Saturday, January 8, 2011
Any Portland in a storm
Urban camping in Portland, Ore., involves listening to the Freak Mountain Ramblers
“It reminds me of Oakland when they had that earthquake,” Ian said as we rolled into Portland, Ore. down the concrete highway under another layer of roadway above us.
“You know, when the layers collapsed on the cars ...” he continued.
“Thanks for that, honey,” Vicki muttered.
We never have been fond of Portland because our trips have simply been to get through that concrete jungle. But this time we were stopping to park outside the house of friends Peggy and Brian, who call Portland home but spend half their year on Pender Island.
When they said we could park in front of their duplex, they weren’t kidding. There we were, camping on the street, and parked right next to their idle fibreglass RV, a Scamp fifth wheel. When Vicki asked if we might have cops pounding on the door in the middle of the night, since we had sprawled an extension cord across the sidewalk to the house for power, they just laughed. Their Scamp has been sitting there for six months or more without a peep from anyone.
So we moved in, quite happily, for a thoroughly enjoyable weekend, despite the threatened deluge and high winds.
Friday night disappeared into a lovely meal at their dining table, followed by too many bottles of red wine.
Saturday was a pre-arranged visit with other fibreglass RVers, Kathie and Dave, whom we met at something called the Northern Oregon Gathering, where fibreglass people get together to compare notes on their mini-camping experiences. They knew we’d love going to Powell’s bookstore, a Portland institution.
This used bookstore covers a full city block and is five storeys high. The most difficult part of shopping here is trying to keep our purchases to less than a truckload. After all, it is a small trailer.
We returned to their home, coincidentally not too far from where we had set up camp, and sat down to a lovely meal with Donna, another of our little fibreglass family. We caught them up on our Friday lunch in Eugene, Ore. on the way through with four more fibreglass folk — Dennis, Charlene, Bob and Adonna.
With everyone, there was much time spent recapping highlights, and lowlights, of our voyage. But each and every one wanted to know the same thing. The question came in different forms, anything from a hint as to how we were doing after that much time together to the point-blank question, “Did you ever just want to get away from each other for a while?”
Not sure they believed our assurances that a small trailer, with the two of us in it, is just a fine place to be, all the time. Sure, we’ve worked out the logistics of Ian sitting in one corner while Vicki is cooking, or never opening the bathroom door to come out without asking if all is clear first.
And all were looking at their partner, wondering if they could do it.
We just keep assuring people you can find your own way to handle it. We can’t write a handbook detailing how it’s done because it depends on the individuals, and their individual relationships.
It was nice to spend some time with people who know us, and share our trailer experiences.
And Peggy and Brian proved they know us well when Sunday evening they suggested an outing to Laurelthirst Public House. It’s a small neighbourhood bar known for its music, and according to our hosts, its people watching. It’s rapidly become part of their weekend routine since they found it out a month or so ago.
Off we went to check out this Portland icon, since Sunday at 6 p.m. the Freak Mountain Ramblers take the stage. There’s no cover charge but a hat is passed, or more accurately an empty draft jug is floated around the room, above the dancers heads, not that there’s a dance floor.
The old hippies, joined by some youngsters thinking they were born in the wrong era, are out in force, with the four of us choosing our favourite dancers among them. Long grey hair was the coif of the moment, male or female, and dancers were moving just like we did in the ‘70s, each to his or her own spirit although there was no sign or smell of anything illegal being served up.
It was a dance-like-nobody-can-see-you, sing-like-nobody-can-hear-you kind of crowd, and old enough to appreciate the band’s set lasting from 6-8 p.m.
And man, was it fun!
Ian and Vicki naively thought that would be the end of Portland surprises but Peggy and Brian had one more up their sleeves. Off we went, not very far, to Kennedy School, as done over by the McMenamin brothers.
The school, built in 1915, was renovated the McMenamins and reopened in 1997. The idea is to carry on the school’s position as a hub in the neighbourhood but in a different way. It offers hotel accommodation, even though you’re sleeping in what was a classroom. You get standard hotel features such as king and queen beds, a phone and a private bathroom but you’ll also be looking at chalkboards and cloakrooms. Your overnight room rate, $125-$145, includes access to the on-site movie theatre and soaking pool.
Some of the classrooms, not to mention the gym, are enjoying a second life as restaurants or meeting, wedding and event space.
And Kennedy School in Portland isn’t the only location to have benefitted from the McMenamin touch. They operate a total of eight hotels in facilities ranging from a Edgefield, the former county poor farm in Troutdale, Ore.; Grand Lodge, a former Masonic and Eastern Star facility built in 1923 in Forest Grove, Ore., near the Tillamook State Forest; three buildings in Portland, another old school in Bend, plus the Olympic Club in Centralia, Wash.
We headed in to Boiler Room for some pizza, calzones and drinks. When we left, we were trying to convince Brian to start a company, hire us and have the annual Christmas party at Kennedy School, complete with a night’s accommodations.
And then we went home with our generous hosts to camp once more on their quiet street.