Just let me check your ID

I truly don’t understand why it’s so difficult for so many people to navigate this quick little formality. It’s a transaction that, if done smartly and successfully, might take 10 seconds and a smile. As a door guy/bouncer at music venues and bars, a major component of my job is to check the ID of every arriving patron. We need to do this in accordance with the guidelines given to us by the OLCC (Oregon Liquor Control Commission). Depending on what venue I’m working at, I might check anywhere from 200-800 IDs per night. It’s not rocket science. And it shouldn’t take very long.

You walk up to the venue door to find me smiling and greeting you. I’ll ask to see your ID and you’ll hand it to me. I examine it quickly and hand it back to you, then usually give you a stamp of some kind as we make small talk. I might answer questions you have at that point, but basically our little interaction is over. Unless you become a problem later in the night and I need to exit you from the establishment, you probably won’t even see me again until the end of the show when you go home. That really doesn’t sound too difficult, does it?

Sadly, this ideal scenario is not how it usually goes.

I’ve given this whole thing some serious thought. Especially when I’m frustrated with how badly a recent interaction went down. I try my best to be direct and clear when asking questions or explaining rules. I speak slowly and enunciate clearly. Sometimes I have to dumb it down for someone due to a language barrier, or more often due to a stupidity barrier.

I’m interested and invested in helping all of you with this challenging situation. I really am. Let me talk you through some points that will help you succeed. I might make an instructional video of this that you can watch outside while you’re waiting in line.

And perhaps I should elaborate on exactly what I am looking for when I check IDs. Just so you don’t rush me or think that I’m taking too long. I’m not just looking for your birthdate. I’m first looking at the photo and comparing it to your actual face. Then I’m checking the birthdate and making sure that it happened before this date in 1997. Then I’m checking the expiration date, because an expired license or passport is a useless artifact. I’m also feeling the card for thickness or irregularities. Fake IDs often don’t get the card thickness or firmness right. Also lamination problems can mean a fake ID. Then I’m also flipping it over and looking at the back of it. Lots of fake IDs just make the front and the back is completely blank. So that’s 6 things I’m assessing in a few seconds of your valuable entertainment time. Just let me check them all without any hassle.

First off, don’t just try to blow past me and act like the rules don’t apply to you. It doesn’t matter how old you are. Unless you have a white beard, ride up on a horse named Shadowfax, and answer to the name Gandalf, I’m gonna need to see your I.D. When I enter a bar or music venue, I expect the staff to card me and give me some sort of stamp. Even if I don’t know how it works I am capable of reading the environmental cues around me. Like the 2-3 security staff standing around with radios checking IDs? That’s a pretty clear sign that you also need to do that. When I see a group or a line of people waiting to interface with the door staff holding their drivers licenses out, I can infer that this is an ID check. I don’t just try to walk around everybody and get inside. But you do, and then you get embarrassed because we have to stop you verbally or even physically and get you back in the line.

The most common statement offered as a justification for this behavior is, “Oh, I’m just going into the bar.” That’s right. The bar. Where they serve beer, wine, cider, and hard liquor. Exactly, you street-smart genius bar-hopping drunkard. You have literally answered the question of why I’m asking to see your ID. It’s like these people have never been out drinking in a bar before. Why are you somehow surprised that I want to see your ID? That’s literally how that works. To go into a bar where liquor is served, you need to have a valid ID and show it to the staff first. Because you have to be 21 to legally drink alcohol.  I’m not just carding people for fun, or to go into a different part of the business. It’s one stop shopping. I card you as you come in, then you can go anywhere inside that you want. I’ve had to hook people in the crook of their arm to stop them after they’ve gotten past the first two security staff and say, “Hey, they need to get your ID first.”
“Oh, just to go to the bar?”
“Yeah, especially to go to the bar.”

Next, take your driver’s license out of your damned wallet. The leather edge of the ID holder almost always blocks out the expiration date on Oregon licenses. And besides that, I need to hold the ID in my hand and flip it over to look at the back. I’m checking to see if the ID is fake, and several other bits of info on the license. You see all the people in front of you who have their licenses out in their hand? Yeah, copy them.

Look I know it’s slightly weird to hand your ID to a complete stranger. I’ve tried to put myself in your shoes to see why so many people get awkward or even offended when I ask to see their ID. I suppose you don’t like handing me all of your personal information. I suppose it might be odd that I could read your ID and get your age, your weight, your full name, and your full address. I suppose that could be weird. Except that I honestly have no reason to ever look at your weight or your name or your address. I don’t care. I’m looking for your birthday and the expiration date. I’m not memorizing your personal data and then planning to stop by your house with flowers tomorrow. I might examine 300 driver’s licenses and passports tonight. I’m certainly not memorizing any details about anything. The most I’ll ever do regarding something I see on your ID is wish you a happy birthday if your birthday is today. And most people like that. Sometimes if the ID is expiring in the next few weeks, I’ll inform them of that as I hand it back to them. Almost every time the person had no idea and thanks me profusely for helping them out.

More tips on how to behave during the ID check. Don’t make small talk or ask me questions. This is often a distraction technique when people know that something is wrong with their ID. In fact, the more you make jokes or ask questions or flirt with me, the more closely I’m going to look at your ID because I’m wise to your schemes. I’ve actually had to ask a woman to please get her breasts off of me so I can do my job. She thought she was cute and could flirt her way around an expired license. In general, just let the door guy lead the conversation. If I don’t ask you any questions, just wait for me to look at the ID and return it to you. If I do ask you questions, it may be to assess your current level of intoxication. I’m not flirting with you, I’m asking you questions so I can hear your speech patterns. I’m listening for slurred words and incoherent drunken answers.

Don’t be talking on your phone while you come in. Hang up the phone and be an active participant in this interaction. You can call the person back. I probably need to ask you some questions anyway. Actually, I’m going to go around you and check IDs of all the other people in the entryway or the line. I’ll wait for you to hang up your phone before I even start this process with you. Basic respect and common sense, but apparently it needs to be said.

Don’t purposely cover your photo with your finger and hold it up to me like you’re a detective flashing me his badge. That’s not going to work. You’re not cute. That’s not helpful at all, and it will make our time together longer than either of us want. If you make me say out loud, “I need to actually see the photo” this isn’t going to go well for you. Don’t cover your photo. Hand me the card, don’t make me take it out of your hand.
Conversely, I actually love it when people hand me the McLovin ID from the movie Superbad. This always makes me laugh heartily, and then they immediately hand me their actual ID. I know some door guys don’t like this, but I think it’s hilarious. It breaks the tension. Hell, people might look at the bouncers as they come in and decide to use the funny fake ID just in an attempt to make us laugh because we look grumpy.
Bring it on.


Oh and don’t say something like, “You need to see my ID? Really? I’m old as dirt.”
Then when I look at your ID you are actually much younger than me. So you just inadvertently insulted me without knowing it. People actually say to me, “See? I’m old, right?” And I never agree with them. I always say age is just a number, or age is how you feel. Or I’ve even said, “I know better than to ever agree or disagree with a person’s assessment of how old or young they are. I’ve had training.” That usually gets a laugh. Most commonly I just smile and answer, “No, not at all.”
One guy was surprised I was carding him and he said, “I’m old enough to be your Dad.” I looked at his birthday and whispered, “Not unless you had me when you were 5 years old.”
One particularly grumpy man was offended that I was even asking for his ID. He blustered loudly about how he was here for his daughter’s wedding and he is obviously over 21 and his passport is buried in his suitcases. I checked his ID slowly and returned it saying, “Most people your age are flattered when I ask for their ID. You should try that.”

Look at me. Do I really need to say this? Don’t have your face turned all the way to the side talking to your fiends, or turn around to talk to your friends behind you. Don’t keep your face covered by scarves or a hoodie or a balaclava. Part of what I’m doing is comparing the photo on your ID to your actual face. Of course we have to account for minor changes over time. Hair length, style, and color can change. Skin tone can change. Glasses might be on or off, or beards or mustaches have come and gone. Hell, my ID looks nothing like me because it was issued to me 8 years ago. I didn’t have dreads or a beard or the most recent 25 pounds on me in the photo. So then we’re looking at facial structure and basic features that don’t change. People often try to pass off an ID of their older sibling or even friend who looks similar to them.

These concerns are certainly not your problem. You haven’t chosen to be a bouncer at a bar like I have. But this is my job. I take pride in it. Most of the time I actually think it’s fun. But if somebody gets in here with a fake ID or is underage, there are repercussions. Not only could I get reprimanded and lose my job, but the establishment itself will get heavy fines. I’ve seen some of the checks written out to pay these fines, and they aren’t small numbers. It’s the cost of doing business I imagine, but too many of those fines can easily bankrupt an establishment. Worst case scenario is that the bar or venue actually loses their liquor license due to numerous violations of this kind. And any bar or venue that can’t sell liquor is going to fail. So just play along and show us your ID, please.

One of the most common reasons that I deny people entry to a venue is not that they are already too drunk. You would think that, but no. It’s that their ID or passport is expired. That makes it invalid. If people hand me an ID that expired a few days ago, or even a few weeks ago, I can somewhat understand. You still can’t come in, but I empathize. Life gets away from you, you hate the DMV, you procrastinate. I hear ya. But people hand me passports or IDs that expired 6 years ago. I usually make a point to say, “Your ID is expired. Like REALLY expired. 6 years ago expired.”
What in the hell have you been doing for the last 6 years?!

But at least they had something on them and attempted to pass it off to me. What really confounds me are the people who come up and tell me that they don’t have any ID at all. They ask if a Visa card works. For identification. How in the hell do you not have any ID on you at all? Did you drive here? Because if so you just broke the law. I hope you get pulled over and a cop makes you feel like an unprepared child. Maybe you always ride your bike or Uber around. Sure, but don’t you purchase things and the clerks ask to see your ID to verify the debit card purchase? Do you never go to any establishment that severe liquor? Or have you just been going to the same neighborhood bar for years and they know you and yell out “NORM!” whenever you walk in?

Then they inevitably say things like, “Well I’m clearly over 21. Look at me! I’m 34 years old!” I often say, “Well, you legally need ID to prove that.” Or I might say, “It’s not that I don’t think that you’re 21, but you must have a valid form of ID on you just to be in here.” If I’m feeling particularly confrontational I might say, “How do you get along in your daily life with no ID?” I got my drivers’ license at age 16, so I’ve been managing and renewing it for decades now. And I can’t recall one time that I didn’t have that driver’s license in my wallet in my back pocket. I’ve never lost it, never misplaced it, never had it stolen, and never not had it on me. I’m always ready. But damn, some of these people haven’t had a valid ID for 6 years and act like I’m the jerk for being surprised and not letting them in.

Then there’s the people who try to distract me because they know that their ID isn’t valid. They’ll start asking me all kinds of questions about the bands playing tonight, or which stamp means what on which hand. Some people try to flirt with me. Or the one I get the most is, “How long have you been growing your dreads?” Like I said earlier, this makes me focus more on the ID. Sure enough, the person isn’t 21 or the ID expired already. Then they feign shock when I inform them that they can’t come in.
This is my favorite anecdote of this sort:
A male handed me his passport and was all bubbly and talkative. He tried to distract me by being condescending. Apparently he thought I was looking at his passport too long, so he points at it and says, “Oh, the birth date is printed right up here.” He tapped the passport with his finger on the birth date. Like I can’t find it. Like this isn’t my job and I haven’t been trained to examine IDs. Like I’m incompetent and stupid. Like I don’t do this ALL NIGHT LONG. I was looking at it longer than normal because I did notice something wrong with it. I wanted to be sure, and make him sweat a little. My response was, “Yeah. The birth date is right there. But the part that tells me that this expired 3 years ago is right HERE.” I tapped the passport on the expiration date he was hoping I wouldn’t notice. I handed it back to him and said, “You can’t come in here with an expired passport. Bye.”

And if you don’t have your ID or passport, do not try to show me a photo of it on your phone. That asinine bullshit doesn’t even make sense. My 10-year-old kid could Photoshop their photo onto a template faster than it would take you to drive home and get your damned ID. There is no establishment anywhere that will accept a photo of a passport or driver’s license. Think a minute. Can I pay for my dinner with a photo of a 20 dollar bill? The actual state-issued driver’s license or government-issued passport needs to exist in our hands to be examined. Good lord.

Here’s the last observation. There are grown adults out there that don’t know their left from their right. Many of them. Legion. Once we approve your ID we give you a stamp on a particular wrist. If you pay for the show then we may give you a different stamp on your other wrist. I always make sure to say this clearly and slowly, while looking at your eyes and even pointing at the particular wrist. “I need to stamp your LEFT WRIST.” Without fail, 75 percent of the time the person juts out the wrong wrist. Don’t we usually learn our left and right in kindergarten? Dumfounded and saddened at the state of humanity’s declining intelligence, I usually say, “That’s your RIGHT wrist, I need your LEFT wrist. THAT one.” They get embarrassed, I shake my head.
What I want to say comes from the Stanley Kubrick film Full Metal Jacket.
“I know you are dumb, Private Pyle, but do you expect me to believe that you do not know your left from your right?!”
“Sir, no sir!”
“Then you did that on purpose. You want to be different.”
“Sir, no sir!”
I punch you hard in the face.
“What side was that, private Pyle?”
But that’s just a movie.

I’m actually a pretty friendly bouncer. Some people have called me the friendliest door guy they’ve ever met. But I know that is the exception. And even I get flustered sometimes. A lot of bouncers and door guys are gruff at best, and downright unpleasant at worst. But you have to understand why. Any problem that occurs gets passed to us. We deal with every problem, from mildly irritating to hostile and dangerous. As with many customer service jobs, you deal with stupidity and assholery on the regular. Add alcohol to that recipe and you have our job. People are dumb enough as it is, but add too much alcohol and it becomes the proverbial shit-show. And entitlement, insecurity, and testosterone don’t help either. So night after night, we deal with the stupid. And the belligerent drunks. And you simply can’t reason with drunk people. Sometimes you just have to physically remove them from the premises. So yeah, door guys are often grumpy. Our patience has already been tried for hours before your arrival. We have to have a high tolerance for idiocy. Please give us a break and try to be compliant and friendly when you deal with us. I want to help you have a good evening. Just let me do that. Just let me check your ID.

I’ll end this with this classic joke told to me by another bouncer:
     What’s the difference between a bouncer and a toilet?
     A toilet only has to deal with one asshole at a time.



The Art of the Car Chase

When I was a young boy I learned to love movies. And, strangely, I learned to write categorized lists of certain particular things that stood out for me. Perhaps I had a touch of OCD about making lists. Or maybe I just was really moved by certain cinematic moments and wanted to keep track of them. Possibly I just didn’t want to forget the names of the movies. I wouldn’t forget the scenes themselves, but back in the 70’s and early 80’s there weren’t such convenient ways to watch a movie again. You essentially just had to wait until it came on television, albeit in a interrupted-by-commercials version. And also edited for content and time constraints. No salty language, no nudity, and no graphic violence. And hell, this movie is too long for network broadcast anyway, so let’s just cut out an additional 25 minutes while we’re at it. It’s gotta fit in-between the new episode of Happy Days and the 11 o’clock newscast.

Of course I made a master list of pretty much every movie I’d seen. Movies seen in theaters had that fact denoted by a bold capital T next to it, for theater. Movies I watched at home on TV had no code written by the title. I would start with the movie title, the year it came out if I could find it, and then a star rating between 1 and 4 stars. My lists were written on classroom notebook paper with the blue lines and three holes on the left side. I wrote my lists in pencil, like I was doing a research project for my 6th grade project. Which, in hindsight, I should’ve actually done for some school credit.

Looking back on this I totally understand the fascination with car chases. These are very exciting scenes in films, riveting and smartly edited. Fast motion and danger always intrigues viewers. Also I would have been fascinated by car chases because it was a magical foreign powerful thing to a child who isn’t old enough to drive. It was like watching a science-fiction movie with a character flying a starship into warp drive. It was unattainable and fantastical. You can’t get your permit to drive in Oregon until you are 15 years old. So to a 7-year-old boy, even the possibility of driving a huge steel gasoline-powered vehicle was still another 8 years away. So my entire lifetime up to that point would need to be doubled for me to even be allowed behind the wheel of a car.

The car chase need was also fulfilled more regularly on television shows of the times. Ones that I watched regularly were Dukes of Hazzard, CHiPs, The Streets of San Francisco, and Starsky and Hutch. The car chase became an expected staple of these shows, and some achieved quality chases less and less regularly. Watching these predictable and sanitized car chases each week just made me appreciate the real deal found in theatrical films all the more. There was literally never any threat to the main characters, because we knew they would return the following week in the next episode. These tv show car chases mainly felt like an opportunity to crash some cars in slow motion.

Most of my favorite car chases have one thing in common. No music. A truly great car chase lets the sounds of the engines, squealing cars, and car horns be the soundtrack. Then add in some panicked dialogue, gunshots, and breaking glass to this symphony. My top three car chases are Bullitt (1968), The French Connection (1971), and To Live and Die in L.A. (1985). No music. Well, Bullitt has some moody jazz music while they play their slow cat and mouse game around San Francisco. But when they click in their seatbelts and start the car chase in earnest, the engines roar and the music disappears. I hate when a Hollywood film adds music that is essentially telegraphing to us what we should feel at that moment. We don’t need it. Especially with chase scenes. They are exciting enough and the visceral excitement of the scene will transfer to us off of the screen.

Yet another complaint about recent trends of car chases is the unnecessary use of CGI, or computer generated images. You’ll notice that none of the films I cite as my favorites have any fake effects in them. So they’re primarily from the 70’s and 80’s. There are indeed some filmmakers who continue to shoot films honestly, seeking realism over grandiosity. I don’t list any of the Fast and Furious films on my lists. Fuck those movies. Ridiculous cartoons with cars and humans defying the laws of physics on the regular. It’s like watching an updated Wile E. Coyote cartoon with the Road Runner in a tricked out muscle car. Any computer graphic designer can animate a realistic looking car and add smoke and skid marks. But why would you? Then we’re watching a video game cut-scene. Just because you can do a thing, doesn’t mean that you should do a thing. Give me rubber on asphalt. Let me hear the gears shifting and grinding. Let me see actual human actors in the driver’s seat looking over their shoulders in panic. Let me see windows shattering and broken glass on the road. Put a camera in a chase car and follow the cars at 90 mph. Give me a real car chase.

The movies I grew up watching were from the 70’s and 80’s. So obviously, all car chases were actually done in-camera.  I have so much respect for the stunt coordinators and drivers of the cars in the chase scenes. Back then, you had to block off entire lengths of streets or highways and close them off with Police barricades. Then you would repopulate them with dozens of stunt drivers. Not only were the two cars involved in the chase driven by professional stunt drivers, but every single other car in the background was too. You had to coordinate every element of that chaos. It was vehicular choreography.  A precisely timed dance of sedans.

Unless you were William Friedkin filming The French Connection. He went out in the streets of NYC without the necessary permits, and filmed one of the most frenetic, stressful and exciting car chases in cinema history guerrilla-style. Stunt driver Bill Hickman drove the Pontiac while William Friedkin filmed from the backseat. Some of the cars that veer into Gene Hackman’s path are just neighborhood residents who didn’t even know that a movie was being filmed. One actual collision was just a random guy heading to work that drove in front of Hackman’s chase car. This crash is in the movie. The producers later paid the man’s repair costs for the car. This movie’s chase was also unique because it didn’t involve two passenger vehicles. It was a chase between Gene Hackman’s car and the elevated subway train that the bad guy had commandeered.



Then about 15 years later, William Friedkin gave us yet another of the best car chases in cinema. To Live and Die in L.A. is a gritty, dark, unique crime thriller that came out in 1985 and starred William Peterson and Willem Dafoe. I imagine that director Friedkin had to say to himself, “OK, I currently have one of the finest car chases under my belt. It’s time to top myself. I can do even better.” And for my money, he certainly did outdo himself with this one. While The French Connection is indeed great, it’s one guy in a car chasing an elevated subway train. With To Live and Die in L.A., he has two secret service agents in a car trying to get away from pretty much everybody. It starts out with a payoff gone wrong and their contact being shot by unknown shooters. They flee, and more and more cars and shooters pop out of every overpass. Clearly their operation was being surveilled, and they are greatly outnumbered and disadvantaged. Just when they lose one car, another one pops out and joins the chase. More agents shoot at them from nearby overpasses and cars. The desperation grows. One great element is the point of view perspective of our anti-heroes inside the car where the sound disappears and it’s just the noise of the passenger’s panicked breathing as he sort of loses it. The driver flashes back to his bungee jumping scene of adrenaline rush, and the passenger replays the shooting death he just witnessed. They recklessly charge through alleys, streets, railroad tracks, and dry aqueducts before they are stopped and surrounded. Then, in an even more desperate and insane move, they decide to enter the highway going the wrong way to escape. It’s a batshit crazy scene. Even stranger is that Friedkin actually put our two anti-heroes on the correct side of the highway. It’s all the other traffic that is going the wrong way. Just another subtle directorial choice to put the viewer on edge. I didn’t notice this disorienting detail until years after first seeing the film. This car chase took 6 weeks to shoot, again giving us about 10 minutes of an amazing chase sequence.




Now we arrive at my ultimate favorite car chase movie, Bullitt. Stunt driver Bill Hickman did the driving in this classic Steve McQueen film from 1968. You can also see him driving in the 1973 Roy Scheider film The Seven-Ups. In Bullitt, he drives the black 440 Dodge Charger against Steve McQueen’s Ford Mustang GT Fastback. Steve McQueen was an avid race car driver, and wanted to personally do all of the driving that the insurance company would allow. He was a stickler for realism, and he wanted as many shots as possible to actually show him driving so the audience bought into it. He knew that anytime we see a shot of a driver that isn’t the actor, we are immediately brought out of the movie. Some of the shots where the two cars are raging along at 90 mph, ramming into each other, skidding, and even firing shotguns are made all the more amazing because we can see that it’s actually the actors. Today you would more likely see a digitally recreated actor’s face on a stunt driver’s body. And the scene would suffer because of it.


In my opinion, Bullitt has the car chase to end all car chases. There might be more showy car chases now, or chases with a higher body count, but this one will be rightfully copied and imitated forever. For me, this car chase has not been bested in the 50 years since it came out. And every car chase that has come after was influenced by it. Steve McQueen’s detective Frank Bullitt realizes that he is being tailed by two bad guys. He loses them and comes around behind them. The hunter is now the hunted. The assassins click in their seat belts and we know we’re in for a ride. At one point the car that Bill Hickman was driving corners just a little too widely and actually crashes into the camera setup. This was a tripod camera set up on a parked car. The screen flashed to white and we cut to the next scene. The camera itself was destroyed but the film canister was salvaged, and the shot was left in the film. Things like this greatly add to the believability and realism of the action.


This chase goes all over San Francisco and has so many iconic moments. It’s also messy, like a real car chase would be. McQueen overshoots the turn on a residential street and has to back up and peel out again. The entire chase is brought to a halt when they can’t navigate around a grouping of cars and trucks and a motorcycle. McQueen’s character actually pauses to make sure that the fallen motorcycle driver gets up and is ok before restarting his pursuit. This chase has all of the key elements of a great car chase. Avoiding obstacles. Jumps. Point-of-view camerawork. Collisions. Innocent bystanders getting in the way. Very high speeds. Ramming each other off the road. Gunfire. And a very explosive climax. Some car chases just have one or two of these essential elements. Bullitt has every single one. If you haven’t seen this chase, shame on you. It’s arguably the most influential car chase in cinema history. It reportedly took three weeks of shooting, and gave us almost 10 minutes of high-octane car chase perfection.



I saw this film countless times on television growing up. Then it was the first VHS tape I purchased as a kid. I remember it was in an oversized clamshell case. I saved up $29.99 to buy it from the local video store brand new. I found the book it was based on at the library and read that (Mute Witness by Robert L. Pike). I bought the plastic model kit of the 68 Mustang and glued that together. As per usual, I immersed myself in this film as much as possible. I read up on any trivia I could find about this film. Then, as an adult in my 30’s, this film screened at a high-end cinema here in Portland, Oregon. I finally got to see a screening of one of my favorite films ever in a great theater with amazing sound. The sound of the engines absolutely screamed from the screen, filling the theater with RPMs from 35 years ago. The point of view shots of the cars jumping the hills actually made me move in my seat like I was bracing for the impact of the jumps. The screeching tires were so loud it made me wince. When the white-haired assassin fires his shotgun at McQueen, there is a shot with McQueen driving and bullet holes from the shotgun appear on the windshield. His car starts to veer back and forth at 90 mph making an unearthly squealing sound before he rights it. It’s a harrowing moment, especially because losing control at that speed would result in the car rolling a dozen times before finally stopping.  The print had been restored so it looked like it was filmed just a few years ago, instead of the washed out, grainy, damaged print I had seen so many times on TV. And no commercial breaks. I was in car chase heaven that day. I felt like I was an 8-year-old boy again sitting at home my pajamas watching this movie for the first time on TV. And that’s exactly what movies are supposed to do.


Just for reference, here is my listing of greatest car chases from when I was a little guy. It honestly hasn’t changed much. There’s just a couple of additions from more recent films.

  1. BULLITT (1968)
  2. DUEL (1971)
  4. THX-1138 (1971)
  5. THE SEVEN-UPS (1973)
  6. THE DRIVER (1978)
  9. THE TERMINATOR (1984)
  10. TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. (1985)
  11. THE HITCHER (1986)
  12. THE HIDDEN (1987)

More recent additions:

  2. TRUE LIES (1994)
  3. RONIN (1998)
  4. BATMAN BEGINS (2005)
  5. THE DARK KNIGHT (2008)
  6. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)

Honorable mentions:

  3. THE GETAWAY (1972)
  5. GONE IN 60 SECONDS (1974)



Reading the movies

I am a certified movie freak. A cineaste. Huge film buff. Master of movie minutiae. A cinephile.

It’s difficult to attempt to pinpoint just when this happened. But cinematic art has dominated my life since I was a young boy. Some of the best experiences of my life involve seeing a film opening weekend in the theaters with people I love. I’ll go see a movie alone just as often as I will with friends. I’m the guy who can name a movie if you give me a starring actor, or tell you the director and year of release of a film being discussed. I’m overflowing with useless trivia about films that really affected me. I read the trivia section of imdb.com for fun. I quote films all the time in regular conversation. I’m honestly not as clever or quirky as my friends think I am, I’m just quoting obscure movies all the time. I can list off every Sam Peckinpah film in chronological order including the year of release. I wish I could somehow monetize this collection of cinematic data that lives in my brain. I could retire tomorrow if that were possible. My fiancée says that in a certain scenario where aliens land and can only communicate through movie references and trivia, I could legitimately save the world. Or, in a more real-life example, I can win some pitchers of beer at movie trivia nights.

I am also an avid reader. A book nerd. Word geek. A collector of paperbacks and first edition hardbacks. I attend author readings at bookstores.

I read everything, all the time. I always have. My parents said I learned to read very young, and I haven’t stopped. I read comic books as a kid. I read Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment at age 14 for fun, not for a school assignment. As an adult I collect graphic novels of all genres. In college I devoured textbooks by day, and then read pulp horror novels at night. I also played drums in a band in college, and would garner inspiration by reading music biographies of all kinds. I read books about Jim Morrison, and I read poetry books written by Jim Morrison. I read Henry Rollins poetry books and other titles from his publishing company, 2.13.61. Jimi Hendrix biographies. Newspapers, blogs, obscure authors, feminist authors, mainstream authors, unknown new authors, and all the science fiction I can find. Gimmie that book, I’ll read it. Sylvia Plath, Hunter S. Thompson, Jack London, Bret Easton Ellis, Clive Barker, H.P. Lovecraft, Mario Puzo, Charles Bukowski, Dan Simmons, Tolkien. Going to Powell’s Books here in Portland, as I have been since I was a teenager, is a religious experience for me. Before I lived in Portland, I would drive up from Eugene to visit Powell’s and return with bags full of used paperbacks. My home always is dominated by bookshelves, and moving into a new house is mainly boxing up my books and carrying those heavy loads into my new library.

So naturally, combining my two great loves of movies and books is perfection. Books about movies. Movies based on books. Memoirs from the set of a film. Screenplays. Books about the behind the scenes making of the film. Art books examining the matte paintings, costume design, and model-making involved. If I’ve read the source material for a film, I have all that extra information with me as I watch the movie. This definitely increases my enjoyment of the film. And when I’m reading the printed version of the movie, I obviously have all the visual imagery in my mind as I read. Both experiences are greatly improved.

As a pre-teen I would watch a movie and then track down the novelization of it to read. Anything to further immerse myself in the world of the movie. Often the film novelization would be written by a known author looking to make an easy buck. Other times it was written by a nobody, and occasionally it was written by the screenwriter or even the director. I was always looking for explanations of confusing or abstract concepts in the film. Or just trying to find out exactly what happened to certain characters whose demise in the movie was off-screen, implied, or edited out so they could show it on television. I read Alan Dean Foster’s novelization of ALIEN for this very reason. There were sometimes scenes that were not in the movie, characters who weren’t in the movie, and even added prologues and epilogues. Often it was like reading the extended director’s cut with an added hour of reintegrated footage. If the book was written first and the film was just ‘based on’ the book, it might be nothing like the movie at all. Philip K. Dick’s book “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” is so dissimilar to BLADE RUNNER that the only commonality between the two is that there are artificial humans called replicants.

I also tracked down the novelization of John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN. It was written by Curtis Richards, which is a pseudonym for author Dennis Etchison. There’s probably not a very large audience for a novelization of a slasher movie. But I was happily surprised to read several chapters that actually explained the concept of evil that travels from person to person and is literally unstoppable. There were flashbacks to ancient Samhain rituals that (incorrectly) involved human sacrifices. This was fascinating to me as a teenager. For those people who didn’t buy how Michael Myers could suffer those injuries and just keep on attacking Laurie Strode, the book gave the back story in a very satisfying way, making me enjoy the movie even more. It was pure evil that traveled over centuries through different hosts.

Acclaimed author Orson Scott Card, famous for the countless Ender’s Game books, wrote a novelization of the James Cameron underwater adventure THE ABYSS. Piers Anthony wrote a great novelization of TOTAL RECALL, even though that film was based on a short story by Philip K. Dick. Vonda N. McIntyre wrote several of the Star Trek movie novelizations, after creator Gene Roddenberry himself wrote the novelization of STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE. David Morrell wrote the amazing book First Blood in the 70’s. After the Stallone film was made of that book, he himself wrote the novelizations for both Rambo: First Blood part 2, and Rambo 3. Another horror movie novelization that I read repeatedly was THE OMEN by David Seltzer. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK even got a novelization by Campbell Black. Alan Dean Foster seemed to do exceptionally well with film novelizations. I had several written by him including ALIEN, ALIENS, PALE RIDER, OUTLAND, STAR WARS, and THE BLACK HOLE.

Here’s a quote from Alan Dean Foster about taking film novelization jobs:
“I took it for two reasons. First, because I was a young writer and I needed to make a living. And because, as [a fan], I got to make my own director’s cut. I got to fix the science mistakes, I got to enlarge on the characters, if there was a scene I particularly liked, I got to do more of it, and I had an unlimited budget. So it was fun.”

There were also movie tie-in books called FOTONOVELS. I got into them as a young kid collecting a series of these based on the original Star Trek series. These ‘books’ were literally just a collection of hundreds of color stills from the film in chronological order. The dialogue was written on each photo like comic book styled balloons. They are essentially storyboards of the entire movie, but with actual frames from the movie instead of charcoal or pencil sketches. The one I remember reading a lot was the FOTONOVEL of STAR TREK 2: THE WRATH OF KHAN. My copy actually had a significant mistake in it. A portion of the book was out-of-order. 20-30 pages of the story happened way before it occurs in the film. There were no page numbers in this book, but since I had seen the film in theaters twice when it came out in 1982, I knew the story well. The pages were put in the wrong order. I wonder if that book with that printing error would be worth money now. I probably should have hung onto that.



There were Fotonovels of the first 12 episodes of Star Trek, then the first two Star Trek films. I also had the Fotonovel of the INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS remake and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. These were all paperback-sized books. Then there were some larger format ones called Movie Novels of the films ALIEN and OUTLAND. I pored over these photos, especially focusing on the special effects and gore shots. These two books were from violent rated R films, so I was riveted by the detailed photos. Sometimes a shot will only show for a second in the film, so it’s almost subliminal. But these books had bright color pics of the chestburster scene in ALIEN and the depressurized heads exploding in OUTLAND. The amazing set design and alien design by H.R. Giger in ALIEN was also on gorgeous display in the Movie Novel. Prior to the arrival of VHS players, this was really the only way we had of reliving and analyzing the films.

After watching the great Roman Polanski film CHINATOWN, I was moved to read all I could about it. It’s a confusing movie with shielded character motivations, and the political machinations of the water bureau and Noah Cross passed over my head as a pre-teen. This was a pretty adult movie for my little kid brain to absorb. This movie wasn’t based on a book. Robert Towne wrote the screenplay. It is commonly regarded as the greatest screenplay ever written, and is studied in film schools as such. This was long before you could just look up any screenplay on the internet. I tracked down a company that printed up screenplays and sent them a check for $30 for the script to Chinatown. It came in the mail and I stayed up all that night reading it. Hearing the actors speak the lines in my head. Singing the Jerry Goldsmith musical themes (that trumpet!). Visualizing the amazing actors bringing these words to life. The screenplay really was just a bound paper script like actors would use on set. I learned the art of the screenplay format from reading this repeatedly. The way you indent, center, and list character lines so the actors can easily find their parts. The way you set the scene with location, time of day/weather (INTERIOR. OFFICE – NIGHT.). The short descriptive sentences written to get the point across without the flowery over-descriptive paragraphs like in a book. The brief stage directions for dialogue like ‘mocking’, ‘sing-song voice’, ‘wounded and sad’. The screenplay reads as a simple detective story that gets more intricate and complicated as you go. The movie improved and expanded it to film noir. After devouring the screenplay I watched Chinatown again, armed with all the knowledge gleaned from reading it. I loved it even more, and I still regard it as one of the best films ever made.

I would also buy all of the Art of Star Wars books as a kid. The original three Star Wars films changed my life, cinema itself, and marketing/merchandising forever. I found everything I could related to these films from action figures to models to comics and books. Each film put out books about the special effects and set design. Then there were Star Wars sketchbooks. These had what appeared to be legitimate blueprints and sketches of all the ships and vehicles to scale. Even if a ship was only glimpsed for 5 seconds in the movie, it had a toy made of it and pages dedicated to showing its design and function. Later, when I went to college, I was an architecture major for a year. I wonder if my obsessions with the Star Wars schematics had anything to do with that choice. I also collected the screenplays. These were often accompanied by color photographs from the films, and black and white storyboards of the onscreen action. Again, this was really the only way for fans to relive the experience of the films since this was before the emergence of the VHS home video market. You couldn’t just go watch your favorite movie whenever you wanted to. You just had to wait for a rare theatrical re-release, or watch an edited TV version if and when it aired on a network.

There were some storyboards in the Empire Strikes Back illustrated screenplay that actually changed my memory of the movie. In the battle on Hoth with the Imperial Walkers there was, at one point, a scene where a snowspeeder pilot becomes wounded and intentionally flies his ship into the window of one of the AT-AT walkers. This kills the pilots, causes the entire head of the walker to explode, and takes down one more walker during that famous battle. I don’t think this scene was ever filmed, but there are storyboards of it in this book. That would’ve had the rebels taking out 3 of the 5 walkers, and been a great addition to that battle. The first walker is destroyed by using tow cables to trip it, and the second walker is destroyed by Luke throwing explosives inside. Because, “That armor’s too strong for blasters.” In any case, since I had read this screenplay and soaked in the storyboards of this snowspeeder suicide attack, I burned it into my memory a little too well. I convinced myself that this scene actually was in the movie. Or honestly, it could have been storyboards in that art book just as well as it could have been on a BBC radio production. I listened to those on the radio as well, and later bought the cassette tapes. Maybe it was in the novelization, or the comic books, or the Story of Empire, or some Starlog Magazine article. But this kamikaze snow speeder takedown of an Imperial Walker was definitely absorbed by me as a kid. It wasn’t until years later when I saw Empire again on VHS that I realized that scene wasn’t actually in the movie. (Or, George Lucas had tinkered with his movies even more and removed the scene.) Imagination paired with obsession can do strange things to a person’s memory.

I could keep writing about this topic, but I may need to take a break and actually watch a movie. Or read a book about a movie. We shall see.

SHOOT (1976)


“One shot and the world gets smaller.”
   –Marilyn Manson, ‘The Reflecting God”

I was going down the rabbit-hole of 70’s films on YouTube and obscure film lists on Letterboxd when I discovered Shoot. This 1976 gem of paranoia and violence fits right in with so many other beloved classics of that decade. I have no idea how it is that I’ve never seen this movie before. As a kid, I would have read the movie listings in the paper guide and been attracted to it simply by its title. That’s sort of how I would choose films back in those days. Alas, I’d never even heard of this Canadian film until now. It is obscure enough that you can’t find it for purchase anywhere. It’s not available on DVD at all, and VHS tapes of it are probably scarce as well. The only place it can currently be seen is a questionable-quality upload on YouTube. It was based on a book by Douglas Fairbairn.

The tagline sets up the simple story pretty well.
“A thriller that begins where Deliverance left off.”

The cast is led by Cliff Robertson. He won the Academy Award for best actor in 1968’s Charly. He also starred in Three Days of the Condor, Obsession, and Midway. But for me, I will always think of his as Hugh Hefner in the 1980 Bob Fosse film Star 80. Ernest Borgnine is also on the team as the voice of reason and restraint. Casting Borgnine was perfect, as people would remember his as ‘Dutch’ in Sam Peckinpah’s classic The Wild Bunch. He also won the Academy Award for best actor in 1955’s film Marty. And Henry Silva is the hot head of the group. He starred as various bad guys for decades, but I remember him best as the coke-fueled assassin in Sharky’s Machine. These three actors were cast perfectly, a believable collection of men’s men.

A group of 5 men go on a hunting trip and encounter another hunting party. Mistakes are made, and one man is killed in a brief shootout. But then it gets very interesting as the men go about trying to determine what to do next. They debate the implications of killing a man out in the forest and reporting it or waiting to see if the other group does. The paranoia grows. Secrets are kept, investigations mounted, alliances formed, motivations questioned, moral issues debated, and violence planned. There is a post-Vietnam malaise of veterans returned from the war with no outlet for their training or fighting instincts. I was often reminded of First Blood, especially the novel by David Morrell.

I wonder if Michael Cimino saw this film, as it came out two years before his classic, The Deer Hunter. The scenes of 5 friends going on a hunting trip, each of varied levels of skill and dedication, are strikingly similar. I almost expected Cliff Robertson to say, “A deer’s gotta be taken with one shot.” Except in The Deer Hunter they do find and shoot a deer. In Shoot, they never find anything. But when they find another hunting party, they end up killing one of them. A theme of this film seem to be that guns are meant to be fired eventually, and if men cannot find animal prey to shoot at they will shoot at each other. Humans are, after all, the most dangerous game.


There is a scene in Sam Peckinpah’s western classic Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid that seems to be a direct influence on this movie. In Bloody Sam’s 1973 movie, James Coburn watches a family on a boat float by on the river. The man on the boat is target shooting at empty bottles that his son is tossing in the river. Coburn decides to also fire at the bottle. Earlier in the film he did the same thing when coming up on his friends target shooting at chickens. Coburn’s character (unseen by his friends) started shooting at the chickens to surprise them. Back on the river, the man on the boat becomes scared at this stranger on the shore firing a gun, so he takes a shot at Coburn. His family hides on the boat. Coburn grabs his rifle and prepares to fire back but doesn’t. Both men size each other up and think about what just happened and what could possibly happen. They each hold their rifles and the boat passes down the river without further incident. They watch each other with understanding. This is a very elegiac and poetic scene in a film about changing times. I am happily surprised that a producer didn’t cut this scene.

Three years later, in Shoot, we have a very similar encounter. Our team of 5 hunters who are bored and frustrated at not finding any deer discover another team of 5 hunters across the river. They size each other up. Both groups are wearing green camouflage clothing and orange wool caps. It’s a surreal mirror image. Ernest Borgnine’s character even states, “They look just like us.” Then one of the other men fires on our team and hits a character in the head. Everyone shoots back and a firefight ensues. The original shooter is shot in the forehead and dragged off. Borgnine keeps yelling, “NO! NO!” which reminded me of Warren Oates yelling the same thing during his shootout in Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me The Head of Alfred Garcia. Random violence broke out for no reason. Did one team think the other team was trespassing on their land? Trying to kill them? Were they guarding a drug lab? Did they just want to kill a stranger? We will never know, and that actually isn’t important. Unexplained misunderstandings and ‘hunting accidents’ happen. Boredom, machismo, brotherhood, and violence bubbling just under everyone’s skin caused this. Vietnam veterans probably suffering from PTSD with no outlet for their rage and training. A national obsession and worship of guns and firepower. Add in themes of tribalism and territoriality and this all could be an allegory for most wars of the last few decades. There is usually no turning back after an initial act of violence and death happens.


Even though this is decidedly a man’s movie, three women characters are given very interesting counterpoints to the male characters. Cliff Robertson learns of the funeral service for the man who was killed on the riverbank and goes to meet the widow. He poses as an old friend to learn what she knew about the killing, and whether the other men in that group are plotting revenge. Kate Reid just about steals the show as the widow. She reveals that the men have described the incident as a stray bullet causing an accidental killing. The way she asks him “Are you a hunter, sir?”, is both wounded and defiant. Grieving and drunk, she talks about sleeping with a gun under her pillow. She gets in an interesting discussion about 2nd amendment gun rights and her fear of crime and drug users. Typical conservative philosophy. She makes racist comments blaming minorities for crime in general, and babbles about hippies deserving what they get. It’s a fascinating scene, and very well acted.

Another interesting scene is when Cliff Robertson’s wife says to him, “Why are you home early on a Saturday night? Is it that time of the month for your friend?” We immediately know that their marriage is ending or over, and he has a mistress, but the wife still remains there. They are clearly only together for their daughter, and the wife’s misguided hope that it will get better. He implies that one of them could move out and she says, “I prefer it this way.” He may be primarily absent, but at least he is there sometimes.

Then Helen Shaver puts in a stellar performance with her one brief scene. She plays an acquaintance of the main character trying to get a job from Cliff Robertson, and she comes on to him strong. It turns out she doesn’t even want the job, she just wants him. She’s full of flirty comments, promises, and allusions. She tries to seduce him in an office and does a lot with very little. He resists her blatant offers for sexual involvement. I was so impressed with her performance here, it’s such a tour de force. I’d love to know if this scene was scripted this way, or if there was some improvisation. Shoot appears to be her first major studio film, so this was a great debut of a talented new actress.

Ernest Borgnine (Lew) gives a stunning speech late in the film during a planning meeting of the team. Cliff Robertson (Rex) is planning on how to get weapons and additional men to go out and ambush the enemy. It’s a study of the concept of groupthink. Everybody is just going along with the insane plans except Borgnine’s character. He listens to the plans and struggles with it before finally trying one last time to talk them out of it. He continues to resist the group’s trajectory towards more violence, and debates their potential actions eloquently and passionately. His monologue is logical but heartfelt, and very convincing. This scene alone is worth watching the movie for.

Rex: “But if one of those guys fires one shot…just one shot. God help ’em.”
Lew: “No…God better help YOU. Because you WANT it to happen.”

Screen Shot 2018-01-18 at 5.54.16 PM


While arranging to get their veterinarian friend to treat the head wound and debating what to do about the incident, Cliff Robertson says “I do respect Pete’s bleeding head, and Lew’s bleeding heart.” That summarizes the balance perfectly as the main character tries to placate all opinions. Revenge vs. Mercy. I don’t think the film is actually taking a position philosophically. I think militaristic gun-loving people can enjoy the film as well as pacifist liberals. One could find the film celebrating this gun-culture machismo, or one could find the film condemning and criticizing it. There are certainly scenes of men cleaning their guns and valuing firepower above all else. And conversely there are scenes vocalizing and damning the ludicrous actions taken by fearful men. Obvious connections to fascism with one dictatorial leader are present, and I was also reminded of the fascistic leanings of the first Dirty Harry film in 1971. The scenes of violence can be enjoyed as in an action movie, or judged as man’s brutal inhumanity to man. It’s the moral and philosophical questions the film raises that interested me the most. I also thought of similar films like Southern Comfort and Red Dawn, as well as the obvious comparisons to Deliverance and First Blood. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s one you probably haven’t seen and should.

This film follows in the steps of many other great 70’s films of a certain bleak grit. Taxi Driver, released the same year, was the story of a sociopathic Vietnam Vet having trouble fitting into the world and taking on a cause. It ends in an infamous bloodbath. Soldier Blue was a western that builds to a gut-wrenchingly violent climax. Straw Dogs is another uncomfortable Peckinpah film that builds up to the riveting violent conclusion. Deliverance, Death Wish, Dirty Harry, and Rolling Thunder (released after Shoot) all have violent denouements that aren’t particularly happy endings. Even if you win, you lose. Often at the cost of your soul.

Here is the only online version that I could find. I sincerely hope this film gets a DVD/BluRay release soon.

Film Geek: Expert Level

Do you want to know what level of film geek I am? Expert.

Here’s a recent example.
While watching the film Spirited Away in theaters, I heard the exact same musical cue as used in the movie Death Wish.
Spirited Away is a 2001 Japanese animated kid’s movie from 2001 by Hayao Miyazaki under Studio Ghibli.
Death Wish is a 1974 Charles Bronson vigilante movie by Michael Winner.

I went home afterwards and put in my Blu-Rays of both films to confirm what I heard. Sure enough, it’s the exact same music.
It’s done on piano. It’s just two chords. Just a few short seconds. But it’s so memorable in Death Wish that I can recall it whether I’ve seen that movie recently or not. Kind of like most of us can start humming The Imperial March from the Star Wars movies on cue. I can do that with this theme from Death Wish. Herbie Hancock composed the music for Death Wish, so he can pursue the copyright infringement case if he wants to.

If you want to check it yourself, please do.
DEATH WISH: At the 35:04 mark. Bronson is in the shooting range for target practice in preparation for becoming a vigilante. He says to his friend, “I loved my father.” He fires the gun. The piano cue plays on the soundtrack. It’s this scene right here:

charles bronson-death wish-movie review-the review-dante ross-danterants-blogspot-com

Death Wish 00.jpg

SPIRITED AWAY: At the 5:38 mark. Young Chihiro is walking through the dark scary tunnel with her parents. They emerge from the tunnel and pause in a large room with colored windows and benches. They walk across the room to the exit. The piano cue plays on the soundtrack.



These two films couldn’t have less to do with each other. And I’m not even really suggesting that one copied the other. I’m just happy to notice and recognize a grouping of notes that was used by two different film composers decades apart from two different countries. It’s bound to happen. There are only so many notes and chords, after all. But damn if I didn’t make a surprised face as I watched the kid’s anime, heard the cue, and thought immediately of Charles Bronson blowing away muggers in New York City. Which is the absolute last thing that I should be thinking of during that movie.

I suppose if you really wanted to stretch for another similarity between the two films, you could make a case that Charles Bronson is No-Face.




All I do know is, if there’s ever a trivia question asking what the movies Death Wish and Spirited Away have in common, I’m taking home the prize.


Farewell, Ash Street

For the last 5 months I’ve had the pleasure of working part-time as the door guy at Ash Street. This is the revered rock club that’s located in old town Portland around the corner from Voodoo Doughnuts. It opened on Halloween in 1994 and is closing on New Year’s Day 2018. The most official explanation I’ve found is this: The lease is expiring and the landlords refuse to renew it, and they do not wish to keep it going as a live music venue. So in a few short weeks, another historic downtown music icon will cease to exist after a 24 year run. The staff was told of this exit date over a year ago and announced it to all. So they have had time for a long slow goodbye, and time to plan lots of farewell shows.

I could go into the lunacy of working at Ash Street as a bouncer. I could go into the time where I got to kick out a baby (and the Mother who snuck it in). Or kicking out a musician’s girlfriend for smoking in the venue AND not having any ID on her. Or breaking up fights, physically escorting people out of the bar, grabbing a beer out of somebody’s hand as they tried to drink it illegally, extinguishing a homeless person’s lighter so they can’t smoke heroin, and a psycho felon trying to intimidate me by handing me his prison ID card. But I don’t want that to be the focus of this piece. Perhaps another time when the kids want a good bedtime story.

The Layout and the Playout

Ash Street is a truly odd setup, populated with numerous groups that don’t really commingle. The main space is the bar with some tables and booths. Then there is an open portal to the performance venue with a good size stage, and another small bar with booths and tables. There is a small room with several video poker machines. This room is, strangely, also where the bathrooms are located. There is one Buck Hunter video game, A KISS pinball game, a two person Pac-Man cocktail table game, and a bowling game. Move past the video poker room and you end up in the back patio. There are just concrete building walls back here, with no view at all.  It’s almost like a concrete brick open-air tomb where everybody sits and smokes like chimneys. The sound booth is located up a staircase off to the side of the venue space. So the sound engineers are looking down to the stage at an angle from the side. Then there is also the front patio area were there are picnic tables. Unlike most venues I work in, alcohol is allowed out there. The main problem is the mentally ill homeless population that constantly walks by and sometimes engages or hassles the patrons.

Oh, and the green room. This bastion of music venues is where band members do all the drugs and try to court groupies. The seedy little beer-soaked storage area where bands keep their purses and backpacks. The little back room where you scarf down your greasy burger and slam a Red Bull before the show. Perhaps you’ll scribble out your set list or even warm up and play some scales on your guitar in this room. The Ash Street green room is located up that long flight of stairs next to the sound booth. I don’t know what the architects had in mind, but there is a short brick wall arch that opens into a itty-bitty little room that only has enough room for a short couch. It’s totally a hobbit-hole with pipe-weed being smoked inside. You have to crouch down and duck your head to enter the archway to get into that little nook to sit on the couch. It is indeed like waking into a brick fireplace. I will never sit on this couch. I can only guess how many lost items would be in this tainted couch. Guitar picks, lighters, little nuggets of weed, bullets, desiccated French fries, ripped out pages from the Satanic Bible and The Necronomicon, and probably used condoms full of alien semen. Nothing would surprise me.

Here are the main groups of patrons that I’ve identified:

The regulars. This is a close-knit family of people who hang out here every evening. They’re here every night I’ve ever been here. They eat dinner here, and drink and socialize for hours. They are all very friendly to me and I’ve had both silly and serious conversations with all of them. When they come in people will yell their name like when Norm would walk into Cheers. They keep to themselves and don’t typically ever go into the music venue.

The musicians. Usually we have 3-4 bands playing on a bill. The musicians and their roadies, girlfriends and boyfriends, and their fans will be here solely for the music venue. Shows here are usually only $5, and the guest list is generous. So nobody ever makes a lot of money here, but its super fun and the sound is always fantastic.

The gamblers. These are the pseudo-regulars that are here solely for the video poker machines. I’ve seen people sit in that room (with the bathrooms) for hours and not win anything, and then also seen some win $200-$400. Some sweet homeless folks will come in with change they scavenged from returning bottles and ask the bartenders for dollar bills for the machines. I actually want them to win.

The service industry neighbors. People love coming to Ash Street from nearby establishments. Staff from the downtown original Voodoo Doughnuts location come in all the time. I had to learn all of their faces right away so I wouldn’t card them every single time they came in. Staff from Kells Irish Pub, The Oyster Bar, and Dante’s should have their own reserved seats. They always head to the private back patio. Always.

The tourists. Self-explanatory. People who aren’t from here wander around downtown and want to check everything out. And if they’ve heard that we’re closing soon they really want to come in and get a taste of it before it’s gone. They usually ask me about other places to go on their way out, and I get to play tour guide to downtown Portland for a few minutes.

Like I stated earlier, none of these groups really commingle much. But it works. The space is big enough for all of these groups and people with no shared activity to be there and all still have a good time. And it makes the people-watching exquisitely entertaining. As a Sociology major in college, I still love watching disparate groups of people inhabiting the same space and sometimes reaching out to each other. Watching a clean-cut conservative tourist with a pink box of donuts start a conversation with a middle-aged punk rocker with facial piercings and purple hair gives me endless pleasure. Everybody goes home with a good story to tell their friends.

Is Ash Street the best music venue in Portland? No. But is it a welcoming and accepting dive bar that hosts local and touring bands all the time? Yep. This place has heart. One of the great things about Ash Street is that, let’s be honest, it was a bit easier to get booked there. Bands typically play here early in their career and move up to bigger and better venues if they’re lucky. Or they return here because they love the people and the vibe. So many of my musician friends cut their teeth playing here over the last 23 years. And Ash Street was totally supportive of touring bands. They would even give you dinner if you were on tour from out-of-town, along with drink tickets that all bands get. Ash Street was always a stop for bands on tour.  They would accommodate these touring bands needing specific dates and let them jump on a bill with some local acts. Therefore, you would get some awesome and diverse bills where sometimes the bands didn’t make much sense playing together. And it would always sound good. The sound engineers are awesome. Even now, in the last few months of our existence, nobody has short-timers syndrome. They are still giving it their all, every show, every band. All three sound engineers will come down from the sound booth and stand in the crowd to get the true honest mix from the center of the room.

Honestly, Ash Street has booked some of the worst bands I’ve ever seen . But they got up onstage and did it, which is more than a lot of people can say. And everybody needs those first few gigs, and to be treated like seasoned veterans. Some Portland hipster bars would have people standing with their backs to the performers, scoffing or heckling them. Not here. People will applaud after every song, even if it’s hard to determine when that particular song is actually over.  I’ve watched many amazing bands here that I wish found more success. I’ve seen bands playing to an empty room, or just to the other band members and their girlfriends. I’ve also seen bands play in front of 150-200 people here. I’ve witnessed some of the weirdest, most odd acts Portland has to offer here on this stage. These artists were definitely keeping Portland weird. The majority of the acts here have usually been rock, metal, or punk. But I’ve also seen acoustic shows, industrial acts, spoken word, country, noise, alternative, dream-pop, performance art, adult puppet shows, and solo artists playing 5 instruments simultaneously. The bookers were clearly invested in giving all artists a chance to perform on a good stage with good sound.


Another nice thing about working as a bouncer at Ash Street is the perks. There’s all the usual stuff like getting paid an hourly rate in cash, getting additional tips from the overall take that night, getting a free meal on shift, and getting a free drink after your shift. Then there’s getting to meet and chat with people all night, and the people-watching. This job totally fulfils my extrovert nature.

But also there are perks involving other nearby establishments. All service industry places do this, the little tit for tat of helping each other out. The world-famous Voodoo Doughnuts original location is just around the corner from Ash Street. They are a storefront and a bakery with nowhere to actually hang out. So the Voodoo employees come over to Ash Street all the time. We even let them hang out after we have the patrons leave at closing time. And in return, any Ash Street employee can go over there and get a free donut anytime. I’ve made the mistake of mentioning the free donut perk to my kids. Now when I head off to work they ask if I’m going to Ash Street. And if I am they say, “Be sure to bring me back a donut, Dare!”
Two chocolate Tang donuts, coming right up. When I get home at 3am.

Employees from nearby Alderman’s, Kells Irish Pub, Oyster Bar, and Dante’s visit Ash Street all the time, and we probably have arrangements with them too. I have friends who work as bouncers and DJs at Kit Kat Club, which is indeed a strip club. How does one inquire about a free lap dance perk? One probably doesn’t. Directly across the from Ash Street is a killer Mexican food cart called La Piñata Takos. They don’t have their own restroom to use while they work, and we do. So the arrangement with them is that they can use our bathroom anytime they want, and we can get a free meal from them when we’re on shift. Has there been a night where I’ve collected my free perks from all the places? Have I ordered a Kick my Ash burger with fries from Ash Street, then ordered a chorizo burrito from the food cart, and then collected an Old Dirty Bastard donut from Voodoo Doughnuts? Goddamned right I have. “Nothing exceeds like excess. You should know that, Tony.”

Honestly the greatest perk has been seeing all these shows and meeting all these fellow musicians. I’ve found some great bands and become friends with these people. I’ve talked with them about how they stage their tours, how they load their gear, how they run their merch booth. Networking and studying always. I only work security in music venues because I love it above all else. You still learn a lot from watching a band that you don’t particularly like. And even more from watching bands that you love. Being around musicians all the time is such a rush. The creative energy and pride of doing what you love is infectious. It’s also a shared history. We all know and understand the grind. And we still find it worth it.

Welcome to the family

In the last few months I’ve seen birthday parties held here with the birthday family performing onstage with cake. I’ve seen father and son bands rocking out onstage. Regulars have brought in homemade food to gift to the staff. The family motif keeps returning as I think about it. The entire staff here is a family. The regulars are a family. Bartenders regularly come out from behind the bar smiling as they give someone a big hug. Regulars bring their dogs inside, and they become canine regulars. As a part-time bouncer/door guy just here for the final 5 months of Ash Street, they could have pretty much ignored me. Why bother getting to know a new guy here at the end when we’re all on our way out? Well, everybody has welcomed me in like they would any full-time long-term team member. I’ve gotten to know the bartenders and cooks and sound engineers. I’ve been invited to their birthday parties. We have our inside jokes now. I’ll clock out but remain at the bar shooting the shit with the gang. Typical conversations between us music geeks involve how you can determine what kind of person someone is by which Cure album they cite as their favorite. Comparing stories of best concerts we’ve ever seen. Telling the stories of the strangest shows we’ve seen at Ash Street. The bar even has a little wooden piece of wood with the word COCK written on it. So if you are gonna cock-block somebody you can drop an actual cock block on the bar as you do it.

One night two drunk people started punching each other right in the middle of the bar/restaurant area. I tackled one guy and bear-hugged him out of the venue and onto the sidewalk. I glanced behind me as I was moving the guy out the door and saw that my coworker had done the same with the other guy and was hauling him out behind me. This coworker was off the clock, and not a security staff. He was a bartender and cook. We de-escalated the situation and the two men calmed down and ended up hugging it out. We didn’t need even to call the Police. My coworker later said that he hoped I didn’t mind him involving himself in that situation. But even though he was off the clock, he felt like everybody there is a family and a team and should all jump in to solve a volatile and violent situation no matter what our job description is. Keep everybody safe. I thanked him and told him he could jump in to help me anytime.

Another spin on that family theme is the regulars. These staples of Ash Street often congregate out front on the sidewalk where the picnic tables are, or inside at the tables by the big bay window near the front doors. When Barret hired me, he tried to personally introduce me to each of the regulars and told me that they have a lot of history and pride in this establishment. So much so that they will even police the sidewalk area when problem people start trouble. These regulars have even been known to jump in and help the bouncers break up a fight. So on a Sunday evening when I’m the only bouncer there, if the shit goes down I know that not only will the bartenders and cooks jump in and help, but up to a dozen of the regulars would jump in and help too. I imagine some drunken bro trying to get into it with somebody outside on the sidewalk only to be faced with 15 regulars standing up from the picnic tables. They all surround him like the undead from a John Carpenter movie. Then they beat the living hell out of the guy. The band onstage might actually be playing some pulsing 80’s synth score that perfectly matches this vision. I stand inside with the bartenders with our arms crossed as we watch, smiling like around parents at their kid’s baseball game. Downtown Ash Street Gang.

Some bands decided to reunite after 10-15 years for a one-time show at Ash Street to relive their history here one more time. I’ve watched the sound engineers break into a huge smile and hug each band member as they walked in with their gear. The same way you would greet your brother you haven’t seen in a decade at the Thanksgiving meal. It is literally a reunion every night around here. And also a goodbye. Some bands get drunk onstage and have trouble leaving the stage once their set is over. Because they know it’s the last time up there ever. They howl like banshees at the top of their lungs onstage (with the mic thankfully turned off), mourning the demise of such a musical institution. They want their voices to echo off of these walls forever like in the hall of Valhalla. Every performance is a little death, after all. La petit mort, my good friends. They splash their drinks together and toast the show just completed, and the legacy that they are saying goodbye to.

My last performance at Ash Street

My personal history with Ash Street is pretty much like everybody else’s in Portland. I’ve attended many shows there, and almost every band I’ve been in has performed there as well. In the mid-90’s my first band, Sarcasm, played at Ash Street numerous times. We were based in Eugene, so to us playing at Ash Street was a really special out-of-town gig. My second band, Sleepy Hollow, somehow did not play at Ash Street. My third band, Brother Heathen, played there around 2000-2001. My fourth and current band, The Shrike, has played there 7 times since 2014. We opened for Jennie Vee on her national tour there in 2015. I filled in on drums with my friend’s band When We Met a few times recently. And I was and extra in the crowd shots of a music video shot at Ash Street by my friends in Sugar Tits (Later to change their name to Sugar Tease).

My friends Bryan and Melissa are a couple that makes up the entire band that is When We Met. They typically don’t have a drummer, as they play along with pre-programmed drum tracks onstage. When The Shrike and When We Met would play a show together, they would have me jump onstage with them for their finale song, The Pixies “Where is my Mind?”  Then they started asking me to join them even when my band wasn’t playing a show on that bill. I would just play the drum set from the band that was following them. We learned the PJ Harvey classic, “Rid of Me” and played that together too. For their final show at Ash Street they asked me if I could join them for their entire set and learn all of their originals.

So on November 7th, Election Day, we all played our last show ever on the Ash Street stage. It was definitely a fun, surreal, and melancholy performance. I smiled and sang along with some of the lyrics while playing the drums. But I was also fighting off the sadness and the tears. This was THE LAST TIME that I would ever perform music on this stage.  I was noticing the fog machine kicking out clouds for the colorful rays of light to puncture. I would spot friends’ faces smiling out in the crowd. My fiancé was beaming. I also found it truly fitting that we played two covers from the 80’s and 90’s in this set. Both songs are easy to play on drums, honestly. And they both pretty much encapsulate the quiet/loud quiet/loud pattern that so many songs do. Simple drums just gives me more opportunity to embellish and add different drum parts and fills.

So for the PJ Harvey song, Melissa puts her bass down and just sings while Bryan handles all the guitar parts. Barret is the booker/promoter/head of show security at Ash Street. He is a performing musician too, playing with God Bless America as well as solo shows. He saw us do this song in sound check and mentioned something about how it would be fun for him to pick up the bass and join us. We immediately jumped on this idea. So with zero rehearsals together and zero planning, we played “Rid of Me” onstage as a 4 piece. I had never played music with Barret before, and everybody loved having him up there to fill out the sound and change-up the stage performance. When We Met went from a 2 piece band to a 4 piece band for one song on one night.

We finished the rest of their set and ended with the classic Pixies song “Where is My Mind?”  This song has always been special to me, and obviously to Bryan and Melissa also.  There is a melancholy sadness to that song already. Then knowing that this is the last song that I’ll ever perform on this stage got to me. I kept picturing the final scene of Fight Club, where this song plays as all the corporate skyscrapers explode and start collapsing. I truly hope that the Ash Street building isn’t brought down by a wrecking ball and bulldozed to make expensive apartments or a high-end restaurant that nobody can afford to eat at. I wish we projected images of the collapsing buildings from the movie scene behind us as we played.

We leave space at the end of the song to go crazy and do a big rock ending. We gave it all we had tonight. I even hurled my drumsticks high up in the air after I hit my final cymbal crashes, which landed in the crowd somewhere. We moved off the stage and hugged and posed for some photos. Since I was playing somebody else’s drum set, I actually got to just leave the stage and talk with people instead of having to scramble to lug my drums offstage as fast as I can. Somebody returned my drumsticks to me. I felt great and thought this song was perfect for my last song played at Ash Street.

But, in a happy surprise, I was given yet another chance to perform on that stage. Barret Stolte was playing an acoustic set later in the night, and he asked me if I’d want to join him for a cover onstage. Just him and me. Guitar and drums and his voice, doing Echo and the Bunnymen’s 1984 classic “The Killing Moon.” I knew the song well and loved it. So, much like Ash Street itself getting a stay of execution for a year, I got to play one more song onstage with my friend. Again with zero rehearsal time or planning. That just added to the excitement because we didn’t really know if we would nail it or not. That kind of positive anxiety usually makes a musician focus more intensely so they stay together and get everything right. Which, luckily, we did. Remember that Barret hired me and is technically my boss. So there we are, me and my boss onstage playing an 80’s song together. That reads funny, but it didn’t feel like that at all. It was just two musicians and friends playing music together for the first time, and the last time, on this stage. Some friends filmed the song so we have that moment of history preserved. This was truly one of the most fun and exciting and emotional performances of my life. Spontaneous new collaborations onstage, and giving it our best efforts, for it will never happen again.

Too late to beg you or cancel it
Though I know it must be the killing time
Unwillingly mine
Up against your will
The killing moon
Will come too soon

This is the end, my beautiful friend

As we enter the final week of Ash Street’s existence, there are 6 farewell shows planned. Each of these is very special. The lineups are much larger than regular shows, and each one is a themed farewell to a particular musical genre. Some of these bands have played at Ash Street countless times, while some have reunited after years (or decades) just to perform at this show, on this stage, one final time. There will be amazing musical moments, laughter, tears, and memories. The special shows are Farewell to Dwight Church weekly open mic shows, Farewell to Indie Rock, Farewell to Hip Hop, Farewell to punk rock, Farewell to rock and roll, and Farewell to metal on New Year’s Eve. I get to work two of these goodbye shows and I wish I could work them all.

In 2010 another very famous music venue closed their doors. I’m talking about Satyricon.  It was very similar to Ash Street in that it was a gritty dive bar that everybody wanted to play. Touring bands and local bands always wanted to get booked there. It actually closed in 2003 but reopened as an all-ages venue in 2006. It finally closed for real in 2010 and the building was bulldozed in 2011. But the memories people had of that venue were so strong that they wanted a piece of it. People were actually going to the demolition site and climbing the chain link fence to grab one of the bricks of the old Satyricon building. I am sure that I know people who have a brick from Satyricon’s rubble on their mantle. My understanding is that the Ash Street building is not being torn down. But I wonder what people will try to steal from the venue in the final week.

One night the movie A Princess Bride was playing on the television above the pinball machines. It was a cold, mellow Sunday evening with not too many people there. I was spacing out watching the film while some doom metal band played in the venue. The scene where the two leads are traveling through the dark forest and talking about Rodents of Unusual Size. Westley says, “I don’t think they exist.” BAM! He is immediately attacked by a R.O.U.S. and rolling around fighting for his life. The sound to the TV is off, so the soundtrack was unknowingly being provided by the doom metal band. It matched up perfectly. Similar to how you can watch The Wizard of Oz with Pink Floyd’s album Dark Side of the Moon as a soundtrack. The sync of the Black Sabbath-like music with the imagery of wrestling with a demon-monster, lighting it on fire, and stabbing it with a sword was uncanny. It completely changed the mood of the scene. No more light-hearted romance comedy tale aimed at kids. Now it’s Dungeons and Dragons doom metal by way of William Goldman. Conan the Barbarian with a soundtrack by Cathedral. This silly and brief juxtaposition actually sums of the experience of Ash Street pretty well. Accidentally putting things together that don’t go together and seeing what develops. Creating new mashup art out of old art. Bastardization and mutation. Spontaneous collaborations and bizarre weirdness that you can’t turn away from.

I shall miss you, Ash Street Saloon. This place means so much to me. I’ve been spending quality time there off and on for the last 20 years. My five months working there were amazing and I wish that I had 5 years of stories. Support local music and venues. Start your own band. Go see a show. Go play a show. Make memories.
Buy the ticket, take the ride.

And for the love of all that is holy, please burn that green room couch in a CDC cleanroom. The toxins released from burning that disgusting sponge of nasty anywhere else would kill us all.

Feeling the stage

When I work in the venue I’m primarily watching the crowd. I’m watching for specific things. These include clouds of smoke from people smoking, people showing visible signs of intoxication, people trying to go into areas they aren’t supposed to, people touching others inappropriately, and fights. Occasionally there is even barfing.  Honestly it’s like supervising little children on recess. Except they are huge, drunk, and wicked children who are able to actually cause harm. Sometimes I wish I could suggest that certain people utilize nappy-time.

Sometimes I’m just looking for things that don’t fit. Somebody asleep or passed out drunk. Someone showing symptoms of having a seizure. Strobe lights or dehydration have caused some people to drop to the ground, resulting in me calling an ambulance for them. People who don’t seem to be watching the show but are watching a specific person very intently. People looking into an area where valuables might be stored. Someone lingering by the merch booth and looking around nervously as they consider stealing something.

Tonight my attention was drawn to a young blonde woman right at the front of the stage who seemed to be freaking out a little bit. By freaking out I mean she was flopping her upper body over onto the stage and screaming a lot. Then she would lay her torso and arms on the stage and remain there. Prone. Almost like she was hugging the stage floor. She would lightly pound her hands on the stage along with the beat sometimes. All the music venues I work at have a stage that is at hip level. Most people just set their drinks on the stage and watch the performer. This woman was reminding me of Linda Blair in The Exorcist. She wasn’t on a bed, but imagine that type of agitated flopping on the stage. Then undulating on the carpeted stage floor for a while, then being still, then standing up and starting over again. And screaming in happiness.

Now I’m perfectly aware that people enjoy concerts in different ways. But I’m also aware that people take drugs and/or get drunk at concerts. Any exaggerated movements or actions like this will get the attention of the security staff. This also just didn’t quite fit the vibe of the performance. The artist was a solo singer-songwriter. He was the lead singer of a pop-punk band in the 90’s, but now is doing a stripped down solo tour with just him and his guitar. This kind of show just doesn’t bring out violent body-flopping on the front of the stage. When she would just lay her chest on the stage and fling her arms out on the stage I worried that she had exhausted herself, injured herself, or passed out. She was like a whirling dervish getting lost in her spiritual spinning. When she was stretched out on the stage she would continue to move around and almost gyrate into the edge of the stage. Her arms would move into different positions and she would push the palms of her hands into the stage floor. Sometimes she would turn her head so that her cheek was mashed against the stage carpet. This carpet has probably had gallons of alcoholic drinks spilled on it over the years. Sane people wouldn’t put their face on it. She would then turn her head so that the other cheek was then mashed against it. Some drugs enhance your sense of touch and cause you to seek repetitive tactile stimulation. This girl could have taken Ecstasy and wanted to make love to the stage.

I watched the people around her to see if they were reacting to her like she was a batshit crazy person. They seemed to be her friends and were supportive of her odd behavior. They weren’t acting like they were irritated by her in the slightest. They would occasionally put their hands on her shoulders and exchange smiles. They weren’t making faces or feeding her water like she was a drunken embarrassment. Situational cues are very helpful in moments like these.

So she wasn’t technically disrupting the performance. She wasn’t screaming over the singer during quiet moments. She wasn’t putting herself at risk of injury. She wasn’t pissing off everyone around her. She wasn’t trying to actually climb onto the stage. She wasn’t stumbling or falling or showing signs of extreme intoxication. This particular woman enjoys the show by flinging her upper body on the stage and striking a prone crucifixion pose. Ok girl, do your thing.

Who am I to tell her how to enjoy this concert? While some people stand planted like statues, others dance like it’s their last day on this planet. Others prefer to document the show on their smart phone or DSLR camera. Others smile wide and cry tears of pleasure, while others sing along with every lyric perfectly. Some people hug their friends or hold their partners close for the shared experience, others stand off by themselves not wanting to be touched by anyone so they can focus on the performance. I observe all of these different takes on being an audience member when I work. It’s so fascinating. My Sociology minor from college still fits me.

I continue to watch this woman lay her chest on the stage and love it for the remainder of the show. Once the show ended the singer put down his guitar and moved up toward the audience to shake people’s hands. I was slightly concerned that she would climb onstage and try to grab the singer, so I moved up closer behind her just in case. She got his attention and she told him, “Thank you! I’m deaf. So I was laying on the stage so I could feel your music. This was the best concert of my life, thank you.”

Deaf. Wow. That explains everything. Don’t I feel kind of stupid for assuming she was high on drugs now? This was a beautiful thing I just witnessed. The singer was very touched as well. They had a sweet conversation about her feeling the guitar chords and the rhythms and the power of his voice through the stage floor into her body. She was absorbing his music into her body by the vibrations through the wooden stage floor. Just six strings and his voice. Into her chest. Into her head. Into her heart.

She saw me and introduced herself, and told me that she was deaf and how much she enjoyed feeling that concert. She asked me if I could take some pictures on her camera of her with the singer. I was happy to. I took a ton of photos for her and her musical idol. He had to be so moved by her experience tonight. He hugged her and they said goodbye ,and she left with her friends. So many smiles.

I’ve seen a lot of great live shows in my life. Pearl Jam, Prince, Tori Amos, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure, Depeche Mode, David Bowie, and Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. Some of these concerts moved me so much that I achieved an almost spiritual level of pure happiness. I’ve teared up at certain shows. I get tunnel vision and will hyper-focus on the performer, not really remembering where I was or who was around me. The shows can mesmerize me and put me in a trance. The music took me somewhere else and changed me for the better.

But of all the various shows I’ve attended, I don’t think that I enjoyed any of them as much as this young woman enjoyed this show. She literally felt the music reverberate throughout her body. She pushed her face, her breasts, her hands, and her hips against a conductor of the music. I envied her devotion and pure joy in feeling the music of this man. She didn’t even possess the one sense that the rest of us have when attending music concerts, and yet her level of connection and ecstasy was immeasurable. Tonight’s performance may have been the happiest night of her life.

It’s been many months since this concert but I think of her often. Whenever the music is so loud that I feel it through the floor. Sometimes I’ll lay my hand on the stage while a band is performing. I’ll feel the vibrations of the music. I nod to myself and smile.