10 Ideas for a Greater Greater Portland

Back in the days of Casco Bay Weekly, one of the joys of each year’s end was Al Diamon’s annual cover story, “25 Ideas for a Better Portland.” A collection of insulting, yet topical, jokes, “25 Ideas” was like a Friar’s Club Roast of the entire state, Portland in particular. Readers either hated it or thought it was hilarious (a sizeable subset hated it because it was hilarious – at their expense), but it still beat reading the Press Herald, which is hated because it’s ridiculous (at our expense).

Anyway, as year’s end approached, I found myself missing “25 Ideas.” A call to Diamon confirmed that, as was the case in late 2004, he won’t be writing a “25 Ideas” in ’05 for the Massachusetts corporation that runs his weekly political column here. With his blessing, I decided to take a crack at keeping this insulting tradition alive, just like the yahoos who fly the Confederate Flag or celebrate Columbus Day.

Whoops, I’ve started already. OK, without further ado, here’s….

10 Ideas for a Greater Greater Portland

1. Chief Shaft
The departure of Portland Police Chief Mike Chitwood and the race-based controversy that engulfed the selection of his successor showed two things: a lot of people miss Chitwood’s telegenic, tough-cop style, and a lot of people think we should have a black police chief. The solution: Hire Shaft.

That’s right, John Shaft. He’s a detective, he’s black, and he’s a bad mother– Shut your mouth!


photo illustrations by The Fuge
photo illustrations by The Fuge

Imagine Isaac Hayes’ theme song playing before every press conference, the excitement that would generate. And you better believe the crime rate would plummet, because the bad guys know if Chief Shaft shows up, they’ll be lucky he doesn’t take their life and their wife before the raid’s over.

2. Skate or die
The city wants to relocate the two scrap-metal recycling yards in Bayside, but has only succeeded in convincing one to move. Meanwhile, skateboarders, BMX bikers and extreme rollerbladers will soon lose their skate park a block away, and are looking for a new location with new objects to practice their jumps and stunts on.

Hello? This one’s obvious: Take the remaining scrap yard by eminent domain, but let E. Perry Iron continue its business on the condition it allow skate park users to get rad on its ever-changing collection of beams, half-pipes and other interesting industrial junk. Consider two birds stoned.

3. Psychedelic biotechnology
Not long ago, Cousins Island in Casco Bay was eyed as a site for an LNG (liquefied natural gas) terminal. That idea has since faded, but a new idea has sprung up on nearby Chebeague and Peaks islands: secession. There’s a movement on Chebeague to sever its ties with the town of Cumberland; on Peaks, there’s an effort to secede from Portland.

Given the thicket of legislative approvals, financial issues and other hurdles the islands face, secession doesn’t seem realistic. So why not secede from reality?

Peaks and Chebeague should consider hosting an LSD terminal. Compared to LNG facilities, LSD facilities are much smaller (about the size of a meth trailer) and pose no risk to the environment. If there is a spill, saucer-eyed residents can just form a drum circle and groove it out.

4. Not So Fast, As Fast As
One of the reasons the Portland City Council is so hard on bars is that other than haggling over the annual budget, liquor and entertainment license renewals constitute the bulk of its business. If councilors had other busy work, perhaps they’d spend less time debating a bar owner’s lousy driving record or motorcycle gang ties.

Bar owners need the council’s approval even for minor things, like changing an establishment’s name from one unpronounceable word (“Meritage”) to another (“Slainte”). The bands that play in bars with city-approved entertainment licenses should have to do the same.

Councilors could have stopped local rock outfit Animal Suit Driveby (now The Killing Moon) before it publicly embarrassed itself. Ditto Sidecar Radio (formerly The Element, among other names).

City attorney Gary Wood could weigh in with legal advice: “Councilors, there already is a band named The Ponys, in Chicago, but based on precedent set in the case Apple Records v. The Beetles, Portland’s Ponys can henceforth use the proper spelling, call it a printer’s error, and avoid a costly copyright infringement suit.”

And special recognition can be bestowed on a Band of the Month. Mayor Jim Cohen: “Whereas the Vampire Lezbos have rocked with uncommon hardness at Geno’s, The Alehouse, Asylum….”

5. The Narrow Gauge Monorail
Sailor and choo—choo enthusiast Phineas Sprague Jr. wants to run the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad from the East End to Hadlock Field. The only thing standing in the way of Sprague’s plans, besides all the city officials he’s pissed off this past year, is the Bayside neighborhood the train would run through. The logistics of getting the slow-chugging train across major byways like Forest Avenue will be, to put it mildly, a bitch.

The answer: Monorail! The Maine Narrow Gauge Monorail, to be exact, a single, narrow, elevated track running the length of the neighborhood.

No traffic hassles. Less coal soot in the lungs of Bayside youngsters. Thrilling dip just before the ballpark.

6. Go Army!
Relations between the four Greens and five registered Democrats on the Portland School Committee have reached an all-time low – and the current school board has only been serving together for a month. Further rhetoric will not settle this impasse. We need a test of pure physical strength.

I’m talkin’ about arm wrestling. A Green vs. Dem arm wrestling competition. Board members are already conveniently seated next to members of competing parties – except Chairwoman Ellen Alcorn, a Democrat who we’ll leave out of the competition’s first rounds to make an even eight competitors.

Starting from the left, it’s scrawny but scrappy District 3 Green Jason Toothaker, a twenty-something student at USM, against hulking juvenile probation officer John Coyne, Democrat from District 5. Odds-makers aren’t bothering with this one.

Next it’s District 4 Dem Lori Gramlich against West End Green Stephen Spring. Spring’s in shape, scouts are saying, so it’ll likely be Dems 1, Greens 1 at the half.

Across the dais its “Zen” Ben Meiklejohn, oboist, versus at-large Donkey Partier Jonathan Radtke, high school history teacher and licensed sea captain. Vegas has Radtke 8:1, but it’s even odds between at-large Green Susan Hopkins and Peaks Islander Otis Thompson, so place your bets!

(In the event of a tie, Alcorn wraps wrists with Steven Scharf, a vocal board critic and wild-card Republican who heads the Portland Taxpayers Association. I’m puttin’ $50 on The Chair.)

7. Celebrate diversity in style
Condos, condos, more goddamn condos! That’s all you hear about these days from otherwise tolerant locals: How condos are ruining our neighborhoods, driving up housing prices, forcing artists out of their studios and blocking the views of the working class.

Shame on us. Shame. We say Portland, Maine, is a city that honors diversity. But faced with an influx of people different than we are – that is, rich as hell – we heap scorn upon their houses. Shame, I say!

We need to celebrate diversity. So I suggest a celebration! A week-long street festival in the heart of downtown, free for anyone to attend.

We’ll have upper-class bands (like the Portland Symphony), working-class bands (basically Don Campbell) and destitute bands (basically everyone else currently gigging in town). There’ll be a diversity of free food — everything from caviar and crab cakes catered by the new Westin Hotel/condo complex on Franklin Arterial, to red snap dogs cooked over a fire in a trash barrel by unemployed Jordan’s meat plant workers. Free beer, free wine, free vodka tonics.

All on our new neighbors’ tab, of course.

8. iHorny
The Portland Press Herald‘s new Web alter-ego, iHerald, isn’t exactly reinventing and reinvigorating journalism as we know it in this market. But the big wigs at Blethen Inc. know how to quadruple hits on their MaineToday site overnight. They’re just too prudish to try it.

It’s called porn. And next to online gambling – another good idea, by the way – it’s the biggest cash cow on the Internet. (Make that cash horse — by far the most popular story last year on the Web site of the Blethen-owned Seattle Times was an article about a man who died after being butt-fucked by a horse. Assessing the Web hits that piece and its follow-up articles generated, Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat wrote, “[A] case can be made that the articles on horse sex are the most widely read material this paper has published in its 109-year history.” No, this is not a joke.)

Here’s some other story ideas….

You’ve already sent Nemitz and Rec (great names for TV buddy cops, by the way) to Iraq. Next mission: the masturbation booths in Video Expo. “I shouted, ‘Look out, Rec! Incoming!’ And we hit the filthy floor with a sickeningly soft thud….”

You’ve already got a “plog” (a “print blog”) and a “plogger” (the perky Victoria “Vic” Stefanakos) who’s obviously trying to reach out to some very lonely people. Who else would read a column titled “Embracing winter is excellent exercise – for your backbone”? Try “Embracing Winter, a hot hippie hitchhiker, is excellent exercise – for your backbone.” Then watch the comments pour in.

A new series: “Portland at a Cross-dressing Party.” Run with this.

9. Please No Stupiding
Last year, the Portland City Council considered a new law to ban smoking on public trails, like the one around Back Cove. This trail, of course, is outdoors, and as such is fairly well ventilated. It’s also nearly encircled by Baxter Boulevard and Interstate 295, two fairly substantial sources of gasoline and diesel exhaust. Fines for a second public puff could have reached $250.

Faced with this absurdity, the council decided to enact nonsense: an unenforceable resolution that officially asks people not to light up (or chew tobacco – figure that one out) on public trails.

The council actually had the right idea. Smoking is stupid, and like fighting fire with fire, it makes sense to combat stupidity with stupidity. They just didn’t go far enough.

I propose a follow-up resolution by which signs are placed along the boulevard and the offending stretch of interstate: “Exhaust-Free Trail Ahead. Turn Off Vehicle And Push For Next 1 Mile.”

Hey, it never hurts to ask.

10. Full Court Court
The company that owns the Portland Pirates has been pressuring the board that oversees the Cumberland County Civic Center to sell naming rights to the nearly 30-year-old venue, presumably to the highest corporate bidder. The board has resisted, partly in deference to the late Elizabeth “Betty” Noyes, a philanthropist who donated $1.3 million to the building expressly to keep its community-oriented name for 10 years (that agreement ended with 2005).

While county residents are understandably repulsed by the prospect of an inelegant corporate moniker further besmirching our concrete hockey rink (Qualcomm Civic Center, anyone?), the sight of the building doesn’t exactly fill our hearts with county pride, either.

So why not make some cash and preserve some sense of community by selling the naming rights to a local business, like one of our fabulous advertisers? Granted, they may not be able to come up with an extra million bucks for marketing this year, but these entrepreneurs could bring some fresh ideas and new business to the place.

Call it Chicky’s Civic Dining Center and keep the beer and snack concession stands open morning, noon and night. Or the Enterprise Records Center – a great place for Star Trek conventions.

On second thought, take our offer. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to The Bollard Dome!

— Chris Busby

Chris Busby is editor and publisher of The Bollard.