Saturday, February 7, 2015

First Week in Portland

That title is actually a misnomer because I've been sojourning in a suburb of the big city itself, but that doesn't mean that we had no forays into the metropolis.

My arrival on December 23rd was fraught, as reported in Saddle Up, Ride out. After a night with my precious Zeva (my son's dog) battling my sleeping form for couch space, I was all ready to experience the wonder of the holiday and discover Portland.

My son's new job dictates that he is to work from Tuesday through Saturday, holidays notwithstanding. While he was at work Samantha and I spent our Christmas eve catching up. When he came home, we all went into downtown Portland for a drive-thru tour and dinner at one of the famous food trucks.

I'll talk about the food trucks in a minute. Right now, I'd like to answer your question: why a drive-thru tour? Because it was raining cats and dogs, that's why. The northwest region of the United States, where Portland lies is prone to heavy rainfall this time of year. December cold did not help us warm to the precipitation, but the Grilled Baby Cheezus did.

Portland is famous for many things, among them food. Specifically: ethnic foods prepared in food trucks – trucks modified to become mobile kitchens. There are clusters of food trucks around the city and others that roam the streets during working hours, catering to the lunch crowd. Because we were more in time for dinner, the roving trucks were parked for the night but the bunch in the Pearl District, permanently located in a parking lot central to the area was open. Temptations included: Egyptian, Moroccan, Mexican, Indian, Thai and of course Chinese. I had to have a Baby Cheezus – a grilled cheese sandwich with a hamburger patty inside named after an a running joke from the TV show Modern Family.

From what I could see out the car window and during our brief foray to the food trucks, I decided I wanted to see Portland, up close and personal.

This burg is known as one of the most environmentally friendly cities in the world. Public transportation, primarily in the form of light-rail trolleys supplemented by bio-diesel powered buses, both of which are environmentally safe and financially economical, can take you pretty much anywhere. The city is easy to navigate using only public transportation. Buses will take you out to the farther reaches of the metroplex: into Washington park and up Skyline drive, where you can see spectacular views of Mount St. Helen's, an active volcano whose most recent eruption was in 1980.

Portland is a bike-friendly city. Every road I've been on, from the suburbs to the inner city has clearly marked bike lanes. Two local news channels offer a bike traffic report. The trolleys and buses have racks especially to transport bicycles. Many establishments offer bike-only parking, including the prestigious Intel campus, where my son is newly employed.

Industry thrives! Besides the computer giant Intel and other technology mega-firms, Adidas, Nike, Jantsen, and LaCrosse footwear companies all have headquarters in or around Portland. That is perhaps to be expected due to the fact that natives to this area love the great outdoors and all activities related to it: camping, hiking, skiing, kayaking and the like. Columbia Sportswear, named for the Columbia river that Portland is built around is also domiciled here. As of 2010, Chinese shoemaker Li-Ning has its American headquarters and factory in this area.

For its employment possibilities, diversity, environmental friendliness and outdoor adventure/activities, Portland has been ranked 42nd worldwide in quality of living. I've found her to be especially friendly, with smiling drivers ceding the right of way and everyone on the streets giving seasonal greetings. There is a darker side to her, though: unemployment and homelessness is rampant, the drug culture thrives and her crime rate is slightly higher than the national average. When I expressed the desire to visit Chinatown I was quickly dissuaded. My son said that that is where the homeless and addicts congregate, and the area is run down and neglected. Our driving tour of the city proved it.

Whereas the first few days I was here it rained nearly constantly, after Christmas the clouds broke, revealing a deep, blue sky. Unfortunately the artic winds bore down, making my and Samantha's outing on public transportation a less than pleasant experience. It gets bone-chilling cold in the city, amidst the tall buildings that make valleys for the wind to whip through. Poor Benjamin's face ended up wind-chapped and his little hands were aching from the cold in spite of his mittens. 

The Gorge, where the Columbia river passes is even colder and the winds sustain a force of about 60 miles per hour. I wanted to experience it for myself!

Because of the terrible cold and Little Benjamin, too small for such extremes, we opted instead to head southwest from the city, to the foot of Mount Hood – another active volcano, on Darrell's first day off from work. There the rain had turned to snow, promising fun for all! Appropriately suited, everyone loaded up, including Zeva. I think she was most looking forward to icy fun.     

I was expecting only to frolic and kick around in the snow, perhaps help Ben build a snowman and play with Zeva but Darrell had another idea. He, an outdoor sports enthusiast with gear to match invited me to try snowshoeing! So, for the first time in my life I had a pair of snow shoes strapped to my feet, and with visibility only about 10 meters because of the falling snow, Zeva and I set off down a deserted trail. What an experience!

At first elated at doing something new, I soon grew tired and out of breath. Snowshoeing is not as easy as it looks and after a while, the snow builds up on the already heavy shoes, making them weigh a ton! I didn't realize I had hiked out so far until I had to stop for breath every so often. No doubt the higher altitude didn't help my breathing. When I rejoined my family, it was all I could do to make it back to the car, where our packed lunch awaited us.

Now in the warmth and safety of the car, we devoured our stores. Sandwiches made from Christmas leftover ham, crackers and cheese have never tasted so good! Snowshoeing is hungry work. I was never happier to have a sandwich in all my life.

While eating, Darrell consulted the weather forecast. It was due to snow heavily for the next 4 hours and it was already late afternoon. We decided to use what daylight was left to head back down the mountain, where we would only have rain to deal with. Carefully, he negotiated the frozen trails and soon we were back on wet, not icy roads. We all slept like logs that night!

That was not the only adventure we had, but it is the only one I have time and room to write about. Tomorrow will be Ben and Mema's day out: just my little love and I into the city alone. This weekend we'll head to Seattle, only about 3 hours by car from here.

Stay tuned!  

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