views of Mount Hood
Saturday, June 27 2009
setting: Concordia Neighborhood, Portland, Oregon
The three of us left Gilley's boyfriend Alan back at the house (he said he was going to be doing some "light yard work") and went yardsaling in the neighborhood, following the map to places where sales appeared to be concentrated. I don't know whether it was the people I was yardsaling with (oddly, I'd never actually gone saling with Gretchen before) or the characteristics of the neighborhood, but the mojo just wasn't right and the tables of people's random shit did nothing but depress us. We pawed through some people's shit, pawed through some other people's shit, and eventually just gave up on yardsaling. This came as something of a relief; had the sales been great I would have wanted to buy stuff and then I would have had to fly it across the country.
We ended up in the Kennedy Elementary School, a public school that had been abandoned until it was bought by a funky regional hotel company called McMenamins, laboriously redecorated, and then reopened as a hotel. The slogan on the homepage is "Fall asleep in class." Much of the original building was left intact (right down to little details such as the names of the various auxiliary rooms), although classrooms were divided and given bathrooms to make them suitable for use as hotel rooms. The cafeteria was refashioned into a spacious, colorful restaurant (according to Gilley, the food isn't so great) and the hallways were covered with murals and other art. Even the electrical panels were individually repainted and turned into works of art. All of this art comes from a staff of artists-in-residence. This arrangement between a for-profit company and artists was so unfamiliar it initially sounded medieval.
Further on in our tour of the school, Gilley showed us the old "Detention" room, a smallish room (200 square feet or so) still labeled as such. It had been made into a cigar bar in which only brown liquors are served. Just squeaking in under Oregon's no-smoking policy, its arrangement allowing for the smoking of cigars is grandfathered (although, as one of the helpful employees pointed out, it gets rather unpleasant in that little room once six guys are in there puffing away).
The best room of all in the Kennedy Elementary School had to be the Boiler Room Bar, a two-level wonderland decorated with thousands of scrap plumbing fittings, vintage valves, cast iron radiators, and other plumbing erratica. These pieces have been painstakingly assembled to build screens and balustrades, particularly on the elaborate iron stairway connecting the two levels.
Back out on the street, we eventually found our way to a cheery tree belonging to one of Gilley's friends in the neighborhood. The tree wasn't particularly big, but it was completely festooned with cherries, all of them plump and delicious. Gilley couldn't ascertain whether or not her friend was home, but it didn't matter because the friend had told Gilley to come pick cherries, that otherwise they would simply go to waste. So there we were, eating them by the fistful. I probably ate at least fifty of them, eventually winding down my gluttony as I began to fear what all this raw fruit might do to my digestive system.
Fruit, even in such absurd quantities, doesn't seem to have an effect one way or the other on appetite, and we were all still hungry, particularly those of us who had eaten no breakfast. So we set a course for another destination Gretchen wanted to be sure she hit in Portland, Papa G's, a vegan deli. (In a city like Portland, I wouldn't be surprised if there was a vegan cellphone service provider.)
Truth be told, it doesn't take much to please me when it comes to vegan food. I make myself vegan bean concoctions all the time and all that matters is getting a little flavor and possibly some heat in there and then the beans do most of the heavy lifting of making a satisfactory meal, particularly if they're joined by flattened objects made from corn (cornflakes will do in a pinch). So when I saw that Papa G's had a bean soup I was delighted. I got myself a bowl and it was heaven. I ended up being much less excited by my tempeh reuben, which was built around what amounted to a tempeh burger, and that just seemed wrong somehow. Happily, though, it came with a side of corn chips, which made for a happy marriage with my soup.
Thinking ahead, Gretchen got another container of soup for me to eat on the plane back to Albany tomorrow, as well as packages of delicious-looking marinaded tofu. For someone who doesn't like it when other people talk about food, I sure am writing about it a lot. But the truth of the matter is that food always ends up being an important part of my life when I travel.
I knew I'd be mesmerized by Mount Rainier before I ever saw it, and still it was much more than I expected. Now, of course, I'm addicted to views of snow-capped volcanoes, and since getting to Portland I've been asking Gilley whether or not we'd get to see Mount St. Helens at some point. She'd assured me that views were possible if one could just get above the plane of the streets. The problem with viewing mountains from Portland hasn't been clouds (as it was in Seattle), it has been its relative flatness, crouching as it does down in the confluence of two great rivers (the Willamette and the Columbia). On the west side of the Willamette, though, just beyond downtown Portland, is a ridge capped by a massive city park. Gilley took us there this afternoon in hopes of getting views of the nearby volcanoes. We ended up in the Rose Garden, featuring scads of varieties of roses arranged in what seems to be an unimaginative grid. I should note at this point that I find roses even less interesting than food. I don't think roses are especially pretty, they smell like little old ladies, and they're often covered with thorns. Usually when I find myself dealing with roses (as I recently did near the greenhouse) they're wild, they're in the way, and I have to get rid of them. To me canes of roses are only a few notches less annoying than Poison Ivy vines. So while Gretchen and Gilley gushed about roses, I looked for mountains. Eventually, lurking behind a tree, we found the truncated peak of Mount St. Helens. Soon after that, as a bonus, we saw Mount Hood, whose iconic peakiness turned out to be much more spectacular.
Our friends Jenny and Doug from the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary happened to be in Portland while we were, so radio contact was established and vegan dinner arrangements were made. Being a mutal friend, Isa the cookbook author would be there too. The restaurant would be the Vita Café down on Alberta, within easy walking distance from Gilley's house. Her boyfriend Alan, who is uncommonly shy but will come out of his shell a bit when a gun is place to his temple, would not be coming.
So there we were, all in a big booth together. I was sitting next to Doug, who always likes to talk with me about manly stuff like cable runs, insulation technology, and drainage pipes. Today we talked about welding equipment. He'd bought a cheap 120 volt stick welder and was wondering if it had what it took. I said it sounded like it would be okay but to be sure not to get a welding sunburn. Also: even if something looks welded, it often isn't. Beginners don't know that a good weld takes time to form. Doug and I are similar in lots of ways and this was reflected, I think, in the fact that we both ordered the India pale ale and the burrito. (Gilley also ordered the IPA, though she went a bit rogue with her food choice.) Isa, continuing the comic bit about the possibly non-vegan nature of food at vegan restaurants, wanted me to ask the waitress if my burrito really was vegan. So I did and it was, although it turns out that there have been insufficiently-vegan items on the Vita menu, items that have caused people to give Vita one out of five stars at Portland City Search.
One booth over, there was a group of animal rights activists who all seemed to know the vegans in our booth. There was some sort of big conference happening in town, and it was making ours into a very small world.
After dinner, our party walked west some twenty blocks down Alberta to the Bye and Bye, the hip vegan restaurant we'd been to last night. It was even more crowded, more hip and more vegan tonight, as throngs of conference activists descended from all around Portland. I saw a group of guys wearing teeshirts connecting them with the Sea Shepherd, and was reminded that there are animal rights activists whose focus is the rights of wild animals and the habitats they occupy.
I soon gave up on using the restroom but couldn't convince myself to use the Portaloo in the parking lot. So I went through a ramble in the neighborhood looking for an alley, since I remembered that alleys were part of the street fabric in Gilley's neighborhood. But it turns out that there are no alleys near Alberta Street, so I ended up having to piss on a sidewalk.
Somehow Doug and I managed to get a coveted picnic table in the outdoor seating part of the Bye and Bye, but when Jenny brought a drink out to this table, we were informed by the skinny bearded bouncer that drinking was prohibited in the outside area after 10:00pm. How absurd, it doesn't even get dark until 10:30! Jenny managed to keep her drink on the downlow and later Doug managed to smuggle me a vodka and coke, but it was unpleasant always having to be on the lookout for Beardy the Bouncer.
Still, we were having a great time. The youthful energy of so many celebratory vegans made Jenny miss life in the city. She compared what was possible back in Woodstock to the Bye and Bye and came up short. While it was possible that back in the early 1970s Woodstock was full of hip young people building a brand new culture from salvaged lumber, tape loops, and schwaggy nickle bags, those people are all still there and there haven't been enough young people moving in to keep the spirit alive. As a result, all the events and venues trying to be hip and happening always attract the same 60-somethings with beads and ponytails whose knowledge of music ends at the advent of Disco. It's just part of the inevitable trade-off of life in the country. And it could be worse; most of rural America has a much lower hippie-to-redneck ratio than is characteristic of the Hudson Valley.
At some point our little group broke up and the pieces went their separate ways. Though our destination was a good mile and half away, Gilley, Gretchen, and I set off homeward on foot. We didn't make it far, though, before stopping in at an outdoor food vendor called the Grilled Cheese Grill. The grill was set up in a portable kitchen in a parking lot behind the Bye and Bye, and a fully-functional (though lavishly redecorated) schoolbus had been parked a dozen feet away to serve as a dining room. People were sitting in there at little tables eating their sandwiches as if it was nothing the slightest bit strange. It was like a small-scale version of Kennedy Elementary School, an impulsively-executed school-themed fantasyland, though ore Otto than Principal Skinner. There was a crazy psychedelic painting on the ceiling and the small custom-fitted dining tables had been surfaced with headshots from old yearbooks. Not surprisingly, Gretchen was able to purchase a vegan grilled cheese sandwich which she wouldn't stop raving about. (Cheese is one of the most problematic animal-derived substances to simulate; too often, especially with vegan "mozarella," there's an off-putting chemical flavor that, for me at least, completely destroys the illusion that I'm eating actual food.)
Further down Alberta we, kept passing other bars, wacky stores, and the occasional vacant lot overgrown with amber waves of thigh-high grass. As we passed a bar whose small pool room opened directly onto the sidewalk, Gretchen remarked that Portland, "is like a play room for adults."
At some point we passed a donut shop and Gretchen went in just to see if they carried vegan donuts. When she came out she was delighted to say that the place didn't and that this had given her the opportunity to express outrage, a completely appropriate reaction to the lack of a vegan option in Portland (even in a steakhouse). Meanwhile, my bladder was full again and there were still no alleys, so as I pissed against the donut shop's back wall I declared, "This is for not offering a vegan option!" (Gretchen says that vegan donuts are much easier to make than vegan cheese.)
Gilley's boyfriend Alan cradles their normally-rambunctious dog Gracie.
Art on hallway walls at Kennedy Elementary School, which was acquired and restored by the McMenamins company as a quirky hotel. McMenamins keeps several artists on staff to continue with the lavish and detailed restoration and quirkifying work.
Gretchen expresses astonishment (a normal thing for her) at something Gilley has said in the hallway of Kennedy Elementary School.
Click to enlarge.
The Kennedy Elementary School's Courtyard Restaurant.
Gilley in front of a primitive painting of Kennedy Elementary School, a mural on one of its hallway walls.
A Maypole-themed painting on a wall at Kennedy Elementary School. The artist was Myrna Yoder.
The Boiler Room Bar at Kennedy Elementary School.
A screen (or, technically, a balustrade) made entirely of old plumbing pieces in the Boiler Room Bar.
Gretchen and Gilley in the Portland Rose Garden.
I know I'm stereotyping, but Asian chicks love to be in rose gardens almost as much as they love pictures of themselves in rose gardens.
Mount Hood, as viewed from Portland's Rose Garden (which lies on the only real upland in the city).
Gilley and Doug at Vita Café (on Alberta Street).
A mystery molecule stenciled on the Alberta Street sidewalk in Portland. It's not any of the familiar molecules I thought to look up.
Gretchen finds a vegan option at the Grilled Cheese Grill on Alberta Street (behind the Bye and Bye).
A fully-functional (though thoroughly redecorated) schoolbus provides a dining room for the eating of grilled cheese sandwiches on Alberta Street.
(See the Google Street View, which, when I last checked, showed this parking lot completely empty.)
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