I’m on an endless quest for the perfect pair of jeans, a pair that will hold up against the rigorous demands of city life, look great at the office on Friday, and keep all of my secrets over the weekend. I want a pair that refuses an iron, and accepts every crease, wrinkle, and imperfection with dignity. A true classic. On September 9, 2013, I met Bluer Denim.
I stumbled across the company online and was attracted to its rugged, artisan aesthetic. Further exploration revealed that their jeans are constructed in America, and specifically designed in my hometown of Portland, OR. This was more than enough to capture my attention, but having just settled into a pair of whatever mass-marketed slim cuts were out at the time, I decided to bookmark the page for future consideration.
This summer brought us back to Portland, and while perusing the offerings of the Alberta Arts District, we walked into Bluer Than Indigo - the beautiful brick and mortar location that sells the Bluer brand. I became a fan all over again. We met Jade Oliver, the Store Director. Steering the ship seemed effortless for her as she sailed through tasks while maintaining conversations with us and her other customers. When she learned that I was a visiting native, she spared no detail as she talked about her motivation, inspiration, and favorite picks from the line.
When we walk up, he’s hunched over, pouring gas from a plastic red canister into the small opening of a generator. It’s early evening, and getting muggy. Luke and I scowl at the dark clouds forming above us, and Luke instinctually puts a hand on his camera strap and presses it to his side. Curtis stands up, wipes the sweat from his brow with a bright white cloth, and extends his hand.
This isn’t our first time meeting Curtis Bright. Months earlier, Luke and I huddled over his food at the Food Truck Bazaar on Colonial Drive, willing to brave the rain for a vegan dish that he posted as an add-on to his standard fare. This is, however, the first time that we’ve had a chance to see the SWAT team (Curtis and his wife Krystal) operate behind the scenes.
Curtis’ handshake is tight, and you can feel his anxious energy as he explains that they are running behind with their setup. To kill some time, Luke and I dip into the bar next door where, we discover, there is enough local color to keep us writing for days.
“What are you taking pictures of?”
“What are you taking pictures of?” he enunciates this time. His words are clipped but deep and smooth. He doesn't turn to me but continues to watch the water and nurse his fishing line, pulling it in and letting it go with a gentle rhythm that I had admired from afar before he called out to me.
“I don’t know, just pictures of the river. My mother lives a few blocks away. I’m visiting her from Florida.”
His name is Alonzo. He’s tall with broad shoulders and a distinguished air. It doesn't surprise me to learn that he was an educator before he retired. These days, he’s a jazz aficionado, author, poet and photographer. He also travels, fishes, and allows curious strangers with big cameras to pepper him with questions.
I move in and stand next to him and we both watch the line drift and twitch while we talk.
“Florida,” he tilts his head as if he just discovered that we share a mutual acquaintance. “I visit South Carolina fairly often. I love the architecture down there, to see the cities built by black people. It’s like visiting ghosts. Even though I feel a lot of pain when I go to the South, I’m willing to drudge up the bad ghosts in order to commune with the good.”
His words are beautiful, but they roll out of him in an unassuming, conversational tone. I imagine that he was always a poet at heart - even before he was one in practice. I’m immediately at ease with him. There’s a tug on the line -
“You can taste it, right? It’s funny because people can’t taste the banana unless they get the drink sweetened. If it’s unsweetened, you miss it completely.” I take a sip of the custom brewed iced tea and nod. There it is, right at the end.
She flashes a warm smile and runs her hand through her hair. Leaning over the beautiful wood bar, she talks easily about her quest to find the perfect brew time, best flavor profiles, and flawless Pandora mix. Today she has chosen a classic R&B curation. Luke gives his nod of approval when New Edition begins to seep through the speakers.