Sunday, September 22, 2013

Portlandia - Dream of the 90's

Ok, here’s the brilliance of earplugs. We had agreed the night before that the Madrids would go to church that Sunday morning, and I was tired from traveling so I decided to sleep in. The couch I was on was right by the kitchen area, and apparently they came out there, made breakfast, talked, etc. and with earplugs in, I didn’t hear any of it! And I’m a light sleeper. So that was victory #1 of the day.

I woke up around 10, and decided to go get some gas and pick up some coffee from the original Stumptown Coffee Roasters at 45th and Division. I just remembered that I actually HAD to get gas to keep going at this point, because I’d done the entire drive from Boise to Portland yesterday on a single tank of 425 miles, the highest I’d ever gotten out of one tank. So when I rolled in the night before, I was on fumes and had reached the point where the dashboard wasn’t estimating a number of miles till empty anymore, simply reading ---.

I pulled up to this gas station on 102nd Street near Division, and witnessed a phenomenon that the Madrids had mentioned the night before: in Oregon, you’re not allowed to pump your own gas. An attendant at the station has to do it for you. A guy in uniform walked up, asked what octane I wanted, and pumped it all for me. When it comes to what I perceive to be easy or basic tasks, I tend to want to do those myself. Therefore the attendant thing was bewildering to me, even though that’s just the way all gas stations were years ago. It was the most expensive tank of the trip, at about $69.

After getting gas, I found Division Street and drove a few miles west on it, actually passing Stumptown Coffee once without seeing it, but saw it on the second go-around. This is a good time to talk about how Portland the city is laid out. Portland has had an Urban Growth Boundary since 1973, and has been a model of modern urban planning in the US. It’s not a tiny city by area, it has more than 100 sq. miles compared to San Francisco’s 50, but Portland manages to have mostly low density  housing without sprawling forever like Houston. You can see the results of this planning by driving down Division, which is narrower than a similar avenue in Las Vegas, and with all the trees right along the road, and single family homes in compact blocks on either side, it makes Portland feel like a smaller town even though it has more than 2 million in the metro area.

Here’s the view down 45th street, the car looking snazzy after its Boise carwash (Duckies easily visible) and the exterior of Stumptown itself:

Stumptown was a cool place, and I swear the latte there was stronger than any I’d had so far on the trip. It helped me formulate my theory that the coffee is noticeably stronger in general in the Northwest. There were also some funky artsy magazines and newspapers for sale there, and I bought a paper that had a lot of art and creative things displayed in it. I was actively looking for “weird” looking people there at the coffee shop, considering Portland’s reputation as being even more liberal than Seattle. I saw a few tattoos and piercings, but nothing too extreme. Maybe some hot pink hair on one girl was the most out-there feature I saw. I spent a little time looking up more Portland stuff in the sitting area, which had a closed garage door as a floor-to-ceiling window looking out on Division. Emily Heitkamp picked up on this place via my Instagram, and asked if I was keeping the 90’s alive in Portlandia. She didn’t strike me as the type to watch that show, but after my confusion faded, I agreed.

Also outside of Stumptown, I saw the largest Saint Bernard I’d ever seen. He was laying out on the sidewalk, and I swear that dog was like 8 feet long!

I got back in the car and drove back east to 60th Street, and drove up a winding road to reach another place the Madrids had highly recommended, which was Mount Tabor Park. This was a really neat place. Mount Tabor is a (hopefully) extinct volcano smack dab in the middle of the city, and a park has been built around the little caldera that’s still there. The park rises above the rest of the neighborhoods around it, giving a panorama of views, from downtown to the west, to Mount Hood to the east:

There was also an amphitheatre which is the remnant of where the caldera of the volcano lies, and various bike and walking paths that I explored for over an hour. I took the opportunity to sit on a park bench and read a Nook book about Brazil that I’d been working on in my spare time. All this, surrounded by thick layers of tall pine trees:

Ah, all very peaceful. The Madrids alerted me they were heading home from lunch around 2, so I drove back to their apartment, and told them about my minor adventures while they’d been at church and lunch. After we’d rested a few minutes, they both decided to go with me to explore downtown Portland and see more sights. Christian offered to drive and I could ride in the front with the camera so I could finally take pictures without paying attention to driving at the same time, which was a good switch for me. It appears we stopped by a Starbucks on Stark on the way to downtown:

We then got on I-84 going west, and they told me how people in Portland tend to drive so slow on the highways that it’s often quicker to take major avenues to cross parts of the city. The interstate speed limits were only 50-55mph, and at that speed, we were still passing many cars:

It seems the culture there is so laid back (pessimistic take: stoned) that nobody is in a hurry to get anywhere. Very different from Dallas’ go-go nature.

Once we got on I-5 south briefly to cross the Willamette River via Burnside, I snapped some pictures of the towers of downtown from the riverside:

Downtown Portland is somewhat compact, and if you thought the rest of the city was friendly to every mode of transportation besides the automobile, downtown is even more so. The king of right-of-way at intersections in downtown is the pedestrian, which is again something I’m not used to. I thought that cars, being vastly bigger and more powerful than people, should get to do what they want, but that’s not how things are done there. Once I’m out of the car though, I love how walkable a place like that is. The buildings were a good mix of older and modern designs, and I got some stable pictures riding shotgun as we were cruising around looking for parking near Powell’s City of Books:

We had found a parking garage with very steep levels nearby, so we were set to stay a while. Powell’s is the world’s largest bookstore, and it covers an entire city block on Burnside:

It’s so big that every customer is offered a map of the different levels and sections. The books there number in the millions, no exaggeration. They have every version of Settlers of Catan imaginable. Powell’s had a coffee shop, so of course I had to test out their iced latte, and I remember paying in all change, maybe with a few gold dollars even. A pirate’s life for me!

We stayed at the bookstore for over 30 minutes, and we’d run into each other at random as we moved around. I got a paperback Star Wars novel just to have a souvenir from such a large bookstore, and the Madrids got a few items as well. We got back to the car and drove to a few blocks away from my hosts most emphatic recommendation: Voodoo Donuts. It’s a famous Portland place to eat, and for good reason, it’s got tons of unusual donut combinations. Examples from the menu: the Texas Challenge, the Old Dirty Bastard, the Memphis Mafia, the Diablos Rex, the Voodoo Doll, the Mango Tango, the Neapolitan, the Arnold Palmer, the No Name, the Dubble Bubble, the Mexican Hot Chocolate, and the Maple Bacon Bar, just to name a few. Almost anything you can imagine in or on a donut, they make it. I just had to have a Maple Bacon bar, which is just what it sounds like; a strip of bacon on a maple glazed bar-shaped donut. We had to wait for these treats, as there’s always about a 30 minute wait in line outside. Totally worth it!

I had to pair my Maple Bacon donut with some coffee, so I asked about their cold brew, and purchased a 16 ounce of that in a dark bottle that I still have today. We went outside to a bench to dig into donuts and coffee, and got a picture of the Duckies enjoying the scene as well:

You’d think that a maple donut with a strip of bacon on it would taste weird or strange. It didn’t. Not only was it amazing, but the cold brew coffee was very strong, perfectly bitter in fact. So my verdict on this food and drink combination: I…LOVED it! I enjoyed every sip, every bite. Christian and Diane were absolutely loving their donuts too. So glad they drove me there.

From Voodoo, we drove up into the hills behind downtown, to the Rose Garden. Being a basketball fan, I was confused on which Rose Garden, the one with actual roses, or the arena where the Trail Blazers play? It turned out to be the real garden, and we passed some houses perched on the hills above us as we drove:

The Rose Garden is huge, it has many levels, paths between all of them, and is just a festivus of roses of every color and pines all around:

This guy was tuckered out and just had to sleep right then and there:

Diane peeled off in general to go check out every kind of rose they had there, so Christian and I stuck to the center area and saw a few of the roses around there. I remember he did something cool, he saw a mom and daughter with a camera, and without being asked, offered to take their picture in front of the flowers. It was one of those underrated moments of serving other people, I’m glad I got to witness that.

Once we were done at the Rose Garden, we drove back through downtown, and were hungry enough to begin a search for a non-chain pizza place to get a full dinner. Here’s some pictures from our drive going east, mainly on Burnside, and crossing the Willamette again:

You’ll notice the streetcar lines in some of the pictures, and there are plenty of light rail lines in the area as well. Portland is big on public transit as part of its smart urban design.

And we found yet another Starbucks, though I seriously doubt we stopped at this one. That would just be too much in one day:

We went to one pizza place, that was already closed. Big buzzkill. Then we found a place called UFO pizza on Glisan that was open, had delicious pizza, and had posters of Star Wars characters and Michael Jordan on the walls. Yes yes yes. This is what the neighborhoods nearby looked like:

We had a good conversation over the pizza at UFO. I was basically fully bearded two weeks into the trip, and that’s probably why, in addition to how I act, that Christian and Diane thought I was around 30! I guess that’s flattering to be thought of as more mature than my real age of 24. I learned more about how they met, their previous lives in Oklahoma, and their heart for ministry in Portland. I thought it was great that they made it a point to say they weren’t there to judge any sinners or wrongdoers, even in the naughtier district around 82nd Street. They were just there to love people, to show interest in their lives, and offer them a chance to hear about Jesus if the time was right. That’s why the Madrids had made the leap of faith to move cross country to Portland, and I had to admire that.

We got back to their apartment at 8:30, and it was already dark. Christian got a hold of an Antioch member in Seattle who was willing to put me up for a night, and I called that guy, named Ben, to let him know I’d be coming in the next day. This was the only deviation from my original schedule, as I’d planned for two days in Seattle and only one in Portland. Because it was already dark and we had toured the city for several hours, having fun the whole time, I figured I might as well stay another night in Portlandia since my hosts were willing to have me another night anyway. Why miss out on all the green scenery on the way to Seattle if I couldn’t see any of it? With that, I bedded down on the couch again, very satisfied with my experience that day.
Here's the Dream of the 90's video in Portlandia. Warning: I wouldn't watch 54 to 59 seconds into the video, that helps you avoid the dude in the banana hammock. Otherwise, it's cool.
And, the Dream of the Previous 90's:

Yep, the Dream of the 90's is Alive in Portland.