Thursday, March 21, 2013

Spring Break Day 5: My Baby Takes the Morning Train


            I left Seattle this morning at 7:15, bound for Portland. It was amazingly romantic to see the clouds go from night black to slightly lighter back, then a fully day-bright medium grey. Then we were out in the Washington countryside, which looks exactly like the Iowa countryside, but damper. Not as many fields, I suppose, but the exact same number of surfacing killer whales in Puget Sound DESPITE WHAT I WAS PROMISED BY TOURISM FOOTAGE. Although, about halfway into our three hour train ride, we did see a killer rainbow, which Pat promptly slept through.
Took the window seat too, the bastard.
            For all those of you who haven’t traveled by train, let me just say- Keep it up. Trains are like planes (automobiles) but without the awesome take off and landing thing. Or the speed. Or the flying part. So really, they’re nothing like planes save uncomfortable seats and jerks surrounding you. I know that my entries have been much less exciting ever since I blew my load with poetic descriptions of unknown cities beneath me, but to be fair, I said that was only because planes put me in that mood. Trains do the opposite. They inspire boredom and uncreativity in me and practically shank any sort of muse I have.
            The only thing poetic I could think of to talk about on that train ride was the large wooden docks that had long since broken down, with only the piers remaining. Whether they were signs of a better time, their support towers the last remaining piece of history after a flood, or just the Pacific Northwest’s equivalent of a dilapidated barn, I couldn’t quite figure out. Instead, I put my foot on my knee and hoped I wouldn’t lose all circulation.
            Immediately, I did. To add insult to slight discomfort, the man in front of me tipped his leather chair back four inches. You may recognize this amount as not enough to give him any sense of reclining, but more than necessary to bang into my knees. He turned, glared at me for interrupting his needless invasion of my leg room, then tried again after I uncrossed my feet. Because he is a bad person and deserves to be called out on this blog that reaches dozens of people every week, I’ll tell you that after leaning the chair back, he sat with his elbows on his knees. Then moved to a different chair. All while the thing was leaning backwards.
            I’m sorry, you don’t want to be bored by completely appropriate stories about train jerks (more like trained jerks!) when I’m supposed to be boring you with tales of Portland. We got off of the train, and decided .7 miles isn’t too far to walk to a hotel, since buses charge $2.50 or something. Unfortunately, this distance was across a large bridge where many passers-by could see me carrying my huge duffel bag full of what is probably now all dirty laundry, thanks to what I assume is the completely scientifically-accurate concept of filth contagion. But we got to our hotel, a “I guess let’s stop here for the night since I'm falling asleep at the wheel” number with a small countertop in the main office for the continental breakfast.
            Portland is different from Seattle. I know that much is obvious, since one city has a middling NBA team while the other is trying to get an even worse team to replace a recent hole there. But there’s a fundamental difference you can feel, like a change in pressure. I wish I could tell you that one city smelled different or something, but really, my nose is stuffed, and I couldn’t lie to you.
            Maybe my view is impacted because on Pat and I’s first trip into town, we were yelled at by a biker for not walking in a single file line on the sidewalk across the bridge. Jerk. Then, in our area of downtown Portland, which is called the Pearl District, we discovered that the city has the highest rate of crazy muttering people per capita of the Pacific Northwest. I was not having a great time until we reached our destination.
            Well, really, the part before our destination where we ate at Little Big Burger. I recommend this place. It gets a “buy”. The only problem with it, and this seems to be a reoccurring theme in this area, is that if you pay for anything food or drink related with a debt card, there’s a line on the receipt for a tip. As a waiter back home, it hurts my soul to make just a little dash across that line. But I mean, come on, you’re a cashier, not a waitress. Your food is dope and the fries are the Real Deal, but it wasn’t that tough. I wouldn’t be so adamant about this if I didn't still feel a little guilty about it.
            After the burger place (which was sorely missing some dope Cheeseboats) Pat and I went to Powell’s City of Books. Ohmygod you guys. I’m not one of those weird people who buys books by the poundage, but I also recognize when something is crazy awesome. Powell’s City is a maze of a bookstore, meandering around multicolored departments and three different floors, spread across an entire city block. That means there’s a self-described 68,000 square foot space crammed to the ceilings in books. For awesome prices too. I mean, I bought four books in reasonably good condition (they buy and sell used books too) and it was under forty bucks for the whole shebang. In order of escalating respectability, I bought How to Archer: The Ultimate Guideto Espionage and Style and Women and Also Cocktails Ever Written by Sterling Archer (already finished this. If you like I am America by Stephen Colbert and Archer the TV show, you’ll like it), A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (let’s face it that one is mainly can say “Oh, yes I indeed have read Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, why don’t we go back to your place to discuss it?”), and Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville. All in all, I’m a smart guy.
This is one small aisle. It's about forty feet to the end. The fifth shelf is eye level.
            Walking back from the store that gave us paper bags to hold our paperback books in, it began to pour. We ran to find a bus stop to take us back to our hotel quickly, but by the time we found one, it had quit. We really should have just ducked under a local adult shop sign (seriously, there are so many of these both here and in Seattle) and waited it out. Don’t worry, kind stranger, the books were fine. My favorite sweatshirt, however, was soaked.
            I don’t mean to make this a “Stupid Blog’s Recommended Tour of Portland” entry, but I’d feel terrible if I didn’t tell you about Voodoo Doughnuts. It’s a doughnut shop, obviously, but totally wacky! I love abstract humor if it’s pulled off correctly. My first introduction to it was when my older brother hung up random stuff about his bedroom, for no other reason than it would be funny to have these things hung up about his room. A dryer tube that connected from corner to corner with nothing on the other side of the wall, flattened pop cans, and a cheap rubber skeleton all made me giggle when I was little. Voodoo Doughnuts reminded me a little bit of that. Abstraction only works when it’s truly “I don’t care, it’s there because it’s there, I don’t have to explain it to you because there is no reason.” Voodoo Doughnuts crossed the line between a teenage boy hanging up stuff about his room that nobody really saw, and the boy who posts pictures onto Facebook in order to PROVE to people how random he was. The giant, airbrushed portrait of Kenny Rogers hanging between two menus without explanation was great, the 8-bit music playing over the radio awesome for setting a mood; the four other pictures of Mr. Rogers were a little overkill. The doughnuts were amazing though, and you can order a giant doughnut dick, which Pat obviously did, because come on, it’s a giant doughnut dick.
Try saying "Giant doughnut dick" out loud and NOT loving it.
            Voodoo Doughnuts is representative of my first impressions of Portland. They’re amazing at what they do (being a city, making doughnuts) but it just feels like they’re both trying a little hard. Portland is doing its best to be a Brooklyn of the West, with its ancient iron bridges and brick walk-ups, its (admittedly awesome) public transportation system and omnipresent bike lanes. Vintage shops abound (I bought a suit vest for $6, so this is not such a bad thing), and support a man named “Infamous Hipster Magic” who is raising money on Kickstarter to write an “Open Letter to the Man,” from what posters all over town have told me. On street poles, self-published newspapers refuse to use sexual pronouns, instead referring to all subjects as “they” no matter how many people the article is focused on. One block away from a major thoroughfare, a graffiti piece gives the observer a message of anti-conformity, which is dramatically undercut by the  fact that it was obviously approved by the building, judging by the fact that it was painted instead of stenciled, carefully executed instead of rushed forth in a state of rebellion, under the constant pressure of being caught.
            I’ll compare the two cities tomorrow night when I’ve had a bit more time here. Portland grew on me as the day went along, even though it seems to rain every time we step out of the door and get sunny every time we step back inside. For tomorrow, we’ve got even less than usual planned, so you’ll probably get something about stupid movies again.

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