Saturday, July 23 2022
location: Northeast 24th Avenue, Northeast Portland, Portland, Oregon
Our AirBnB was a small concrete-floored building in the back yard of a house, and it had its own little fenced yard private enough to walk around naked in. It was a very nice place, perfect for two people, at least if they've known each other for awhile. The toilet was such that a massive dump taken into it tended to heap up above the water line, which is not good if it smells terrible (which evidently mine did this morning). Still, I thought Gretchen would be sleeping in late like she always does, so I didn't think to crack a window or anything. But no, Gretchen was up early, and she complained that I had "done some damage" in the bathroom. Opening the windows definitely helped.
Meanwhile out across the alleyway, a couple crows had found a motherlode of what looked to be cheese doodles. They kept carrying them individually up to a gutter and doing something to them in there, though the crows probably weren't washing them, as it never rains in Portland in the summer, so (unlike in the east) the gutter probably didn't contain a persistent pool of water.
At some point Gilly arrived and the three of us walked the beatiful avenues of Portland down to Alberta Street. Our first destination was Supernova Vegan, a café Gretchen had enjoyed on previous visits to Portland. We hadn't even been seated yet when our stringy, heavily-tattooed waitress wanted to know what coffee drinks we wanted. That seemed a little weird, as if she was worried we were marginal people only there to charge our phones and "blow up the bathroom." Later in our meal, though, it was clear that our waitress was simply inept. (Why would she give us our bill before we'd eaten even half our food?) She and the maître d' from the Burmese restaurant last night were two data points suggesting that service quality declines accompanying the covid-related Great Resignation are also affecting Portland.
The ladies ordered various faux-eggy dishes while I ordered a lunch burrito. It was very big but disappointingly bland; it contained a lot of corn and would've benefitted from the presence of a faux meat such as seitan or pan-seared tofu in addition to the beans.
Despite the presence of the bill, we had a long leisurely lunch and discussed a number of interesting topics. Gilly told us about how the old site of the Rajneeshpuram cult had been taken over by a fundamentalist Christian group and made into a "pray away the gay" camp. Then, in a gesture of cross-political good will, the non-profit fish advocacy organization Gilly works for decided to host a conference at the camp after common cause was found involving the protection of some tiny fragment of the Good Lord's creation. Gilly said she'd been a bit oblivious at the time and hadn't seen the harm, though now she says such a gesture would be politically impossible and even if it were she would be reluctant to participate. This led us into the subject of Liz Cheney and how amazing she's been on the congressional committee investigating the events of January 6th (that is, Donald Trump's bungled attempt to remain in power despite losing the presidential election). We all agree that Liz Cheney's political ideas are horrendous and that she's spent years being an instrumental part of a political party that nakedly uses lies, racism, demagoguery, ignorance, religious extremism, homophobia, and antidemocratic mechanisms to further their aims. But there's no denying that in her position in the committee, she's come across as thoughtful, intelligent, and, above all, moral. We've grown so accustomed to Republicans being loathsome in everything they do that it's been hard to process. We contrasted Liz Cheney's behavior with that of Elise Stefanik, a congresswoman from Upstate New York whose opportunistic adherence to Trump (and the Big Lie) allowed her to snatch away Liz Cheney's position of chair of the House Republican Conference. I reminded Gilly and Gretchen that Stefanik used to be considered a moderate Republican, with political views not all that different from those of Kirsten Gillibrand (back when Gillibrand was also a congresswoman from Upstate New York and was considered a relatively conservative Democrat). Now, of course, Gillibrand is a US Senator and a reliable progressive, suggesting that she too is something of a shape-shifter.
Another subject that came up was who is and who is not a "dud" among the teenage children of our various friends. Gretchen had recently had experience with one such child and determined that she really is a dud, and a charmless one at that. Who doesn't express gratitude when baked their favorite kind of cake? Evidently duds. But perhaps this dud-ness was meely a temporary phase. I pointed out that the teenage daughter of one of our mutual clients (back when Gretchen and I used to do housecall-based work) who used to be unpleasant and entitled eventually grew up to be a lovely woman who is now our state senator.
After lunch, the three of us slow-walked westward on Alberta, ducking into various shops along the way. One of these, Redbird Studio, was full of delightfully original greeting cards and fun gift ideas such as crazy votive candles featuring Jesus as a campy superhero.
I stuck with Gilly and Gretchen for awhile but there's only so much ducking into stores (at least the kind that don't sell electronics) that I can take, so eventually I got the directions from Gretchen and walked back to the AirBnB on my own. I took a shortcut through Alberta Park on the way and observed the crows and the people practicing with hockey sticks along the way.
This evening Gilly picked Gretchen and me up and drove us down to a restaurant called Secret Pizza Society near Mount Tabor. There we met up with Gretchen's high school friend Carrie and her companion Aaron (whom we've visited at their place in Hood River), and we ordered pizza. Secret Pizza Society is all-vegan, and they have a number of unusual items on the menu, some of which were designed by their most ardent customers. One of these is the Zero, which is a giro made from a, well, pizza, and stuffed with vegan cæsar salad. The pizzas are unusual in some respects in that the cheese layer is actually under the sauce (and hidden so well that Gretchen wondered if they'd made her the wrong thing). One bite of any of this stuff, and it's hard not to imagine being a very regular customer. One such customer was there this evening after having gotten her first zero only this morning.
The owner and founder of Secret Pizza Society, a wiry man around our age or a little younger, came out and talked to us for awhile to give us useful history and other information about the restaurant and some of the pizzas (and Greek-influenced offshoots). [REDACTED]
While we were eating our delicious pizza and pizza-adjacent foods, I spent a solid several paragraphs explaining my missing tooth and the technology working to replace it. And then Carrie talked about how stressful it was to pack for a trip to the east coast that would be happening tomorrow. She has a lot of allergies, and for some reason this means she can never pack lightly for any trip.
Carrie & Aaron had to hurry on to the next thing (their day had been action-packed and included a visit to the Apple Genius Bar in hopes of having the cracked screen for her iPhone replaced), so Gilly wanted to know what we might want to do next. Initially it seemed we might go hike to the top of Mt. Tabor (which isn't really all that much of a thing to do), but when Gilly suggested perhaps going to the Portland Rose Garden (on the other side of the Willamette), Gretchen jumped at the idea. It bears mentioning that within minutes of leaving Secret Pizza Society, Gretchen was already complaining of gastrointestinal distress. She blamed it on how greasy the pizza had been, but it had been so delicious that she'd also eaten a lot of it.
On the drive to the Rose Garden, we caught a glimpse of the most Portland gentleman ever. He strode like a warrior down the street with his long, flowing beard cut in half by the breeze. Each of these halves flowed like the tail of a comet over each of his shoulders. "He must get so much ass," I marveled.
I tend to find roses overrated; I think they smell like dowdy old ladies and there are much prettier flowers. But I can happily stand around while others make a fuss about them. I did also sniff a few of them and found their fragrances more diverse than expected. Some even smelled somewhat savory. Not unexpectedly, the prettiest flowers tend to have the least odor and vice versa. It's difficult to maximize two traits in a domesticated organism.
The rose garden was fairly crowded today, and not just with Asian couples. Today most of the visitors were caucasians. They tended to be dressed nicely, with the ladies favoring sundresses from the less-casual end of the spectrum. At one point we happened upon a baby by him or herself in a stroller belonging to no obvious adult. The baby was so white he or she actually looked a bit grey. And he or she was smiling with an intensity that is rare for an infant. It turned out he or she belonged to a European couple, which explained everything; Americans are never more than two feet away from the babies they feel obligated to helicopter-parent.
In addition to the roses are a number of large native trees. Being from the East Coast, I'm not much good at identifying western conifers. But, because some were planted along the Farm Road back in Hurley, I do know that douglas firs have little three-lobe tails that stick past the scales of their cones. Still, using our smartphones we were able to make some identifications, including of a redwood.
There are a few gaps in the trees at the Rose Garden where one can get good views of Mount Hood, which is still covered by an unusually large amount of snow. Seeing Mt. Hood this way made us want an even better view, so Gilly drove us on windy roads higher up into the hills (which are densely covered with a mix of forest and fancy mansions like the Hollywood hills) to an old stone building called Pittock Mansion. That's apparently where all the familiar views of the Portland cityscape set against Mt. Hood are photographed.
When we got out of the car, we found it to be a little chilly at that elevation. So we put on jackets and walked to the place with the glorious overlook. There were people there already swinging from trees and otherwise being obnoxious as always seems to happen at such places. The view was amazing, with Mt. Hood rising up behind the towers of downtown Portland, though my cellphone's camera didn't have the dynamic range to really do the scene justice. Gilly pointed out that between downtown and Mt. Hood lay her neighborhood, which, from Pittock Mansion, just looked like forest. "That's how dense the trees are," she explained. Gretchen wanted to know what was the name of a town atop a knoll a little to the north of all that, across the gap that must be the Columbia River (placing it in Washington State). "Oh, that must be Lumptown," I adlibbed, referring to its presence on a lump on the landscape. But then I added that it was settled by people suffering from cancer, making its name relevant in two senses. Gilly and Gretchen riffed on that theme for awhile, even adding a Ronald McDonald House. We were all cracking up when one of the kids nearby started kicking dust in the air. So we withdrew to a couple hundred feet away. From this new location there wasn't much to do except people-watch. A very nicely-dressed young couple appeared, and Gretchen commented that the woman half of it looked like someone you'd see in the Trump Whitehouse. (That is, she was young and trashy in exactly the Trump-preferred way.)
Gilly then drove us back to her neighborhood, and we ended up at an ad hoc Portland food court between a vegan taco truck and a brick & mortar beer place. Allen met us there and there was some taco eating (though I didn't partake due to the rich pizza I was still digesting) and beer drinking (I always partake of that). While there, we had another long rambling tangent-filled conversation. One point I remember making was that back before CGI graphics, filmmakers had to figure out how to do their storytelling without special effects, and that this forced them to build more into dialog, film-editing, and even plot lines that today would be handled by a few seconds of digital magic. My implication was that perhaps the storytelling was better back then. (No, I'm not saying this is an original idea, although I've never actually heard anyone explain, as I just did, what specifically about not having access to CGI might have made storytelling better in the pre-CGI world.)
Evidently not everyone likes Portland. This was somewhere along Alberta Street.
Unexpectedly antifascist kitties on greeting cards at Redbird Studio.
Votive candles at Redbird Studio.
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Carrie's partner Aaron with Gretchen at Secret Pizza Society.
Graffiti in the bathroom at Secret Pizza Society. I have no idea why it's all cat-themed.
Click to enlarge.
Hot sauces at Secret Pizza Society.
Me and Gretchen pose with a statue in Portland's Rose Garden.
View of Portland and Mt. Hood from Pittock Mansion.
Gilly and Gretchen cracking up about Lumptown.
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