Month: June 2013

Let The Summer of Jon Begin: Top Ten

 

Top Ten things I am looking forward to during The Summer of Jon 

 

 

10. Eating three hotdogs each day while in Iceland at Bæjarins beztu pylsur.

 

 

English: Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, known as the b...

English: Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, known as the best hot dog stand in Reykjavik.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

9. A full day at the Blue Lagoon. (Slippers and robe included.)

 

 

Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon (Photo credit: Arian Zwegers)

8. Seeing Munch’s The Scream.

 

 

Munch The Scream lithography

Munch The Scream lithography (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

7. Spending some time in the Danish Design Museum

 

 

English: Table and chairs designed by Kaare Kl...

English: Table and chairs designed by Kaare Klint at the Danish Design Museum in Copenhagen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

6. Visiting the Carlsberg Brewery

 

 

English: The "Elephant Gate" at the ...

English: The “Elephant Gate” at the Carlsberg Brewery, Copenhagen, Denmark. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

5. Taking the Norway in a Nutshell tour.

 

 

Norway in a Nutshell: Flåm

Norway in a Nutshell: Flåm (Photo credit: TXMagpie)

4. Touring Potsdam on bike

 

 

Potsdam, Germany: Sanssouci Palace with vineya...

Potsdam, Germany: Sanssouci Palace with vineyard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3. Walking though Vigeland Park (Froger Park) in Oslo.

 

 

Vigeland Children

Vigeland Children (Photo credit: Will Cyr)

2. Vienna’s outdoor evening concerts/movies at city hall.

 

Vienna's Town hall (4)

Vienna’s Town hall (4) (Photo credit: Elena Romera)

1. A full day bike tour of Prague.

 

English: A panoramic view of Prague as viewed ...

English: A panoramic view of Prague as viewed from Petřín Lookout Tower. The view is approximately 180 degrees, from north on the left to south on the right.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Top Ten Concerns/Fears/Obsessive thoughts

 

 

10. The exchange rate. There is going to be some weird money on this trip. The Icelandic Kroner’s current exchange rate is about 125 to 1. This sounds good, but I don’t want to have to use skills from my Algebra 1 class in 1850.

 

 

9. Angry German bakers. I could avoid German bakers altogether but then I would have to avoid German baked goods…not gonna happen.

 

 

8. Being on time. I will show up to the airport three hours before my flight just like I am told, but once I am on the road I don’t want to spend time waiting.

 

 

7. Italians walking slowly.

 

 

6. Italians cutting in line. Okay this can be anyone cutting in line. Getting off the ferry in Victoria last week I purposely stepped in between a family that was cutting in line knowing that they couldn’t pass through customs as two groups. There is a line people! Get in the line or I will get all Clint Eastwoody on you. (Not the talking to a chair Clint Eastwood, but the Clint that stares into the sun and spits on stuff.)

 

 

5. Heat. I am a delicate flower and heat will make me wilt.

 

 

4. Not being able to speak the primary language of any country I am visiting. Yes, I am going to assume everyone will speak to me in English. My multiple years of Spanish class will probably not pay off in Iceland. Actually, my Spanish is only good for laughs these days.

 

 

3. Being stuck someplace where they play Techno music.

 

 

2. Being stuck on the plane next to someone who wants to talk too much.

 

 

1. Gypsies!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Victoria BC, High Tea, and 25 Years of Living on Love

I still remember calling my parents to let them know I was engaged. This was before cell phones were invented.  I was still in college, I didn’t have a real job, and I was young. My mom wanted to know how we were going to afford to live and I told her, “We are going to live on love.” I thought it was pretty funny at the time, and even today I think it is pretty funny. I don’t think my parents thought it was as hilarious as it was.

My soon-to-be wife and I cobbled together enough money to put on a wedding and survive the first few years of marriage living on love and cheap food.

IMG_0664

25 years of me making dumb faces, my wife must be the sweetest person in the world.

This week we celebrated 25 years of marriage. I am not the greatest romantic in the world, but I do know when I must be romantic, and 25 years of marriage is one of those times. After some discussions about how to celebrate I was put in charge of figuring out how to get it done in Victoria, Canada.

My wife made one demand: High Tea at the Empress Resort.  This demand came with a price tag that almost equalled the amount we spent on our wedding (which will come as no surprise to those who attended our budget wedding) but when your wife says, “I want to have High Tea at the Empress” and you are about to leave on a vacation for 28 days that is commonly known around town as “The Summer of Jon” you don’t say, “High Tea? Who do you think I am Bill Gates?” Nope, you get online and book your High Tea and make sure that everybody at the Resort knows you are celebrating so you get a good seat.

Victoria sits across the Strait of Juan De Fuca from our homestead and is a great city for visiting on regular occasions, but it has a couple of bonus factors for romance: 1. It is in Canada so you have to use a passport to get there. Unless you are already in Canada in which case you don’t have to use a passport. 2. These Canadians are very British/Irish/Scottish and not the French-speaking Canadians on the other side of the country. I’m not sure why this factors into the romance equation but it is on the list now.  3. The downtown area is very walkable. 4. There is good food.

We did not stay at the Empress Resort. Instead we stayed at a small boutique hotel called the Hotel Rialto. I like the smaller hotel because they make a big deal of people celebrating anniversaries and other such events. The Empress also cost 12 million Canadian dollars a night (about 11 million US dollars). The Rialto was perfect.

I won’t bore you with our ramblings around town, but here are a few photos of our time.

IMG_0666

The Empress from the Black Ball Ferry.

IMG_0668

Canadian Car Pool from 1980.

IMG_0671

Lunch at Pagliacci’s. Not to be confused with the pizza chain in Seattle. This is our favorite place to eat in Victoria so stay away it is already hard to get a seat.

Cheryl enjoying a Captain Ron at the Rialto.

Cheryl enjoying a Captain Ron at the Rialto.

The narrowest street in the world, and a bonus piece of my finger.

The narrowest street in the world, and a bonus piece of my finger.

The ivy covered walls of the Empress. Fancy...

The ivy covered walls of the Empress. Fancy…

Captain Cook appears to be urinating on the Empress.

Captain Cook appears to be urinating on the Empress.

Put on your best manners and get ready to eat little sandwiches.

Put on your best manners and get ready to eat little sandwiches.

High Tea is a big deal at the Empress. There isn’t a dress code, I saw two guys wearing shorts, but most people dress up a little. I don’t own a suit coat and I wear ties about three times a year so when I say “dress up” I mean wearing a collared shirt. I could dress up more often, but I live on the West Coast where dressing like you are doing yard work is acceptable in most establishments. We arrived, they took our jackets, wished us a happy anniversary (guys when booking reservations tell them it is a celebration because they will make a big deal out of it) and then took us to the best seats in the room.

The view from the best seats in the house.

The view from the best seats in the house.

The whole tea thing is not complicated. You have two choices: What kind of tea you want, and if you want to spend 60 dollars more for a little cheese plate and a visit from the Chef who brings a honey comb to your table. I decided that we didn’t need to talk to the Chef, the table next to us paid for him and we just listened in on his little “this cheese is from here, and this honey is from here” speech. I went with the Empress tea and my wife, rebel that she is, ordered the Kea Lani Orange and Pineapple tea.

Strawberries and cream are always welcome in my belly.

Strawberries and cream are always welcome in my belly.

Next was the little glass with strawberries and cream. I like this combination and was well-behaved, but I noticed that two ladies were seated not too far away from me who were wearing Hijabs covering their hair and one of the ladies had her face completely covered. This distracted me because I wasn’t sure how someone would eat with their mouth covered and because I am an American and rude, I spent the next ten minutes trying to see how this lady was going to eat her strawberries. Eventually I saw that she pulled the scarf from below her neck with her left hand, moved it away from her face and then put the fork and strawberry behind the curtain and got the food to her mouth. It was a lot more complicated than what I was doing. She would even tuck everything back in when she was done. I’m not trying to be a racist jerk, but there must be a better way of doing this whole thing.

Anyway once that mystery was solved the big tray of food arrived.

The tray of delightful little foods.

The tray of delightful little foods.

On the bottom of the tray are the savory sandwiches: Salmon roll (5 stars), cucumber (3 stars), ham pâté (2 stars), chicken curry (5 stars). The good news was that we did not have to fight over who got which sandwich since there were two of each. The ham pâté sandwich reminded me of the canned devil’s food stuff my mom used to put on our sandwiches when she was too tired to cook, but the rest was very good.

Sipping the Kea Lani.

Sipping the Kea Lani.

The scones on the second tier were next to bite the dust. I was hoping for clotted cream, but regular cream with the jam was sweet enough. I suppose clotted cream isn’t fresh enough for the Empress, but it is nearly impossible to find in the US  because it has a very short shelf life and is about 99.999% fat. One would think that in the US we would be manufacturing clotted cream for school lunches.

IMG_0695When we got down to the last plate I started to get a little rambunctious. It is difficult for me to behave myself and not do something immature for more than an hour. So when I looked down at the dessert plate I had a funny idea. It wasn’t a very mature idea, but when I am shelling out the big bucks I am allowed to act like an idiot for three minutes.

The square pink marzipan thing made me do it.

The square pink marzipan thing made me do it.

There was something about the pink marzipan dessert that made me think about lips and it was just another moment until I was doing this…

Note the eyes scanning for the waitress.

Note the eyes scanning for the waitress.

Why? I'm not sure now, but I thought the photo would give my mouth a very surreal look. Instead it just emphasized my oddly shaped head.

Why? I’m not sure now, but I thought the photo would give my mouth a very surreal look. Instead it just emphasized my oddly shaped head.

I think the little kid sitting at a table nearby saw me acting like an idiot, but I believe no one else witnessed my behavior. Well, there is the picture (my wife was a willing participant, another good reason to love her) and this blog entry, but I don’t think I spoiled anyone’s High Tea.

Chocolate cup filled with a  coffee flavored cream and a coffee bean.

Chocolate teacup filled with a coffee flavored cream and a coffee bean.

Was High Tea worth it? Well, if you are celebrating something special, then absolutely. It is as much of an event as a meal. Why not blow some hard-earned money on some little sandwiches and treats? You only get to celebrate a 25th wedding anniversary once (well, I guess you could get divorced and then remarried for another 25 years, but that is highly unlikely) so live it up and go to High Tea at the Empress, no matter who you are they will treat you like a big deal for an hour or two.

Too Old For Hip-Hop? Father’s Day in Seattle

How did I turn into a Rap/Hip-Hop aficionado? I had kids. Technically my wife had the kids, I just…well I will assume you know how that happened. If not, there are better websites to learn about such things than this one. (If you can’t figure that out I don’t want you procreating anyway.)

My kids have taught me many things over time: how to repair car bumpers with duct tape, how to use YouTube for any type of home repair, and they have introduced me the Seattle Rap scene. I have written several times about Macklemore (who is no longer a Seattle secret) and I have attended a few other Rap concerts because I was a bit paranoid that my kids were going to end up in a knife fight between rival gangs like the Sharks and the Jets, but so far our concerts have all been pretty tame events compared to what I expected. So this year for Father’s Day my daughter decided that it would be great for me to celebrate by taking her and a friend to see  Shelton Harris. Shelton Harris is not a family friend, he is one of the multitude of Seattle rap artists hoping to ride alongside the wave created by Macklemore. So on Sunday, when I traditionally celebrate Father’s Day by  sitting on the couch, watching the US Open and falling asleep, I was on my way to Seattle to attend a rap concert at The Crocodile. The Crocodile is one of Seattle’s most famous clubs and at one time was the center of the universe when Nirvana and Pearl Jam ruled the world with their flannel shirts and unwashed hair.

The month's line-up...also known people I did not know made a living off of music.

The month’s line-up…also known people I did not know made a living off of music.

These days the Crocodile is hosting groups who fall into the categories of “groups that I did not know existed” and Queensryche. The world has many ways of letting you know that your time is numbered here on Planet Earth (gray hair, aches in parts of your body that have previously been unknown, and the sudden discovery that all the bands you would have killed to see in the 1980s are suddenly playing at a local casino) but pop culture has the cruelest way of informing you that the world has moved on and it is time to get rid of your acid-washed jeans.

The Crocodile is in Bell Town (just north of the city center and ferry docks) and so we had a pleasant stroll through the downtown area. It was a lovely day and it was a nice walk. As we got closer to the venue we had what I later described as a Sesame Street moment. Remember the song “One of these things is not like the Other” from Sesame Street? Well, we were walking by four homeless people and three of them fit my stereotype of homeless people but the fourth guy was wearing a Tommy Bahama shirt tucked into his Docker’s shorts and had on Sperry Topsiders. I know Bell Town is a bit of trendy area but it isn’t often I see 50 year-old preppy dudes sitting on the street. This preppy guy was very friendly (drunk) and said, “How’s your day going?” I said it was just dandy and moved on. Ten feet later we walked by a Tattoo parlor and a young lady leaned out the doorway and shouted, “They’re ready for you, Dad.” The preppy/homeless guy got up off the street and said goodbye to his new friends and headed into the shop. What a great way to spend Father’s Day: drunk and getting a tattoo.

About a block later I made a friend myself. We crossed the street and were waiting for the light to change when I was approached by a ginger haired young man who was raising his fist toward me. I wasn’t sure if I was about to be slow-motion assaulted by a drunk leprechaun or what was going on. So I politely asked, “What’s going on here?”  He said, “I’m not sure.” So I gave him a fist bump. When life gives you gifts like that what else can you do but fist bump a drunk leprechaun.

We arrived at the Crocodile about thirty minutes before the venue was scheduled to open so we could stand in a very short line and so I could overhear the knuckleheads in the front of the line talk about how much pot they have smoked over the course of their short lives. Maybe I shouldn’t eavesdrop on people standing in a concert line, but what else is there to do when waiting in a line? That’s right people, when I am not actively doing something I am pulling an NSA and listening in on your most private conversations. As 7PM approached we could hear the music being bumped inside the club and just before 7 Grynch walked by. How did I know it was Grynch? My daughter’s friend yelled out, “Hey it’s Grynch.” At which point I looked for a green guy with a little heart, but instead I saw a dude with a shaved head who looked more like a computer programmer than a Seattle rapper. After the Grynch sighting we were allowed in the venue and I put in my ear plugs. I don’t wear ear plugs because I don’t like the music, I wear them because I value my hearing and some day when I am 80 I want to be able to hear. People do think you are weird when you wear ear plugs to a concert, but I got out of 8th grade a long time ago and I no longer care if people think I look weird.

The Crocodile was a little cleaner than I expected and people were very friendly. One of the bouncers told me that I could

The upstairs bar.

The upstairs bar.

head upstairs where I could get a drink and be able “to see everything” from there. He was either indicating that he knew I was a parent who wanted to make sure to keep an eye on his kid or that there was a mystical realm where all knowledge was stored just 20 feet above the stage. I wasn’t any smarter when I got upstairs and just to prove how dumb I was I ordered a Coke from the bar when there was a Coke machine 10 inches from me.

The next hour was painful, I was able to sit down and sip my Coke, but the DJ was doing everything to make me wish I was watching Phil Mickelson choke away another US Open. First off, I am certain that the DJ was competent at what he was doing, but when the crowd starts checking their email while you are trying to fire up the crowd it is time to come up with a new strategy. Play something that doesn’t cause the crowd to look like commuters waiting for a train (Hanson’s Mmm Bop might work). The music was loud enough to shake my growing adipose layer but that was the only moving my body was even tempted to do. I found myself longing for the days of DJ Gillian from the group Brothers From Another. That guy really confused me, but at least he knew what his job was: get the crowd fired up and wearing clothing so trendy that people my age will make fun of you. The DJ at the Crocodile was wearing a Mariners jersey and standing behind his turntables and computers playing song after song hoping that the crowd would suddenly decide to pay attention.

During the day he models, but at night he becomes...Rapper Mike Champoix.

During the day he models, but at night he becomes…Rapper Mike Champoux.

Finally an Abercrombie and Fitch model took over the stage and the show really got underway. Rapper Mike Champoux came out, grabbed his crotch 12,000 times, and turned the crowd from a disinterested group of blue faced Facebook updaters into a swirling mass of arms being waved in the air. There was only one thing I didn’t like about Mr. Champoux’s performance and that was his video crew recording the performance on an iPad. Of the multitude of ways of recording performances these days, I would put using an iPad right next to using a Super 8 camera. Video crews (even if it is a single person) should be inconspicuous. When you walk around the stage wearing a backpack and carrying a video monitor to record something, you are not inconspicuous.

Anyway, Mr. Champoux put on a good show, I would describe his rapping style as smoothish or flowy, which in my book is good. He had a couple guests come on stage with him: Grynch and a singer who’s name escaped me because I was wearing ear plugs. His set was entertaining and he got bonus points for introducing his parents, thanking them for their support, and wishing his dad a happy Father’s Day.

Kung Foo Grip isn't just for GI Joe anymore.

Kung Foo Grip isn’t just for GI Joe anymore.

Up next was Kung Foo Grip. They were not smoothish or flowy. They were a little more on the loud and yelly spectrum. The two rappers sported some sweet hairdos and I think if they ever want to break into the big time the DJ needs to take one for the team and get a Jheri Curl so the group’s hairdos will span the spectrum, but maybe I am wrong. The crowd did seem to enjoy the performance even though there were a couple times the DJ with the afro wanted the crowd to be quiet and listen to the words. I’m all for spoken word poetry, but I think there are better spots  for that than a Hip-Hop concert. I’m sure there are groups of hipsters with ironic mustaches at some local coffee shop in Bell Town who would love to be quiet and listen to the words, but a group of 150 kids who are attending a concert may not be the best group for “listening to the words.”

Kung Foo Grip finished their set and released their grasp of the stage around 10PM. This is when I began to worry about the ferry system of Washington State. I knew there was a ferry at 11:15 and then one at 12:45. If I didn’t have to be at work at 7:30 in the morning these thoughts would not have entered my mind, but since the DJ spent an hour playing his record collection we were now forced with a decision that no one wants to make: leave during the headlining act, or stay for the whole thing and get home around 3AM. I texted my daughter that if we wanted to catch the 11:15 ferry we would have to leave at 10:50 and then race walk to catch it.

IMG_0650

Shelton Harris is not blue. I am just not a great photographer.

Shelton Harris took the stage at around 10:20 and I could instantly tell why people say he might be the next big performer from Seattle, because he is pretty good at the old rapping thing. He does appear to be pretty young and I could find out how old he is by doing an ounce of research, but I am not going to do that, I will just say that he looked to be somewhere between the ages of 17-22. He has a great stage confidence for someone that young. He pumped up the crowd, joked around a bit, and then gave out great energy while performing. His DJ (Tyler Dopps) had tight beats (I don’t know what that means, but it was said on the drive home so I assume it is true) and his lyrical meter was solid. (I really dislike it when a rapper forces words to fit the meter. Find a better word, or a different word, or stop rapping.)

Unfortunately we had to leave about halfway through Shelton’s set, and it really was unfortunate because the ferry was about 15 minutes late and we could have stayed longer if we had known the ferry was behind schedule. It was also disappointing because I really do think this young man is on his way up. There are always bumps in the road for performers and the best people don’t always have the most success, but Shelton Harris does seem to have that je ne sais quoi that it takes to make it.

Hey TSA, Let’s Ban CornNuts

I can remember flying from Auckland, New Zealand, to Los Angeles in the smoking section of the airplane. Yes, Virginia, people used to smoke on airplanes. At that time, the entire world was filled with Don Drapers, lighting up wherever and

Don Draper

Don Draper (Photo credit: Christina Saint Marche)

whenever they wanted. If you didn’t smoke that was okay, you just had to learn to smoke the second-hand way.  The flight was a twelve hours long and when the plane landed at LAX I smelled like I had spent the night at the Whiskey A Go-Go. I am not a smoker and breathing someone else’s smoke does annoy me, but it was not the worst assault on my personal space while on an airplane.

A few years back I was on a flight from Seattle to Reykjavík. The airline, who shall remain nameless, (IcelandicAir) is one of those budget numbers where nothing on the flight is free except water and air. (They do not charge to use the bathroom, but I expect that has been discussed at shareholder meetings.) On flights like this people who are even more frugal than me bring their own snack items onboard. Generally this is not a problem because most people have the good sense to bring things like candy bars and little sandwiches purchased at the airport. I don’t bring snacks. Once the plane is off the ground I throw caution to the wind and pay 10 times too much for food of questionable quality. As I recall, I had ordered a chicken curry wrap and was busy munching away when I smelled something so offensive that my nose burned: CornNuts. If you have never smelled CornNuts before then you are a lucky person, because CornNuts stink. For those of you who have not been assaulted by CornNut smell imagine being placed in a coffin, covered from head to toe in corn chips, and then buried alive for a month; that is what CornNuts smell like.

The odor of CornNuts must have some interesting chemical properties because it is the one odor that never goes away. Your nose does not adjust to the smell, your poor brain cannot delete the smell from your olfactory senses and the stink of CornNuts  only gets worse as the mouth-breathing idiot who opened the bag in the first place is now chomping away like a dog eating peanut butter.

CornNuts brand Corn nuts product samples. 3 fl...

CornNuts brand Corn nuts product samples. 3 flavors L-R: Original, Barbeque, and Ranch (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The flight from Seattle to Reykjavík is eight hours. I had the pleasure of smelling those CornNuts for 7:45 hours of the flight. Had I been able to pinpoint the moron eating the CornNuts we might have had an “international incident” and I then would be writing this blog from some jail in Nova Scotia.

I am not saying that CornNuts are not a tasty treat, they are just a treat that must be enjoyed away from the general public. If you want to eat CornNuts knock yourself out, just do it outside and at least 20 feet from the entrance of a building, preferably in the rain. Anyone who choses to eat CornNuts must also brush their teeth and gargle for five minutes before being allowed back inside the building. If you wish to eat CornNuts on an international flight, you must do so while sitting on the wing of the plane. That means you will not be permitted inside the plane at all, bring a jacket because I hear it is cold out there.

Ideally the TSA would ban the use of CornNuts in airports, airplanes, airport shuttles, elevators in airports, and anywhere within 500 miles of an airport. Violators would be subject to working in a CornNut plant without a mask for a month. If they survive that they can return to civilized society only if they promise never to eat CornNuts again.

The Summer of Jon: Now Appearing on My Calendar

I had a panicky moment yesterday. I was checking to see if the two meetings I have to attend on the 20th overlapped and whether I was going to have to run from meeting like Greg Brady with two prom dates. I scanned the calendar quickly. (I can no longer remember anything and if it wasn’t for saved emails and my calendar reminders I would miss every single meeting I have to attend. Back in the olden days, I could remember things because I only had to remember about two things a year.)

May - Oct 2006 Calendar

As I glanced at the calendar, I saw the date of my departure for The Summer of Jon and my crusty, blackened heart jumped. It is getting closer each day. I know this is a fact most of us acknowledge, days pass moving us closer to death, but once I saw The Summer of Jon on the same calendar as my meetings I began to wonder if I am truly ready for my month-long journey.

I tend to travel with goals in mind, this is why I will be traveling by myself. I want to do this, and then that, and then this other thing today. Tomorrow I want to do X,Y,Z… this is great if you are attempting to spend your vacation driving your family members crazy, or conquering a continent,  but it is not the best way to relax. A few years back I hiked The Wonderland Trail, it’s a trail that goes around Mount Rainier and takes about 10 days. It is a challenging hike and not too many people finish it, but I did. Each day I would bust out about ten miles with a full pack and almost every day the trail climbed a few thousand feet and then dropped a few thousand feet, and each day I beat the other guys I was hiking with to the next campsite.

English: A panorama of the south face of Mount...

At one point the oldest member of our trio asked me why I was always in such a hurry, I hadn’t really thought I was in a hurry, but in reality I was. I wanted to get to the next place and beat everyone else. This hyper-competitive nature is part of who I am and I do my best to temper it, but it is a struggle for me to be gracious.

I have tried to relax and take my time, but I can’t and I think I have discovered the psychological reason behind this attempt to squeeze everything out of every moment: I am a frugal spender. To be totally honest would be to say that I want my money’s worth in everything I buy. I don’t save money, I just spend it with an eye on a bargain. (Guys who are truly frugal don’t spend money traveling to Europe, they invest the money in some pyramid scheme and then hope someday to go to Europe.)

Somewhere in my tiny mind I bought into the concept that time is money and therefore if I want to get the best deal out of my travel I must maximize my travel experiences by exhausting myself each day. I can rest when they run out of coffee.

So my panicky moment with my calendar the other day was not about being unprepared, it was about not being over-prepared.  I know where I am going! I know where I am staying! I have everything booked! I just don’t have my daily plan scheduled out for all 28 days! There are blank spots on my calendar! (Since I will be traveling through Germany I must begin using more exclamation points!) This over-planned attempt to wring the life out of my vacation time is odd to some people, but I have traveled with no plan at all many times. It is how I ended up sleeping on a pool table one night, and drinking water from a cistern with a dead bird in it. These are the mistakes of youth! In my aged state drinking water with microns of dead bird would probably kill me, and if I want to get my money’s worth on this journey dying is not an option.

A typical German sign.

A typical German sign!

Portland: Still weird after all these years.

Summer is in the air and a young man’s mind turns to thoughts of Powell’s City of Books in Portland…in this case a middle-aged mind turns there also. My annual sojourn to Portland, Oregon took place this past week. I’m not sure when my friend Peter and I began these yearly trips, but we must be approaching 10 years at this point. A decade of Portland visitation makes the trip officially a Tradition with a capital T and should be penciled in on everyone’s calendar as a national holiday. I will call it Bookstore Day and everyone should spend a few hours in their local/independent bookstore on a sunny Friday in May.

This year we decided to add a couple of wrinkles to our usual path. This year we started our Portland stop at Voodoo Doughnuts.

Line up and get the old mouth watering.

Line up and get the old mouth watering.

Now if you have not heard of Voodoo Doughnuts that is okay, the line is long enough already. Stay away and keep going to Dunkin Doughnuts, but if you want to cut your mouth open on a doughnut covered in deadly Captain Crunch then this is your place. The line outside the shop wasn’t too long, but I started having German Bakery flashbacks and was worried that when it was my turn to order I was going to get yelled at for doing it wrong. Like a German bakery, Voodoo Doughnuts is a cash only establishment, but unlike Germany you don’t have to know what you are ordering a full week before arriving.

I'm confused.

I’m confused.

The menu is a bit overwhelming, but I managed to look in the rotating jewel case and find two doughnuts that I could identify. “I’ll take one of those bacon numbers and the thing covered in Oreos,” I said.

“Do you want the peanut butter, chocolate, or regular Oreo doughnut,” the Voodoo lady asked me. I felt a little panicky and wondered if she was about to break into German and begin to berate me for not knowing which doughnut I wanted.

“Regular,” I blurted out. In the end it didn’t matter which doughnut I ordered because I could only finish the bacon one.

Bacon...do I see Bacon!

Bacon…do I see Bacon!

Captain Crunch on a doughnut?

Captain Crunch and Fruit Loops on a doughnut?

I had a chance to look at a few of the other doughnuts while I waited and began to wonder why someone would order a Captain Crunch doughnut. Eating Captain Crunch is a lot like eating hot pizza, you know you are going to damage your mouth and you should slow down, but you can’t help yourself and end up burning or cutting your mouth because you are such a pig. (I guess the “you” in these sentences is actually me.)

12 Oreos on a doughnut? Yep.

12 Oreos on a doughnut? Yep.

After getting our doughnuts we went out to the doughnut garden (a sort of beer garden for doughnuts) and began eating. I looked at my two options and started having thought about dying of diabetes and loosing all my teeth. I thought the bacon doughnut was probably healthier than the Oreo one, so I ate it. Yes, it was good. I then considered eating the Oreo one, but there were a lot of Oreos on the doughnut, so many that I thought I would eat it and go into some diabetic coma. So I opted for saving it for later.

The PC police have not visited this place yet.

The PC police have not visited this place yet.

The doughnut garden.

The doughnut garden.

Hopped up on 4,000 calories of straight sugar we headed back to the car and then over to Powell’s.

The red brick building containing all of those books is one of the most beautiful places in the world. It is the only place in the world where I don’t mind shopping for an extended period. I could spend a whole day in Powell’s and I think on one visit we spent seven hours there. Our more recent visits the bookstore have been more efficient.

Powell's!

Powell’s!

For people who have never been to Powell’s it can be overwhelming, but don’t worry books can’t hurt you…unless they are thrown at you, and then some of the larger books at Powell’s could hurt you. The good new is that I have not seen a single book thrown at Powell’s so I believe it is okay to say that you are safe to wander around without fear. The floors are coded with different colors: Yellow (sci/fi fantasy) Blue (Fiction) etc…  We usually start on the top floor: Drama, Art, and Music. The top floor also has the rare book room, which looks like it has had gastric bypass surgery. The rare book room is about 1/5 of the size it used to be. Now the rare books are spread out throughout the store which I just don’t like. I like going into the quiet little book room and feeling like I am someplace special. Now I feel more like I am visiting an old person’s attic, which can be interesting, but there isn’t the same reverent quality as when all the rare books were in one place like the good-old-days.

The top floor.

New arrivals.

This year we started in the Travel section. I have tried to find a good, small map of Vienna and one of Prague. I don’t like the big floppy maps, I like the little book looking things. My favorites are the Knopf  Map Guides that have little sectioned off maps. The Map Guides look like little books and when I am lost in a foreign city (which happens frequently when I travel) I can find a tiny corner to hide in and then figure out where the hell I am without drawing too much attention to myself. I always feel bad for anyone who has a full tourist map. They stand there on some street corner, blocking foot traffic with the wind blowing their pathetic map around, and looking confused. I cannot walk by confused people without asking if they need help finding something. (I do this most often in Seattle, but there have been a few times I have intervened in Paris.)

I found my Knopf Map Guides and then fought with the temptation to buy more travel guides. I have a problem with buying guides, right now I have four guides for Scandinavia. Why do I need four? I don’t, what I really need is five.

Fiction.

Fiction.

After meandering through the top floor we dallied through the Purple floor where I managed for the first time not to pick up a book. My partner in crime did manage to find a few historical books. Soon his basket was overflowing with big, fat books and his right arm was getting stretched to its maximum length. He wanted to do some studying on Chaucer over the summer and there really aren’t very many short, pithy books on Chaucer. There are many, many Chaucer books that weigh over five pounds. If someone ever tossed Canterbury Tales at your head they could be charged with attempted murder.

IMG_0558

My bounty.

I was saving up my basket space for the fiction room. I had a list of about 12 books to check out and before long I had chopped off a few items from my wish list. Dorothy Parker is someone I know very little about, and I wanted to read something by her or about her, but after looking through the books by and about her I decided that I no longer wanted to know anything about her. I did grab the new Salman Rushdie novel Joseph Anton and have already fallen in love with it. Before I knew it, my basket was overflowing and our visit was nearly over.

This is when we do what fiscally responsible people do, we head into the café, get a cup of coffee, and decided what books to keep. I kept all of mine and my friend disposed of about half of his, his basket was still full though. We checked out, I spent enough to get free parking and then we headed up to 23rd Avenue for lunch. We always eat at Kornblatt’s. It is not elegant dining, it is a New York deli kind of thing. I saw the Brooklyn Bomb was still on their specials menu and looked no further. The only problem was that they were out of the bread used to make a Brooklyn Bomb. I was sad, but the waitress suggested I try Pavarotti‘s Stomach. I know very little about Pavarotti (he is dead, he sung opera, he was Italian, he was a large man, in college we called the student from Italy Pavarotti) but I took the waitress’ suggestion and soon had this sitting in front of me.

"We don't have the Brooklyn Bomber today...but we do have this."

“We don’t have the Brooklyn Bomber today…but we do have this.”

My Voodoo doughnut was almost fully digested, so I dug in and destroyed Pavarotti’s Stomach. It was pretty good and probably healthier than my breakfast even though the sandwich was covered with about a half pound of cheese. There were “vegetables” under the cheese (onions and peppers).

After the lunch stop it was off to Cafe Yumm to find the mythological Yumm Sauce. I would go into detail here, but this post is already too long and if you want Yumm sauce you can order it online.

Once the Yumm Sauce was in hand, we crossed the mighty Willamette River and headed to East Portland and to Music Millennium. I bought embarrassingly bad music. I don’t know what wave of nostalgia hit me, but soon I found myself with a Pat Benatar’s Greatest Hits album, an Aztec Camera Greatest hits, and Son Volt’s new album that is either going to have to grow on me or I will have to start wearing cowboy boots and buying big belt buckles.

Music stop.

Music stop.

After Music Millennium, Tradition dictates that we go the East Hawthorne, sit in the Starbucks, and write poetry. I usually write bad poetry, and since that is a Tradition I stuck to my usual form. What we do is write three random ideas on little pieces of paper and then exchange the ideas. We then spend about 30 minutes trying to make a poem from the ideas. The quality of my poems usually end up somewhere on the poetry spectrum between 13 year-old-girl poetry and death metal lyrics…leaning towards 13 year-old girl poetry.

Time for me to write my annual bad poem.

Time for me to write my annual bad poem. An iced Chai tea? I might have to turn in my “man card” if I keep buying Aztec Camera albums and drinking iced Chai.

After we finish our poems we always stroll down East Hawthorne. East Hawthorne is a little like Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco. It isn’t as hilly, or architecturally interesting, or historically important, or famous, but it is just as gritty. On a nice sunny day this gritty quality brings out the dirty hippies and they populate most of the street corners playing bongos. I like dirty hippies. I think dirty hippies are cool, but I really hate the bongo thing. Playing a bongo is akin to playing the cowbell; It takes no talent and very little rhythm. If you want to pry my valuable change from my pocket then it is time to learn a real instrument like a harmonica or slide trombone.

Oh, there is another Powell's?

Oh, is there another Powell’s?

After walking by the hippie scene, we found ourselves in a branch office of Powell’s. Where I generally walk around and look at books without the intention of buying anything. This “little” Powell’s is about the size of the largest independent bookstore in Seattle which is a little depressing. Seattle is a much larger city than Portland and should have a bookstore that is much larger than Portland’s and I’m not talking about Barnes and Noble, I’m talking about a bookstore with some character. Bookstores are a reflection of our communities and if the only bookstore you have access to is a chain, then I feel a little bad for you. I don’t want to sound too much like a book snob (okay, I don’t mind sounding like a book snob) but the reason independent bookstores are superior is because the owners care about books. They love books, and they thoughtfully buy and sell books. The really good ones introduce you to books you never would have picked up at your local B and N, because B and N only sells things that are already successful.

Okay, enough of that rant.

After our second book run we always walk over to Laurelhurst Park and take a two lap stroll of the park. We have had a couple rainy days in our ten years, but we are not made of sugar, we will not melt, and we live in the Pacific Northwest and if you live in the PNW and don’t like a little liquid sunshine, then it is time to pack your bags and head for Nevada.

Yoga in the park by law must be done without a shirt in Portland.

Yoga in the park by law must be done without a shirt in Portland.

Laurelhurst Park is a great little city park. The best part of Laurelhurst is that it gets used. People are running, playing frisbee, walking their babies, slack-lining, letting their dogs run wild in the wild dog area, and doing shirtless yoga. I even saw three little kids rolling in the grass which was adorable until I heard one of them say something about rolling in dog poop, but it is Portland, smelling like dog poop is not frowned upon like it would be in other places.

It was a glorious day, sunshine and 70 degrees. Portland is about the best place on Earth on a day like this.

We ended our day by eating Mexican food along East Hawthorne. It was another break with Tradition, but I don’t think either of us could handle the usual (a German restaurant with heavy food), so I sat in the sunshine eating fish tacos and mi amigo ate an enchilada.

The day was just about perfect. We found great parking, we ate good food, we bought books, but most importantly we spent time together. Traditions get slightly altered over time, and so do friendships, but sometimes things shouldn’t change.

%d bloggers like this: