Monday, July 29, 2013

Portland to Ashland

Bridge in Lithia Park, Ashland, Oregon
Several restaurants are within a few blocks of our hotel. One is Besaw's, which claims to have been granted the first liquor license in Oregon after the repeal of prohibition. I can't vouch for that, but I can vouch for the quality of breakfast.

Sandra has farmer's hash, which is your basic eggs, potatoes, bacon, cheese type mess. I have wild salmon scramble.

The food is simple but tasty, the space small and well-lit. Despite the best efforts of Morrissey whining in the background, the place buzzes with people starting their week on a happy note.

We gaze at passersby on the sidewalk out front while navigating our way through the meal. As sendoffs from a town go, this works just fine.

Back on I-5, there is a fleeting sense of melancholy at leaving a good place. But it soon dissipates as we discuss plans for a return trip to Portland.

We prefer to look forward rather than backward, and today is no exception. After a brief stop at Gettings Creek Rest Area, we arrive in Ashland in time to rest before meeting up with my mom and stepfather for an evening at the Oregon Cabaret Theatre.

The key to enjoying dinner theater is to enter with an understanding that it will be ridiculous. Tonight's performance is called “Life Could Be a Dream” and is based on songs of the '50s and '60s, which is when most of the audience attended high school or college.

The canned soundtrack will annoy you if you let it. But the vocal harmonies and choreography are solid, and the story is sufficiently inane to keep from distracting. One of the actors has a visible tattoo, providing an unintentionally amusing anachronism.

There is no pretense of high art here. It's just stupid fun, enjoyed with loved ones. After 300 miles on the highway, I'm cool with that.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Portland

Deschutes Brewery and Public House, Portland, Oregon
I leaf through Eiger Dreams while sipping coffee on a rooftop patio overlooking Northrup Avenue and its streetcars. I get distracted and scribble nonsense into my notebook:

Hypothesis: It is possible to identify a woman's attractiveness by the sound her shoes make against a hard floor.

Portland is starting to wake up and return to work after the weekend. I stare at trees lining the street and think about the day ahead. Again, I get distracted:

Sometimes the most beautiful women wear sandals, which obliterates the hypothesis. Are they aberrations, or do they prove the need for an alternate hypothesis?

Sitting on a patio with coffee and my thoughts soon grows tiresome. I check on Sandra, who is now awake and who looks great in whatever footwear she chooses.

After a quick hotel breakfast, we take the streetcar downtown. Our first stop is Powell's City of Books, where I keep the damage to a minimum:
  • Seamus Heaney, Selected Poems 1966-1987; several people have recommended his work to me
  • Chuck Klosterman, Eating the Dinosaur; someone once compared an article I wrote ($) about scrappy baseball players and the band Pavement to Klosterman's work, so I had to find out why
  • Jonathan Raban, Bad Land; I loved his Passage to Juneau: A Sea and Its Meanings and thought I'd try another
  • John Thorn, Baseball in the Garden of Eden; Thorn is Major League Baseball's official historian and also once bought me a beer in Phoenix, but that's another story
  • Bruce Weber, As They See 'Em; this is a book about baseball umpires, a copy of which unbeknownst to me lies on a shelf back home
We somehow escape Powell's gravitational pull and walk two blocks north to Deschutes Brewery and Public House. We enjoy several of their beers (the rich, dark, and creamy Black Butte Porter being my favorite), along with well-prepared pub food.

Sandra has Black Butte Porter chili potato cheese soup, and pork belly with egg and toast. I have a bacon burger and fries.

After lunch, she wanders off to nearby boutiques and I beeline to Portland Central Library. We each have our vices.

Effective today the library is closed on Mondays, which leads to amusing reactions from potential patrons. As I later note in an article ($), “you haven't lived until you've heard a woman pushing a stroller launch F-bombs at the city government.”

Plan B involves walking off the beer and/or reading books I just bought. I find a coffee shop and crack open Klosterman. He starts with some choice quotes from film director Errol Morris:

I think we're always trying to create a consistent narrative for ourselves. I think truth always takes a backseat to narrative.

And, a few pages later:

If you asked me what makes the world go round, I would say self-deception.

It's compelling stuff, but a bit much after a few pints. Eventually Sandra rescues me from my thoughts and we further explore Portland on foot.

Walking makes us hungry, so we head to Pioneer Courthouse Square, which contains the indispensable Visitor Information Center. We arrive just before closing and ask a woman who clearly appreciates a good meal for restaurant recommendations. She gives a detailed response, along with coupons for several places.

We end up at Ringside Fish House. Sandra has seared day boat scallops (similar to this recipe), while I opt for the pan-roasted Oregon Troll King Salmon, accompanied by BridgePort Summer Squeeze.

Portland is hosting a barbershop quartet convention this week. A group of attendees at the table next to ours gets up and sings. Their harmonies are ridiculously tight.

We finish dinner with housemade ice cream. Sandra has peanut butter, I have cherry. Both are served with fresh mixed berries.

Back at the hotel, we close the night with a bottle of Rogue Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout. I read a little more Klosterman:
If you stare long enough at anything, you will start to find similarities.
It is best not to stare too long.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Seattle to Portland

Pike Place, Seattle, Washington
Alas, staying in Seattle is not our fate. There are other places to see, although we vow not to wait another 12 years for our next visit.

We take one final stroll to the famous and, on this day, claustrophobic Pike Place. The last time we were here, we ate lobster rolls while listening to a street musician sing and play Bruce Springsteen's “Tunnel of Love” on acoustic guitar.

We find a booth that serves Mexican food. I am skeptical of Mexican food north of San Francisco, but the people here are from Mexico and we can see everything.

Sandra orders scallop and prawn ceviche served with tortilla chips and guacamole. Although the seafood tastes fresh, it is drowning in tomato sauce. Nothing against tomato sauce, but the stars of this dish should be the scallops and prawns. (This recipe, which I haven't tried, sounds much better.)

I have banana leaf tamales with diced pork and spicy tomatillo sauce. The tamales are moist and flavorful, as is the pork. The tomatillo sauce is surprisingly spicy. As a pasty white guy well-versed in the ways of Thai, Indian, and Szechuan cuisines, I've grown accustomed to being disappointed by claims of spiciness. This delivers.

Thus satisfied, we continue trudging through the market. It is Butchart Gardens crowded and so after picking up a copy of Jon Krakauer's Eiger Dreams (he has been recommended to me by several people) at one of Pike Place's bookshops, we return to the hotel and check out.

Between Tacoma and Olympia, we pass Sleater Kinney Road, made famous in some circles by a band of the same name. Singer/guitarist Carrie Brownstein has since gone onto greater fame working with Fred Armisen in the quirky sketch comedy television series Portlandia.

After quick stops in Chehalis for gas and at Gee Creek Rest Area to stretch our legs, we arrive in Portland just in time to clean up and grab dinner. We are staying at the Inn at Northrup Station, a quaint hotel in the northwest part of town, near Nob Hill and Pearl District. The inn is next to the station after which it is named, where the Portland Streetcar stops to take folks downtown.

That's not quite true. The Northrop Street stop is for streetcars traveling toward 23rd Street. You'll need to walk two short blocks to Lovejoy Street to get downtown.

We walk the other direction instead, toward a restaurant suggested by the front-desk clerk. It sounds like a place we might enjoy; unfortunately it is closed this week for renovations so we explore the neighborhood on foot and stumble into Dick's Kitchen.

It's almost impossible to get bad food in Portland. Same with coffee and beer. People love their food and drink, and visitors benefit from the local obsession with all things delicious.

The menu is simple–burgers and “not fries”–but delicious. The beef is from Oregon, and the “not fries” are air-baked potatoes. I don't know what the exact process is, but the results are satisfying. We order ours with a Cambodian garlic sauce that should be a controlled substance. The stuff is addictive.

I wash down the meal with a Vortex IPA, from Astoria's Fort George Brewery. The beer is a tad hoppy for my taste, but so are most West Coast IPAs. Then again, it helps offset the garlic sauce.

After dinner we wander around before returning to our room. There we open a bottle of Pelican Doryman Dark Ale procured some days earlier in Pacific City. This beer is more my speed.

The air is cool and crisp. Streetcar sounds outside our second-floor window remind us of the movement of travel while we remain still after a day in motion. The clacks and dings promise to deliver us into the city tomorrow, once we have slept off today's drive.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Seattle

Malcolm Young's Gretsch guitar, EMP Museum, Seattle, Washington
We are staying near the south shore of Lake Union. Next door to us is a cancer research center, across the street is the lake. From our hotel-room window, we watch aquaplanes take off and land.

It is a healthy walk to most places from here, but as long as the weather holds, Sandra and I are game. Traveling by foot is a good way to learn a city. Feeling the slope of hills in your calves and quads gives a greater appreciation for the terrain, as well as a sense of satisfaction at arriving anywhere.

This belief betrays a bias. I prefer to move as slowly as practical. I prefer to observe along the way, sometimes at the expense of reaching a specific destination.

The means justify the ends.

We are here in time for the 36th Annual Lake Union Wooden Boat Festival. It's a large and friendly looking event that we pass on our way to EMP Museum.

I prefer to observe along the way, but sometimes there is a destination worth reaching. And so we must bypass the wooden boats in favor of all things Jimi Hendrix.

At EMP, we hear original mixes of Hendrix's “Crosstown Traffic” on headphones. Turn down the vocals and listen to Jimi play rhythm guitar like the bad-ass Motown cat he was.

We see Malcolm Young's Gretsch guitar and Angus Young's Gibson SG. We learn that an older brother, George Young, played with the Easybeats and co-wrote their 1966 hit “Friday on My Mind.” And that AC/DC once shared a bill with Split Enz in 1975, which is hard to imagine nearly 40 years later.

We see footage of old John Landis films and interviews with the famous director. We see uniforms from various flavors of Star Trek, Stargate, and other classics.

Upstairs is Sound Lab, where you can play instruments and record music. I jam on guitar and bass for a while, then watch others do the same. Folks with no or limited experience are the most fun, because once they conquer their initial self-consciousness, they discover what musicians know: this is a blast.

So is the museum, and it is difficult to pry ourselves away after only a few hours, but we have packed too many activities into too short a time period and so we must. Back at the lake, we eat at Duke's Chowder House. Our concerns that it might be too touristy are soon alleviated by fine food and drink.

Sandra has crab chowder, steamed clams, and a cherry mojito. I have Northwest seafood chowder and salmon stuffed with Dungeness crab and Oregon bay shrimp, washed down with Mac & Jack's African Amber Ale, which is similar to Ballast Point Calico back home.

From Duke's we return to Safeco for another ballgame. We stop at Pyramid Alehouse, which has good beer but too many people and plastic cups.

At the ballpark, Miss Washington 2011 throws out a ceremonial first pitch. She is kind of gorgeous and has a surprisingly good arm. Former Mariners left-hander Mark Langston, now 51 and a dozen years removed from his last game, throws out another ceremonial first pitch. He is also kind of gorgeous and has a surprisingly good arm.

The home team wins in extra innings. Chone Figgins is the hero, one of the few times that word could be applied to him during his Mariners tenure.

Longtime star Ichiro Suzuki, now in the twilight of his career, collects two hits. He will play seven more games at Safeco as a member of the home team before being traded to the Yankees. Sometimes there is a destination worth reaching. Personally, I'd have stayed in Seattle.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Federal Way to Seattle

Safeco Field left-field entrance, Seattle, Washington
Our seats are in Section 116, field level along the right-field line. The stadium organist plays Weather Report's “Birdland” during warmups.

Dark clouds hang overhead, but no drops fall, as they haven't for several years on this date. The temperature at first pitch is 71 degrees, and there is almost no wind. The retractable roof remains open as the Mariners host the Boston Red Sox.
View from Section 116 of Safeco Field, Seattle, Washington
The gameday program, called “Grand Salami” (a play on the baseball term “grand slam”), features contributions from industry friends such as Jeff Angus and David Laurila. Not the usual extension of a team's public relations department, this program is independently produced and disarmingly honest in its assessment of the Mariners.

Seattle is shut out by a mediocre veteran pitcher named Aaron Cook. I've documented the gory details elsewhere ($), but this excerpt is relevant to our story:

It is understood that when I refer to the Mariners as the home team, I mean in name only. Red Sox fans outnumbered Mariners fans by plenty at both games we attended. Many stayed in our hotel, a fact not lost on folks who worked at said hotel. They expressed, in the diplomatic way that hotel workers must express things to customers, displeasure at seeing so many people root for the “other” team.

This was not an issue before 2004, when the Red Sox broke a nonsensical curse, attracting in the process a legion of people who self-identify as “long-suffering,” which might be the only thing more nonsensical than the notion of a curse. What bothered the hotel workers most was that many of these “fans” called Washington home. Their connection to Boston was that, frankly, that city's franchise had been successful where Seattle's had not.

The hotel workers seemed disappointed at my lack of outrage. As a customer, I could be more passionate about such matters without fear of appearing unprofessional. Instead, I nodded my head and explained that the situation is pretty much the same in San Diego.

They shrugged their shoulders and returned to being diplomatic. I shrugged my shoulders and, blissfully indifferent to outcome, boarded the shuttle that would take me to Safeco Field.

After the seventh-inning stretch, we explore the ballpark. Another industry friend recommends visiting the upper deck for a view of the city. We are not disappointed.
View from upper deck of Safeco Field, Seattle, Washington (Space Needle in background)
Former Padres left-handed pitcher Oliver Pérez finishes the game for Seattle. He is a favorite of ours from his days at Lake Elsinore in the California League, and we cheer when his name is announced. We cheer again when Pérez strikes out another former Padres player, Adrián González, to end the eighth inning.

After the game, on our way back to the hotel via their courtesy shuttle that is nearly an hour late, we pass a man on the sidewalk playing a miniature drum set. I'm reminded of Soundgarden's “Spoonman,” which celebrates and features Seattle street performer Artis the Spoonman.

This is a city of music and musicians. And even as the thwacking of drums recedes, the rhythms resonate within us and lull us to sleep in preparation for tomorrow.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Tacoma to Federal Way

The drive from Tacoma to Seattle is short. We make it last four hours thanks to a stop in Federal Way for lunch with a friend.

Brandon Isleib and I used to write for Hardball Times. We've spent a lot of time discussing baseball with each other, as well as another common interest, music.

He is a fellow composer and musician, so we end up talking about geeky stuff like time signatures. Brandon also writes about Magic the Gathering, another geeky pastime I would lose myself in if I gave it the chance.

Our friendship has thrived in virtual realms for years. Until now, though, we have never met in person.

Sandra and I swing by Brandon's place, and he guides us to Pac Island Grill, which serves real Hawaiian plate lunches. We spend the next two hours and change snarfing a steady stream of grilled meats punctuated by the occasional starchy item.

The food is broke da mouth good, albeit not as good as the company. Our conversation is of no consequence to anyone other than ourselves. It is the best kind of conversation.

Later, when we drop Brandon off, we meet his wife. Amber is a huge Burn Notice fan, which helps when I cannot remember the name of one of that show's villains.

It came up at lunch for reasons forgotten. When I describe him to her, she immediately recognizes him as Simon Escher, played by the exquisitely creepy Garret Dillahunt, who also has a B.A. in journalism from the nearby University of Washington.

Now I don't have to think about that anymore. Amber has relieved me of a great burden. Now I can concentrate on the short drive north.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Butchart Gardens to Tacoma

Butchart Gardens, British Columbia – A rare sight... no people
Butchart Gardens oozes tourists. We permeate the place like a plague, pausing only to gawk and bump into other tourists. The ones from Japan are most charming, neither giving nor taking offense when bodies collide. It's bumper cars with flowers.

The garden's story is long and convoluted, winding like its many paths. Two brothers made a fortune in the cement business. One of the brothers married a Scottish lass, Jennie, who became so famous for her hospitality that she reportedly served tea to 15,000 visitors in one year.

She built a garden, and it kept expanding. Fast forward several decades, and here we all are, bumping into one another.

After a morning of bumping, we eat lunch at the cafeteria. The food is expensive but tasty. We share a salmon noodle salad (vermicelli with black beans, corn, garbanzo beans, peppers, and edamame) and blueberry cheesecake on the patio.

To drink, we have a pint of Hermann's Dark Lager on tap. Hermann's is brewed in Victoria, and it's good to see the local product represented.

* * *

Back on the coach, Lyle is up to his usual tricks. “What an idiot,” he says calmly as a car passes him on the right. “Sorry, he probably doesn't know it's illegal. He's probably from Van-COU-ver.” It's the worst swear word he knows.

* * *

On the ferry, across the strait, off the ferry. Dogs sniff our bags and we return to the car.

More driving. US-101 to WA-104 to WA-3 to WA-16. We cross the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in a carpool lane that confuses us. We can stop at the toll plaza and pay Washington $4 now, or we can pass without stopping and pay $5.50 later. The confusion arises over whether or not carpools must pay a toll.

Either way, we are in a hurry to catch a ballgame, so we keep moving. Months later we receive a bill.

The game–Tacoma Rainiers vs Las Vegas 51s–starts at 7:05 p.m., and we arrive at the 19th Street exit by 6:55. We didn't buy tickets in advance because we weren't sure how long it would take to get from Port Angeles to Tacoma. Besides, when I checked last night, good seats were available for cheap.

Traffic stops. The van in front of us unloads three kids, who walk off the freeway off-ramp and up the hill toward the stadium. It will take us 40 minutes to go that final half mile.

We fail to find the Rainiers game on the radio, catching instead the Mariners up the road in Seattle. Félix Hernández is pitching against the Red Sox.

One of the announcers notes that top prospect Danny Hultzen is making his home debut in Tacoma against ancient left-hander Jamie Moyer, who played for the Mariners from 1996 to 2006. Moyer is 49 years old and returning from a season lost due to elbow surgery. He puts us all to shame.

Meanwhile, we miss the game. This spawns an article ($) that describes, among other things, what happens next:

Whatever the case, we continued along 19th Street to a hospital, not because I needed mending–although this could be another metaphor–but because we had to find our motel. We got directions from our somewhat trusty phones and proceeded to a part of town that defies reasonable description.

To the north, there is an adult bookstore, a thrift shop, and an empty lot strewn with trash. To the south, a dingy-looking Chinese buffet. The freeway was spitting distance from our room, which I know because I felt droplets while we walked to the pizza chain just past the adult bookstore. Or maybe that was rain.

There were some negatives as well, but I'll spare you the details.

Either way, Hultzen was pitching against Moyer about five miles from us. Hernandez was pitching against the Red Sox 35 miles away. And we were carrying a box of chain pizza back past the adult bookstore, the thrift shop, and the empty lot strewn with trash to our room, where we dined in luxury, washing our pizza down with fine craft beer [ed note: Kiwanda Cream Ale and Tsunami Stout] procured some days earlier in Oregon and now sipped–in the mode of Paul Giamatti's character from Sideways–out of paper cups generously provided by our motel.

So if you ask my opinion of Hultzen, I will tell you that his presence in Tacoma helped destroy a perfectly good evening of baseball for me. If you want to know what I thought of Alex Liddi, I can tell you only that the beer was delicious despite being consumed out of paper cups and that the flowers on Vancouver Island made our delay worth the while.

Still, the motel looks like the kind of place that would find you hookers if you asked at the front desk. Not that we ask.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Victoria to Butchart Gardens, Part 2

Butchart Gardens, British Columbia
Lyle rattles off facts like the crazy Canadian fact machine he is.

“There's a new hockey arena on Blanshard.”

“The Bay Street Armoury was built in 1913 and currently houses two regular units, cadets, and a marching band.”

“The original jail is now a high school.” (I remind myself that the territorial prison in Yuma, Arizona, later became a high school as well.)

“The observatory off Saanich Road is the largest in the British empire and is affiliated with the Hubble Space Telescope.”

Lyle's voice swells with as much pride as his Canadian citizenship will allow. And I say this without any hint of mockery, because he is wonderful. If not Kids in the Hall, then maybe Corner Gas or some other underappreciated television show.

“Victoria is the only part of Canada considered sub-tropical. It averages one snowfall per year.” He explains that the Olympic Mountain Range to the south picks off all the potential snow. A passenger adds that one of those mountains–Hurricane Ridge–received nearly 700 inches of snow last year.

Lyle acknowledges this and then tells us more about the sub-tropics of Canada. “There is no rain in Victoria between late-April and late-August,” he says. “That's good for tourism, but tough on locals.”

Then, without transition: “Vancouver Island has the largest cougar population in the world. Every now and then, one will wander into town.”

I cannot speak to the veracity of his claims, but he sure is entertaining. Crazy Canadian fact machine.

A cell phone rings. Lyle pauses, but says nothing. A few moments later, it rings again.

“I might have to confiscate that annoying cell phone,” he says in his gentle, measured tone. It is a threat delivered in the Canadian style, as an apology.

Upon arriving at Butchart Gardens, Lyle informs us that he will be handing us tickets as we disembark the coach. “Now,” he says, “these tickets are crucial.”

He pauses to ensure that all are paying attention, then delivers the reveal: “You'll need them to get through the turnstiles.”

Indeed. Because this is how tickets work. And turnstiles, for that matter.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Victoria to Butchart Gardens, Part 1

Butchart Gardens, British Columbia
A man in dark slacks and vest, with medium-length wavy grey-brown hair and wire-rimmed glasses, stands next to the coach. He introduces himself as Lyle, our driver. In his early-sixties and slight of build, Lyle speaks with a lilting cadence that makes everything sound like a question. He could be a character out of a Kids in the Hall sketch, played by Mark McKinney.

Lyle is so stereotypically Canadian that it's difficult to keep from smiling whenever... well, whenever he does anything. His anecdotes are torpedoed by odd tangents, and punctuated by nervous laughter and sighs of “ANY-way” that connect non sequiturs.

After apologizing for being 5 minutes late and then admitting that he is 15 minutes early instead of his usual 20, Lyle takes our tickets and welcomes us aboard. Sandra and I sit on the right side toward the back, and soon the coach fills with people much older than we are.

The gentleman across the aisle notices me taking notes by hand and taps my shoulder. “It's so unusual to see someone doing that,” he says, pointing at my spiral-bound book. “Everyone uses a computer nowadays.” He points at the book again. “I like it.”

“So do I.”

Lyle fires up the engine and starts us on our 21-kilometer (when in Canada...) jaunt to Butchart Gardens. He has lived here his whole life and tells us about the city, the gardens, and Vancouver Island.

We learn about Victoria's architecture and the Empress Hotel, famous for its high tea. Government Street is the oldest street west of the Canadian Rockies. There are more than 700 restaurants in town. Blanshard Street is named after Richard Blanshard, the first governor of British Columbia, and is home to Andrew Carnegie Public Library.

Gold was discovered here in 1858, shortly after British Columbia became an official colony of Britain. Migration from California during the Gold Rush increased a settlement of 600 to more than 20,000.

The city of Victoria now has a population around 80,000, with a greater metropolitan area around 350,000. This constitutes roughly half of the people that live on Vancouver Island, which at nearly 300 miles long is the largest island on the West Coast of North or South America. The island is named after Captain George Vancouver of the British Royal Navy.

Lyle could go on, and does, but that's a story for another day.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Port Angeles to Victoria

Entering the port at Victoria, British Columbia
At the ferry terminal, one woman operates the ticket booth, which explains last night's attempt to get information by phone. “There is a boat leaving just now,” she had said before putting me on hold and rushing off to ensure that it did so without incident.

We buy tickets, fill out forms, show our passports, and board the ferry.

Back in the 1980s, when Americans didn't need documentation to enter Canada, I was visiting family in Michigan one summer. One day we drove across the Detroit River to spend an afternoon in Windsor for some forgotten reason. The gentleman at the checkpoint asked us our purpose, and I blurted from the back seat–I was a teenager and knew everything–“tourism.” This fellow's eyes lit up and he asked again. My father and stepmother made it clear that my involvement in the conversation had come to an end, and after they discussed the issue further with our wide-eyed checkpoint friend, he let us pass into the Great White North. Later, I realized that he must have thought I said “terrorism,” which would indeed provoke a wide-eyed response. Something rather like terror, I should think.

We sit at a table inside. There are chairs outside also, but it is cool and windy. An upper deck offers views of the mountains behind us, although they are obscured by clouds this morning. Also, this is where the smokers congregate to form their own clouds.

After snapping a few photos, I return inside to the galley and buy some Boyd's Coffee and Ivar's Famous Chowder. When we visited Seattle in 2000, Sandra enjoyed the clam chowder on a ferry to Bainbridge Island. She still talks about it.

Ivar is Ivar Haglund, a folk singer from back in the day who opened a fish and chips bar in 1938 as a companion to Seattle's first aquarium, which he built. Ivar's Acres of Clams opened in 1946, and two more locations have opened since. Ivar's chowder is famous, as is his saying, “keep clam,” which calls to mind Spinal Tap's “Clam Caravan.”

Haglund, for his part, kept impressive company as a folk singer. He hosted Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie when they traveled to Seattle in the 1940s. And Haglund's “Old Settler's Song” served as the theme for his restaurant, the song's first stanza concluding:

No longer the slave of ambition
I laugh at the world and its shams
As I think of my happy condition
Surrounded by acres of clams.

We can agree that not everyone would think to rhyme “shams” with “clams.”

Meanwhile, the jaunt across the Strait of Juan de Fuca–that 95-mile-long strip of water that separates the Unites States and Canada–takes about 90 minutes. Plenty of time for us to enjoy Ivar's chowder and contemplate this Juan de Fuca fellow.

So named because he served under Phillip II, King of Spain, Juan is Ioánnis Fokás, a 16th-century navigator who claimed to have explored what was then known as the Strait of Anián. The veracity of his claims likely will never be known, but the English captain Charles William Barkley renamed the body of water in Fokás' honor in 1787.

To further confuse matters, it is called Juan de Fuca Strait in Canada. Whatever the appellation, we cross it and arrive in Victoria, where we pass through customs and walk up to street level in search of the coach (Canadian for bus) that will take us to Butchart Gardens.

Between customs and the street, retired folks in bright red tops greet visitors with a smile and a map of Victoria. The man who gives us our map asks where we're from.

“San Diego,” I say.

“Oh,” he replies. “That used to be a rough town but it's nicer now.”

He gives a knowing nod. I respond in kind (when in Canada...) but have no clue what he means. Sandra suspects he is thinking of downtown. I suspect he is thinking of Bangkok.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Forks to Port Angeles

Looking back at Port Angeles, Washington, from the Strait of Juan de Fuca
Half the motel decides to leave Forks at 6 a.m. A smiling gentleman in his mid-sixties mentions this to me as we pack our respective cars. Everyone has somewhere to go.

Sandra and I are headed to Port Angeles. The drive takes us along Lake Crescent, which looks beautiful and serene but which is also the site of at least two nasty car wrecks. Russell and Blanch Warren lost their lives to the lake in 1929, while a 1960 accident had a happier ending, with all four occupants surviving a plunge into the icy waters.

The road winds along the south shore, through the massive (i.e., larger than Rhode Island) Olympic National Park. Sunrise reflects off the lake's surface, illuminating cabins on the other side.

We finish yesterday's Tillamook cheese. Nothing says “good morning” like chunks of garlic chili pepper cheddar.

The drive takes 75 minutes. Once at Port Angeles, we find the ferry landing and park. Leaving the car alone in a lot for 10 hours as we sail off to some other country fills me with an unexpected anxiety. Who will feed it? What if it has to go to the bathroom?

But these are silly concerns. It can always pee on the asphalt.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Kalaloch Lodge to Forks

From the log book
We drive past Destruction Island and its lighthouse, as well as the Hoh and Bogachiel rivers, finally arriving at Forks around 7 p.m. Just before twilight.

Before Twilight, published in 2005 as the first of what I later refer to as “a popular emo-vampire book series whose essential message is that women are only as valuable as the men they covet,” Forks was a small logging town in a remote corner of the United States. It is still that, but because the characters from Twilight live in Forks, it is also a town full of shops that attempt to capitalize on the series' popularity by slapping the name “Twilight” onto everything.

The motel we stay at offers Twilight-themed rooms. You pay extra for those.

We stay in one of the cheaper, less creepy rooms (these are teen-aged lovers, after all) that is best described as being devoid of anything to do with Twilight. This is its charm, and so we celebrate by sharing a bottle of MacPelican's Scottish Style Ale brought with us from Pacific City.

Sandra tries to make reservations online for tomorrow's ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria, but that doesn't work. So we call the ferry company. The woman at the other end of the line says that they can't offer reservations this late but assures us that there will be plenty of room for passengers and cars alike on the 8:15 boat.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Aberdeen to Kalaloch Lodge

Kalaloch Lodge, Washington
WA-109 is supposed to hug the coast and span from Hoquiam to Queets. However, this crosses the Quinault Indian Reservation, and the tribe does not wish the road to continue so it does not.

We continue instead along US-101, through dense forest. An isolated nation lies to our left, and beyond it the ocean. Eventually the highway returns to the coast, and we stop at Kalaloch Lodge for dinner and one final glimpse of the Pacific.

The lodge is part of the Olympic National Park and Forest, which means that although this appears to be a restaurant, it really is a catering service. People around us complain about the food's price relative to its quality (similar laments appear in various online reviews), but there is nowhere else to go and besides, the view makes up for a lot.

A middle-aged man (not much older than me, come to think of it) sits with his teen-aged daughter at the next table. She has blonde hair pulled back and spends much of her meal trying to text on a phone that gets poor service in this remote area.

They have returned from Forks, home to characters in the Twilight series that is popular among teens and other people with questionable taste. To his credit, the father attempts to engage the girl, feigning interest in Edward and Jacob. She occasionally looks up and says something excitedly, then notices his glazed look and returns to silence. Nobody understands her.

Ah, the joys of adolescence. Someone on one of the podcasts we've been listening to asked, “If you had only 15 seconds on the phone with yourself when you were that age, what would you say?”

I would say, “Hi, this is you in the future. Weird, right? So life sucks, but it gets better. No time to explain, just trust me on this one and be nice to Mom.”

Monday, April 15, 2013

Astoria to Aberdeen

Ubiquitous purple flowers, somewhere in Oregon or Washington
These flowers are everywhere along the coast. They look vaguely like Physostegia virginiana, but that plant is not found west of Utah. More likely they are Physostegia parviflora, although it is equally possible that I am clueless.

An earlier version of our itinerary had us spending the night in Aberdeen, where Nirvana's former lead singer and guitarist, the late Kurt Cobain, spent his formative years. I didn't adore Nirvana's music the way many did, but I liked it well enough, and Cobain symbolized a post-modern apathy that spoke to my generation.

After he committed suicide in 1994, I wrote a poem based on a photograph of the death scene. I also wrote a song for a band I played in at the time (our singer named his first son Kurt and had invited me to see Nirvana live on the In Utero tour; “next time,” I said). The poem was called “Burning, Not Fading” and ended up in a chapbook I published a year later for my own amusement:

Two glass doors with wooden frames,
one open, the other shut;
branches of a tree or bush not quite in focus;
pills or gun shells on the linoleum floor
laid out in perfect, retreating squares;
a bald-headed man in a dark suit
behind the door that is closed;
an open box, socks,
a baseball cap, towel,
unfolded wallet, driver's license;
a man in black shoes, squatting,
holding a notebook in his hands;
to his left a tennis shoe
whose toes are slightly off the ground;
to his right another shoe,
dark, canvas, with a star on the side,
neatly laced and tied,
wrinkled jeans,
long-sleeved shirt,
a wrist,
and a clenched white fist.

I will never forget the photograph, nor the experience of studying it. Neither will I forget the feeling of helplessness at knowing this young man wasted his future. He was 27, which is when all the great ones seem to die–Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison. It's a romantic thought, but also a sobering one for this then-25-year-old trying to figure out what the hell to do in life.

This is my role model? A guy who mumbles, doesn't shave, then shoots himself?

The title of the poem was supposed to be patterned after Stevie Smith's “Not Waving but Drowning,” only I got it wrong. I forget the name of the song I wrote. Maybe “No Apologies,” as a play on Nirvana's “All Apologies.” It is the sort of title I would have liked.

I forget many of the lyrics as well. The chorus went something like this:

Anger of a generation
Forgotten but not gone
You were seen as their salvation
Something they had won
No apologies will be
Necessary

Musically it borrowed from several Nirvana songs–an homage–starting with a low murmur in the style of “All Apologies,” rising to a frenetic “Smells Like Teen Spirit” style chorus, and ending with a call to “Heart-Shaped Box.”

This was a long time ago, and all I have now are fragments... “Bullet to the head, better off dead... you could teach them something... bitter, angry words.”

I am 43 now, and what little sense of romance there may have been in suicide at the time is long gone. Days, weeks, and months are cherished as singular, unrepeatable events on a one-way trip.

This afternoon, Aberdeen is a balmy 74 degrees. We stop at a convenience store to buy water, then drive through town, with its front yards full of beer-gutted women. I have been to places like this, but in very different parts of the country. The scene runs counter to my stereotype of the Pacific Northwest, reminding me that stereotypes are rarely as useful as reality.

In a flash, Cobain's angst makes sense to me. His death, not so much, but I get him in a way that I didn't before spending 10 minutes here. Aberdeen had no clue what do with him, and vice versa.

Back in San Diego, I will ask a friend who grew up in the area about his impressions of Aberdeen. I want to be certain that I am not making a snap judgment based on an insufficient sample of the place, that I am not reporting a stereotypical view and feeding the romance of Cobain's life and death. My friend will assure me that what I saw is what there is.

This is both comforting and disturbing. We continue driving.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Tillamook to Astoria

Bridge from Astoria, Oregon, to Washington
“Padres!” exclaims a twentysomething outside the Wet Dog Cafe and Brewery, which overlooks the Columbia River. It appears promising, but our schedule calls for the briefest of stays in Astoria and keeps us from conducting a proper investigation.

“Right on,” I reply. I am wearing a blue Padres shirt with Trevor Hoffman's name and number 51 on the back. As we walk past the young, excited bar patron, he notices the back of my shirt.

“Hoffman!” he cries. “That's old school.”

He then mimics an exaggerated version of Hoffman's delivery that looks more like Juan Marichal with the high leg kick. But he's excited, and it's rare to find Padres fans outside of San Diego (or even, if we are to be honest, in San Diego), so I smile and give him the thumbs-up.

Then his friend drives up and he gets excited about that. He's not excited to see me in a Hoffman jersey, he's excited about everything. There are worse ways to go through life.

Sandra and I stroll along the river and pop into a used bookstore. It's hot and muggy here, at least compared to where we've been.

Repairs on the bridge connecting Oregon to Washington force us to stop and wait 5 minutes. This is an inconvenience to locals but allows us to savor a spectacular view and me to snap a photo from the driver's seat.

The bridge, formally known as the Astoria-Megler Bridge, spans 4 miles across the Columbia River and is the longest continuous truss bridge in North America. Construction began in November 1962 and was completed in August 1966. The bridge has appeared in movies such as Short Circuit, Kindergarten Cop, and Goonies, which probably isn't sufficient reason to see any of those, but there you go.

And here we go, headed into Washington, searching for Nirvana.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Pacific City to Tillamook

After spending much of our time in remote areas, the booming town of Tillamook takes us by surprise. We drive north along the so-called 3 Capes Scenic Drive, which goes from Cape Kiwanda (where Pacific City is), through Cape Lookout, to Cape Meares.

There is a lighthouse at Cape Meares, but we miss it. I misread a sign and hang a right at Netarts instead of continuing along the coast. Soon after, we find ourselves in Tillamook, which is famous for its cheese and... well, just its cheese.

The factory is in the middle of town. You can't miss it, because that's where everyone is, eating cheese and ice cream.

We enjoy samples of cheese, some of which are good. We buy a block of garlic chili pepper cheddar to go with our Pelican beer tonight. We also eat ice cream for lunch–a combination of black cherry, white chocolate/raspberry, and caramel crunch that is smooth, creamy, and flavorful.

The moment we finish, we bolt for the exit and return to our car. There are a lot of people in this place, and they really like cheese. It's a little weird.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Newport to Pacific City

Beach at Pacific City, Oregon
While the vampires are sleeping, or doing whatever it is they do when they are not sucking, we drive to Pacific City for breakfast. Although the town boasts barely 1,000 full-time residents, it features one of the world's finest breweries.

Fortunately for us, Pelican Pub and Brewery also serves food and opens at 8 a.m. Only an hour north of Newport, this place piqued my interest by winning several medals at the 2012 World Beer Cup.

I thought it might be worth a visit, but our friend Didi–who knows a thing or two about beer, food, and cool places to visit–insisted that it should not be missed. He was right.

Sandra orders smoked salmon Benedict, while I have the corned beef hash (prepared with MacPelican's Scottish Ale, sage, and homemade mustard). Both satisfy, as does the fresh-brewed coffee.

People take their coffee seriously in these parts. And their smoked salmon. And their glass blowing. There is no shortage of shops dedicated to each in every Southern Oregon beach town. Also a surprising number of Hawaiian food establishments. We passed two yesterday in Florence.

Pelican is nearly empty, drawing attention to the many awards that dot the walls. Our large table abuts a window looking onto the beach, which is also nearly empty.

We take as much time to enjoy the food, coffee, and view as we dare. Then we pay for our meal and a six-pack of 22-ounce bottles for the road (including one for Didi back in San Diego, of course).

Outside, surfers attempt to negotiate insufficient swells. White birds strut in the sand, searching for snacks.

The occasional stray human family sits in beach chairs. Mom reads a novel, dad reads the newspaper. Children build what pass for sandcastles. Maybe a 4 x 4 truck rolls past, parallel to the incoming tide.

A funky looking dog (Sandra calls it a “dingo dog”) retrieves a stick thrown by its owner several times, then lies in the shade beneath its owners truck to rest before getting back to work. A large rock breaks the ocean surface about a half mile out or so.

Does this happen here or am I remembering Newport? Or Heceta Head? Or even Harris State Beach? The days run together, the beaches run together. Each is beautiful and unique, but the ubiquity of such beauty and uniqueness overwhelms. We are becoming spoiled to the point that we cannot differentiate between one amazing place and the next.

As problems go, it is a nice one to have. You know what else would be nice to have? Some cheese.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Heceta Head Lighthouse to Newport

View from hotel balcony, Newport, Oregon

Our destination today is Newport, an hour north of Heceta Head. It is home to Rogue Ales, purveyor of many fine beers, including the decadent Hazelnut Brown Nectar.

We pull into town around 6:30 and, after a few wrong turns, end up at the boardwalk on Yaquina Bay. Its main road, Bay Blvd., is lined with restaurants and shops. Many towns along the West Coast have similar areas: Morro Bay, Monterey, Astoria (as we will discover tomorrow), to name a few.

Despite its overt commercialism, the place exudes charm. It is a place to hang out, relax, and enjoy. Friends and families roam the streets. Inside Rogue Ales Public House, our server is friendly and engaging. She smiles and chats, but not in a way that seems forced. We feel at home, which is welcome after four days on the road.

Sandra orders halibut and chips, I have Kobe chili with Tillamook cheese. The food is good, not great. The beers–a taster of Honey Orange Wheat from Tracktown Brewery in nearby Eugene, and pints of Hazelnut Brown and Amber Ale–are delicious.

Maybe the mind is playing tricks on itself, but getting a beer at its source always seems more satisfying. It could be that driving 320 miles to get here and being served by someone who seems genuine in her enjoyment clouds our judgment, but I doubt it.

Besides, these things count. And even though the food may only qualify as “good,” I would return here without hesitation.

On our way out, we buy 22-ounce bottles of Chocolate Stout and Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout for later, then wander around Bay Blvd. Sandra loves saltwater taffy, and boardwalks always have a shop that specializes in such things. Two doors down, we find Aunt Belinda's Candies and fill a brown paper bag with goodies.

After walking some more and taking in the cool bay breeze, we head over to our hotel on the ocean side of the highway. Our room at the Hallmark Resort is on the top floor and is a suite, complete with full kitchen and spa. The view includes a glimpse of Yaquina Head Lighthouse in the distance to the north.

The photo at the top is my favorite shot from the entire trip. Taken from the balcony of our hotel in Newport, it perfectly captures the spirit of our travels. The sun setting into the ocean after a long day.

The photo's quality isn't great–it's from a phone–but the essence of this place couldn't come through any better. A few people, some with dogs, stroll along the beach. We hear the gentle swoosh of waves as they reach sand.

The world is quiet, still, perfect, or so it seems to us. Which is good, because tomorrow we enter vampire territory.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Umpqua River Lighthouse to Heceta Head Lighthouse

Bridge near Heceta Head Lighthouse, Oregon

I once drove from San Diego to Cooperstown to watch former Padres outfielder Tony Gwynn get inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Along the way, I passed Gwynn Canyon in New Mexico.

There is also a Gwynn Island in Virginia and a Gwynn Oak in Maryland. Gwynn Oak is a suburb of Baltimore, whose long-time shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. was inducted along with Tony Gwynn.

Here, we cross Gwynn Creek south of Yachats (home of the infamous Smelt baseball team) and arrive at Heceta Head Lighthouse just after 5 p.m. The lighthouse is under construction, so we admire it from afar and imagine what it might look like without scaffolding.

We kick at driftwood along the beach and watch the glint of sun off water. A family sits in the sand. Little fluffy clouds roll over two rocks that jut out from the mainland.

Coastline near Heceta Head Lighthouse, Oregon

After 20 minutes, we head back to our car. A red convertible pulls into the parking lot. Two women emerge and look up to the lighthouse.

“Is it closed?” one of them asks, as if my having been here 20 minutes makes me an expert.

“I'm afraid so,” I reply, startled at my own expertise.

She stares at it in the distance, then turns to her friend, who says nothing.

“I used to love this lighthouse,” she says. “I haven't seen it in 30 years. We came down from Alaska.”

Sure enough, those are Alaska plates on the convertible. I don't have the heart to ask if they came to see things other than this lighthouse.

“Oh well,” she says.

It's a fatalistic admission that hints at defeat. But when one's fate rests with the highway that traces the Oregon coast, victory is almost always just a turn or two away.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Port Orford to Umpqua River Lighthouse

Umpqua River Lighthouse, Oregon

A deer bolts out in front of us on the highway. We see it in plenty of time and wait for it to cross. Still, the jolt of adrenaline lingers.

At the lighthouse we learn that Amos Rogers was the first postmaster of Umpqua City Post Office, established September 24, 1851. This is useful information to know if, for example, you wish to write the preceding sentence.

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area lies just beyond the lighthouse grounds, making this one of the few places along the coast where peace and quiet are scarce. If you like your views accompanied by the rumble of dune buggy engines, this is a great spot.

We do not enter the lighthouse–it belongs to the U.S. Coast Guard and is off-limits to civilians–but mill about the visitors center and learn many other facts that we soon forget. Even the wreck of the Tacoma in 1883 grows fuzzy in our minds as we continue along the coast.

Those who perished in the wreck are buried at nearby Gardiner Cemetery. We are not aware of its existence eight miles north and will pass it unnoticed just across the Umpqua River from Reedsport as we drive toward the next lighthouse, which we will also be unable to enter.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Harris State Beach to Port Orford

Port Orford, Oregon (via Wikipedia)
Food is on our minds as we cross the Klamath, Smith, and Pistol rivers. We also cross the Thomas Creek Bridge, highest in Oregon at roughly 350 feet, en route to Port Orford.

An unassuming town of a little more than 1,000 people, Port Orford was founded in 1856 and later became a shipping port for cedar. In 1941, mayor Gilbert Gable attempted to create an independent State of Jefferson comprising several counties in southern Oregon and northern California. From that proposed state's Proclamation of Independence:

For the next hundred miles as you drive along Highway 99, you are traveling parallel to the greatest copper belt in the far West, seventy-five miles west of here.

The United States government needs this vital mineral. But gross neglect by California and Oregon deprives us of necessary roads to bring out the copper ore.

If you don't believe this, drive down the Klamath River Highway and see for yourself. Take your chains, shovel and dynamite.

Then Pearl Harbor was bombed, and folks' priorities shifted.

The southernmost of Oregon's lighthouses, Cape Blanco Lighthouse, is not far from here. It opened in 1870 and looks like a nice place to visit on our next trip, when we have more time.

Port Orford's motto could be underpromise, overdeliver. Lunch is a prime example. We stop at RedFish because we are hungry and it sits atop a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. There might be better methods for finding a place to eat, but “ooh, pretty” has served us well so far.

It's best not to expect much from small-town restaurants, and we don't, which makes the quality of our meal a welcome surprise. Sandra has crab cakes and clam chowder, while I have a carnitas sandwich. The carnitas is tender, moist, and flavorful. Yeah, it's on the greasy side, but isn't that the point?

We share a Pin-Up Porter from Southern Oregon Brewing Co. in Medford. After a brief rest, we continue north. Our plan had not called for an hour stop here, but the food and the view make it difficult for us to leave.

This place is worth a return visit. I don't know what other hidden treasures the town might hold, but RedFish would not be out of place in many large, cosmopolitan cities. It has the added benefit of not actually being in a large, cosmopolitan city.

Soon, restaurant and town are behind us. The road continues winding along the coast, pregnant with the promise of future lighthouses.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Crescent City to Harris State Beach

Harris State Beach, Oregon

The chief, and perhaps only, complaint that can be lodged against the Oregon coast is this: There are too many places worth stopping at and not enough time.

It would be easy to spend the day lamenting all the spots we must drive past in order to get where we are going. But that requires us to spend time and energy not enjoying everything else, which doesn't sound like much fun.

A half hour out of Crescent City, Harris State Beach appears. We pull off the highway and into a parking lot atop a cliff overlooking the ocean. Should we pause to admire the view?

But wait, there is a road leading further down the cliff. Maybe we should try that instead.

A second lot awaits at the bottom, and it is almost empty. This will be a recurring theme in Oregon: pristine beaches with nobody around to enjoy them. A guy could get spoiled.

We descend a series of zig-zag ramps onto the sand. There are a few families, kids running around while dad reads the paper in a lawn chair. The occasional dog. Driftwood lines the beach, gulls wade in the shallows.

Sandra trades her shoes for flip flops and dips her toes into the water. It is very cold, which is one of the reasons I don't join her. Also, I don't like water.

The sky is clear blue, dotted with a few white clouds. Rock formations peak above the ocean surface maybe a half mile out or so.

Rocks closer to the shore serve as a breakwater... almost. Water shoots through a gap between two large rocks at irregular intervals, forming a pool. Starfish and mussels cling to the rocks. Sometimes the water slips through like syrup on pancakes; other times it crashes against the rocks and spits upward like a busted fire hydrant.

The constant whooshing soothes. Its calming effect could lull us into staying here forever. Mesmerized by the sound of water, we would forget to eat and perish, our remains being absorbed by the earth.

It sounds romantic, in an Old Testament sort of way, but we won't forget to eat. Getting the taste of fast-food “chicken sandwiches” out of our mouths remains a top priority. Becoming one with the beach will have to wait.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Eureka to Crescent City

Crescent City Harbor, Crescent City, California (via Wikipedia)

One place we walked past the night before is Eureka Old Town Coffee and Chocolates. Despite the touristy name, it serves a good cup of coffee (Colombia Supremo in my case) and blueberry scones, which Sandra and I split. With 320 miles ahead of us, we have only a few minutes to indulge.

But we do indulge, and so get a late start out of Eureka after filling our own gas tank one final time. Soon we will be in Oregon, with its incomprehensible ban on self-service.

Stephen Hillenburg, creator of SpongeBob SquarePants, attended Humboldt State, which we drive past before listening to him talk on a podcast about his unusual journey from marine biologist to creator of one of the most popular children's television series in history (which also is a blast for adults–even those without children; there is much to be said for not insulting the intelligence of one's audience).

We drive over the Klamath River, through redwood forest, and past a postcard beach south of Orick. Further up the road, traffic halts along the cliffs about 10 miles south of Crescent City due to the perpetual rebuilding of highway. Everything smells like what air freshener aspires to smell like.

Hillenburg's is a story of perseverance, luck, and the importance of following one's dreams. It is inspirational, as is listening to a chat with Susan Cain on another podcast called Accidental Creative. Cain's best-selling book, Quiet, celebrates the power of introversion and introverts in a society that doesn't always appreciate such qualities or the individuals who exhibit them.

In addition to a book, Cain has written a 16-point manifesto full of gems, including one that speaks to this particular writer:

Everyone shines, given the right lighting. For some, it’s a Broadway spotlight, for others, a lamplit desk.

After the rivers, trees, cliffs, traffic, and podcasts, we reach Crescent City. We wolf down “chicken sandwiches” at a fast-food joint that is trying hard to look like a café. The colors are subdued, there is plenty of open space, and the lighting is soft and inviting.

You could hang out here for a while. You might even call it cool. But the food still tastes like shit.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Leggett to Eureka

Humboldt Bay, Eureka, California

After driving around the tree that you are supposed to drive through, we continue north. We drive through the hamlets of Garberville (not named, alas, after former Atlanta Braves reliever Gene Garber), Rio Dell, and Fortuna.

The highway snakes back to the coast, near the southern end of Humboldt Bay. Our destination of Eureka lies a little further up the road. With 27,000 residents, it is the largest town we've seen since San Francisco. By our current standards, it is a metropolis.

We check into a motel on 4th Street, which doubles as southbound US-101, across from Humboldt Correctional Facility. It is cheap, run down, and three blocks from Lost Coast Brewery.

The brewery is crowded this evening, and we are led to table near the rear entrance, where folks periodically pop in and pick up food to go. Beer posters adorn the walls. Sporting events play on high-definition televisions scattered throughout the room. A couple shoots pool.

You know, it's a pub. Nothing fancy, just comfortable. A welcome stop at day's end.

The food is like the building. Sandra's buffalo chicken salad will be forgotten soon after it is eaten. Same with my turkey sandwich and lemon pepper parmesan french fries.

We sample a variety of beers. Sandra has the Apricot Wheat, which is refreshing and not overbearing in its fruitiness. The Raspberry Brown doesn't work as well but is drinkable.

I have the Pale Ale and 8-Ball Stout. As usual, I prefer the stout. It isn't the best I've ever had, but it's a solid B-minus, a 55 on the 20-80 scouting scale.

After dinner we stroll past the closed shops of old town. We end up at Eureka Boardwalk on the bay, with its boats and hypnotic sunset. The sun doesn't cross the horizon until almost 9 p.m. at this time of year, making the evenings feel endless.

A stiff breeze blows in off the water, and the temperature has dropped from a pleasant 70 degrees on arrival in town to the mid-50s. Tattooed kids who laugh and point for reasons known only to them linger. Everyone else has gone, and we soon follow.

On our way back to the motel, we scout out potential breakfast spots for the next morning. Most places look touristy, but a few show promise. As long as they serve a decent cup of coffee, I'm happy.

The highway remains busy at this late hour. Some guy is sitting on the stairs leading to our room, which feels like it was outdated even in the '70s.

With 4th Street's drunkards and sirens below us, this will not be a restful night. But best not to think about that now, as we drift in and out of sleep before driving to Oregon.