Sunday, July 20, 2008

Day 4: Oregon and Onward

July 18: Gold Beach, Oregon Coast, Portland, Multnomah Falls and the Columbia River

Soundtrack: The Essential Johnny Cash, Pulp Fiction, Janis Joplin’s Greatest Hits, Best of Bjork, and KBOO-FM “serving the lesbian, queer, transgender, transsexual, and questioning community. – If you’re straight but not narrow.”

Portland is a city of readers. The rain, no doubt, has something to do with it, but it rains in New Orleans, too, and we don’t have Powell’s City of Books. The largest independent bookstore in the country, Powell’s takes up an entire block and stocks one million titles,
Andrei Codrescu, Hail Babylon

At dawn I went walking on down the private path that doubled as a high school track, to Gold Beach. The trail led around a lot with parked carnival attractions, through piles of driftwood and makeshift shelters above the water line. Laura slept on, getting over her infection, and I left the little cottage by the back door so I wouldn’t wake her. In the distance, dark rocks rose from the sea with birds wheeling around them, and as the tide came and went, quartz and jade pebbles floated in and out of the sand, which was dark gray, not gold.
I wrote “Travels without Charlie” in the sand with a stick and, coming back, met a young carny roustabout from Tennessee named Matt. He said that he got to drive up and down the coast assembling and running the rides set up for fairs and carnivals, like the ones in the parking lot. What a great life!
When I got back to the cottage, Laura and I watched Made in Paris, a 60’s movie about fashion a la Pret a Porter or The Devil Wears Prada, but showcasing the charms of Ann-Margret and her romantic dilemma choosing between worldly Louis Jourdan and All-American Chad Everett. A chick flick if ever there was one, it was a flashback to the trip we took to Paris two years before, with the kind of couturier clothes we could never hope to afford.
The tourist court was a rag-tag assortment of old beach cabins and trailers and kit houses like the one we stayed in, but it had the ambiance of a little campsite right on the beach for $85 a night. We could have had one of the older cottages for less, but it was diverting to be in a brand new place, smelling of sawdust and fresh paint; Laura had lived in old houses her whole life and this was a new experience for her. We luxuriated in the opportunity to take long bubble baths and left for Portland about noon.
As we started up the Oregon coast on Highway 1 again, winding between beach and forests, cliffs and river mouths, Laura took over driving and I napped our way to the Portland turnoff. It took a leap of faith not to worry about the 30 mph curves, but Laura had the AAA Driver’s training and I had to trust to that.
Sometimes you just get in groove with a city on the way in and head straight for your destination. We had no GPS but there was a little map included with the gift certificate to Powell’s and we followed downtown streets one way and the other to one of the corners of the block-long store. Because we arrived around four and had 2-hour parking with no problem after 6, we didn’t worry about feeding a meter and browsed the three-level treasure trove until the sun went down and the $50 gift certificate was gone.
I got an old paperback of Grapes of Wrath for $4.95 to plot my second half of the journey, Laura found a slightly used Running With Scissors, some stickers and drawing materials and, inexplicably, a signed copy of Calvin Trillin’s A Heckuva Job, (maybe the result of book store overload). The one book I couldn’t find was Iris Bolton’s. My Son, My Son, the legendary work for suicide survivors, which was in their warehouse. We couldn’t wait for that. We staggered out with our bags, put them into to the car and, unburdened at last, went walking around the neighborhood looking for a place to eat. We were too starved to consult the AAA guides and just took off blind.
Somehow, serendipitously again, we happened upon a marvelous place called Jake’s, where Humphrey Bogart once dined under stained glass windows and huge dim murals of the Oregon landscape.It was analogous to trusting potluck on the streets of Hollywood and walking into Musso and Frank Grill. The menu was so sumptuous we had a difficult time choosing from all the delicacies, finally settling on Kodiak wild Alaskan salmon and native(!) Oregon crawfish. It took a cup of coffee and creme brulee to get over the meal and propel us out into the evening to start the easterly leg of the trip.
What I remembered as the old Idaho/Oregon State Highway 30 was now all Interstate 84, following the Columbia River across until it split in two and headed for Washington. The last time I had come this way was to see W.H. Auden at Reed College in 1968. The on-ramp to the Interstate was easily found and, a few miles down the road, the off-ramp to Multnomah Falls Came up, one of our peak experience sites. So, although it was after 10:00 at night, I pulled off into the parking lot and woke Laura. She went to Multnomah Environmental Magnet School and we had learned that this phenomenal landmark and Indians native to Oregon were the origin of the name of her school. We had to at least have a look.
Through the tunnel under the highway, past the closed bridge, gift shop, restaurant, and snack bar, the falls glowed in the dark, hundreds of feet high and “unimaginably real.” The drifting spray was chill and refreshing; it was amazing that the full force of the falls drained into a narrow, translucent stream feeding the Columbia. Laura took it in and then lay back to sleep under blankets on the car-bed as I drove. I stopped just past the sweep of the Dalles, at a park where a section of the land was set aside for native fishermen and the lawns were being sprinkled under streetlights at 3 in the morning. After a nap leaned back in my seat, I drove under stars toward the Washington cutoff and the way east to Glacier National Park where we looked forward to another chance to use the Eagle Pass.