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

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