Day 351

This place is absolutely stunning at night. No matter how many times I walk around the downtown area after sunset, I always find a wealth of new gorgeous neon signs and mesmerizing hilltop views. It’s almost as if a wonderful transformation takes place once you can no longer see the high-rises and skyscrapers. After the night sky consumes the tallest buildings and top floors, you’re left with streets lined with holiday lights; lampposts adorned with red ribbon and bows; and immaculately crafted storefront displays. That's why after two weeks, I still believe Portland truly is a small town masquerading as a big city.

While I was saddened to learn that not many people reside in this beautiful downtown area, it does lead me into something else I’ve been meaning to write about. Over the past couple months I kept hearing that Portlandians are becoming more and more frustrated by the number of residential buildings being raised in the area. To me, this was all rather confusing, because I saw a lot more residential construction in Austin and Seattle. Thankfully, after asking around this weekend, I was finally able to shed some light on this common assumption. It turns out there’s an anger boiling under the surface, because many people feel all these new high-rises will eventually cause the city to lose that “small town” charm I was just talking about. Not to mention, it could lead to a massive rent increase. 

Honestly, I can’t say I blame them. The #1 trend I’ve seen amongst new buildings—from Boston and Charlotte to Austin and Seattle—is that they each feature all-glass façades, even if it doesn’t fit into the surrounding architecture. I’m not saying I’m an expert on any of this, but after traveling this long, it’s certainly noticeable and a tad bit alarming. One of the best parts of this entire trip is seeing how each city is different. Yet, if we continue to erect these cookie-cutters constructions, we’ll wind up stripping all of our homes of their individuality. And that would be a shame, if you ask me. I’m sure there’s an underlying story about citizen responsibility and local government participation here, but I’ll refrain from going off on a tangent today and just leave it at that. I know this is a topic I briefly touched upon back in March and to see the trend continue all the way across the country is a bummer. That's why I decided to bring it up.

Aside from opinions on architecture and city planning, I also learned a few other things about Portland. I discovered that this city loves Chuck Palahniuk. How can I be so sure? Well, I ended up spending my entire Saturday afternoon inside Powell’s City of Books, just to get his signature. Granted, it’s an absolutely amazing bookstore and Chuck is one of my personal inspirations. But, by no means was I expecting to be waiting in line for 4+ hours. To put it into perspective—a Cavs game started when I first entered the line and ended 15 minutes before I secured said signature. For as frustrated as I was though, I couldn’t help but feel bad for Palahniuk. He ended up signing books for a total of 8 hours (that I know of). I applaud him for his dedication; that’s for sure.

The final thing I learned is that Portland and snow do not mix. There was a light dusting of powder late last week and it basically shut the entire city down. It’s odd, because I would’ve assumed they deal with a lot of snow here. Turns out that's not the case. I’ve been told the area only has one or two snowfalls a year. I guess it has something to do with the nearby mountains. Being a hardened Clevelander, it didn’t seem so bad to me. But, believe me when I say, there was barely a soul downtown that morning. Which is a shame, because Portland is absolutely beautiful in the winter. Hell, this place is beautiful all the time. I guess that’s what it comes down to. So, I’ll end this blog by saying that I side with all Portlandians who want to ensure it stays that way.

 P.S. — I did an early morning hike through MacLeay Park on Saturday and for the record, I didn’t get lost this time. I’ll go ahead and chalk that up as a victory.

-Steve-

Day 305

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being on the road, it’s that every agency offers their own unique set of perks.  And in turn, those perks play a pivotal role in the overall culture and appeal of that agency. They encompass a wide array of themes, but each one helps to create and sustain an environment that is appealing to those who work there.

It’s true that some perks can be found in many, if not most, agencies. Things like free breakfasts, beer kegs and community candy drawers are all things I’ve come across again and again. However, most places also offer some very unique benefits. And they're the most important of all, because they help the agency stand out from the pack. For instance, BooneOakley has a fridge stocked with client products and often treats the team to home-cooked meals. Both of which help to reinforce their more casual and laid back environment. At Boxing Clever, they allow team members to take a “tattoo recovery day” if they ever get some fresh ink done and also maintain a near endless supply of records in the office. In the end, these highly specific perks attract a certain type of person to the agency in question (I’m included in both pools).

The best agencies I’ve visited don’t just offer random, off-the-wall perks to win over their team members. No, they bake these bonuses into their established cultures to help reinforce the agency’s values and expectations. That’s why BooneOakley, Boxing Clever and 99% of the other agencies I’ve visited stand out as employers. They don’t offer things for the sake of offering them. They do it because they want to reward the team for their hard work and do it in a way that matters. They listen. They understand. I mean, you won’t see Red Tettemer handing out gold watches or diamond-encrusted pens anytime soon. It’s not right for the team they’ve built and they know it. 

In the end, I think one of the best examples comes from Recess Creative in Cleveland. I always talk about how much it felt like a family there and I wasn’t lying. They’re a small group doing big things and enjoying every minute of it. I think a big part of that has to do with how enjoyable Tim and Chris make each day. They understand everyone in that office and know what makes them tick. That allows them to offer perks on the fly or base them on a particular season, situation or event. From annual holiday traditions to random “in the moment” offerings, they make sure every single perk and benefit reflects their culture—and it shows.

Last December, Recess set high expectations for this entire project and I feel extremely lucky to be visiting so many other great agencies that continue to surprise me with their unique and wonderful cultures. It’s a beautiful thing when everyone at an agency loves what they do and pours that emotion into their work every single day. 

-Steve-

Day 302

When I began the project last December, something rather interesting happened—I rediscovered donuts (or doughnuts, if you want to get fancy). Why is that interesting? Well, you see, before that I hadn’t eaten a donut in close to four years. When you’re living in NYC, I guess it just makes sense to always opt for the bagel joint. Yet, here I am, absolutely delighted that I stumbled upon this renaissance of sugary goodness.

Sure, I’ve always known I’d be hitting up Voodoo Donuts in Portland. But never once did I consider there would be equally creative and delicious confections in every other stop along the way too. It’s been 10 months and I’m convinced that this is no longer a string of random discoveries. Rather, this is a full-on donut revolution. Just take a look at some of the places I’ve already been:

Still on the to-do list: Top Pot in Seattle, Voodoo in Portland, Dynamo in San Francisco and finally, Randy's in LA.

What makes these shops so exciting is the love they have for their craft. Some focus on all-natural ingredients and season flavors, while others turn the whole concept on its head. But, they all push the boundaries of what a donut is in one way or another. I’ve enjoyed a Banh Mi donut at Strange, a Fried Chicken donut at Gourdough’s and a Peanut Butter & Sriracha donut at Glam Doll. Needless to say, they aren’t flavors or combinations you’d expect. Yet they’ve all been absolutely satisfying and delicious.

So… why donuts? I’m not 100% sure, but I think it has something to do with the small memories of home I enjoy with each bite. They remind me of Sunday mornings when my father would run down to the donut shop for a dozen cream sticks. They bring to mind a crisp fall morning, sitting outside a bakery in Cleveland. To me, they personify one of those rare calm moments when I can shut off my brain and just enjoy the things around me.

I think this unplanned—and ongoing—discovery just goes to show that there are young creatives all over this country pushing the boundaries in any number of fields. You just never know when you’ll stumble upon a new calling in life. That’s why you should always been on the look out. But most importantly, if you’re passionate about something, whether it be donuts, art, music or web design, always remember to give it your all. You might just start a revolution.

Now, bring on the donuts!

-Steve-