Archive for August, 2007

A Taste of Portland

beer at henry’s in portland, ore. photo by thedailytransit.

VANCOUVER, Wash., Aug 25 – IT WAS HOT, AND THE MAN on stage was playing the harmonica. We had paid 25 dollars to get into the festival, were cooling off with 5 dollar beers, and the man on stage would apparently continue to play his harmonica for the next hour and a half. I couldn’t help but feel cheated.

My dad and I had spent all morning weaving our way through southern Washington, stopping off at our traditional road-trip breakfast spot, and had arrived here for the Vancouver Jazz Festival. We had both misinterpreted the Web site, thinking that the cost would be 25 bucks for both days (not per day), and had also mistakenly assumed there would be more than one stage of music – it was a festival, after all.

It was roughly two in the afternoon when we arrived on the festival grounds, finding them sparsely populated by music enthusiasts but filled with over-priced wine vendors. We had just missed a set by some group called “John Nastos E4 Band” and set up our folding-chairs to watch Joe Powers – my dad was somewhat excited to see this man, or at least until he realized that the “Powers” he was thinking of was not the guy up on stage wailing into his harmonica. We suffered through a couple songs before deciding to leave and come back later that night for the main headliners (the woman who came on after Mr. Powers claimed her fame by singing on the score of Lady and the Tramp II).

Portland, Ore., is just across the Columbia river from Vancouver – in fact, you can see part of one city while standing on the edge of the other. My dad had made hotel reservations in Portland that night, and so we decided to spend our time exploring the city instead of dying slowly to smooth jazz. Our hotel was right off the streetcar line, and so we parked the car and rode into the downtown Pearl district, which has a healthy mix of stores selling imported artisan goods or antiques along with cafes, bars and restaurants.

We meandered around the streets a bit, stopping into some shops and getting our bearings. We spent a bit of time in Powell’s Books, an absolutely massive independent book store, and nearly got lost in their travel section – I checked out several books about Korea, and found a map of Santa Cruz for my upcoming trip.

Not wanting to miss the final acts of the jazz festival (we had to get our money’s worth somehow), we had an early dinner at Henry’s 12th Street Tavern, a pub serving nearly 100 beers on tap and better-than-usual bar food. We sat outside in the back alley; I sipped on a powerful Belgian brown ale while drinking in the atmosphere of the city. I reflected on how strange cities can feel at first glance – like surreal floating islands full of vague, mistrusting faces. Though it was a Saturday, Portland’s streets seemed nearly vacated; there was none of the dense bustle familiar to Seattleites.

My dad and I enjoyed our beers and shared good conversation before heading back towards the car and zipping up to Vancouver. We had taken our time over dinner and so had missed the second-to-last act, an acapella group that had sounded promising – oh well, I suppose. We caught the final act, famous Chicago jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis with his bassist and drummer, who played a pretty beautiful set. But disappointingly most of the crowd seemed barely interested – they were too invested in their wine and conversation. It was especially hard to pay attention to the music during the softer songs (which might not have been the best selection for the festival), which were drowned out by laughter and chat.

***

The next morning we set out to breakfast at a cafe on the waterfront of the Wilamette, and talked about how the festival had been a bust while perusing the Sunday Oregonian. The trip had been worth it nonetheless, an opportunity for father-son quality time and a break from the routine for my dad. It gave me a taste of Portland, and as I looked at a metro-area bike map it got my mouth watering for my upcoming trip down the coast.

When we left, we took the long way home.

Next: Seattle Update

Seattle: The First 72 Hours

SEATTLE, Aug. 21 – A PRICKLY CARPET OF GREEN unfurled as we dipped beneath the clouds towards Sea-Tac Airport. The sky was a familiar watercolor of greys and blues, and as we whirred over Downtown waves of excitement and nostalgia shivered out from my core.

Eight long months ago I had been pulling off from the very runway on which I was now touching down. But as we deplaned and made our way curbside, it seemed like I had wandered into a time warp. Everything felt strangely similar – the air, the billboards, peoples’ faces, streets, buildings, the atmosphere. The feeling was both comforting and disconcerting; as I have shifted and changed, I somewhat expected my home to do similarly.

My parents (who joined us in Ladera Ranch), Janice and I piled into our dog-scented Subaru and cruised towards Federal Way, the sorry suburban boomtown where I was raised. Having fasted since the mini-bagels and sausage we ate at 9 that morning – it was now 5 p.m. – both Jan and I yearned for the Chinese food we had been promised. But we’d arranged to meet family friends not until 6:30, and so we begrudgingly eased our hunger pains with cereal and out-of-date milk.

In all my travels – excepting Beijing – I’ve yet to come across a more solid Chinese joint than Grand Peking. Having dined there semi-regularly for more than 15 years, I can say that the food has always been consistently delicious; the wontons are always crispy, the mu shu is spot-on, and it takes serious restraint not to fend off dining partners with chopsticks when deciding who gets the last piece of dry-roast chicken. And so that night we ordered plenty of dishes, and over conversation and swigs of Tsingtao, left barely a scrap.

After dinner, feeling tired from the reunion and traveling, Janice and I decided to lay low and go catch Superbad. The movie was absolutely hilarious, unexpectedly vulgar and felt more like a real film than just an entertaining summer blockbuster – which is to say, it had some merit. A well-done flick well worth your time, and a great way to end our night.

***

The next morning, Janice and I took our time waking up before driving to Seattle for breakfast at The Crumpet Shop. Despite its proximity to Pike Place Market, the shop is not touristy and feels cozy, and it’s one of my favorite breakfast places in the city. The crumpets are fresh and marshmellow-soft, and nothing beats a honey-oozing crumpet with some tea on a crisp Seattle morning. Janice had one with ham, English cheddar and tomato, while I opted for ricotta cheese with marmalade. We soaked in a moment of togetherness and relaxation, calm amid the bustle of downtown.

Behind us, a tourist who had accidentally dropped her travelers checks in line had them unexpectedly returned by the shop owner; a customer had picked them up and turned them in, and I could tell the woman and her family would leave with a lasting impression of the kindness of Seattle’s people.

We spent a good chunk of the morning wandering around the market, checking out the fresh produce, buying some Chukar cherries and enjoying the sights. Around noon, we met up with my friend Nick (my Tour de Cascadia companion) and strolled down to Pioneer Square. We stopped in Elliot Bay Books – an immense, beautiful wooden bookstore, where I picked up the 1970s bike-geek novel The Rider – before making our way to Salumi, the famous Italian sandwich shop. Even on a Wednesday the wait to order was 30 minutes, but the fresh mozzarella and Sopresatta was well worth it.

We ate our lunch up at Steinbrueck Park, taking in the view of the Sound and the strummings of a street-performer. Sunlight shone down beautifully, pushing away the clouds and creating the perfect Northwest summer day: a cool sea breeze and the smell of grass and pines.

After taking a walk down to the new Olympic sculpture park, Janice and I drove up to the U-District, my old stomping grounds. We walked the Ave, poked into shops (I picked up the latest Blue Scholars album) and meandered around campus. Upon realizing that, like myself, most of my old friends from the University of Washington had likely graduated and left, I felt a twinge of sadness and nostalgia. Sitting in front of the Union Building memories hovered like ghosts, the sunlight permeating their hollowness a glaring reminder that time is irreversible.

That night we dined at Blue C Sushi, an awesome train-sushi spot in the very yuppie University Village. Everything there was fanstastic except the spicy-tuna rolls – the chef had minced the tuna down to a goo.

Over the next couple days Janice and I explored the International District and Capitol Hill, and I took her to Seattle staples like Uwajimaya and Dick’s Burgers; she loved the former, not so impressed with the latter – and I can’t blame her, compared to NYC’s Shake Shack or Cali’s In-N-Out, Dick’s is definitely low on the chain, and the employees hardly serve with a smile.

It’s funny how showing someone around your hometown brings to the fore all the things you love about it – in the process of exploring and pointing out old haunts we are reminded of how special those places remain to us. Everything seems more vivid when you have the right person with whom to share it.

On Friday, Janice’s last night in town, we ate at Anthony’s sea food restaurant in Des Moines, a nice spot cuddled up to the marina serving some great seasonal peach froo-froo cocktails, which we both indulged in. The Sound glittered fantastically in the evening sun, and watching Janice smile as she dug into her prawns I knew I would miss her over this next month. I sighed, trying to stretch out the seconds.

Next: Vancouver Jazz Fest & Portland

Vancouver Jazz Fest

So I know I’ve been promising a post on my arrival in Seattle, but time has been really crunched – apologies. This morning my Dad and I are heading down to a jazz festival in Vancouver, Wash. We’re making a short weekend out of it and will be staying in Portland tonight, and heading back up tomorrow after catching some more music. Hopefully I’ll get a decent post (or two) up on here by tomorrow night.

Happy Travels!

Los Angeles

WE WERE BLITZING ALONG interstate 10, careening between Los Angeles’ abundantly flowing traffic, and we were starving. I casually gripped the oh shit handle in the passenger seat of the Hyundai as the girls chatted and caught up in the back seat, trying to ignore how Will was blasting between lanes. He just laughed – this is California driving!

It had been a long time since we were all together – the reunion in New York City was almost exactly one year ago. But it was now as it was then, surprising how natural it felt, picking up conversations that started in different contexts, different countries. Friendships born at a dormitory in Seoul 3 years ago carried on as though no time had passed.

We wheeled into the parking lot, greeted by a scene that was at once strange and strikingly familiar; Koreans flowed out of Tahoe Korean BBQ in native-tongue conversation, lighting cigarettes, bellies full. For a moment I could have sworn I was on the other side of the Pacific. And essentially I was – in the middle of 10 blocks of Korea, thriving in the heart of L.A.

The food was absolutely phenomenal – dduk bo ssam, or grilled meat wrapped in thin-sliced rice cakes with all the fixins – but nowhere near as great as the conversation and the memories it brought back. Will was my roomate in Seoul during my first term there, and we along with the ladies – my girlfriend Janice, Naerim and Susan – had all eaten dduk bo ssam together last in Seoul’s DaeHakRo neighborhood more than two years ago. As we poured up glasses of Hite and stuffed our faces we were transported back to a time when this was a regular night.

After dinner we split along gender lines – the ladies had a full day of shopping planned for the next day and had a far drive home, while Will and I decided to go meet up more Korea friends for beers at their cozy, bungalow-like apartment in Culver City. Up until my arrival at LAX, my impression of L.A. was entirely negative – the land of Hollywood, pretension, consumerism and sprawl. But my perspective had shifted, ideas of the place filled up with faces of old friends. At that small apartment, drinking Miller Lite, playing Duck Hunt and discussing the finer points of Korean social reality, was exactly where I wanted to be.

***

The next day I rode into Santa Monica with Will on his way to work. He pointed me in the direction of Main Street and I set off to find a breakfast strong enough to cure my ails – hangover, sleep deprivation and jet lag. I found my answer at the Omelette Parlor, where I indulged myself with coffee, a three-egg breakfast and a copy of The New York Times. Sitting up close to the window I watched Southern California life slowly trickle by. My waitress, a dirty-blonde in her mid-40s, noticed me writing in my journal and said, “You’re just like me, I write in the morning, too. Every morning – I have to.” And I smiled.

After meandering around for a while, my friends Jared and Tattiya – who recently moved to L.A. from Madison – showed up with an extra bike for me to ride, and we rode up to Bay Cities Deli for some sandwiches and brown-bagged bottles of beer. We spent the rest of the afternoon cruising around and chatting over a delicious Belgian brew over at the Library Alehouse; sitting in the shady green back patio of the pub we had a small-world moment, as Jared bumped into a regular customer from the cafe he worked at in Wisconsin.

Our time in L.A went quickly – a sunny haze of events, from the Tofu Festival to a Korean-style crab feast at Redondo pier. Friends went back home or had to get ready for work, and so it was time to roll on. On Sunday, Janice and I took the Amtrak Surfliner down to the suburban fantasyland that is Ladera Ranch, where my Aunt, Uncle and two cousins live. Being an only child and of limited extended family, it was surreal to really meet my cousins for the first time – at all our previous meetings they’ve been too young to speak.

Our last full day in Southern California was fittingly spent at the beach, where we body-surfed and boogie-boarded until we had sand in our teeth. Tuesday we said our goodbyes, sunburned and with a bit of board rash, and took off from John Wayne airport, watching the orange tiled rooves fade into colorful splotches below the clouds.

Tomorrow: A Day in Seattle

ORD to LAX

Tomorrow begins the first leg of my West Coast journey – thus, I may not be posting for a few days. In lieu of writing, I thought I’d share this music video from artist RJD2. The dancer/choreographer in the video is Bill Shannon, and the crutches aren’t simply an act. From what I can gather, Shannon was born with a sort of hip disease that necessitates the crutches, and his motion is a beautiful example of using what you are given and creating art.

Enjoy, and happy travels!


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