May 30th, 2016

Star Wars - Fly away...

R.I.P., B.A.S.

Big-Ass Sandwiches was a good place.


Yesterday was the last day for Brian and Lisa Wood's restaurant. The Woods decided to end it after seven years, six as a cart in various parts of Portland and one as a brick-and-mortar in NE. It won't reopen, as a restaurant or a cart.

I am trying to avoid writing Thoughts on what I think this means, or to speculate on what Lisa and Brian will do next: instead, I want just to report. I spent several hours Saturday and Sunday at the restaurant. I watched. I ate. Saturday started slowly — at opening at 11:00 I was one of three people waiting — but ramped up to a steady flow and, eventually, a full restaurant; a family pushed together two tables for their midday meal. A cab driver parked his cab in NE Glisan's middle turn lane and ordered a veggie sandwich to go. Another early customer was making a specific stop at BAS while passing through Portland. (People have come from literally all over the world to visit this shop.)

Good people Mikey Neilson, Allen Bethel and David Walker showed up, and I got to visit and listen to them, always a pleasure. (Neilson and Bethel just ended their longtime podcast Chronicles of the Nerds, and are preparing a future show I don't know any details of yet; Walker, after years of working to get to this point, is getting major jobs writing comics, such as a just-wrapped-up Shaft story for Dynamite and the ongoing Marvel title Power Man and Iron Fist; trust me, Walker is a good fit for writing Luke Cage.)

The restaurant music was a mix of easygoing rap (Snoop!) and the types of songs heard in Pulp Fiction, Forrest Gump and Guardians of the Galaxy. The kitchen had its own music, usually more aggressive, which is fairly typical for restaurant kitchens. Saturday got loud, in a boisterous way, until customers cleared out just before 4:00. Brian, in the kitchen that day, closed the shop an hour early — he wanted to be sure there'd be enough food for the last day. (The sign in the door was "Sold out! Super sorry, please try again tomorrow. All the love." My suggestion was "SOLD OUT. Time flies and so did our sandwiches — back Sunday at 11:00 sharp!") I stayed in for a bit, exploring the kitchen and the basement, since Lisa and Brian had OK'd me sticking around. It was a good visit, with Brian and the two other guys on staff. I left them to their end-of-day prep, went home, then headed to another friend's birthday barbecue.

I was back Sunday. Back in 2009, I'd missed Lisa and Brian's first day at the cart (though I did make it there for Day 2); I was determined not to miss the last day of the restaurant. I was surprised at how tired I was Sunday: I took all morning to motivate myself out of bed, and I didn't get to B.A.S. until a quarter after 1:00. That morning, Lisa, who handles online interactions for the restaurant, had announced on Twitter that Sunday was the last day. (Frustratingly, for months they've been locked out of the shop's Facebook page; I'd heard Facebook blocked their access due to the word "Ass" being in the name, and hasn't changed its mind after the Woods appealed.) Many of the responses were (paraphrased) "What?! You're closing?!" Meanwhile, both Lisa and Brian were working, and the restaurant busy.

The tone that day: loud, but, to me, more subdued. The TV, tuned (quietly) to college softball on Saturday, was off. I deliberately didn't order a sandwich: I felt like I'd've been taking a sandwich away from someone had I done that. Instead I got the plate of mac and cheese. (I'd wanted the plate of meatballs and pasta, but that was already sold out.) My friend Ryan Pollard arrived with his two daughters, on their way to a Portland Thorns match downtown, and we sat together, talking about sports, Star Wars, books and more. Good kids, good family. Ryan said "I'm going out the way I went in: blindly ordering the special." Big-Ass Sandwiches always had good specials.

The final sandwich was sold at about 2:30 yesterday. Elegantly (I thought), it was sold to someone having their first Big-Ass Sandwich ever; he knew a longtime customer who'd specifically brought him in to have that experience. The restaurant was still packed, with eaters and with other people waiting for to-go orders, so the front door stayed unlocked; someone turned off the OPEN sign, put this sign on the door —

— and, as they could, closed some then the rest of the front curtains. And the explaining began: several people still came in and the staffers had to say "We're all sold out." I was worried one particular loud guy was going to Not Get It; he seemed like someone who would keep questioning them, possibly getting mad or pissy about it, but he Got It more quickly than I'd worried. And generally, the people who were too late for food were understanding.

Like the day before, I got to stay after the last customers left and the front door was locked. As other people found that notice on the door — they couldn't see us inside, but those of us inside could see them — we visited, hugged, and each drank a shot of whiskey.

I am so, so proud of Lisa and Brian Wood for what they gave us for seven years with Big-Ass Sandwiches. I am so happy to call them friends, and I know they've been good to so many people. So many happily fed people.

Big-Ass Sandwiches was a good place.

Safe With Me

Limiting the audience on this: I first heard from Lisa Wood on Tuesday that Big-Ass Sandwiches was closing, and I made sure not to say anything about it until the shop's last day unless I knew someone else already knew. Even then, I was careful. Also, I knew that there could be a big blowup once Lisa and Brian let everyone else know, and I was a little wary of that; people would be disbelieving, or would analyze it so many different ways, and almost all of that analyzing and speculation would be based on incomplete information. Most likely, You, Do Not, Know. At least the word would be out, and there's only so much you can do about other people's reactions to and interpretations of the news. You can just be as clear and direct as possible. Like Lisa and Brian yesterday. That informed how I wrote my blog entry about the last two days at the restaurant.

This reminded me: I can and do keep secrets, but I don't like to. I will, because sometimes it's important to do so, but I'd rather not.

I'm lucky. Most of the secrets I know are neat secrets, that I can look back on and think "Hey, that is (or was) cool." This secret was dispiriting because the news connected to it is dispiriting, especially after literally years of being as good a Big-Ass Sandwiches supporter as I could be. I did what I could; Brian, Lisa and their crew did so much. (Hell, their crew welcomed even me, during my scant four times working the front window at the original cart location in Old Town in spring 2012. And I saw a little, and got a sense, of how hard they all worked.) They tried. I respect that so much.

Meanwhile, no, I won't tell you the neat secrets. Or any of the secrets, because people I love trust me not to do so. I'm lucky another way: I really don't have many secrets. I worry about the effect of having too many. But if I have them, I protect them. I can at least do that.
Portland Timbers

Big-Ass Memories

Like May 2nd, 2009, when I met Lisa Wood at a preview of the 2009 Star Trek hosted by her then-employer, rock station KUFO (which no longer exists; it left the air in 2011 and its call letters now belong to an AM talk station).

Like Dec. 22nd of that year, their second day open and my first lunch there, soon after I'd started working for the construction company.

Like me, post-blood donation, eating at the Old Town cart on July 10th, 2010, when they were filming their ad. (Here's the Not Safe For Work version of that ad. Trust me, NSFW.)

Like me dork-dancing at the first anniversary party (pics there! Words here):

Like attending their even bigger second anniversary party, with comedy by Ian Karmel and Ron Funches before they started working in Hollywood, comedy by Brian Posehn who already was working in Hollywood, and music by Portland's Red Fang.

Like working the window four times in late spring 2012:

Me on my shift at Big-Ass Sandwiches: Sunday, May 13th, 2012

Like seeing, and eating at, Jones Bar, the bar that succeeded McFadden's in Old Town Chinatown and which initially had a Brian Wood-designed menu. (He helped remodel the huge kitchen, too, and showed me around the bar while he was working on it.)


L to R behind me: Keegan Fuller, Trevan Meador, Quinton Gardner (pointing to Patton Oswalt's torso), Joey Crittenden, Patton Oswalt, Ryan Pollard.  Photo by Lisa Wood.

Like following them to their other locations: Central Eastside, near Produce Row Café and the Burnside Skateyard, starting in October 2012; the brief-lived N. Mississippi Ave. location, their second cart until they sold it; Carts on Foster not far from my then-new home in spring 2015; and of course the brick-and-mortar at NE 57th and Glisan a year ago. (Carts on Foster had a special place for me not just because of its proximity, but because of a barbecue meal I had with Brian and Lisa in January of that year, when they were looking into moving the cart there. A nice chat when they were "off the clock," though still thinking about the business because they needed to.)

There are more memories. There should be after seven years. I'll think on them and smile.

And I'll find other sources of memories now.