The first time I visited Portland I knew I should never live there, but I really wanted to. In Portland, I would have become complacent. There was no machine to rage against. I would have grown a shitty mustache, joined a moped gang, and retired at 25. It would have been awesome. Returning to Portland again I silently reminded myself: do not fall in love with Portland.
We arrived in Portland, surprisingly, ahead of sunset. Justin had spent two weeks in Portland already this year, and selected a location for us to meet friends and remedy our sobriety.
For the first time on the journey, each member of the bus crew brought their own friends to the table. Sitting there at the Horse Brass Pub, was a tenuous network of individuals, brought together largely by the bus.
I was met by my old friend Kadi. In high school, Kadi had short, spiked, kool-aid blue hair and a smile that could light up a room. These days she’s a natural brunette with long wavy hair, but her smile’s just the same. We talked about old friends neither of us had seen since high school, and how strange it was to be almost a decade away from that experience. I reminded her of the last time I visited and had just missed out on her boyfriends moped rally, to which she replied, “well, they’re having another one tomorrow night…” I bit my lip trying to contain myself. I couldn’t give in to the temptation. I can do this. I can live without moped rallies, sitting in the middle of swarm of buzzing engines…
The next morning Justin and I woke up alone on the bus. Vince had followed his friend Adam home so they could get an early start into the marshes to look for geckos or whatever it is geeky bio-kids do with their free time. I woke before Justin, and as I was in dire need of finding a facility, I gave Justin a light nudge and asked if he wanted me to bring him some coffee when I returned. Still groggy, he mumbled from his cocoon-like sleeping bag “no, it’s just down the street. Just take a right out of the parking lot.” So I drove Justin to his favorite coffee shop in the world, and he didn’t even have to get out of bed. We’ll put that on the “pro” list for living out of a bus.
I’m not a dependent coffee drinker, and only have a cup every other week or so, but Heart Roasters was easily one of the most impressive coffee shops I’ve ever been in. For one, I could drink the coffee straight without making a disgusted face. (This is unheard of. I usually have to load my coffee with sugar to get that sweet flavor I crave.) More than that though, was the consideration that had gone into the space. It was abundantly clear that every machine, tool, and vessel had been hand-selected. There was little need for decoration. Aesthetically, their exquisite equipment worked as standalone pieces, particularly the bean roaster.
Not only was this a premiere model bean roaster imported from Europe (so I was assured by Justin) but it had been modified with a series of sensors hooked into an impossibly thin 27″ iMac, allowing them to control the temperature profile of the roasting process with obscene precision. What I loved about this place was how seriously it took itself. They did not overcharge, or put on pretentious airs, they were simply dedicated to making the best coffee humanly possible. Over the course of an hour Justin ordered three different coffees and bought $60 worth of beans. He was pretty jazzed that morning.
With the days fix ingested, we moved the bus to Michael’s driveway, one of Justin’s friends from the night before. For the first time since Devil’s Tower almost a week earlier, we were able to charge the bus’s entirely drained battery. Surviving on a fixed ration of electricity was proving extremely difficult, and we could often be found sneaking laptops off into restaurants and coffee shops to top ourselves off. For the last few days our battery meter had been going haywire, with the battery levels dropping so low that it twice erroneously reset itself to “100% full”, leaving us with no clue how much power we had actually drained.
The battery meter has so far proven to be one of the most valuable systems on the bus, and has given us a new appreciation for the amount of electricity we consume. On this meter we’re able to monitor the current battery voltage, the amps being consumed, and an estimation of the battery’s remaining capacity. Seeing the amps jump when we plug in a device, and watching capacity slowly drain over the course of a day has made us incredibly conscious about which devices are being left on, and whether they really need to be left on. The batteries are being charged by the good old-fashioned grid, and not by any shiny new sustainable technologies, but I think the idea of sustainability is equally about where the resources come from and how they are used. Being able to easily monitor electrical usage is a feature that could be easily integrated into any home and help to address consumption. The architectural community often seems too focused on new construction to address sustainability (probably because it photographs well), when small retrofit solutions could really be making a huge difference.
After getting getting ourselves hooked up and cleaned up we made our way to the food cart corral downtown, to revisit the best Korean tacos Justin has ever had. This is probably what did me in. I’ve never seen so many food carts in one place. I’ve seen them sprinkled here and there, and every once in a while a smattering, but this was a heaping pile. Justin was completely unfazed. Being much more familiar with this city he informed me that there were food truck corrals all over the city. Oases of deliciously greasy food served from a diverse collection of tiny trailers. My circuits were overloading.
As we worked our way toward the Korean tacos, Justin decided to stop for a quick snack, and ordered us a piece of fried haddock from The Frying Scotsman. Seafood is generally better on the coast but this was a new experience for me. Swimming between the haddock and its crispy breading it seemed was at least half a stick of butter. The initial crunch of every bite gave way to tender interior, dripping with juices, that would instantly melt in your mouth. Justin had to stop me from buying another so I could try his precious tacos.
To his credit, these tacos were crazy; savory shredded pork covered with a bright purple cabbage. They were mini flavor explosions, sweet, sour, savory, tangy… but truth be told, i have a terribly insensitive palate. If noses wore glasses I’d have coke-bottle frames, and it affects my ability to pick up the subtleties in flavors. The tacos were delicious, but I fear their complexity may have been lost on such a simpleton. The most impressive aspect of the experience, however, was the overwhelming variety of foods available. An entire city block flooded with food carts. Had I gone to the food-truck-court alone, I would have starved from an inability to decide.
While at the food trucks we met with Shelly, a friend of Justin’s who had babysat him when he grew up in Germany while she was studying abroad as a grad student from OSU. Aside from my own mother, Shelly was one of the most supportive, maternal personalities I’ve ever encountered. She had nothing but praise for the work we were doing, even if she did think the bus could use a bit of a woman’s touch. (I was of course, opposed to any form of decoration.) From the food carts we walked with Shelly to Blue Star Donuts, which Justin assured us was better than Voodoo. I was a little crabby that I was being cheated of bacon maple goodness, but I followed along. What I had instead was the most outrageous key-lime donut I’ll ever encounter. The donut was delightfully fluffy, and had a neon green interior with a flavor that was bright and sharp. It was a gourmet pastry, that happened to be in the form of a donut. It was an incredible combination of comfort food and delicate dessert.
That’s when it dawned on me. I love how seriously Portland takes itself.
That night we went out with Justin’s friends for some good beer and great conversation at Hair of the Dog Brewing Company. We sat on their patio, or rather their street corner in an industrial part of town, discussing topics we didn’t understand terribly well (well, Ben went to med school, so he probably knew what the hell was going on), enjoying a fantastic crimson sunset. Afterwards we stopped by Emily and Kevin’s new house to check out the renovation progress. And then when the night should have ended, we went out again. Someone’s cousin was supposed to play a set at the Spare Room and we just missed them, but stayed to hear Lewi Longmire‘s Northwest country-rock rendition of warpigs, among other things. I missed out on the moped rally, but it probably would have made it too hard to leave.
That night we crashed on the bus, not quite ready to leave Portland. We were having too much fun. The next day Vince returned from a successful salamander scavenger hunt, and hours behind schedule we were on our way. After a few pitstops to pick up supplies, diesel, and my credit card from the Spare Room, we worked our way out of town and hit the interstate. Finally we were on the open road.
Wait, guys, what was that thump? Did the skylight just fly off?