Mainstream media outlets can't resist "best of" lists. These features sell magazines and newspapers galore. How they're compiled differs from outlet to outlet. Some take polls; others appoint panels of in-house staffers; and I suspect some ask their advertising departments what's best.
But the surest way to find out what's the finest of Portland is to live here for a while. Sometimes you encounter the city's best in the course of an ordinary day.
Today was such a day for me. I had a problem with a replacement quartz bulb in a fancy desk lamp, and so off I schlepped to Larry's Lighting Repair at 33rd and Division. You walk in, and there's Larry -- nobody else but, and surrounded by a forest of floor lamps entrusted to his care. He had the problem fixed in about three minutes, for 10 bucks cash. For free, Larry threw in some advice about where to procure hard-to-find replacement bulbs for a somewhat exotic outdoor fixture we installed on the side of our garage earlier this year.
Next on the errand list was to drop off a return of a Christmas present that didn't quite fit. It was all set to go via UPS; my beautiful bride had sweet-talked the vendor into free return shipping. There are a ton of nice, small mailing service offices around town, including the one on the north side of Division in the 4100 block. Friendly counter guy, free Christmas cookie. I missed the cutoff for today's outgoing, but the package will depart from there tomorrow. Fine with us.
Next up: coffee, for which this town has few rivals. The original Stumptown Coffee Grinders at 45th and Division is always a great stop. Picked up a pound of their house decaf -- as the knowledgable counter man explained, a water processed decaf, but not the Swiss water process, which robs the beans of flavor. We also chatted about our favorite coffee ever, the Panama Esmerelda we recently scored at Peet's. Turns out, Stumptown has it, too, along with the 411 that it's been the top coffee in Panama for two years running. Quite the distinction, apparently. For the road, we purchased a beautiful decaf latte, with an exotic pattern etched in the foam. I'm not a latte guy normally, but this was worth it.
Bread for the leftover (from Christmas dinner) turkey noodle soup? No place else to go but Grand Central Bakery on Hawthorne. Just another loaf of como from heaven, but with 15 percent off under a Chinook Book coupon that had only three days left on it. The tightwad inside me squealed with glee.
For an impulse buy, we scored a fine early-winter grapefruit and a lime from Uncle Paul's Produce Market, the year-'round outdoor fruit and veggie station under the tent, just east of Grand Central. Ideal conditions there today -- upper 40s, no wind.
From there (crossing Hawthorne extra carefully -- alas, someone else is going to get killed there one of these days), we headed home, with a rosy glow and a renewed faith in the Rose City. No matter how badly our city, county, state and federal governments screw things up, there are still some great days and nights to be had in the shadow of Mount Hood. Especially if you're not really looking for them.