The following online journal entries are from March 2002.
On February 27, 2002, I left San Francisco after three years of residence. The plan was to return to Maryland. Before returning to the East Coast, I hoped to do a little traveling. On February 28, my friend Dustin and I set out from the Bay Area for Seattle. The entries from the end of February through the first week of March are an account of those Seattle days.
FRIDAY. 8:50 AM. It is nearly nine o'clock in the morning and I'm typing in the half-light of the Travelodge where Dustin and I are staying in Portland. The drive north along Interstate 5 from Fairfield took about ten hours, each of us doing five hour shifts. It was a long drive for me; I haven't driven a car for three years. It was fun at first. The first few hours flying by. But soon the seat no longer cradled me and the steering wheel felt like flypaper.
But we made it safely into Portland and proceeded to have absolutely no idea where to go. We were travelers without a plan. In the dark of the early evening, we navigated the array of narrow bridges and slaloms of streets looking for a roof to put over our heads. Like being a stranger to any new place, the city of Portland proved to be confusing and daunting. It was a maze and we were caught without a ball of string.
Thankfully, a Travelodge in the Southwest quarter of the city seemed a fair place to stay. It was a little pricier than anticipated. But it was close to the highway we needed to get back to and wasn't too far from downtown.
Our next expedition into the wiles and ways of Portland was to forage for food. I attempted to use the power of the internet and connect via modem in the hotel room. Unfortunately, the hotel's phone line would give over a trickle of a baud rate -- 24K. A few web searches on citysearch yield a few possible places to eat. (Let me just say that guide sites like www.citysearch.com really need to put cross streets as part of an establishment's address.)
The southwest quarter is much like the downtown area of San Francisco. Shopping, shopping, and more shopping. The streets are clean and bright and the light rail stops are like sheltering pillboxes with tram times neatly displayed on a computer screen. If only more public transportation systems were so modern.
Unfortunately, Portland seems to be a city of sleepers -- at least on a Thursday night. Most everything was closed and it was only shortly after 8 PM. We drove up and down block after block to find very little open for business or appetizing. Finally, we settled to go to Ruth Chris's Steak House. Yuck. I should've known something was decidedly bourgeois when we saw the valet guys. We made it as far as the vestibule and balked at the near black-tie host staff eyeing us like untouchables through the glass doors. Dustin and I spilled back on the street and I turned to my fellow caste member. "We've never been to Portland before. We just got in tonight and our hotel's in this area. Where should we go eat?" I said hoping there wasn't too much desperation in my voice. The valets, whom I am sorry that I did not ask their names, directed us up the street to Huber's, open since 1879 and Portland's oldest bar and restaurant.
Though almost as swanky as Ruth Chris's, the Huber's hostess welcomed us and the waiter was polite and friendly. Dustin had a turkey and mushroom pie. I had the Moroccan turkey. The fare was better than fair and satisfied a road-weary hunger.
Afterwards, we headed to the local Safeway. When in a strange land, seek out the familiar as they say. Though I must point out that Portlanders (Portlandians?) at first encounter have been much friendlier and open to approach than San Franciscans. Though they may be just a curious and mental. While in Safeway, in the granola bar aisle, Dustin and I were discussing the merits of protein bars. A native Portland fellow, mousey and bundled against the northwest winds, heard us and uttered a soft, nodding, "Proteeeein," and proceeded to gather a couple of boxes of rice crispy treats before disappearing around the corner. It was funny, bizarre, and welcoming all at the same time. With snacks and breakfast in hand for the next day's travel, we went back to the traveler's lodge to get a good night's kit.
Now it's morning. Hopefully, we'll get a chance to see a little bit of Portland before heading north to Seattle. I am tired still. I forget how draining long drives can be. Plus, I've developed a bit of a chest cold or some affliction. It's mild but I cough a lot. I think the stress and dust got to me, plus the San Franciscan damp winters with its army of molds and mildews. I don't feel bad, just shallow-breathed. I'm hoping a regimen of hot tea, fresh air, and a little cough medicine will mend me.
I guess it's time to get dressed and face the day. To our great luck, the weather's been clear and bright. I hope it stays sunny and blue as we go. Now, back to the adventure.
SATURDAY. 1:03 AM. It's late -- though not terribly so. Dustin and I arrived quickly in Seattle only a few hours after leaving Portland. We made our way quite easily to Carol and Christine's abode in the Capitol Hill district of the Emerald City, a predominantly queer part of town. It's a friendly area with one long strip of shops and restaurants and bars and establishments flying the rainbow flag. The avenue is called Broadway. It reminds me of a cross between Takoma Park, Maryland and Berkeley, California. There are punks and stoners and bull dykes and tourists and teenagers hanging on corners all mingling together.
We spent some time walking around the neighborhood, grabbed a slice of pizza, and had some coffee and a cookie at Joe Bar. Later on, we had dinner at a very popular pho restaurant -- the prices and food were excellent. After dinner, we had $2 rail drinks at the Rosebud, a bar and restaurant named after Orson Welles's famous film. From the Rosebud, we walked up the street to R Place -- yes, R Place -- a three-floored gay bar, a bit on the cheesy side but fun. Unfortunately, we discovered smoking is most certainly allowed inside Seattle bars.
The Rosebud was very laid back and upscale all at the same time. It is Carol's favorite place to go (at least to "pre-party" or "frontload" as I like to say). R Place was predominantly full of gay men with enough of a mix to make this queer person of color comfortable. Though I must say that Seattle's dancing queens have nothing on the showstopping moves of San Francisco's dancefloor divas.
After some dancing and smog inhalation, we decided to head home. We stopped at a tour-notable used book store called Twice Sold Tales. We actually went there not to see the shelves and shelves of books but to visit the number of cats that live in the bookstore. Big, well-fed bodied cats that climb and sleep and perch among the books like living bookends.
We're home now. Having tea. Taking turns taking showers to get rid of the smoke clinging to our skin and hair. I am convalescing. I am still not feeling well and inhaling the bar air hasn't helped my lungs nor my throat. I just took my temperature and I have a slight fever. Ugh. I'm hoping it passes soon. I hate being sick and I hate being sick while on vacation.
Sleep time. More in the morning.
9:04 AM. I'm the only one up in the apartment. I just can't sleep once the sun is out and bright. I feel a little better than last night though still coughy and phlegmy.
I'm not sure what's in store for today. I think there are number of Seattle sights we're going to try to see. I like the city so far, at least the Capitol Hill district. It is like a slimmed down San Francisco. There is humility here in supply. People are comfortable with talking to perfect strangers and exchanging hellos or inviting them to a midnight movie or just giving sass outside of a convenience store.
I didn't have much interaction with the people at R Place. It was a gay bar much like any other gay bar in a city. However, while walking around Capitol Hill the young man that served me pizza and the guy that made my decaf latte both flirted and chatted. They were engaged with their community even if it's just customer service. I was surprised and enlightened by that. Again it seems that people are friendlier or at least more likely to interact (granted superficially) with others. There is courtesy here.
I like Seattle. I also very much liked San Francisco. And from just a day's worth of observation, Seattle is a lighter, crispier, perhaps sweeter version of San Francisco. But the cost of living is lower. You can find street parking on a Friday night. And the people seem less mad-cow, less driven (in a good way), and less on display. Again this is only from a day's experience. I know that every community will have its problems and its not-so-nice side.
I will miss living in a city, I think. Going back to Maryland is still the right move for me. I need the time away from San Francisco and from the density. That's what's really different between SF and Seattle -- density. Unfortunately, places of extreme density either turns coal into diamonds or coal into dust. I guess I had been feeling that SF was creating more lung-clotting dust than amazing artists or musicians or innovators or lovers. But, in the long run, I know that I will return to live in a city. Maybe this city.
© 2002 Edmond Y. Chang. All original material. All rights reserved.
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