Portland, Oregon was one of my first practice runs, Gentle Reader, at this whole living-out-of-a-backpack endeavor I’m about to embark upon. This story starts with the gift of a train ticket from Miss Spectacular.
The trip was smooth; I slouched nonchalant in an arch of the station, puffing away on my new faux-cigarette as I waited for my ride to arrive. When she did, we caught a bus, and I overheard a slim young girl with curls pinned high on her head primly confide to her companion:
“If you can’t spot the crazy on the bus, it’s probably you.”
Sage advice, indeed.
That night, Spectacular and I caught up over the sizzle and smell of fresh stir-fry and a steamed custard. We talked about her wedding plans, my itinerary abroad, whatever became of old friends – the usual paraphernalia of reconnecting. Her fiancé, B, arrived as we wound the evening down, so we chatted an hour or two more before turning in.
I was really looking forward to the next day; after sitting in on a class in Chinese Herbalism (with a healthy dose of Chinese Philosophy, for flavor) I was on my own, with no plan, no schedule, not a care in the world. I grabbed a cup of café au lait, and asked the server what the most Portland-y thing to do in Portland was.
“Besides the tourist stuff, like Voodoo donuts? Powell’s Books, probably. And there’s a kickin’ indie record store just down the road, man.” Well, that sounded intriguing.
Next door to the café, though, was Hoodoo Antiques – I would have walked right past it, but I saw an enormous taxidermy bear’s head in the window. Well, I thought I did – it was a vintage fake that was moulting pretty badly – much like the one the Bloggess found a few months ago.
Obviously I wanted to try it on, but the one I found was a lot smaller and I didn’t want to get it stuck on my head. The owner of the shop was really friendly; he showed me his prized collection of plaster dental casts, charmingly displayed in a glass case.
After lusting after every little oddity, I peeled myself away from HooDoo Antiques to grab a bite of lunch – well, you read about that on Monday.
Powell’s Books covers an entire city block, and is four stories high – or so they say. I know that I ascended more than four flights of full-sized stairs and that I never reached the top, but books are well-known to alter the laws of space and time. In the rare book room, particularly, time felt more peaceful, passing slow like golden drops of sun-lit sap; I lost several hours there.
Not having yet catalogued my own collection of vinyl, I gave the “kickin’ indie record shop” a miss, wandering instead as lonely as a cloud. There are times when I need the feel of community, and I usually head to the Mix when that happens – but clearly, that wasn’t an option.
Then I stumbled on two separate gay bars. It was almost as though I’d called them into being. Whoa.
The first, Embers, was pretty quiet – but then, it was pretty early. Mostly it was just sad older men drinking the afternoon away, as you’ll find in any bar at four o’clock. I talked to the bartender; she was awesome. She slapped a copy of the GaYellow pages down on the bar when I told her I wasn’t local, pointed out the racks of the local rag in the back, and told her if I had any questions about the community to come straight to her. She also fended off the shit-faced older lady who was trying to fondle my uke, and won basically a million points for it.
The second, C. C. Slaughter’s, is apparently not affiliated with the Seattle institution of similar name. The clientele was a lot younger, despite the hour, and the atmosphere seemed more welcoming yet.
The bartender, John, was not only friendly, not only helpful; he was feisty and kind and hot as hell. He gave me tips on the local scene, pointed out the bar boor, and flirted a little (presumably for tips – I looked like hell).
Not only was C. C. Slaughter’s a kick-ass establishment, THEY ALSO HAD FREE WIFI. Holy shit, y’all. It was like finding my people all over again.
Leaving the bar, I headed back to the Oregon College of Chinese Medicine to meet Miss Spectacular – she was finishing her shift at the herbal medicinary, where she distributes gecko egg sacks, cinnabar, and other delights to the public. Her boss let us try something that I can’t pronounce, that left a lingering taste of powdered burnt rubber on my tongue.
We rounded the day off with a delightful dinner, and the evening stretched in front of us, itching to be filled.
Stay tuned, Gentle Reader! Part Two will appear on Friday!