The roads in Oregon suck, but the traffic in Washington just trumps that all to shit. What the fuck, people, you were all supposed to be home watching St. Obama take office, not out on the freeway driving like a stinky bad toilet! NO!!!! It was two in the freaking afternoon on a Tuesday, people! NOBODY NEEDS TO GO ANYPLACE AT TWO IN THE AFTERNOON!
Nevertheless, the trip went well. Once again I listened to the sound of silence coming from the direction of the passengers seat, nobody checking the goddamn speedometer, nobody checking the gas gauge, nobody hearing noises that mean we're all going to die coming from the engine compartment.
Of course I'm assuming silence here since the radio was playing loud enough to delaminate the safety glass.
And now, a PHOTOGRAPHIC INTERLUDE.
My boy and I went wandering around Portland on Sunday, and decided to hit one of the local music stores. So we go driving up and dang; there I was smack in the middle of what used to be 'The Pink Triangle' up on Burnside; up by the notorious Kachina Lounge, the Family Zoo, and the Red Balcony.
Not no mo it ain't.
The Zoo is kaput, The Kachina is history, The Balcony is gone entirely, building and all. Here I was all braced to be chasing drag queens off my son, and nada.
And to top it off, Burnside as a whole is no longer lined two deep in winos, either. We did get spanged by a guy with a walker. I gave him a buck. He was wearing red nail polish.
First we (me and my son, not me and the guy in the walker) went to a music store and spent too much money, and then he (my son, not the guy in the walker) took me to this incredibly excellent place here:
...that's The Arborist with his elbow up on the bar...photographic proof that the apple did not fall very far from the tree. It fell as far as the next barstool over.
Here is the view past him, looking toward the front door. Pay attention, foreign persons in general and Mr. The Dog in particular; I took these for you. This is the inside of a cool bar in America.
Ok. Here is looking directly up at the ceiling. I'm not sure what purpose it served, but that round thing up there was covered in green and clear mirror pieces and it rotated. It kind of reminded me of that mind-control device in original Star Trek, where Kirk goes to the insane asylum planet and they put him in the device and it messes with his brain and makes him kiss that one broad? And then the one guy gets trapped in there and it sucks all his thoughts out and he dies of loneliness and then Captain Kirk says something pithy and they play the closing theme? Yeah.
I swear to you I am not falling off the barstool here; I was holding the camera at an awkward angle. Just turn your head sideways.
Look at how cool this place is. The Arborist has the most excellent taste, I swear. I loved it. They had excellent brew too. Plus there was a hot guy playing pool just out of shot to the right.
This was a bicycle parked out front of the place.
We are looking west up Burnside toward the old 'Kuntz Plumbing' building. -hey, I shit thee not. Kuntz Plumbing. I almost rented out an apartment upstairs from it years ago. The name was kind of offputting, of course...
This is the Oregon I remember when I left:
You have to make the bigger by noise of an insect becoming largeness in order to really get it, unlike this sentence. Boarded up tacky old buildings, general crumminess, squalor...
I shot this someplace way out in the brush somewhere. It's the exception to the rule now.
Here is an excellent example of what I mean when I talk about Portland being better than it used to be. This is Third Street in downtown Portland, right across from the Old Spaghetti Factory building (now an architects' office.)
Third used to be a pretty gritty area. You were getting too close to Burnside at this point, and down near the low-rent, filthy waterfront area beside...it used to be heinously dirty, the storefronts were largely unoccupied, there was lots of vandalism, and there would have been people asleep on the street and lots of graffitti and posters rotting off the walls as well. Now look.
I'm standing in the same spot looking in the opposite direction, toward the college.
No winos. No garbage in the street. Trees.
I tell you, its like that one episode in original Star Trek when they all go back through a time portal thing and Kirk falls in love with that Edith Keeler broad and has to let a car hit her so that history isn't changed? And then they go back to the Enterprise and Mr. Spock whips off his shirt, and he has a tattoo, and they have wacky space love.
Some things did stay the same. See that circle thing in the curb? The one right next to my foot there?
That's from waaaaaaaay back in the day. It's an iron ring to tie your horse to. Finding this made me really happy. I always got a kick out of them when I was a little kid and look; something good from back then is still here. Cool!
When I lived in Oregon, you used to hear people from out of state bitching about the poor condition of the roads and think "Aw geeze, grow some hair on your ass." Now, having lived for 23 years in a state that actually maintains its highways, I can go back and appreciate from an informed perspective just how bad it was, and is. Not only poorly maintained surfaces - think 'downtown Baghdad'- but unnecessarily narrow, poorly marked, and what the fuck is it with the off-camber turns? Middle of a mountain pass on a 50 mph stretch of road and suddenly you're coming around a turn and you feel the entire chassis begin to plane. And there's a log truck on your ass. And a Mexican broad in an Aerostar is passing you on the left so close her kids are trying your doorhandles and she's weaving in and out of the lane, talking on her cell phone.
The thing that complicates all this even more is that, down in Oregon, suddenly there IS SCENERY WORTH SEEING, even on the interstate. Good scenery. World class scenery, in fact. Your only choice is to pull over and stop, or miss it. You can't casually gaze out and enjoy the passing landscape; there might be a giant goddamn chuckhole coming up with a submarine floating around in it that you have to manouver around.
Once off the main highway the scenery goes from merely pretty to 'astoundingly beautiful.' Particularly along the coast, immediately west of the coastal range, along what they used to call the Miracle Miles. Now its just plain U.S. 101.
Go there. NOW.
-wait. I mean, don't move there or anything; they don't want you. Just go visit and spend a lot of money. Then LEAVE.
So anyway, there I was, traveling west through the coast range, losing altitude at an astonishing rate, going through the most excellent, moss-draped primeval forest, past incredible rock formations.... doing 55 around hairpin turns canted in defiance of ballistic motion, with a log truck gaining on me. I'm driving along with my eyes bugging out, trying to stay on the mountain, when suddenly out of nowhere all these godawful GIANT BIRDS go blasting right across my windshield! Jesus H. Christ!
At first I thought 'vultures,' but no. TURKEYS. Oh yes, definitely turkeys. I got a real good look at them. I could even read the little 'made in Macao' tags.
Nothing gets your blood moving brisky along like getting fucked with by turkeys on an frost-covered, 70% downhill grade.
I was on my way to visit a friend of mine who lives in Coquille. Now, had I been thinking, I wouldn't have just gone right in off the road without getting my shit together first.
I was not thinking.
No, I showed up at her place of work shortly after the turkey incident with my hair all sticking out wild, face pale, hands trembling, wearing my black trilby, a stained 'Spam' t-shirt and a rasty old leather jacket with crap all dangling off it.
Asked the receptionist to announce me as 'FirstNations.'
This is a professional workplace, bear in mind. This nice woman comes walking out into the lobby and a deranged hippie wearing a Zippy the Pinhead badge comes clanking and jangling up and throws her arms around her in a big ol' cloud of patchouli and adrenaline-laced fear sweat...oh yes, it was choice.
She wanted to buy me lunch, but I said no, that's ok. Then I ate most of her french fries and forgot to catch the tip.
Anyway, we sat and relaxed and just chatted nonstop. She is just as smart cool and laid back (not to mention groovy in a far out, happening way) as she comes off in her writing. We got along like a house afire. The woman is incredibly interesting, and I swear she has read EVERYTHING. I wish I'd have stayed longer, I really do. She was so nice to me. Before I'd left, she even loaded me up with dirty romance novels, and I mean, dang; lunch AND porn. That's hospitality.
In parting, she told me "Head on up the coast a ways and then take the Drain exit back to I-5. It's just a much nicer drive." A friendly bit of advice which I took. And I'm glad I did, too. Had I stuck to my original plan, I would have missed one of the most extraordinary experiences I have ever had. Retro, that was a star in your crown. That valley along the Umpqua river was one of the most gorgeous places I have ever been.
NEXT: a lot of descriptive crap about that drive, with average pictures!!!