May 31, 2001

Who Goes to a Bookstore on Vacation?

Day Eight: Portland, Oregon

Portland is known as the City of Roses for some reason - actually, it's a legitimate reason as I just learned here. "Its climate is ideal for growing roses, and the city has many rose gardens, including the International Rose Test Garden in Washington Park. Well there you are. I don't know what an ideal rose growing climate is, but on the day we were there to explore the city, the weather was perfect for H. sapiens. We had really lucked out on the weather front all week, for as you know, the Pacific Northwest is known for rain, rain, and more rain.

We got a late morning start (it being vacation and all), grabbed some breakfast, and set out for the massive Japanese Garden on top of the hill in Washington Park, looming west of the city. The last sentence hopefully sparked some fond memories of Drebin saying, "Let's step out into the Japanese Garden," whereupon they walked through a "garden" of Asian people in big pots. Ah yes, "Police Squad," one of the best shows ever.

We paid a nominal fee to enter the gardens and man - it's really, really pretty. Personally, I enjoy the Japanese garden ethos and the supposed calming effects they have on people. I'm not really into raking sand for hours on end, but everything else I can get behind. In fact, Hoang and I are in the process of implementing a little Japanese style to our front yard.

This place not only has an "authentic" tea house and garden and a whole bunch of cool bonsai trees, it has an incredible view of Portland and Mt. Hood beyond. Unfortunately, in the one picture we have of this view, Mt. Hood is washed out completely. (This whole trip, remember, was pre-digital camera and as you've probably noticed, the entire roll was a bit overexposed.)

Since you can't see Oregon's highpoint, I've drawn it in for you here. Beautiful, isn't it? Actually, here's a professional shot of the same scene. It reminds me of Sunrise Point in Elizabeth Park in Hartford, overlooking Connecticut's capitol city. Except the mountain in the distance isn't Mt. Hood, it's the landfill right next to I-91.

This does give me a chance to give a few cool links I've come across. We had been in Portland less than a day and we totally fell in love with the place. It's a beautiful, clean, progressive city with many, many things we like. It also has a rather interesting history as well. (Yes, it IS named after Portland, ME.) It also has a similar (to Hartford) sordid relationship with one of the two rivers that flow through it - the Willamette.

See, the settlers out west hated the Willamette and over the course of 100 years or so, diverted it, dammed it, dredged it, filled it, blocked it, polluted it, etc. It was a mess. Hartford had its own urban river, the Park River (aka the Hog River) that they hated back in the day too - it's diseased, polluted waters flooded the city fairly regularly. It was a mess as well. What to do with the Willamette and the Park?

In Oregon, they reclaimed the river - cleaned it up and tried to make it as "natural" as possible. They created a huge public park along it and loads of greenspace and reintroduced native fish and plant species. I can attest - it's very nice. In Hartford? They buried the river. That's right, in a fit of civic stupidity, they buried the Park River - A very interesting story, actually.

So in Portland, one can enjoy life up at the beautiful Japanese Gardens, get centered, and spend the afternoon strolling alongside or kayaking in the Willamette River. In Hartford, one can enjoy life over at the beautiful Elizabeth Park, feel rosy, and spend the afternoon strolling through Frog Hollow scoring some smack listening intently to the storm drains for the river below. Or, for the truly adventurous, you can actually take a somewhat terrifying canoe trip underneath the city. I'm not kidding. (If you're only going to peruse one link this one should be it.) It's no wonder Hoang and I seriously contemplated moving to the Rose City a few years ago, eh?

Wow, that was quite a diversion - it's almost like I'm hiding something... Like, perhaps we didn't really do much that day worth noting other than take a few mildly offensive pictures at the Japanese Gardens and walking around the city?

Yeah, that's pretty much it... After the gardens we made our way to the Northwest quadrant of the city, home of all the hip boutiques, eateries, bars, and... Powell's Books. You have not seen a bookstore until you've seen Powell's in Portland. Sorry, NYC, The Strand doesn't compare. This place is MASSIVE - yet well organized, relatively clean, and as comprehensive as the Library of Congress - except without all that boring bureaucratic stuff.

It sounds funny that we went to a bookstore on vacation but this place was a vacation all its own. We could have spent all day there - in fact, when in Portland a year later we spent another several hours in the store. Alas, with the sun shining and our time in the city waning, we left the store and walked up and down the NW Portland streets, checking out the hyper-expensive modern furniture stores and funky little shops along the way. We grabbed a late lunch somewhere, walked through the Yamhill Historic District, made some other stops of interest and then returned to our hotel.

Since we were finally in a real city after several days of podunk burgs, we were happy to dress up and find a good restaurant and nightclub. We even took glamour shots of each other dedicating the moment. Ooh-la-laaa. This ended up becoming yet another goofy tradition with us... and since Hoang was cool enough to allow me to post that picture of her, it's only fair I offer up mine. So young we were, so much more hair I had... We returned to the Pearl District in the NW section of the city, walked up and down the busy streets and finally settled on some "Gourmet" pizza place. (Hey man, what did we know back then?) Hoang was less than happy about our dinner, as she proclaimed the chicken on the pie, "Gamey." It's details like that which keep you reading Besetting Vice, I know.

After dinner we found a club called Lotus and decided to people watch and enjoy our night there. You can read about it in this article, though I don't know why you'd want to do that. I have absolutely no memory of that club except I did write this down at the time: "Guy with feathered mullet, acid wash jeans, brush in back pocket, white high top sneaks - danced for hours as if it were 1984 all over again." (That was noted in the old pre-blog blog, WeTOD.)

Of course, that guy stood out in the club. But what struck us throughout the day (again) was the inordinate amount of trust fund hippies and dirty, stinky kids in town. They infested the place - and there was no comparison to them back home. Maybe Phish concertgoers, but these Portland kids were different. It was just an odd trend that seemed to catch on in town and spread like wildfire. A big, stinky, dirty, wildfire.

We assuredly had fun at the club and probably stayed very late. We hopped in one of Portland’s ugly fluorescent green taxis and called it a night. With vacation winding down (only 2 days to go), we made sure to appreciate the fun we were having and promised to do the same tomorrow - which will be an even shorter essay with only 2 or 3 pictures.

Bully for you, dear reader.

Continue on to Days 9 and 10!

Back to Day 7
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