Friday, June 19, 2009

I really really wanna work for the Oregon Deptartment of Tourism (or whatever it's actually called)

I just got back from yet another trip to the greater Portland, Oregon-area and the city of Portland/state of Oregon has further and deeper hardwired itself into my future. The only problem I face now is that I have so many things that I already love, my default-traveling-mindset of exploration conflicts with my desire to revisit guaranteed-superfantasticness when I visit.

But given that my trip would be essentially three days meant that I was going to have to make choices. Since I wasn't getting into town until 11:45 Sunday night and leaving Wednesday after dinner, that ruled out the Saturday (and Sunday) Market in downtown. I also scuttled checking out a Portland Beavers AAA baseball game, which I had enjoyed very much the previous two trips.

After Bill picks me up at PDX (recently voted best airport in the United States for the third consecutive year), we head to his condo in Beaverton (just outside of Portland proper and much nearer his job at a tony suburban high school). I proceed to kick his ass at Madden 2008 on the Wii but then lose the second game. [Aren't you glad you follow my blog, Mouse? You get updates about me playing video games!]

The only solid plans for Monday are to head to Powell's City of Books in downtown—literally the greatest bookstore in the United States. It's the Amoeba Music of books. A full city block of anything and everything word/publishing related, but unlike Amoeba they do online orders.

First is lunch. Now apart from the people (three of my best friends from college are in the metro area), the food is the primary reason I love Portland. It's a beer-lover's paradise with great bars and microbrew pubs everywhere. Last time I indulged at the Widmer and Rogue Publick houses. I would have loved to have returned this time, but fortunately my exploration side won this battle, with a great find from Bill.

We opted to check out Hopworks Urban Brewery, which according to its website is Portland’s first Eco-Brewpub to offer all organic handcrafted beers, fresh local ingredients, and a sustainable building with a relaxed and casual atmosphere. Beer + environmentalism = Portland more than almost anything. The beer is solid, not amazing, but certainly no complaints. I try a red and a stout (I think). The food on the other hand was very strong. As an appetizer we split the soft pretzel, which came out as three long sticks on soft pretzel lightly salted with sea salt. A slight exterior crunchiness but warm chewiness inside. Served with stone ground mustard (superfresh). I got the Portabella Mushroom sandwich, which was also excellent. Bill got one of the organic pizzas. Add the al fresco dining under sunny skies in 72-degree temps and it might have been perfect. As someone who loves beer and the Earth, this place is making a strong case for the Portland MUST-LIST.

Next stop Powell's. Fortunately, we get only an hour in the parking meter, because I could have stayed there for the entire afternoon. I end up with six books ... used editions of Malcolm Gladwell's Blink and The Tipping Point, and Daniel Yergin's The Prize (a history of the oil industry) and then new editions of Maus, Shopcraft as Soulcraft and The Kingdom and the Power. $71 in the end, but I was helpign the Oregon economy, right? Btw, in that hour I investigated at most 20 percent of the store and most of that was rather cursory. This is literally an entire day store.

After Powell's just kinda tooled around downtown, walking the Pioneer Courthouse district and getting coffee at one of the 54,000 Starbucks that are located in Portland.

For dinner we went to my second favorite bar in the world, The Kennedy School, which is owned by McMenamin's brewers. I had previously referred to this as a MUST when visiting Portland, so this was one of the few things hardwired into the itinerary. Sadly, we had pretty gawful service just slooooooooooooooooooooooooow with no sincere acknowledgement of the delays bringing beers or even asking how we're doing. But it'll take more than bad service to keep me from coming back.

Monday night was highlighted by a stop at the Firehouse Pub in Lake Oswego, Bill's first official I'm-such-a-regular-I'm-the-furniture-bar. This place is great ... cheap, chill, super local friendly and lots of cheap Pabst, which according to Bill is the hipster beer du jour in Portland. Then it's more Madden on the Wii as we had an early morning Tuesday meeting our college friend Robb for breakfast (ended up at Biscuits, a local greasy spoon kinda chain that actually had quite excellent eggs benedict with avocado sub'd for canuck bacon) and then heading up to Mount St. Helens.

On to Mount St. Helens, which much to my surprise is just two hours from Portland. One actually gets to the outer edge of the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in about an hour, but that's just to the Welcome Center to the park. [Odd note: unlike other National Parks I've been to, there's no single entry point that charges for a day pass. Instead you pay a la carte.]

It costs $3 to get into the Welcome Center, which has a gift shop, short film and a dozen informational displays. Gift shop overcrowded. Informational displays, kinda cool, especially the old front pages of the newspapers (coincidentally Iran was all over the front pages back in spring 1980, too). The film was HORRIBLE. The subtitles looked like they were made by an old Apple IIe. The script was overwrought, over-written melodramatic crap that opened with playing on the origin of the world "volcano" which is traced to the mythological figure Vulcan "Blacksmith of the Gods." Now imagine some shadowy burly figure hammering red-hot metal on an anvil with sparks in the background as the authoritative woman states this. UGH.

The really sad thing is that the movie had great interviews, photos and information about the eruption. At just 15ish minutes I might still recommend it, b/c of how much you can learn, but it's a really tough call.

But if you go, the main thing you must do is get to the Johnston Ridge Observatory. This is the fourth and final park-service post. It's on the ridge across from the northh face of the mountain, which is what erupted/disappeared. Gorgeous views of the blast and still very present and obvious destruction. Sadly, none of my pictures really do the sight justice. It's still primarily barren with just giant gashes in the land. And the former site of Spirit Lake is just mostly ashen dust.

Johnston Ridge is named after David Johnston who died while on lookout during the runup to the eruption (they knew it was going to blow because of near constant seismic activity in the months before the blast). His last words: "Vancouver, Vancouver. This is it." That's Vancouver, Washington.

These famoust last words brought out a new side in Bill, the guy who tries to be the most annoying person to travel with at a National Park. Prior to getting to Johnston Ridge (JR) I put the over/under at four (knowing full well it'd be way more. But I figured that if I told him four he might curtail it). for the number of times Bill would quote that while we tooled around at the Johnston Ridge center. He had already said it about 20 times.

However, despite easily blowing by the over/under, Bill wasn't even close to the most annoying person at Johnston Ridge. He wasn't even second.

Having been underwhelmed by the poor-excuse-for-even-a-home-movie at the Welcome Center we skip the film at JR. Instead we hike around a short trail up to a higher viewpoint and then decide to sit in on the ranger talk. Now as I'm sure most of us have experienced, rangers and docents at national parks and museums often use metaphors to explain science to the masses. Our ranger's metaphor and demo tool to explain the pressure building up in the magma dome, was the soda bottle.

"Now," he yells out to make sure he has the entire 60-person group's attention. "Imagine, that this shaken soda bottle is the pressurized magma dome ..."

"OK!" exclaims some tool in the audience in response to the rhetorical set up.

Laughter ensues among the rubes surrounding enthusiastically sarcastic guy's anti-witty response. The ranger actually seems thrown off by this guy, which sends a shudder down my spine. Will this guy now punctutate every rhetorical set up or even pause with his own MST3K-for-idiots-type-responses? Will the crowd continue to reward his indulgent showing off? Will I have to throw him over the protective barrier into the valley below? Sure that's lots of ash, but it's not thick enough anymore to protect his bones from shattering on the rocks. After that 1-second, shudder, we resume listening. And luckily, idiot commenter guy learned from Costanza that it's always better to leave 'em wanting more and he's never heard from again.

Then comes someone else who supertrumped Bill and his endless recitations of "Vancouver, Vancouver. This is it." Ranger explains that when a volcano in the South Pacific erupted it spewed so much ash into the sky that the Earth's temperature dropped by three degrees the next year or two. Whoa! I am actually kinda blown away by this really interesting nugget about nature's awesome power.

"So maybe that'll help with global warming," chimes in the woman next to the ranger.

The only redeeming aspect of this anti-funny comment, was that her comment everyone forgot to laugh. My annoyance has reached the kind that one feels in middle school at people one feels superior to, which is why I used the fourth-grader comeback in the previous sentence.

After leaving the volcano we head back to Portland so we can meet up with Bill's parents and have dinner at 110-year-old Jake's Famous Crawfish in downtown, which according to its website is one of the top 10 seafood restaurants in the United States. I'm not sure that I've been to many more than 10 seafood restaurants in the States, but I can't imagine how this wouldn't be on a list like that. I got the rockfish and dungeness crab in garlic sauce. This is one of the 10 best meals I've ever had. The rockfish was flaky/creamy smooth. The crab took the tasty rockfish and elevated it to god-quality food. Jake's, it should be noted, prints a new menu EVERYDAY to reflect what's fresh from the sea. It's not cheap, so I cannot say that it's a MUST, but it's a wish-for without a doubt.

There was excellent wine and good scotch and Irish coffee, too. OK, the story now turns. I had a scotch neat before dinner. At least three and a half glasses of wine during dinner and then an Irish coffee. In fact, I had so much to drink that I even smoked a post-dinner cigarette. That's never a good sign of the direction a night is headed.

After dinner, Andy (from Vegas), Bill and I head to the Old Market Pub. This place is much bigger than the Firehouse, but similar in terms of the friendly townie place. They also have the longest shuffle board tables in history. Seriously these tables are like 18 feet long. We proceed to play king of the table with Bill sweeping through Andy and I. Meanwhile, we're of course indulging in some fine red ale by the pitcher. As the only one not driving ... let's just say I wasn't really monitoring how much I was drinking.


I remember beating in the final game of shuffleboard. I don't remember leaving the bar, though. ... After the game the next, thing I remember is apologizing in the car for feeling really really sick, and saying pull over a lot (though Bill knows me well enough to ignore those pleas b/c I never puke). ... Yelling to leave me in the car and let me sleep there because moving could make me puke. There was more drunken apologizing, which I kinda do a lot. ... Someone reaches in and pulls me out of the front seat, I go worse than dead weight and shift around so that I am near-impossible to carry. Carrier manages. ... Wake up on living room floor lying on comforter at 8:30 a.m. Back to sleep. ... Wake up 10 a.m. go talk to Bill to find out what happened.

Apparently, after leaving the The Old Market Pub there was talk of hitting another bar. But I literally dropped off a cliff in terms of sobriety and nausea. So Bill knew that he had to get me home. Once I got home, he called Andy b/c Bill knew that he couldn't get me out of the car with my being so resistant. Ultimately, Andy went fireman's carry-style to get my carcass.

Final day in Portland is spent sleeping, kicking Bill's ass at Madden and then heading home.

Ahhhhhh, Portland.

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