Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I Didn't Realize There Were PRIZES

If I had known that there were prizes that only people who'd blogged daily were eligible for, I wouldn't have let this whole thing lapse a week ago.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thinksgiving from Planet Rock

Story coming later, when I get caught up on NaBloPoMo.

Uhhh...so I totally thought I hit "post" on this last week!

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Flasher Incident of July 2009

Shortly after I arrived in Portland and a month before the incident I wrote about yesterday, I was rescued from loneliness by a friend from NJ visiting the city for the weekend, before traveling to Seattle. Like me, she was thinking of moving to the Northwest, even though she had a good job in NJ, just for a change. We met at the PDX Pop Now! festival and split up after Pierced Arrows played. She rode a rented bike back to her hostel and left me at a stop just east of the Hawthorne Bridge. A few other twenty-somethings waited for buses, too, so even though it was after 1AM, I didn't feel unsafe. Coming from the NYC metro area, it just didn't occur to me that public transportation in a major city wouldn't run all night. When the #14 bus came and all of the other twenty-somethings boarded it, I realized I'd be alone. But that's okay, because surely the #4 would come to get me soon. The sign on the bus stop said it was coming at 1:20!
I thought I observed the driver of the #14 bus give me a long, deliberate look, and open his mouth as if to speak, but say nothing before driving off. I decided I was imagining things; as a new person who felt out of place in the area, I just assumed I was doing things that attracted other people's attention, and it was all in my head.
Time passed. I stood alone at the bus stop, listening to Swan Lake (the indie rock band, nothing related to ballet) on my iPod. Just a block away, a police car sat idling, so I felt neither alone nor unsafe. 1:20 came and went, but I knew that buses tend to run late.
Without warning, the police car drove away. I turned to look at the sign on the bus stop, an alarming suspicion forming in my head. Did it say 1:20 AM or 1:20 PM? Furthermore, the sign told me that not all buses ran east of 122nd. Well, I didn't live too far past 122nd. I'd have to walk by myself in the middle of the night, but the road was well lit, and this is Portland! Portland is way safer, has a much lower crime rate than the state I come from. And I survived twenty-five years there!
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man appear on the street corner to my left. He stood under a street light, tall, thin, entirely clad in black. He looked a little odd, but to me he just seemed to look intentionally odd, like he spent a lot of time shopping at Hot Topic. He had long, stringy black hair, and reminded me of a cross between Professor Snape and Marilyn Manson. I thought nothing of him standing, for quite some time, at a street corner where there was nothing but a street light, no bus stop or anything that would give someone a reason to stand on a corner just before 2AM. Maybe he was contemplating the night sky, composing a poem in his head about the moon. Maybe he was waiting for a friend or for a cab. On that note, why weren't there cab phone numbers posted on the bus stop!?
I tried to read what was posted on the bus stop nonchalantly, to not make it too obvious that I wasn't sure if I had missed the last bus or not. After five or ten minutes had passed, I noticed something in the corner of my eye. Snape Manson was still there, and he had turned his face from the moon toward me. I glanced in his direction and saw he was looking straight at me, striving for eye contact I gave him for just a moment. In that moment I took in plenty - his wide eyes, smug expression, wildly waving tongue, and hand in his pants, which were unzipped; he kept his eyes locked on my face as he jerked off with gusto.
Before it occurred to me to be concerned for my own safety, I rolled my eyes. "Ugggghhh!" I said in my head. "No one cares about your junk, and now I have to take a cab! That is going to be so expensive! What an inconvenience!"
Something in the back of my mind did consider safety, and just as I dealt with the man who cornered me in Tuba City, I vowed to remain calm. I didn't give him a second glance. I turned on my platform heel and walked briskly, but not too quickly, and calmly toward the busy street where I'd seen cabs whizzing by for the last half an hour. (I now know that the street is called "Grand Ave.") I walked not so quickly that it would seem I was running away, and I made sure not to turn my head to look back. I listened carefully for footsteps behind me. When I reached Grand Ave, however, it was empty.
Many people, when I have told this story, have asked why I did not call the police. I will tell you why. My cell phone was dead. Yup, I went out by myself, late at night, without charging my phone. Let this be a lesson to you: that is a really stupid thing to do.
Across the street was a Burger King. The glowing of the lights inside seemed as bright as Heaven. It was open twenty-four hours! There was also a pay phone outside. I stopped by the pay phone to see if cab numbers were listed somewhere, or if there was a phone book or something. There was not. I didn't want to call the police, in case the man was nearby; I was dimly aware that he might react violently if he heard me call the police.
I walked up to the door of the 24-hour Burger King, thinking perhaps they'd give me refuge and a phone book with which to call a cab. Maybe I'd even buy some fries. But the door was locked. It was a 24-hour drive-thru. The drive-thru was behind the building, outside of the domain of street lights. It didn't seem wise to go behind the building, out of sight from the street, to such a dark place. There were no cars in the drive-thru.
I could see one employee inside of the Burger King, but his back was to me. I knocked on the door as loudly as I could; he didn't hear me.
Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted something yellow. A taxi!
I waved frantically to the driver, who was stopped at a red light just a few feet away. I started to run toward the car, and he rolled down his window and said, "I'll be right there when the light changes!" I stopped running and waited patiently.
Inside the cab, I gave my address but said no more. The cab went past the bus stop where I'd spent nearly an hour and also the street corner where The Flasher had stood. He was gone.
"You were...you were in kind of a dangerous place to be at this hour," the cab driver said in a voice that wasn't scolding or unfriendly, but a bit puzzled.
As if to emphasize his point, he quickly hit the power locks button just in time; a drunk man threw himself onto the windshield and passenger door of the car, slurring that he wanted a ride.
"The car is full!" shouted the driver, who had stopped at a red light. "Please go away! This car is full!"
I started to realize that here in the Northwest, it was okay to converse with cab drivers; it was not creepy as some people in the Northeast perceive it to be.
"Yeah, I didn't know that. I'm not from around here," I told him. I added quickly, "And right before you found me, some guy flashed me at the bus stop!"
He asked where I was from; I told him. He'd lived in New York City at one point, and we talked about the differences between the Northeast and the Northwest. He informed me that yes, the #4 bus and most buses stop running before 2AM; many stop running past 122nd Ave before then.
He dropped me off at my door and the total was over $20. Yikes! That is like 10 bus tickets.
After I thanked him, I found myself running to my front door. The reality of what had happened sunk in; that man could have been dangerous! Something really terrible could have happened to me! I stayed awake for hours, e-mailing friends about what I'd just escaped and lying in bed, imagining that Snape Manson faces were peeking in my window.
The following Monday, after some debate, I decided to tell this story in the lab at work. I decided that, for the high school interns, it would be a cautionary tale as much as it was an entertaining tale for the grown-up scientists.
The lesson that the interns took from it was not, as I hoped, not to leave the house late at night without a friend, a bus schedule, and a charged cell phone. It was, "When some creep bothers you, you should say, 'Get a life! No one cares about that thing!' You should handle it...LIKE A JERSEY GIRL."

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Bum and the Bus Driver Incident

The following is an e-mail I wrote to my co-worker in August 2009:

I am pretty sure I am going to move now. You are my witness. Remind me tomorrow to tell you about the crazy homeless guy on the bus and potentially equally crazy bus driver that I encountered this evening on my way to the co-op. I don't want to ride 127 blocks to the co-op anymore. I want to live with the hipsters in a nice, safe neighborhood.

One summer day shortly after I moved to Portland, I walked two blocks south to a bus stop I usually didn't stand at, to take a bus I usually didn't take. I vaguely remember some people who seemed kind of drunk wobbling over to the bus stop, and an older woman on a cell phone who talked at length about how she was riding to DeNicola's on Powell for All You Can Eat Pasta Night. She was really excited about the pasta. Unfortunately, no other details of that wait are clear and none appear in the e-mails (from which some of this story is drawn) I later wrote about this event.

The TriMet buses in Portland are the same as the buses that Rutgers used when I was a student there. So, when the bus arrived at my stop, I headed for a seat in the back where I knew there would be a "purse shelf." In the very back row, the two end seats are next to a non-seat area that is a good place to put a purse. Since it would be a long, 127-block bus ride, I planned to settle in with a magazine. I quickly learned, as I wrote that day, that the back of the bus is "where I now know the dregs of society sit and talk about their friends in jail, and I won't sit there anymore." A few seats away from me was a guy with scraggly hair and raggedy clothes, missing teeth and an unwashed look. He was rambling, talking to anyone who would listen. I have a face that says, "Crazy person, talk to me! I'm all ears!" so I buried that face out of sight in a magazine. Suddenly, the man broke off his ramble to stand up and yell to the bus river, "Hey, I want the next stop!"

The driver replied, "Okay."

The guy continued, yelling louder. "HEY MAN! I WANT THE NEXT STOP!"

"Yeah yeah, I heard you! I know!" was the response.

The bum started walking up the aisle of the bus, toward the exit door, and yelled, "Fucking idiot!"

An instant later, in such a short time that I question whether the bus driver was really sure that the bike lane was clear, the bus driver slammed on the brakes as he cut the wheel to the right. The bum and every other passenger on the bus lurched forward. My purse flew off of its shelf.

The bum tumbled forward up the aisle, landing temporarily on other passengers who let out a yelp of surprise, finally ending up, as the bus came to a stop, at the very front standing opposite the bus driver. The driver opened the door and said, "Get off the bus now."

The man began to talk back to him, but from where I was seated, I couldn't hear his words. This was mostly because they were drowned out by the jeers of some passengers saying, "Get off the bus!" "Hey man, get off the bus!" and "Hey asshole! Just get off the bus!"

The bus driver rose from his seat and stood in front of the bum, his stance threatening. They begin arguing, but their words were not clear to me over the sound of jeering passengers joined by my inner monologue screaming, "What is happening?"

It was perhaps at this point that the math did itself in my head, and I realized that I was riding a bus 127 blocks just to go to the grocery store.

Without warning, the bum spit extravagantly in the bus driver's face before turning and dashing out the door.

The bus driver ran out of the bus and chased after the bum.

The bum ran into the open door of a shop (I can't remembered what kind of shop it was, just that it said "Abierta 24 h" over the door). The bus driver turned and walked back onto the bus, but then I suppose he thought better of it, and turned around, walked back outside of the bus, and approached the shop. He started to bang on the shop door. The door (which was admittedly flimsy) started to bend inwards, like it was going to break.

Passengers on the bus started running to the right side windows like it was a show. Other passengers were glued to their seats with wide eyes. I heard one woman echo my own thoughts by saying loudly, "This is NOT happening."

A few men ran off of the bus as the door opened and the bum and bus driver faced each other. Some held onto the bus driver's arms. One man stood between the bus driver and the bum with his arms out and his hand on the bus driver's chest as though he was holding him back from attacking the bum.

Eventually, the bus driver and the passengers (except for the bum) all walked back toward the bus and reclaimed their seats. The driver shut the door and drove on as though nothing happened, stopping at the next stop, the one the bum had been so anxious to get to. It was less than a block away.

First Day in my Solo Home

This is going backwards from The Move West, I know, but sort of connected to this post.

I had help moving all of my things into the apartment by a friend, with whom I got into a terrible argument later that evening. It was pretty depressing, and not worth writing about...but I will note that we are friends now. For the first month or so in the apartment, when I would come home from work and feel overwhelmed by the loneliness of a strange, empty apartment, I would sometimes think that having my move-in day end with an argument had some large, deep meaning, like it had set the course for the rest of my time there.

But really, looking back, I think it was the day after move-in day that most symbolizes what I'd deal with at that apartment and what was wrong with it. After my friend-with-whom-I'd-argued went home, I returned to my new, strange home feeling lonesome and depressed. The previous day, before setting out to move things from my old apartment to the new, I'd used up most of the food from my fridge by having a big brunch at my friend's house with his housemates. It was a big group effort meal, like the kind I have all the time in Portland. Everyday breakfast was like a party. I remember thinking that this was what I wanted my life to be like. But I never had anything like that again until I moved to Portland.

As I unpacked and tried to find places for things, my apartment started looking chaotic. My landlord and landlady, who lived next door (although the two homes shared a yard, so it was really closer than "next door") left at some point to pick up visiting foreign guests from the airport. At some point, I stopped working, sat on my bed, and prepared to cry into my pillow.

"Sarah!" I heard. Since it was August and still hot outside, I'd left my living room windows open. The door to my bedroom was only open a crack, but still open; plus, my car was parked out front. With the window open, there was no way to hide that I was home.

"Sarah! Hey, Sarah!"

Whoever was yelling was ignoring my closed bedroom door and only focused on the fact that I was home.

I should also note that I had a doorbell, and it worked just fine.

Eventually, I got up and walked into my living room. "Yes?" I said to my open window. I walked to the front door and opened it.

It was one of my neighbors, one with whom the landlord and landlady were friendly. He had a big, sweet-natured dog with whom he'd walk up and down the street several times a day. The dog would always want to greet people, but whenever I'd respond and say, "Hi!!!!" and start petting my neighbor's dog, he'd pull the leash away and tell the dog something like, "Ok, that's enough!" or "Stop bothering everyone!"

Looking back, that was really weird!

Anyway, the neighbor ignored my tear-streaked face to announce his reason for calling on me. My landlord and landlady had left their glass door open, so that just the screen was closed, but if I was planning to go out at all, no one would be home to keep an eye on things and someone could just walk right in! He didn't have their cell phone number; did I?

Of course I did.

I prepared to give him the number.

"Oh no, no, no," he said. "I don't have my cell phone. How about you just call them and tell them their sliding door is open and ask if they want you to go close it?"

I tried to explain that they were at the airport and did not want to be bothered. Our neighbor insisted this was an emergency.

I believe I tried to hand him my cell phone, but he refused. So I complied and called the landlord at Newark Airport myself.

"What?" he asked.

"Um...I'm sorry to bother you...but [our neighbor] asked me to call and tell you that you left the sliding door open...so it's just the screen...do you want me to go close it?"

"We'll be home soon, but yeah, go ahead and close it. Thank you."

The neighbor thanked me as well.

Later, while unpacking, my mother called. I began to tell her tearfully about the argument that had left me lonely in my new apartment. I paced back and forth in my living room, back and forth before the window, visible and visibly on the phone. Regardless, a knock came at my door.

I opened it to my landlord, landlady, and a group of people who looked exhausted from jet lag.

"Hi!" I said, quizzical but also friendly.

"Oh, you're on the phone!" said my landlord.

"Yes, I am," I said, beginning to close the door.

My landlord stopped me. "Our guests are curious to see the inside of the apartment."

"Oh, I replied. "Well, I haven't finished unpacking, so it's really messy." I tried to shut the door.

"That's okay!" said the landlord. "They'll understand!" He pushed past me; the group followed. I tried to resume my phone call, while loud chatter among my new guests and my guests' guests broke out. In the middle of this, I tried explaining that I was in the middle of unpacking and oh! Please don't step on that!

My mother said loudly that she'd call me back.

Eventually, the landlord, landlady, and group of foreign guests filed out of my bathroom, out of my bedroom, through my living room, and out of the door, out of my apartment at last.

I believe I remained undisturbed as I spent the rest of the day unpacking and laying out my work clothes, eventually falling asleep but waking up now and then to the sound of leaves crunching outside my window, which I instinctively thought was mice scuffling around the apartment. I'd awake, remind myself that I was no longer in a Mouse House, and try to fall back asleep.

Friday, November 19, 2010

No San Francisco

The planned road trip to San Francisco has been canceled due to weather. It was almost canceled due to tiredness, about a week ago. It was un-canceled due to weather - when I looked at the forecast and saw sun, sun, sun, and seventy-two degrees.

Then I checked the weather in the places we'd travel through with high elevation...and there was a chance of snow. Soon, it grew close enough to the weekend for me to get the forecast in San Francisco. Rain. So, we'd leave in the cold rain, drive through rain and then snow, only to arrive in rain. Better off staying in the rain.

"Maybe we can go someplace else!" I said. "We still have four days off! Maybe we can go east, toward the sun!"

"Where is that?"

"I don't really know..." I replied.

Even Google Maps couldn't help me.

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Note that the icon for my Google Maps tab is the Yahoo! icon. Something weird is going on with my Internet connection and Linux - it keeps connecting me to the wrong domain. Once I clear the cache and reload Google Maps on a different connection (like at work), that little Y! will go away. But still, weird.

You may know that I consider Google the technological equivalent of The Man Who Can Do No Wrong. If you had to pledge yourself for life to a search engine, I would choose to wed dear, beloved Google.

Um...anyway. But even Google can't find the sun for me here in rainy, dreary Portland, which is also unusually cold right now.

I'm amused that it offered Pine State Biscuits as a solution. What a good idea! Thanks, Google!

The Move West, Day 7: Independence Day

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My first full day living in Portland was July 4, 2009. I've often thought that it was appropriate that it was Independence Day.

Meg and I began the day with a few errands such as going to Panera (the only free wi-fi place we knew of) to check our e-mail and get breakfast, going to what I now know is North Portland to pick up her rental car. When that adventure was over, we drove downtown (after learning it would take 70 minutes, minimum, for us to take a bus downtown) and went to the Portland Saturday Market. The market is pretty popular. It's on the waterfront and includes lots of food carts and vendors selling all kinds of things, but mostly locally-made crafts. I bought a pair of earrings that had dangling circular cutouts of photos taken in the Pacific Northwest, of things like ferns and crabapples and raindrops.

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We got lunch from the food cart of Horn of Africa, an East African restaurant on MLK, which I now drive past almost daily but have never been to! Meg and I both liked going to an Ethiopian place in Portland; I think if I had realized how common Ethiopian, Somali, and Eritrean food is in this part of the country, I would have been really excited with my choice of city. We ate our sambusas on a bench facing the Willamette river, where we were no doubt confronted by panhandlers.

Afterwards, we walked to Powell's City of Books, the largest new and used independent bookstore in America. I looked for a Streetwise map of the city, but it was months before I got to a Powell's that hadn't just sold out of them. I don't remember what I bought, but I know it was something. I have never walked into a Powell's and walked out empty-handed. Never.

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We walked back to the car, eventually, and drove to Washington Park. We explored Hoyt Arboretum and the rose garden with its views of the city and Mount Hood. Washington Park was one of the few stops I visited during my short time in Portland on my 2008 road trip, so I think of it as one of the places where I fell in love with this city. For a long time, I could not go back to the rose garden or to Hoyt Arboretum without feeling nostalgic, without thinking of the trip, of how happy I'd been in NJ before I went on the trip in June 2008, and how unhappy I was when I returned to find that everything in my life was changing. I'd think of how I'd look up pictures of the arboretum and the garden on Google Images whenever I was sad, homesick for a place that was not yet my home. It was a place for past was, for me, as equally present as the present. It was like walking through a series of double-exposed photographs.

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In 2008, my traveling companion and I had been too cheap to go to the Portland Japanese Garden. This time, in 2009, Meg wanted to go, so we did. I was glad I spent the $8.50 (the price at the time - it's gone up) to go. All of the photographs in this post came from that garden and that visit. (Admittedly, some of them are blurry.) I've been back several times and plan to get a membership to that garden, now that I qualify for the student rate. After the Japanese Garden, I don't remember what we did, except that we had dinner at the Kennedy School. For non-Portlanders, it's a McMenamin's restaurant. The McMenamin's restaurants are all in buildings that used to be something other than a restaurant, such as an elementary school, a movie theater, or a train station. There are many in the Portland area, and some in other parts of Oregon. (I went to one in Roseburg, which is very far south.) The Kennedy School is probably one of the more popular McMenamin's locations.

With my friend, I explored my new home city. But soon it was the next day, time for her to set out on her own road trip that would eventually lead her back home to NJ. When I woke up on July 5, 2009, I realized that I was home and in a city I loved, but I was alone.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Snow Tired

My artist friend and I plan to make a quick road trip to San Francisco this weekend, where the sun is currently shining much more than it is here in Portland. She also has a show opening that weekend, and I would promote it on this blog if I knew more about it (hint hint) so if I get the information from her, I'll write about it. Our trip has been halfway planned for quite some time, with the one detail that's existed all along - we won't know until Wednesday night if we're going.

Unlike where I grew up, the mountains here get to be taller than 2,000 feet, so the weather in the mountains can be even more dramatically different than weather nearby (as the crow flies) in the valleys. It almost never snows in Portland. Snow that sticks falls upon the city maybe once a year. But the mountains are a different story; as early as October, some of the mountain passes can be impassable. When I visited Crater Lake in mid-June, the hiking trails were covered in snow and so was half of the road around the lake. At this time of year, without snow chains, travel around the mountains is restricted to the interstates (or "freeways" as they say out here), I-5 and I-84. From the Willamette Valley, to get to a destination directly east, the Cascades get in the way. This isn't a problem in the summer, but in the winter, it means driving all the way to Portland, taking I-84 through the mountains, and then heading south on some other road, once you've safely arrived in the desert.

Where I-5 takes us, in and around Portland, snow is not an issue. But to the south are Ashland, in Southern Oregon, and the Mount Shasta area in Northern California, where I hear the mountains get pretty tall. So, while it could be 50 degrees and cloudy in Portland, and 60 degrees in sunny at our San Francisco destination, there might be a snowstorm in between.

Or even light snow. But light snow that isn't a problem in New Jersey makes the roads in Oregon dangerous, because they don't use salt here. And I don't have snow tires. If we encounter snow on our way, we will have to stop (and thanks to a friend's boyfriend, I know just where to stop) and buy chains. They're not cheap and I have been putting off doing this since last year, planning to just not drive during Portland's annual snowstorm. But perhaps my time has come.

My parents have brought up the snow tires. Perhaps that deserves capitalization - The Snow Tires. When I was in college driving 65 miles to and from campus and hometown at least once a week, my parents were militant about my car being dressed for the weather; snow tires must be part of its outfit from the beginning of the legal period (November 15th) until the end (April 15th.) One year, they even took my car to the tire place on a Monday morning, at 6am when it opened and while I was asleep, and since it wasn't done in time, I had to miss a Monday afternoon class. (I was mad, but I got an A in the class and I survived.) And then in April, the hassle and the drama and the arguing started up again - when was Sarah going to come home on a weekday so she could get the tires off her car?

I wasn't the only one of my friends with snow tires, but I always had them before everyone else. They were loud. Not only could you hear them crunchcrunching along while riding in the car, but you could also hear my car coming before you could see it, rolling down George Street and around parked EE's with a loud crunchcrunch crunchcrunch crunch crunch CRUNCH.

One early December Sunday, a bunch of us girls gathered to carpool to the Princeton area to go to a ballet, The Nutcracker, where our friend was Clara. I was driving with my roommate, JS, to another part of town where we'd meet a couple of other girls who would ride in my car. We stopped at the student center to pick them up, and also because I wanted to use the restroom. JS said, "But you just went before we left home! How could you possibly have to use the restroom again?"

As we drove up the street toward the parking lot, which was in back of the student center, we saw two (probably drunk) guys, college-aged, on their porch, jumping up and down and yelling at cars. They had messy hair and were wearing (non-matching) big baggy Rutgers football T-shirts. (As a student, it was easy to get a lot of free, oversized T-shirts.) It was unseasonably warm that winter, so it wasn't too strange that they were wearing T-shirts outdoors in December. With our windows closed, we couldn't hear what they were yelling, but as we rounded the corner toward the parking lot entrance (and their house), it became clear, as JS announced, that they were yelling at our car.

"What do they want?" I muttered, feeling mildly harassed.

When we parked the car and opened the doors, their message became clear, and it was not what we expected.

"Snow tires, snow tires, SNOW TIRES!" they shouted.

We tried to ignore them. I blushed; my escape delayed as I sat on the hood of my car so that I could more easily change my shoes in the parking lot. (I have no idea why I was changing my shoes. I remember I was putting on a pair of silver flats, but I have no idea why I wasn't wearing the flats all along.)

"Hey! you!" they called out to us. I did not answer. "Hey, you! With the shoes! HEY SNOW TIRES!" they shouted.

I kept my head down and shoulders hunched and tried to move as quickly as possible toward the doors of the student center.

"HEY! You with the shoes! YOU HAVE SNOW TIRES ON YOUR CAR!"

Safely inside the student center (and having visited the restroom), I calmly spoke of this with JS and shared the recent events with our waiting friends. Soon, we could stall no longer; we had to return to the car and to the shouting men. We prepared ourselves for an onslaught.

And yet...

When we returned to the parking lot, we saw the men shouting at a different passing car. When their eyes alighted upon us, their demeanor altered slightly. Their excitement grew, expanded, its boundaries exceeding the limits of its former space and crossing the borders of the realm of joy. Happily, one man shouted, "LOOK! It's SNOW TIRES!"

And it began again. "Snow tires, snow tires, SNOW TIRES!"

Their shouts followed us to the car.

"Snow tires, snow tires, SNOW TIRES!"

They continued as we sat down in the car. We rolled down the windows.

"SNOW TIRES! Don't go!" they yelled. But we had a ballet to get to. I started to drive; all three of us rolled down our windows.

As we approached the house, the men began waving at us and jumping up and down. We waved out the window and shouted and cheered back at them. As I turned my car onto a different street, leading me toward Route 18 and away from my admirers, one man lifted up his T-shirt and called, "SNOW TIRES, I LOVE YOU!"

Monday, November 15, 2010

Reading Jane Austen While Driving

I used to not care for audio books. First of all, I have trouble remembering things that I hear. I don't retain details as well when I hear as when I read, write, or commit some kind of action. I think the proper term for it is that I am a kinesthetic learner, someone who "learns by doing" as opposed to seeing or hearing. Too bad I couldn't learn-by-doing cartwheels.

Sometimes, audio books stressed me out. Trying to focus on them while driving, when some kind of dramatic or upsetting scene was occurring, made me doubly anxious. The stress of the incident in the book compounded with driving + the stress of not retaining details and trying to follow just what stressful incident was exactly taking place.

But then my mother brought up the idea of listening to books while knitting. I have a lot of knitting and other stitchery crafts to complete as gifts for people. This sounded extremely relaxing as well as useful.

On the plane, I finished knitting a Christmas present. While I worked, I listening to music and thought, "Wouldn't it be nice if I could listen to my book club book right now, too?" Then I remembered Librivox. At this website, you can get free audio files of books in the public domain read by volunteers. What a wonderful idea!

So I downloaded Persuasion, the book I've been intending to read for awhile and now have to for book club. I loaded it onto my iPod and tried once again to read while driving; I put on Chapter 10 on my way to work.

"This is a Librivox recording," said a calm, even voice, a woman who sounded like a young adult with a nonspecific American accent. She continued, "All Librivox recordings are in the public domain." She then stated her name, Michelle Crandall, followed by the date of the recording and her location -- California. And then she began to read. Chapter 10 brought me to work, and it was delightful.

I had begun Chapter 10 on the plane back to Oregon, so some of what Michelle read to me was familiar. Some stood out more upon hearing than it had upon reading:

Her pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions of autumn, that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness, that season which has drawn from every poet, worthy of being read, some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling.

The walk in question takes place in November; my pleasure in my drive to work was to look at the tawny leaves and withered ... whatever Portland has in the way of hedges ... while hearing such lovely lines. Last week, someone told me, "Reading Jane Austen is good for the soul," and I agree. So is listening.

Chapter 10 ended, and on my way home from work, Chapter 11 began, but Michelle Crandall was not reading it to me! It was a new reader, someone whose accent sounded faintly like its origin was near my own. And when she introduced herself, she did not say where she was from! I almost missed Michelle Crandall. But Chapter 12 had a new reader, another with an unrecognizable American-sounding accent, who announced her location as China. The volunteers change throughout the book; I'm starting to like hearing where they're from and listening to the different accents. Some have British accents, which is a good way to hear Jane Austen. Although one announced her location as Waco, Texas, and I spent the entire chapter wondering if her British accent was fake.

I'm still missing pieces of the plot; I'll have to actually read the chapters in my book, although it will go much faster having "read" it already. I can't keep the characters straight, all the Captains - Harville, Benwick, Wentworth, and have I left any out? In the beginning of the novel, before I started listening to it, there are not one, not two, but three characters named Charles. Charles Musgrove, Charles Hayter, and Charles Musgrove Jr. What the hell, Jane Austen?

But I can forgive her. The very things that some readers might find maddening about Jane Austen, I've grown to love. One could argue that (like in reality TV shows) nothing really happens in her books. From what I can tell, the high dramatic point in the first 14 chapters of Persuasion is a girl falling down a hill. Nothing happens in Jane Austen's books that does not happen in normal, everyday life. It's her skill in noticing and presenting the details of everyday life that makes Jane Austen "good for the soul." It's piercing, maddening, sad, and funny. No character is left out from her critical perception -- she reveals all of their flaws, and yet in the same breath, forgives them. Her characters are flawed, but not villains.

She takes many words to get that point across. Under what seems like a lot of words describing nothing happening is what I consider a subtle humor, and it's not lost upon hearing instead of reading, even if I'm not always sure which character is speaking and how he or she relates to the heroine, Anne Elliott. Take this passage for example:

When they came to the steps, leading upwards from the beach, a gentleman at the same moment preparing to come down, politely drew back, and stopped to give them way. They ascended and passed him; and as they passed, Anne's face caught his eye, and he looked at her with a degree of earnest admiration, which she could not be insensible of. She was looking remarkably well; her very regular, very pretty features, having the bloom and freshness of youth restored by the fine wind which had been blowing on her complexion, and by the animation of eye which it had also produced. It was evident that the gentleman, (completely a gentleman in manner) admired her exceedingly. Captain Wentworth looked round at her instantly in a way which shewed his noticing of it. He gave her a momentary glance, - a glance of brightness, whcih seemed to say, "That man is struck with you, - and even I, at this moment, see something like Anne Elliott again."

That's a lot of words to say...this is my modern English translation:

Some guy checked out Anne. She was looking pretty hot that day. Her ex noticed.

Perhaps the best lines, however, are the way Anne Elliott's father describes ugly people. Jane Austen and her characters use such elegant language to say such awful things, especially Sir Walter Elliott, who thinks he is one of the few attractive people left "amidst the wreck of the good looks of everybody else." What a great phrase! I want to start using that - "the wreck of good looks."

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Complements and Condiments

Last night, a friend of MBF's and mine--one of the two friends at whose engagement party we first started talking--spoke of our relationship. "You guys complement each other in interesting ways," he said. (I was in a different room at the time.

Later, when told about this conversation, I said, "What does that mean!? What kind of interesting!?" But after thinking back on the evening we'd spent together, MBF and me and some of our friends, the answer to my question was obvious.

First, before we went to the bar, while the group of us sat around our friends' new house and talked about what's been going on, MBF had to spend a considerable amount of time directing my removal of something from my teeth. There is always something in my teeth. I am always That Girl.

Later, at the bar, I was doing nothing but sitting perfectly still and drinking a beer. ONE beer that I had not finished. When the events that followed took place, I was in no way intoxicated. I was just Sarah.

Everyone around me was doing multiple tasks, which can perhaps understandably get complicated. Everyone around me was eating and drinking. And talking, too! The people eating were sharing different appetizers, passing them back and forth across the table -- all that movement and coordination! Whereas I was sitting perfectly still, save my own arm moving only to raise and set down my beer glass. And yet somehow I managed to knock my purse onto the floor, a knit purse with a fancy flap but no actual closure. It rolled like a plush softball, threatening to spill my wallet and chapstick onto the floor. It rolled under the table just out of my reach. I reached with my feet to try to push it back toward me, but it just flopped its flap and teetered back and forth without actually decreasing the distance between us. So I lowered myself down so that I could reach it with my arms, bending my head, too so that I could see under the table.

As my head lowered to a position about an inch above the table, something was not quite right. Something I could not exactly perceive, yet felt was amiss, yet I was resolute that I would remain in that position until my wayward purse would return.

"Sarah! Sarah!" cried MBF.

"What?" I asked, still reaching for the purse.

At first he could not speak, just laugh.

I continued my struggle to regain my purse.

"Sarah, you...you have...you just put your hair in blue cheese!"

It was true. When I bent down to retrieve my purse, I had stuck one side of my head directly into the cup of blue cheese sauce that had come with MBF's hot wings.

I snatched the handle of my purse, checked to make sure that it still contained everything I'd left the house with, and sat up. MBF was waiting with a napkin; when I had fully emerged from under the table, he removed the offending condiment.

So, last night I put my head in a container of blue cheese. If not for MBF, I would have walked around all night with blue cheese in my hair.

I think this explains our friend's reflection. We complement each other in interesting ways. Like blue cheese dressing and my hair, which despite being a fraction of the size in my masthead photograph since I got a pixie cut, is still big enough to get food in.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Random Cell Phone Photos from the Spring


Look at this flower arrangement I did! It's in a teacup! Those flowers are from the yard at my last apartment. I grew everything except the purple-leaved sand cherry and the white lily-looking thing. Those were there when I got there. They eventually got weed-whacked (I assume by accident.)
I saw this at Powell's! I wrote my senior thesis on J.D. Salinger! My favorite character is Buddy.
I got a green egg AND a goose egg at the People's Co-Op Farmers's Market. I think the green egg is from the farm I started habitually buying eggs from. Because they don't wash them, so you don't have to refrigerate them. You can store them on the counter or on a shelf or in a cabinet for six weeks!
Look at all this stuff I got! Radishes, which I was obsessed with at the time. Kiwis! You can grow kiwis in Oregon! Green garlic! Kale! Blueberry havarti and fresh turmeric (grown in Hawaii, not Oregon) from inside the store!
I took a close-up of the kiwis! OMG kiwis! I don't know why I did that.

I miss that green garlic.

This post was brought to you by I Am Tired With Jet Lag But NaBloPoMo Will Not Defeat Me That Easily.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

My Last Long-Term Home - The Mouse House

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This would be #0 on the list in my previous post. It was a one bedroom apartment I shared with two other people. We used a living room and another room (probably a dining room) as the other two bedrooms, so that our only common rooms were the hallways, the bathroom, a very small kitchen, and the extra room. The extra room was a tiny room with a window and a light switch, but no electrical outlets. During my time at the apartment, the extra room was a sitting room, then a storage closet (sometimes stuffed to the brim, and we'd put a bookshelf in front of the door so that guests wouldn't accidentally try to go into that embarrassing room), and at the end, a guest room with a mattress on the floor and a surge protector connected to an extension cord that went through the window, passed from the neighboring bedroom. Despite the apartment's small size and faulty upkeep, it was an attractive home. People who came over complimented us, saying, "This is a nice place!" It was attractive, and I have no doubt it was due to the decorating skills and wise usage of tiny space of us three housemates.

I loved living there. It was conveniently located no more than a fifteen minute walk to my classes and a five minute walk to work (until I got a second job thirty-five miles away.) My housemates and I became friends. We shared things in the house without taking advantage of anyone's generosity. We were all fairly clean, only messy when we were particularly busy. Usually, someone who wasn't busy would pick up the slack, because we all knew that when we didn't have time, another roommate would in turn help us out. When any of us were sick, we would take care of each other. I can recall my roommates bringing me tea in bed. We'd buy each other medicine. We'd make soup. At the beginning of cold season, we'd buy cloves of garlic and on nights when at least two of us were home, we'd roast the garlic in the toaster oven and share the whole head with pieces of bread. Once, we had a guest witness this; I'm not sure if he or she was awed, moved, or disgusted. We also drank lots of tea, all year long, often together.

I had a routine that I liked. I had class and work for about twelve hours, Monday through Wednesday, and on Thursday and Friday I sometimes worked one or two periods, but mostly I used the long weekend to study or catch up on things. (Now I'd use those weekends to go camping or something.) The second half of my time there, I worked at what would become my full-time job on Thursdays and Fridays, but since I was done with classes for the week, my weekend still, in a sense, began on Wednesday.

What I remember most about that routine was Wednesday Night Dinners. It was way to pick us up in the middle of the week. Two friends were regular attendees, with one of my roommates making frequent appearances, and my other roommate joining us at the end of the night. Other friends would make occasional guest appearances. It worked out that we were all women who were either working as scientists or studying science in school. (I think we were all biologists, too, now that I think of it.) (Except the roommate who'd join us at the end of the night. He was neither a woman nor a scientist.) Wednesday Night Dinner was social, relaxing, delicious, and wonderful. It was a way to test out recipes we'd been meaning to try and to use up stuff we'd made too much of. There were three courses - aperitif, dinner, and dessert. Someone (usually it would be me) would send out an e-mail on Sunday or Monday to everyone invited, asking who would host and who would bring what for which course. The idea was that, since there were three of us, we'd each supply one of the three courses. (If there were more people coming, then we'd have soup and salad as a course, too.) Since we liked to cook - I can't speak for the other guests, but for me, cooking and trying new recipes was (and still is) a way to relieve stress - Wednesday Night Dinner evolved into all three of us bringing a contribution for each of the three courses. We ate too much and stayed too late, usually not leaving the hostess's home until midnight.

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A Wednesday Night Dinner favorite - fig and goat cheese tart.

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Homemade pizza at a Wednesday Night Dinner. The blue goblet is usually where I'd have my kir (made with creme de cassis from my grandmere) and whatever the evening's wine was. There's also a good chance that the adorable teacup in the upper right corner was being used to house wine.

There were plenty of things wrong with that home, however. It was tiny, as I've mentioned. It was old, I think built in 1920. Its quirks, especially the bad ones, appeared over time. First of all, the faucets were backwards. The kitchen sink ran hot when the faucet was turned to cold, and vice versa. The shower was the same way, and this meant that we only got good water pressure for cold showers, not for hot. Since I took cold showers in the summertime (and both summers I lived there, without air conditioning, were unseasonably hot), I didn't mind. The bathroom sink, for whatever reason, was normal.

When I moved in, our back porch, a fire escape made out of very old wood that looked like it would be the first thing to burst into flames, was completely covered with stuff. The housemate who'd lived there the longest told me that it was there when he moved in and probably his roommate before. It looked like someone had left all their junk out there before moving out and never came to claim it. The cabinets, too, were full of all kinds of junk that a former tenant or the landlord had left behind. I remember lots of paint cans, some empty and some not, and some cans of insecticide. There was broken glass. There were plates and other dishes that we either turned into planters or washed off, disinfecting with hot vinegar, and used. (I can think of at least one of my readers who was given cookies on a gentian plate. Those came from the back porch. They were too pretty to throw away. Don't worry, we really cleaned them.) I remember there was also a pair of men's shorts mixed in with all the junk. I made it my project to clear off that porch, put folding chairs on it, and turn it into a "beer-drinking porch."

A lot of the junk ended up in the shed, which was a barn-like structure in our backyard. When one of our downstairs neighbors tried to clean it out, he found women's clothing including bras and underwear, a food smoker, several grills, and a freshmen seminar textbook from the 1980's.

Our utilities only came to about $8/month, sometimes as much as $30, for each of us. I have no idea how that was possible. We didn't have cable because none of us wanted it. We shared Internet with the people downstairs; all six of us paid about $5/month. I never paid for at least half of the year, because the person who was supposed to collect the money didn't do so aggressively, and also because there was (and still is) a huge paint mark on the back of my car that happens to match the paint on his car.

Which brings me to another quirk - the driveway. It was kind of funnel-shaped. The entrance was wide enough for one car, and the back was wide enough for three cars. Our leases said something about only three cars in the driveway at all times, but the landlord said he didn't care what the six of us worked out. Five of us had cars, so two of us would park at an angle on the wide part of the funnel. It's probably hard to picture, but really not that interesting, so I'll move on. I'll just say that it was sometimes hard to back out of the corner spot, and that's why we all had each other's paint on our cars; at some point or another, I think all of us grazed someone's car.

Another reason our bills were so low was probably because we waited as long as humanly possible to turn the heat on in the winter. We would huddle together in the kitchen, drinking tea, while wearing two shirts, our coats, hats, and gloves in the house, before we'd turn the heat on. We baked a lot. We timed our baking so that it was a convenient time for the oven to warm up the house and kick the heat off; no heat would be lost that way.

But the day came when no more baking would happen in the house.

The biggest problem that the apartment developed was mice. The mouse infestation of that apartment could turn into several stories. To be brief, no measures we took would stop the mice. First, we removed all unsealed food items from short furniture. No more fruit basket on the table. No more bread on the counter. Then, the mice learned how to climb up the refrigerator. No more bread or fruit basket on top of the refrigerator; no more food basket, period. We had one built-in cabinet with glass doors which we believed was safe from the mice. At 2AM one December morning, while I was a little loopy from working on a final paper, I heard a noise. I saw a mouse walking on the shelf under the cabinet, and I tried to chase it into a trash can so I could set it free outside. The mouse disappeared. I saw movement behind the glass door. No! I thought. I opened the cabinet and the mouse disappeared behind a bag of flour, reappeared on the shelf under the cabinet, and dashed onto the floor, running out of sight.

The mice had climbed up on our boxes of tea (which, if they weren't made of metal, had been chewed and had to be thrown out) and gnawed a hole in the bottom of the cabinet. They had chewed completely through and were able to eat anything we had on the bottom shelf, things in paper and plastic bags we hadn't bothered to secure. Since it was bulk items we didn't frequently use, we had no reason to take notice. I might have actually cried when I saw this.

I threw out everything that seemed unsafe on that shelf, disinfected it, and covered the hole with metal tea tins. I moved all of our glass jars or metal containers onto that bottom shelf, storing anything that wasn't mouse-proof on the higher shelves.

The mice continued to live on food crumbs that missed being swept up. The mice found a way to get through the back the oven and make a home in it. We had been storing baked goods in the oven. We stopped. We cleaned the oven whenever we wanted to use it, but usually we were too grossed out by the thought of mice pooping in the oven to put food in it. We scaled our baking down to what would fit in the toaster oven - small cakes, small bread, and small batches of cookies.

In the second half of our time in the apartment, one roommate noticed that his sweatshirts, which were kept on stackable cubes and not in a sealed dresser, had strange holes in it. Shortly after, I turned the dial on our gas stove to light it and make dinner. I saw sparks, and then the flame went out. After shutting off the gas, I carefully lifted the stovetop to see what was wrong.

Under one of the burners in the stove was fluff. A nest of sweatshirt fluff and mattress stuffing (which we later learned came from my other roommate's mattress) built by mice under the burner on the gas stove.

No longer able to eat our food, they had moved on to our clothing and bedding. The next step was for them to eat us.

Fortunately, it never came to that. We did worry about hantavirus (perhaps unnecessarily) and any other disease mice might carry. We disinfected the counters several times a day, but still refrained from putting food directly on the counters. There was plenty of evidence that mice were climbing onto them.

The landlord's reaction is so frustrating, I don't even want to write about it right now.

In the last third or so of our time in the apartment, the fridge started to leak. Water pooled in the crisper drawers. Sometimes it even got onto the shelves. By summertime, we couldn't keep fresh greens in the refrigerator. They would just wilt. Any salad I wanted to eat had to be kept at work.

In July, a plumber started visiting us. The downstairs neighbors called our landlord because every time one of us took a shower, water leaked into their apartment, flooding the bathroom. The plumber, who I think was the same man that came to our house with the title of "exterminator," came many times but to my knowledge, never fixed the problem. Around the same time, the tiles started to come off the kitchen floor. Water leaking from the refrigerator was collecting on the kitchen floor, destroying the tiles and the wood.

During my last month at the apartment, I tried to cook dinner on the stove one night. When I turned the dial to lower the flame, nothing happened. When I tried to shut off the gas, nothing happened. Something in the stove had gotten stuck so that the highest flame was burning and would not stop. When I called the landlord, he sent a repairman. The plumber/exterminator arrived.

Our home was clearly no longer a home. Additionally, my beloved roommates and I were going separate ways in life. One moved in with a significant other. One moved to New York for work. I moved closer to my job, too. I knew that I couldn't live forty-five minutes from my office in a mouse-infested place with a stove that might burn the house down, a fire escape that was made of kindling, and a floor that was rotting so that one day, the leaky refrigerator in which no salads could be stored might fall through the floor and crush the downstairs neighbors. It didn't make me any less sad to leave.

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Sometimes, we had a lot of produce for the entrepreneurial mouse.

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It was here that I learned to make real mayonnaise - which is where the spoon stands up in the middle of the bowl unsupported by anything but the strength of the mayonnaise.

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This was actually a Sunday afternoon, but this spread would not have been out of place at a Wednesday Night Dinner. The centerpiece was made with weeds wildflowers collected in our yard.

Stability

It is November 10th, and I have officially run out of posts I wrote the one night I was up until 2am with jet lag, which were all set to auto-publish at 12:01 AM on successive days to satisfy the NaBloPoMo requirements. Today's post is in real time.

On this blog I have mentioned, but not provided a detailed account of the fact that since I moved out of my beloved New Brunswick home, where I'd lived for just over a year, at the end of Summer 2008, I have not lived in the same place for more than four months at a time. The place I called home three years ago was the last long-term home I had. For a very long time, I pined for a home; eventually, I got used to living out of a suitcase. I now excel at packing. Instability feels natural, or rather, what's stable in my life is no longer necessarily where I sleep.

My account of The Move West has gotten to a place where it seems appropriate to explain. Each "home" comes with its own set of stories, such as why I moved there, why I moved out, and everything that happened in between. This post will serve as a table of contents and/or a preview of what's to come.

1. My Solo Home This is a pretty lame title; I'm working out what to call this place so as not to give out too many identifying details. It was a very small one bedroom apartment that I had all to myself. The rent and utilities combined were triple what I paid in my previous New Brunswick home. After four months, I had to report to jury duty, and when I was selected for a two-month trial, I began living out of a suitcase in...

2. My Parents' House which was about twenty-five miles closer to the courthouse than my apartment was. Living in my parents' house for two months, while the majority of my stuff lived in my apartment, was fine. Other than the stress of avoiding newspapers and not being able to talk about my day to anyone, constantly worrying that I'd slip and give away a detail of the trial, plus some resulting things that were happening at my job (a story for another time), I liked living at my parents' house much more than I thought I would. I liked jury duty more than is normal. For one thing, we were given an hour to eat lunch and could actually go to restaurants if we forgot to pack a sandwich; we didn't have to rush to McDonald's and/or starve. When I realized I enjoyed living in my parents' house and being on a jury more than normal life, I began to realize that something was wrong.

3. Return to My Solo Home I returned to my apartment, environmentally educating the public by day and searching for jobs by night. I sent my resume out locally and to any place in America that seemed faintly liveable. Weeks passed. Finally, a week arrived with two e-mails requesting phone interviews, one from the Chicago Botanic Garden and one from Portland, Oregon. Both phone interviews were successful; I knew I was on two short lists. After another week, I was offered and (after examining my finances and doing lots of math) accepted the job in Oregon. It was only three months after I returned to this home that I left for Portland.

4. Portland Home #1 This was the apartment that I wrote about, in The Move West, moving toward. I left after three and a half months. It was very far out, almost in a suburb, and it took too long to get to bars, cafes, farmers' markets, or anything else I wanted to frequent. Plus, there was a shooting on my block, which I heard from the dining room table.

5. Portland Home #2 I lived here for two weeks, and yet I remember it more clearly than Portland Home #1, because it reminded me a lot of my 2008 New Brunswick home and because I invested more emotion into making this place my home. I left after learning that I was an illegal sublettor and because of events (which I may or may not write about; I'm afraid of who'll see them) that made me afraid to stay. The experiences of this apartment, my moving into it and my moving out, were a reinforcement of one lesson I learned in Portland and advice I'd give to anyone moving to a new place alone -- don't mistake generosity for kindness.

6. Portland Home #3 As quickly as I'd moved into my second Portland home, I'd moved into my third Portland home. After two weeks or so, it was Thanksgiving, and I returned...

7. To My Parents House Again. For about two months, this time legally subletting a room in Portland while tying up loose ends in New Jersey, but also looking for jobs anywhere in the country that would take me, even Portland. I took a train trip across America (with photos I'd like to post) with another Portlander and returned...

8. To My Third Portland Home Again. I stayed here the longest. Circumstances I probably won't write about for some time had me leave after four months, to live again out of a suitcase...

9. At My Boyfriend's House until I could move into...

10. My Fourth and Current Portland Home where I signed a six-month lease.

The End. Phew! That's a lot of moving!

Monday, November 08, 2010

In lieu of a real post, my Halloween costume

After all of those long posts, I am taking a break. I promised a picture of me in my Jerseylicious Halloween costume, not just a famous Jersey (or not really Jersey?) girl.


For comparison's sake, the real Snooki.

My date went as a cowboy; we went as stereotypes from our home states.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

The Move West, Day Six: End of the Road

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We awoke in the Onion Capitol of Oregon...or something. Signs everywhere proclaimed this fact, but nowhere can I find evidence of this, or what exactly Ontario, Oregon, is the onion capitol of. (The world? The state? The Northwest?) We were now in the Oregon desert, and it was hot and dry as expected, but also smelled like onions. This made us hungry, so we walked across the parking lot from our hotel to DJ's Family Restaurant. I had planned to write a favorable review of this place in my blog, but now I can't remember much of it. Their menu included a Recession Special of something like a biscuit and gravy with an egg and all kinds of stuff, for some crazy price like $3. Giant cinnamon buns were advertised; Meg got one to go. It was indeed giant - the size of our heads. Something eventful happened with a strange busboy (who was really an old man) who talked to us in a friendly way for awhile, then abruptly stopped and watched up until we got the hint and left so he could clean the table. We drove across the street to a gas station and were met with another Oregonian oddity.

Gas station attendants.

Oregon, like New Jersey, outlaws pumping one's own gas. And now that I've only lived in these two states, I'm pretty useless at a gas station. It's not the pumping so much as the paying; I always end up paying inside.

The drive on I-84 across Oregon is quite interesting. Miles of desert, scenic and colorful, surround you, until suddenly you arrive in the Blue Mountains, where it is shady, cool, green, and of course, blue. Unfamiliar with Oregon geography, one might be tricked into thinking he or she has finally arrived in the Cascades, only to be cruelly thrust downhill back into the desert for more miles. Eventually, the road reaches the Columbia River and travels all the way to Multnomah County alongside it, with Washington visible on the other side.

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Anxious to get home, the scenic drive just seemed long, especially with a speed limit of 65 mph. So we didn't stop in the Blue Mountains, we didn't stop in Pendleton, we didn't stop in Hood River or any of the other worthwhile places until Multnomah Falls.

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Soon, the highway became three lanes and busy. Troutdale became Gresham, and then we were in Portland. We turned north onto I-205, crossed briefly into Vancouver, Washington (another new state), to pick up my keys from my roommate, and then went back south to my new apartment.

I was home.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

The Move West, Day Five: Farewell to Route 80; Hello to The 84

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Snake River in Twin Falls, Idaho.

Meg and I had both been to Wyoming (separately) the previous summer, but further north, driving across the state on I-90. We both fell in love with Wyoming and were happy to return. So, while most of the drive that morning of Day Five didn't yield any interesting stories, it gave us many delightful, scenic miles of sightseeing from the car.

We had a bit of an adventure trying to find a Wal-mart or souvenir shop that would sell Wyoming sweatshirts, so that we could publicly declare our love for Wyoming every time it got cold. Our search took us to the main street of a really weird town. I can't remember if it was Rawlins or someplace else. There were souvenir shops and gift shops, all places that seemed likely to carry Wyoming apparel, but they only had expensive college sports team sweatshirts. The buildings in the town were old, in disrepair, and the streets were dusty. I bought SPF 30 chapstick to protect me from the wind and dry heat. But no sweatshirt. We tried to find a Wal-mart using Elsa, the GPS. But she has difficult navigating west of the Mississippi, perhaps even west of the Delaware. Elsa led us to dead ends, one-way streets on which she told us to go the wrong way, and roads that didn't exist. She directed us to places that we weren't sure whether they were dead ends or very dusty continuations of the road, because many of the town's roads were "unimproved," the West's fancy term for "dirt road in a populated area."

At a rest stop, we saw prairie dogs, which I'd never seen before in my life. We stopped for lunch, the cold remains of our delicious Laramie pizza, at a rest area in Evanston. There, we saw a herd of bison in a fenced-in area right next to the rest stop. I took one and a half rolls of film that were pictures of Wildlife Seen at Rest Areas.

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The prairie dogs were freaked out by how close we were getting, so a group of them started to come for us. What can such small creatures really do to two grown women? Give us the plague!!!!

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Note I-80 in the background.

We procrastinated, eating lunch slowly and taking photos of the bison, because Evanston is the town just before the state line. It was with longing in our hearts that we bade goodbye to Wyoming and continued west into Utah, the state where we'd eventually bid I-80 goodbye in exchange for the northwest-bound I-84 that would take me to my new home. I had been to Utah in 2008, when I drove from Page, Arizona to Las Vegas with Zion National Park as a detour. What I had seen of Southern Utah was stunning; I was reassured by thoughts that I'd see something similarly scenic in Northern Utah. But I was wrong.

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I think that is the only picture I took of Utah. It's called Devil's Slide or something. I don't even care enough to look it up. That part of Utah was stupid.

The Utah I saw from I-80 was severely disappointing. It was hot. The interstate was crowded. The speed limit was slow. Large signs with religious sayings loomed menacingly over us. The sky was cloudy. I saw nothing scenic, just gray skies, gray rocks, gray roads, and gray suburbia. I bet it was even in stupid Utah where I learned that the chapstick I'd gotten in Wyoming was lifeguard chapstick, so I'd been walking around all day reapplying, unaware of the fact that I was further cementing what appeared to be opaque white lipstick onto my face.

It was nothing like the Utah I'd expected; my disappointment was perhaps compounded by my unwillingness to leave behind both Wyoming and I-80, the same I-80 that I'd grown up within twenty miles of, learned to drive on, and for five days had spent hundreds of miles and many hours on.

But I-84 welcomed us and took us to safety, to Idaho. The crowds thinned. Traffic ceased to be. The speed limit rose back to a respectable 75 mph. Colors other than gray became visible. The scenery grew interesting again. The concentration of religious billboards along the freeways thinned to what one would expect in rural America; although far from absent, they far from saturated the roadsign landscape.

My first time to Idaho, in 2008, had begun and ended in the middle of the same night. My memory of Idaho looked a lot like the picture I took of wall art in the Bye and Bye bathroom and wrote about later. I looked forward to adding to those memories.


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Look at the scary bridge! Before I became a resident of Portland, a city divided from Washington by the Columbia River and itself by the Willamette, I had an irrational fear of driving over bridges. Not so irrational that I never left New Jersey; perhaps "illogical trepidation" is a more accurate term.

We crossed the scary bridge, of which I've only shown you maybe one fifth, en route to Shoshone Falls. We arrived just in time for a thunderstorm.

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Unfortunately, none of my pictures include any epic lightning. Just fog and clouds. Called the "Niagara of the West," Shoshone Falls is actually higher than the real Niagara Falls. I thought that this was surely the place for me to find my Idaho shot glass. Yet as we waited in line at the kiosk selling souvenirs, the woman working behind the counter snapped at a child, and I belligerently refused to buy anything from her. Filled with sour feelings, none of the shot glasses on display felt "right" to me. To this day, I do not have a shot glass from Idaho, the eastern neighbor of the state I call home. I have been to Idaho twice, and still haven't found the right match.

From Shoshone Falls, we went back to I-84 and Idaho's capitol city of Boise. It was a city that would unexpectedly win my heart.

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In Boise I found the things I like about hipster Portland, with an even smaller small-town feel and a relaxed atmosphere. Basque bars, cafes, and restaurants were of surprising abundance. Boise has the United States' second largest popular of Basques and the world's fifth largest. Following the recommendations of Let's Go, we ate dinner at Gernika.

Gernika was weird. It was one of those places where you're supposed to seat yourself, but there's no sign telling you that, so if you're not a regular, you stand in the doorway for awhile feeling awkward. Our server, when he graced our table with his presence, was rude. I ordered the paella, which Let's Go recommended. They were out. They were out of that and of anything particularly Basque except for cider and croquetas. My chicken sandwich with roasted red pepper did not seem particularly new or exotic. Meg had the croquetas. I ordered Astarbe to drink. This forced the rude server to speak more than three sentences to me. He came to the table with a bottle of cider and a small glass.

"Have you ever been here before?" he asked.

When I told him no, he demonstrated the proper way to pour and drink Basque hard cider. One must pour the bottle in a flourishing motion, moving one's arm from the glass's level up, up, up as high as possible, and back down. This, the server informed me, is what gives the cider carbonation.

It was very difficult to do this without pouring cider all over the table. You can guess what I did. Over and over again.

After dinner, we walked around the city. Suddenly, blocks of Basque restaurants and pubs appeared. Let's Go had only written about Gernika. They seemed more inviting than Gernika, with outdoor seating and chalkboards advertising $2 kalimotxo, and I felt a twinge of regret that we had not gone to one of these for dinner instead. I planned to return to Boise for kalimotxo and better Basque food someday. I wanted to explore the city more and find the Idaho shot glass of my dreams. But since that evening, I have never returned to Idaho.

It was still early, and we still had energy to drive. We continued west, passing pricey hotels near the state capitol and less expensive hotel in Nampa, only half and hour from Boise. Half an hour from that, we crossed the state line and got a hotel room in Ontatio, Oregon. I was almost home.

The Move West, Day 4 Continued: Return to Route 80

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After buying Rocky Mountain National Park souvenirs, we drove north toward I-80 and our next state, Wyoming. Then we headed back north, back to I-80, and to Wyoming. There were two different ways we could have taken. The fastest, most direct route would have been to take US-287 straight north to Laramie; the way that we took, ignoring the advice of Google Maps and Elsa (my GPS), was I-25 to Cheyenne. I think we thought we'd see something cool in Cheyenne. All we took the time to see was I-80.

Had we gone straight to Laramie, we would have driven through MBF's hometown and the part of the state that would, a year later, change my mind about Colorado. I could be wrong (I think I'm thinking of highway 14, not 287), but I think we would have had a more scenic, not to mention 25 miles shorter, drive to Laramie.

But had we taken that shorter way to Laramie, we would have missed out on this rainbow.

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We would have missed out on these clouds.

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And we would have missed out on this!

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Buford, Wyoming is, at eight thousand feet above sea level, the highest community on I-80. Its Wikipedia page shows its population as two, which is one more than was there when we stopped at its convenience store, hoping to find a RoomSavers coupon book.

The smaller signs say, "Buford Wyoming/Est 1866," "Nation's Smallest Town/Zip Code 82052," "Highest Town Between NYC & San Francisco on I-80." The town appeared to consist only of this sign, the house behind it, and the convenience store just visible by what appears to be a gas station pricing sign. I guess I framed this shot so strangely to capture Buford's only two buildings.

We imagined that the convenience store, which closed just before we arrived, was staffed by one old man who also lived in the house next to it. When Meg saw that its population was formerly two, not one, she exclaimed, "Oh no! What if that was the old man's wife, and she died?" We were saddened by our invented story.

As an update, while looking for photos of the town, I found this Flickr photo of the old sign for Buford where the population is double what it was in 2009. Scroll down the comments, and you'll see a note from one of the 2 who resided in Buford when that picture was taken, the one who left, cutting the town's population in half, before I came and took that picture of the sign. According to his Flickr comment, he moved to the very place I was headed when I passed through his hometown of Buford: Portland, Oregon.

From Buford, we continued driving to Laramie. In Laramie, we were delighted to find an attractive college town. Unlike Denver, in this city, traffic was lacking and parking was abundant. We stopped for dinner at a pizza place recommended by Let's Go. I liked the food and the atmosphere. At a nearby table, three college students, all dressed (by my standards) fashionably, discussed some girl drama in which one or both or all three of them were ensnared. They spoke not loudly, but audibly, and they used real, full names. It made me think of my early college years, in which such drama was so distressing that the imprudence of discussing it in public was overshadowed by my dismay.

I liked Laramie and was reluctant to leave. But Portland was waiting for me, two days and one thousand miles away. We left Laramie and continued west, stopping for the night in Rawlins. The next day would bring many more miles of driving, two more full states, our last full day on the road, and a brief glimpse of Oregon.

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Friday, November 05, 2010

The Move West, Day Four: Colorado Confession

Chuck Thompson writes, in Smile While You're Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer, some negative things about Colorado. He casts the entire Centennial State onto his list of travel destinations that don't live up to their hype. He describes it as a Midwestern state masquerading as the West. Based on what I saw between the state line and Denver, I drew the same conclusion. From that stretch of I-76, Colorado looked like Nebraska.

The next day, after a morning exploring the city, my impression of Denver was that it was hot, dry, and crowded. The streets had traffic. We had difficulty finding a place to park. All lunch recommendations in our Let's Go book were expensive. After so much time in empty places, so much time driving on the open road, a real city seemed frustrating and exhausting. I was not crazy about Denver.

We left Denver and headed toward the mountains, planning to stop for lunch in Boulder. The small part of Boulder we drove through on our way to Estes Park looked very suburban. Nowhere did I see the hippie college town I'd heard about.

When we got to Estes Park, it was full of tourists. We saw a lot of things for sale. Things being sold to tourists, who were crowding the streets.

I am now about make a confession. This was something I felt needed to be kept secret, and with even more urgency when I began dating a man from Colorado. Until five minutes ago, I hadn't even told him.

The first time I went to Colorado, I did not like it.

Our experiences traveling from Denver to the mountains even colored my perceptions of Rocky Mountain National Park. At the time, I was disappointed that it wasn't as nice as I remembered Montana.

Why am I writing this, despite the fact that some of my readers are members of my boyfriend's family from Colorado? Because I can admit when I was wrong. When I visited Colorado for the second time, with MBF, I was met with pleasant surprises every day. Colorado is nice! The part of Colorado that we visited was not at all like I remember Denver...and now I'd like to give Denver a second chance. When I returned to Colorado in 2010, I loved it. But this post is about 2009, not 2010, and now that I've gotten all that off my chest, I'll resume the story of the day I went to Colorado and wasn't too thrilled with it.

One thing I loved about Denver was its neighborhoods with old, colorful houses.

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The first site we visited was the Black American West Museum. It was interesting, but more than the exhibits I saw and signage I read, I remember the strange experience we had there.

When we walked into the museum, which is in a house like the ones pictured above in the neighborhood pictured above, we passed a boy, probably about ten years old, walking through the doorway out of the building. He looked at us, but did not say a word. We continued into the museum, and for the remainder of our visit, we did not see another living soul. No one was at the reception desk. We waited for the receptionist, whom we were sure was just on a bathroom break, to tell us how much to pay and collect our money. Time passed; we gave up and put some money in the donation jar. After spending an hour or so exploring the museum, we started to think it was strange that we had seen no one else in the building aside from the little boy on his way out. I wanted to use the restroom before we got back in the car, but when I saw that I couldn't get there without walking down a staircase into the basement, I chickened out. We saw no one walk into the museum as we left and walked to the car. We saw no sign of the little boy we had seen on the way in. I still wonder what was happening that day.

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Oh well. We moved on to the city center, where we stood at the mile high step.

Then we set out for Rocky Mountain National Park.

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A storm moved in.

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It chased us out of the park, to the giant gift shop where we bought mugs, shot glasses, and more postcards. Have I explained yet about the postcards? As if collecting shot glasses wasn't enough, when I travel, I compulsively buy post cards. I have a long list of post card recipients. Every time I consider thinning the list, I think about that recipient whose name I am about to cross off and how happy they'd be getting real mail that isn't bills or junk. Even with such a long list, I overbuy post cards. Then I don't know what to do with them. So I have them in my hanging file drawer, in the "Travel" file, and they are paperclipped together by destination. When I returned to Colorado in 2010, I brought with me postcards from 2009 to write and send. (And I still have to buy more.) If I go to San Francisco this month, as planned, I will bring with me post cards from my 2008 trip to that city.

I'll end with one more picture. Can you believe I was grouchy and comparing this to Montana?

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For more pictures of my trip, including Rocky Mountain National Park, check out my Flickr page.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Move West, Day Three: Neverending Nebraska

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We woke the next morning in Walnut, Iowa, not long before we crossed the Missouri River from Council Bluffs, IA, to Omaha, Nebraska. We didn't stop in Omaha, especially when we saw the exit signs and their large numbers, such as Exit 452. Nebraska would be our longest, most monotonous state.

I-80 in Nebraska is 455 miles. Miles and miles and miles of flat terrain and cornfields. Following Iowa, this is more than a reasonable human being can stand. The 455 miles needed to be broken up, punctuated by fairly interesting stops.

I believe it was at this point on the road when Meg pondered aloud, "Do you think when kids from small towns out here get fed up and want to move to the city, they say, 'I'm getting out of this town! I'm going to OMAHA!'" It was a question we'd ask again, in Cheyenne, in Laramie, and in Boise. Sometimes I ask myself that about Portland, too.

At about 11:00, we stopped at Harold Warp's Pioneer Village in Minden, Nebraska. This museum is nothing short of fascinating, and I cannot recommend it enough.

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What exactly is Pioneer Village? It is a museum of...stuff, meticulously organized and catalogued. If Harold Warp had gone into biology, he would have undoubtedly become a systematist. The museum entrance is in a large building with several exhibits, the first of which highlights transportation in America in exact chronological order. Rows of buggies and wagons become cars, with replicas and parts of early airplanes suspended from the ceiling.

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Much of the museum is dedicated to everyday items. An exhibit of typewriters gives way to computers. One glass case contains lamps from the nineteenth century to the present. Plenty of toys are on display. Advertisements and packaging from everyday items, such as soft drinks bottles and cans, also find a home in Pioneer Village.

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The sights don't end there. Outside of the main building, the part of the museum that seems to be dedicated to progress, is the actual pioneer village. Around a lawn with picnic tables and trees labeled with their English and scientific names (confirming my suspicions of Harold Warp's systematic biologist's mind) are several small buildings, each reproductions of buildings that would have existed in a real pioneer village. There is a schoolhouse, a general store, and a sod house, to name a few.

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The buildings are all open to visitors and contain even more exhibits.

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The shady village and picnic tables were a welcome refuge from Nebraska's summer heat. Even Harold Warp could allow the slight anachronism of a modern snack shop in a pioneer village, and here Meg and I marveled over (but did not buy) a Midwestern delicacy previously unknown to me — Frito Pie. Instead, we got Pepsis or maybe even another frozen Snickers to liven up the Midwestern day.

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With a twinge of reluctance, we went back to our journey and back to I-80. There is little to report for a couple hundred miles. Whoever wasn't driving was sleeping. The flatness and grasses, fields and fields without end, with maybe a tree every twenty miles or so, had a soporific effect. We were both awake to stop and explore a monument in Kearney, some big arch over I-80 that was such a tourist trap I don't even feel like looking up its real name. We kept going until Paxton, where we got a noteworthy dinner.

Ole's Big Game Steakhouse in Paxton, Nebraska, is perhaps worth all 310 of the miles we had to travel to get there. They had good local microbrewery beer on tap, but of course the steak was the highlight of dinner. Here at Ole's Big Game Steakhouse, I rekindled my love affair with chicken fried steak, a fragment of American cuisine somehow absent from my Northeastern home. Chicken fried steak is one of the things that keeps me from becoming a vegetarian. Note that "fried" is only one letter away from "friend." As I wrote that last paragraph, I had to keep correcting myself, because three times I wrote, "chicken friend steak." I am happy to report that in Portland, chicken friend steak is a common menu item, especially at brunch, and that I have had many blissful chicken fried steak meals since that dinner in Nebraska.

We had now arrived just west of a question mark on our trip itinerary. In order to make it to Oregon in time, we could either detour from I-80 north to Scottsbluff, toward interesting Nebraskan sights such as Chimney Rock and Carhenge, or we could detour south to Colorado, before heading back to I-80 in Wyoming. We decided to go to Colorado. It may have been because neither of us had been to Colorado before, so we'd accomplish seeing another state and having another opportunity for a shot glass. It's also quite likely that we based our decision on an inability to stand one more minute than was necessary in Nebraska.

Thirty-three miles later, we left I-80 for I-76, bypassing our "ambitious goal" of spending the third night in Ogallala. It was only minutes before we crossed into Colorado, the state where we'd spend our third night. A few hours later, we checked into a hotel in Denver, a city we'd explore on Day Four.