We left Redmond for Portland in the late afternoon on Friday. Traffic sucked, we weren't surprised, and we wound up at the Baja Fresh in Hazel Dell just before sundown. From there, we struck out for our $41 [thanks, Priceline] room at the Hilton in downtown Portland. As ever, I was struck by what a beautiful city Portland is. Man, they really have it together down there. I'd move there in a heartbeat if there weren't the whole have-to-work problem.
Parked the car on the street - hey, it was after 8 PM, so it was free - and dumped our stuff in our luxurious-for-1963 king size room on the 5th floor. Hey, given that the Motel 6 on the other side of the river was advertising rooms for $57.99, I feel we got a great deal. If anything, the room was spotless, quiet, and really conveniently located within walking distance of Peet's, Powell's, and so on and so forth.
Dan called Mr. Sean up from the road, so he stopped by the hotel to drag us along on a brisk walk down to Vaseline Alley. I'm also amazed at the sheer number of gay bars Portland has... yikes! For such a small town [about 650,000 people in Multnomah County, compared to 1.7 million in King County], damn, there are a lot. They run the whole range, from weird country western dance bars turned slightly rancid disco [CC Slaughter's], to nameless go-go boy bars, strip bars, fern bars, and even a quasi-leather bar [The Eagle, which seems to have a real thing for showing fisting pr0n, ewww]. We parked our butts across the street from the Eagle at a McMenamins stuffed into a strange skinny triangular building that looked more like a movie set than an actual bar; the beer was good, the conversation great, and above all it was wondrous sitting outside enjoying one of the last warm summer evenings of 2004.
Over at the Eagle, it was smokey [bleah] and fisty [double bleah], but still, it was pretty fun hanging out and talking. After a while, we wandered over to CC's, which was, well, kinda scary. After about a minute of that, we decided we'd do better just leaving, so we walked around for a while longer, just enjoying Portland. Sean headed for home, and we crashed, hard, not waking up until late Saturday morning.
The Vancouver Rogues were in town to play the Avalanche, so we headed off on a roundabout walk to the rugby pitch. We detoured through one of the park blocks where they've got a farmers' market on every Saturday; I had an amazing maple walnut scone, and some truly mediocre coffee, kicking myself for not detouring eight blocks to Peet's. I've never seen a more enticing display of different foods, from homemade pâté to heirloom tomatoes to creamed honey and strawberry rhubarb jams. I found myself fervently wishing that I lived a couple of blocks up the hill in one of those wonderful houses with a view over downtown Portland, but then I remembered that I could probably never find a job in Portland that didn't involve emptying the grease trap on a regular basis.
Anyhow, I parted ways with Dan at the rugby pitch and walked the 1.15 miles back to the hotel. Had another shower just for the hell of it, and then I headed East, trying to find that wine shop on Hawthorne where I saw a bottle of Madiran last year. Instead, I wound up at a Fred Meyer east of the Portland Wine Company, where I sadly came to the conclusion that I have undone any changes in clothing sizes won over the last three years. I have now returned to the world of 40 inch and XLT everything... but at least it's cheaper in Oregon and there is no sales tax. Plus, I found tabbed suspenders for $5 - now all I have to do is find the suspender buttons I bought a couple of years ago. I wonder if I threw them out during the move to Washington last year...
A few blocks back to the west, I found the wine shop. The Portland Wine Company is kind of forbidding; it's long, not especially well lit, and very obviously lacking in what I suppose you could call marketing gimmickry. Instead, they have shelving and stacked cases of wine. That's it, save for a long tasting bar with the usual yuppie scum.
What makes this place special is its owner and staff: they seem to have a real love of the weird, the unappreciated, and the downright obscure. Much to my delight, the guy I spoke with - who may or may not be the owner, I'm not clear on this - fell in love with Madiran when he visited there with his wife some years ago. As a result, he imports a lot of Madiran wine, which is spectacularly cool. [If you're not a wino, the quick story behind this stuff goes like this: This is from a not particularly well regarded corner of France. It's made using a grape called tannat, which is largely known for being unpleasantly tannic. Theoretically, these wines need to be cellared for a decade or so before drinking, but marketing types have started to change them over the last fifteen years or so.] So... I bought a bottle of every Madiran they had, from the $9 cheap stuff to the $30 twelve-year-old sure-hope-it's-good stuff.
They also have a real thing for weird manufacturer closeouts and/or non-obvious wines. It's as close as you could find to a cleanskin shop in the USA, I think. I picked up a few of their cheap bottles - we had a $6 bottle with Sean later on in the weekend that was just great - and that was that. Headed back over to Portland and the Embers, a bar apparently known for drag karaoke. The ruggers were there, but there was a huge frickin' line to get to the one barback on duty. WTF? Hardly a real rugby drinkup by anyone's standard. I had a Coke, and then wandered off to Cost Plus to see if there was any good cheap wine there. There wasn't, although they still had Bonny Doon Big House Red for $6.99, which is a steal. Everything else was just kind of blah. I picked up a bottle of the Toad Hollow Le Faux Frog for $7, which turned out to mostly suck. Ah well. The high point of the visit was listening to a middle class woman shop for a bottle of expensive wine to give to a friend... it's funny how predictable people can be when doing that. She was all "Do you have Silver Oak?" Anyhow...
I picked Dan up at Embers, and we headed back to the hotel. This time, upon walking into the lobby, some homeless person in a blue T-shirt eating a hot dog followed us in. I stopped by the front desk to exchange my key for one that worked [I'd demagnetized it]; Mr. Hot Dog overheard our room number and then followed us up to the room as well. Scary. I went the wrong way down the hallway; he still followed us. I then told Dan I had to go back down to the car to pick something up... so while I was going back downstairs with Mr. Hot Dog still following me, Dan called security. At the front desk, I got them to call security as well, but at this point Mr. Hot Dog apparently figured out that scary homeless people following you around the Hilton tends to be obvious after a few minutes, so he left without getting busted. However, the Hilton staff were very friendly; they gave us a new room [in the other, fancier, building] plus two breakfast vouchers. Pretty damned cool for $41 a night.
After moving our crap to the other room, we took off for Bewon, a Korean restaurant with pretensions of being a Korean bistro. For $40, you can get an "eight course meal" with accompanying wines that, sadly, is mostly disappointing. The pumpkin soup was great - I found myself longing for Russel's cooking briefly - but everything else was pretty so-so, especially the tired, gristly, bland bulgogi beef. Similarly, the wines were downright weird: a flat cava, oversweet pinot gris, and finally a truly repulsive Beaujolais. Still, you gotta try this sort of thing every once in a while, I suppose. Next time, I'm eating at Taste of Bali - they had $8.99 rijsttaffel, and their rendang beef looked way better than anything I saw at Bewon.
High point of dinner: there was a party of four seated behind us who apparently had finished their meal long before we even sat down. The whole time we were there, they only drank water, and had some really strange conversation... they talked about interracial marriages, titty bars, "my boys", and all kinds of oddness. You'd think people would refrain from saying things like "oh man, her cooch was really winking at me" in an intimate Korean bistro, but no.
Afterwards, we drove back over to CC's; the ruggers were supposed to show up there, but they mostly didn't. The Van boys had headed over to Rockaway Beach - 95 miles away - to have some kind of a "retreat." They're kind of a weird rugby team. Their captain seems like a transplanted Texan, and no one else on the team seemed to want to talk with anyone else who wasn't on the team. Very Stepford. One or two of the Quake did show up, but I was really enjoying watching the clientele: overweight trannies wearing halter tops playing pool, men stapled to the bar that smelled of alcoholism and lottery tickets, what appeared to be a customized walking tour for middle aged Filipinos [a married couple in their late fifties FOTB from Manila, accompanied by a stereotypical gay hairdresser probably from Medford], and finally, Mr. Oregon Bear, whose ass was especially fascinating. You know how some guys have a woman's ass? Gentlemen, if you are lucky enough to have a J. Lo-esque booty, it might not be the best idea to wrap it up in overtight acid wash jeans and hike your pants so far up your belt's somewhere north of your belly button. It's not pretty. Oh, and if you could please not dye your beard Kim Jong Il black and shave your head [before putting on a baseball hat], that'd be great.
Finally, I convinced Dan that this was in fact a worthless use of our time. He agreed to leave, but only if he could go back to the Eagle [I suspect he wanted to watch some more of the hawt fisting videos]. There wasn't any parking there, and I finally convinced him that maybe we should just go to sleep... which we did.
In the morning, we hit the road early. I had wanted to drive home via Astoria, but Dan thought it'd be a better idea if we went to the coast on Sunday. So... we did. Had a McMuffin in Beaverton, a latté in Seaside, saw Lewis and Clark's saltworks and "injuns stay out" fort. Climbed the Astoria Tower, drove to Washington and back [cool bridge!], had a fancy hamburger at Burger King, bought 89 octane gas for the price of 87, found a really weird Trek brand sports drink, marvelled at Astoria's tendency to put up street signs for streets that don't actually exist [it's a grid system, but they put up signs for streets that haven't been built yet]. Started the slow drive back to Portland, stopping off at Cistus Nursery, home of lots of really cool, expensive plants and one extremely humpy gardener. Finally made it over to Vancouver, WA and to Sean's house, home of good hamburgers and excellent conversation. Had a swig of some weird Smirnoff alcopop, and decided to get that $6 bottle of Spanish wine out of the car instead.
Eventually, the sun started to set, and we went back to the hotel. I insisted on going via Trader Joe's, just in case they had good wines I hadn't seen elsewhere. They didn't, but we did stock up on breakfast cereal, so it wasn't a complete wash. Back at the hotel, there was some extremely noisy street festival going on... and the neighbors decided to have a party at 4 AM [seriously!], so there wasn't a lot of sleeping going on.
Today, we woke up, packed everything up, had our delicious and free breakfast in the hotel, bade adieu to the woofy concierge, and hit the road. On the drive home, we discussed getting a new sofa [folks, I'm telling you, married life is rad], so we went by the La-Z-Boy showroom in Renton, where we discovered that a way fucking ugly Todd Oldham section sofa will run you four thousand dollars. Over at IKEA, the sofas were more to our taste, and less than half as expensive... so hopefully we'll get one soon. After all, it'd be nice to be able to seat more than 2 in our TV room.
Dan's mowing the lawn now, I'm about to make dinner, and I hope you all had an excellent Labor Day.
PS. Remember, there's an election coming up in just a few weeks. I urge you to register now if you haven't done so already.
PPS. If you don't register and vote, I am so not speaking to you again.