Friday, June 3, 2011

"Portland: Where Young People Go to Retire."

We awoke on Tuesday morning to drive across the remainder of Washington and hit the scenic highway 101 for a visually romantic drive along the northwest Pacific coast. It was rainy all morning— appropriate for the the Northwest, unlike the unusually sunny day we spent in Seattle. Though it was soggy and cool, it was still fantastic. The wooded hills and mountains were covered in thick streaks of mist and blanketed in dense patches of ferns. It’s a temperate rain forest, after all; and though the smack of rain against the windshield is always a familiar sound, coupled with the salty Pacific wind, it was exotic and mysterious. As the mouth of Columbia River opened into the Pacific (the final stop for the west-bound Lewis and Clark expedition), we crossed the bridge from Cape Disappointment into Oregon. The ocean was a grey sheet set against a grey sky— you almost had to squint to see the horizon line. A fisherman on his boat would feel like they were marooned in a grey cloud.

We stopped to get gas and have lunch in historic Astoria, where we learned two life-changing items: it’s against the law to pump your own gas in Oregon (a service one could quickly become used to), and the freshly-caught Halibut fish and chips at Ship Inn is everything a lunch on the Oregon Coast should be, particularly when paired with a ruddy British ale.

A couple of observations about Oregon and Washington: #1— log trucks. I knew that the lumber business was important to the region, but I really hadn’t seen them much before. Timber isn’t terribly available in my particular arena of the Midwest. But in the Northwest, the logging companies were vast, productive, and busy. As we passed through Longview (actually, this in Washington. We had to return for a brief foray on Interstate 5, and it goes back into Washington. A bit anti-climatic, actually), I was very impressed with the logging industry. #2— Tree farms. I didn’t realize that tree farms— beyond Christmas tree farms— actually existed. They do. And they’re strange. Row upon row of tall, spindly trees ready to be harvested— peering between a rows is like looking through a shady tunnel with a leafy canopy. I visualized a chase scene inside a tree farm and it would be decidedly sweet. Lastly, #3— hipsters. They’re everywhere. As plenteous as the trees and the rain. And as we passed from Vancouver into Portland, we were where I had long-imagined to be the home of many the hipster.

I loved Portland. It wasn’t quite what I expected, particularly upon first entering the city. Jill, I think, was looking for something space-aged: urban farms atop of shiny, modern buildings and bullet trains or something. There was certainly something of that modern-esque atmosphere: but there was also a rustic quality to the city that appealed to me. First, we visited Powell’s Books— a block-sized used bookstore and coffee shop. Yes, it’s essentially my idea of heaven. This place is huge. They give you a map when you first enter; genres of books are separated by color-coded rooms and then you are set loose to go nuts. My cohorts laughed at me because I was in the store for 15 minutes and I already had a small stack of books I was considering (my final choices were The Violent Bear it Away, the only book by Flannery O’Connor I don’t own, and A Handful of Dust, another novel by another favorite author). We then went across the street to the Buffalo Exchange for a brief foray at thrifting. We tried to find a place for Melissa and Jill to get their noses pierced, but the piercer advised they wait until after our final camp-out, to avoid infection. So instead, we visited the Portland Rose Gardens. I can’t recall how many varieties of roses are in the gardens, but when they are actually in bloom, they must be quite the sight to behold. Despite the lack of roses, the Rose Garden was still beautiful.

For dinner, we visited the Deschutes Brewery. I tried a beer called Hops in the Dark, a dark, rich IPA, and it was absolutely heavenly I also tried an Elk Burger and for the record— delicious. Melissa’s uncle very generously put us up in his home, but before we settled in for the night, we had to make one more very important stop: to the Rogue Distillery, where one can purchase my very favorite beer: Double Dead Guy Ale. I also tried a little bit of their Spruce Gin and it was also incredible. I went to bed a very tired but very happy girl.

Overheard: "Everyone in Portland is the same— they all have the same bumper stickers.”
Gastric Shout-Out: Elk Burger at Deschutes
Listen To: "Grown Ocean," Fleet Foxes

See Us Addled.

We woke up Monday morning after a much-needed sleep and started to explore Tacoma. Sleeping has been sparse; you can sleep when you’re dead. But it still makes coffee an absolute necessity. We stopped at a coffee shop in Tacoma (where I nearly left my debit card. Whoops.) browsed a thrift store, and walked by the the Museum of Glass which was incredible and apparently a Tacoma landmark. We then hopped back into the car and began the trek to Seattle. Seattle was a lot of fun: vibrant, young, coastal, sunny, and full of coffee. We visited Pike’s Place Public Market where we were quickly overwhelmed by the odor of fish, roadside musicians, wares to purchase, and more coffee to buy. In fact, Pike’s Place is the home to the original Starbucks where we stood in an excessively long line to get a latte. Worth it; you can hate Starbucks anywhere else in the country— but you can’t hate the original Starbucks in Seattle. We visited with vendors (shout out to Dave!) and went to lunch at a Mediterranean grill called Sabra’s and then enjoyed a beer at an Irish bar called Kell’s.

We decided it wouldn’t be an afternoon in Seattle without a monorail trip to the SPACE NEEDLE. Every time I say SPACE NEEDLE, it’s needs to be dramatic. The SPACE NEEDLE gave a great view of the city and the bay, and the Seattle Folk Festival taking place below. Naturally, we had to go. I’ve never seen so many hippies, hipsters, and dirty mountain people. Face paint, hula hoops, hitchhikers, legalized marijuana campaigners, ear gauges, men in "mantility skirts," guitars, piercings, dogs, pot, dreads, tattoos, sarongs, armpit hair, bra-less-ness, tie dye, punks, free hugs, and in general, people who wished they had lived in the 60s. It was a fun atmosphere in which to observe the huddled masses and contemplate the many, many ways people attempt to make themselves unique.

We were gifted with a hotel in Bellevue and after we had checked in, we checked out the eating scene in downtown. We dined at a restaurant called z’Tejas (apparently, this is a chain but we didn't know it at the time) where our waitstaff was...unique. I don’t know exactly how long we waited but it was inordinate. So naturally, Melissa stole cornbread from someone else’s table, we befriended a cute family, and ate our weight in chips and salsa. The poor waiter was apparently having a rough night; he kept mumbling his apology to us but we didn’t really understand what he was saying. So we wrote encouraging notes on our receipts and decided to go elsewhere for drinks.

We ended up at a place called Munchbar in time for the Break Dance Contest. Needless to say, we did not fit in— we left our see-though blouses and 5-inch stilettos in Yellowstone. The dancing was impressive, I have to admit: I didn't get a picture of the actual dancers performing, but they could do jaw-dropping moves. However, the five of us were a bit out of place in the midst of this particular crowd and so we finished the night at a small Irish pub that was more our speed.

Overheard: "There was a fine white line and a lot of people have just crossed it and there’s just a lot of paperwork involved.”
Gastric Shout-Out: Grilled Chicken on Rice at Sabra's
Listen To: "Drumming Song," Florence and the Machine

Tacoma or Bust

We awoke Sunday morning to the sound of an alarm sounding at 5:00 AM and the gentle patter of precipitation on the tarp atop our tent. No, there would be no sunrise to witness on this chilly morning; instead we found ourselves adrift in snowflakes. The good news is that we were able to enter Yellowstone Park and as we did so, the rangers’ decision to close the park the previous night was suddenly terribly easy to understand: snowballs left little crevices in the snow as they had rolled down the mountainside and in some places, the snow drifts easily overshadowed our vehicle. It had snowed pretty heavily in the park and we realized that setting up a tent in that mess would have been, well, a mess. We thanked Baby Jesus and took a tour of Yellowstone.

I can honestly say that this has been my favorite part of the trip so far. Firstly, the scenery is unbelievable: towering, snowy Rocky Mountains, Blue Spruce and Ponderosa Pines, and steamy, misty geysers surround us travelers and it was a visual feast. Though the snow could might have dampened the spirits of some of my fellow travelers, I saw it as part of the aura of adventure. Secondly, the wildlife is astounding. We saw plenty of deer and numerous Bison, but we were also fortunate enough to get a good view of a grizzly bear (Note: a grizzly has a hump; a black bear does not) while it grazed a hill. We were also able to see some female elk. I think Yellowstone is a national park that does a excellent job of making the human presence relatively non-intrusive: there are paved paths and a few areas for camping, pull-offs, and bridges, but it’s a very respectful atmosphere. The people in the park have a hushed reverence for the wildlife, the scenery, the natural phenomenon that is Yellowstone National Park.

As we circled the park, we learned that Old Faithful was about to blow it’s infamous top. Despite the snow (Yellowstone was scheduled to get 5-8 inches that day!), cold air, etc., we stood outside until the geyser did its thing— it was a remarkable sight. The pictures won’t fully convey this, because it was so snowy, and white frothy steam and water don’t show up well against that backdrop.

We finally made it out of the park— and out of the snow— and crossed the border into Montana. The first thing we noticed about Montana: THERE WAS NO WELCOME TO MONTANA SIGN. You’re dropping the ball, Montana. I personally thought Montana was beautiful; mountains and valleys and scenic views, particularly in Paradise Valley. But it was a long drive from Yellowstone to Idaho. The general consensus was that Montana wasn’t popular with my cohorts; but we all agreed that the panhandle of Idaho was gorgeous. We stopped to eat at a restaurant called Tomato Street (delicious) in Coeur d’Alene, which was set against the mountains and a beautiful lake (Side note: speaking French in Idaho, even in a French-sounding city, proves to be ineffective. We did test that theory. Poorly.). We passed into Washington. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Washington; but we weren’t expecting a barren, grassy land and frankly, that’s what Washington mostly was. It was lovely, but by now, we were geographically spoiled. It was dark by the time we hit the mountains in the west. In fact, by the time we hit Tacoma, it was a beastly 1:18 Pacific Time and we were exhausted. We crashed on couches and borrowed beds at Rebecca’s friend’s house, which was in an alleyway and populated by urban chicken farmers. In all, we drove 15 hours that day, all the time attempting to find a Catholic Church in order to attend Mass—we were unsuccessful. Sorry, Baby Jesus. Better luck with the Ascension.

Overheard: "Why's Washington's face on the street signs?"
Gastric Shout-Out: Smashed Fontina Sandwich
Listen To: "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," Bob Dylan