ROAD TRIP USA 2011: ARE WE NOT MIDDLE AGED MEN?
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.