“Mom is out of town,” McKenzie yips into the camera, detailing how she plans to blast music and bake all weekend. Her delivery is undeniably millennial: jagged pitch, breakneck pace, sentences completed not with terminal punctuation but with “anywho” or “so yeah!” or a staccato, semi-maniacal “ha! ha! ha!”
Then, behind her, a small hand reaches out of the closet, claws the sliding door and quietly glides it shut. None of which McKenzie sees.
“Bye guys!” McKenzie says. Her face inches from the camera, she ends the video with her signature catchphrase: “Blah!”
Her mother, Mercedes Rose, dashes into the bedroom and flashes a thumbs-up. Sadie, McKenzie’s 11-year-old sister, emerges from the closet, grinning. The three replay the video on the tiny FlipCam screen, approvingly. “Look at Sadie’s hand!” Rose says. “So obvious! I love it.”
This two-minute video is one of six McKenzie will record in an hour. On her YouTube series, The Haunting of Sunshine Girl, she plays an excitable teenager named Sunshine who documents paranormal activity. All told, the channel has 80 million page views.
That’s a lot of traffic. Sure, it’s nothing compared to the 2 billion for “Gangnam Style.” But it does make McKenzie, who lives in rural Oregon, about an hour outside Portland, among the biggest YouTube stars in the Pacific Northwest. Consider this: She receives 7 million hits a month for a Blair Witch knockoff. That is one-third the traffic on OregonLive.com, which is powered by a newsroom of about 100.
And McKenzie and her mother hope it’s just the start.
“I believe the world needs Sunshine,” Rose says. “She’s a strong role model who chases ghosts, not boys. I think she’s the next Jennifer Lawrence.”
Earlier this year, McKenzie caught the eye of the Weinstein Company. In early May, the film studio announced it would turn Sunshine Girl into a book series and movie franchise, with McKenzie to star. The first book is due out March 2015, with a second to follow soon after. The movie contracts have yet to be inked.
The deal is the result of a years-long, highly calculated strategy by McKenzie, Rose and co-producer Nick Hagen, who’ve always seen YouTube as an avenue to Hollywood. The series’ very premise—pretty teenage girl meets ghost—was designed for maximum clicks.
“The Weinstein deal is bigger than we ever could have dreamed,” Rose says. “It’s the pinnacle. But the idea was always that we would get our numbers so big that Hollywood would find a way to embrace this sort of storytelling and pay us for it.”
Will it work? That’s an open question, and there are skeptics. But it’s a path to celebrity that would not have been possible until recently, and it comes with its own set of risks. If Sunshine Girl flops—or if the movie deal never materializes —McKenzie will have spent four years of her life providing free entertainment, with little to show for it besides Facebook messages from adoring teenage fans, thousands of enraged YouTube comments and 35 hours of amateurish, disposable content.
McKenzie is sure she’ll be big. “I was thinking like Kirsten Dunst,” she says. “But then her career kinda went down. I don’t want my career to ever go down.”
While McKenzie is the star and Rose the ambitious mother behind the scenes, the creator is really Hagen, a 35-year-old father of three who lives in Ridgefield, Wash. After dropping out of his college horticulture program, Hagen worked in big-box retail and made a few films that never found distribution—a melodrama about a man who sees a girl die in the woods, a cheesy slasher flick about young women trapped in a cabin. “They weren’t very good,” he admits.
Four years ago, Hagen was doing marketing for a screenprinting supply company with a strong YouTube presence. He’d noticed, too, that musicians were generating massive traffic on the site. So in October 2010, he ran a reverse search on YouTube to determine what else viewers were looking for.
The No. 1 search term? “Lil Wayne.”
No. 2? “Ghost.”
That struck Hagen, a fan of shows like Unsolved Mysteries and The X-Files. He imagined a YouTube series about a girl named Sunshine who’s moved with her single mom from sunny Texas to the dreary Pacific Northwest, where—as Twin Peaks and Twilight have shown viewers—things get freaky. He emailed Rose, an actress he knew from previous film projects, to ask if she and her daughter were interested.
Rose, 42, leapt immediately. A native Oregonian—she graduated from Milwaukie High School, where she starred as a man-poisoning spinster in Arsenic and Old Lace—Rose had appeared in local indie films, acted in Izzy’s commercials and done voice-over work for Nintendo and Intel. McKenzie, then 16, was acting in community theater. She’d given up Mervyn’s and Fred Meyer modeling gigs, because at 5-foot-1, she didn’t meet the minimum height requirement.
It wasn’t as if YouTube lacked ghost videos. But they tended to star middle-aged bald men alone in their apartments, not attractive young girls in their bedrooms. “Nobody was taking this idea of a young girl, which is what people are looking for on YouTube, and combining it with ghosts,” says Rose, a fair-skinned redhead with an emphatic way of speaking. “We were like, there’s no reason this shouldn’t work. It has all the things that people really care about.”
In late 2010, The Haunting of Sunshine Girl was born. The aesthetic was intentionally raw, with most of the videos filmed on a consumer-grade FlipCam. They were unscripted, and production value was low: no fancy special effects or lighting or makeup, which would detract from the sense of reality. Such an approach allowed the team to shoot up to 10 videos a day and keep the channel flooded with fresh content, up to three or four new videos a week—to “feed the beast that is YouTube,” Hagen says. Today, the channel has more than 1,000 videos.
Even Hagen concedes many of the videos are pedestrian. “When I started the channel, I knew I was taking a few steps backward as a filmmaker,” he says. “I knew I wasn’t making quality stuff anymore. It’s mostly disposable. With some of the random videos, I have a hard time sitting through them to get them online.”
The team learned to play by the rules of YouTube. That meant search-engine optimization: carefully choosing keywords and tags—”ghost,” “haunted,” “paranormal,” “scary”—to boost their videos’ hits. “We hit 100,000 views within weeks,” Hagen says, “and that was without promoting the channel to our friends or family or anybody. It was all just natural searches on YouTube.”
Hagen designed eye-catching thumbnails featuring McKenzie’s face, or overlaid with red circles and arrows to direct viewers’ attention to the spectral activity. One of the earliest hits was titled “SCARY! DON’T WATCH! Ghost Child caught on tape.” The thumbnail is a bloody handprint, with “HELP ME” scrawled above. (That February 2011 video, in which ghosts lock Sunshine in a bathroom, has more than 2 million views.)
“She literally does everything about YouTube right,” says Larry Shapiro, head of talent at Fullscreen, a global network based in Culver City, Calif., that manages thousands of YouTube channels. “She’s got a great channel trailer. Her thumbnails are very inviting. There’s one that’s very bloody. There’s another where it looks like she’s in her underwear, so you get the creepers out there. Her titling is great. She uses keywords like ‘paranormal activity’ and ‘haunted,’ which are highly searched terms on the Web. She is playing the game so well.”
Since 2011, Sunshine Girl has been a member of YouTube’s partner program, which allows content creators to share revenue from ads sold on their videos– pop-up banners, pre-roll ads and so on. Hagen says the channel now makes $4,000 to $6,000 a month. They recently earned $500 from a Japanese television show that compiles video clips from across the Internet. Product placement– they’ve approached Ford, Vitamin Water and Pendleton Woolen Mills–has never panned out.
Then again, YouTube was always a means to an end.
“I knew that if we built up our numbers, people in L.A. would have to pay attention to us,” Hagen says. “The goal had always been to get a lot of subscribers and views, and YouTube was the place with the biggest audience.”
In her first video, made in December 2010, McKenzie twiddles her hands and tugs at her sleeves as she describes her plan to document the “creepy sketch stuff” at her new house. She has a way of speaking with her mouth in a perpetual smile–much like a fidgety, aggressively positive Lonelygirl15, one of YouTube’s earliest video bloggers and a clear precursor to Sunshine.
McKenzie likes to say Sunshine is 95 percent her, but off-camera, she’s less bubbly and more sarcastic than her character. Notably, she doesn’t like horror movies–he’d rather watch rom-coms, read Neil Gaiman or make tattooed cloth dolls to sell on her Etsy shop, which she plugs in her videos.
McKenzie doesn’t spend much time with friends her own age, but she’s extremely close with her mother. They share frequent high-fives and a Diet Coke habit, and Rose likes to rib her daughter about her Pinterest obsession and her crush on Tom Felton, the blond British actor best known for playing Draco Malfoy. They’re fond of saying they complete each other’s sentences, but it’s more that McKenzie has a tendency to repeat her mother’s phrases. Friday is “Bride Night”: The two eat apples with peanut butter while watching Say Yes to the Dress and I Found the Gown.
“I have really bad social anxiety,” says McKenzie, picking at a gluten-free cinnamon roll–she has celiac disease–at New Cascadia bakery in Southeast Portland. “Doing anything alone really bothers me. Interviews on national television are cool, but going to the grocery store and having to ask somebody where something is, I break out in hives.”
She has no problem interacting with her fans, though, which is another key to Sunshine Girl’s strategy. It’s one thing to show up in search results; it’s another for viewers to stick around long enough to share videos and subscribe to the channel. To make that happen, McKenzie has made herself into a brand that extends beyond YouTube. Her viewers–58 percent female and most between the ages of 13 and 24–aren’t just subscribing to the story of Sunshine Girl; they’re subscribing to a personality. Her Instagram is a sea of selfies, and on Vine she posts looping videos of puppies and pancakes. She retweets her fans feverishly. On YouTube, she often asks viewers to tweet at her, whether theories about the ghosts in her house or what color she should paint her nails. She estimates she responds to 100 Facebook messages a day.
Such a social-media presence is nearly a full-time job. When McKenzie isn’t shooting a paranormal video, she’s chronicling other exploits–going crabbing, playing softball, visiting the Oregon Zoo for Packy’s birthday–or filming shout-outs to her viewers.
“What’s happening in today’s social-media explosion is that the audience feels a part of the ride,” says Fullscreen’s Shapiro. “The audience feels like they’ve helped create the success. And to a certain extent, they have.”
That’s the case for Trip George, a 15-year-old fan in Houston who’s had an email relationship with McKenzie for a year and has even contributed some of his own paranormal videos to the channel. “Other YouTubers don’t interact as much with their subscribers,” George says. “She got my email and actually read it. I was really surprised. I admire her. She didn’t start out with much, but she built a fan base and is making her own dreams come true.”
After wrapping the video in her parents’ bedroom on that overcast summer morning, McKenzie runs upstairs to shoot five more. The YouTube star still lives at home, in a lavender bedroom decorated with heart-shaped lights, ceramic elephants and framed photos of Audrey Hepburn. The family doesn’t like to reveal details about where they live since McKenzie has overzealous fans.
“She has a whole group of 30-year-old men that really think they have a chance with her,” Rose says. “It’s the weirdest thing ever. When she’s Jennifer Lawrence, I can pay to protect her. But she’s not. She’s a YouTube star.”
Their town is about an hour outside of Portland, far enough from the city that suburban strip malls give way to vineyards and dilapidated barns. The family home, a farmhouse built in 1911 and extensively remodeled, has a grandmotherly feel–all mauves and lilacs, with floral wreaths and gauzy paintings of angels hanging on the walls. (An exception is the bedroom of McKenzie’s brother, Christian, a 23-year-old with wispy facial hair who’s covered one of his walls with gargantuan The Lord of the Rings posters.) McKenzie’s father works from home, and while she says he’s supportive, he’s not involved with the series aside from occasionally slamming a door for a video. The family’s dog, a black Doberman mix named Lucy, isn’t allowed near visitors: She bites.
High school was difficult for McKenzie. “There were under 500 in my school,” she says. “My junior year, my best friend moved away, and this one girl sought me out and decided I was the bane of her existence. She made my life a living hell. She turned everyone against me and nobody talked to me. It totally sucked.”
She shrugs. “Whatever. I moved on. Typical Hollywood story.”
Two years ago, after graduating from high school–and having turned down offers of admission from two local arts colleges–McKenzie and Rose spent a week in Los Angeles. They’d been working on Sunshine Girl for a year and a half by that point, and they aimed to sell talent agencies on the series.
“One of the places we went, they were like, ‘You’re just not sexy enough,'” McKenzie recalls. “And I was like, ‘I’m 18 and really young-looking. I look 12.’ They didn’t understand the YouTube stuff, either.”
Rose continues: “It was mostly, ‘Oh, youâre adorable. You’re from Oregon and you’re doing YouTube.’ People were very confused by that. They didn’t understand how it could go from YouTube to network or cable television.”
For a while, McKenzie worked remotely with an agent and manager. She sent in audition tapes–for The Spectacular Now, Palo Alto, We’re the Millers, The Call–but was never cast. McKenzie dropped the agent and manager after six months. Hagen, meanwhile, directed her in two films. Sunshine Girl spinoff Black Eyed Kids played at Vancouver’s Kiggins Theatre in 2012 but didn’t find distribution. The other, an ’80s-set thriller called Thr33, is still being edited.
A scholarship competition in Seventeen magazine proved to be McKenzie’s breakthrough. After appearing in the magazine last year, she was contacted by a literary agent, who pitched Sunshine Girl to the Weinstein Company and helped secure book and movie deals. Weinstein has a reputation for making critical darlings such as Oscar winners The King’s Speech and The Artist but hasn’t ventured much into young-adult fare. McKenzie is the only YouTuber on the studio’s roster.
It may go without saying that the content of Sunshine Girl doesn’t impress in terms of plot, acting or production value. Robert Thompson, a media scholar at Syracuse University, finds McKenzie authentic and appealing, but calls the storyline “pretty old and hackneyed.” And he’s skeptical about the Weinstein deal.
“Sunshine Girl is very effectively using the medium of the Internet,” Thompson says. “It’s perfectly sustainable because you’re watching it on a small screen, and you’re watching it in small bursts. One of the great appeals is that it’s kind of shoddy. But that could be completely neutered when it gets the full Hollywood treatment.”
Even so, the Weinstein deal is evidence of the changing relationship between traditional media businesses and the legions of young people (and their millions of fans) who’ve found fame online. Take the sequel to Pitch Perfect, whose cast will include several YouTube stars. Or the movie deal recently secured by Australian YouTube pranksters the Janoskians, or the film set to star teenage heartthrobs/Vine sensations Nash Grier and Cameron Dallas.
“What’s happening here is that traditional entertainment is trying to tap into the youth culture,” Shapiro says. “Online is where the fish are. We’re at a tipping point. This is just the beginning.”
YouTube itself is striving to improve the quality of its programming. It’s built massive production facilities in L.A., New York, London and Tokyo that YouTubers can access for free. A year ago, McKenzie, Rose and Hagen were tapped to join a fellowship program at YouTube Space L.A.: They attended seminars on lighting, editing and copyright infringement law, shot collaboration videos with other YouTubers, and received a $5,000 grant, half of which they put toward a new HD camera.
The Weinstein deal has the potential to line their pockets further. Rose is optimistic. During the June video shoot, I spot a cardboard box filled with mockups of the first book. On the cover, McKenzie, dressed in a frilly white dress, pearl necklace and Mary Jane heels, appears to be levitating. Rose encourages me to take a copy.
“Have Paige sign it, though,” she says, “so it’ll be worth money.”
Summer is road-trip season, so we’re taking a culinary tour of America. But because Portland is a city of immigrants from other states, we don’t have to leave town to do it. We’re traveling to 50 Portland restaurants to try one distinctive food from each state. Our 50 Plates tour continues with fried pickles from Arkansas, which joined the union on June 15, 1836.
The state: Arkansas has either the most bewildering spelling or the most bewildering pronunciation in the union—it’s the French pronunciation of a Quapaw word meaning “land of downriver people.” Downriver is where Bill Clinton got tail with the help of state troopers, and it’s where Johnny Cash learned how to play guitar. Despite its status as the birthplace of Sam Walton, who has quite possibly created more minimum-wage jobs than any man in America, Arkansas decided to change its state nickname from the “Land of Opportunity” to the “Natural State” in 1995. Other nicknames? “The Toothpick State” and “Rackensack.”
The food: Y’all ain’t never fried a pickle? Sheeeeeeiiiittt. In a long southern tradition of taking a perfectly good thing and then making it even better by frying the living crap out of it, Bernell “Fatman” Austin of Atkins, Arkansas, started battering, frying and selling pickles out of his Duchess Drive In in 1963. The family still has a secret recipe even today, served up only at the Atkins Picklefest (a festival name that is, perhaps, my personal definition of heaven.) Some people fry the pickles whole. Some slice them up. But one thing is certain: The damn thing better be dill. And it better be a little bit spicy. And the dipping sauce better be called secret sauce.
Other dishes considered and rejected: Twce-cooked chicken potato salad, fried catfish, possum pie, sugared rice, biscuits and chocolate gravy, Grapette soda.
Get it from: Crown Q (445 NE Killingsworth St, 281-0373, crownqmarket.com) has a plate of dill pickle chips with secret sauce for a cool $5, to get on the side with your BBQ pork ribs or brisket from Stroupe Family Farms. The dipping sauce is somewhere on the spicy side of the Thousand Island family—I’d guess ketchup, horseradish, mayo, black pepper, maybe some worcestershire—the chips lightly battered but still crisp, with the pickle soft in the middle. The thin batter splits a bit sometimes, freeing the pickle within, but all in all a fine fried pickle.
Click on the map to see each state’s distinctive food and where to get it in Portland.
Summer is road-trip season, so we’re taking a culinary tour of America. But because Portland is a city of immigrants from other states, we don’t have to leave town to do it. We’re traveling to 50 Portland restaurants to try one distinctive food from each state. Our 50 Plates tour continues with toasted ravioli from Missouri, which joined the union on August 10, 1821.
The state: One of the best jokes ever to hit The Simpsons cartoon series probably whizzed right by you. As young Bart Huck Finns his way down the Mississippi River, he passes a sign that says “Now leaving Missouri” and, shortly thereafter, another sign that says “Now Entering Missouruh.” A true bastion of the Mid-South, Missouri is somehow a plains state, a midwestern state and weirdo Dixie country all at once, with St. Louis and Kansas City both evenly split between lazy drawls and Midwestern twangs; both cities are also brutally segregated along black-white lines, and hunker over opposite state lines. Note: Do not go to East St. Louis, Illinois (unless you’re frisky). Do not go to Kansas City, Kansas (unless you’re boring). In any case, St. Louis was the starting point for the Oregon Trail, which means that St. Louis is the number one cause of dysentery in the United States. Let’s eat!
The food: Kansas City barbecue is of course well known, and well documented. You’ve had the ribs (or someone’s half-assed version of them), and the sauce is in your fridge. But St. Louis? St. Louis food is a strange parallel universe, in which the normal rules do not seem to apply. Barbecue is grilled. Steak is pork. Ice cream isn’t ice cream; it’s frozen custard. Pizza is cut square, and comes topped with a plasticky cheese substance called Provel, which seemingly everyone in St Louis is wild about. Restaurants in the “Hill”, St. Louis’ Italian sector, will grate Provel over your pasta unless you stop them. Almost none of St. Louis’ food ever leaves St. Louis. It is a private language, understood only in its own city. Except, that is, for the trashy delight of toasted ravioli. “Toasted” is what St. Louis calls “breaded and fried.” Order toasted ravioli in St. Louis and you get a plate of big breaded pasta pillows stuffed with provolone and beef or veal, served ’round a bowl of marinara dipper. There are two competing versions of how this dish was created, but both of them involve a midcentury Italian chef on the Hill accidentally dropping his ravioli into the oil and saying Mamma mia!
Other dishes considered and rejected: Pork steak (where are you, pork steak?), Kansas City ribs, Provel cheese, Imo’s/cracker-crust pizza, frozen custard, Gerber sandwich, Saint Paul sandwich, St. Louis-cut ribs.
Get it from: The Alameda Brewhouse (4765 NE Fremont St, 460-9025) has a toasted ravioli that contains merely provolone—which is to say it’s a bit closer to how the dish got picked up in the New England states. They are essentially Applebee’s cheese sticks on crack, with some of that same weird reheated fried starch-on-starch flavor. I found myself instead pining for the meat-filled pockets of St. Louis. Alas, these are found to our knowledge only in a food cart, Lou’s Ragin’ Ravioli (4926 SE Division St.), that was closed on three attempted visits during its posted business hours, and the owner did not respond to calls or texts asking when they’d be open. Lou? Where you been, Lou? We miss you. I know it’s hot out there, but we miss you.
Click on the map to see each state’s distinctive food and where to get it in Portland.
BY REBECCA TURLEY
The same-sex couple refused service by a Broadway Cab driver last July are now suing him and the taxi company for $38,000.
In a suit filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court on Thursday, Kate Neal and Shanako Devoll say Ahmed Egal intentionally caused them emotional distress and held them under false arrest, and that Broadway Cab is guilty of negligence.
In March, the City of Portland dismissed a $1,000 fine against Broadway Cab, deciding the cab company was not responsible for Egal’s actions. The state Bureau of Labor and Industries found Egal discriminated against the women.
The incident created a media firestorm last summer.
Neal and Devoll, along with their friend Eric Swensied, got into the cab on July 25, 2013. The suit says the driver started yelling “homophobic remarks” and demanded the couple get out of his cab on the side of Interstate 84. (Media reports said he was irked by Neil and Devoll kissing.)
While on I-84, the passengers asked that Egal stop the ride “at a safe location,” but Egal started speeding down the freeway, passing several exits and talking on the phone.
The Oregonian reported last year that Egal had called 911. He accused Neal and Devoll of being “real drunk, and so mean,” and refusing to pay.
Eventually, Egal let Neal and Devoll off on the side of the freeway, “forcing plaintiffs to exit the cab and climb over the side of I-84 to safety,” the suit says.
Neal and Devoll only returned home after finding a Portland police officer. He brought the couple home safely.
Broadway Cab managers could not immediately be reached for comment this afternoon.
In 1910, newly arrived Italian immigrants erected a massive warehouse at the corner of Southeast Belmont Street and 10th Avenue, which they used as a produce market. In 2002, a fire destroyed the building, which in the meantime had become home to an old-school restaurant with “pizza, steaks and Italian dinner.”
The property has been empty since. Well, not exactly empty. It’s been a goat pasture since 2010, when goats arrived as an urban experiment. For three glorious summers, goats grazed the pasture, delighting passersby.
Alas, the up-and-coming Buckman real-estate market has spurred a redevelopment project that will include apartments, a grocery store, a hardware store and maybe a library. The herd will soon be forced to outer Southeast’s still gritty Lents neighborhood, which the Portland Development Commission has already spent close to $100 million to revitalize, without success. Though the date of the move is still unknown, the goats will make their first appearance in their new neighborhood at this weekend’s Lents Street Fair. Here’s who’s coming to the neighborhood. (All images below courtesy of the Belmont Goats.)
CHESTER: The Capitalist
He takes everyone else’s food, head-butting the others if they’re in his way. He has the longest, fullest goatee of the herd, which he combs on the edges of the wooden boards of his shelter. While others graze, he sometimes stays behind on the roof of their shelter, making sure they continue their work.
DUCHESS: The Boss Lady
The “head buck” is a strong feminist; she doesn’t believe in gender-specific titles. If you do not give her attention, she demands it with a head butt.
COOPER: The Daredevil
Cooper is attracted to all things dangerous. He follows anyone who has a saw or wheelbarrow in hand. He has a voracious appetite and will eat inches of your clothing.
ATHO: The Bored Kid
Atho is the teenager always looking for trouble. He doesn’t sit much, preferring to stand even in the laps of his owners. He was a hormonal little one, having reached puberty shortly after being born. He was castrated at a young age. Atho just hangs around, head-butting his sister, Winter, and looking for trouble.
HICKORY: The Co-dependent Boyfriend
Hickory often stays up past 11 pm, sitting atop the herd’s shelter. If the goats split up, he screams at the top of his lungs. He keeps that up for as long as it takes the herd to regroup. He’s also big into rearing and slamming.
GO: Lents Street Fair, Southeast 91st Avenue from Foster Road to Reedway Street, lentsstreetfair.com. 1-8 pm Sunday, July 27.
Turn on the TV news and you’d have reason to believe Portland’s gang violence is out of control.
Terse warnings from police and fallout from three recent high-profile shootings have prompted alarming reports in the media of a recent surge in gang activity.
“Gang violence rises sharply in first half of 2014,” KGW-TV declared June 6. On July 9, KOIN-TV reported gang-related violent crime is the highest it has been in 13 years. And as The Oregonian put it in a headline that same day, “Portland’s gang enforcement team struggling to respond to increased violence.”
The claims stem from Portland police statistics that show an increase in what cops define as “gang-related violent crimes”—75 so far this year compared to 53 for the same period in 2013.
Portland police have followed these reports with concerns they lack the resources to fight the problem of gangs. And elected officials haven’t challenged that narrative.
Amid the rhetoric and media heat, however, documents show the story is far more complicated: To be sure, even one shooting is one too many. So is one gang. And nobody would deny that parts of Portland and Multnomah County endure more violence and need immediate attention.
“This is real,” says Deanna Wesson-Mitchell, police liaison for Mayor Charlie Hales. “It’s scary when you go to sleep at night wondering if a bullet is going to
come through your window.”
But when pressed, City Hall officials, while concerned by the recent shootings, remain unconvinced the problem is as serious as police claim.
“I don’t know whether we have a reason to believe that’s a big trend or just a blip,” says City Commissioner Steve Novick. “The broader question is, have we adjusted the police force to the changing reality of crime? That’s not really a discussion we’ve had.”
Violent gangs have worried police and threatened neighborhoods since the 1980s, when the Bloods and Crips first showed up in Portland. But the most recent attention to gangs came in June, as the City Council put the finishing touches on Portland’s $515 million general fund budget.
In the middle of this year’s budget debate, the Police Bureau released numbers showing gang-related Measure 11 crimes had spiked by 48 percent since 2013.
The bureau’s announcement gained greater currency June 30, a Monday, when Andrew Leon Coggins Jr., 24, was shot dead near McCoy Park in North Portland’s Portsmouth neighborhood. Police say he was the victim of a gang related drive-by shooting.
Then, early on the morning of July 5, 26-year-old Hahrahcio Roy Branch was shot and killed in the parking lot of Soobies Bar & Grill at Southeast 122nd Avenue and Oak Street. Four other people were injured.
Three days later, a 5-year-old boy was shot in the left leg while playing outside an apartment complex in Southeast Portland’s Powellhurst-Gilbert neighborhood. Police suspect it was a gang shooting gone awry.
Portland police saw their 24-member gang unit lose two officers in budget cuts handed down by City Hall last year.
The Police Bureau’s gang enforcement supervisor, Sgt. Don Livingston, told The Oregonian on July 9 he didn’t have enough officers to put gang members in jail.
“When we don’t have adequate officers working the street, we end up solving less cases,” Livingston said.
The sudden explosion of violence might have distracted the news media from the landmark report on gang activity.
The 1,045-page report by the Multnomah County Local Public Safety Coordinating Council is the first of its kind in Oregon. The council, a collection of 10 agencies, cost $50,225 and took six months to complete.
Its conclusions created a dissonance with the rising media noise around the recent shootings.
The report says Multnomah County law enforcement agencies lack a reliable way to measure the scope of gang activity.
“[P]ublic safety agencies have lacked a centralized method for identifying and tracking gang-related events and individuals,” the report says, detailing its key findings.
“Questions that currently remain unanswered include how many gang-involved individuals are active in Multnomah County, how many gangs consist primarily of youth versus adults, what crimes are being committed by gangs, and when and where gang crimes are being committed.”
What’s more, the public safety council’s report says that every standard indicator of gang activity has gone down dramatically in the past decade. (See chart at left.)
The report notes that these crimes have moved east in recent years, away from North andNortheast Portland toward Gresham. As a result, some specific areas have seen increases in gang activity—such as the Rockwood area of Gresham—but overall the problem is far less serious than it once was.
(Unlike most other media, Oregon Public Broadcasting stood out by highlighting the study’s key findings about trends in gang activity.)
“It’s important to point out that we’re down hugely on gang shootings,” says Lane Borg, executive director of Metropolitan Public Defenders. “When you look at it 10 years ago compared to now, it’s really significantly down.”
Borg says the report’s message—while commissioned and produced by a council made up in part by police agencies—is inconvenient for law enforcement.
“I don’t know that we can say we have solved the problem,” Borg says. “If you want to keep focus on something, the last thing you need is a report that says things are getting better.”
Livingston, of the Portland Police Bureau’s gang enforcement team, says he’s well aware that statistics show crime is down overall. But he says his agency’s
statistics better reflect reality.
“Countywide, things are getting better, but in this world, it’s getting worse,” Livingston says.
Portland’s gang unit in 2004 responded to 44 reports of violent crimes suspected of being gang-related, according to bureau statistics. By 2013, that number had
nearly tripled to 118.
“We’re spending all our time responding to shootings primarily,” Livingston says. “The difference between a homicide and an assault is usually just a few
inches. Better aim, and someone is going to die.”
But experts say they don’t trust those numbers in isolation when compared to broader trends. “I don’t put a lot of stock in police gang statistics,” says Clay Mosher, a professor of sociology at Washington State University-Vancouver and author of a similar gang assessment report for Clark County law enforcement agencies in 2012.
Mosher says agencies label gang-related crime differently—and often liberally. “They have a lot of latitude in how they define things,” he said. “Most crimes committed by gang members are not committed for the gang. But they can get coded as a gang-related crime.”
Portland’s elected officials acknowledge that many crimes associated with gangs have been dropping, but they have been cautious when challenging the account of a worsening gang problem.
“It’s a little hard to celebrate going from, say, 100 people shot to 10 people shot,” says Hales spokesman Dana Haynes. “The families of those 10 people will hear
you celebrating. This mayor is not satisfied with where the levels of
gang violence are. Yay, they’re down. Boo, they’re not down enough.”
“This time of year, we talk a lot about gangs and shootings,” adds City Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who oversaw the Police Bureau in 2009 and 2010. “I would argue that there’s a lot of other crimes being committed against children and spouses that go on year-round.”
Novick, a frequent critic of the Police Bureau, says there has not been a serious debate about how to change police operations.
“I don’t hear a coherent response to the question, ‘How do you adjust the
police force in an era when there’s less crime?'” Novick says. “There’s
times when talking to the Police Bureau is like talking to the Pentagon
after the Cold War ended.”
City Hall’s decision to trim police staffing has not left Portland Police Chief Mike Reese without options: He has the authority to shift positions to the gang unit. He hasn’t done so.
“The discussion is ongoing,” says Portland police spokesman Sgt. Peter Simpson. “Moving two bodies over temporarily often means leaving something else empty that needs attention also.”
In February, the Police Bureau’s budget documents cited the need for restoring officers to the gang unit. But when it came to seeking more money, Reese instead chose to ask the City Council for $287,671 for four more traffic-safety officers on the night shift, $152,208 for an equity program manager, and $68,783 to cover compensation increases for commanding officers as called for in their latest bargaining agreement. (The cost to restore the two gang enforcement officers: $150,662.)
Reese was out of town and unavailable for comment on the budget decisions and the public safety council’s report on gang violence, which was posted on the Web on June 30. Simpson says “the bureau has not been presented with the report yet, so it would be inappropriate to address any issues related with it at this time.”
Simpson says Reese is committed to fighting gangs. He says the extra traffic cops would help save lives, and the other requests reflected either City Hall priorities or contractual obligations. (City Council did fund the equity officer.)
As for staffing, Simpson says top brass has been “brainstorming and discussing the issues and resources surrounding gang crime and how the bureau responds.”
After that, he says, the bureau can “develop a thoughtful, sustainable plan. Not just throw resources at it.”
Interns Erin Carey, Sami Edge and Samantha Matsumoto contributed to this story.
In Northeast Portland, on the border of the Irvington and King neighborhoods, where 7th Avenue and Morris Street form a T, there stands a tree. It’s a horse chestnut, with a thick trunk and a leafy canopy, and from it hang hundreds of paper tags. This is a wishing tree, so designated last November by Nicole Helprin, who lives on the street. For those who come here and grab paper and pen from a plastic bag pinned to the trunk, it’s a place of dramatically varied aspirations.
Some wishes are acquisitive: There are lots of requests for kittens and puppies and ponies, as well as for a new keyboard or a rocket ship or legal pot. Some are precise: “I wish to pay off all my debt by June 1st 2014!” “I wish for Uncle Barry to survive pancreatic cancer.” A 5-year-old named Moses wishes to be a ninja. A girl named Frances has drawn a horse: “I wish my life was more adventureous.” In thick black ink, from a visitor from Lafayette, La.: “I wish Marcus proper in life and his trucking business.”
There are wishes about overcoming bulimia and maintaining sobriety. There are
pleas about Disneyland. “I wish that my life wasn’t so complicated,” reads one. Another: “I wish me and my brother would get along better.”
Some are irreconcilable. One tag yearns Portland were more like Austin, while
another wishes Portland were in Canada. And some are blindly, adorably hopeful: “I wish that the Blazers win next year’s NBA title!”
The wishes have been here since last fall, and some are so weathered they’re illegible. Others have fallen to the ground like dead leaves. But they also seem to bring out the best in people. On one tag, written in a child’s clumsy hand, there’s a scribbled-out, aborted wish: “I wish that my brother…”
And on the other side of the same tag: “I wish for love.” REBECCA JACOBSON.
BEST TINY PORTLAND
The Gus J. Solomon Federal Courthouse was a beast. The 1933 Renaissance revival building, which sits next to the dome-topped Ban Roll-On building on Broadway, isn’t the most elaborate structure in downtown Portland, but it proved to be the hardest for Brian D’Agostine to re-create in Lego bricks.
“I had to build that building sideways since it’s an older building with narrow windows and other elements,” he says. “Then, I had to connect the sideways pieces to the rest of the structure, which was tough.”
D’Agostine, 38, spent at least five hours just on that one building, part of his quest to build a replica of downtown Portland in Lego bricks, a project that’s taken more hours and money than he can count. His eventual goal is to construct everything south of West Burnside Street, east of I-405 and west of the Willamette River. So far he’s finished 36 city blocks (track his progress at dagsbricks.com).
Building at 1/1,000 scale would be easy enough with glue, stickers or an X-Acto knife. D’Agostine shuns them all, refusing to use even non-Lego bricks, instead purchasing aftermarket bricks from websites like Bricklink.com and Brickowl.com.
“If I was to use glue or stickers or cut pieces it would be pretty doggone easy,” he says. “Where’s the challenge in that?”
The pieces cost 10 cents each on average—some colors are cheap, others are pricey—meaning a large building can cost up to $50 to build. All are created as faithfully as possible from Google Maps and Google Earth.
“Sometimes when I’m looking at downtown buildings all I see is the Lego pieces,” he says.
As you might expect, such a detail-obsessed project may be born, in part, out of frustration with the restraints of the full-scale, non-plastic world.
D’Agostine is a home designer by trade, working in the Craftsman aesthetic, “not this kind of new ‘we’re trying to be Craftsman’ look.”
Once he’s done designing a home, though, it’s out of his hands. “I really prefer real Craftsman aesthetic, with true wood trim,” he says. “I like things done right. The way I think things should be done. But with the houses—I just have to let that go because I can’t control it, and if I tried to control it I’d lose my clients.” MARTIN CIZMAR.
BEST MURAL OF AN IDYLLIC BEAVERTON THAT NEVER WAS
The first thing you notice when you walk into Monteaux’s Public House in Beaverton (16165 SW Regatta Lane, No. 1000, Beaverton, 439-9942, monteauxs.com) is a large painting along the wall. It depicts Beaverton from 1800 up until 1999. From the well-dressed, well-to-do family hopping off a trolley straight out of San Francisco to the tractor driving right alongside a MAX line, it’s all here.
Well, except that there was no Monteaux’s in 1930; the restaurant opened in 2000.
I also cannot find any records for downtown Beaverton’s apparent transformation from urban to agrarian between 1930 and 1980. And where did those tall buildings come from? Is that the view of Portland that Beavertonians would have if the West Hills didn’t exist?
Beaverton does have a well-maintained downtown, it just happens to look exactly nothing like this. It’s also nowhere near Monteaux’s. But when you’re waiting for your significant other to finish shopping at Fred Meyer across the
street or on the waiting list at Great Clips, this public house gives you the opportunity to have a beer and wax nostalgic about that which never was.
BEST PLACE TO WATCH A SUMMER SUNSET
About nine minutes before the summer sun sinks beneath the West Hills, it sends a shaft of blazing light into the windows of houses and apartments on Mount Scott, eight miles to the southeast. For those nine mystical minutes, the myriad windows light up en masse and turn the exact hue of gold bullion. If you’re in a Southwest Waterfront high-rise, riding the aerial tram or hiking up Lair or Marquam hills, you’ll be treated to a sight as improbable as it is unforgettable: the thoroughly unglamorous dwellings of the restive Clackistani territory to our south transubstantiated into El Dorado, the fabled lost city of gold. RICHARD SPEER.
BEST MODEL TRAIN SET
In a small North Portland building, there exists a strange little world that looks like a mirror image of our own—only way, way smaller. As you enter, you look straight into a cavernous ravine, a sleek silver Amtrak train rolling over a thin rock bridge just above the rift’s lip. It looks majestic, but it’s an impossible sight. “They would never really run a train over a stone arch in real life,” says Steve Watkins as he peers into the canyon.
For Watkins and the rest of the Columbia Gorge Model Railroad Club (2505 N Vancouver Ave., 288-7246, cgmrc.com), defying the laws of nature is part of the fun: They’ve also got a partially cloaked Klingon battle cruiser floating over a 1950s-style Portland. With a 4,200-square-foot layout representing the entirety of the Gorge, the club boasts the largest model railroad in town. And it’s getting national recognition as the best, too, playing host to the National Model Railroad Association Convention next August. For the club’s members, though, being on top hardly matters—as long as they get to play with their trains. “We’ve had guys working the graveyard shift who come in here at all sorts of hours,” Watkins says. “It’s a real labor of love.” TREE PALMEDO.
BEST SOCIOLOGY EXPERIMENT
It started with Judy Landers. Her sister Audrey was next. Suzanne Sommers got it the worst, while Brigitte Bardot lasted the longest. But within about a month, the same thing happened to all of them. In the men’s restroom of Kerns bar The Standard (14 NE 22nd Ave., 233-4181), the drunken patrons couldn’t be trusted to leave the ladies alone—at least not in pin-up form. Suzanne sprouted a beard and horns, and lost a tooth to black pen. Within weeks, the men made each sex symbol into a symbol of something else entirely. It was a disturbing parade. And so bar owner Reed Lamb tried an experiment. He put up a poster of a long-bearded, half-toothless Appalachian man drinking Blitz. This, finally, was something the men recognized as their own: The old man’s still there, almost a year later. Apparently in a bar’s restroom, men want only good-natured failure. The women, however, see things differently—which may explain some things. In the other restroom, Butch and Sundance have been allowed to live untouched forever, in their final blazing moment of glory. May they ever. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
BEST PLACE TO MAKE A FACE
Phil Sylvester is the freedom fighter of the Portland art world. For more than 30 years, Sylvester has taken people who believe they are imprisoned by their utter lack of artistic talent and showed them how to smash their chains. Sylvester—who studied math at Reed College and architecture at Princeton University—discovered early in his own art career the need to subvert the logic of formal drawing techniques. At his school, The Drawing Studio (3614 SE Division St., drawingstudio.net), Sylvester teaches his students to reject the preciousness of a finished work and instead savor the joy of the act of drawing. The student works that do emerge from the two-hour intro sessions are not mere sketches by artists in training. They are bold and whimsical, risky and searching—proof of the creative vigor within all of us, and of Sylvester’s gift for letting it run free. BRENT WALTH.
BEST POST-APOCALYPTIC PERFORMANCE BACKDROP
The ruins of Southeast Portland’s Rexel/Taylor Electric Supply building (1709 SE 3rd Ave.), which burned down in an electrical wire-fueled blaze in 2006, have long been a magnet for taggers and opportunistic photographers looking for an “urban” setting. But the roofless shell got extra attention this year from Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre (heididuckler.org), a site-specific Los Angeles dance troupe that regularly performs at Portland locales. On a mild weekend in February, barrels of fire illuminated the building’s graffiti-covered walls as dancers performed Ragnarok, a show inspired by Norse mythology. The dancers, some clomping around in brightly colored wigs and rain boots, were somewhat lackluster, but the building never looked better. AARON SPENCER.
BEST BARBIE COLLECTION
LaVonne Sallee (ooakbarbies.com) has a twisted mind. Walk around her Silverton home as two petite dogs yap at your feet, and you’ll find all sorts of fiendish, fetishistic and hilarious creations, all made with upcycled Barbie dolls.
In one scene, created the year the brand turned 50, Barbie receives a colonoscopy; in another, she appears on all fours with crisped, browned skin on a serving platter carried by a pig in a chef’s uniform. In yet another, she receives cunnilingus from an oversized Beelzebub head. Invariably, the creations burn holes in your mind.
“I like the idea of shopping at thrift stores and garage sales, buying garbage and remaking it,” Sallee said.
And so she does, turning the cherished beacons of womanhood into something else entirely. Between fulfilling orders for debased wedding-cake decorations and sculpting painted button-and-bead mosaics on her van, Sallee competes for attention with openly transgender Silverton Mayor Stu Rasmussen, the nation’s first.
“Some people are outraged and disgusted,” Sallee says of her work. But despite the perceived gravity of some pieces—visitors are greeted by Barbie heads dangling from the tendrils of a large tree branch on her front porch—she insists they’re all in good taste: “I want to make people laugh.” ALEX
BEST OFFICE CHAIR GRAVEYARD
There’s a desolate graveyard lurking in the Central Eastside—but you wouldn’t know it by name. Climb the Stairway to Savings to the third floor of City Liquidators (823 SE 3rd Ave., 230-7716). Go around the corner, and through the door. Catch your breath as it closes with an echo and you realize you’re alone in a sea of faded, forgotten office chairs stretching as far as the eye can see. A leg sticks out here, an armrest there, jagged protrusions like gravestones themselves. There are no epitaphs here—just abandoned office furniture that loyally put in 40 hours a week for years until being unceremoniously dismissed in favor of a springier new model. Walk the perimeter of the floor. Light streams through dusty windows that look out on the Morrison Bridge ramps. The floor creaks as you step. A hooting owl wouldn’t seem so out of place. You are at peace and yet deeply unsettled. ALEX MIERJESKI.
Sounds like: A chopped-and-screwed street-corner prophet trying to reveal the secrets of the universe after taking one too many Xanax.
For fans of: Mac Dre, DJ Screw, Earl Sweatshirt, Sa-Ra Creative Partners.
Why you care: Grape God was born the day the world was supposed to end: Dec. 21, 2012, the date of the Mayan apocalypse that wasn’t. That’s when Anthony Burgundy—”Tron” to his friends—recorded “Snaps Jazzwave,” the first song off his debut EP, Time Travel. He’d only recently started rapping, but in three takes established the woozy, heavily medicated drawl and free-form lyricism that’d mark the five projects he’s released since. All he needed was an alias to brand it with. “Grape” was a given: The dude really loves the color purple. As for the Kanye-style self-deification, Burgundy insists it’s not the product of a typical overinflated hip-hop ego.
“For the shit I’m talking about, I’ve got to be a god,” says the 23-year-old MC and visual artist from a bench in the North Park Blocks, where he’s dressed like a walking lavender bloom, a homemade leather medallion inscribed with the words “Buy Art” dangling from his neck. What exactly it is he’s talking about often gets lost in his syrupy, offbeat flow, which is just as well: Burgundy—which, it should be said, is not his true last name—is big on building mystery. But for those willing to do the decoding, there are revelations embedded in his lyrics waiting to be unraveled. “I want to talk about what it means to be human,” Burgundy says. “I want to cut through all the boxes and filters that people use to separate themselves.”
And hey, even if you’re not up for digging into the stream-of-consciousness abstractions, the music is still good for a nice head trip. Like the Houston screw music he admires, there is a narcotizing effect to the sound of Grape God, a combination of main collaborator Skelli Skell’s hallucinogenic production and Burgundy’s slurred delivery, which he describes as an attempt at blending two disparate influences, Gil Scott-Heron and the late Bay Area rap legend Mac Dre. For Portland’s backpack-sporting traditionalists, it might not sound much like hip-hop at all. But then, what’s a genre to a god? “I’m incredibly confident in my shit, because I feel I’m 100 percent honest in how I sound,” Burgundy says. “I fear no other fucking rapper. Nobody can take shit from me.”
Some records are considered “challenging.” Others issue challenges. CLPPNG, the almost self-titled new album by L.A. noise-rap crew Clipping, begins by practically daring the listener to continue. For its first minute and six seconds, the only “music” is a piercingly high-pitched ringing sound—like amplified tinnitus, or a hearing test designed by Josef Mengele—over which rapper Daveed Diggs sprays rhymes like shrapnel from a nail bomb.
For fans of last year’s Midcity mixtape, extreme rapping and extreme noise delivered with alienating harshness is what they were hoping to get from the group’s Sub Pop debut. But Clipping’s got a challenge for them, too. Coming five songs after the ear-punishing “Intro,” “Tonight“—with its Future-istic synth horns, nods to Ludacris and Auto-Tuned chorus about prowling for a hookup at last call—almost wouldn’t seem out of place on mainstream radio. It’s the trio’s most polarizing song yet. And considering they also have a track constructed entirely from a beeping alarm clock, that’s saying something.
“[‘Tonight’ is] the song people have pointed to as like, ‘Oh my God, they have betrayed us,'” says co-producer William Hutson. “We were really pushing Sub Pop to make that the single,” adds Diggs. “For us, this was the biggest hit we’ve ever made. And so, when people started coming out so vehemently opposed to it, we were just like, ‘Wow, we don’t understand anything.'”
If fans feel “betrayed,” though, it’s not Clipping misunderstanding its audience. It’s the audience misreading what the group is about. Despite its abrasiveness, Diggs, Hutson and fellow noisenik Jonathan Snipes are adamant that the project is not a “critique” or “deconstruction” of hip-hop. It is simply their way of doing it. Besides, back in the day, hip-hop was noise music: loud, cacophonous, often atonal. Hutson and Snipes might draw on power electronics and musique concrète, but at their core, the beats are descendents of the Bomb Squad’s dense squall, with just a few extra layers of corrosion.
“I got sent to the office in fourth grade for wearing a Public Enemy shirt,” Hutson says. “So this has been part of our lives and our upbringing for a long time.”
Make no mistake, though: As hip-hop goes, CLPPNG is almost unprecedented in its viciousness. “Body & Blood” follows “Intro” and offers little reprieve, riding a persistent, industrial thud through a storm of static and whirring power tools. Tracks like “Or Die” and “Ends” don’t bump as much as they glitch and scrape. “Get Up” is the most audacious experiment, pairing the sound of a buzzing alarm clock with an R&B hook straight off a Drake record.
In the context of the rest of the album, perhaps it’s understandable that “Tonight” would seem like satire. But the group insists the song is a sincere attempt at the commercial rap it admires. It was even made with a utilitarian purpose in mind: for DJs to play at last call. With the strange noises gurgling underneath, its chances of becoming the next “Get Low” are slim. A band can dream, though.
“Part of Clipping’s whole process is the bold-faced credulity that anyone would ever use our song for that—like this weird-ass shit would ever make it into the club,” Hutson says. “Really, we should’ve written this song for Rihanna and made it really normal. But that’s not our style.”