The jobs that pay money. The jobs that pay out in other ways. The jobs that make art possible, and the ones threatening to take over everything. We’re checking them all out for this week’s “State of Wonder,” as we talk to artists about the work they do for love, for money, or some mix of the two.


After nearly 40 years of railroading, Mark Vehrencamp says he's always stunned by what the job let shim see. "I'll never forget the first time I took the Cascade line. In wintertime it's just gorgeous." His musical career finds him playing in dozens of ensembles in Portland and Vancouver.

After nearly 40 years of railroading, Mark Vehrencamp says he’s always stunned by what the job let shim see. “I’ll never forget the first time I took the Cascade line. In wintertime it’s just gorgeous.” His musical career finds him playing in dozens of ensembles in Portland and Vancouver.

April Baer/OPB

Heavy Metals with Mark Vehrencamp — 0:05

Man of all bands Mark Vehrencamp is hardworking to an extreme. He plays in over a dozen bands, in styles ranging from symphonic to Second Line. In addition to playing music most nights of the week, he maintains a day job as a locomotive engineer with Union Pacific railroad. The story of how he came to balance two seemingly disparate worlds goes back almost 40 years. You’ll need a spreadsheet to stay on top of his dozens of monthly gigs, but find the Vancouver Symphony schedule here, and his schedule with Mary Flower and the BBQ Boys here. Find him next Friday, May 17, with the Ne Plus Ultra Jazz Orchestra, at the Village Ballroom in Portland. He’s part of the UFO Parade in McMinnville Saturday, May 18, with Brassroots Movement. Also, don’t miss sketch artist Rita Sabler’s beautiful biographical study capturing Mark’s life and work.


Filmmaker, photographer, and writer Jodi Darby has created dozens of projects that re-purpose history, map the changing North American landscape and find beauty in things discarded and abandoned.

Filmmaker, photographer, and writer Jodi Darby has created dozens of projects that re-purpose history, map the changing North American landscape and find beauty in things discarded and abandoned.

Courtesy of Jodi Darby

On the Road with Jodi Darby — 4:20

When Jodi Darby was in her early 20s, she was stuck. Pursuing her writing while working a day job as a baker, she said, she wasn’t finding the focus she needed. So Darby and a childhood friend took jobs as long-haul truckers, launching an odyssey that would take them across the country, and set the table for the creative work of their adult lives. Darby’s zine chronicling this time in her life, “Our Lady of Near Death Experiences,” sold out, but is being reprinted. She’s made an amazing and moving short film called, “Chavruta,” featuring another of our side hustlers, Alicia Jo Rabins.


Drummer Ben Tyler left his homwtown for Portland in 2008, on the eve of the recession. What young drummer wouldn't welcome a change for some extra cash at a pick-up gig?

Drummer Ben Tyler left his homwtown for Portland in 2008, on the eve of the recession. What young drummer wouldn’t welcome a change for some extra cash at a pick-up gig?

Todd Walberg/Courtesy of Ben Tyler

Fast Cash, Faster Company: Drummer Ben Tyler — 20:40

It sounded so simple. A quick gig with a $100 payout, at a time when drummer Ben Tyler (of Small Skies and other bands) was new to town and desperate for income. It turned out the show’s location was a North Portland sex club, and Tyler was in for more than he bargained. He offers an object lesson in gigs gone sideways. Ben is busy writing new material for Small Skies, teaching lessons and a professor at Portland Community College.


Poet, musician, and Torah scholar Alicia Jo Rabins spends part of her work week as a Jewish educator, specializing in Bat Mitzvah and Bar Mitzvah preparation.

Poet, musician, and Torah scholar Alicia Jo Rabins spends part of her work week as a Jewish educator, specializing in Bat Mitzvah and Bar Mitzvah preparation.

Claudia Meza/OPB

Alicia Jo Rabins on Delving Deeper  — 31:00

When Alicia Jo Rabins was approaching her bat mitzvah, her tutor was a well-meaning guy who gave her Torah chants to memorize on her Walkman. It wasn’t until years later she actually found her own gateway into Jewish texts and tradition, and a meaningful door to her own spirituality. Today, in addition to writing poetry and music, she helps kids get ready for their own coming-of-age rites with a more personalized approach. We visited the backyard hut where she works as a Jewish educator — a calling as informative for her own faith and art practice as for the kids she tutors. Rabin’s new poetry collection is titled “Fruit Geode.” More information can be found on her website. Catch her reading with Rebecca Clarren in honor of the holiday of Shavuot on Saturday, June 8, 6:30 p.m., Havurah Shalom Synagogue — it’s open to the public and free.


Comedian Amy Miller, a native of the Bay Area, had a meteoric few years in Portland, and was voted Portland's Funniest Person before moving to L.A.

Comedian Amy Miller, a native of the Bay Area, had a meteoric few years in Portland, and was voted Portland’s Funniest Person before moving to L.A.

Courtesy of Amy Miller

Making It: Amy Miller — 39:40

Comedian Amy Miller shared a story recently about a fellow comedian’s question: When did she realize she’d made it? For a lot of artists, it would be hard to know whether to laugh or cry while answering that question. Miller wrote a short, poignant essay talking about the ongoing struggle to maintain her career, her own misgivings, and the realities of an elusive and grand exterior of success. We miss Miller dearly. She lived in Portland for four years, scaling the ranks in the comedy clubs. She moved on to Los Angeles in 2016. But if you liked what you heard, don’t skip her podcast, ”Who’s Your God,” in which Amy talks to comedians about their spiritual grounding.


"I get to collaborate with, you know, people that I really care about and like I have been collaborating with over the years." Photographer-turned-coffee bar owner Ro Tam, of Portland's Either/Or Coffee and Tanglewood Beverages.

“I get to collaborate with, you know, people that I really care about and like I have been collaborating with over the years.” Photographer-turned-coffee bar owner Ro Tam, of Portland’s Either/Or Coffee and Tanglewood Beverages.

Claudia Meza/OPB

Ro Tam on Finding a Place to Pour her Creativity — 45:40

Ro Tam always thought she’d be a musician. But in her teens she came to the conclusion that photography was a better place to put her creative ambitions. Flash forward a few more years, and suddenly Tam is the owner of one of Portland’s top-rated coffee bars: Either/Or. Like so many of us, Tam had to find a Plan B, when aspirations give way to reality. We love her story for her ingenuity in centering a design sensibility while curating a beautiful experience for coffee customers. Stop in and see what she made.

Music Heard On 'State Of Wonder'

A Spotify playlist to share all the music we feature on our show and anything else that inspires us while we’re making it.