An Update: Katelyn and I returned safely to New Orleans. Life has overwhelmed me with many things, so I have not been prompt in updating this blog. However, I intend to continuing writing posts with the details of the rest of our road trip. But fair warning: from now on, updates will be even more sparse, and even longer in the past. Thank you for reading!
“I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw.” Hamlet, II.2.350
In this quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the titular character expresses that he may be crazy in certain moments, but in others he is perfectly sane. In my opinion, this breed of madness describes the Pacific Northwest quite well. In some places, the cities of the region seem like any other metropolitan area in the country. But a block or two down the road, you might round a corner and find a twenty-foot tall troll waiting for you under a bridge.
The Pacific Northwest is known for being a strange area. And certainly, the locals are proud of its eccentricity. One particular landmark in Portland is a mural on the side of a building entreating passersby to KEEP PORTLAND WEIRD. From hippies to hipsters and everyone in between, the people of the Pacific Northwest are delightfully interesting. This also means that the things locals do and make are delightfully interesting.. The region is filled with varied industries, diverse environments, and well-crafted food and drink (especially coffee, and especially in Portland. Seattle is dominated by Starbucks, which originated in the city, but has a plentiful supply of specialty coffee as well).
One of the most interesting coffee shops we visited was in Spokane, Washington. Though it is quite inland and Pacific Northwest may seem like a bit of a stretch for Spokane, the shop sold a great deal of merchandise proudly bearing logos, designs, and such representing the region. The store is a joint café and gift shop in downtown Spokane called Atticus- themed around the character Atticus Finch of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. The owner of the shop also owns the next store down the block, which is a toy store called Boo Radley’s (Boo Radley is another character in To Kill A Mockingbird).
The front of Atticus is a store stocked with books, posters, cards, pins, mugs, bags, t-shirts, and just about any other random house wares, knickknacks, or other objects you could think of. In the rear part of the store is an espresso bar. On the back wall of the seating area is a mural of a mockingbird and, in a huge font, the quote from which Harper Lee’s novel derives its name: “It’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
In Tillamook, Oregon, Katelyn and I visited the Tillamook Cheese Factory, an experience that I felt was on the same level as our visit to Buc-ee’s in Texas. It seemed as if the whole town were at the factory when we visited. We did not take a tour or look at the informational exhibits, but went right for the ice cream as we had been instructed to do. I was expecting a small counter with a few flavors of ice cream, but reality was beyond my wildest dreams. The freezers holding the ice cream formed a horseshoe-shaped counter around which customers clustered as they sampled flavors like Mountain Huckleberry, Fireside S’mores, and Tillamook Mudslide. There was also a food counter (serving dishes featuring cheese made in the factory such as mac and cheese and grilled cheese), a large gift shop area with souvenirs from the factory, representing the state of Oregon, and even a display of goods devoted to Bigfoot.
The highlight of the Tillamook Cheese Factory however, was a cheese tasting buffet line. We sampled many of the different flavors made at Tillamook Cheese. They were all members of the cheddar family, and each so tasty that we lamented that we were not equipped to carry refrigerated goods with us so that we might buy some cheese for the road. In truth, I am more inclined to categorize the Tillamook Cheese Factory as an amusement park than a factory, cheese shop, or ice cream parlor. It was fun and delicious.
In Portland, we visited Powell’s “City of Books,” the world’s largest independent bookstore. Powell’s is a book store chain selling new and used books with locations all around Portland, but the City of Books is their flagship store, occupying an entire city block with over 3,500 different sections in nine color-coded rooms. It is entirely too easy to let oneself get lost in such a place. Powell’s is the stuff of dreams.
In a different vein of beauty is Portland’s International Rose Test Garden. During World War I, concern rose that hybrid rose species grown in Europe would be destroyed by the war. So, someone deemed it wise to plant a rose test garden to preserve these species. The garden was a huge success, and exemplifies Portland’s nickname “the city of roses.”
The garden contains more roses than I ever imagined existed. Rows upon rows of roses are nestled around one another, on terraces, forming archways, surrounding a gazebo, and along staircases, growing in a plot of land the size of more than two football fields. All of the rose bushes are carefully cultivated and labeled, indicating where the species originated and what it is called. Most rose gardens I have been to before have a few measly rose bushes with a precious few flowers on their thorny stems, but the Portland rose garden overflows with flowers. I saw no thorns, because leaves and petals wholly blocked my view of any other part of the plants.
Surprisingly, the rose garden and Powell’s were the only areas of Portland where there was an obvious concentration of “tourists.” Portland doesn’t have a huge amount of physical sightseeing locations or attractions. Instead, the draw of Portland is the youthful, genial, innovative vibe of the city and its people. The television series Portlandia is set in Portland, comprised of many sketches (short scenes like those on Saturday Night Live) during which the characters visit shops selling outlandish goods such as fine art pieces of ropes tied in a knot, or a restaurant that is so conscious of where its produce is sourced from that before the customers order chicken for dinner, they receive a folder with information about the farm that the chicken was raised on, the chicken’s name, its fellow chicken friends, and favorite pastimes. While vignettes like these are satirical and over-the-top, they are rooted in truth, and that is the key to the show’s success. Portland is extremely environmentally conscious and values locally, sustainably sourced foods, sometimes overwhelmingly so. And while we did not happen upon any rope knot art galleries, we did visit a few eclectic knickknack stores. One had an antique phone booth in a corner, which tells your fortune if you step in, put the receiver to your ear, and press a button.
By far, the wildest experience that Katelyn and I had in Portland was the Portland Underground Tour, colloquially known as the Shanghai Tunnels Tour. There is a network of tunnels underneath Portland, many of which have been filled or blocked off by mud left by flooding or structural support construction done by the city to proactively combat earthquakes. Between about 1850 to 1941 (World War II put an end to the business), the tunnels were a hub of malicious deeds. They were used by kidnappers and drug lords, housing opium dens and compartments where shanghaied men were kept between their abduction and being put on a ship bound for Asia, in addition to small cells where women were held by human traffickers before they would be sent into business elsewhere.
We did not expect the details of the Shanghai Tunnels Tour to be so grim. We were expecting a brief jaunt through underground tunnels accompanied by a summary of the city’s history and a few anecdotes about its involvement with the shanghai business, but what we got was an intensive history lesson with extensive detail of the gruesome hardships that the victims of the industry underwent.
When “shanghaied,” able-bodied men were drugged and kidnapped, then put on ships sailing across the Pacific (often to Shanghai) to perform manual labor under horrible conditions without wages for the entirety of the voyage. To be shanghaied was to be made a slave. Those who were shanghaied and survived would have endured a three-year journey across the Pacific Ocean to an Asian port, where they would hope to find some way of getting on a ship headed back home, which would take an equal or longer amount of time. Some men were shanghaied and lived to tell the tale, but the alternative was more often the case. Portland’s involvement with such a despicable trade is not something that the city is proud of, but it is indivisible from the history of the city, and that is what the Portland Underground Tunnel Tour attempts to impress upon its patrons.
In Seattle, Katelyn and I visited the Space Needle, which offered wonderful views of the city and Puget Sound. We also walked through Pike Place Market, an open-air farmer’s market that reminded me of the French Market in New Orleans, but with more fruits, vegetables, and fish. There were many flower vendors as well, which made me wish for a reason to buy a bouquet. But sadly, our car did not have a vase in which to put them.
Throughout our trip, Katelyn and I have had opportunities to experience marvelous pieces of nature. The flowers at Pike Place Market almost make it into this category, but I chiefly am talking about the Grand Canyon, the rocky Pacific coast, and similar natural wonders. Another member of this category are the California redwoods. On our way out of San Francisco, we stopped at Muir Woods State Park to see the giant sequoia trees, which has always been a personal dream of mine. Muir Woods wowed us with the sheer existence of the trees, which were so tall that they were hard to capture in a photo from canopy to ground.
However, we heard that simply visiting Muir Woods is not truly experiencing the redwoods. We discovered this to be a fact for ourselves when we drove up the northern Californian coast. In the blink of an eye, we found ourselves driving through dense forests of redwoods with circumferences as wide as our Jeep Grand Cherokee. Nonchalantly on the side of the road in The-Middle-Of-Nowhere, California, were redwood trees larger than any we’d seen in Muir Woods. Watching one of those trees flash past out of the car window was as astonishing and fascinating as sighting Bigfoot might be (we also drove past more than one gift shop advertising Bigfoot paraphernalia such as life-size tree carvings in the reclusive creature’s likeness, but unfortunately we were not able to stop and peruse the wares at these establishments).
We traced almost the entirety of the pacific coast, and every inch of it was picturesque. We drove through grasslands, along cliffs with crashing waves, around bays with giant boulders, and under forest canopies whose leaves were interlaced so thoroughly that they obscured midday light enough to necessitate turning on the car’s headlights.
By the time we reached Seattle, we had driven along almost the entire Pacific coast, beginning in San Diego, California. The time was fast approaching to adopt a southeasterly heading. However, we hadn’t quite finished our dealings with the west coast. Still on our to-do list was Vancouver, British Columbia. Next stop: Canada.