When there were far fewer people around, far fewer laws and regulations, when the legal speed limit was 75 mph, when gas was cheap, when driving was a pleasure, if you owned a hot machine you could point the grill down an empty road and go!

The Lents Collection

It seems as if transportation, or failing to travel, has always been entwined in Lents’ fate.  The town was originally founded by Oliver Lent when his oxen-drawn wagon broke an axle, and the family decided to stay put.  Later, the Mount Scott Trolley, aka “The Galloping Goose” hit the end of the line in Lents. In the mid ‘70s it looked like the end of the world had come to Lents in the form of a giant earthen berm, but it was only the construction for the I-205 freeway, severing the neighborhood from the city, while allowing North / South traffic to speed past the area.

Given this history, it’s not surprising that Albert Drake, drawing from his experiences growing up in Lents, decided to pursue writing about cars and the neighborhood he grew up in.  His non-fiction books, such as Street Was Fun in ’51, and Overtures to Motion, document the cars and personalities of the ‘50s.  But some might be surprised that before he decided to try hot rod history, Drake wrote poetry and fiction.  Some of the books have been hard to find, so Flat Out Press is reprinting them in a new edition which we're calling the “Lents Collection.”

Perhaps people have read Beverly Cleary’s books about Henry Huggins and Ramona Quimby, and gathered from these an image of Portland in the ‘50s as a clean, safe suburban neighborhood.  Drake’s “One Summer,” however, shows a neighborhood frayed at the edges by wilderness. Things, such as the old Lents school, are cast aside, but the new things aren't quite in place yet. There's an uncertainty and dangerousness to this feeling, but there's also freedom and excitement.

"One Summer" evokes the sights, sounds and smells of Lents through the eyes of an adolescent boy. Drawing from personal experience, as well as historical events of Portland, Drake weaves the story of a teen in the summer of 1948 that is simultaneously nostalgic and honest. Chris and his friends read Real Clue and Detective Comics at the Mt Scott drugstore, hang out at the movies at a time when John Garfield was starring in "They Made Me A Criminal," and listen to "I Love A Mystery" on the radio. Meanwhile, hints of the adult world intrude on Chris' idyll: the responsibility of a paper route, involvement in petty crimes with his friend Mal, and a plane crash on 92nd Street. "One Summer" taps the feeling of being young, looking for adventure, and finding it in the most surprising places.

Interestingly, when Tri-Met published a study on Lents for the feasibility of the light rail project, they used “One Summer” as a reference.

Beyond The Pavement” is an attempt to merge a pulp dime-store paperback with a literary novel, while placing it in the same Lents neighborhood.  Selected as one of the 100 books that best define the state of Oregon and its people, it's an adult novel about hot rodding and changing times.

Mill Sederstrom suddenly returns from college, hoping to build a race car, get a good job, meet someone nice, but experiences only frustration in all of his pursuits.  He’s back living with his parents, cruising 82nd Avenue, and confused about where he’s supposed to go in life.  When this book was first published in 1979 the some of the street names were obscured – “Forster” instead of “Foster”, for example. In this edition the true street names have been restored.  Also, the events in the book include the spring break riots at seaside in 1962.

Of the three books in the Lents Collection, “Tillamook Burn” is the most compelling.  It’s a collection of short stories and poems that capture the mood of growing up in Portland, Oregon during and after World War II. "The Chicken Which Became a Rat" tells the story of a Japanese immigrant living in the neighborhood during the war, and was included in "Best American Short Stories of 1971."  Another story is of a father who needs to replace the U-joint for his '30 Hudson 8 so he can get to the new job on Monday with the Corps of Army Engineers. The first place is too expensive. So Chris and his dad weave through the Lents area looking for a used piece.

The poetry is clear-eyed and honest, too. As one reader has said “There aren't many middle-aged guys who won't understand [the poem] ‘Hearing Marty Robbins Sing White Sport Coat 20 Years Later.’”

All three books, "One Summer," "Beyond the Pavement," and "Tillamook Burn," were previously printed through small presses, and have been out of print and hard to find.  Now they are back in print, in a matching set, the "Lents Collection", available from Flat Out Press.
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