Monthly Archives: June 2013
The Question: We have children going hungry, income inequality at historic levels, global warming, catastrophic weather, Republicans across the nation rolling back women’s rights on everything from equal pay to sexual harassment to reproductive choice, yet instead of meaningful, in-depth coverage of these or other vital issues we get mind-numbingly inane animal updates. Why?
Actual headlines I just copied off CNN:
- Stolen dog statue found
- Woman finds snake in potatoes
- Man survives bobcat attack
- Woman rescues hummingbird
- Family allowed to keep deer
- Dog thrives with three legs
- Tiger attacks employee
- Dead leopard found in Indiana
I recently returned from a visit to a place known for its rushing rivers, snow-capped peaks, towering, moss-covered, primeval forests and lush, verdant vegetation.
No, it’s not Middle Earth. The people here drink coffee, lots of coffee.
No, it’s not Seattle. The people here taught Seattle how to drink coffee.
The people here drink so much coffee that, along the asphalt ribbons weaving through the middle of those primeval forests, far from the nearest towns, every couple of miles is another little shack with a drive-up window offering freshly ground espresso.
This, in other words, is Portland.
I went there to visit my cousins who are very nice, friendly people who fit into Portland really well, even if they don’t drink a lot of coffee.
That’s because not only are they very nice, friendly people, but this is Portland, which is open and accepting of just about everyone and every lifestyle because Portland is Madison, Wisconsin on steroids times infinity and thus opens its arms to all life forms, but especially the homeless ones who often ride the light rail wearing low-rider, over-sized shorts with worn out elastic waistbands which fall down frequently, making plumbers look like fashionistas by comparison.
I learned this after one of them stood up next to me while his shorts didn’t.
But that was just one of the many inspiring sights available to the average tourist like me. There’s also Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, and Voodoo Donuts, which are made in a process involving goat sacrifices and bacon that draws long lines of visitors which, swept up in fried-dough insanity, I joined just long enough to realize that lining up to wait thirty minutes for an overpriced piece of fried anything is probably insane.
So I left the zombie lineup and went to enjoy the river walk along one of Portland’s picturesque rivers instead, an area I found occupied by a festival which, in a most unfriendly and un-Portland-like way, blocked cross streets forcing me to walk all the way around it BUT which offered a macabre-Stephen-King type bear ride that possibly devours the children who enter it: “We’ll eat you up – we love you so.”
But that was not the highlight of the trip. Oh,no.
The highlight came later, after visiting the Wells Fargo Museum, which offers free travel tips for stage coach passengers (hint: always spit downwind).
And after touring The Grotto, an internationally-renowned Catholic shrine and botanical garden complete with a marble replica of the Pietà carved into the base of a 110-foot cliff.
Because a Pietà is so much nicer than a birdbath.
I spent an hour in spiritual solitude, contemplating the carefully cultivated grounds atop the bluff, followed by a visit to the Meditation Chapel offering a panoramic view of the area’s highlights, including the Columbia River Valley, the Cascade Mountain Range and Mount St. Helens through its floor to ceiling windows. Even when meditation is doubtful due to the snoring tourists soundly sleeping in the viewing chairs.
Yes, the highlight of the trip came after I exited and crossed the street to the bus stop for the trip back to downtown, happy for the glass shelter as (this being Portland) it was raining again. It was at this precise moment, still wrapped in the afterglow of my communion with nature in all her glory, that a man walked up. Sat next to me. And made it clear he thought I was a hooker and was offering me some business.
Did I mention it was on a bus route in a residential neighborhood?
At 3 in the afternoon?
And that I was seductively dressed in an alluring pair of worn sneakers, enticing baggy slacks, and a come-hither, up-to-my-chin shirt. All complemented by an inviting, hooded rain jacket?
Which is standard dress for Portland prostitutes. In fact, for everyone in Portland because of the rain. Which falls most of the time. Which is why the landscape is covered with towering, moss-covered, primeval forests and lush, verdant vegetation.
The good news: when he learns I’m not, he has the good grace to act embarrassed.
The bad news: he doesn’t go away.
For some reason, my cousins find the incident vastly amusing.
After the hooker moment, I didn’t think anything worse could happen during my trip to the great Northwest state of Oregon (motto: Portland, where everybody looks like a hooker so if at first you don’t succeed keep asking until you find one).
I was wrong.
One day we went searching for waterfalls. Which for some reason require mountains in addition to water. The first one we found was picturesque and a short walk to the viewing area which even small children could access.
We, however, were made of sterner stuff, so were destined to seek out bigger challenges.
Unfortunately, my cousins knew where to find them.
The challenges meant hiking up actual mountains. On steep, rocky, narrow trails. Carved into cliff edges. That are wet and slippery because the trail is under a waterfall. But not the waterfall we want so we must keep hiking. Along more cliff edges. With steep drops hundreds of feet to piles of unforgiving boulders. And no guard rails.
My cousins are unperturbed. I cling to the rock wall and try not to pass out.
We reach our destination. Then I realize I have to go back down. And no, I can’t demand to be airlifted out.
Note to self: complain to Park Service about the lack of guard rails in national parks.
Okay. So maybe I’m feeling a little bent out of shape because I made cranberry sauce today and every time I turned my back on the burner, the sauce boiled over, creating a gooey, black, scorched mess which I’d clean up only to have it happen again. And again.
But, despite that, I really don’t think I’m overreacting to a story in which some anonymous, self-identified “experts” at “U.S. News Travel” name America’s Best Fries.
The question that always pops into my little head whenever I see a “best of” list is this: How can they know? Did they go to every single restaurant in every single state (and to be fair every territory as well because if you’re canvassing the nation then it really should be the whole empanada)?
I don’t think so.
So exactly HOW do they come up with the list?
I don’t even know who “they” are – or what makes them the deciders but I’m pretty sure it’s not anyone who has eaten his/her/their way from the redwood forest to the gulf stream waters or from sea to shining sea. Unless, of course, they skipped almost everything in between. Because we’re talking fries here and by the time they traveled from Maine to New York they’d have gained 451 pounds and never made it further than New Jersey.
I’m also pretty sure they believe in the power of google. Or yelp. Or both.
But the strongest possibility is: they just make it up. A couple of drunk food elitists choosing random words out of a paper bag, putting together phrases like “Vietnamese pineapple mayo.”
That’s right. I’m betting they not only haven’t eaten at every single restaurant in every single state – I’m also betting they probably haven’t even eaten at every restaurant on their list. After all – what red-blooded American would order onion-flavored fries with chive crème fraîche? That’s right – they wouldn’t! Probably because they couldn’t pronounce it.
Let’s review. Fries are spuds, traditionally cut into long, thin, four-sided strips, deep fried until golden brown in some kind of fat that’s not good for you so you don’t ask too many questions about it (unless you’re allergic to peanuts in which case you definitely want to know if it’s peanut oil), sprinkled with salt then (if you’re a purist) shoved into your mouth while still too hot giving you that awful pizza burn feeling.
Or you may prefer a healthy dose of ketchup, not catsup, which should always be Heinz which really is better even though I don’t know why. And which should always be served in a glass bottle, never in those wussy little paper cups that collapse when you empty them, splashing the contents all over your lap.
The only permissible ketchup options are 1) dumping half the bottle directly on top of the fries or 2) dumping half the bottle in a huge blob next to the fries. (Which, if it’s really Heinz and not catsup poured into a Heinz bottle you will not be able to dump anyway. But it could explode.)
I suspect a Canadian plot. After all, poutine made the list, the Canadian national comfort food involving fries, brown gravy, and cheese curds, which, when not being eaten, makes an excellent wallpaper paste.
But whatever you do, even if you are Canadian you are not going to “dip a homestyle purple fry in zesty chipotle aioli.” Or order “fries covered in cheese curd, house-made duck gravy, chives and a duck egg.” Or eat “boats of fries … smothered with onions, peanut satay, mayonnaise and honey sambaal.”
And no sober person would ever add “goat cheese fries coupled with a raspberry sauce” to the “best of” list.
So it must have been some drunk Canadians, eh?