Sunday, March 28, 2010

Portland, OR

I had a conference in Portland last week, so Tim and I flew up for an extremely short two-and-a-half days. We spent a lot of time with colleagues, mostly eating and slogging around in the cold rain. Instead of boring you with those details, I'm posting below my pre-blog journal entry about the much more interesting trip we took to Portland back in June 2006.


Tim and I had a couple of Alaska Airline tickets that were about to expire, so we decided to take a quick trip up to Portland, OR. I had been there twice on business, but he had never been. So we reserved a room at the Westin and flew up on Friday, not really knowing what to expect. We ended up spending a delightful weekend filled with many happy surprises.

Our first surprise was the light-rail. I had a vague memory of riding a trolley around town during one of my previous visits, but did not remember taking it from the airport. Yet, sure enough, there it was waiting for us as we exited the terminal. For $1.95 each, we had a relaxing ride while passing logging trucks and a handful of cars zooming down the highway. Forty-five minutes later, we got off and walked two blocks to our hotel. What a nice introduction to the city!

At check-in, the friendly receptionist asked if we were in town for the annual Rose Festival, which was happening that weekend. Now I had heard of the festival--Portland’s one true claim to fame--but had no idea we were landing right in the middle of it, so this was the second of our pleasant surprises. Not only was the annual “Starlight Parade” happening on Saturday, but fireworks were being launched that very night! Plus, as guests of the Westin, we got free admission into the Waterfront Festival, a fair that stretched along the Willamette River. Our weekend was suddenly filled with things to do!

The Westin is near Powell’s City of Books, one of the places I definitely wanted to visit. So we dropped our bags in the room and headed north three blocks to literally the largest bookstore in the country. I had spent several glorious hours there on my previous trips, but Tim was clueless, so I warned him to “prepare to be amazed.” Powell’s is a booklover’s paradise, with hundreds of thousands of new and used books lining the shelves according to general subject area. The main store takes up an entire street block and is at least four stories. I had my eye on the fantasy/science fiction section, while Tim wandered around. I told him to come find me when he was done. I then proceeded to scan through the authors whose last names begin with A. An hour-and-a-half later, Tim returned to find me perusing books written by authors with the last initial J! I still had half an alphabet to go! But I managed to tear myself away. We then spent another half-hour distracting ourselves in other parts of the store. I left empty-handed, but Tim succumbed. Pleasant surprise #3: no sales tax in Oregon!

We then walked around the neighborhood. By now, it was 5PM and antiwar protesters (mostly people our age) had gathered at Pioneer Courthouse Square, a large public meeting place in the heart of downtown. Later we saw animal rights activists picketing the Nordstrom across the street. Who knew Portlanders were so political? (Yet another happy surprise!)

The fireworks were still two hours away, so around 8PM we decided to walk over to the Waterfront Festival, located about eight blocks from the hotel. We could easily find our way because it was still light outside! The festival was a bit of a disappointment--more county fair than “festival”--still we enjoyed ourselves, watching families and young lovers gleefully board the ferris-wheel and other carnival rides. We ate ice cream, followed by strawberry shortcake, and then decided to find a place to watch the fireworks. The fireworks themselves were nothing spectacular--Disneyland puts on a far better display every week--but the crowd was thrilled and I must say that I've never seen a fireworks show I didn’t like. We happily collapsed in our “heavenly” Westin bed by 11PM.

The next morning, we took the light-rail, which is free in the downtown area, to Skidmore Fountain, where the weekly “Saturday Market” is held. A complete throwback to the ‘70s, the marketplace was filled with former hippies hawking handmade candles, tie-dye t-shirts, and bongs. We wandered around a bit and then headed back downtown. Tim returned to the hotel for a nap, while I made my way (once again!) to Powell’s, where I continued through the rest of the SF/fantasy alphabet. Two hours later, I emerged with two books in hand and stars in my eyes. I was content.

Before we even left L.A., Tim read that Burgerville--a Pacific Northwest fast-food chain that serves only locally-grown beef--offers one of the best hamburgers in the US. Armed with this info, we began our quest for lunch. Turns out there’s a Burgerville a block from the convention center, so we hopped the light-rail again and headed north. After waiting on line with a large group of hungry conventioneers--apparently everyone knows about Burgerville!--we placed our order and took a seat. The crispy chicken sandwich was good (B+) and Tim’s burger was worth the train ride over. Our own beloved Fat Burger still rules, however!

With several hours to go before the parade, we decided to walk around town to see if crowds were starting to gather. We had read in the newspaper that people reserve street and sidewalk space hours before the parade and, sure enough, all along the parade route were squares outlined in masking tape or chalk with family names scribbled inside. Some had even left plastic chairs behind to reserve their spot--a risk that no one would ever take in Los Angeles!

We could see the start of the parade route from our hotel window, so we ran over there once the “floats” started to arrive. Surprisingly, no one stopped us as we went from one group to the next, snapping photos and generally marveling at the parade participants. Here was Calamity Jane’s Hamburger Parlour’s float sitting close to the Beaterville Cafe Beater Car Club Band float. Southwest Airlines (the parade sponsor) also had a float, as did many other local businesses and groups, including the Navy, the Coast Guard, and the Portland Rescue Mission. We saw lots of young women dressed in prom gowns, getting ready to take their places atop the Portland Rose Association and Columbia River Yachting Association floats. We also spied a group of senior-citizen square dancers wolfing down fried chicken before their float rolled. We laughed at all the people patiently waiting curbside for the festivities to begin when we had already seen everything there was to see!

Still, at around 9PM, we ran down to the corner (half a block from the hotel) when we heard the crowd begin to cheer. Spirits remained high even after it started to rain. My favorite parade participants were the Greyhound Pets of America float--dogs and their owners sitting inside a covered flatbed truck--and the Cloud City Garrison, a contingent of science fiction geeks dressed as their favorite Star Wars characters. At one point Tim whispered to me, “This is as bad as the old Canoga Park Memorial Day parade of our childhood.” Yet there we were, grinning from ear to ear, standing in the drizzling rain.

We left Portland the next morning, but are determined to return again to see what other surprises might lie ahead.

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