Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Maybe I waited too long to post about Portland, but now that I attempt to write about it, I cannot find much to say. It was a strange visit, one where I desired most to be alone, and one where I had not means of getting alone. Portland is a large bustling city - the streets are always full of bikers and pedestrians - but it is also a town where I always felt like an outsider. Before going into Portland, I heard many things about how it is the new, hip, cultural hot-spot in America. But all I found were some coffeehouses, a bunch of bicyclists, and a lost of elitism, as though the citizens were all too aware of their town's status. Though the streets were full, I was hard-pressed even to make eye-contact with one person. It's strange that, even here in New York where I've been wandering for the last few days, people are more apt to say hello, or at least nod. I mean, Portland can't really believe that they are the first to shave their heads and sit in coffeehouses, can they? In fact, it is strange that such a fad took so long to take place in Portland.
When I did speak with people, outside of some of the friendly travelers I met at the hostel, they were often rude and lazy in their conversation. When I asked directions from a waitress, just hours after stepping of the train, she gave me the names of two cross-streets. When I said I am not from here, so I am not familiar with those cross-streets, she said, "huh," and walked away. When I called Rogue breweries about taking the 2pm tour of their operation - one of my favorite brewers - and then walked 4 miles to get there, I was informed unsympathetically that their tour guide decided to leave early. A third time, on my final day, I asked a girl if there was a cheap place to eat lunch nearby, and she responded, "probably," and turned away.
What made it worse (and I know this is quickly turning into a complaint post), was that I really needed to have some time to myself to write and read, but none was available. I stayed in a dorm room at the hostel that was full each night I was there. And even the folks at the hostel were difficult to strike up a conversation with. One day, after returning from downtown I walked into the hostel to find at least a dozen people sitting in the common room. Yet, you could've heard a pin drop. It was just very, very strange.
It wasn't all bad, though, and I really don't mind the bad anyway. I mean, the sweet is never so sweet without the sour, right? I think it was because of the bad that I was able to find a couple places that I ended up really loving. The first was the food cart district along fifth and oak, where tacos were a 1.50 and the people watching was unbeatable. The area contained about 15 carts that served up everything from Venezuelan and Indian food to Czech. and Greek food. Another place that turned out to be a real blessing was the Hawthorne Hideaway. This bar was so dark, and the backs of the benches so high, that it lent the illusion of being alone. Plus, it was the only place in Portland I could find where I could get a cold beer cheaper than 5 dollars , and they served tacos 2 for a dollar. I ended up getting a lot of writing done here, and a bit of reading, though the darkness strained my eyes.
I understand that it is naive to think that I am getting a good grasp of a town when I only spend four days there. All I can really do is wander, and try to talk with people, and sit and watch. Well, as I write this, Brooklyn is outside of the window I sit next to, and I should be out there with it. I mean, I only have 6 hours before the Mets game tonight. (I bought tickets last night to see them play the St. Louis Cardinals).
2. City of Bridges
3-4. The first two times I walked across the Willamette river, I had to wait for these bridges, that operated with a mind of their own. (Read: no boats ever passing underneath).
5. Rogue Ales Brewery (biggest waste of time in Portland - rude and discourteous staff)
6. Guys playing bean bags on PSU campus. Apparently its not just a Michigan game.
7. PSU library.
8. Brilliant blue hydrangeas on PSU campus.
9. Chessboards at PSU campus.
Entrance to Waterfront park, where all the homeless sleep.
10-13. Bridges, bridges, bridges. The large boat in 11 is the maritime museum, and the boat in 13, the one that is mostly underwater, is a submarine.
14. The Hawthorne Hostel, in which I slept in a dorm room.
15. Hawthorne Street.
16. Union Station, Portland.
Monday, June 22, 2009
Today, while he is at band rehearsal, I will be hitting the tourist sites: Times Square, Battery Park, Central Park, the Flatiron buiding and Ground Zero. I hope to have some great pictures to post soon.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
So, I arrived at union station in Chicago, and Jen picked me up, loaned me her shower, and cooked up some sweet smelling stirfry. At nine, I have to get back on my horse and make my way to the big apple, another 22 hours away. Though, when I get there I will be greeted by my friend Jacob, who I haven't seen in way too long, and we will see the city for 5 days before I get back on my horse and truck it to the city of Angels. I have so much more to write, but limited time, the movie and the stirfry and the couch is waiting.
But, before I go, I would like to send out a slightly early Happy Father's day to my dad. Thanks for all you've done and who you are. I could not be more grateful. Thanks for all the hours spent hiking, camping, fishing, playing cribbage and drinking friday-afterwork cocktails. Thanks for all the sound advice throughout the years, and thanks mostly for the example you've set for me on how to life my life simply, to cherish my family, to love love my wife deeply, to trust in God, to and to live with integrity. I can't wait for the days of hiking and fishing and cribbaging ahead of us. I love you, and I am thankful for you.
Well, all, more later when I hit new york city. I will probably scratch up some things about Portland when I am on the train, and will post in NYC. Miss you all.
Monday, June 15, 2009
I am writing this from the train to Portland, so I’ll have to post it when I get there.
Albuquerque is poised city, that doesn’t seem quite as beaten down as some of the other bigger towns across the country. On Thursday nights the men filled the streets with motorcycles fitted with ripping chrome pipes, shiny paint jobs, and ape-hanger handlebars; their equally spectacular, refurbished women fought for balance on the back seats as the bikes cut back and forth between lanes, and they did it with the sex and sass that belongs to the Hispanic woman alone.
This ritual carried on through the nights, and the weekends. Thursday night, from my hostel window, the bikes whined crescendoing, peaking, and decrescendoing off towards the Sandia mountains. During the weekend proper, the custom hot rods competed with the bikes for attention: Deafening noise vs. shameless gaudiness. Open pipes vs. hydraulics. For those of us on the streets, scared to end up underneath the tires of a jumping Ford Focus (yep, even your mother’s car bounced), it was all spectacle, and incredibly satisfying. During these times, people were friendlier, acknowledging one another as they go by, maybe even speaking. The girls wore their hair fashionably high with pricey dresses and dangerous heels; the men wore black jeans and gray tank tops. But inside the bars, they all danced, and cheered for their basketball team on the television, and drank Tecate with Jello shots.
It occurred to me that the spirit of this area is closely linked with its geography. The desert is uninhabitable to all but the strongest, most resourceful, and resilient species of flora and fauna. These species are products of millions of years of evolution and survival. In the economical decline that our country is in, it makes sense that the most resilient towns would survive only according to their adaptability. Albuquerque is, as several citizens were eager to inform me, the fifth best economy in the nation. As I volunteered at a farm, visited breweries, spoke with local businesses, and communed with fellow hostelers, I gathered the reason for the prosperity (which a hostel manager described as breaking even): a result of a combination of relatively and technologically new industry—Intel, Motorolla, and the Sandia Labs—and the highly active University community. The University of New Mexico has a reputation for excellent research in geology and meteorology, and, according to a hostel employee and local tutor, accepts and offers a large number of research grants each year.
I also found it interesting how much the local farm was positively affected by the local government. According to one of the two fulltime farmers at the farm I visited, a large participant of their crops is bought and used in the Albuquerque Public Schools, and all of the summer employees were paid through grants. In addition, the local government set aside 150 acres of land smack dab in the middle of the city (seriously) called Albuquerque’s Open Space, which is meant to be used strictly for local farming.
The community of travelers was also pretty great at the hostel. At one time, four grad students in various studies, such as journalism, history, biology, and creative writing, all researching in the area with the help of grants, were all present. Within minutes, we were, of course, fiercely arguing. This carried on until well after 2 am, upon which we all returned to our rooms in order to meet our self-imposed daily word limits for our various writing projects.
So, though my trip goals seem overwhelmingly ambiguous, I still somehow feel that Albuquerque was a success. Though, I am not sure how to gauge this. I pondered it after discussing the project with a fellow train-traveler (a retired second grade teacher), when he asked me how I would know, as I exit each town, if I was successful. I don't really have an answer, and don't expect to for quite some time. All I can really do, I guess, is wander the streets, observe, talk with strangers, take notes, read, and write. If, sometime down the road, one of these towns, strangers, etc, show up in a story, than it was successful. In addition, I feel as though I've learned some things about how to talk with people, and where to meet those that are willing to talk about their town. And, of course, some of my best time was spent sitting in the University Library, reading, writing, and processing the various encounters.
And now, to Portland. By the time I am able to post this, I will already be there. But for now, I am sitting aboard a train with my headphones on, about to enter Gallup, New Mexico en route to LA, where I will layover for two hours before boarding another train that will eventually end up in Portland. I have a hostel reserved there, but may end up splitting my time between two different hostels, in order to split my time between the yuppie/hipster Portland, and the brainy/University Portland.
As far as the train goes, I finally got a window seat, but on the wrong side of the train. Out my window, the New Mexican fields resemble Kansas in a drought. Out the opposite window, the rock outcroppings, buttes, mesas and cliffs that I can barely see, look like not-so-distant relatives of the badlands.
1. My feet hanging over the ledge of the hostel porch, composing this post.
2. My favorite district in Portland: the ethnic food trailers. Killer Carne Asada and Pollo tacos for only 1.50. Also includes Thai, Indian, Venezuelan, Czech, Mexican, American, etc
3. This sign was ridiculous. Viriginia Woolf must be spinning in her River Grave.
4. The Entrance to Chinatown.
5. Not sure what this sign was referring to, the building?
6. The bridge lifted to allow a boat to pass.
7. Willamette River from Hawthorne Bridge. River divides Portland.
8-12. Train Stations of Portland, OR; San Luis Obispo, CA; L.A., CA; Albuquerque, NM; and Raton, NM. (Many, many, many more to come.)
13-24. Pictures from the train. The white-capped mountain is Mt. Shasta, I believe. The mountain range is the contains - Northern CA and Southern OR. The sandwich is Ham and Provolone on a croissant with mayo and Dijon mustard.
25. A sculpture from the UNM campus called "Modern Art." I loved this piece. Essentially, it is an odd-looking metal tower of sorts, surrounded by statues of various folk discussing it, disregarding it, justifying it, explaining it, analyzing it, dismissing it, and putting their head in their hands. Awesome example of some meta-sculpture, calling into the question the very process of determining what art is.
26-27. A couple shots of some of the awesome architecture on the UNM campus. By far, the coolest campus I've been on. I do happen to make a rare appearance in one of these photos. (Where's Waldo?)