Dave's Corner of the Universe

Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide

Searching for Lady Portland: Ground Kontrol

I am in Portland’s Pearl District. If Tatooine is the farthest place from the bright center of the galaxy, this is the universe’s chaotic core. There is a timelessness to Pearl. 1890’s hotels, 1920’s pubs, and modern skyscrapers all in the same cityscape. With only a little editing you could film a Cagney era gangster movie or the Blade Runner Sequel here. But today it is as if I really am in a time warp.

The Genius Loci of Portland is before me and she looks like she just stepped out of Ridgemont High. She has a New-wave hairdo, complete with workout headband and wearing one of those sweater-thingies that ends between her butt and knees, that that girls wore when I was in high school. Even the girls who were comfortable with their bodies and budding sexuality never seemed comfortable in them, but the G.L. seems completely comfortable in hers. Mouthing the words to Pac-Man Fever, she does a kind of a hop-skip dance I haven’t seen done in twenty years. “Dude, this is totally tubular.”

I roll my eyes and dead pan “If you say gag me with a spoon, I am walking.” She is my subconscious personification of Portland the city that I love. And today we are hitting Ground Kontrol. It is a classic arcade/bar. It is full classic arcade games form a time that Wikipedia calls ‘The golden age of arcade gaming.’ 1979-1984, which was also by chance was my high school years. I wasn’t much of a gamer back then. Mainly because a quarter for three minutes of entertainment didn’t seem like a good deal, but like everyone else in my generation I was greatly influence by the arcade machines existence.


I did have one exception to this no arcade game rule. December 23rd, if I had done all my gift shopping I would take the two or three dollars I had left and walk about a mile to the arcade in a local mall and play, Cross Bow, Gauntlet and some live motion game that you blew up enemy ships that looked like shuttle in Empire Strikes Back. It was a Christmas ritual/tradition. And when I walked in to Ground Kontrol I got the same kind thrill I did back in Christmas break of ’83.

G.K. has them all. Centipede, Glatica, Pac-Man and his wife. In the very front of the arcade is the multi-player X-Man game. This brings back especially fond memories when some friends of mine, three brothers, got a gift certificate from their sister for $40.00 worth of gaming tokens at the Ventura Gulf & Stuff. We cashed them in and played the X-Man game for like ninety minutes. I was a little more comic book savvy than the others, so I grabbed Night Crawler while they fought over who’d be Wolverine, with one poor Brother ending up as Dazzler. We kept feeding it tokens until we made it to the finial boss Magneto. That was the only video game I ever played all the way through.


All the games are the 1980’s price of a quarter (Fifty cents for pinball). I marvel at how slow the cars seem to be going in Froger, but still I can’t get my frog to the other side. I pop a quarter into a Donkey Kong machine that looks original but has a gender swap in that you play the princess, rescuing a kidnapped Mario. And in Street Fighter my Guile, gets his butt handed to him in two rounds by Ken.
I head upstairs where they have twenty-eight pinball games. I chose A Doctor Who machine that came out when Sylvester McCoy was the newest Doctor. The place is dark, normally playing the hyper-lighted games that is no big deal, but it does make pinball a bit more difficult.

“You know.” The Genius Loci of Portland said looking over my shoulder. “That in the forties they outlawed, pinball in Portland, because they were use as gambling devices, people would bet on who had the high score or if a player could do a trick shot or not. It got so bad two gangs started stealing each other’s machines in what was called the pinball wars?” Of course I knew that she is part of my subconscious so everything she knows I know.

After a few balls I head down to the main room. I see in most cases people don’t go here solo. I see a few hipster couples on dates some dudes playing Pac-Man Vs. with their bros, and a few fathers with their kids. This part surprise me because I thought this was a fully functional bar and kids weren’t allowed.

The girl at the concession stand with cotton-candy pink hair tells me that between noon and five it is open to all ages and after five it becomes 21 and older. A guy comes up and ask if she has Dragon Quest a game he played as a kid, and she directs towards the closest equivalent. It then it dawns on me she was probably born after the 80’s ended.

After thirty minutes and six bucks lighter (Five on games and a dollar for a soda) I emerge to the gray light of the Portland day. My mind awash with Midnight Oil, Mallory Keaton, the real Robo-cop, and the red head who I sat next to in history class. It was a different time, the cold war was dying and no one thought anyone would fly an airplane full of hostages in to a building. Maybe we were naive, maybe I just saw the time with the eyes of youth.

As I walk down 6th street, I wonder what ever happened to the dreams that we had. As The Genius Loci sings Berlin’s Take my Breath Away. I think maybe it’s still there I just need to visit it more often.


12 comments on “Searching for Lady Portland: Ground Kontrol

  1. Carl D'Agostino
    April 3, 2014

    You may like blog duckofindeed She is a video game character artist and gamer. Tell her Carl sent you.

  2. Sonu
    April 4, 2014

    This is so beautifully written. You actually took me on a time travel back to those arcade games, street fighter etc. By the way, the last line has me pondering now. We ask have so little time and we better be doing exactly what we want to do.

    • davekheath
      April 4, 2014

      I think it is ok to spend a little time in the past as long as we don’t lose sight of the future.

      • Sonu
        April 4, 2014

        True that. Cherish the memories, learn and move swifter.

  3. mariusgustaitis
    April 5, 2014

    Ha! I used to go to Golf and Stuff in Ventura, Dave. It’s still there too. I wonder what that whole experience would be like sober–to not wind up sword fighting with putters by the castle.
    I should try it. Thanks for the good idea.
    And thanks for this.

    • davekheath
      April 5, 2014

      Golf and Stuff ogf the 101 is an institution. lots of good memories there, and I am sure people are still making them at G & S.

  4. maurnas
    April 6, 2014

    I love this series. You are such a great writer. I am going to see my sister in Seattle soon and am insisting we go to Portland for a day. Do you have any must sees to recommend?

    • davekheath
      April 6, 2014

      Portland is the most fun city i have ever lived in (Though I haven’t gotten up to Seattle yet, I heard it is pretty awesome.)

      The walking ghost tour is cool even if you don’t believe in the paranormal. You get to learn the quirky side of Portland, see the last remnant of the Shanghai tunnels, and if you take the after dark one it is adult only and you get to learn the naughty history of Stump Town.

      Powell’s City of books and Voodoo doughnuts are a must, you could spend a day walking in the Pearl District, and the food carts are a not to missed experience, but a lot are closed on the weekend strangely enough.

      Portland has invested a lot in street art or ‘plop art’ statuary in the middle of the street,They have one tht was written by a comic book artist that tells teh modern urban legend of The Greenman of Portland. If you get hit by one of the archers arrow you can see flowers growing out other people a magical white stag, a mysterious building called Greenwood and a giant tree covering the city. It is basically a a comic book told in statues.

      • maurnas
        April 6, 2014

        So yeah. I want the comic book/statue experience. And the giant book store. And the tiny public park. I might never go home.

      • davekheath
        April 6, 2014

        It differently is fun the Greenman statues are between 5th and 6th where they are intersected by Davis

      • maurnas
        April 6, 2014

        Thank you! It’s on the list now.

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