Portland and the ‘farce of the past’

“Isn’t it strange how the seasons just pass, when you’re lost in the farce of the past” Mikel Jollett

I moved out of Portland, Oregon two days before new year’s day of 2015. I had lived there full time since 2008, part time since 2006, and I was ready to leave. So I thought. As it turns out I would only be in Louisiana for four months before returning to my “home” home of the Seattle area of Washington. I had backtracked into a sea of anxiety and depression, one that felt all too familiar and reminiscent of what my life was like in Portland. I used to always look for geographical fixes to problems that it turns out I brought with me wherever I resided. For some reason I believed if I just could go somewhere new, start over, that I’d feel better. I tried it several times and it just never worked. Cincinnati. Portland. Shreveport. Las Vegas. All ended with me struggling with my mental health and fleeing to go back to “home” home in Washington.

When I go to Portland, Oregon anymore, it’s generally just passing through. I’ll stay on I-5 and maybe stop in Tigard to get some lunch at Busters BBQ. But mostly I skip the city. When I passed through on Halloween a few weeks ago going back to Grants Pass, this song from Airborne Toxic Event came on my shuffle. Everything I love is broken.

It’s probably my favorite song on what has been my favorite record of 2020. The chorus lyric that I started this blog with, it resonates with me. So much of anxiety was living in the ‘farce of the past’. I realized as the song came on and I looked over at Portland from across the Willamette River on I-5, that going through Portland makes me feel a certain way. A weird mix of nostalgia and sadness. I think about friends that I made there that I don’t stay in touch with. I think about Portland Meadows, which is now just another boring warehouse. But I mostly think about so many of the bad times I had there. They were truly the worst years of my life. And for a long time I think I associated Portland with anxiety and depression and with my hardest times.

Like many people with mental health issues, my struggles ebbed and flowed. I’d go for months doing alright. Working, socializing, dating, doing things. Then I’d start slipping into isolation and go months where I did nothing at all. I remember stretches of time where I only left my apartment for curbside food pick ups and to go sit at the hospital. I spent entire days reading in hospitals because I was so scared and anxious that I knew if I had a panic attack or wanted to hurt myself, at least I was already at the hospital. I made the hospital a “safe place”. One day I’d go to Providence Portland over off 47th and Glisan. The next day to St. Vincents on the west side. From 2011 to 2013 I mostly went to O.H.S.U. because I lived right next to it.

In 2013 I announced an entire season of horse races from an office downstairs because I was too scared to go up to the booth. I had started having panic attacks there and just couldn’t make it anymore.

There was a stretch of time where I’d leave the track after barely getting through the races and I’d drive to Legacy Emanuel Hospital and sit in the parking lot for 20 minutes and try to calm down. Then i’d drive across the broadway bridge to Good Samaritan Hospital and park there. Try and calm down. Then I’d either go to OHSU and eat dinner or go home and try and distract myself until the bliss of tiredness came upon me.

I missed a couple weeks that season because I finally checked into the hospital after a particularly frightening episode. I remember being up in the psych ward and one of the other people there telling me “up here there’s either people having psychotic breakdowns or sad kids.” I was a sad kid I guess. Anxiety was always my primary symptom. But it got so bad that my life was in near complete isolation, that depression became a problem. I skipped coming home for Thanksgiving. For Christmas. I just sat in my apartment hoping to get better and feeling like I never would.

I get sad thinking about those times. I’m so happy that I made it through those times and maybe without the struggle I wouldn’t be so appreciative of how much better I’ve done these last two or three years. But I still grieve about all that time. Time spent being scared. Hopeless.

I remember a great therapist I worked with, devora, one time telling me to bring in a picture of my younger self. We were working on self-esteem issues and we talked about how I was so hard and mean to myself. I would constantly belittle myself about my weight, my looks, my anxiety, my abilities, everything. She had me look at this picture of me from when I was in first grade.

She would tell me to look at that child and would I say those same things to him that I’m saying to the 30 year old him? Of course not. He didn’t do anything to deserve that. We spent months working through my early years, my relationship with my dad, my relationship with myself.

In a weird way, the last few months, I feel like i’ve been working through my years after therapy. My last years in Portland and my first years back in Washington. Working on trying to accept that those years are gone. That ‘youth’ is in some ways gone. Maybe that’s just part of turning 40, reflecting on where you were. I do think I’m getting better at just realizing that I was sick, and I was doing the best I could with my illness. I don’t think 30 year old Jason would be so kind about his struggles. I’m glad his older counterpart can be more forgiving and accepting. I’ve moved on from shame about my anxiety and those years. I think I’m moving on from feeling sad about those years. I don’t know if I’ll get to feeling grateful for those years, but I can certainly continue working on acceptance of them.

I’ve made some incredible strides in recent years in regards to my anxiety and mental health. Who knew happiness was so much work. I used to always hope it would just show up one day. Turns out it doesn’t work that way. To me the biggest difference between then and now is that back then I truly dreaded a new day beginning. I would be upset when I woke up because it meant I had to try and get through the day again. Now I truly wake up ready for a new day, excited about it, and hopeful for what the day and the week and the month will bring. I can’t convey how grateful I am for that to be the case. Because I know how hard it is when it’s the other way.

Today when I passed through Portland I had those same feelings of nostalgia and started to feel a little sad. But I tried to shift my focus back to acceptance. I pulled off the freeway and drove around. I went to a couple of my old residences. They looked exactly the same. Much of downtown looked the same. Some looked different. But overall, it’s still Portland. I texted some old friends from there I hadn’t talked to in years. Just to tell them hello and see how they are. I met some of the most caring people I’ve ever known in Portland. It’s a great city in that way.

I want my relationship with Portland to move forward. We’ll still just be occasional acquaintances, but I hope going forward that visits to PDX, or even just passing by, will be more celebratory and enjoying the beauty of the Rose City and what is happening now, as opposed to what was.

Me in Portland today

“All the things we’ve done, trying to harden our shells”

Goodnight….to The Beemie Awards

Wanted to make a formal announcement that a couple months ago I decided to end The Beemie Awards. Well I shouldn’t say end, never say never, etc, but I’m not planning on doing them anymore. I wish I could blame it on the craziness of 2020, but the truth is, I just think they’ve run their course. I try and be a creative person and I thought last year’s show was good, but it was certainly just the same stuff as previous years. I think to continue on they would have needed to really change and grow and unfortunately right now I don’t see that as a possibility.

My intention with the show was always to just make a light hearted and fun night for racing folks and fans. The best part of it to me was always everyone else’s tweets and interactions and them playing along.

Thanks to everyone who watched and supported the show over the years, including our sponsors Little Red Feather, SIMHorseracing, and of course, Runhappy. The “Beemie Awards” team of Mark, Danny, and Carly were so fun to write and create with. Such funny people. So big ups to them.

Thanks everyone!

Jason

More Trip videos!

Been a few weeks on the road and I’ve been enjoying getting to make these little travel videos.  Here’s three more from this trip including Bakersfield to Las Vegas.  A day hike at Red Rock Canyon and finally a day at Golden Gate Fields near San Francisco.

VLOG! Touring Buckley and Carbonado, Washington

Took a short drive this morning out to the towns of Buckley and Carbonado, Washington.  There really isn’t too much to them, but each little town has it’s own feel, so it’s fun to go and walk around them.  Carbonado is one of those places that a million people pass by as it’s on the way out to Mt. Rainier National Park.  But you have to pull of the highway to get to the actual town and I can’t imagine many folks actually make the turn.  So here’s a video of the trip as well as a visit to the Carbonado Cemetery, which had graves from all the way back to the mid 1800s.

Road Trip to Twin Lakes and Grand Coulee Dam

 

What a fun day today.  Took a long road trip (250 miles each way or so!) out to Eastern Washington to Twin Lakes.  Along the way stopped at Soap Lake, Grand Coulee Dam, and Nespelem.  I hadn’t made that trip since 1993 when my Grandpa Chuck passed away.  Twin Lakes was where we spent our summers and it was so fun to go see it.  It looked exactly how it did in my minds eye.  Just beautiful.  I did a vlog of the trip, which you can watch here:

 

Everyone have a good weekend!

Working on my Youtube Channel

One of the favorite things I’ve learned in recent years is video editing.  I’m still very much a beginner at it, but it is so enjoyable to tell a story using video.  And with Iphones being such a solid camera nowadays, you really can make little movies just with a few clicks.   Personally I just like to document my travels and every so often I’ll go back and watch a video and it’s just fun to be transported back to that time for just a few minutes.  My goal for 2020 on Youtube is to produce multiple videos per month and to grow my subscriber number up to 1,000.   If you want to check out my videos and help get me to my subscriber goal, here’s a link to the channel.

Jason’s Youtube Channel 

There’s lots of videos of visits to horse tracks as well as just personal travel.

subscribe

Locks on the Doors; Portland Meadows is closing.

Locks on the Doors; Portland Meadows is closing.

“You think they’ll run here next year?”

Just past the finish line. The toteboard is still there, and to it’s right, the old Portland Meadows Golf Clubhouse. There was a 9 hole course in the infield for years.

From the time I started working at Portland Meadows in 2006, every Summer that familiar question came up hundreds of times.  “You think they’ll run here next year?”  My answer was usually the same to everyone.  “I think so.  I hope so.”

Dr. Jack Root who has been a long time owner/breeder/trainer/veterinarian in Oregon told me once “Jason, I’ve been coming here for thirty years, and every year I hear from countless people that Portland Meadows is closing.  It’s been closing for thirty years!”  But then Dr. Root followed that statement up with another.  “What will happen is some day, I think several years from now, we’ll show up one day, and there will be locks on the doors.  That’s when we’ll know it’s finally closed.”

Well for me, this past Sunday, when I walked up to the front doors and saw the locks, Dr. Root’s prognostication finally hit home.  I only stayed there for maybe thirty minutes or so on Sunday.  Walked around and saw the grass growing over the main track.  The inner rail torn down in places.  The lights removed from the toteboard.  The old golf course clubhouse empty.

PM from out front. The neon horse was still running, but the front doors are now locked.

I talked with one of the security guards who I’d known from my time at Portland Meadows.  He said the day before was the last day of simulcasting.  This coming Saturday would be the last day of poker.  Then January 1, the new owners, a logistics company of some kind, would take over ownership.  They’ll turn the property into some kind of trucking/shipping facility, the grandstand will go down, and life in North Portland will go on.  I’ve seen it in other places.  Where my beloved Longacres once stood there is now a Boeing building and a bunch of walking trails.  Where Playfair in Spokane once ran races there is now a business park.  Yakima Meadows is still standing but it looks condemned and I believe is only used to house motorcycle races.

Portland Meadows opened on September 14, 1946 and was the first North American Thoroughbred track to offer night racing according to the track about page on the website.  The track survived a flood in 1948, a fire in 1970, and several different ownership groups.  Gary Stevens career took off there and in 1982-83 he won 126 races before heading down to Southern California and creating a Hall of Fame career.  Bill Shoemaker won the Portland Mile in 1989.  There were other great things that happened on the track, but those things are all just PM’s biography.

To me it will always be about the people.  I used to love to walk the backstretch and talk with wonderful trainers like my friend Ben Root.  Folks like Dr. Ryland Harwood who was a career dentist and became a trainer, owner, and breeder in his retirement.  Small barns like Bubba Bullene, and GD Khalsa, who despite never having a huge stables, are fabulous horsemen.  Jockeys like Joe Crispin, and Mark Anderson, Javier Matias and Juan Gutierrez.  Portland always had many female riders as part of the colony.  Kathy Mayo won several titles there.  Shawna Barber, Becky Abernathy, April Boag, Connie Doll, Debbie Hoonan, Marijo Terleski, Shawna Whiteside, Darlene Braden, Anne Sanguinetti, and in recent years Kassie Guglielmino and Eliska Kubinova.

Whatever track I go to I always make sure to make friends with the jockey agents.  They always have the best stories and usually have some useful information.  Steve Peery was an agent there for years and became one of my best friends.  Keith Drebin was always fun to talk with.  I remember at the first Portland Meadows Golf Tournament I played in, Mike Delnick was the leading agent and was in our group.  I muttered at the first hole “Well I hope we can win today guys.”  Delnick looked at me and said “Don’t worry, I’m keeping score.  We’re gonna win.”  I laughed and then he said “Jason, the most dangerous wood in my bag isn’t my driver.  It’s my pencil.”   We won the tournament by a stroke.

I also used to love to hang out with the tote room guys.  Brothers Lucas and Ben.  One racing night they were having a contest who could fit the most grapes in their mouth.  So I participated and stuffed like 10 of those buggers in my yapper before eating them.  After I finished them I ran upstairs to call the next race.  As the horses reached the gate I could feel the acid from the grapes bubbling up in my stomach.  I reached down and hit the mute button and let out a big burp.  Then I heard my burp echo over the loud speakers.  I looked down to my mic pack and saw the light was still green.  The TV department even made a video of it which you can see HERE.  It’s pretty gross, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I know the racing wasn’t world class or much class at all.  But it was our track.  I called those races like they were the most important races in the country because I knew to the owners, trainers, jockeys, and gamblers, they were important.  I always felt a sense of pride that when an owner would watch the DVD of their horse winning a race, even years from now, that it was going to be me who got to describe the victory and call their horse.  What a privilege.

When I left Portland Meadows in late 2014 to pursue another announcing opportunity, I remember being very sad about it.  Even though I was taking the next step in my career (which I would of course completely blow), I didn’t like leaving.  I remember tearing up saying goodbye to Jerry and Vestal in the main office.  Shaking hands with Will who was my boss and is now my friend.  I get emotional thinking about Will because he always supported me even though my professional time at Portland Meadows was the height of my personal life mental health struggles.  One year my panic and agoraphobia got so bad that I would get crippling anxiety if I had to be far away from my car or medical help.  So Will set up a huge TV and a microphone in the downstairs office so I could call off the TV and be close to the parking lot and the nurses station.  I eventually made it back upstairs, but I told him countless times if he needed to fire me I would understand.  I look back at those times and feel bad that it was such a struggle.  But I also now have such an incredible appreciation for a boss who didn’t give up on me and ALWAYS had my back.

That’s why seeing Portland Meadows close up hurts so bad.  I haven’t gotten a paycheck from there in 5 years.  But I still am friends with many people from there.  I still have memories of that tiny booth.  The view of Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens from that booth.  The good times and the horrible times.  So many of both were had on that plot of land at 1001 Schmeer Road.

The two tracks most dear to my heart have shuttered.  I love horse racing and hope to be involved with it in some way until my final furlong.  Just gotta keep working to make sure it can keep going, and god forbid, maybe thrive again.  I urge everyone who loves the game and might particularly love a certain track.  Treasure the times there.  Take photos.  Take videos.  Make memories.  When and if the doors get locked at your track, the photos, videos, and memories will be what you have to take with you.

 

A tour I did of Portland Meadows in 2011 can be seen HERE .  My youtube page there has several videos from PM as well.

Travel Vlogs

Long time no post!  I’ve been busy traveling and staying out here on the East Coast in New Jersey.  I’ve been fortunate to get to do some announcing at beautiful Monmouth Park and have been documenting my travels with short videos on Youtube.  Here are links to a few and if you get a chance hit the subscribe button so you can know when new videos come out!  Thanks!  Jason