Saturday, July 12, 2014

Photo Essay: Pacific Northwest in Spring

Making lacto-fermented pickles in SE PDX.
One of the great tragedies of my youth is the years I spent living in San Francisco but never traveling outside of the same 10-block, 1-mile radius.

Albeit there was plenty to do within my neighborhood: plenty of people to meet, befriend, de-friend, dine with, drink with and sleep with. Many adventures would be had between my first arrival in the Paris of the West in the late summer of 1997 to the present, but too much of it was contained in that small slice of the Mission District.

It's not that I went nowhere: siblings in New York City and Seattle begged my presence from time to time, as well as family obligations and friends in Cleveland, Columbus, Kent and upstate New York. I made two trips to Firenze, Toscano, Italia, the surrounding wine country and a day trip to Roma.

It wasn't until about 2008 when work had me spending significant time on the road in places like Phoenix, Arizona and Thousand Oaks, California that I began to feel that I was not content spending my life in the same dive bars in the Mission. (For the record, Thousand Oaks is decidedly not Los Angeles, which was how the job was pitched to me ... but that's a story for my memoirs.)

It was during a period of unemployment between one crappy contract and another that I first traveled up to Portland, Oregon – perhaps as early as 2010 but certainly no later than 2011 – and I found the city to be utterly charming and so returned again and again. Later I added Eugene to my Oregon portfolio, anchored by friends who live there.

Eugene is a special place: a poorer, less urban, enthusiastically genuine and truly quirky sister city to tony Portland.

Speaking of siblings, I frequently add Seattle to my Pacific Northwest junkets to visit my older sister and her husband.

I went to Portland and Eugene this last May after fulfilling a self-issued challenge to not drink for 45 days (the interval between the 14th of March and the 30th of April, culminating in treating myself to my yearly Jason Isbell concert, this time at the Fillmore).

I managed to hold out not drinking until I got to the Horsehead Bar in Eugene, my albatross.

Here's the story in pictures, some highlights and some new discoveries.

Some scurrilous vandal has defaced the BART Police signage.
I flew out of SFO to PDX on Virgin America, which put me in SFO's newly renovated Terminal 2.

The first thing you notice after clearing security is that Terminal 2 has a yoga room.

The concessions in the new terminal are a cut above normal airport food (in quality as well as price), featuring California cuisine inspired, Whole Foods shopper friendly food stuffs and more wine bars than you can throw a stick at.

A United heavy taxiing to the runway.
Inferior kombucha.
SFO's new control tower currently under construction.
In America we have choices.
San Francisco maps display in Terminal 2.

Choices! America!
Posh lounge.
And we're off, in our chill disco lounge in the sky.
In air travel they say all take-offs are optional and all landings are mandatory (in short, "what goes up must go down").

Luckily we managed to get all the tires on the tarmac in the right order despite a slight cross-wind on approach.

Pilots use a technique called "crabbing" to swing gently from side to side relative to the glide-path to prevent being blown off course, lining up at the last minute.

This can be disconcerting to novice travelers but it is par for the course for me.

Still, I wondered if my monkish devotion to avoiding adult beverages was foolhardy considering I had spent a little extra money to be seated in Virgin America's Main Cabin Select, the airline's answer to "business class" providing passengers with free food and drink.

My first order of business was some late night grocery shopping with my host. I got it in my head that we'd make some pickles (or, to be exact, vegetables pickled in the vinegar created through lactobacillus acidophilus bacteria grown spontaneously in a saline brine using food- and airborne spores).


Next order of business the following day was sandwiches from Woodsman Tavern and Deli and some records.


Sure, we all love Goldie Hill, but the power-pop stylings of Marshall Crenshaw can't be beat!

Of course no trip out of town is complete without at least two hastily organized meet-ups with friends from disparate parts of the city at some semi-central location (usually a bar).

My host guided me to the B-Side Tavern, which is just a block or so from one of two Sizzle Pies in Portland and the Doug Fir (attached to the Jupiter Hotel, which I have stayed at a few times – each room comes with a pair of complimentary condoms placed on the pillow, like mints).

We only stayed for a drink (mine a bitters and soda) since my host's friend wasn't working but I snapped some nice photos of the decor.

Requisite woman with tattoos and dyed hair.
Spot the SF stickers.
We went further into PDX's NE to tuck into dinner, meeting up with a friend of mine from high school and another friend of mine who was a former coworker from Milwaukee (a town, I promise you, Chowbacca will visit soon – MKE is a hip city!).

We all descended on The Alleyway. My host was inadvertently wearing the colors of the local team (the Portland Trail Blazers, on the hunt for the Finals). So were a number or other folks at the bar, intentionally, and the game was just starting when we arrived.

We ordered drinks and made way to the outdoor beer garden adjacent to the bar.

After about an hour of sipping bitters and soda and watching other tables get really good looking bar food, our party was finally complete – I had been waiting on the last stragglers to finish their shifts and cross town to join us before ordering food.

I ordered The Alleyway's version of a cheesesteak sandwich, substituting sweet potato fries for onion rings (instead they gave me both) and an order of hush puppies to share. Being of sober mind I can remember now even months later that it was pretty good grub.

My friend from high school pointed out that I was sitting at the business end of a tag someone had made on the picnic table at which we we seated.


Kismet?
cDc is everywhere!
The next day my time in the beautiful City of Roses, Portland, Oregon, was almost up. I had promised my high school friend that we would hang out for brunch, so my host and I drove over to her house in the North-East.

"I like this part of town, it reminds me of Cleveland," noted my high school friend.

"How do you mean..."

"Well, for one thing..." a neighbor walked by, an elderly African-American woman in shorts, a tank top and flip-flops, whistling a tune. My high school friend stopped mid-sentence to issue a friendly shout-out to the neighbor who smiled and waved back. "See, like that."

"Got it, black folks."

For whatever reasons – definitely outside of the scope of this blog – San Francisco and Portland are segregated cities. People are now becoming more keenly aware of how divided San Francisco is during the current housing and income crisis, but it has been segregated for generations. Portland is so acutely monochromatic that some folks refer to the city as "Whitelandia," which is a bit unfortunate given the region's troubling association with white supremacist movements and other fringe cults.

For me it's a relief to see that Portland isn't as monochrome as people often accuse it, but there's certainly room for improvement.

Me, my host, my high school friend and her friend who we will call Jackie all walked over to the Grain and Gristle for brunch (well, after surveying closer venues with much longer lines – and making the appropriate Portlandia references along the way).

Jackie is a wonderfully mouthy back-of-the-house (kitchen, for non-restaurant people) gal with a big smile and bright, brown eyes. Every other word out of her mouth made my normally non-prudish host blush slightly.

I had soft scrambled eggs over trout mousse on crostini topped with a fennel salad, which I quite enjoyed.

We posed for photos in front of the Grain and Gristle after lunch, where Jackie surreptitiously stole a kiss from me and whispered something in my ear that probably made me blush quite a bit.

Stay delightfully left-wing, Portland!

Obligatory PNW weather.

We got along famously! (Photo credit: K Franklin Porter, ©2014)
And like that, having stolen or (had stolen from me?) a kiss from a wide-eyed young lady, I was off to Portland's Union Station.

I provisioned some cold cuts and a mousse from Olympic Provisions made of pork liver.

I bought a new hat.

Trains, fool!


Meenk.

I have learned my lesson using people's real names on this blog: unwilling or unknowing participants in my little travelogs can rightfully become defensive as to how I portray them, since it is impossible to remember each detail with crystal clarity. Details merge, are summarized and stylized and committed to "print" in a form that often has more relation to my perception of the essence of an event, quote or anecdote and less to reality (to be fair, the first person to take issue did so in a rather hyperbolic way, but ultimately I was the culpable party).

That's why we have noms de plume like The Kombucha Man, Number Two, AGF and Sparky.

The exception of course being willing participants and public figures.

Meenk is a long standing and well-known nom de plume, a woman who is equal parts artist, muse, caregiver, rockstar, brilliant writer with the face of a supermodel and the mind of a rocket scientist.

She's also fragile, damaged, carries the weight of a lot of personal tragedy and has lived a fuller life at 30 than most will have at 90.

She is the reason I keep returning to Eugene.

Having made no attempt to plan my visit in a sensible manner I was left to fend for myself for several hours between my arrival at the Eugene, Oregon Amtrak Station that afternoon and Meenk's shift at a local hospital ending later that evening.

I swore I wouldn't be drinking so I didn't want to camp out at the patio of the Horsehead Bar in downtown Eugene, so I looked into booking a hotel room.

Usually Meenk and I would platonically share her memory foam mattress (or at least until it became too hot for me or if her space-heater of a cat, Maynard, wanted to cuddle). Otherwise I'd happily crash on her couch, and although she doesn't seem to mind my snoring and apnea, her boyfriend suffers from severe insomnia and so she figured my presence might exacerbate the problem.

I booked a ZipCar and started looking at hotels.

I did all these things and my phone died moments later from lack of charge.

I spent an agonizing hour in a sports bar near the local college (University of Oregon), on graduation weekend (city full of parents and younger siblings), while the local NBA franchise was poised to win a crucial game of the Divisional. I chewed joylessly on a iceberg wedge salad that was more ranch and cheese and meat than lettuce.

When my phone finally had enough juice I booked a hotel room on the other side of town. I gave the majority of my "salad" to a grateful indigent person outside the bar.

I had enough time to head back to the hotel for a bit, check in, shower and maybe go for a swim in the pool. I discovered the pool was closed, despite it being 80ºF during the day that weekend – this irked me as I had paid some not insignificant amount more to book a hotel with a pool and I thought about complaining to the hotel manager but decided that the frustration of that exercise outweighed the inconvenience.

I stood under a stream of hot water trying to escape my own thoughts.

I idly clicked around the hotel TV for a while, checked work emails, Facebooked, lied down on top of the sheets with the air conditioning blasting. Then it was time to return my car.

I was irritable, listless, road-worn and weary. I walked a mile and some change in the evening air past frat houses that eventually gave way to cute, quiet little homes with tree lined streets and then finally back to downtown Eugene, to the Horsehead.

Like an albatross around my neck the Horsehead would bring an end to this last lengthy period of sobriety.

Bottom's up.
This skeleton is made for torn up paper, by hand, one bone at a time. The man pictured holding it up started the project just over a year prior. In addition to being a talented sculptor he's also an autodidact and lively conversationalist. If you see this man at the Horsehead you should definitely offer to buy him a drink.
Welcome to Eugene, college students!

Brunch in Eugene.

My friend (pictured below, on the left, brandishing a knife at Meenk's boyfriend) had wanted to go to a vegan café for brunch, an idea I was willing to entertain in exchange for the privilege of seeing her for the first time in a decade.

The line was long and the wait was something like an hour.

Meenk promptly declared, "fuck this vegan bullshit. It's brunch and I want fucking bacon! Let's go across the street to the Jackalope. Plus they have beer."

Done and done. (Sorry KK.)

That's pretty much all that needs to be said about the food at the Jackalope. It is pub fare of pretty good quality. It may have been more interesting as an exercise in discipline and for the sake of the story to have eaten at the vegan café – I do not hate vegan food, I just prefer flesh.

I made up for my friend KK's breakfast of french fries by buying her a generous amount of beers, which lead to us breaking away to buy tobacco in a store a block down the street that sells the genius combination of: cigarettes, wine, beer, vinyl records and, if you like, guitars.

(The store is called the Museum of Unfine Art & Records.)

Some day I will return from Eugene with a custom Ibanez 7-string.

Today was not that day.

No buskers were harmed in the making of this post.
This was probably followed by a lively Pogues cover, which was then followed by the bartender gently asking us not to busk in front of the bar.
Jackalope Lounge, next to Eugene Amtrak.
Southbound Coast Starlight.
--

Horsehead Bar

Woodsman Tavern and Deli

B-Side Tavern

Doug Fir

Jupiter Hotel

The Alleyway

Sizzle Pie

Grain and Gristle

Olympic Provisions

Jackalope Lounge

Museum of Unfine Art & Records