We measure things in lifetimes, and not necessarily long ones. Even a five-year-old talks about things she’s known her whole life. It’s hard to take the long view, if you’re a human, which is why we’re sucking up all the fossil fuel as fast as we can just in case we wreck our climate beyond redemption later. It’s just the way we are.
Right down on the corner, there used to be a terrific little restaurant called Bernie’s Southern Bistro, with a faithful staff and a friendly outdoor patio, and if you wanted to get your blood congealed to bacon-grease consistency, this was just the place to do it. Hush puppies, blackened catfish, fried okra, fried green tomatoes, fried pickles…you could get a salad. A “Fat Boy Salad.” Everyone loved the place and now it’s gone.
The owners of the building had renovations in mind. So for a couple years now it’s been accumulating layers of graffiti, and finally now it’s being stripped to the rafters. Plenty of young people talk about the old Bernie’s as though it were a Portland institution, and for a short lifetime, if you’re twenty, it was. But before it was Bernie’s it was the Chez What? before the Chez What? moved down the street and then folded.
And before that, back when the street ambience ran more to plywood and iron window bars, it was Johnny’s Jar Room, noted–although not widely–for serving beer in Mason jars. And before that it was the Homestead Tavern. It was the Homestead when we moved in 42 years ago. Our dog Boomer used to waltz in there for a bowl of Heidelberg and the barkeep would call us up to fetch her back. Boomer didn’t smoke but if she had she could’ve done it right at the bar. Stuff changes.
Naturally, like everyone else, we figured that was all there was to know about 2904 NE Alberta Street, because history begins with us. But that was before the siding was removed, revealing a spiffy Coca-Cola mural dating from 1948. The owners had no idea it was there but it can’t be saved on account of the high lead content of the paint. The nanny state doesn’t allow unabated lead because it could lead to lower intelligence in children who might then grow up to believe wearing face-masks in a pandemic is sissified or treasonous, and we can’t have that. Below the Coca-Cola mural was BILLY ROWE’S in gigantic lettering. As it turns out, Billy Rowe and his wife Doris owned the tavern in 1943, despite being Mormons, although God smote them for it years later, when they both died in a head-on crash. The churchly allegiance of the oncoming vehicle’s driver is unknown.
I guess it was Duke’s tavern after that, and no one seems to know when the mural was sided over, even though it happened well within Dave’s lifetime and he grew up ten blocks away. We forget. We forget. It’s just the way we are.
Now, before the new façade goes up, we can see the massive old planks of the building, presumably original, dating back to 1922, when the streetcar ran through. But squint harder at those planks and you can see what really came before: old-growth Douglas fir forest, home to life in crazy abundance, razed and ruined not that many lifetimes ago, never to return. We forget. We forget.