One of the best parts about moving back to the West Coast is that I get to visit my hometown* more than just once a year. You see, Portland, Oregon may be hip to y’all, but when you pretty much only go there in December for a decade, it’s one of the most depressing places on earth. Now that I’m just an hour flight away, it’s easy to justify a quick trip to see friends and family.
This past weekend I flew up for a quick stint originally planned around going to the Oregon Brewers Festival with my friend Heather. You may remember her from our excursion to the “other” Portland last fall. Lucky for me the stars aligned and I got to see a ton of bonus folks too.
My arrival Thursday evening was pretty lowkey. Dinner with my parents near the airport and then a much-needed visit with my BFFF (best friend for fuckingever) Kat at her place in Vancouver. I’m still so proud of this wonderful woman for everything she has accomplished.
I got up early on Friday morning, did some work, and went for a short run in/to Foege Park. I do forget how toasty Oregon summers can get and had to keep this one at two miles. Still, good to get some exercise in before drinking beers for a few hours.
After taking our obligatory Salmon Street Springs selfie, we headed into the Brewers Fest, each purchasing a “starter kit” (festival cup and 13 sample tokens) for the impressive price of $20, then set forward to start our sampling. I went straight for the weirdest experimental beer I could spot, the 1 Up Mushroom from Old Town Brewing. It was…interesting. Still, way better than Heather’s pick, the abomination known as Widmeritaville from Widmer Bros.
“It’s like craft bud light lime,” I commented between gags.
“But worse, if that’s possible,” she choked.
We both moved on, enjoying the spectacular experimental Flaming Peach from Laht Neppur Brewing Co., definitely a tasty sinus clearer. As for “regular” beers, my fave at the fest was Aberrant by Logsdon Farmhouse Ales, a really solid saison. I tried a few more, but cut myself, as I had a long day ahead of me.
As it turned out, I found out earlier in the summer, that my dear friend Ben would be in Portland for a conference the same weekend I was visiting. Ben and I were coworkers at my second job out of college in Milwaukee and became fast friends since the week we started together. He moved to D.C. after I moved out to San Francisco and I don’t think we’d had one-on-one time in four years. We were long overdue for a visit!
But, as work trips go, he couldn’t meet up until later in the evening, so I got an unexpected afternoon to entertain myself in PDX. After taking a lovely summer stroll across the Steel Bridge and part of the Eastbank Esplanade, I grabbed a spring roll to snack on from Saigon in one of Portland’s food pods, then (of course) headed to Powell’s to snag a summer read while I waited to meet up.
After perusing for awhile and purchasing a copy of the recommended Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher, I wandered around the Pearl District until I came across Tilt, which seemed like a good spot for another snack and a beer (and to ask the friendly bartendress to charge my dying iPhone). I enjoyed a giant biscuit (I know, I know, I still have to go to Pine State) and a Fleur de Blanc from Commons as I dove into my novel.
I really need to take the time in San Francisco to ignore my phone and sit in a bar with a book.
I nursed the beer and nibbled my biscuit (wow, that sounds dirty) for quite some time until I figured I should commence my wandering. Feeling a bit hungrier, I strolled up to my old stomping grounds of NW 21st Street, and indecisive, to our high school hang out, Anna Bannanas. I wanted to get a sandwich, but much to my chagrin it was closing at 6 p.m. Where are are angsty, straight-edge suburban teens whose parents won’t let them drive past 21st Street supposed to hang out? Flustered, I got an iced mocha and overheard a conversation where two women were trying to explain Morrissey to a Pakistani hipster. I wanted to tell them that if they kept the café open later no one would have this problem.
My trip to NW 21st wasn’t for complete naught, as I ventured into the funky Archibald Sisters boutique, lured by unicorn vs. narwhal socks, and ended up purchasing their china rain lotion.
Still hungry, but realizing I should get closer to Ben’s AirBnB, I meandered across Burnside and found Marmo Deli & Bar on Morrison for a glass of rosé and light salad. I finished my book in this lovely little Italian spot, just in time to finally meet up with my friend.
After a quick chat with Ben’s freelance designer host about TYPO San Francisco, we headed out into the toasty evening. We briefly paused in the courtyard of the Portland Art Museum to listen to a hipster band cover the Vertigo score, then in the Park Blocks for Ben to scold me for not previously informing him about the Teddy Roosevelt statue in my hometown (sorry Ben!).
We intended to go back to Brew Fest, but got distracted by Dan & Louis Oyster Bar, where a) we never actually got served and b) realized that the beer festival closed in 20 minutes. We rushed there and only were able to get a full serving of a random (but tasty) New Zealand beer, Sauvinova from Tuatara Brewery. Here we also met up with other former Milwaukeeans and recent Portland transplants, Claire and Joe, as well as their visiting friend Michael.
After intros and chatting, I decided we should all go to classic Portland bar, The Shanghai Tunnel, where I remembered having really good mai tais, once upon a time. Well, that time was at least ten years ago and the bartender of today didn’t know what was in a mai tai, so we went with PBR tall boys instead before wandering into the Old Town night – another area that has drastically changed since my youth. We tried to go to Ground Kontrol, but instead of waiting in line, decided to grab a much-needed slice from Dirty Pie instead and then watched, aghast, as a drunk douchebro challenged rock climber Michael to a one-armed pull-up contest.
“I’m an athlete,” he warned, before disclaming “but I’m going to go up with two hands and then use just one.” He then proceeded to fall on his face, fortunately not injuring himself as his fratty friends had already disappeared into the night.
I decided it was time to head out of the area and to the divey and un-douchey Tugboat Brewing. We were weirdly offered to purchase “coke and molly” from some dude in the alley, but passed up literal street drugs in favor of the Chernobyl Stout and ESB inside.
After last call I grabbed an affordable taxi back to my parents’ house (where I was locked out) and hit the hay for a brief sleep before another full day ahead.
I woke up to Oregon summer rain, which increased from drizzle to downpour as I joined Heather and her husband and sons on a quick trip to the Beaverton Farmers Market. I was amazed at how much the market had grown since the last time I went and at the fact that they had a booze sampling area! I decided to indulge in a taste of the 2 Towns Ciderhouse product before settling on a Henry Higgins Boiled Bagel for a pre-breakfast snack.
I was sad to leave the Lepene clan after such a short visit, but had to go see my brother for breakfast #2. Kevin showed me his and Nathalie’s apartment in Goose Hollow before we walked to Ken’s Artisan Bakery, where I enjoyed the super yummy “Oregon Croissant” (Marionberries FTW), while we had sibling catch up time.
He had to get back for show rehearsal and I needed to go meet Ben to show him non-downtown Portland.
Our first stop was Renegade Craft Fair, where we braved the rain to fill our carry-ons with local, organic, artisan goods. I got some fun Portland Bridge magnets by April Black Designs and a perfect gift from Jude Morales. During a particularly nasty downpour we took shelter in a tent giving out whiskey samples (terrible, I know) and Ben invested in the magic Time & Oak sticks which will barrel age cheap spirits overnight. We also had the pleasure of visiting with my friends via TYPO, Aaron and Leigh, of Draplin Design Co. I also restocked my Field Notes supply with the Oregon county fair series.
Waiting to hear from Kat about meeting up, we headed up to Belmont and landed at Hoda’s Middle Eastern Restaurant for lunch. We gorged on the meat mezze and caught up on the particulars of our post-Milwaukee lives. Everything was beyond scrumptious…make sure you go hungry.
Unfortunately traffic to get to Vancouver was a bear and we had to miss meeting up with Kat. Instead we went westward to walk off our pita and hummus-filled stomachs. We parked at Pittock Mansion, strolled the grounds, then took a short hike in Forest Park of the Wildwood Trail to the Upper Macleay Trail.
This was such a fun part of the day as my friend was truly experiencing “Real Oregon” for the first time. Our friendship has a solid basis in shared history nerdery, so it was cool to watch him learn about quirky things like The Royal Rosarians that have seemingly always been part of my worldview. Also, I forget that the Oregon Trail was primarily a computer game for most of America, not how many prominent families arrived in their state.
My recent trip to Alaska reminded me of how much I took growing up in the Pacific Northwest for granted and seeing Ben’s reaction to everything in the forest brought that home. He was amazed by the “perfect tree” and freaked out at a (relatively small) banana slug. I reminded him that slugs are just naked snails, but he didn’t quite buy it. The weather cleared up by this point so we both got to revel in the fresh post-rain Oregon forest air. There’s really nothing like it in the world.
Sadly my trip was turning into a pumpkin, so we headed back to “The Arnold Family Homestead” to collect my bags and my mom. After a short tour, we dropped Ben back in SW and met Dad for another airport-area dinner before I flew back to SF after a short, but great weekend.
*I was born a military brat and then my family stayed nomadic until I was 11, so since Portland is the last place I ended up before college, it counts as my “hometown“.