June 27, 1987. It’s my ninth birthday amidst a family vacation to Oregon. We enter a restaurant for dinner where my father declares that we are only allowed to order from the dessert menu. “You are getting older, son,” he declared, “it is time you learn about pies.”
Ever since that summer vacation where I also was introduced to sand dunes, amphibious salamanders, river rapids and shops devoted exclusively to comic books I have only had the deepest respect for the great state of Oregon. I have returned several times, even once contemplating a move there. To be fair my encounters with Oregon have only been in the summer, thus never encountering winter’s eternal grayness, instead seeing the region as an Eden with blackberries lurking in every field waiting to be picked.
And so when two of my best friends moved to Portland it did not take much convincing for me to pack my bags for a week of freeloading around the state. I was even able to drag my love interest along in the hopes we could tap into that magical mindset of a nine year old boy allowed to eat pie for dinner.
The trip started with a slight calamity. The second leg of our flight from San Francisco to Portland was cancelled. We now had to go to Seattle and then to Portland extending our trip by several hours leaving us cranky. Our mood changed as we got a rental car, a Kia Soul, an orange block of a vehicle that looked like it belonged on a Lego set rather than a highway. It drove us well toward the emerald forest surrounding the city and its vast Columbia River accompanied by countless bridges. I searched the horizon for the mighty snow capped Mt. Hood. It was an overcast day, so I could not locate the place where I had first seen and felt snow. That did not bother me. We had almost a week to see it.
We got together with my friends who had all relocated from New York or Philadelphia to Portland. The two things they could not believe about their new city was how nice the people were and how much vegan food was available. Our first stop was a restaurant which specialized in vegetarian food, so it was not surprising that it had a wide array of food for vegans. But then we would enter dive bars that had amazing vegan menus. Random liquor stores would offer vegan donuts. Food trucks advertised vegan options. Hell, even strip clubs had vegan food.
And the only thing better than vegan food for me is cheap vegan food, which Portland also delivered. The state is a cheapskate’s paradise. They don’t even bother with sales tax. I felt like a baller when I’d get two pints of beer for four dollars and then left a 50% tip. Make it rain became my motto.
The next morning we drove out to Sauvie Island for some berry picking. Blueberries, raspberries, low lying strawberries, currents, blackberries. We filled up our flat with all kinds of fruit and then we headed south to Eugene, Oregon to visit the cousins. We were greeted with open arms. A Thai feast awaited us as did a Marrionberry pie. These people of Oregon knew me well.
We were shown around the town. Whereas Portland is trapped in the nineties, Eugene is a decade further back. As we walked by ponytailed men practicing swordfighting in a public park I felt there were subcultures in Eugene that don’t still exist in other lands. We visited a pinball museum where the owner decided to let us play his classic arcade games for free and then my cousin took us to the bar where he met his wife. The beer was served in mason jars and the band was a three piece several steps south of bizarre. They consisted of a saxophonist, drummer, and bass guitar which motivated a couple of dancers to do the Hippy Hippy shake. We stayed for much of the set, but we had a full day behind and ahead of us. We were going to head further down the Oregon Trail. To the coast and those high dwelling sand dunes.