Monday, December 7, 2009

Mikel Jollett: Best Laid Plans

Published May 2009 in Salem Monthly. Stories ideas come from unexpected places, it's best to be prepared. My wife and I went to Portland to see Airborne Toxic Event and Jollett announced he'd spent part of his childhood in Salem. I turned to my wife and told her I was getting that story. The following morning, I e-mailed the band's management and it led to an interview. I reused a lede from another story several years back. If I had to choose, it works better in this one.

Mikel Jollett, frontman of The Airborne Toxic Event, knows a thing or two about big plans.

First, he knows how the grandiose designs we hinge our lives on rarely work out the way we think they will.

Second, he knows that's not such a bad thing.

"At this point in my life, as far as plans go, I had expected to be on my second novel and doing an NPR column instead of traveling around with a band," said Jollett.

CCMF: Why Salem needs this party

Published April 2009 in Salem Monthly

David Ballantyne has an on-again-off-again relationship with the Salem music scene. Most years he loves it. So far, 2009 has been one of the off years.

Ballantyne doesn't relish the feeling. It's more of a sad fact. He's been an active member in Salem bands for more than a decade, watched the scene ebb and flow, heard all the talk from local band members with stars in their eyes and dreams of "getting out."

"Getting out isn't as important as building up. If there's a reason Salem needs the Cherry City Music Festival, that's it," said Ballantyne, who will be performing guitar and vocals with his band The Falcon on April 9.

Celebrating the otherworldly

Published April 2009 in PLAY. I like stories like this one and this one not because I'm a believer in such things, but because they illustrate how we find amazing ways to connect with each other.

Kris Bales was shaking so hard when he drew the object he saw in the sky that even he barely recognizes his own writing.

Bales, a Bend contractor, his brother, Marc, and two other friends were on a hunting trip near Challis, Idaho, on Sept. 27, 2000. Bales was digging through the back of his pick-up when he felt a presence nearby.

“I looked out to the sides and saw the night sky filled with stars, but when I looked directly up the sky was blotted out,” Bales said.

He clicked on a flashlight and aimed it into the darkness overhead. The light beam from the low-powered light danced across the entire length of a triangle-shaped aircraft.

“I slipped down off the truck and went to the ground. I was floored. It was beyond comprehension,” Bales said.

Schooled in rock

Published April 2009 in Salem Monthly.

A certain nervous energy precedes the start of most classes from elementary through high school. It manifests as the shuffling of papers, quiet, or not-so-quiet, chatter or the occasional burst of laughter.

In the Rock & Roll Workshop at Judson Middle School that anxious tension is drummed on the soles of students' shoes, literally. In the rear of the classroom, about a dozen budding drummers tap out timing beats like over-caffeinated squirrels on the back end of a Morse telegraph.

At a time when educators are fighting a losing battle to preserve arts education, the Jaguars' rock class is a breakout hit.

A bargain amidst economic chaos

Published April 2009 in Salem Monthly

It's incredibly hard to put a price on a dose of courage, but it can come with a shockingly cheap price tag.

Last year, I had the good fortune to befriend a woman who knows firsthand the toil of being one of the working poor. At the age of 36, and as a single mother of four daughters, she decided to return to school while continuing to work part time.

Making ends meet in such difficult circumstances wasn't ever easy, but she did it, and she received assistance in small ways - like tax breaks.

Rising Tide: The Battle for Battle Creek

Published March 2009 in Salem Monthly.

A lot of people liked the lede graphs in this article. I was uncertain about it even as we went to press, so it was huge relief to get the positive feedback.

Before reading any further, hold out your right hand.

Tilt it to the right to keep the thumb level. Spread and curl the fingers as if wrapping them around a bowl. The four fingers represent four creeks, Waln (index finger), Battle (middle finger), Powell (ring finger) and Scotch (the pinky), that flow into and merge in the basin created in the palm of your hand. The thumb is Battle Creek as it flows out of the basin.

The area surrounding the basin experienced some of the Salem area's most intense flooding in 1996 and an application currently under consideration by the city of Salem would allow it to be developed from a golf course into a senior living community.

The question to be kept in mind, if one chooses to continue reading is: What, if anything, should be constructed in that basin?

"It's a difficult case," said Lisa Anderson, an associate planner with the City of Salem, who is handling the application. "Obviously, people bought these homes because of the area surrounding them and, specifically, the golf course. But the land itself has never been public land."

While some of the homes adjacent to the course are in the most immediate danger in the event of another flood, the neighborhoods surrounding the Battle Creek area is almost otherworldly. Middle class homes, manufactured homes, condominiums, cost-efficient apartments and multi-million dollar estates are found within blocks of each other. It’s simply hard to find areas that encompass such a broad range of socioeconomic diversity.

It also means that whatever happens to the property is likely to impact the entire surrounding community, and may have even broader flooding effects.

Tough times don't excuse small injustices

Published March 2009 in Salem Monthly

What's so hard about going through life with a sense of humanity?

I went into a fast food restaurant the other day and while I was placing an order, a young woman stepped up to the register beside mine.

Words were quietly exchanged and pieces of paper changed hands. The employee at the counter then turned to the ones prepping food and loudly declared there was someone at the register looking to turn in a job application.

"During the lunch rush? Who does that?" was the response. At damn near full yell.