"It's not much but it's ours"

Friday, October 21, 2011


I am going to warn you right at the beginning of this post that there is not going to be a lot of food discussion or many photographs of amazing meals to make you jealous and hungry in equal measure. The reason is, quite simply, that there was precious little good eating going of the next stage of the road trip, as we made our way from Portland, Oregon to Cottonwood, Idaho.

There was, however, lots of interesting stuff to see and I placed myself firmly in the hands of my travelling companion, Neal whose research had pinpointed plenty of potentially enticing stop offs on the long drive ahead.

First stop, after Portland, was at the lake side resort of Coeur D’Alene. We ate a meal in a brewpub that did not kill us and spent the night in a small motel that was situated at the unlikely location of Sunup and Sunshine. It didn’t kill us either. Before we arrived in Coeur D’Alene, however, we made a brief stop in Spokane, where we encountered one of our favourite people of the whole trip.

Marvin Carr had a long career as a switcher on the railroads. He saved his money and invested it in the stock market. He obviously did quite well and, at the age of seventy, he was able to cash in and fulfill his dream of opening a museum. He called it the “One Of A Kind In The World” Museum and began filling it with one of the oddest assortment of exhibits you are ever likely to come across. Fourteen years later and at the age of eighty four, he is still there every day giving tours to the occasional visitor who finds their way to this quirky little place houses in a small warehouse in industrial estate on the outskirts of the city.

After Coeur D’Alene, we made our way out of the state of Washington towards the vast expanses of Montana and Idaho. We were at an intersection between three states at this point which meant that we were able to dip out of Washington and make our first stop in the small and slightly decrepit town of Wallace.

There is no real reason to make a detour there, unless you are interested in seeing The Oasis Bordello Museum. The building was purchased in the early 1980’s by a man who found out afterwards that it was an abandoned brothel, with just about everything left as it had been just before the working girls fled from a police raid. He decided to keep it open as a museum and the insides are as dated and depressing as you might imagine.

Far more interesting was our next stop, The Miracle of America Museum in Polson, Montana. We reached it after a very long drive, by the end of which time we were both becoming a little cranky. The sheer lunacy of this huge vast museum, however, pirked us up a great deal. Like Marvin Carr’s effort back in Spokane, this was the work of a single man, Gil Mangles. Along with his wife, Joanne, he has dedicated much of his life since 1981, and over five acres of land to celebrating everything American.

There are over thirty buildings filled with a genuinely astounding collection of treasures and junk. I cannot think of any other place that might proudly display an entire school building from the 1870’s next to the nosecone of a rocket, next to a collection of 100 chainsaws, next to a collection of 1960’s arcade games, next to a collection of antique motorcycles, next to….well you get the picture.

It really is an astonishing place and had the potential to fill the entire day. We were, however on a schedule and set off a couple of hours later slightly shell shocked, but in much better spirits than when we arrived.

We spent the night in the pleasing University town of Missoula, Montana. Again, there is little to report, but we grabbed a couple of pints and a decent night’s sleep before the next long drive of the journey. It was pouring with rain the next morning, but fortunately it cleared before we reached our first stop of the day, the deserted ghost town of Garnet, Montana. In its heyday, it had a population of well over a thousand people consisting predominantly of miners and their families. By the 1920’s however, it was on the decline and by the 1930’s it was all but deserted. It made a fascinating stop, particularly as many of the buildings still contained the remnants of the former occupant’s belongings.

We did stop for lunch. Just in case anyone was wondering if there was going to be any food in this post at all. The drive from Garnet to Cottonwood, Idaho, was over four hours long, through some of the most astonishingly beautiful scenery of the entire trip.

Highway 12 is banked on one side by the Blackfoot River and, on the other side by the Lolo and Clearwater National Forests. It twists and turns its way for well over one hundred miles offering fantastic views, but precious little in the way of refreshments. We finally found an unassuming motel & diner which offered up a surprisingly tasty (and huge) meal in the form of a double chili burger and a roast beef sandwich (which to Neal’s surprise and my amusement came drowned in a sea of dark brown gravy)

It was enough to see us to our final destination for this post and the main (in fact only) reason we had added Idaho to our itinerary. Anyone who has read Dave Gorman’s book “America Unchained” will be well aware of The Dog Bark Park Inn, a one bedroom B&B housed in a giant wooden beagle. We were fortunate enough that the owners of said beagle, Dennis & Frances were able to accommodate us for one night.

We arrived around 3pm and spent a good couple of hours chatting to them before they showed us to our rooms. I called “shotgun” and exiled Neal to the small sleeping area in the nose, while I took advantage of all the amenities in the main bedroom. It really is, as its lovely owners declare it, “A Noble and Absurd Undertaking”, but it was also provided one of the most comfortable and enjoyable nights I have spent anywhere in the US.

We walked down to the local town to pick up a six pack and sat drinking them on a small deck overlooking the local highway just as the sun began to set over the vast and flat Idaho landscape. We still had over four thousand miles to drive before Road Trip USA 2012 was finished. We had plenty of meals planned and lots of other quirky places to visit.

They would, however, have to work mighty hard, we both agreed, to beat our one night in the belly of the beast.

Labels: , , , , ,

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday, October 14, 2011


Our original plan had been to spend no more than one night in each city. However, one morning, about three weeks before Road Trip 2011 was due to begin, I received a slightly giddy e-mail from Neal asking (actually begging) that we spend one more night in Portland, Oregon so he could go and see one of his favourite bands, DEVO.

You remember them, right? They were a group of rather odd looking Americans in paper suits and funny hats. They had a couple of harmless minor hits in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s and then, as far as I was aware had disappeared. Not so, Neal informed me with considerable enthusiasm. They were still going strong and were, in his words “influential”. Who knew? Well, apparently Neal for one.

I was pretty certain that my life would have been reasonably complete without ever crossing the words “See DEVO” off my bucket list, but Neal was very keen indeed and, as you all surely know by now I am a constant delight of a man who always goes out of his way to support a chum. So, I agreed to extend our stay in Portland. First of all, of course, we had to get there. We grabbed a quick breakfast at our hotel in Newport and hit the road for Portland before too much other traffic was stirring.

Neal, in his official position of “finder of weird stuff to keep us amused” had planned one stop along the way, at The Evergreen Aviation & Spacecraft Museum in the otherwise inconsequential town of McMinnville. The displays of planes and aeronautical ephemera were interesting enough, but Neal had marked it out to visit for one particular reason.

In the late 1980’s the owner of the museum had put in an unlikely bid for the “Spruce Goose” the gargantuan sea plane that Howard Hughes had spent millions of dollars creating merely to prove that such a beast could fly. Fly it did, for all of ten seconds, after which Hughes never boarded it again.

It had languished in Long Beach for decades, but was now up for grabs. Despite counter bids from The Smithsonian and others, The Evergreen museum won out, primarily because they promised to restore the plane and to build a special building so it could be displayed in its entirety. It took nearly fifteen years to move and restore the beast, but now it stands in all its glory, dwarfing all the other planes in the collection.

It was a fun stop, but after an hour or so of taking pictures of the thing from various angles, we were both “goosed out” and ready to head to our final destination of the day.

Portland, Oregon had been on my list of US cities to visit for as long as I can remember and, after checking in to our downtown hotel, we set out to see what delights it had to offer. Quite a lot as it happens. Portland may be a small city, but it has a tangible sense of civic pride and enough places of interest for me not to begrudge having to spend an extra day within its city limits.

One of those attractions was obviously the fact that Portland is renowned as one of the best eating cities in the whole of the United States. Just as Neal had done with the quirky stop offs on route, so to had I done my research on places to decent meals. I had made a reservation to have our first meal in the city at a well regarded restaurant called Beaker & Flask.

After spending a few hours rooting around in the wonderful Powell’s “City of Books” and enjoying a couple of pints in one of the city’s many brew pubs, we freshened up back at the hotel and hopped into a cab to head across river to Portland’s industrial district.
There is a rant coming up in a moment folks. Be warned.

Beaker & Flask is, as you can see from the menu, a restaurant that celebrates the pig (here comes the rant)

RANT BEGINS: Now, I love the pig as much as the next man. In fact, I probably love the pig and its porky products more than the next man, and the man next to him and so on. I love Pork Pies, roast pork, sausages and I have even started to make my own bacon for heaven’s sake. All that being said, the ‘we worship the pig” trope on display in so many restaurants these days is becoming rather tiresome. If I see one more menu emblazoned with an outline of a pig, arrows pointing to its various cuts, or one more twenty something chef with assorted pork based tattoos up and down his arm, I am going to do someone a serious mischief: RANT ENDS

All the above being said, Beaker & Flask was not half bad. The pre-dinner cocktails were terrific, a snackette of deep fried strips of pigs ear was just as it should be, crunchy, salty and delicious and, while the main courses were better on the page than they were on the plate, they were still good enough for us to declare the meal excellent value and a good start to our time in the city.

Better was to come the next morning, however. We had, to use the old expression “tied one on good and proper” during our first night in the city and, although I had woken up at about 6am, it was closer to 8am before I was able to open my eyes and face the inevitable consequences of the over indulgence of the previous night.

Neal was in pretty much the same state, although much less stoic about it and we both agreed that what was in order was a heaping helping of breakfast. Fortunately, my research had also thrown up (bad choice of words given our condition) a perfect location near to our hotel. Mother’s was a pleasingly buzzing little bistro that was already filling up as we were shown to our table. Service was pleasant and efficient and it was only a matter of minutes before Neal was sighing with relief at his first cup of coffee and I was guzzling down a huge glass of restorative fresh orange juice.

The food was, quite frankly, pretty fantastic. Neal’s eggs Benedict were as good as you are likely to see anywhere while my own plate contained two perfectly cooked eggs “over medium” alongside the same number of piping hot crumbly biscuits, submerged in a thick southern style sausage gravy. It may have been too much food for either of us to finish, but it was just what we needed and set us up properly for a day’s walking around the city.

Neal’s research had led him to believe that I might enjoy spending some time at the legendary (ahem) Stark’s Vacuum Cleaner Museum. Quite why he thought this might be the case, I have no idea. However, in need of a walk after such a huge meal, I tagged along and spent, oh a good thirty seconds being enthralled by a collection of decaying old carpet cleaners in the corner of a large vacuum cleaner shop.

My slightly snarky lack of enthusiasm was enough to convince us both that we had perhaps better spend some time apart. We went our separate ways to promising to meet up in time for supper before the concert that evening. I Have no idea what Neal got up to, but as I walked back to the hotel determined to catch up with some work, I was distracted by the girlish yelping of some young women in skimpy costumes.

It appears they were something called cheerleaders and hailed from one of the local colleges. They were doing things with their lithe young bodies which would, I am certain, ensure they all would have no trouble finding a husband. I spent a very enjoyable half an hour admiring their athleticism (and not letching like a middle aged pervert, I deny that completely) before heading back to the hotel.

By 6pm, Neal had returned and we were both fully restored to our previous good humour and ready to rock out as much as it might be suitable for any middle aged man to do.

Supper, our last meal in the city, was at another highly recommended restaurant. The name PING may suck, but the food did not. Chef Andy Ricker obviously knows his South East Asian food and recreates many of the region’s best drinking foods without too much neutering or apology for ingredients that some might consider unusual.

All this led us to our real reason for spending one more day in Portland. DEVO were due to play in The Crystal Ballroom, a famous venue that boasted one of the few remaining floating dance floors still in use. The crowd was an interesting mix of both young and old, with a lot of parents obviously bringing their teenaged kids along so they could hear what music used to be like when it was any good.

By the time DEVO finally arrived on stage, I was yawning frequently enough to make me realize why I rarely venture out after 10pm these days. They on the other hand, despite being well into their late 50’s and early 60’s showed no such lack of energy, entertaining the packed crowd for long enough for us not to get back to the hotel until long after midnight.

I am not going to claim that seeing DEVO changed my life, but Neal seemed pleased enough and it had also given us a reason to spend another day in this splendid city. Trust me I plan to spend more days there as soon as I get the chance.

However, we had the next stage of Road Trip USA 2011 ahead of us. Next stop, Montana.

Labels: , , ,

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


It has been a long while since I posted here on DH. There is, however, a very good reason.

For the best part of the last month, I have been on the road as part of my journey to visit every corner of The United States.

For the record, I have now visited 45 states, leaving just a bare handful for a complete set.

If you look back to around this time in 2010, you will find a number of posts that relate to a similar road trip that I undertook with one of my oldest chums, Neal, through the South of the country. It concluded in my favourite eating city in the US, New Orleans, and so much did we enjoy that excursion that we (and by “we” I mean “Neal”) spent the last twelve months planning our next great adventure.

This time, we decided that we wanted to explore “the road less travelled”, those states, cities and sites that few people, even most Americans, ever think to visit. Places that have much to offer, but get overlooked in favour of cities like New York, Las Vegas, San Francisco and even my own newly adopted home of Los Angeles.

States like Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, North Dakota and Nebraska might get dismissed as “the flyover states” by many of the coastal elite, but to me, they are the very spirit of this amazing country and need to be visited if I am to continue on my quest to find out what it means to become an American.

Neal agreed and, being the sort of obsessive planner that it appears to be my lot in life to hang out with (take a bow HP), he mailed me regularly updated spreadsheets outlining possible routes and sites to see along the way. My task was to make sure that we would be well fed as we undertook what we figured would be close to a 5,000 mile journey.

We decided to begin our adventure in Seattle and to end it in Kansas City, so I could make my annual pilgrimage to The American Royal BBQ Competition. And, as Neal was going to arrive a day later than me, I was able fit in a couple of meetings and spend a few hours pottering around gettng my first taste of the “Manchester of The West Coast”.

By the time Neal arrived from the UK on Monday evening, I had already decided that I rather liked Seattle and had scoped out a couple of places for us to indulge in a few catch up drinks and a slab of protein to set us up for the miles ahead of us. It is fair to say that we were both a bit over excited at the thought of our road trip and hit the ground running hard enough to ensure that we woke up the next morning cursing our middle age and swearing to the alcohol gods that we would be more restrained if they promised to take away our headaches and quell our raging stomachs.

We spent the morning gingerly strolling around Seattle, through Pike Street Market, the stunning Seattle Public Library and around the neighbourhood near the ageing Space Needle. It was enough to set us to rights and persuade us that we could face solid food once again.

I had read that Seattle played host to one of the best hamburger joints in the country in the shape of Red Mill Burgers. It was a claim that had to be tested and I persuaded Neal to join me on a three mile hike to the nearest location to find out. I had my doubts when we arrived. Red Mill Burgers appears to be staffed almost exclusively by hyper attractive young blonde women of college age. That normally would be a very, very good thing, but I had my doubts, from looking at their sylph like figures that they knew much about feeding two hungry, hung over middle aged men. There was quite a line however, which made me think they must have been doing something right. So, after placing our order, I went to secure a booth.

Shows you what I know. These young women were not only hot as Hades, but also knew exactly how to cook up a mean burger. Such a good burger, in fact that I am inclined to declare it as the best I have ever tried.

The “Double Deluxe with Cheese” was a whacking great beast of a burger. It was juicy and patently made of excellent beef. The toppings all worked well and added to rather than hid the flavour of the beef and the bun had just the right amount of sweetness that is required of a burger delivery system. The sides were more ordinary, but served piping hot enough to make Neal pull a face that made me think he had touched cloth during a secret wind breaking session or was channelling John Shuttleworth.

It was the first food highlight of our trip and, although we enjoyed a pleasant enough supper that evening at a trendy small plates Italian place called Tavolata, it was the “Double Deluxe With Cheese” that stayed in my memory as we hit the hay early enough for our early start the next morning.

By 8am, we had collected our ludicrously large rental car and hit the road for our next destination. We had decided that we wanted a break between major cities before we arrived in Portland and headed towards our selected stopping off point of Newport, Oregon. The drive took us the best part of the day, with a few stops to go “ooh” and “aah” over the stunning scenery and a slightly pointless stop to visit the Tillamook Cheese Factory, where they make some of the nastiest cheese I have tasted in, well ever.

By the time we had deposited our cases in a brand spanking new Holiday Inn, that evening, our thoughts turned once more to filling our bellies. By sheer coincidence, it turned out that one of my favourite American craft breweries, Rogue Brewery, was situated a short walk from our hotel. They had, we were told, a small dining area and, less than five minutes after discovering this pertinent fact, we were propping up their bar taking long sips on the first of what would turn out to be several pints.

RANT BEGINS: I am not the biggest fan of American Craft beers, if I am honest. Much of the energy and obvious skill that goes into creating them seems to be dissipated by the determination to serve them in as cold and gassy a state as possible. The benefit of this is that you become self limiting, pushing the second or third pint away uncompleted as you begin to burp on an international level. The downside is that any taste the brewer may have carefully planned for their beer is lost in the chilling process as the beer becomes little more than coloured neutral liquid:RANT ENDS.

Anyway, Rogue Brewery was better than most and the food was not half bad either, a combination that set us up perfectly for a good night’s kip and our next morning’s short drive to our next destination.
Next stop, Portland, Oregon

Labels: , , , ,

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Newer›  ‹Older