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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Out of service

The upcoming cuts to service on Tri-Met are a drag. The 33 Fremont is among the lines that are going to die off completely. As a Fremont rider since the days of the old 41, I'll miss it -- although it hasn't been nearly as useful as it used to be once they insisted on looping it around on Russell.

Anyway, a reader wrote me other day asking how the transit agency could be cutting service when it's more popular, and more people are depending on it, than ever. The answer is simple: Tri-Met loses money on every passenger. It's paid for by payroll taxes and self-employment taxes imposed on everyone who works within a certain distance from a bus line. When unemployment goes up, Tri-Met's revenue goes down, and it can't afford to do what it did when employment figures were healthy.

The current funk brings into sharp focus a different question: How can we be talking about massive new investments in streetcars and light rail trains when we won't have the money to operate them? As we've noted here and elsewhere before, Uncle Sam likes to hand out money to build these things, but it never offers a penny to operate them. Streetcars down MLK and Chávez, and light rail to Milwaukie, sound cool, until you realize that they mean cancelling perfectly good old bus lines like the 33.

At the risk of sounding like the right-wing transit haters, go ahead and make the cuts if you must, but put the pipedreams on hold at the same time. This is no time to be building shiny toys, even with magic stimulus money.

Comments (32)

To be fair, Congress does provide funds to operate transit -- about 20 percent of federal transit funds can be spent on operations.

In the long run, the ratio of capital spending to operational costs for buses is about 1 to 1, while for rail it is about 4 to 1. So, by letting cities spend a fifth of their federal transit funds on operations, Congress is giving one more incentive to build rail rather than run buses.

There are other incentives. "New Starts" is a giant pot of money given out for major transit capital improvements on a first-come, first-served basis. While potentially this money can be spent on buses, cities learn that if they ask for money for rail instead of buses, they will get a lot more. In addition, another fund called the "fixed guideway fund" goes only to cities with rail or some other fixed transit. In all, just over half of all federal transit funds are dedicated to rail transit. If you don't have rails, you don't qualify for those funds.

Now that we know that the federal treasury is a bottomless pit filled with trillions of dollars, there is no reason why Salem, Corvallis, Eugene, and Medford-Ashland should not have their own trains, all connected to Portland by a 220-mph high-speed rail line. These won't provide more mobility, they won't relieve congestion, but they will satisfy the rail nuts and that's what counts.

If I understood right, the Max line is going to run less frequently too. Does Tri-Met not notice how jammed the trains already are during rush hour? I've got this ca-razy idea: actually install turnstiles for the Max and collect the fees to pay for the service.

The problem with turnstiles is they slow things down, and I think here they would have to man them. And the fare inspectors are pretty much jerks as it is. I would hate to see more of them. (I have witnessed one really nasty guy remove someone from the train who had a monthly pass because she didnt get it out fast enough for him. I saw her again and she said he did it just to lecture her.)

And for being packed, its not as bad as most people say. People seem to have to pack onto a particular train. There is always one a few minutes behind, sometimes immediately behind. Even during rush hour, if you wait 5 minutes for the next train, its usually nearly empty, particularly if the previous train was packed to the doors. I see it every day.

We finally said NO to a bond here in Salem for bus service. The sad thing is, most routes have very few people on them. A handful are a packed and the rest don't justify their existence.

Given the fact that Portland pushes using transit so much, why don't they charge more? It is not just transportation for the poor as it is in some cities. Make those rich yuppies pay for those streetcars that they love so darn much.

As to building streetcar and rail lines, we would be better off paying people to dig holes and a second group to fill them in. This has the following advantages over building rail:

1. When the last hole is filled in, the waste of money stops, unlike rail where the waste continues for generations because rail never pays its own way in most countries (including those European high speed rail lines).

2. ALL of the money actually goes to people, instead of corporations and fat cats.

3. ALL of the money stays locally, instead of going to multinationals that supply the toy trains, steel, electrical supplies and other materials.

4. All of the labor is local instead of being at multinational engineering companies and specialized construction workers.

Buy locally!!


We finally said NO to a bond here in Salem for bus service.

My understanding is that this is the second levy failure in a row in Salem.

The sad thing is, most routes have very few people on them. A handful are a packed and the rest don't justify their existence.

The sad thing is how many streets are empty most of the time. A handful are packed and the rest don't justify their existence.

Here's an idea, stop light rail expansion AND increase fares on the bus routes. I don't know about the rest of you but I would prefer to pay more to get to work then have no way to get there.

Speaking of right-wing transit haters, I see that Karlock is right on schedule with a brilliant suggestion:

we would be better off paying people to dig holes and a second group to fill them in. This has the following advantages over building rail: 1. When the last hole is filled in, the waste of money stops, unlike rail where the waste continues for generations because rail never pays its own way in most countries (including those European high speed rail lines)....

Perhaps those effete Europeans subsidize train service because they think an efficient rail system is simply a social good (by providing a way for, say, the working class to take a trip at a reasonable cost). Now, I do realize that Mr. Karlock would not wish to share a train compartment with The Great Unwashed, but then he's unlikely to want to mix with Effete European Socialists in any case. One more thing: Perhaps those effete Europeans aren't in the death-grip of pseudo-libertarian ideology that reduces every human interaction to some sort of Econ 101 fantasy.

Joe Bob, if you and JK could start a point-counterpoint blog, it would be fun to read.

How many millions did Tri-Met dump into that railcar manufacturer? and how many tens of millions spent on the new WES? Seems like all those poor East-siders who really need some of those routes have been sold out so that the Westside professionals could have their shiny new toy....

I really wish more qualified people with common sense and perhaps a bit of business / economic sense would run for office.

Only an idiot would think it is a good idea to spend money on an expensive and inefficient replacement transit system while eliminating the cheaper, reliable (yes, less sexy and "fun!") alternative in the middle of what the Great One is calling the worst recession since 1930. Guess what, if they built a streetcar on Fremont, I still wouldn't ride it. Sorry, I'm a typical American snob who prefers to use my own car to get to work on the roads that I already pay for.

At the same time, we are spending any money looking to re-name a street in the face of significant opposition, building a ballpark for a private team with no guarantee that the team won't fold or move (uh, the Beavers were gone in the 1990s, if anyone cares to remember), spending $250k on one portable toilet, and refusing to spend that same money on the things that would keep this city running - filling potholes, building sidewalks, cleaning the parks, and providing basic services. Funny, THOSE tasks would probably pay locals instead of tram and trolley builders in Colorado and Czech Republic.

I'm all for commuter rail, but being somewhat of a Libertarian who happens to like infrastructure...if you can imagine that...I think that the people who use rail should be required to pay at least half of it's operating and construction costs. This necessitates turnstiles, like you see in real cities.

All of the data I've gathered, somewhat rudimentary as it may be, indicates that per-capita Taxi use goes way up in cities served by heavy commuter rail. Chicago, NYC, SF, etc. Lots and lots of short trips, but they add up. Different business model, but it puts more money in cab drivers' pockets.

The main problem is with Portand's ridiculous, naive approach with the honor system and fare inspectors. Stick in turnstiles, hire some mean, hard ass Irish NYC Transit Authority beat cops, and then we could also have a safe rail system that isn't among the most crime-plagued in the country, in addition to being in danger of going bankrupt.

Mm Mom, who is fond of the MAX, could ride it around when she comes to visit without me worrying about some "youth" like 15 year old Abel Antonio Chavez-Garciaher, savagely pounding her head in with a baseball bat. As you recall, young Abel Antonio did just that in the Laurie Chilcote case out in Gresham a while back, and this was only one highly publicized crime among many on the MAX.

The Citizen Advisory Committee for the streetcar system has been reported in the latest SE Examiner as decided that development, not transportation is what's most important regarding the streetcar.

The problem is if we encourage density and don't concurrently build the infrastructure to support it, all we're doing is making a mess that serves neither density, neighborhood livability nor our transportation needs.

And just as the Mt Hood Freeway intended to serve outer Portland Development, we're now facing a Milwaukie Light Rail line that serves Milwaukie --and now detours to take in South Waterfront-- while providing little to us in close in SE other than the threat of hundreds of train horns day and night. (TriMet's telling us they're working on a fix, even as their telling the folks on the WES line "not our problem.")

And, of course, there's no new money for operations. Look at the list of projects TriMet lists for the "stimulus" money it might get, and how much of it looks like it's for deferred maintenance.

I've been a loyal TriMet rider for near 30 years, and they've over the last dozen years reduced our service, made the #14 Hawthorne line a joke as we go home over the Morrison Bridge not the Hawthorne, and now we're not even going back through downtown after the mall is finished. We're told we can "conveniently transfer."

Meanwhile those who take the streetcar AND the tram pay only $100.00 for their annual pass. This is really starting to grate.

Shouldn't all of you close innners be riding bikes anyway? :)

One thing is certain TriMet long ago abandoned the truth and realized they could create their own.


This is why TriMet/the state/Portland need rainy day funds. It makes no sense to cut BUS service when more people feel the need for it. As a taxpayer, I'd rather subsidize it right now when more folks are likely to become regular riders than in good times, when they're not. The reality is that more riders will stay with a convenient service after the financial need has passed than will join it when they don't have the financial need.

Otherwise, they'll just buy a car. And if you cut convenient public transportation during a recession, they will never come back. Why should they? It's not dependable.

A perfect example of short-sighted thinking.

Does Tri-Met not notice how jammed the trains already are during rush hour?

This is largely because Portlanders are so lame when it comes to packing a train.. I think it's the ridiculous lack of density in so many of our neighborhoods, and the accompanying horrified over-reactions whenever someone proposes building a (gasp!) six-story "skyscraper."

I'd love to see some of the stimulus money put toward rotating MAX commuters one one-month sabbaticals to NYC, where they would practice on the East and West side IRT until they figure out how one actually stands and moves on a train so as to allow others to board and disembark. A corpse could ride the #6 during rush hours and remain upright. As a bonus, MAX commuters would learn what a city that isn't afraid of the word "urban" is like.

the ridiculous lack of density in so many of our neighborhoods

What you fail to understand, is that many of these people came here to get away from precisely the quality of life that high density inflicts on a city.

Me, I realize nothing can be done at this late date to prevent the poisoning of the laid-back atmosphere that made Portland so special, so I just kind of roll with it.

But, seriously man, if I wanted to live in NYC I would do so. This is the boondocks, and a lot of us intend to keep some of it that way. We can have commuter rail that serves legitimate transit needs without cramming people into rabbit warrens. A is not B.

But, seriously man, if I wanted to live in NYC I would do so.

My thoughts exactly. It irritates me that many of these planner types in CoP and Metro automatically assume that density=livability. Livability is such a subjective and loaded term and is really a matter of personal preference. Some people are big city types, some (like myself) aren't. Downtown Portland, imo, has become completely unlivable since the Transit Mall "Upgrade".

Regarding these cutbacks . . . Tri-Met really needs to get its priorities straightened out. Investing in its bus system would not only be cheaper but would serve more people. Some Tri-Met and CoP planning types seem to think that light rail/streetcars are more "glamorous", but I think that's a fallacy. Besides, a good bus system with modern equipment would go a long way toward eliminating any sort of perceived stereotype like that for less money.

Jack Bog: Joe Bob, if you and JK could start a point-counterpoint blog, it would be fun to read.
JK: Unfortunately, far too many of my opponents are incapable of discussion beyond ad hominian atacks like those from “Darrin”:

Darrin Speaking of right-wing transit haters
Darrin I do realize that Mr. Karlock would not wish to share a train compartment
Darrin but then he's unlikely to want to mix with Effete European Socialists in any case
Darrin pseudo-libertarian ideology that reduces every human interaction to some sort of Econ 101 fantasy.

Why should I waste my time of such people?

The only thing of substance is his claim that European rail is “efficient”. I would ask how is it efficient if it costs too much and does too little? And almost certainly uses more energy than ordinary (probably subsidized) European rail.


Frank says: We're told we can "conveniently transfer."

I wish a giant clown fist would descend from the sky and punch in the nose any TriMet rep who uses the phrase "conveniently transfer."

Oh. And when you cut bus lines, TriMet, those transfers are a lot less convenient.

Great stuff. You definitely cut right to the meat of the situation and tell it like it is. It does seem a bit... careless to be expanding service and adding new lines and new trains (the green line expansion and the newly launched WES) when you haven't figured out the most reliable way to enforce fare or reduce cost per passenger costs.

Ah, yes, "Michael M" the ONE LINE on the East Side of Manhattan. And if you don't live close to Lexington? Oh, yeah, they've been building a new line for the east side since...the 1970s and STILL haven't opened it?

There's a transit model for you.

I hear they have transit workers in Tokyo who have "people movers" to shove people on board. Maybe we could do that for MAX?

NYC did NOT get it right. That's why Oyster Bay, Long Island, where I grew up, no longer has oysters. Overcrowding is not healthy for people, or nature. What we need is balance.

A major problem with out planners and approach to transportation is the idea that rail transit somehow increases walking and biking. Nonsense.
The resources used to extend rail transit leaves less money for walking and biking infrastructure while at the same time neglects bus service and traffic congestion.
The result is lesss of what the community needs and diminished livibility.

So what that streetcars and light rail run?
They certainly don't provide the full TOD Monty we are told.
Quite the contrary every where one looks.
Eastside MAX development continues to flounder even with many more millions in tax dollars thrown at it.
The Rose Quarter, with MAX and every other advantage a planner could dream of is called a dead zone.
The Beaverton Round TOD,with MAX is a complete flop.
Cascade Station, with MAX tunred into a auto oriented BIG box strip mall.
Washington Square Regional Center sits as a pipe dream while the new WES runs on the wrong side of the 217 freeway.
South Waterfront is the recent con job that was ushered along with lies about the previous adventures.

The whole approach of high density TOD, Transit Oriented Development, is a con job
and fantasy that diminishes communities around the region.

Even out in Hillsboro, with MAX coming and going, their TOD plans had to be altered to have a parking garsage built where market rate housing was envisioned.

Conveniently transfer?

How about consequences?

A whole lotta people should be transfered out of their planning and elected jobs.

If people really want higher densities and walking-biking neighborhoods the waste and fraud of rail transit and TODs must stop sucking up all the resources and piling up debt.
There's better ways to enhance our communities than by Metro and TriMet ideas.

Perhaps the biggest problem with TriMet is the simple FACT that the agency is really responsible to NOONE. The Board of Directors are all appointed by our Governor; and you can be sure that any public input into those appointments is non-existant. The Board of Directors needs to be publicly elected by the general population - not by backroom deals with politicians. As it is now, the businesses that pay the TriMet Tax and the transit using public will have no real say in how TriMet is operated. Until that part of the equation is changed the Portland Metro area will be stuck with the unresponsive and fiscally clueless management it now has.
By the way, as a business owner who has paid TriMet taxes for 20 years, Im beyond amazed at the lame, sorry excuses why TriMet does not install some sort of turnstile system at their light rail stations. This would not only raise millions of dollars in revenue; but also eliminate many of the "free" riders who create the majority of problems for others on the system. It's way past time for all you people that want "fast & easy access" to pay up - as they do on virtually every major city subway or light rail system. I've been a user of rail transit in places such as Chicago, Atlanta, New York and the Bay Area - and they ALL REQUIRE A PAID FARE OR PASS TO BOARD.

It's not just Portland. Chicago, too. I guess The Olympic Games won't be held in Chicago in 2016.,0,5244322.column

An alert reader just copied us on his comments to Tri-Met about eliminating the 33:

I am a frequent bus rider in the service area of the line 33-NE Fremont bus, and use the stops at the NE 7th and Fremont intersection. I understand elimination of this line is proposed due to "alternative service nearby." I oppose this service change. A couple of points:

I am a downtown commuter, and take the bus at ordinary commuting times (between 7:45-8:30 am inbound, between 5:15-6:00 outbound). When I do so the buses I catch are PACKED (standing room only). The alternative lines for me are the 8 - NE 15th (eight blocks away) and the 6 - NE MLK (three blocks away). Both of those lines are also PACKED at ordinary commuting times, both inbound and outbound. Spreading the commute-time riders of the 33 between the 6 and 15 will make overcrowded conditions on those higher-ridership lines worse, will make the bus riding experience less pleasant due to that overcrowding, and will therefore reduce ridership for all the typical reasons. This problem is only solved if you increase service on the "supporting" lines, and so far as I understand there is no such proposed increase in service on those lines.

Second, while lines 6 and 15 support the inbound and outbound service of the 33, nothing supports its service back and forth along Fremont itself. While I wait for the bus headed downtown in the morning, there is usually a significant group of school-age children and young adults waiting across the street for service to take them east on Fremont to their schools. No line in comfortable walking distance supports that route.

Eliminating high-volume lines makes no sense.

Very true-- there is no "alternative service" nearby for the 33 that takes you east-west along a major arterial (Fremont) in NE Portland. I guess it's only "alternative service" if your goal is to get downtown. And then, as the comment above points out, the other lines (already crowded) will be bursting, at least for commuters.

As the spouse of one of those commuters, and especially as the parent of two kids who need that east-west service (to Beaumont & Grant), I'm just fuming. It's not a feasible hike if you're hauling a bass trombone (can't put that on a bike, either). Are we supposed to drive them?

Tri-Met and city planners should drop by this site if they haven't already checked it out:

I discovered it while reading an interview with Jaime Lerner, former mayor of the Brazilian city of Curitiba (population 1.7 million). It was published in SIERRA magazine.

Imagine . . . an intelligent approach to mass transit that does not employ bells and whistles.

BRT stands for "Bus Rapid Transit."

It's not a feasible hike if you're hauling a bass trombone (can't put that on a bike, either). Are we supposed to drive them?

Doesnt the school provide bus service?
Sorry if that sounds silly...Im in the 'burbs. We have school buses.
it would concern me particularly with young kids...I wont even let my kids ride the bus or MAX without an adult until they or 14 or 15, and then only with at least one friend with them.

We finally said NO to a bond here in Salem for bus service.

My understanding is that this is the second levy failure in a row in Salem.

Dont worry, they will find a way to do it without a vote. MAX was voted down by the voters three times. They finally quit asking and built it anyway.

They know all about Bus Rapid Transit, NW Portlander. It's not sexy enough, I guess.

Imagine . . . an intelligent approach to mass transit that does not employ bells and whistles.

BRT could be as simple as some simple technology upgrades to signals, maybe a pocket lane and bigger shelter at certain intersections, and the removal of intermediate stops to make it a faster ride. Essentially a "smart" bus that doesn't stop every other block (a Portland transit norm that continues to confound me).

Never underestimate the ability for transit agency management to screw up a simple thing, however. Look at the BRT system in Eugene: EmX.

In Eugene, their "simple" and "smart" BUS project features:
* dedicated right-of-way -- quite a lot of it resulting in loss of lane miles previously used by cars,
* dedicated signaling (even using the same rail signals that we see on MAX),
* huge, built-up stations, complete with station art

Smart? Simple? Cheaper? Sounds like the Green Line along 205 without the rails. Oh, let's not forget that LTD bought dedicated vehicles gussied up to look like trains -- hiding the wheels hoping people won't notice. Ugh.

The kicker? One thing that LTD forgot to install: ticket machines. The whole thing is fareless. End to end.

Do you really think that TriMet would somehow take a smarter approach? BRT in Portland would be the same sort of overdone boondoggle that we got with WES and MAX Yellow Line.

(To be fair... the folks in Eugene at least got one thing right: LTD decided that it was smart to buy some articulated buses to handle some of their more crowded routes... TriMet just runs more buses -- with more union drivers and engine pollution, and never quite on time.)


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Chateau des Arnauds, Cuvee des Capucins 2012
Nine Hats, Red 2013
Benziger, Cabernet, Sonoma 2012
Roxy Ann, Claret 2012
Januik, Merlot 2012
Conundrum, White 2013
St. Francis, Sonoma Cabernet 2012

The Occasional Book

Phil Stanford - Rose City Vice
Kenneth R. Feinberg - What is Life Worth?
Kent Haruf - Our Souls at Night
Peter Carey - True History of the Kelly Gang
Suzanne Collins - The Hunger Games
Amy Stewart - Girl Waits With Gun
Philip Roth - The Plot Against America
Norm Macdonald - Based on a True Story
Christopher Buckley - Boomsday
Ryan Holiday - The Obstacle is the Way
Ruth Sepetys - Between Shades of Gray
Richard Adams - Watership Down
Claire Vaye Watkins - Gold Fame Citrus
Markus Zusak - I am the Messenger
Anthony Doerr - All the Light We Cannot See
James Joyce - Dubliners
Cheryl Strayed - Torch
William Golding - Lord of the Flies
Saul Bellow - Mister Sammler's Planet
Phil Stanford - White House Call Girl
John Kaplan & Jon R. Waltz - The Trial of Jack Ruby
Kent Haruf - Eventide
David Halberstam - Summer of '49
Norman Mailer - The Naked and the Dead
Maria Dermoȗt - The Ten Thousand Things
William Faulkner - As I Lay Dying
Markus Zusak - The Book Thief
Christopher Buckley - Thank You for Smoking
William Shakespeare - Othello
Joseph Conrad - Heart of Darkness
Bill Bryson - A Short History of Nearly Everything
Cheryl Strayed - Tiny Beautiful Things
Sara Varon - Bake Sale
Stephen King - 11/22/63
Paul Goldstein - Errors and Omissions
Mark Twain - A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
Steve Martin - Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life
Beverly Cleary - A Girl from Yamhill, a Memoir
Kent Haruf - Plainsong
Hope Larson - A Wrinkle in Time, the Graphic Novel
Rudyard Kipling - Kim
Peter Ames Carlin - Bruce
Fran Cannon Slayton - When the Whistle Blows
Neil Young - Waging Heavy Peace
Mark Bego - Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul (2012 ed.)
Jenny Lawson - Let's Pretend This Never Happened
J.D. Salinger - Franny and Zooey
Charles Dickens - A Christmas Carol
Timothy Egan - The Big Burn
Deborah Eisenberg - Transactions in a Foreign Currency
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. - Slaughterhouse Five
Kathryn Lance - Pandora's Genes
Cheryl Strayed - Wild
Fyodor Dostoyevsky - The Brothers Karamazov
Jack London - The House of Pride, and Other Tales of Hawaii
Jack Walker - The Extraordinary Rendition of Vincent Dellamaria
Colum McCann - Let the Great World Spin
Niccolò Machiavelli - The Prince
Harper Lee - To Kill a Mockingbird
Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus - The Nanny Diaries
Brian Selznick - The Invention of Hugo Cabret
Sharon Creech - Walk Two Moons
Keith Richards - Life
F. Sionil Jose - Dusk
Natalie Babbitt - Tuck Everlasting
Justin Halpern - S#*t My Dad Says
Mark Herrmann - The Curmudgeon's Guide to Practicing Law
Barry Glassner - The Gospel of Food
Phil Stanford - The Peyton-Allan Files
Jesse Katz - The Opposite Field
Evelyn Waugh - Brideshead Revisited
J.K. Rowling - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
David Sedaris - Holidays on Ice
Donald Miller - A Million Miles in a Thousand Years
Mitch Albom - Have a Little Faith
C.S. Lewis - The Magician's Nephew
F. Scott Fitzgerald - The Great Gatsby
William Shakespeare - A Midsummer Night's Dream
Ivan Doig - Bucking the Sun
Penda Diakité - I Lost My Tooth in Africa
Grace Lin - The Year of the Rat
Oscar Hijuelos - Mr. Ives' Christmas
Madeline L'Engle - A Wrinkle in Time
Steven Hart - The Last Three Miles
David Sedaris - Me Talk Pretty One Day
Karen Armstrong - The Spiral Staircase
Charles Larson - The Portland Murders
Adrian Wojnarowski - The Miracle of St. Anthony
William H. Colby - Long Goodbye
Steven D. Stark - Meet the Beatles
Phil Stanford - Portland Confidential
Rick Moody - Garden State
Jonathan Schwartz - All in Good Time
David Sedaris - Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
Anthony Holden - Big Deal
Robert J. Spitzer - The Spirit of Leadership
James McManus - Positively Fifth Street
Jeff Noon - Vurt

Road Work

Miles run year to date: 113
At this date last year: 155
Total run in 2016: 155
In 2015: 271
In 2014: 401
In 2013: 257
In 2012: 129
In 2011: 113
In 2010: 125
In 2009: 67
In 2008: 28
In 2007: 113
In 2006: 100
In 2005: 149
In 2004: 204
In 2003: 269

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