I think I’ll stick with my occasional viewings of Portlandia from now on, because Portland, you’re kind of a dump. I love you Powell’s Books, and Deshutes, you were nice too, but the rest of the city? What’s going on? You need a shower and a change of clothes.
And by “I love you Powell’s Books” I mean, I love you Powell’s books, because except for that really bubbly cashier, no one else in that store seemed happy to be there. Employees weren’t particularly eager to help their customers, and the customers, for their part, felt no need to hide the fact that you, their fellow browser, were a major inconvenience to them.
One couple actually squeezed their way in between me and the shelf I was looking at and backed up onto me until I was forced out of the aisle so that they might browse that shelf. I’d never had that happen before. When I looked around me to suddenly realize I was no longer in the aisle, I was actually impressed with them. Then I went and cried in the corner.
I whispered to Dave as we circled a pair of employees at the information desk, “Don’t tell anyone I work for Barnes & Noble, they might kick me out.”
I was joking. Besides, it didn’t matter. They would have had to recognize that Dave and I were there first.
I’d forgotten, this was an independent bookstore. You know who works in corporate, soul-sucking bookstores? College kids, retail lifers, book lovers who thought it’d be neat to work with books all day before corporate America incinerated them from the inside out, and people who probably don’t even read and will do whatever they’re told for a paycheck.
Who works in independent bookstores? Artists. They’re not there to make money or help customers, they’re there to be surrounded by their art man, until they hit it big, you’ll see.
So even though Dave and I were clearly looking for something and talking to each other about where in this two story multi-room bookstore neither of us was familiar with, we could check to look for our Ninja Turtle comic books, the pair at the information desk were content to talk to each other about their preferences in Science Fiction rather then us.
I can understand now why my bosses make such a big deal out of greeting customers on the sales floor, acknowledging that they are in the store, that they exist on the same plane of reality. Most people won’t ask for help, not until they’re engaged first. They really want to believe they can find things on their own, even in a store they’ve never been in before.
I guess I just don’t understand why everyone is so standoffish out here. I know in Buffalo we joke about everyone knowing one another and being overly friendly, and I’m not even looking for that out here anymore. How sad is that? I don’t even want you people to be friendly towards, I would just like you to stop looking through me or flat out ignoring me when I say excuse me, or try to walk down the sidewalk that is actually wide enough for both of us.
It may have been a combination of it being evening and the area of the city we were in, that led to this negative opinion. My friends abandoned us at Powell’s to search for Voodoo Doughnuts and told us to meet them there. It wasn’t too far either, six blocks? Six blocks, two strip clubs, a half-nude mannequin with a painted face and leather fetish, a sketchy as hell gas station, two burned out cars, one stabbing, a stray cat very vocal about its displeasure in being covered by what I hope was only motor oil, a clown on stilts who warned us we were wandering into the Red Triangle Circus Gang’s turf, 37 homeless people is various stages of decomposition, and a very large Cheshire cat that winked at me and then vanished into thin air.
I may have exaggerated that list a little, I’ll let you decide what was made up.
Do you remember in Back to the Future II when Marty first gets to the center of town in the altered timeline, and there’s trashcan fires and motorcycle gangs, and neon lights all around him? That’s how it felt walking down to Voodoo Doughnuts, and this was a Wednesday night. I think on Fridays things really get going when they bring out the Thunderdome and hold homeless death matches. There’s certainly enough contestants, just check any doorway.
The homeless guy that stood three feet from our table outside of Voodoo while we ate our heart disease and yelled, “Change!” repeatedly until finally wandering off to reclaim his section of sidewalk, could be the referee for Thunderdome Portland. He had excellent projection.
I didn’t get a doughnut. I wasn’t in the mood and they were too over the top, wasn’t my kind of place. Sprinkles are as crazy as I get when it comes to doughnuts, and usually, I’m fine with plain. Classic doughnuts, we’ll call them. I don’t need the Captain My Captain with Captain Crunch all over it, the Maple Blazer Blunt or a Cock-N-Balls, or whatever had bacon on it, or twelve dozen other different kinds of diabetes on an overpriced doughnut. You didn’t even know there were that many kinds of the diabeetus did you? You’re welcome.
Even on day two in Portland, when we promised to keep an open mind, we had a hard time getting comfortable. It was just so cold and… trendy. In Canoe, a store on SW Alder Street, there was a carved wooden dog no more than five inches high selling for $130 and watches for over a thousand. Unless these things can stop time, I can’t understand wearing a watch that cost me a month’s wages. But, obviously, that watch isn’t being marketed to someone in my paygrade. I get it, I’m in a city, I’m downtown, things are expensive. But it isn’t that nice a city. We never screamed, “Isn’t it fun to be downtown!” like we normally do on Baseball Trip. Because it wasn’t.
A lot of the stores seemed full of themselves, but we did come upon a gaggle of food shacks on SW Alder between 9th and 11th Streets. At first we thought they were all food trucks, but as we got up closer we realized they were all part of a food marketplace that stretched a couple blocks.
After the eighth text from our friends to meet them on Sixth Street (no cross street, just Sixth) we decided we should head over, since clearly, based on their insistence to meet them there, there must be naked women handing out free beer down there.
We didn’t make it that far, instead coming upon 12th Street and Burnside. There we found some cool restaurants, the winner for lunch being Henry’s 12th Street Tavern. A little fancier looking inside then its name implies, it had an extensive beer selection, including a Rye IPA made only for the restaurant. Also they had a burger stuffed with cheese, bacon, onions and jalapeños, then topped with more cheese. More importantly, they had waffle fries smothered in Gouda.
Henry’s was a great bookend to our Portland trek, since the evening before we’d started out at Deschutes Brewery on 11th and Davis for dinner. Our reason for going there was fifty/fifty; amazing beer and elk burgers. Out of nine of us, six got flights which let those guys sample six different beers, so between us we pretty much tried everything they had that was worth trying.
There were t-shirts purchased, glasses stolen and burgers destroyed. The place was a little touristy, but our waiter was great, the beer was awesome and the food offered us a few things we’d never had before. What more could you ask for? Another pretzel. That’s what more I could ask for: that giant circular soft pretzel with its spicy mustard and melted cheese dipping sauce was tits; I could have eaten twelve more and left Portland a happy camper.
Instead, a cable car ripped off our side mirror, I wandered into the Biff Tannen Pleasure Paradise and for the first time in my life seriously questioned whether or not I was going to be stabbed to death over a doughnut. Eh, what are you gonna do?
On to Seattle, I guess….
“On a scale of one to ten,” Alan asked, “what do you think this place is gonna like?”
After leaving San Francisco and checking out some bitchin’ redwoods, we were on our way to the California/Oregon border, the halfway point on our drive up to Portlandia. What? It’s just Portland? It doesn’t have—you know, nevermind. Tomato tomahto, let’s move on…
So we’re heading to the border where we had booked a beach house at this insanely low price. The drive out there was starting to remain me of the drive through Canada to the Long Beach/Dunnville area, and maybe this is pretty standard for the beach front vacation property type areas: rural. There are trailer parks, farmland boarded up motels and not much else. And as we start wondering if this place is legit, and much like my first drive up to Long Beach a lifetime ago, this ominous fog starts rolling in.
OK, most of the drive was shrouded in fog, but this particular stretch of highway seemed to really want to stick it to us. The fog is rolling in and we keep talking about how this reservation we have is really just an over-the-phone “handshake” deal. “Bring a check or a credit card,” the guy told Tony, when he booked the single night for us, “I’ll be there to let you in.”
So Tony brought a check. Not his checkbook, because who would do that? A single blank check. I know, because we almost left it in San Fran. Because it was a single check.
But how legit can this place be, we wondered. We’re all pretty into true crime shows and horror movies. We know how this kind of thing starts. We’re in the Pacific Northwest, the rural fog-covered northwest where none of us have had decent cell reception and no one has smiled at us. Thirty years ago, this corner of the country was teeming with serial killers. It was, just ask Ann Rule. Her entire career blossomed due to the plethora of serial killers that operated throughout this region back in the day, and probably still do.
Not only can we not call for help, but no one knows where we are. All anyone knows is that we’re renting a house in a part of the country with an astounding number of serial killers and pretty much still looks like the late eighties.
Bridgett always remarked that it was curious that there were a bunch of serial killers operating in the Pacific Northwest. Driving through it, we know why that was. There’s nothing there. There are a lot of places to hide a body so no one will ever find it. Like everywhere. Again, very rural country, no one knows where we’re going, or when we should arrive. No one’s going to miss us for a few days and by then some crazy backwoods guy posting ads for nonexistent beach houses will have us all chopped and scattered throughout the fog covered woods of the southern Oregon coast.
An honestly, the people out there aren’t that friendly. Maybe we’re spoiled being from Buffalo, maybe we really our that friendly in Western New York that we’ve come to take it for granted that when we smile and say hi to a complete stranger on the street or the bus or in an elevator that they’ll smile and say hi back. Or at least acknowledge us. Or even move to the side and share the elevator with us, the sidewalk, their air. We’re looking for any sign that we’re not dead already and on some kind of ghost road trip. Is that why its so foggy? Is this the netherworld? Did the plane crash over Omaha and this has all been some kind of Purgatory? Why won’t you people smile at us?
George is upfront navigating and is ticking off the miles and time to our destination:
“Six miles, should arrive in five minutes… five point two miles, five minutes… Four miles… Still five minutes….”
The fog is getting thicker. The wipers are on. We’re getting closer, the distance ticking down slowly, but each time he updates it we’re still five minutes away.
“This is either going to be a ten or a one,” Bridgett says, “There’s no middle ground. It’s either going to be the greatest place ever or we’re going to wake up dead tomorrow!”
“Well, we’re going to find out in 360 feet,” George says, “And in five minutes.”
I take out my phone and scroll through the too many apps until I find the one with movie theme songs. I waiting for a quiet moment in the fog to play the open credits of the Exorcist, the only horror movie in that app. It gets a nervous laugh.
We pull into the driveway of a blue two-story house with an attached two car garage. To the left is a freestanding three car garage with a door and window on the end that seems like an attached apartment, and for a moment I’m convinced we’re sleeping on cots in this guy’s garage before he pumps homemade chlorine gas through the vents and dismembers us naked in his homemade killing room while listening to the soundtrack to Beaches.
And there’s no one there. We go to the front door, we look around back. There’s a shadowy figure we can see through the side window who appears to be folding towels?
The guy finally comes out and doesn’t smile or seem to know he’s interacting with other human beings. Shocking. He shows us down to the “beach house”, which is actually just the finished basement of his house.
The fucking awesome finished basement! This place was amazing! There was a kitchen, two bedrooms, full bathroom, dining area, living room, friggin massive stone fireplace facing the living room (the back of which was the wall of the hallway leading to one of the bedrooms) and sliding glass doors off the kitchen, dining room and back bedroom.
There was a wall of DVDs amd VHS tapes (VHS! He had a VCR down there!) that had every movie ever and included all three Librarian movies, the greatest movies ever. Those sliding doors led out into the yard with a covered patio and nice meandering path to the beach.
Oh, and there was a hot tub.
We ran down to stick our feet in the ocean just because we could, even though it was freezing and the fog blocked a decent view of the horizon. Even grey and foggy the ocean was beautiful, and the waves crashing against the black rocky beach was enough to rock us to sleep right then and there.
Instead we crammed eight idiots in a hot tub and got drunk on West Coast craft beer while Katie and George built a roaring fire to warm us while we watched the Librarian.
As Tony put it, “Best baseball trip ever, turds!”
Well, at least until I woke up the next morning to this:
We turned onto the Avenue of the Giants and I fell asleep. I wasn’t impressed. There wasn’t much going on along the side of the road. These trees weren’t that great, just your average side of the road trees and brush.
I woke up to a car door slamming. We’d stopped along the side of the road and when I looked out the window, shaking the groggy backseat sleep out of my eyes, I realized we were there: this was the real Avenue of the Giants.
Now, I know there are bigger trees out there. What is it, the General Sherman, that’s the largest living sequoia? I’m sure that one dwarfs what we were looking up at as we climbed out of the cars, but we’d never seen anything like this before.
On our way to the Avenue we stopped at Drive-Thru Tree Park where, yes, you could drive through a redwood. Sadly, we were worried our Dodge Caravan wouldn’t make it through (even though later a guy totally squeezed his through, and then got his picture taken standing on top of his car as the front stuck out of the tree) so we didn’t get to drive through. We still walked into that tree and climbed all over the others that had been cut or fallen down. There were snapshots, low angle shots, selfies, sunglass selfies, double sun-sunglass selfies, sweep panoramic shots, and super low angle shots that involved laying down and getting sap all over my back.
As cool as watching a van drive through a redwood tree is, its got nothing on the Avenue of the Giants. We like nature, my friends and I, we go outside a fair amount. No one on this trip shies away from a hike, but we’re by no means hardcore outdoorsmen. Still, we all hugged some trees. Or at least tried to.
It isn’t just trees though, which is nice. A few of us took our chances climbing down a path when we spotted water through the trees. Well, path is an exaggeration. I say path, you might say it was for runoff to the riverbed below, while Katie might say, “Don’t break your neck, you’re in Chucks!”
Maybe not optimal climbing footwear, but I made it down there in one piece. I’m not so good eyeballing distance so let’s say we were about thirty feet below the road at that point in this little river valley. The water was moving through pretty well although the riverbed was pretty exposed. Mountains bookended the valley in the distance and this unending wind gusted through. Not quite yelling but still raising our voices to hear each other over the wind, the handful of us that made it down spread out to get different views of the forest reaching up around us.
Standing on the rocks down there I realized why people go fly fishing, why they would stand out in a river all day casting back and forth. There was something about walking on the rocks of the riverbed, being at the low point of that valley with the wind racing through it after emerging from this towering forest of redwoods.
I couldn’t help but stand there, turning slowly to take it all in, a small, goofy smile on my face. It’s natural, I suppose, to have a feeling of utter insignificance when standing on a spot like that; your presence there among trees whose lifespans are measured in millennia, being so brief and unnoticeable.
Or you marvel in it. You can turn slowly and smile and breathe deep as you realize that for this small amount of time you’re walking through these giants, you are a part of something greater, that you are experiencing something of the history of the world you live in.
And like every one of us did at some point walking through the redwoods, you can stop and look up, lose yourself a little in the swaying of those tree tops hundreds of feet and thousands of years above you, and say, “Wow.”