the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

There Are More Black People on American Idol than in the Entire City of Portland


1)  There are more black people on American Idol than in the entire city of Portland.  

I like Portland.  It looks like an Edward Hopper painting, a little dark and depressed.  The city is chock full of old neon signs and from the outside, the city seems like it hasn’t changed in fifty years (although the old tannery is now a trendy bistro)…. but maybe the city has TOO much of a 1950’s feel.   I’ve never seen so many white faces in my life.  On Thursday night, we went to a jazz club that Ellen Bloom recommended called Jimmy Mak’s and saw one black guy, the sax player in a fifteen piece band.  That’s ONE black guy in a Jazz Band, in a Jazz Club, in an entire city, in four days!

2)  We’ve met Portland’s finest bloggers.

Lani and Patry (photo stolen from Lani because mine was too dark)

After meeting the charming Chantel at Tequilacon, we made it a mission to meet other Portland bloggers.  We had dinner with blogging friend Alexandra (who baked us some delicious cake) and then attended a literary salon at the home of the uber-talented writer/illustrator Lani.   The meeting was in honor of Cape Cod-based blogger Patry, who is on tour promoting her first novel, The Liar’s Club.   It was inspirational hearing Patry talk about her book, which I can’t wait to read.  Laini also talked about her forthcoming book, Faeries of Dreamdark.   It was wonderful hearing about the successes of fellow bloggers!  (Yeah, right.  I hate them!)

3)  It is official.  Sophia has the “X” factor.

I drive as slow as an old woman.  Sophia drives like a Nascar racer.  She was stopped TWICE by the Oregon highway patrol, but both times she was let go WITH just a WARNING!   Why does that never happen to me?

4)  Sophia and I are punching each other.

Danny’s daughter, Leah, taught us a driving game that is more current than “Geography.”  I forget what it is called, but you basically can punch the other person whenever you see a Volkswagen Beetle.  The score so far:  Sophia – 7, Neil – 3.

5)  High culture — feh!


We’re currently staying in Ashland, Oregon, which is a cute little town in the Southern part of the state.  We’re staying at this offbeat hundred-year old hotel that looks like something out of “The Shining.”  The main excitement in town is that it is the home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.    So, what did we see at the Shakespeare festival?  A bad Tom Stoppard farce.  However, tonight, there is Shakespeare playing at the Shakespeare festival , but we are choosing to go to the Oregon Cabaret Theater to see some dumb little musical called “Men on Ice,” about a fishing hole in Milwaukee.

6)  Water.

We’ve seen a lot of water — the ocean, lakes,rivers and creeks.  Being a Pisces, I should like water, but Sophia is the one who’s always dragging me to drive an hour and a half to see some creek.  We had a long discussion today, and decided that rivers and creeks are the coolest of all bodies of water.

7)  Soap Opera to Go.


Sophia and I keep up with “All My Children” via our nifty “Hava” machine plugged into our DVR at home.

8)  We’re not done yet.

Tomorrow, we are off to San Francisco — and meeting more bloggers.


  1. deezee

    ah, punch buggy. Tooling around in my beetle, I set off a lot of kids hitting each other. Good thing my son takes martial arts.

  2. Mo

    That’s really disappointing about Portland. I always wanted to go there, but now… (sigh) Towns that have very few black people freak me out. I feel like I’m in old time Whitey Disneyland and nothing feels real (ever notice how WHITE Disney is?). Reminds me of when I lived in the burbs in Denver for a few months (shudder).

  3. Hilly

    Wahhhh, get home so I can see you guys again!

  4. Mist 1

    Did Portland just kick a black person out because Idol did?

    Am writing to Jesse Jackson about this one.

  5. balou

    We call it “Slug-Bug” around here.

  6. plain jane

    Now don’t you be dissing Portland or Ashland, but it is pathetic how white Oregon is.

    I agree, rivers and creeks are my favorite bodies of water too. And Oregon has some of the best!

    We call the game “Slug Bug.”

  7. wendy

    I had to stop my daughter from playing slug bug with her friends….they were bruising eachother! Teen age girls have a lot of angst and energy. Glad it’s goin well.

  8. whoorl

    I love Slug-Bug!

  9. teahouseblossom

    Portland looks lovely.

    The last time I was in San Francisco, my friend who lived there dragged me to see Beach Blanket Babylon. It was awesome and hilarious.

  10. churlita

    I don’t know. I’m pretty fond of tributaries, myself.

  11. Dagny

    Slug Bug sounds fabulous. I played a weird variation of it on Monday night. But this game was more like “Your girlfriend, who is my friend, didn’t see my slug you and will have my back when you accuse me of slugging you — because we’re girls.” So many more opportunities of slugging. And I was nice and turned my rings to the inside.

    Looking forward to seeing y’all over this weekend. Buzzgirl said the same when I called her.

  12. Karl

    Geez, why can’t I live in your general vicinity so I can hang out with you on a routine basis? Glad you two are having fun.

  13. lizardek

    Slugbug! Man, that brought back the memories! We used to call out “Peanut” when we saw a VW Beetle, too, but I don’t remember why.

  14. V-Grrrl

    My sister lives in Maine. Traveling north to visit her from Virginia was like watching the country bleach. It was disconcerting, and with all due respect to all the nice bloggers in Maine, I have to say Maine gets my vote for having the CRABBIEST white people on the planet. After years of vacationing in Maine, my impression is that the only people that smile there are the tourists and the models in the LL Bean catalog. They also have more BLACK dogs per square mile than any other place in America. One day the labradors will eat their owners and launch a national coup from New England.

    And what that has to do with Portland or your post or your favorite water, I don’t know. Except Maine has a Portland too. DUH. You can punch me now if you want.

  15. better safe than sorry

    1. i’m terrible with us geography, i have no idea where you are, but i do love those classic signs
    2. no wonder you went to meet with all of those writers
    3. i believe they’re called boobs, it’s a good thing you’re not getting off for this reason
    4. bunch buggy, my kids play all the time
    5. sweet
    6. i like the ocean, maybe because i’m not close enough to see it every day, or even once a month, or even once a year, ontario is stuck in the middle of a very large country
    7. let’s hope it’s working!
    8. oooooooooo, i’d love to visit there
    sounds like you’re having a great trip!

  16. Danny

    We call it “Punch Buggy” and I’m sorry that Leah passed it on to you since it’s the bane of my existence. Yesterday she punched me so hard and unexpectedly that I almost veered the car off the road! Don’t forget the variation where you also punch each other when you see an out-of-state license plate, but instead of yelling “Punch Buggy!” you scream the name of the state as you sock your mate: “Virginia!!” Ow.

  17. plain jane

    I hope everyone realizes that the “Made in Oregon” sign has the logo of White Stag, that fabulous sportswear company. They were based in Portland but were bought by WAL-MART (!) so who knows now.

  18. Not Faint Hearted

    Slug-bug is “more current?” Well, just remember this when playing a 3rd grade game: When a 3rd grade girl punches a boy it means she “likes” him.

    And not just as a friend.

    Of course 3rd graders don’t really kiss. Or do any of “that other stuff.”

    Maybe I should have some coffee before I start blathering on and on…

    ANYWAY! Glad you’re having a great trip!

  19. You can call me, 'Sir'

    Ah, Slug Bug. It’s sanctioned abuse, so if either of you two ever gets hauled in for domestic abuse, you can just look at the judge and say, “What!?!?! It’s slug bug! It’s a GAME!”

  20. Rhea

    Gosh, what a trip. I’m envious. Please let’s do an East Coast version.

  21. Bre

    Punch Buggying was the cause for many a childhood bruise! We also played a game where we slapped each other when we saw jeep wranglers, but that’s just because we were violent little kids.

  22. psychomom

    ..and from the outside, the city seems like it hasn’t changed in fifty years..

    “Slug bug” is so last decade. My boys and their friends have changed the game to “Subie” (for Subaru) because of the lack of VW bugs, the old kind, because the new bugs don’t count.

    And thanks to my large family, I know there are a few brown folks in Portland. Hi cousins!

  23. NSC

    “Slug a bug” is a great game and so is “PT Cruiser Bruiser.”

    Fun for the whole family . . .

  24. Finn

    As you can tell, “Punch Buggy” as we called it ain’t nothing new. Those kids are stealing from us dottering old fools.

    Enjoy San Francisco! One of my favorite cities. I didn’t get to see “Beach Blanket Babylon” because it was old out. If you have a chance, go!

  25. kapgar

    I guess I should introduce Neil to my brother. The only two “guys” I know so infatuated with soap operas, they’d put them on their computers, iPods, etc.

  26. fringes

    Sooooo…you went to Portland just for the black people and were disappointed when it ran out of black people right when you got there? I hate when that happens.

  27. Nance

    Do you always look for black people on your car trips? When we were little, we just looked for different states’ license plates….

  28. Postmodern Sass

    What bloggers do you know in San Francisco? I might be there on Saturday. If you organize a quicky mini Tequilacon, I will be there!

  29. Elizabeth

    I hope you have a pleasant visit in my beautiful city. I dished out great weather just for you! Enjoy your stay.

  30. Roberta

    I’m not surprised to hear how tough Leah is…
    Portland is one of the few cities in this country I have traveled to. I bought a very cute stuffed moose there… not actual size.

  31. Rabbit

    We played “Punch Buggy” as kids too. There’s also the game where every time you see one of those signs that says “Bump Ahead” you smack someone in the head.

  32. It's Me... Maven

    Re: #3, to quote Erin Brockavitch…

    They’re called boobs.

  33. Serena

    Awwww…I suddenly

  34. dionna

    Is that TAD in that All My Children shot? Good Lord. I grew up on All My Children. My mom’s been watching since it came on the air. Tad needs a haircut. Bad. Bad Tad.

  35. Marilyn

    When I first went to Portland, I was housesitting in S.E. Portland and I remember asking someone (on the street!), “Where are all the Black people?” because it did seem shockingly white compared to the Bay Area. “Oh, THEY’RE all over in Northeast and North Portland.” (And don’t think THAT didn’t sound weird.) If you think Portland is white, look around you while traveling through the rest of the state. The sad truth is that most of the state’s Black folks are IN Portland. I’m curious to know who you saw at Jimmy Mak’s, because Thursdays are usually Mel Brown’s night (he’s a Black drummer). But if it was a 15-piece band, maybe you saw someone else. Imagine my glee when sometimes I look on the bandstand when my mate’s playing in the Bay Area now and realize that everyone onstage is Black…that would NEVER happen in Portland…too small a pool of Black players to choose from. Although I am curious to know where the hell you were hanging out that you only saw ONE Black person in 4 days! 🙂

  36. sarah

    Oy! You didnt know how to play ‘punchbug’?
    Welcome to the world of abuse! : )

  37. Susie

    Not very many black folks, huh? Sounds like the wonderful small town I live in. ; )

  38. sassy

    hey why are you talking about black people?? You are rong

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