friends and family road trip reunion: day thirteen: portland: books, street art, food

Portland is as advertised: an interesting city with a lot going on. We both look forward to returning, perhaps before or after a family visit. We got only a taste of the town, but it left us wanting more.

In the morning, we dropped off the dogs, along with their beds, toys, and treats, at the daycare, for their day in a private suite. Then we had a quick breakfast at a Peet's Coffee -- my favourite iced coffee -- and were at Powell's when it opened at 10:00.

Powell's. OMG Powell's. It is vast. It is beautifully organized. The staff is amazing. Their customer service is amazing. Did I mention it is vast? Powell's just may be the best bookstore I've ever visited.

Allan and I browsed a bit together, then split up. Since my brother successfully transplanted my old sim card and SD card into an old phone of his, we now have two phones and could safely go our separate ways. (I still need a new phone, but the loaner works as a stopgap.)

Allan had printed out his master to-look-for list, but my list somehow didn't make it here. It's not on Google Drive, not on my USB, not even saved in email drafts, which I often use to save something quickly. I was disappointed, but I contented myself to browse in subject sections. For fiction, I normally use the library, except for my favourite authors, which I'll buy new. But with nonfiction, I don't like the pressure of the due date, so I'm more likely to buy those titles. Often I borrow nonfiction from the library to see if I like it before buying.

As I've mentioned in various "what i'm reading" posts, my List -- the universe of books I might like to read -- is very long and goes back many years and decades. There are always titles growing old and older. I did remember a few authors' works I keep reading reviews of, consistently put on The List, but never seem to read. Little by little, as I browsed, names came back to me, and I was able to look them up on their customer-use computers. I remembered one title without an author and one author without a title... and slowly a mental short-list formed. I ended up with a big pile of nonfiction -- very satisfying.

When I bumped into Allan, we were both holding full shopping baskets, monstrously heavy! Allan found someone on staff to hide our baskets in a holds area. We both picked up fresh baskets, but I needed a break. I'm not a marathoner -- about anything. I had been choosing books for two hours. I needed to rest my feet and to eat something. Allan was still very busy tracking his list. 

I walked to a food cart "pod". Portland's many food carts are grouped into pods, where you can find many varieties of food in the same place. I'd read that many have picnic tables and covered areas. The one near Powell's -- also near our hotel -- has 12 carts, but no tables or even benches. This may be to discourage people without housing from using the facilities. I don't know if that's the case, but I knew I wanted to sit down. I bought pot stickers from a Vietnamese food cart, and ate them while walking back to Powell's. 

I was tired and felt dehydrated and was ready to leave, but Allan was in full-on search mode. We negotiated a bit. By the time I found a bathroom (in a Starbucks) and finished the dumplings, we were now three hours in. 

I spent a full 20 minutes walking in circles looking for a section that didn't seem to exist, plus fielded a phone call from TD Bank, telling me my credit card had been blocked for suspicious activity. Now nearly four hours had gone by, and Allan was still shopping.

I felt the day was shot, and announced I was going back to the room to lie down. This seemed to snap Allan out of his bookstore trance. We found a bench in the children's section, and went through our baskets. I put back any new titles that I can easily find at home. I was tired and cranky.

This scenario is pretty typical for me and Allan, and one of the reasons he usually goes to bookstores without me: a fun outing devolves into frustration and annoyance. No need for reminders: I know how lucky I am to share the love of reading, writing, language, and ideas with my partner. But that doesn't mean we don't get tired and cranky!

* * * *

Overheard at Powell's

Woman: Why are we here? I'm already reading a book.



Woman, frustrated and resigned: Fine, whatever, we'll stay, I'll just wait.

Man: I'm almost done, I'll only be a few more minutes.

Yeah, right.


Kids: I want this one! Oh look look look look! I've read this book four times! Oh look, I want this one! I want this one! 

Kids who love books! Make me so happy!


Adult with child: I'd like you to get a better book. Can you get one better book? 

Me to Allan as we walk away: Let him read whatever he wants, all the books are better books if he's reading them!


In the elevator, with a young staff member pushing a cart of books

Me: Do you like working here?

Staff: I really do. I love being around people who are excited about books. I love helping people find books. I love discovering books through our customers.

Me: I'm a librarian, and I say the same things.

Staff: Oooo, I would love to be a librarian...

Me: You can be. You should look into it. 

* * * *

We lugged our bags of books back to the hotel, drank a lot of water, rested our feet, and regrouped with a plan to see some street art. There are murals and street art all over Portland, but there are especially high concentrations in two areas: the Alberta Arts District, and the Central Eastside Industrial District. I found some useful maps of the areas, and asked front desk staff to print one for us.

The Portland Street Art Alliance sounds like an amazing group that does fascinating work. If you like public art, I encourage you to spend some time on their website, which includes information on why street art is a public good, and a reading list.

Their mural map of the Alberta Arts District (pdf here) gave this trenchant introduction:

The Alberta Arts District is a culturally rich and dynamic area that attracts people from all over the city with its fine art galleries, graffiti alleyways, and community murals.  Even the benches and ATMs are works of art! Galleries open their doors and vendors line the street for the monthly Last Thursday Art Walk. The annual Alberta Street Fair draws thousands of people into the streets for a party, complete with local music, food, buskers, and artists.  While many of Portland's neighborhoods have experienced revitalization, Alberta is unique because it was historically home to the highest concentration of African-Americans in the city. With a painful history of racial segregation, redlining, and now gentrification, Alberta is a place of juxtaposition. Few areas in Portland offer the variety of cultures and artistic interventions that can be found in Alberta. This map is just a starting point. The streets are always changing, and finding street art is often times like a scavenger hunt. We have provided you some insider clues, but now it is up to you to find the hidden treasures Alberta has to offer!
I enjoyed this -- not boosterism, not consumerism, but actual social context. And well-written, with the correct "its"!

We drove to the area, found a parking spot, and walked many blocks and saw many interesting murals (photos to follow). It was very hot. We saw two food-cart pods -- probably more than 10 carts between them, both with seating areas -- but it was just too hot.

NE Alberta Street is in the "fun and funky" stage of gentrification, full of independent stores of all types, progressive or radical politics displayed proudly, plenty of cheap eats and entertainment. But the next stage is also beginning to poke through. There are no chain stores (yet) but expensive boutiques are sprinkled in among the more earthy and affordable. I hope the neighbourhood can hold on to its unique life and beauty.

[Some cell-phone pictures of Portland street art are here.]

After murals and other street art, and a fresh, cold juice, we headed back to the hotel, dropped off the car (again), then walked over to the local food-truck pod. 

Many were already closed, which was just as well. From three separate trucks, we picked up a lamb shawarma, Chinese roast pork and rice, and a torta, which turned out to be ginormous. They cost $9-11 each.

We paid for valet parking, which seemed exorbitant until the bellman reduced it to half price. (I assume this is typical.) We've been making ample use of the unlimited in/out service, and have probably spent the other 50% in tips, but that's fine, I'd much rather the money go in a worker's pocket.

We brought the food back to the room to eat and enjoy some air-conditioning. The food was delicious, and we haven't even touched the torta yet. 

After that we picked up the dogs, who were happy and tired. I'd like to know more about how the day went... I may try to get some information. 

Back at the room, Allan was plotting a walk to Voodoo Doughnuts for some baked goods. Donuts don't do much for me, and wacky toppings do even less, but we did identify a few flavours that I wouldn't mind having a taste of. Then Allan asked if he could go back to Powell's. That was kind of cute, because he doesn't need my permission, and kind of annoying, because if he was going back, why did we spend four hours there?

But that's the way it goes. He didn't anticipate having a second shot. I had time to write, and he got two more books, then got lost, then found the doughnuts and came back with a box of four. They were fresh and tasty -- but over-rated. But I would say that about any donuts.

* * * *

I want to note that we have seen hundreds of tent encampments, on the approaches to every city, and within cities themselves. This is very, very sad. Shameful.

Today we begin our two-day drive back to Port Hardy. Allan is ready to go home. I never am: I can always travel more, especially when the dogs are with us. 

I'm pleased to report I have not checked my work email once, the entire trip. I will definitely look at it on the weekend, at least to delete hundreds of useless emails.


johngoldfine said...

Adult with child: I'd like you to get a better book. Can you get one better book?

Me to Allan as we walk away: Let him read whatever he wants, all the books are better books if he's reading them!

When I first started teaching sixth, seventh grade, I'd wrap the day by reading to the class. I wanted to read books I'd loved: FH Burnett, DC Fisher, Robert Lawson, Richard Adams. The kids were not having it! The girls lobbied for 'Are You There God' and other Judy Blumes and the lads seemed happy enough.

But I caught a lot of flak from upset parents who thought Swiss Family Robinson or Heidi and such 'classics' would be better. My boss, thank god, was appalled by Judy Blume but was infinitely tolerant and supportive of his teachers.

Same problem when I was at Job Corps. Students loved comic books and I had shelves and shelves of them.

Different boss, still appalled, wanted Corps members to read 'appropriate reading level' material, all that deadly stuff with helpful follow-up questions put out by educational textbook companies. I could talk to this boss! "If that shit had ever worked with these guys, they wouldn't be here in the first place. Leave them alone with Spiderman and Wonder Woman!"

mkk said...

I agree! Despite the fact that I read to our children continually when they were young and tried to help them find books that he would enjoy, one of our sons did not truly love reading until he was in the 10th grade and he found the first book that held deep meaning for him: "The Catcher in the Rye." He has been hooked ever since.

laura k said...

one of our sons did not truly love reading until he was in the 10th grade

That son had a huge influence on my own reading, by telling me about Rule of the Bone, by Russell Banks. Banks quickly became one of my favourite authors.

laura k said...

John, I love that story. It's hard to imagine being appalled by Judy Blume, but I know that everything new and interesting must be rejected!

johngoldfine said...

Laura--my boss at that time was an Orthodox rabbi, no lightweight. So, yeah, reading a book to a mixed class that mentioned menstruation did appall him. But he trusted my judgment completely in the realm of the secular--even though I'd married a shiksa, which the other rabbis at the school couldn't ever get over or get past.

He was a very old school Jew, and I was only nominally a Jew--of the rootless, cosmopolitan, atheistic, smartass, indifferent variety. Different worlds, but he was a man I admired and respected immensely, starting, I guess, with Judy Blume.

laura k said...

Thanks for elucidating, John. Fascinating. Cheers to the rabbi for having your back.

Where were you teaching at the time?

johngoldfine said...

Hebrew Academy of Bangor--it had a good run, but the Orthodox and Reform communities in Bangor got slowly smaller and older, so fewer kids to feed in, and the school's major benefactor died, and so on to Penobscot Job Corps I went. I went from reminding boys they needed to put that yarmulke right back on to reminding young men that threats to murder me would put them right on the curb.

johngoldfine said...

Reform? John, didn't you mean to write Conservative?

Yeah, you did mean to, and your failure is inexplicable!

laura k said...


Very interesting! This may be the first time you've mentioned this on wmtc. It's interesting (to me) that there ever was an Orthodox or Conservative Jewish community in Bangor, Maine.

johngoldfine said...

Early 20th Century Bangor was a hub of the lumber trade and attracted Jewish peddlers of clothing, ironmongery, dry goods, notions, illegal liquor, leather goods, and so on--and those people in turn attracted other Jews to open groceries, delis, bakeries to cater to them. By midcentury, the children of those peddlers and shopkeepers owned shoe factories, tanneries, downtown stores, woolen mills and had built both a Conservative and an Orthodox shul, facing each other across York St. (The eventual Reform congregation, arriving well into the 20th Century, was relegated to buying the defunct Christian Science church for its synagogue. And who says G-d has no sense of humor!)

The rabbi I mentioned, mainly by force of will and his charismatic personality, for decades kept the Orthodox community vibrant with regular minyans, a mikvah, kosher groceries, a pipeline to a NYC yeshiva where our better and most observant students often went. He was a rare man.

johngoldfine said...

Huh! You thought Bangor Maine, the Queen City, was some boondocks, podunk, eastbumfuck, williwags, muskeg backwater! I'll have you know that Bangor is the third largest city in all of Maine!

laura k said...

You are cracking me up this morning.

My mother has a cousin who is an artist, who lives in a remote area somewhere on the Maine coast. My mother has traveled to see her a few times, as has one my nieces, on her own. I know these family members flew into Bangor, and Mother's Cousin met them and drove them "very far out". So says my mother, who has absolutely no sense of time or direction, and declares every drive either "we were there 1-2-3" or "it was a long ride, very far out".

Because of this, I know there is at least one other Jewish person in Maine, besides you. :)

johngoldfine said...

You may have come across 'Craig and Fred' by Craig Grossi--the war parts are unpleasant, but the rest of it is perhaps the ultimate dog rescue story and, perhaps sadly, the two are inextricable.

Bangor has a walk-on in the book because when the Forever War was in highest gear, the last bit of the USA troops saw was Bangor International Airport (BGR)(the old Dow AFB), a stop for refueling. And those who returned again saw Bangor first.

laura k said...

I know only the cover of that book. It telegraphs a book I shouldn't read.

Your description reminds me of Rory Stewart's "The Places in Between" -- a walk across Afghanistan, and an ultimate dog rescue. A beautiful and very painful book.

Review in NY Times