Welcome to Stumptown
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.