Saturday, July 24, 2021

Washington/Oregon 2021 - Portland

Perhaps if  I had had the opportunity to visit pre covid. If I had visited before the economic devastation and the weeks of riots and demonstrations had ravaged the city, things would have appeared different.

What we found as we drove through the streets was a city looking as if it was emerging from war. Scores of empty storefronts, blocks of buildings with windows boarded up, a homeless problem that, even city leaders admitted, had reached crisis levels. Tent cities have been created under roadways and vacant lots. The tents of the homeless lined entire city blocks. The inhabitants of the tents, dirty and bedraggled, wander the streets, sometimes converging in groups on corners. Windows of bars and restaurants were covered with paper, closed, some perhaps permanently. Small parks and squares are barricaded, fenced off and graffiti scarred. I heard on the news one local official say that it would take as long, if not more, than 2 years for the city to recover. To me this assessment seemed overly optimistic. The city had a desolate, almost desperate air. 

Like many west coast cities it had a provincial feel. Perhaps, being developed so late they haven't had an opportunity to mature, perhaps they do not care to. They are content to be what they are, not striving for more. Unlike my home town of Chicago, which, despite occasional missteps, looks forward to the future, while respecting the past. Bold, arrogant, aggressive yet well mannered and genteel all at once. 

For a city so rich in moisture Portland lacks the lushness it could possess. It's streets bare of greenery. It seems to disregard it's past. Historical structures are intermixed with bland, unimaginative concrete structures. Form follows function, except the form is missing altogether. I found myself wondering what was sacrificed, what had been lost forever for so little gained. 

Perhaps it is me. Maybe my life in one of the world's great metropolises has made me demand more. I am certain there are those that are content in Portland as I am content in Chicago. Perhaps, even at it's best, Portland is just not for me. 

Washington/Oregon 2021 - Damn GPS

We stopped by my niece's house the next morning to witness the aftermath of the wedding and say goodbye before heading off to Portland. Apparently the festivities had gone on until the wee hours of the morning. My youngest nephew had been up until midnight before rising at 3 a.m. to catch an early morning flight back home to Baltimore, my new nephew in law had forgotten where he had left his phone the night before, finally finding it in his pants from the previous day which were themselves found, crumpled, in one corner of the bedroom. As we left my grandniece had her head in my niece's lap as my niece braided her hair. It is a sweet ritual between them. It brought back memories of my final day at my nephews house 6 years before, the two of them, my grandniece only 6 at the time, in the bathroom, singing at the top of their lungs to the radio as my niece, curling iron in hand, tamed my grandniece's then unruly hair. 

Getting to Portland was easy enough. We took the wide interstate highway this time, as opposed to the more scenic route we had used coming in. Nearing the city we decided to give GPS one last opportunity to guide us through the city streets to our hotel. Once again we found the technology lacking as it began to send us, as it had before, driving around in circles. Once again we switched the damn thing off and went by instinct, eventually finding our destination without her assistance.

Checking in to our beautiful, historic hotel, opened in 1913 it is on the nation's historical registry, we discovered that a sizable number of covid mitigation measures were still in effect. Masks required in all indoor settings, many businesses still shuttered, a combination was needed to access the restrooms in the lobby of the hotel, along with public restrooms in several other places. We felt as in we had taken 2 steps backward as back home Chicago had fully reopened, without capacity limits and dropping mask mandates for the vaccinated. 

We went to the only operating dining option in sight, a sports bar, for lunch, before retiring to our sumptuous room for some well deserved down time. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Washington/Oregon 2021 - Operation Wet Reception - Plan B

 As the rain fell the bridal party leapt into action. Tables and chairs were carried to the tent set up in the back of the house for just such an event. As I mentioned in an earlier post, my niece's planning was meticulous, rain is commonplace in that area of the country. Food from the buffet was hustled inside from the front porch. I, my husband and youngest nephew, watched the proceedings from under the protection of a large tree while we ate. If anyone had questioned us my husband and I could use the excuse of advanced age for not assisting, my nephew was on his own for an excuse.

Everyone resettled under cover except for one tiny, blonde girl in a pink fantasy princess dress who twirled around in the rain, her curls flying around her beautiful face, getting soaked and having the time of her young life. Toasts were made by the grooms best friend from the age of 14, who challenged anyone who dared say anything negative about the groom to a Indian leg wrestling match, the bride's best friend and maid of honor, who had changed into sweats, her dress from the ceremony having gotten drenched when she was helping to move the wedding to the tent, and my brother, still holding back tears, somewhat unsuccessfully at that point. He spoke of watching the old movie "Father of the Bride" and remarking to his wife that walking a daughter down the aisle was something he would never experience. He spoke, humorously, about the night he learned that they had been gifted with a third child. My niece was unexpected as her brothers were 11 and 13 at the time. He spoke of his respect and affection for the groom and the happiness that he had brought to his treasured daughter. He hugged his daughter and son in law. It was a beautiful and heartwarming moment. 

The bride and groom shared a first dance, including a dip which the groom managed to execute without dropping my niece on her head. My brother shared a dance with his daughter, another of a number of beautiful moments of that day. We left in the rain to return to our hotel promising to drop by the next morning before heading off to Portland.

Washington/Oregon 2021 - A Beautiful Ceremony, Then it Rained

 We arrive about 45 minutes before the ceremony was scheduled to begin. After checking in with my sister in law and my niece in law, who were busy in the house preparing the food, and complementing them on their choice of dresses, which were both lovely, I and my brother, with his best friend, copped glasses from the kitchen, a perk of being family, and headed out to her car for a glass of Moscato she had bought at a gas station mini mart. She complemented me on my lack of pretention as I sell nice wines for a living yet was standing on my niece's lawn enjoying a libation procured at a gas station in rural Washington. My sister showed up shortly and we took a sibling photo. 

The ceremony was beautiful. My brother, holding back tears, and sister in law, escorted my niece across the lawn to a table set with flowers and 2 glasses of sand, whose significance I will get to shortly. Pragmatist that I am, I found myself thinking, in the back of my mind, "They are never going to get the grass stains out of the train of that dress." My niece and her husband exchanged vows. Then my brother, still fighting tears, it was a day he had dreamed of for years, recited a poem by E. E. Cummings, my brother loves poetry,  about people journeying through life together. This is where the sand comes in. My niece and the groom then blended the two glasses of sand into a third to symbolize blending their lives together. The groom the lifted bride off her feet and into his arms for the ritual kiss.

It was time for dinner and dancing. Clouds had moved in and things began to get moist. As everyone filled their plates with wonderful, home cooked food from the buffet on the porch moist turned into wet. Wet turned into steady rain.

Washington/Oregon 2021 - My Special Skill Set

 My niece had the wedding scheduled, on paper, down to 15 minute intervals. All persons involved were given their assignments and the time frames in which they were to be accomplished. Understand she was not overbearing, the dreaded bridezilla, in fact far from it, she was just exceptionally organized. Even I had a job.

At 3 p.m. the grooms party was to report to the lobby of my hotel for me to tie their bow ties. Apparently I was the only person in the small county of 3000 that possessed this skill. They arrived 15 minutes late. I was a little concerned that their tardiness would result in my niece having them lined up and shot for fouling up her meticulously crafted plans, making my tie tying skills all for naught. Apparently she forgave them as they were still alive when my husband and I arrived at the wedding venue, my niece's spacious yard, their ties still tied. 

There was a certain sense of pride in my instructional abilities as my new nephew in law became rather adept at adjusting and tightening the ties of his groomsmen. That is until the reception when they were uniformly untied and eschewed altogether.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Washington/Oregon 2021 - A Morning Stroll Through Cathlemet

 The wedding was not taking place until 5:30 leaving us much of the day to ourselves. We decided that after breakfast we would take a walk around the tiny river side town to take a few photos of the surroundings and late 19th and early 20th century buildings and homes.

The oldest structure we found was a house, listed on historic registers, which dated from 1860. A blue jay landed nearby as we explored it's small public grounds. The two Victorian homes located across the street from it were dated 1895. Several of the buildings along Main Street were from the early years of the 20th century. It was interesting as we walked to imagine the stories that were created as the little town grew. 

We found a small park with a river front trail and, oddly, a locomotive on display. As we strolled along the trail a group of Ospreys flew up from the river bank. With the excitement of children we watched them flit and fly among the ruins of docks which rose up out of the water, the ruins a memory of other times. As we were taking a break on a river side bench 2 young men appeared and launched a tiny sailboat off the sandbar where they had left it as they ran into town for supplies. "Astoria or bust" yelled one of them doffing his shirt as they moved out onto the water of the wide river. 


Washington/Oregon 2021 - Dateline Astoria Oregon

 As we exited the ferry and turned toward Astoria the landscape on either side of the road was the lush green we were becoming accustomed to. On that day the rain forest that this area is designated as lives up to it's name. In one stretch thick fog trapped between the hills and forest on either side of the road made navigation almost impossible. 

The town of Astoria is situated close to where the Columbia River empties into the Pacific ocean. It is lovely and historic. The downtown area and ports are on flat land at the rivers edge, a hill above holds residential neighborhoods. Large, ocean going ships sit in a line in the river waiting to load or unload their cargo. A high bridge, necessary so that the large ships can pass under it, spans the river.

In the drizzle and rain we browsed through the numerous antique shops in search of treasures. I picked up a small religious volume, part of a set, I have a collection of antique and vintage books, the other volumes of this particular set have ended up who knows where. The inscription inside is a Christmas message from a father to his child. It is dated December 1957, the year I was born. It resides with me now. 

We strolled thorough streets lined with exuberant jazz age facades. We lunched in a restaurant, masked and socially distant, Oregon's covid mitigations were stringent, a month behind what we had become accustomed to at home, or the more carefree attitude we experienced in rural Washington, that gave us an excellent view of the row of ships waiting their turn to conduct their business before venturing off to their next destination. We drove out to a state park closer to the river's mouth before heading back, traversing the high bridge, the sharp drop of the roadway as the you near Washington's river shore making the crossing a small adventure in itself.

The road hugged the shore before it moved, once again, into the deep, dense wonder land of green, taking us back to our hotel where a good night's rest waited before the wedding festivities the next day.