7.04.2024

portland and on to seattle (days 9 and 10)

A man walks into a bookstore...

Powell's, and this time we mean it

On Wednesday, we felt well enough to spend quality time in Powell's. Not that anything could have kept Allan away. As on previous visits, I enjoyed myself for a few hours, where he can go all day and then some. After many hours of shopping, we met up in the store, went out for a quick lunch; there's now a Shake Shack across the street. Then I dropped off my loot at the car, and walked back to the hotel, while Allan kept searching.

I bought many books, all nonfiction from deep in my list -- that's what I use our Powell's expeditions for. Earlier, I said that I love Powell's because it's so well organized. This is true, but incomplete. Powell's is vast. Enormous. Floor upon floor, room upon room. Everyone who works there is friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful. And they go well out of their way to help customers find books.

Here's an example. I search titles on the computers available for customer use. If Powell's has the book, it shows its location: the room (organized by colours) and the aisle number. When I get to the room and aisle, sometimes I find the book I'm seeking, but not always. 

While I was paying, I asked the cashier why that happens and what to do about it. They told me there are many reasons that could happen, named a few, and said to ask at the info desk on that floor.

So after Allan and I had lunch, I decided to do this. Allan came with me to the section, and looked on the shelf to see if I had overlooked the title. I had not. Then I asked at the desk. The info person looked on her computer (a separate system, internal for staff, like in a library) and said, "I see we got that book on June 29th, and we are only up to --" she checked a cart waiting to be shelved -- "June 26. If you have time, I will ask someone to grab that for you."

I was happy to wait! It took about 10 minutes, and the person apologized several times for the wait. And then: the book! A book that has been on my list since 2005, now in my hands. Amazing. This is a function of great organization and friendly, helpful staff.

The only bookstore I've been in of comparable size is The Strand in New York City. (Although there is some debate online, I think Powell's is clearly larger.) But the Strand -- unless it's changed since I was there last -- is a giant heap of books, only vaguely organized. Searching there is haphazard and random. Many people love that serendipity, but I do not. I used to use The Strand for review-copy hardcovers, organized by author. Other than that, the only thing I did there was lose track of Allan and wander around trying to find him.

Unloading books in the Alberta Arts District

After Allan was finished (for the day, at least), we loaded the boxes of books from my mom's place back into the car, and headed to Melville Books. Located in the Alberta Arts District, the only place in Portland we know other than Powell's, Melville's is a tiny shop tucked behind a lovely old house.

The owner looked at every book in every box. He was very apologetic that he couldn't offer much cash, mostly store credit. He also suggested we could get more credit at Powell's. Ha! I explained how that hadn't worked. He said Powell's would be very interested, and would likely buy them all, if we brought the books in person, where they offer store credit -- as opposed to online, where they offer only cash.

That totally makes sense, but because Powell's only buys books on certain days, that was simply not possible. (I did not want to take these books home and bring them to Powell's next year!)

I was honest with the Melville's owner: these books were my Mom's, and we just want to get rid of them, and put them in the hands of readers (as opposed to landfill). Still apologizing, the Melville owner offered us $20 cash and $100 in store credit for three boxes. The remaining boxes, we left at the curb with a big FREE sign. And of course we used part of our store credit immediately!

I was really happy to be rid of these books! We some lamb shawarma from a nearby food truck, then headed back to the hotel to collapse. We both still have lingering effects of the flu, and by this time I was really pushing it.

Foiled by the Fourth

The following day, I planned to do a few cultural things in Portland while Allan had another go at Powell's. I completely forgot that it was the Fourth of July and most things would be closed. (Note to Canadians: Americans call the holiday "Fourth of July," or "the Fourth". It is rarely referred to as Independence Day.) (Cue a random reader telling me they grew up calling it Independence Day.) 

The Portland Art Museum is undergoing a big renovation, but there is currently access to paintings from the private collection owned by the Kirkland family. There are 14 paintings, including two Picassos and a Pissarro, normally not accessible to the public, and a manageable visit for one morning. And... it was closed for the Fourth.

The other Portland cultural attraction I wanted to see is the Japanese Gardens. I'm not much for gardens in general (we have never been to The Butchart Gardens in Victoria), but I love Japanese gardens. 

I was imagining a publicly accessible space, similar to the Japanese garden in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Turns out these gardens are a paid attraction, and an expensive one. I didn't have enough time to explore it well, and I didn't want to spend $25 (plus travel time) for a quick peek, so I didn't go.

So instead of visiting paintings or gardens, I took one of my new books to the Guilder Cafe at Powell's, and drank iced coffee and read. I was very happy!

Art as privilege

I am horrified by how expensive museums have become. This story is about the cost of museums in the US, but Toronto and Vancouver are just as bad. (The article also mentions "a newly unionized workforce" as one of the culprits. I call bullshit.)

Most museums have a free night, sponsored by corporate donations, or one free day each month, for those who are motivated enough. And there are a few that maintain free admission. But in general, museums are now recreation for the privileged. 

I grew up going to "the Met" -- the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City -- which had admission by suggested donation. We visited regularly, seeing world-class exhibits, and learning how to look at art, and this was accessible to a working-class family. Now the by-donation admission is only available to residents of New York and New Jersey. 

This is yet one more way our society has become more stratified by income -- a terrible and dangerous trend. Especially when one considers the abysmal public education in the US. We see the effects of this sorting all the time. We'll see it big-time in November.

Off to Seattle -- or at least Bellevue

After Powell's, we hit the road to Seattle, a dismally ugly drive -- three hours of the backs of outlet malls, car dealerships, and fast-food joints. We always have fun on road-trips, talking and listening to music, but this is as far from a beautiful drive as one can get. 

We had some good laughs at the billboards with rotating digital displays: Jesus Loves You, Michelob Ultra, Buy a Kia, Jesus Loves You, Michelob Ultra. And of course there's the Uncle Sam billboard; always a treat to see what the wingnuts are complaining about (those particular wingnuts, anyway). Right now it's about Ukraine. All of a sudden, right-wingers care about other countries. Until recently, they didn't even know there were other countries.

We're not staying in Seattle proper; we have an Airbnb in Bellevue. Seattle hotels are incredibly expensive, comparable to New York City -- but unlike New York City, I couldn't find any hidden gems at better prices. (Pro tip: Upper West Side.) I found an Airbnb, a tiny studio in back of a private home, three nights coming to less than one night downtown. It means a half-hour drive to downtown each day, but it's well worth it.

Now hotels are offering fewer amenities, and have cut back on the basics. This seems like a very poor business model at a time when there are multitudes of options available.

It was a bit of a schlep, but we eventually found the little Bellevue subdivision, then went to a local supermarket to get something for dinner, and supplies for breakfasts. We enjoyed a glass of wine on the deck, facing a large backyard surrounded by beautiful mature trees. Not too long ago, this must have been dense forest.

No comments: