A Zombie in Portland

July 15, 2016 - 11:09 pm 1 Comment

That last night before leaving, I didn’t go to sleep. It was a mad crush of house chores, laundry, and packing. Somehow, perhaps irresponsibly, I managed to condense two month’s worth of essentials into a single suitcase. We shall see how that works out for me.

My flight to Portland was with Southwest, an airline I’ve had some problems with recently but compensated me with some travel vouchers. But the vouchers didn’t make me feel any better about the airline’s “no assigned seating” policy, which I find very frustrating. Just like the last time I flew Southwest, I found myself pacing up and down the aisle looking for a window or aisle seat, with each person looking at me awkwardly as they wondered if I would sit down next to them. When you choose not to sit next to them, do they take it personally? Or are they relieved? Or some weird combination of both? Alas, the best option was an aisle seat next to an athletic-looking guy with a massive, V-shaped upper body that surged over the armrest and invaded my space. He looked comfortable, but for me, acute scoliosis set in at 15,000 feet. That, and the emergency row seats don’t lean back. That, and my inflatable airline pillow became soggy and pathetic after about five minutes.

On the second leg of the trip, I was again one of last people to board, but I was determined to find a more comfortable seat. The only available aisle seat was with a young mom and two-year-old child who had been screaming in the terminal before boarding. Other comfortably seated passengers in the area looked at me and grinned, sensing the internal dilemma I was facing.

I took my chances. As the goofy Southwest flight attendant was trying to entertain us with a pun-filled safety speech, the girl screamed bloody murder and stomped on the seat in front of her because she didn’t want to sit in her carseat. Click here to listen to it. I’m usually not an overly sensitive person, but I really felt bad for this mom. It was quite a scene.

Landed in Portland and caught a shuttle to my hotel. The woman driving our shuttle would not shut up, yammering loud and fast about traffic patterns that are changing and how all of the Hiltons are confusingly named and some of the other daily struggles she faces as a shuttle driver. Getting caught in traffic on one of the bridges turned into a diatribe about how much she loved the mounties on their pretty horses and how much good they were doing for public relations. We all couldn’t wait to get dropped off.

I discovered my accommodation in Portland, The Society Hotel, with some careful filtering on TripAdvisor. While most downtown rooms are stupid expensive, this boutique hotel is affordable and very awesome. A little cafe in the lobby makes fantastic ginger chai lattes, and the rooftop desk is sweet. Chinatown, with its homeless people and shuttered storefronts, is not the prettiest neighborhood, but it’s really central and convenient to everything. I really lucked out with this place.

Exhausted, I dropped my bags and went out for a walk around town. I assumed it was aways cloudy and rainy here, but it was a gorgeous day. Portland, or at least the Chinatown area that I am in, smells like pork buns or something like that. It’s a weird smell, and it’s everywhere.

My first stop was the waterfront along the Willamette River, nothing special. Then to the Lan Su Chinese Garden, a beautiful sanctuary enclosed by walls in the middle of the city, a surprisingly quiet and zen spot in the middle of the city.


And then I headed to Powell’s Books, one of Portland’s famous landmarks. Definitely the biggest bookstore I’ve ever seen. The levels and stairways and crisscrossing rows of books make it an M.C. Escher orgy of literature.

Powell's Books

After one day here, I’d say Portland is more a city of vibe than a city of highlights. Portland is the land of hippies, crunchies, dirties, hairies, piercies, tatties, and every iteration thereof. It seems like there’s a “keep it weird” vibe like Austin, where everyone embraces everyone else’s weirdness. But everyone is happy and chill and easygoing. While eating a sandwich for lunch, an old white guy with his face painted blue, blue clothes, a blue backpack, and a blue sheet draped over his head walked in and struck up a conversation with the guy behind the counter like it was nothing. That wouldn’t happen at home.

Due to a last-minute deadline with a freelance project, I had to stay up all night and work. After two sleepless nights in a row, I officially became a zombie. This morning, I fought the urge to lay in bed and caught the morning bus to Cannon Beach. After 1.5 hours of rolling plains and windy roads through heavily forested mountains, I was there.

I parked myself in a coffee shop to finish up my work and book accommodations for the rest of my trip. People came in and out of the shop, and I was again struck by how friendly everyone is. This is a small community where everyone knows each other and exchanges pleasantries and catches up on the latest happenings around town. Apparently, Carolyn the postmaster just retired, but no one is too upset about it because she was a little mean.

With a grumbly Vietnam vet sitting next to me reading the paper, a delightful old lady named Jeannie struck up a conversation with me. Noticing my laptop, she showed me her new iPad and told me all about her computer problems at home (she made everything on her screen big and doesn’t know how to make it normal again).

With her sequined blue hat, Jeannie went on to tell me that she used to be a Spanish teacher in a small town in Texas. She told me about her son with cancer who is a programmer. Then we discussed the surprisingly large population of Mexicans in the area and the puffins who come to Cannon Beach every year on Tax Day.

I took a stroll around town. The main drag along the beach is all coffee shops, restaurants, and art galleries. I walked down to the beach and over the squeaky sand to discover Haystack Rock, an giant rock formation jutting out of the ocean just off the shore. With gentle mist around the base and birds circling around, it’s impressive. Partial carcasses of jellyfish were strewn all over beach, and consequently the air smelled like decomposing jellyfish.

Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach

Stopped for a good, hot meal at The Irish Table before heading back to Portland.

A smarter person would get a good night’s sleep tonight, but after getting names of a few local bars from the guy at the front desk, I’m going to head out and explore the nightlife. Maybe I’ll make a late night visit to Voodoo Doughnut. 🙂

    One Response to “A Zombie in Portland”

  1. Stacey Says:

    Enjoyed the post! You’re a great writer. Sounds like you are having a good time.

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