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


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.