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.

Monday, June 24, 2013


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.