The Red [and Black] Scare

August 10, 2011

I met with a new manager the other day, and I was told how my observations as a new employee were valuable since I still had the perspective of an outsider. I can understand that, since once you’ve been tainted jaded on the job for a while, you can’t shake the burden of expectations. For example, I’d love to meet President G.W. Bush, but I don’t think I could shake the expectation of him being an absolute imbecile just like I’d sit down to dinner with Mike Tyson expecting my ring finger to be bitten off. Some would argue there is evidence to support these expectations, but in reality, I’ve never met either of them personally, so there’s no reason for me to expect G.W. Bush to cut himself with a butter knife or Mike Tyson to mutilate me with one.

This brings me to the Red and Black Cafe.
Red and Black Cafe on Urbanspoon

The counter at the Red & Black Cafe.

See, it looks like just your average cafe, but that's how they get ya'.

The Red and Black Cafe, a “worker owned, collectively–managed, IWW-member vegan café,” certainly has some revolutionary undertones (Their PCs run on Linux! ¡Viva la Revolución!). I’m sure I should be saying overtones, but there was something…subdued in their revolutionary attitude, and it’s not just the heart-shaped anarchy symbol on their logo. I admit, I know about as little about anarchy as I do about chemex brewing or ancient anglo-saxon literature. A reading over of their blog convinced me I was dealing with bona fide anarchists, just ones with values like job security, civic-mindedness, and sanity. I must admit, though, they dropped the word “radical” like a Gatorade bottle uses “electrolytes” or Flash comics use “molecules.”

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means, what you think it means.”

Myself and my dinner companion enjoyed some light conversation as we took our merry time ordering from the rather diverse menu. I had misconstrued R&B Cafe as merely a small vegan cafe when apparently it’s a cesspool of radical liberalism that serves espresso and vegan food. I ordered the hummus sliders (which were great, by the way) with an iced coconut latte, and after having a seat it became apparent that my iced coconut latte had been forgotten. I certainly did not slight them for a minor oversight, since they apologized and promptly made the drink. On the other hand, I did have to wonder, what kind of self-important radical establishment simply forgets to make a drink? This wasn’t a strike against them as a cafe, but rather as revolutionaries. It is possible, however, that they were just cool people who made a minor oversight, but I imagine one of them recognized that I had recently worked for a state institution and was striking back at the man.

Iced coconut & hummus sliders.

Vegan fuds. Om nom nom nom.

In short, it was a pleasant, quirky dining experience. Their portions were generous to the point that my dinner companion mentioned “I always like what I get here, but they give me so much of it!” I don’t claim to be the anarchy auditor, but I guess I just want the “radical left” to be as unhinged and crazy as the right paints them to be (notably, I haven’t been disappointed by the opposite). In fact, one of the goals of the Red and Black Cafe is to show the reasonable, practical side of anarchism. Red & Black definitely had a revolutionary air about it, but in a way that said, “Yeah, whatever, we’ve been doing this for years. Take it or leave it.” It’s almost as if they had something they believed in rather than merely something to prove.

Ugh. That is soooooo un-Portland.

Note: I read a few other reviews mentioning incidents involving a police officer (and other folks deemed “to be causing a worker or patron discomfort or distress for any reason”) being asked to leave. Perhaps they’ve gone soft, or maybe I just came on an off-day. I’ll drop in again and bring an on-duty police officer, Dick Cheney, and an intoxicated Larry the Cable Guy and see if sparks fly.

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Hawthorne Farmer's Market - "Cash or Barter"

Hawthorne Farmer's Market - "Cash or Barter"

As we’ve stumbled into the 21st Century, I’ve noticed an odd preoccupation with getting in touch with our Earthy, 20th & 19th century roots. I assume this is just a silly phase we need to go through before cars start flying, but I’m willing to go with it. Case in point, America has gotten preoccupied with open markets again, and we sure know how to make a stink about it. Anachronism is in, man. It’s been in for a while actually. Granted, I’m not saying this is a bad thing. It’s a bit odd, but not bad. You know, about as odd as seeing a vendor peddling the herbs he grew in his back yard while sipping an iced cappuccino from Peet’s Coffee. We just need to be honest with ourselves and accept that we are, indeed, in the future. We’re in a future run by the past with the “neo” prefix attached to it.

I won’t wear the highbrow musician mask and say that I can’t stand pop music. I can stand pop music, I just don’t typically listen to it. I am, however, a fan of the more acoustic end of the spectrum. Today, “acoustic” is the musical counterpart to “organic” food: plenty of technology guiding the process, it’s just not over-manufactured–and it might cost a little more (vocal harmonizers, looping pedals, and the irony-laden Acoustic Image amplifiers). It’s difficult enough already to justify my preference the acoustic genre without sounding pretentious. I thought about including the label “independent” but I’m not even sure what that means anymore. Saying I’m way into “Indie,” well, that would just make me a card carrying blowhole.

So yes, I bring this up because of Sara Bareilles.

Oh yeah, I said it. Sara Bareilles. I know, I know: The Grammy nominee? That goofy ditty about not writing a love song ? “Dude,” you say, “she is soooooooo last year.” You might even follow that up with, “Man, you may as well go get yourself a passport that says ‘Table Saw’ because you’ve just entered the land of the tools.”

Fair enough. Dual citizenship is hardly a bad thing to have these days.

Bareilles comes on the heels of my recent K.T. Tunstall kick. Where I had come across Tunstall playing solo on Leno one night, I overheard Bareilles’ single “Love Song,” on my lunch break over the sound system in the school store. Now I imagine that the song had appeared in everything from movie soundtracks to advertisements for tampons before I heard it, but it was new to me and I kind of dug it. Being the professional Googlesmith that I am, I pulled up some info and was…conflicted when I pulled up this trippy video (Embedding disabled by request. Just click on the damned video).

My first impression was, “Wow, that’s a strikingly attractive (or adeptly photoshopped) person overdressed in inside a giant analog karaoke machine.” My second impression was that she appeared to be playing the piano. Intrigued by the possibility of genuine talent, I decided to investigate further, and pulled up this video.

No, it’s not the acoustic version of “Love Song.” It’s Peter Gabriel’s “Your Eyes,” and not a bad version of it if I may say so. The girl’s no Harry Connick Jr., but she’s an able pianist and a respectable vocalist. Her songwriting isn’t particularly ground-breaking, but overall she’s a solid artist capable of passing the intimate-live-setting-with-limited-EQ test. Fair play to you, Sara. As it turns out, you can actually get this and four “stripped” versions of songs from her album, but only if you buy the whole, non-stripped album as well. I haven’t checked out iTunes yet, but I’m just not a fan of the purely digital realm.

It’s fascinating because I wonder how many pop songs I would love if they didn’t carry the stigma label of being top 40 hits. A friend of mine “admitted” to purchasing a Colbie Calliat album because he knew that “if she were playing around the corner at the coffee shop, [he]’d totally go see her.” Yeah, “Bubbly” did kind of lose its luster when I saw it in an ad for…what was it? Allergy medicine? Genital herpes treatment? You know what I mean. It’s often difficult, in this day and age, to determine whether we are enjoying something because we like it or because it’s being marketed specifically to us.

I guess if someone’s doing their job right, there’s no difference.

“Is that why you wanted a love song?”