Sunday, August 02, 2009


BUS STORY # 144 (Way Cool Portland, Boring Burg Albuquerque, and Poetry On The Bus)


Albuquerque and Portland have a lot in common.

They both have populations between 500,000 and 600,000 – although Portland’s metro population is almost three times ours.

They both have rivers running through them – although Portland’s river is a whole lot bigger and is wet all year round.

They both have extinct volcanoes – although Albuquerque’s are not actually inside the city limits like Portland’s are.

They both have microbreweries – although Portland has 28 to our five, and some of theirs are either nationally known or the obscure, sought-after darlings of beer connoisseurs.

They even have each their own Nob Hill neighborhoods with trendy, eclectic shops and adventuresome restaurants – although it is Portland’s culinary scene that has garnered a national buzz.

Almost anyone who has spent time in both places knows Portland is way cooler than Albuquerque. How cool is Portland? Well, as one of my kids explained it, Portland is so cool, it’s like Seattle in the ‘80s before fame and all those Californians screwed it up.

And how cool is Albuquerque? Well, for starters, we call ourselves “The Duke City.” How cool is that? Exactly. (I have to salute a local legend, columnist Jim Belshaw, who once proposed we improve that to “Albuquerque: Next 13 Exits.”)

Which is not to say I’d ever think of exchanging our 300-plus days of sunshine and blue skies for Portland's dank, dreary cityscape, or that I’d swap my glass of Kelly’s Black Bitter for anything Portland has on tap, or that I’d prefer any of their brainy brunette Pinot Noirs to our bubbly blonde Gruet on my wedding anniversary. But, then, I haven’t been cool for decades.

Local pride might make it difficult to admit we’re nowhere near as cool as Portland. But look: they’ve got the Trail Blazers; we’ve got the Lobos. They’ve got Sam Elliott; we’ve got Neil Patrick Harris. They’ve got Matt Groening; we’ve got the Isotopes. They’ve got The Shins; we used to have The Shins until they moved to – aw, don’t make me say it.

Case still not closed yet? OK: they’ve got MAX – Metropolitan Area Express – the poster child light rail system of the United States, with over 100,000 riders a day!

But we are not always The Three Stooges to their Marx Brothers.

Last year, we both had a program for putting poetry on public transportation. Ours was a first year effort called Poetry On The Bus. Theirs was an 11-year-old program called Poetry In Motion. It seems Portland concentrated on established poets both international and local, while we asked for submissions from anybody, including a separate category for youth. Either approach is an amazing idea.

But this year, while we have gone on to a second undertaking of Poetry On The Bus, Portland is getting ready to give their program up.

Why? Because “the groups behind bus poetry are as strapped for cash as everyone else.” (I posted a link to the story in This Week’s Feature on June 14. You can read it here.)

In short: Portland isn’t able to maintain or raise new sponsorship for poetry on public transportation.

Albuquerque is, and has.

For a while, it looked like we were scaling back this year. Last year there were prizes -- a laptop, iPod, and some gift cards. But there is no mention of prizes on this year’s announcement. Then, just last weekend, I was at the library and I saw this poster:



Anna Griffin’s story in the Oregonian made me think how I’d really not paid much attention to the sponsors of Poetry On The Bus, even though they are prominently posted, with links, on the ABQ RIDE website. So I thought I’d make a special effort in Bus Stories to acknowledge those sponsors, and thank them for making it possible for Albuquerque residents to write, publish and read the decidedly unglamorous art of poetry in the most humble of art venues, the city bus.

Along with ABQ RIDE, those sponsors are:

Duke City Fix

ABQ Film Festival

Film For Change

In fact, next time you enjoy anything your price of admission isn’t fully supporting, think how the sponsors went to the trouble and expense to make this experience available to you. We take so much for granted.

But we don’t have to take it for granted that we’re never as cool as Portland. When it comes to supporting poetry, We rule/We cool.

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