Henry knows treachery is afoot and does his best sad cat impression while we lug our clothing and camping gear out of the apartment in two small carry-ons and “Big Blue,” our large suitcase.
We arrive at the airport way too early for people with PreCheck status and go through our typical airport routine: locate the French Meadow Bakery, purchase and consume large portions of sugary carbs, quietly scorn the “gate lice” and locate our seats, typically on or near the wing. I’m out cold shortly after takeoff and awake to the sensation of Luke poking my arm and pointing out the window at a massive, snow-covered mountain top peaking through the clouds. A small child behind us asks his Mom if it’s Mount Everest. Part of me wonders the same.
After collecting Blue Blue from baggage claim and securing our rental car, we hit the ‘5’ heading straight south to Portland. It’s what I deem to be a very “typical” Seattle day – overcast, a little cool and muggy. We make a quick pit stop in Tacoma for lunch at a small café in the downtown arts district. The red velvet décor and funky mood lighting evokes a sense of mid-90’s quirk that belongs specifically to the Counting Crows’ “Mr. Jones” era of my life. Here, we get our first reminder of how good seafood is outside of the Midwest. I leave thoroughly stuffed on the least fishy fish tacos I’ve had in a very long time and wonderful sourdough bread. Then, I take a minute to admire an exotic conifer near our parked rental car.
These are my only memories of Washington.
After droning down the highway for a couple of hours, Oregon greets us with open arms. The sun breaks free from its thick cloud cover and we spot a tiny version of Mount Hood off in the distance. This is our first visit to the PNW and we’re eager to experience every stereotype we’ve seen in the show Portlandia. Will we encounter militant cyclists? Are Marionberries real? Do people stand in very long lines for very specific food items? The answer is a resounding YES! to all three questions.
After checking into our motel – a cute place in a sketchy neighborhood – I step outside, take a seat on the white plastic smoking chair next to the door and give my friend Steph a call. She and her husband Mike are kindred spirits who travel near and far in search of outdoorsy adventure. A few years ago, they sold most of their possessions and embarked on a trip around the world. Mike got sick and they had to return to Minneapolis for a short while before jetting off to Portland. It’s been about a year and a half and they haven’t looked back since.
Steph and I make plans to meet at their place on Division Street in an up-and-coming neighborhood filled with small local businesses, bars and restaurants. One of the main attractions is the very popular Thai restaurant Pok Pok. Judging by the number of people spilling onto the sidewalk, happily waiting two hours for a table, this could be the most popular Thai restaurant in the world.
Luke and I spend some time drifting up and down the bustling street and we happen upon one of Portland’s infamous food truck villages. It’s an eclectic collection of vehicles serving a variety of food items, an Airstream selling accessories and succulents, and a double-decker bus selling dresses. We grab a couple of local craft beers and settle onto a massive log bench in the center of the courtyard near the open fire pit.
The people watching here is insane. There isn’t a certain “type”of individual, but a fascinating collection of outdoorsy, slightly hippie-ish, healthy-looking people eating, drinking and laughing. I wander into the Airstream and begin fantasizing about moving to Portland, buying my own Airstream and making a living selling a delicate selection of hand-made goods. The spell is eventually broken by a call from Steph.
Mike and Steph are expert tour guides and take us to their favorite local hangouts, all within walking distance of their adorable apartment. We drink beer on a sidewalk table reserved for “adults only,” sip cocktails in a quiet courtyard and watch the sun set from a rooftop high above Portland’s dense tree line – all before claiming a coveted table at Pok Pok.
The menu is more exotic than expected, so Mike takes the reins and orders some dishes for the table to share, including fish sauce wings, boar collar and a whole fish. All of this food is outside of my comfort zone, but I dive in sans utensils and end up loving every bite. After dinner, we stop at the precious Lauretta Jean’s bakery for fruit pie and salted ganache brownies. We slip into a seductive food coma and deem it a successful first day in Oregon.