18 September 2007

[pdx] Jesus Christ Made Portland Under Bliss

950. Remembering downtown street names is the mark of a true local, or an import gone happily native. Remembering the sequence of downtown street names is the mark of the truly enlightened, IMO, regardless of whether you're originally from here, there, or anywhere.

The luckier cities have mnemonic sequences. Seattle is (as many who read blogs might already know) singularly blessed: the whimsy of Jesus Christ Made Seattle Under Pressure (or Protest, as some prefer) enable the quick sequential rememberance of 12 central city streets, going north from Pioneer Square and Yesler Way; J for Jefferson and James, C for Columbia and Cherry, M for Marion and Madison, S for Spring and Seneca, U for University and Union, and P for Pike and Pine. Simple.

Were it only that easy for Portland, alas. The definition of "downtown" might vary a little bit depending on who you talk to; to me, downtown Portland Oregon has always been defined by the Willamette River, and West Burnside St, with the Stadium Freeway rounding off the west side of the tract.

If you've defined the area you're talking about as I have, you have something of a problem. At Portland's human 20-block-to-the-mile scale, you have more than twenty cross-streets to consider:

Ankeny, Ash, Pine, Oak, Stark, Washington, Alder, Morrison, Yamhill, Taylor, Salmon, Main, Madison, Jefferson, Columbia, Clay, Market, Mill, Montgomery, Harrison, Hall, College, Jackson.

That's twenty-three (not including Lincoln, Grant, and Sheridan, which technically fall within the loop). So, the challenge is determining a meaningful, rememberable mnemonic incorporating:

AAPOSWAMYTSMMJCCMMMHHCJ

One sees the problem. We can decrease the field a bit by deciding to limit our set–say, excluding the streets south of Columbia, being in general short and local streets serving the University district, but I myself have found it useful to know whether Mongtomery comes before Mill or not.

We see possiblilites in the way the sequence from Stark to Morrison forms the word SWAM (a past tense of swim, suggesting a watery motif–which would be very appropriate in the Pacific Northwet), but fitting that in to the surrounding letters seems, at our first passes, to be awkward, at best.

Back in the '80s, if memory serves correctly, none other than The Big O's Jonathan Nicholas noted the same thing, and inspired his readers to try to come up with a suitable mnemonic for the rembembery off the streets of downtown–a task which, if remembery also serves, was doomed to failure. Charming and friendly, but nothing memorable came out of it.

it would be cool indeed if we all could come up with a charming little memory device. But Portland, as in many ways, in this case proves to be unclassifiable and somewhat inscrutable.

But I think that's why a lot of us come here and never leave. It's kind of what we make out of it.

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1 comment:

JD said...

All Across Portland Our Streets Wind Around Mossy Yards. Traffic Snarls May Mean Jammed Cars, Cranky Motorists Making Minimal Headway. Harried Commuters Just Love Going Slow.

Ankeny, Ash, Pine, Oak, Stark, Washington, Alder, Morrison, Yamhill, Taylor, Salmon, Main, Madison, Jefferson, Columbia, Clay, Market, Mill, Montgomery, Harrison, Hall, College, Jackson, Lincoln, Grant, and Sheridan.