The healing continues with Mill Ends Park, the Smallest City Park in the world.
Mill Ends is something to be proud of for a number of reasons. For starters, it truly is incredibly tiny--really nothing more than a yard by yard concrete square surrounding a patch of dirt and flowers. It's also located in the middle of one of downtown Portland's busiest streets, SW Front. To view it up close you must cross into the street, stand on one cement corner (if you stand anywhere else you will be crushing the park's meticulously maintained garden), and balance precariously as vehicles rush around you. That's what we call "city planning."
The park also has an official caretaker: a master of horticulture named Phil Young. I met with Phil on a blustery Friday morning for a little picnic at the park. We sat down for a while, ate some doll-sized sandwiches on cute little plates, breathed a copious amount of exhaust fumes, and discussed the trials and tribulations of keeping up the world's smallest park. Immediately, one can see that Phil is a man of both crackling wit and uncommon power. The first thing he did upon meeting me was offer to stop traffic, so we could approach the park on our own terms, without fearing for our lives.
"You'd do that for me?" I said.
He smiled wickedly. "Sure. Why not?"
Then, before I could stop to think, he turned and hit the crosswalk signal button. The stoplight turned red, the cars stopped, the walk signal above the crosswalk appeared, and we headed for the park. I was dumbfounded.
"So what does caring for the park entail?" I asked, a little breathlessly.
"Well, fortunately, it's not the only park I take care of," he said. "It'd be a part-time job. I change and plant new flowers twice a year and then, clean it up if it gets trampled on."
He stopped talking. I patiently waited for him to continue. After a long moment, he said, " and there's a little bit of weeding to do from time to time."
I blinked. "Yeah."
We were silent for a few moments. I had been hoping for a more complicated operation.
"Yeah, I always seem to get interviewed around St. Patty's day," Phil said, "because they say that leprechauns tend to this park sometimes." He stared ominously off into the distance.
I stared at him, my lower lip trembling. "You mean to say that other people besides myself have taken an interest in Mill Ends?"
"I've been interviewed about three or four times now," he said. "And I've only been working with Mill Ends for about three years. Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart even flew out from New York to do a five-minute spoof with it. They compared it to environmental issues that go on with National Parks. They dropped an oil well on top of it, did a little thing with clear-cutting, even interviewed some of the local lumber guys. It was really very funny."
I looked at him. "Well, Phil," I said. "I drove my car out from Southeast Portland to do this article, and I'm going to probably even include a photo. If there's space. My angle is really very funny, too." I prayed that he wouldn't ask what that angle was.
"They actually filmed me for about an hour, and I was cracking all kinds of jokes. They finally had to stop me and say, 'Hey, buddy, you're just the straight man here.' But I thought I had some pretty good ones. Like when they asked me if I had any concerns about the park, I said I was concerned that somebody might drive over it."
He laughed. I concluded the interview. Mill Ends is already famous. I'm probably the only person in Portland who didn't know about it before this week. I left to find more obscure records, ones that would leave me with the wonderful feeling of exposing something previously undiscovered. You have to have your priorities straight in this business of rebuilding Portland's pride.