The Eastside Guy
When you’re low on dough
By Dave Lister, BrainstormNW
I miss Blitz-Weinhard beer. Brewed right here in Portland and served up in stubby, brown bottles, it had a crisp, clean taste that can’t be found anymore. In the years since the brewery closed I’ve tried to find a replacement. Pabst is close, but not the same. Schlitz doesn’t work for me. Bud has a bite I don’t care for. Coors is like drinking water. And the microbrews? Forget about it. I’m looking for a beer, dammit, not a cultural experience.
Blitz put out a low-end version of that beer in the same stubby brown bottles, but with a different label. It was called Bohemian. Some said it wasn’t the same. Some said it was drawn from the bottom of the vat. But I couldn’t tell any difference. It tasted the same to me. The only difference I saw was a cheaper label that fell off in your hand after a couple gulps while the bottle sweated on a hot day.
No matter how strapped for cash you were, you could always scrounge up enough change for a six-pack or a quart of Bohemian. Because of that, we developed a saying: “When you’re low on dough, reach for Bo.”
It was the early 1970s, and I was working in Portland’s thriving warehouse district for a wholesale company. We sold everything from pipe fittings to pitchforks to neighborhood hardware stores all over the region. Our place was on Northwest 21st and Flanders, right across the street from the Tastee Freeze. We spent our days packing boxes with batteries, padlocks, nuts and bolts, and spray paint. We unloaded 40-foot semis filled with shovels, rakes and hoes. We’d laugh at the cloud of dust that bloomed up when we dropped a crate of 4-foot-square asbestos stove boards on the hardwood floor. Nobody knew then that asbestos was a problem, and as near as I can tell it didn’t do me any harm.
Everett was the driver who picked up for one of our best customers. We called him Ev. We marveled every week at his skill as he backed a huge semi into our tiny loading dock on the skinny side street. We treated Ev with special care for good reason. Our place was his second stop after picking up at the Blitz brewery. And like magic, after he was done loading up, we’d find a cold case of Bohemian sitting atop the bales of binder twine that we kept between the stacked boxes of garden hose and the ricked bundles of shovels and hoes. About 3 o’clock we’d congregate in that spot and pop the tops off the lukewarm bottles of beer with the diagonal cutters we carried in our aprons to cut the steel banding wrapped around pallets of pipe fittings and farm implements. We called them “dykes.” I don’t think they call them that anymore.
I can still remember how good that beer tasted. After six or seven hours of hard, physical work, our sweaty little crew would pop those tops and knock down two or three of the stubby 12-ouncers, usually with a couple of Camel cigarettes. Our boss didn’t care; he was right there with us.
Back then, Portland was a blue collar town. Not far from our place were both Coast to Coast and True Value’s distribution centers. Berenson Hardware was around the corner. Down on the waterfront, they were busily cutting up the last of the Liberty ships from the war for scrap and enjoying hefty U.S. Navy ship repair contracts. Right out of high school you could find a good paying job “” one that would allow you to raise a family and afford a real home with a patch of yard around it.
Thirty years later, there’s nothing but the ghosts and phantoms of those great jobs. The Blitz brewery is long gone, replaced by condos and high-end retail. The warehouse district is now the Pearl District, and the waterfront will soon be condos. Young people are confronted with a minimum-wage economy, live six to a flat, and embrace bicycling because they can’t afford to own an automobile. The so-called “creative class” enjoys the nightlife here, until their money runs out, and then they move on to greener pastures. And our politicians proclaim what a wonderful, green, sustainable city we have created.
The legacy of the Goldschmidt-Katz era is clear. Portland has been gentrified by design. Maybe because the dot-com bubble of the ’90s masked the loss of those jobs by the tremendous, but temporary, profits gained by stock speculation, real estate speculation and day trading, we have lost our blue collar job base. Vera Katz let it happen. Her chief of staff, Sam Adams, provided the arm-twisting to make it happen. They ran Columbia Sportswear out of town and spent untold sums of public money on failed civic monuments.
The starkest testimony to this failure, perhaps, is South Waterfront and the tram. OHSU’s Peter Kohler, along with Mayor Katz, proclaimed that a massive public investment would net a burgeoning biotech industry cluster, and that the jobs lost from the thriving warehouse district would be replaced by this new, cutting edge economy. Adams embraced his boss’ vision, took over, and made sure the tram was completed.
We now know the truth. OHSU is broke. The condo towers stand unfinished and unsold, and the biotech jobs will be in Florida.
I don’t think we can afford any more of this. I don’t think we can afford Sam Adams as mayor of Portland. I don’t think we can afford to raise taxes and fees to fix a crumbling infrastructure when $30 million of one-time surplus has been spent to bail out OMSI, augment the arts, and pander to the bicycle alliance.
Sho Dozono is a man I admire. Like me, he’s an Eastside Guy. His background is impressive. In contrast to career politician Adams, Dozono has been a teacher, a businessman, a coach, and a community leader. His earnest advocacy for the public school system led him to spearhead the community’s bailout of the disintegrated Portland public schools a few years ago, and his patriotism led him to lead a huge group of Portlanders to New York City to show our support after Sept. 11.
Portland, and the nation, is approaching hard economic times. I think it will probably be on the scale of the early ’80s, when interest rates soared and inflation was rampant. When we weathered that storm, we had that tremendous job base. This time, we are without that base.
During the age of the Internet, which obliterated the majority of traditional travel agencies, Dozono’s leadership allowed Azumano Travel to not only survive but thrive. That says something to me.
I think it is critical that Portland’s next mayor not only be able to read, but be able to write a business plan. City revenues will be down and spending will have to be prioritized. We won’t be able to afford the Burnside-Couch couplet, more streetcars or more esplanades. We won’t be able to afford Sam Adams. We’re going to be low on dough.
So I figure, when you’re low on dough, reach for Sho.
But what the heck do I know? I’m just an Eastside Guy.
— By Dave Lister, BrainstormNW