i have adventures (sometimes)

Friday, 5 October 2012

The Dream of the '90s is Alive in Portland

Portland! Where the dream of the '90s is alive (or so the song says - all I really remember from the '90s is Saturday morning KTV and Princess Diana's death). I really should start asking hipsters if I can photograph their beards so I can start a collection. To be fair, I think I saw more bearded hipsters in Seattle, but Portland's definitely in the contest with a fighting chance.

(via Eugene)

I left Seattle on Wednesday morning after arranging a lift to Portland through Ridejoy. I'm not quite brave enough or a free spirit enough to hitchhike on my own, but I reasoned that riding with a strange man from the internet was probably safe enough, so off to Portland I went with Phil from Sacramento and another passenger who was setting off travelling for as long as no one minds looking after her dogs.

Phil is a nice man.
I had sent my Portland CouchSurfing host a few messages to let her know when I'd be arriving and ask for her address, but by the time we reached Portland I still hadn't heard from her, so Phil dropped me off at a Starbucks downtown where I could use their wifi and wait for word, and I killed time there drinking very expensive juice and trying to work out what else I could possibly do all afternoon with a backpack. Travelling with a stranger from the internet and planning my day on my phone while waiting to hear from the stranger from the internet in whose house I'd be staying really made me feel like I was living in the future. It's a pretty good place to live, on the whole. But the juice is expensive here.

Eventually I planned a route (pronunced [raʊt], as we are in America) to the main public library, having been reminded by the one in Seattle that these are places that exist and have internet and spaces for reading. So I lugged my backpack ten or twelve blocks to Multnomah County Library, which is a lovely old building with an eco roof and no armchairs. But I found a quiet table in a corner and read for a bit until I was too tired (having had another wakeful night on the tiny sofa), then pulled out my trusty pillow and dozed off.

I woke up a few minutes later to a security guard tapping on the desk and telling me "The library needs you to stay awake." Thrilled to think that the library needed me, I packed away my pillow and set about my newly appointed sacred duty. Don't worry, library. I've got this one. For the books!

I at last heard from my host and made it to her house with the help of a very friendly bus driver, and met the cat who lives behind the stove. Veronica mentioned that the cat liked to spend time there, but I hadn't realised quite how much - I have yet to see it anywhere else. But I assume it's happy. And hasn't accidentally become glued to the floor, or anything.


I wrote out a list of the things I wanted to do in Portland, and, since the city is logically divided into sections and the streets named accordingly, decided to spend today doing everything with "East" in the street name. Which made for a totally inefficient day of long bus rides up and down and across the city on this side of the river. If I had more time here, I would have a better organising principle.

I started out at The Grotto, more properly but also more sillily called The National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother, which really should have clued me in to what sort of place it was.

The sign should also have been a hint.
I was expecting the nature/religious imagery balance to be in favour of nature, as it was a park, but it was full of statues and shrines and things and didn't have any nice sunny spots for reading in.

I cannot read in Our Lady's Grotto.
Still, it was a beautiful park and I liked the trees and the gardens. There was also a stunning view over the city from the glass-fronted meditation chapel.

Please, do not taunt the flowers.
Oh hey, Portland!

I also walked the labyrinth, which I don't think had the soothing, spiritual effect it was supposed to, because I kept losing my place by dashing out to set my self timer.

Doing the quiet contemplation dance. Contemplatively.
Afterwards I popped to Back to Eden, another place with a Biblical reference in the title, but which made me much less uncomfortable, because I think I would have to put real effort into feeling negative towards a vegan bakery. They were closing because the power was out (it happens in the first world too!), but they let me buy a chocolate coconut cream pie, which I didn't take a picture of because I was too busy eating it. Another bus across town took me to Hungry Tiger Too, where they have a separate vegan menu, and are apparently famous for their vegan corndogs.

I Googled what a corndog was.

I ordered something else.*

Whether the enormous burger was any better for me than a deep fried hotdog sausage on a stick, I have no idea. But it was delicious. And huge.

After eating what I could manage, I waddled down to the vegan mini-mall. Portland has a vegan mini-mall! Oh Portland, you are brilliant. It's a little cluster of shops, including a vegan bakery, a vegan grocery store, a vegan clothing store, and a vegan tattoo parlour. I was tempted by all of them (unless you are my parents, in which case not that last one), but didn't end up buying anything. I was so full that thinking about buying food ever again seemed totally unnecessary (but more realistically I decided to come back another time), the clothes were expensive, and I thought that I should probably give a tattoo a little more thought (unless you are my parents, in which case not that last one). I suspect that feeling like the least tattooed vegan in Portland counts as peer pressure and is not good motivation to get inked, even if there happened to be space on the schedule for me.

Walking the 40-odd blocks home seemed like it might go some way towards countering the feeling that I would never have space to eat another meal, so I did that, then promptly fell asleep on my Kindle.

I don't feel like I accomplished very much today. But I remind myself that, despite the nightmares, my dissertation is in. I am not a student. I am not employed. I am on holiday. And it's ok if reading China Miéville on the bus and overeating at vegan restaurants is all I do in a day. Tomorrow I can scale mountains or see great sights or follow strange signs to new places. Or get a tattoo!

Unless you are my parents, in which case not that last one.

*To be fair, it's not quite as bad as I first thought. I thought they deep fried the whole hotdog, but it's actually just the sausage.


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