shop I was working at. I was wearing what would turn out to be the only suit I would ever own and I had to be at the most important meeting of my life in two hours. We were killing time hanging out in Santa Monica. I saw the ocean and immediately knew that not jumping in was simply not an option. Within 60 seconds I had stripped to my boxers and jumped in. It was a grey 60 degree day in January and people were looking at me like I was crazy. I smelled like seaweed all through the meeting and dinner. I didn’t care – it was amazing.
My point is this – the beauty of Portland is that you don’t have to choose. So why would you?
Only in Portland moment? When we moved into our first little rental house in Kenton we were surprised to learn that the guy in the equally modest house directly across from ours was running for mayor. When Sam won the election we realized we now lived across the street from the mayor.
When I ask our next door neighbor, whose kitchen window was about 10 feet from our own, what he did for a living and he said, “I’m a drummer,” my first thought was, “Oh god. No.” Then as we got to know him better we found out that he is a world caliber musician who has toured the globe and played with Elliot Smith, Beck, M. Ward, and many others.
I feel like that kind of thing doesn’t happen in other places. In Portland, everyone has an amazing story – you just have to get to know them well enough to learn it.
A favorite local business? Revival Drum Shop
Are you a car person or a bike person? I’m a car person, but I feel appropriately guilty about it.
If you could change one thing about Portland, what would it be? Yeah, a little more sunshine would be nice.
And finally, where can we find you on the web? Mr. Ben on Facebook