Where There’s Smoke, There’s Idiots

5:30 Sunday morning we were lying in bed, awake, because…well, we’re freaks, I guess. There’s no other logical explanation.

In any case, our alarm was set for 6:00 a.m. anyway (see? Freaks!), so when Tara said, “Want to drive out to Cape Horn to catch the sunrise?” I did not resist as much as I might otherwise have. We were headed out in that direction anyway, planning a hike at Beacon Rock, so I figured we might as well. Tara had been wanting to catch a sunrise out that way for years, and this was the perfect opportunity.

It was still darkish when we left home, headed east into the Columbia River Gorge after a quick stop at McDonald’s for a bite to eat. Say what you will about them, but I do love me a good Egg McMuffin. I rarely go there, and when I do it’s only for a quick breakfast, and that breakfast always consists of an Egg McMuffin. I feel it’s the one thing they do really well.

But I digress.

We got to the Cape Horn overlook right around sunrise – 6:35 a.m. And saw nothing but thick smoke from the Eagle Creek wildfire. Side note: Eagle Creek had been our original destination. It’s the most popular hiking trail in the Gorge, and for good reason: the scenery is stunning, all forested canyons and waterfalls, and the trail is mostly level. I was last there in May and slogged through a wet but spectacularly scenic hike.

Well, sadly, some asshole hiker decided to play with fireworks on Saturday afternoon and started a brush fire that stranded 153 hikers overnight! They were brought to safety Sunday morning, but by then the fire had grown to 3,000 acres and is now threatening the entire town of Cascade Locks. I am so pissed at these idiots…and heartbroken. Very afraid to see what the trail looks like after the fire is eventually contained, which is sure to take a while given the continued hot, dry weather and windy conditions that are expected to develop. And to think we were this close to going hiking there that very day. We only changed our minds because the weather was supposed to be a couple of degrees less hot (I can’t even say “cooler” because we’re talking 94 versus 98), and then of course by the time we were ready to go hiking the whole place was up in flames. It’s amazing to me how fickle fate is, and how your life can turn on a dime. Granted, we’d have gotten there early in the morning and the fire didn’t begin until 4:00 p.m., but what if the other hiker had set out earlier? What if we’d stayed longer? You just never realize how close you come to catastrophe sometimes, I suppose.

Anyway, when the sun climbed above the horizon, we began to spot it through the smoke. And suddenly, it was glowing a beautiful shade of red. These photos are completely unedited; I just pointed my trusty Nikon eastward and pressed the shutter button.

After killing a good half hour watching the sun and snapping a million pics, we continued on to Beacon Rock State Park, where we ended up doing a couple of short hikes: 2.1 miles to a pair of waterfalls, and then another 1.2 miles to the top of Beacon Rock and back down. There were some pretty breathtaking vistas along the way that afforded us views of all the smoke.

Nothing super strenuous, but it was uncomfortable breathing in all that smoke, and after a while we noticed sprinkles of ash drifting down on us. So we headed back home, our mission accomplished.

Ash on Tara’s truck.

Our mission, I should point out, was banking calories for The Bite of Oregon, our favorite local festival in Portland. We go every year, and always try to do a hike in the morning so we can splurge guilt-free in the evening. This year they changed it up quite a bit; it’s normally held at Tom McCall Waterfront Park the second weekend in August, but they pushed it back to Labor Day weekend in 2017 and moved it to the Rose Quarter, which is a lot more…concrete-y, for lack of a better word. I suspect they decided on a later date in order to beat the heat, which backfired because it was in the mid-90s and hot as blazes anyway. That always seems to be the case, and is the reason why we hold off until the evening to head over there. We left home about 6:00, drove to the Parkrose MAX station, grabbed a light rail train, and were deposited in front of the Rose Quarter 30 minutes later.

The moment we walked in, we could tell the vibe was different. Instead of its nice location alongside the Willamette River, the more urbanized setting suffered from a funky, disjointed layout. There were fewer vendors, and those that were there didn’t compare to some of the “regulars” we’d become accustomed to over the years. The chef’s bounty tables were history, the wine and beer gardens were maybe half the size, and crowds were sparse. Even the 80s cover band playing on stage kind of sucked. I hate to say it, but they ruined The Bite. If there’s some weird silver lining to look at, hey – at least it’s one less thing to miss should we decide to move. We still grabbed some food, because we were starving after all, but hightailed it out of there in less than an hour. Normally we linger for several.

We got home and parked ourselves on the back deck, listening to music, even though it was still warm. And then I got an overpowering urge to drive east, into the Gorge, to look at the fire up close. We debated this for a few minutes – it was late at night, a 40-minute drive, we didn’t want to be gawkers – but in the end, curiosity and a desire to capture some really cool pics won out. I guess I’m a photographer at heart, albeit an amateur one. Besides, Tara pointed out that it was a warm summer night; we could put the moonroof down, listen to some tunes, and witness something up close that few people ever get a chance to see.

That was good enough for me.

Driving over twisty two-lane mountain roads in darkness so thick you need a constant hand on your high beams is not for the faint of heart, but 30 miles to the east we came upon the fire, which was raging out of control across the river. The flames were encroaching upon Bonneville Dam, adjacent to Cascade Locks.

Flames from the Eagle Creek fire in the hills behind Bonneville Dam.

It was a sad and surreal sight, and we joined throngs of onlookers who had pulled over to gaze in wonder and take pictures of their own. It looked like we were in Hell.

We didn’t get back home until 12:30, but man, it was worth the long drive and late night.

I’m beyond saddened by all this. At least they’ve identified the suspect who started it. Wonder of wonders, it’s a teenage boy. I never would’ve guessed that.

We’re planning a much lower-key Labor Day. For starters, I’m pretty sure I hear a Bloody Mary calling my name. Then we’re headed to my parents’ house for dinner this evening.

Hope y’all have a good holiday, and hats off to the brave men and women fighting this devastating fire in the Gorge.

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You Can Ring My Bell

We had the longest, most hilarious debate at work on Friday. It all started when I walked with Sarah to the post office. There was one of those bells on the counter that said “ring for service,” and nobody up front, so I did as instructed and rang it for service. This caused Sarah to freak out. When the postal employee came up front to help, she started apologizing profusely for my behavior, even making excuses for me (“Sorry about that…he likes to ring bells”) that, quite frankly, made it sound like I am not all “there” in the head.

First off, I don’t “like to ring bells.” What I like to do is follow instructions, and when there is a bell on the counter with a sign saying to ring it, I’m going to ring it! So there was no need to beg for my forgiveness. What was I supposed to do, stand around waiting for the postal employee to wander up front whenever it was convenient for him? He was hard at work sorting mail in the back and probably appreciated hearing the bell. Even if he did not appreciate it, too bad – it was sitting there begging to be rung. Literally. He can be mad at his boss for putting it there, but he’d better not be upset with me.

So I got back to the office and was relaying this story to my team. Not A Palindrome said, “I will sit in a waiting room ’til I die before I ring a bell.” This naturally led to a bigger conversation about bells – specifically, doorbells. I wanted to know if she and Deb were knockers or ringers. And for the next 45 minutes, we engaged in a spirited debate over the issue.

Not A Palindrome’s issue with bells stems from the fact that she doesn’t like to make a lot of noise. I countered by saying a loud knock is more disturbing than a ringing bell, but she explained that she knocks softly. When I asked what happens if they don’t hear her, she said she’ll knock again and again, progressively louder, until they finally do hear her – a process that takes three times on average by her estimation. I told her that she’d only have to ring the doorbell once to get the person’s attention, which meant knocking was an inefficient method, but she said she never claimed it was efficient, it’s just what she does.

Deb is a ringer like me, but makes some concessions for knocking (e.g., she’ll knock if there is a baby in the house, or it’s early in the morning). My question is, what constitutes “early”? I’m up by 7:00 on weekends, so you can ring my bell all you want on a Saturday morning and I’m perfectly okay with that. But maybe the other person is a night owl who likes to sleep in late; they might consider 10:00 early. So I’m wondering, what is the cutoff? Are we drawing demarcation lines in the sand at a certain time of day to separate knocking from ringing? And how on earth do we come to an agreement? Hell, if you work the graveyard shift, 3 p.m. might be early while 2 a.m. is lunchtime. It’s madness.

Complicating matters further, Deb said it also depends on whether the person knows you are dropping by. If they’re expecting her, she’ll knock. If not, she’ll ring the bell.

Why does this matter?!?!

 

In any case, I found the whole thing very eye-opening, and I’m curious: are you a knocker or a ringer?


Tara and I had quite the urban adventure Saturday. We took the light rail train into Portland (just a week after the fatal MAX double stabbing that made national news…ugh) and walked to the PSU farmer’s market. Our long, wet winter and spring have delayed the hotly-anticipated arrival of fresh berries, but finally – finally! – strawberries were available. That alone made the trip worthwhile.

After grabbing a bite to eat, Tara turned to me and asked, “How adventurous are you feeling today?” I was in the mood to step outside of my comfort zone, so we hopped onto the Portland Street Car – a new experience for us both – and randomly explored some parts of the city we’d never seen. We alternated between street cars and MAX trains and shuttle buses and eventually found ourselves at the International Rose Test Garden. Talk about taking advantage of mass transit! Planet Earth owes us big time for yesterday. At least the weather was perfect for urban exploration – overcast and in the mid 60s. We got home around 5:30 and enjoyed a low-key evening with a simple dinner, BLTs and corn on the cob, and a Netflix movie (“Black Mass” with an unrecognizable Johnny Depp playing notorious Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger).

Nobody knocked on our door or rang the bell all evening, I’m happy to report.

A Francisco Clause

The Tape Face show on Friday night turned out to be lots of fun. Well, fun in retrospect, because throughout the performance I was paranoid I was going to be yanked onstage and humiliated, like the poor fella who had to face off with the comedian in a light saber duel involving a limp tape measure and loads of sexual innuendo, or the dude who had to wear a toilet seat around his neck, or the trio forced to learn an impromptu disco dance. Every time T.F. leapt from the stage and raced down the aisles I scrunched down into my seat, making myself as small as possible, and patently avoided eye contact. Meanwhile, people were waving their arms all around me, gesticulating wildly to get his attention, practically shouting Pick me! Pick me! while I was trying to blend chameleon-like into my surroundings. What a bunch of weirdos.

Buuut, tension aside, he really is a clever guy, and his act is very original. He’s got boxes full of props, and can convey about a thousand different emotions purely on his body language and facial expressions. It was a very enjoyable show and I would see him again in a heartbeat. Preferably seated from the balcony, of course.

Saturday we met up with our friend Kara to check out the Portland Night Market. This is a quarterly event that showcases the many unique and diverse businesses that call Portland home, and blends food, culture, music, drinks and retail together for an adventurous evening in the Industrial District.

Those are totally not my words BTW.

We had never been before, and it was a blast. There were more than 175 vendors, food and drinks and crafts and art, housed inside an old warehouse, with an outdoor section that featured food carts. Fortunately, this area was protected by a tent, keeping us dry from the heavy rain (and thunder and lightning!). We browsed and people watched and enjoyed free samples and cocktails and some delicious food – in other words, all my favorite pastimes. We had a great time and will definitely be going again. It’s coming back September 29-30, and we’ll be ready.

Happenin’ scene at the Portland Night Market.
Thankful for the tent.

Audrey got back from Disneyland on Tuesday. She had a great time, and was super excited because Heidi Klum walked right past her. But now she’s talking about moving to California because it doesn’t rain all the freaking time, a new plan that directly contrasts with her desire to live in Seattle when she graduates, where it most certainly does rain all the time. All I can say is, teenagers are fickle creatures. And I would a million times rather live in Seattle than Los freakin’ Angeles, but that’s just me.

Actually, I’ve found I can determine potential places to live based on their names. For instance, I am opposed to any city that starts with either Los or Las. I don’t care much for anything beginning with San, either (though there is a Francisco clause). Pretty handy formula, huh? But things get murkier when it comes to choosing a state. Because I would totally move to South Dakota but have no desire to live in North Dakota, yet I’d pick North Carolina over South Carolina in a heartbeat. So much for rules of thumb.

There are a few other personal preferences I’ve compiled into a handy list:

  • States that end with the letter n are an automatic yes.
  • States that end with the letter i are an automatic no.
  • The higher the ratio of vowels to consonants, the less likely I am to want to live there.
  • No News isn’t good news, as I find those states that begin with New appealing.
  • I don’t think I could live in a state with a panhandle, but if I lived in Idaho, I’d only want to live in the panhandle.
  • Generally speaking, I prefer rectangular-shaped states.
  • The more lakes a state has, the better. The more swamps a state has, the worse.
  • Ocean access is good, as long as the mean water temperature is lower than 68 degrees.

I’m not the only one who spends this much time obsessing over geography, right?!

Bacheloring it Up

It’s been a pretty full weekend so far. I’m trying to downshift today, but still have some errands to run. Which is fine, because I get antsy just sitting around the apartment anyway.

Tara is in Nevada for a visit with friends and family, so I’ve been “bacheloring it up,” you might say. In my case, this means three things:

  1. Eating all the foods my wife does not like. (It’s a long list, FYI).
  2. Hiking.
  3. Listening to lots of rock ‘n roll.

She swung by my office on her way out of town around 2:00 on Thursday afternoon to say goodbye. It was a super warm and humid day, the likes of which I have never seen here; just stepping outside felt downright tropical. The sun was blazing, and then it started raining, big heavy drops that just sort of sank to the earth beneath their own weight. Thunder rumbled. We kissed, and she was on her way.

I’d bought a ticket to see a local band called Eyelids play at Mississippi Studios, and it’s a good thing I did that in advance, because I’m sure I would have talked myself out of going otherwise. One of my biggest regrets from when I was single was the fact that I never stepped outside of my comfort zone. I never once set foot in a bar or went out to catch a concert by myself, things that I really enjoy doing nowadays, and I wanted to prove to myself that I could.

So. Damn. Good!

So I did. Thursday after work I drove into Portland and got to Bar Bar (the appropriately-if-unoriginally-named bar adjacent to the club), ordered a burger/fries and a cocktail, and snagged a spot outside on their patio, where I buried myself in a copy of  Portland Mercury while stealthily people-watching. My cocktail hit the spot, and the food was fantastic. I honestly can’t remember the last time I ordered a burger and fries, so it felt like a great splurge. I got another drink before the doors opened at 8:00. The air-conditioning was running full blast and it was cold AF in there, making me glad I’d grabbed that flannel shirt at the last minute even though the idea seemed ridiculous at the time (when it was 82 degrees with 1000% humidity).

The bands were good, really good. All three of them. We’d just seen Jackson Boone five days earlier at the Doug Fir, which was kind of funny. Point Juncture, WA was up next, and they have an interesting dynamic: two women and three guys. The female drummer also traded lead vocals with the male keyboard player, alternating between songs, which always makes for a good, varied sound. The main act, Eyelids, was having a record release show, so they played their new album in full as well as a bunch of their older stuff. These guys are really good; they’re considered a sort-of indie “supergroup” with former members of The Decemberists, Guided By Voices, and the Jicks, and they had great stage presence: lots of witty banter. It’s clear they’re very comfortable playing together. I decided to ditch my cozy seat in the balcony and made my way down to a spot right in front of the stage. Screw sitting, I texted Tara. I mean, normally we do, but occasionally a guy’s gotta get up on his feet and rock out to the music. Which is exactly what I did. The show didn’t end until well past midnight, making me glad I took Friday off. I walked to my car while lightning flashed overhead. It started pouring rain around the time I got home, and the temperature dropped down to the 50s. Just like that, our first heatwave of the year came to an end. 

Despite the late night, I was up early Friday morning, as usual. I just can’t seem to sleep in anymore these days, especially when it’s bright by 6:00 this time of year. My destination was the Eagle Creek trail in the Columbia Gorge. Specifically, I wanted to hike to Tunnel Falls and back. It’s a 12-mile round trip; I had never hiked more than 9 miles before, but was pretty confident in my abilities as I’ve done a lot of hiking the past couple of years and am definitely in shape for it. I got to the trailhead at 10 a.m. and set out, thanking my lucky stars that it was only overcast and misty. Well, those stars turned unlucky, because just a few minutes into my hike it started raining…and continued the whole time. Fortunately I have a rain cover for my camera and backpack, but the jacket I had grabbed to wear was not waterproof, and I got thoroughly soaked, so much that I had to wring out my flannel shirt afterwards. So much for that forecast of “rain ending by noon.”

Beautiful views, even with the clouds and rain.

The hike itself was fantastic, though. The first five miles were fine; the trail runs parallel to Eagle Creek on a high rocky ledge smack dab in the middle of a heavily forested canyon, with abundant waterfalls and tons of pink and yellow wildflowers this time of year. Even with the steady rain, it was breathtaking.

The best hikes come with cables.

And then I hit that last mile…

I’d read trail reports ahead of time and knew the going would be rough, but I didn’t know it would be that rough. There were lots of downed trees that were tricky to navigate, a swollen stream with nothing but a narrow log and slippery rocks to help you  across. In one section, a small landslide had turned the trail into what can only be described as a giant mud pit. It was pretty challenging, and I was half tempted to turn around, but I’d already invested three hours and knew the falls were close by, so I pushed on.

One of the many obstacles in my path.

And I’m glad I did. Tunnel Falls was totally worth the effort. It’s a dramatic waterfall tumbling 175 feet down the side of a basalt cliff. Here’s the description from a hiking website:

As the name implies, your path will pass through a tunnel behind the falls about midway up the span. Consider as you enter the tunnel, that work to build this was done in the 1910s and has been virtually unchanged since! The falls drop from the bluffs above to the creek bed below then downstream into the main Eagle Creek run. The years have carved out a striking amphitheater here. It is a breathtaking area, and easily the climax of your trip.

Tunnel Falls. You literally walk through a tunnel behind the falls.

As if that wasn’t dramatic enough, and because I’m nuts, I didn’t stop there. I took the website’s advice and did this, too:

The stretch just beyond the falls is another very exposed cliff-side pathway etched into the gorge wall. Again, a cable line is there to steady you. But nowhere has the traverse been quite so dizzying! If you still feel like you have some energy, continue less than a half-mile ahead to the two-tiered, 200 foot tall Twister Falls. It is well worth the minimal additional effort if time affords.

It was totally worth the effort. Definitely a very unique waterfall that, sure enough, resembles a twister. I posted a video to Instagram if you follow me there (adios.ghost).

I appreciated the falls as much as I could, but I was drenched and knew I had a long return trip to make, so I did not linger. It took another couple of hours to get back to my car, which I reached at 3:30 just as the freaking sun decided to show its face. Screw you, Mother Nature. By then I was sore all over; every step of those final couple of miles was a struggle. According to my Fitbit, I logged 13.23 miles and over 30,000 steps! Both are new records for me. When I got home I listened to records, drank some well-deserved tequila sodas, and ate the pork and pigeon pea stew that I’d had cooking in the crockpot all day. Tried to watch Braveheart but fell asleep probably a third of the way through. I was exhausted!

Saturday I stayed closer to home. Drove into Portland, walked around East Burnside. Grabbed a Bloody Mary at Eastburn, ramen for lunch at Marukin, and bought a bottle of pear vodka from the Wild Roots tasting room on Distillery Row. My final stop was Music Millennium for some record shopping. Scored a great copy of Wooden Shjips on green vinyl and some other stuff. Came home, listened to all my new purchases plus some old stuff, drank more tequila (it’s what I do, apparently) and made chicken mole. Watched a lame Netflix movie called The Shallows.

Today I have some errands to run – my car is long-overdue for an oil change, and I should probably run it through the carwash since the birds have been treating it like their own personal empty canvas in which to decorate lately. I should probably start editing my book, too. Writing it was the easy part.

Back to work tomorrow, and then Tara will be home late on Tuesday.

The Long and Short of It

I just finished reading my 5th book of the year! I know that isn’t a huge number to a lot of people, but for me it’s pretty good and puts me on track to blow my modest Goodreads 12-book reading goal out of the water. This no-looking-at-the-phone-in-bed rule I instituted at the beginning of the year – call it a resolution if you must – is paying off pretty well for me.

Just because the cool kids are doing it, here’s what I have read so far:

  • “Martin Eden” (Jack London)
  • “The Silent Girls” (Eric Rickstad)
  • “Born to Run” (Bruce Springsteen)
  • “The North Water” (Ian McGuire)
  • “Frozen In Time” (Mitchell Zuckoff)

That’s a pretty diverse list, actually. You’ll find both classic and modern literature, an autobiography, a stupidly cheesy mystery/serial killer/police procedural, and a fascinating nonfiction account of a WWII plane crash in Greenland and the present-day attempt to find the wreckage. They have all been, well, good reads with the exception of the stupidly cheesy mystery/serial killer/police procedural (no offense, Eric Rickstad).

Immediately upon finishing that last book, I “went to the library” and “checked out” book numero six. It’s a short story collection called “Crow Fair” by Thomas McGuane. I very rarely read short stories, but this book had excellent reviews from the literary community so I decided to try something new. (By the way, I added those quotation marks up there because going to the library actually meant going to the library’s website and checking out a book involved downloading it to my Kindle. Ahh, 21st century, how I love thee.) You know how sometimes you can read the very first sentence of a book and know right away that you are going to love it? That’s what happened with “Crow Fair.” McGuane’s writing immediately drew me in. Bonus: I finished the first story on my lunch hour, which is a nice sense of accomplishment. Can’t wait to dig in further.

I am actually fascinated by short stories. I have always wanted to try my hand at writing them, but find it a difficult art form to master. For some reason, I have a much easier time writing novels. Go figure. Maybe I’m just too long-winded, ha. I feel like it’s a real challenge to tell a tale concisely. How do you adequately develop characters and come up with a beginning, middle, and end in only 20 pages?! And yet, people do. I have written exactly one short story in my adult life, and I think it’s decent, but I’ve been stymied in my attempts to do more. I’m thinking “Crow Fair” will provide me with the inspiration I need.

Ironically enough, it was a short story that fueled my passion for writing to begin with. Back in junior high I entered a short story contest sponsored by my local library on a whim, and won first place. It was called “The Egg” and is a pretty dark and cynical tale of a post-apocalyptic America. I still have it, and occasionally dig it out to read. It’s actually not too bad. I think the prize was something like $50, and I could not tell you what I spent the money on to save my life. Probably Atari 2600 cartridges or something. After all, it was the 80s and I did love me some Pitfall. There were a couple other short stories in college that, come to think of it, were also  dark. Both involved bad people who harbored secrets. Hmm. This strikes me as odd, given my normally sunny disposition. The one I wrote 10-ish years ago is called “The Autumn Gate” and isn’t quite as dark as the others, though it does explore the theme of mortality. It’s basically the story of a guy walking down the street of his childhood hometown, which he is visiting for the first time in years, and watching some kids playing baseball. I actually have no idea if it’s any good. All I know is, it’s about twelve pages long, so GO CONCISE MARK! Good job.

Just writing this post really makes me want to take another stab at short stories! I suppose I should finish my novel-that-is-taking-forever first, though.


It’s been a pretty great weekend so far. Friday night we went out to our favorite neighborhood bar, Shanahan’s. Unfortunately we couldn’t grab our usual table thanks to a private event, which meant our regular server, who knows us (and our orders) by heart, couldn’t wait on us. We ended up sitting at the bar, but those tequila sodas and fried pickles tasted as good as ever, so no complaints.

Afterwards…well. Let’s just say I lead a fun life.

Saturday, we went to the Kennedy School – part of the McMenamin’s chain – for lunch, cocktails, and a movie. “Star Wars: Rogue One” was playing and we hadn’t seen it yet. The tickets were $4 and this theater has a collection of plush, cozy chairs and loveseats annnnnd you can eat and drink right there, so it’s always a fun time. Let me just say, the movie was excellent and we both enjoyed it very much. It wasn’t even on my radar when it first came out, but it does the Star Wars franchise justice. Go see it.

Afterwards we drove into Portland. I wanted to walk around the waterfront to see the cherry trees, which finally decided to blossom this week, a final dagger in the heart of what turned out to be the coldest winter around these parts in over three decades. The cherry blossoms were beautiful, and everybody else in town seemed to have the same idea. It great to get out between rainstorms, though.

Came home and watched “Deepwater Horizon.” Talk about an intense movie. I highly recommend that one, as well.

Puffy Coats and Cat Sweaters

Audrey bought a sweater for our cat today. Suffice it to say, she was not a fan of playing dress-up. Poor Sydney. You can practically see “you shitty humans” written all over her face. Hey, I thought she was cute!

p1010344

Last week was pretty interesting. I ended up working from home  Thursday and Friday due to the weather. We didn’t even end up with all that much snow – no more than 1″, really – but then it turned to sleet and freezing rain, and that created an icy mess. Fortunately, I have a very understanding boss and a job where I can easily work from home (and usually get a lot more done there, anyway). But after being cooped up for a couple of days I was feeling a bit stir-crazy come Saturday morning. So we probably shouldn’t have started watching Disc 1 of the Stephen King miniseries 11.22.63, because we got totally sucked in and ended up watching all four hours’ worth before budging from the couch around noon. It’s such a great book – probably my favorite King novel, and that’s saying a lot – and the miniseries is just different enough to make it feel unique. James Franco nails the lead role. When we finished I finally got outside and took a nice, long walk around the neighborhood. I’d tried venturing out  on Friday afternoon but the sidewalks were icy and after nearly falling a couple of times I gave up on that idea and decided staying inside and drinking Wild Roots vodka was the better idea. Mama didn’t raise no fools.

Yesterday, we went out to dinner at Der Rheinlander, a German restaurant in Portland that has been in business for 53 years. I have a longstanding love affair with the place; the first time my parents came up for a visit in 1994 we went here, and have been going ever since. It has been a holiday tradition for many years, one that I have written about fondly right here on ye olde blog. Sadly, they are closing for good on December 31st. Apparently there was big demand in the marketplace for a castle-shaped building. So we wanted to go one last time, and invited my parents along. My dad has been battling a cold and wasn’t feelin’ the schnitzel, but my mom joined us and, as always, we had a great time and an amazing meal that consisted of – for posterity’s sake – cheese fondue with white and rye bread and German sausage links; bier onion soup; and a chicken breast in a pepper cream sauce with sauteed mushrooms and spaetzle. Plus a couple of cocktails. It was so, so good.

screen-shot-2016-09-27-at-6-04-00-pm

The family that owns Der Rheinlander opened a chain of similar restaurants called Gustav’s, and their menu is basically the same, but the ambience just isn’t the same. The Rheinlander is more like a theme park: it’s a dark maze of adjoining rooms replete with cuckoo clocks on the walls and  strolling accordion players dressed in  Lederhosen. Campy? Yes. Fun? Absolutely. I will miss the place very much.

Today I ended up venturing out to the mall, a place I never go. Especially this time of year. But I was in need of a winter coat, since our weather is supposed to remain cold (30s – low 40s) for pretty much the next 10 days or so. And they’re predicting more chances of snow, which might translate to more days working from home. I can live with that. My mission was successful: I found a nice, warm “puffy” coat (Seinfeld, anybody?) and treated myself to conveyor belt sushi. I am living the high life, folks.

When I came home I called an old friend. Actually, my best friend from high school, Ted. We had been inseparable for three years when we lived on Ellsworth AFB in South Dakota, but had completely fallen out of touch with one another. I last saw/spoke with Ted in 1987 before he dropped off the face of the earth, and had been searching in vain for him for years. After turning up exactly zero leads, I figured one of three things had happened: he’d died, ended up in jail, or entered witness protection. Seriously. In this day and age, it’s not too difficult to find people.

And then, about a month ago, I got a message from his daughter on Facebook. I’d emailed her two years ago, thinking she might know him (she shared his last name and had also lived in Fort Pierce, Florida, where I knew he had at one time resided), but had never heard back from her. Then, quite suddenly, I did. Turns out Ted is her father, and he had legally changed his last name years earlier, which is why I was never able to find him on social media. We had not spoken in 29 years, and yet, it was almost as if no time had passed. Growing up an Air Force brat I never made any “permanent” friends, and Ted’s whereabouts had long been a mystery to me. I’m so glad I found him! He is the closest I have to a childhood friend, and we spent 45 minutes catching up and reminiscing today. It’s amazing how quickly you can bridge a three-decades gap. Ted’s a good guy. He has had his share of challenges in life, but haven’t we all? It sounds like he’s emerged stronger for his experiences. Turns out we have actually followed similar paths in life. Best of all, he now lives in Roseville, CA – a suburb of Sacramento. I have two other close friends who live there. I’m thinking a road trip in the near future might be just what the doctor ordered.

The “S” Word

Tara and I drove into Portland yesterday to pick up a few things (an $11.45 bag of Jacobsen sea salt, a bottle of Wild Roots Marionberry infused vodka, a package of smoked steelhead trout – god, we’re weird). While on Sandy Blvd. we drove past a huge vintage store we had never seen before and decided to stop in. This place was great! In addition to a million knickknacks, including more than a few lava lamps, they also apparently bought out an old clothing/costume store and there were all kinds of groovy outfits. I really, really wanted to buy a yellow ruffled tuxedo shirt and houndstooth jacket just because, or maybe to wear to the upcoming office holiday party ironically, but we didn’t have a lot of time to browse so we will have to go back sometime and invest a solid hour or two for looking around.

Along the way, we passed this car.

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Guess you’d call that a tree-cylinder, huh?

Oh, Portland. I love you so.

On the way home there was a woman on the side of the road selling homemade tamales out of a cooler for $5 each. “You just know those would be the best tamales you ever had,” Tara said, and I was tempted to stop but I had already passed her by and we really needed to get home so I could start cooking, as we were having my parents over for dinner. Come to think of it, I should have just picked up a bunch of tamales and served those – would’ve saved me a heck of a lot of trouble, huh? But I was already planning on making enchiladas and guacamole, so we just stuck with that.

I’m tempted to drive back over there sometime and pick up a few, though.

The dinner turned out very well. Doing it all from scratch, right down to the enchilada sauce, is a lot of work but definitely worth the effort. Our apartment is all decked out for the holidays and we had Christmas music playing, so it was very festive. Audrey and her girlfriend were there too, so that was nice. After dinner my parents went home and we watched my favorite holiday movie, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Tara made popcorn and it was a grand ol’ time.

I was itching to get out of the apartment today and Tara had some stuff to do, so I took an impromptu drive into the Gorge. The weather was very dramatic. Check out the storm clouds from the Cape Horn Lookout.

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I wanted to climb Beacon Rock, but the trail was closed for maintenance. What?! So I ended up hiking to Hardy Falls and Pool of the Winds instead. It’s been really wet lately, and the falls were quite spectacular.

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I also drove into Stevenson, our future home, to check out their community Christmas tree. It was, umm, cute. Pretty small actually. I also stopped in the grocery store for a few items, and the checker was addressing the lady behind me by name and asking about her kids. How quaint. I guess that’s something we’ll have to get used to when we live there.

On the way home I ran into a massive hail storm; that provided some excitement!

I am currently drinking wine while Tara is making a beef and butternut squash stew. We are watching football and will put on The Walking Dead later. Yesterday I hit page 200 in my novel, not a bad feat considering I started out on page 30 a little over a month ago. I am not that far away from the home stretch, which makes me want to keep banging away at it.

So people are getting excited around here because the National Weather Service mentioned the “S” word. As in, snow. They’re predicting that just in time for the morning commute tomorrow, but it’s doubtful that anything will stick unless you get up into the foothills. There’s a better chance of snow and/or freezing rain later in the week, and that offers a little more promise. We shall see. For all the times they predict snow around here, it rarely materializes. We just don’t live in the right climate for it, so everything has to come together perfectly. Regardless of whether it actually does end up snowing, it’s going to be cold this week. Highs in the 30s. We haven’t had temps that low in quite awhile, so it’ll feel especially frigid for those of us more used to a damp 48 degrees.

Have a great week!


That Time I Met The Boss

I can sum up the most surreal ten seconds of my life in a single photograph captured for posterity:

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I don’t even know where to begin. How often does one get the opportunity to meet a famous person whom they have admired their whole life? And after doing so, how does one find the proper words to sum up the experience? Damned if I know, and I’m a writer. But I’ll give it a shot.

I left the apartment at 7 a.m. Tuesday morning and decided to take mass transit in order to avoid traffic and the hassle of parking, based on my mom’s suggestion. This involved catching a bus in Vancouver and transferring to a light rail train at a transit center in Portland. It cost $5 and was worth every penny. I arrived at Powell’s Books about 8:15 and joined the throngs of excited fans lined up around the side of the building. There was a party-like vibe to this communal once-in-a-lifetime experience, but I wish Tara had been able to join me. I felt a little out of place showing up stag because nearly everybody in line was there with somebody else, a spouse or parent or friend, but I felt lucky enough just to have snagged one ticket, so I can’t really complain.

Powell’s opened their doors at 9:00, and it took another half hour to make it inside for the official registration. Once there we presented our tickets to a cashier, were issued wristbands and handed our signed copies of Bruce’s autobiography, then ushered to another line upstairs for more waiting. People were sharing their favorite Springsteen memories, talking about his music, etc. I learned that one person flew in from Australia for the chance to meet Bruce, and another had seen him in concert 60 times. There is no doubt these people were all hardcore fans, so in that sense I felt right at home. I killed a lot of that time reading from his book, which is quite entertaining and well-written (naturally).

Around 11:30 cheers went up from the crowd, and though we couldn’t see him from where we were waiting, we figured The Boss had made his grand entrance. The line started moving again, upstairs to the Red Room. Powell’s is cavernous; it takes up an entire city block and has nine color-coded rooms on three floors. I have long called it my favorite Portland hangout, and that is twice as true when The Boss happens to be there. The third floor was closed off to the general public and it took about half an hour for the line to wind around the shelves and through the aisles. Meanwhile, reporters from The Oregonian were taking photos and interviewing people, which only added to the surreality. When we got close we were liberated from our wristbands and our books were collected for safekeeping. Suddenly I was there, right behind the curtained-off area where Springsteen was meeting his fans. The woman in front of me looked like she was about to faint. “I see him through the curtain!” she squealed. Then she parted the curtain and surreptitiously took a photo, holding her phone up for all to see. “I got a picture of him hugging a stranger!” she declared excitedly. Which was kind of silly, because she was just a few seconds away from meeting him in person herself, but I appreciated the unbridled enthusiasm. We were all feeling it at that point.

A minute later I was led into the curtained area, and there he was, standing on a raised platform a mere ten feet away. Unbelievable. Bruce freakin’ Springsteen, The Boss himself, right there in person. He looked larger than life and completely ordinary at the same time, an everyman who just happens to be a world famous rock star adored by millions. There were three Powell’s employees taking photos, and they did a great job of keeping the line moving efficiently. I brought along my point and shoot camera – this was far too important an occasion to rely on my phone’s camera – and handed it to a staff member. The woman in front of me had an iPad and was having trouble figuring out how to make the camera work. I really hope she got it figured out (or not, because taking pics with an iPad is pretty lame).

“You’re up!” an employee said, and suddenly it was my turn to meet Bruce Springsteen. I stepped onto the stage and he turned to me with a friendly smile. This was the quintessential OH-SHIT-I-CAN’T-BELIEVE-THIS-IS-HAPPENING-TO-ME moment of my entire life. For a few brief seconds I had his complete and total attention. Trust me, that’s an awful lot of pressure! It felt like the whole world stopped spinning for those next ten seconds. I’d had a little speech rehearsed – I suspect most everybody who was there did, too – but there just wasn’t enough time. How can you convey to a man how much his music has shaped your life in a few brief words? How can you let him know that his lyrics inspired you to become a storyteller yourself? Bruce breathed life into a cast of characters whose tales have intrigued me since childhood. There’s Crazy Janey and her mission man; Rosalita, jumping a little higher; Gunner breathing deep, his ankles caked in mud. There’s Wendy and Mary and Spanish Johnny; Go-Cart Mozart and Wild Billy and Bad Scooter (searching for his groove) and dozens more, all whose stories are etched into my brain as if they are living, breathing people rather than names in songs. The answer is simple: you can’t. Not in ten seconds. So I gave him a warm handshake instead and told him it was a huge honor to meet him. He was equally gracious and said the same to me, and did not flinch when I put my arm around him for the photo. There wasn’t the slightest bit of pretension whatsoever. And just like that, it was over.

Afterwards, Tara asked me what he smelled like. I replied, “Like rock ‘n roll and liberalism and the working class.”

And now I can cross a very big item off my bucket list.

Why Not Stevenson?

Last month, I took a day off work to go hiking. It was my birthday, and I wanted to commune with nature instead of dealing with an overflowing In Box.

[My In Box is virtual these days, I should add. But I remember well the stackable plastic trays that used to take up precious real estate space on my desk. I also remember having an actual Rolodex. God, I’m old.]

Anyway. On the way to Falls Creek Falls, you pass though a town called Stevenson. It’s a quaint little place, not much more than a wide spot in the road, with a picturesque downtown consisting of coffee shops, brew pubs, and an ice cream parlor. It takes all of ninety seconds to traverse, and that’s only because the speed limit is 25 mph. I’d never really given Stevenson a second thought before. But for some reason, that day, I did. I actually had a brilliant idea in the minute-and-a-half it took me to enter and exit the place.

We should live here. 

Why Stevenson? I think the more appropriate question is, why not Stevenson?

For starters, there’s the scenery. Stevenson is about 30 miles east of here, but it might as well be a world away. It’s smack dab in the middle of the Columbia Gorge, surrounded by mountains and forests and a stone’s throw from the Columbia River. It’s long been our gateway to nature; we drive through on the way to some of our favorite hiking and camping spots. Best of all, housing prices are considerably cheaper in Stevenson than they are in the Portland/Vancouver metropolitan area. For some reason, nobody around here ever thinks about living in Stevenson. Maybe because it’s in a different county? Whenever I bring it up they say, “Why would you want to live so far away?” like it’s out in the middle of nowhere. But here’s the thing: it’s only a 30 minute drive to the office. It might take Tara 40 minutes. Hell, I’ve got coworkers who live twice as close, but their commute takes them twice as long. Do the math and ask yourself,

Why not Stevenson?

So I was telling a bunch of coworkers my plan, and damn if they didn’t come around to my way of thinking. Within minutes two or three of them were thinking about moving out to Stevenson themselves. That’s when I realized I’d better shut my mouth and keep this idea to myself, because the last thing in the world I want is a bunch of other people discovering Stevenson and moving out there. That would drive housing prices up and put more cars on the road, adding to the commute time and pretty much defeating the whole purpose.

Then again, it’s still got scenery…

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Our little secret

Over the weekend, Tara and I decided to drive out there to explore the area. We’d never actually spent any time in Stevenson. That’s not completely true: we did stop for ice cream once, and grabbed a snack from a gas station (THE gas station) another time. But other than that, Stevenson was a mystery. Maybe we’d end up hating it?

We did not end up hating it.

DSC_0015Actually, we ended up loving it. We drove around looking at houses for an hour and a half, and then walked through downtown [took about three minutes] before ducking into probably the nicest restaurant/bar in town, the Big River Grill, for cocktails and dinner. Great ambience, friendly service, and the food and drinks were amazing. If you think smoky garlic shrimp served over bowtie pasta in a rich fire-roasted tomato, bacon, and feta sauce is amazing. If not, well…there’s just something wrong with you. We struck up a conversation with our server. It turns out she was born and raised in Stevenson, and loves it there. When we told her of our idea, she was full of encouragement. Not at all standoffish and protective of her small town, as you might think she’d be.

So. We’ll see. A lot has to happen first. Audrey has two more years of high school, and there’s the pesky little matter of coming up with a down payment for a house. And…well, I guess that’s it. These obstacles are not insurmountable. If the perfect opportunity came along, I’m sure we could figure out how to make it work.

Exciting, huh?

Beautiful and Treacherous

We are back home today. Smartest move I ever made? Taking the day off. I knew we’d want a chance to recuperate. What I did not expect was for the city to shut down thanks to a surprise snow and ice storm yesterday – one that made the long drive back both beautiful and treacherous.

We left Boise about 8 AM, figuring we’d have a leisurely, uneventful 7-hour drive back home. Shortly after, we got a message from my mom. She said it was snowing back home. This was unexpected, but I figured it wouldn’t be a big deal. Probably just a few flakes that would melt as soon as they fell.

I was wrong. Portland/Vancouver ended up with 1-2″ of snow – not a lot by most standards, but remember, this is the Pacific Northwest. We’re wimps out here. It was enough to wreak havoc on the city.

The weather on our drive grew progressively worse as the afternoon wore on. The Blue Mountains were icy, and we started seeing a lot of wrecked cars on the side of the road. We made it over the mountains – whew! – but Interstate 84 was no better in the flatlands. In fact, that too was really slick, especially as we neared the Columbia Gorge. Cars were spinning out left and right, and we were crawling along at 40 mph. Our traffic app showed lots of wrecks and a very slow drive, so we decided to take a chance and cross the river to the Washington side at Maryhill. This turned out to be a great idea; State Route 14 is a winding two-lane road, but there were very few cars and it wasn’t nearly as icy as the interstate had been. Soon, it started snowing; before long, it was coming down fast and furious.

Our snowy drive home.
Our snowy drive home.
We saw lots of frozen waterfalls along the side of the road.
We saw lots of frozen waterfalls along the side of the road.

Half an hour from home, the snow turned to sleet, and then to freezing rain. That really made things slick! We finally made it home around 5 PM, about two hours later than expected, after stopping to grab a pizza and a few items from the grocery store. I figured once we left Ely we wouldn’t be seeing any more snow, but…surprise! There was actually snow on the ground the entire way from Ely to Portland. 840 miles of a pristine winter wonderland. Love it! We are going to remember this drive home for a long time to come.

Our trip was short, but a lot of fun. We celebrated Tara’s grandparents’ 60th anniversary on Friday with an open house. People were stopping by all day long, and we had quite the spread: roast turkey and ham, deviled eggs, black eyed peas, smoked trout, chicken wings, and a variety of dips and salads. I even got in on the action and made guacamole. By mid-afternoon I was feeling cooped up and decided to go for a walk, but I forgot just how cold a windchill of 0 is. Halfway through my ears were throbbing in pain and I started to worry about frostbite. As in, genuinely, paranoid-my-ears-were-going-to-freeze-and-fall-off, worry. So I booked it back home to thaw out.

Saturday we met up with friends for breakfast downtown before taking a drive out to the coke ovens about twenty minutes east of Ely. If there is such a thing as a “tourist attraction” in this tiny Nevada town, the coke ovens are It. Originally we’d planned on staying until Sunday, but decided to leave a day early so we could break up the long 13-hour drive into two days. We hit the road about 2:30, stopping in Twin Falls for dinner at Chili’s, and then pushed on to Boise, where we spent the night. Followed, of course, by our crazy drive home.

So today, we’ve got nothing planned beyond kicking our feet up and relaxing. It’ll be back to work tomorrow. But, hey – at least it’s a short week!

Here are a few more pics from our trip. Feel free to click and enlarge so you can FILL UP YOUR SCREEN WITH PHOTOGRAPHIC GOODNESS!!!