Ten years of Breakfast on the Bridges: An evening of stories

steph botb storytelling
BonB veteran Steph Routh.
(Photo by Michael Andersen))

This guest post is by Michael Andersen of Portland Afoot, PDX’s 10-minute newsmagazine about buses, bikes and low-car life.

Dozens of fans of one of Portland’s most unique and durable bike traditions met Tuesday night at bicycle tavern Velo Cult to tell stories from more than 120 mornings of free breakfast on Portland’s bridges.

“It’s amazing to see that this tradition of giving out coffee and donuts has continued for 10 years,” said Ayleen Crotty, who said she and Amy Stork started serving the first regular breakfasts during Portland’s legendary “Summer of Bike Fun” in 2002.

Somehow – like another Portland tradition launched that year, a naked bike ride – the idea stuck.

“We’re going to do it until we’re doing Breakfast on the Bridges for bike commuters on the Fremont.”
— Lilian Karabaic, volunteer

Thanks to modest donations from local businesses – the current sponsor is Trailhead Coffee Roasters – and a gradually shifting team of three to five regular volunteers, Breakfast on the Bridges has been served to bicyclists and pedestrians on the final Friday of almost every month since. (It currently takes place on the Hawthorne Bridge and the lower deck of the Steel.)

Many of Tuesday night’s stories involved romance.

Timo Forsberg bragged that his mornings on the bridge had given him not only a “new livelihood” – he’s now a demand management specialist for the Portland Bureau of Transportation – but a future bride. Carl Larson said he’d met two future girlfriends. And onetime Bicycle Transportation Alliance staffer Lillian Karabaic told the story of the time she “abused database privileges” to seat herself at the Alice Awards next to a cute young man she’d met on the bridge.

The crowd at Velo Cult.

Weather has never been an obstacle to the tradition, which continues through the winter.

“The colder it gets, the cooler the people you will meet on that bridge,” observed volunteer Robin Bogert, who said she likes to invite prospective romantic partners to attend on chilly mornings and gives them extra points if they actually show up.

Other stories revolved around the devotion volunteers feel to the event, which is affiliated with local bike-fun group Shift.

Shawn Granton recalled the morning in 2006 when he and Elly Blue, who were breakfast volunteers at the time, ran into several Bike Gallery employees offering free maintenance on the Hawthorne Bridge, along with coffee and donuts.

Granton stopped to say hello, but pedaled away miffed.

“I was like, What the hell, man? This is our thing,” he recalled.

And “sometime later that day,” Granton said, a “cease and desist” letter was created and mailed to Bike Gallery owner Jay Graves, expressing concerns about “brand dilution” of bridge breakfasts. The letter was signed “Stinky McDonut.”

Granton said the author’s true identity will never be revealed.

Shift’s Steph Routh recorded a full audio file of the evening’s many stories, which also included the time volunteers held a bacon-versus-vegan cookoff and the time they crashed TriMet’s Center Street bullpen to offer breakfast to early-morning bus drivers.

Breakfast on the Bridges held its 10-year anniversary event as a way to invite new volunteers to join the little team. If you’d like to be part of keeping this monthly Portland tradition strong, email bonb [at] lists [dot] riseup [dot] net

Karabaic said they’re always happy to welcome new participants.

“We’re going to do it until we’re doing Breakfast on the Bridges for bike commuters on the Fremont,” she said.

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