Monday, October 29, 2007
Those First Tentative Forays

Over the weekend, looking for something interesting to do, I took a trip to a massive Asian supermarket on the east side of town. This Asian grocery is so big they had a Mexican food aisle -- I swear to god.

Anyway, I found myself most captivated by the snack food aisle. If you want insight into a culture, check out what they eat when they don't feel like thinking about it much. Particularly I found myself hovering around the candy section -- not because it was in any way tempting or appetizing, but because it was singularly mysterious. At least half of the selection came packaged in plastic bags bearing only asian writing, the candy itself sealed insight opaque wrappers. The other half I doubt was actually candy at all. I've always been under the impression that most asian cultures don't really do sweets, and you can tell by looking at what they've decided counts as confectionery, that they haven't really mastered the art form yet.

I mean, dried shrimp isn't fucking candy. You can eat it if you want, but don't put it on the candy aisle, because it isn't. It's just not.

It gave me some really mean ideas for Halloween, though. To hell with Palmer's crap chocolate-flavored-paste in a foil wrapper printed with an eyeball -- that's not scary at all. You want to freak out a trick-or-treater? Toss 'em some squid balls, sesame cakes and crystallized ginger. I'd do it just to see their cute, chubby little faces look up at me, their little chins wobbling, their expressions silently asking me, "why?"

And then yesterday I went to the Hollywood Theater and was officially oriented as a volunteer. My plans go somewhat beyond the volunteer level, but I'll bide my time and slowly ingratiate myself before moving on to Phase II. The Hollywood, and it's umbrella organization, Film Action Oregon, are very much what the MeDiA Co-op in Memphis originally set out to be, except with funding and broad-based community support and stuff like that. It's amazing what people can accomplish when people actually give a shit.

But the guys there were incredibly friendly and welcoming, are obviously enthusiastic about what they're doing, and want to engage others. As much of a hipster enclave as Portland is always said to be, I haven't felt much of the territoriality that I usually get from the cool kids -- the great majority of the people I've met here have been completely open. Everybody here seems to be doing something that's important to them, and they really want to talk about it.

A month in, and I'm completely in love with this city. I do love and miss Memphis. But it's so astonishing to see people doing the kinds of things my friends in Memphis were trying to do, but being encouraged instead of ignored. I'm sure it's not always like that -- I'm sure Portland has plenty of failed bands, frustrated artists, and bitter former actors. But there's still an atmosphere of support -- that if you try something, and you don't completely suck, people will at least give you credit for the effort and encourage you to keep working. How refreshing is that?
7:37 PM ::
Amy :: permalink
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Thursday, October 25, 2007
Progress Report #2

This is where things get harder. It's been just shy of a month since I left Memphis (feels like five times that long), and I'm now stranded in that aching place between the ecstasy of escape and the reality of starting over in a new city. Today I submitted my resume to another nine temp agencies and put in applications for a couple of miserable jobs that I really don't want. Tomorrow I (finally) have a meeting with one agency for a crap job that I really, really should be able to get; if that fails, then I've got another couple of miserable jobs to apply for. And then I'll take the weekend off, because job search-wise, you can't accomplish jack squat on the weekends.

On the brighter side, on Sunday I'm taking the volunteer orientation class for a super-amazing local cinema, because I have a feeling I'm going to need something to keep my morale up.

Also, predictably, as soon as I'd given up on finding a place, a really good prospect turned up. It's a nice room in a nice house, with a nice (and sane) potential house-mate, in a part of town I really like, and within the budget I've outlined for myself. It would be a very lucky find. The catch, of course, is that the landlord is a realtor and will be demanding about my references -- and if you'll notice, I don't have a current employer (yet.) It won't be the end of the world if it all goes to shit -- I'm not letting myself get too attached to anything -- but it would be awfully cool if somehow this came together. We'll see.

Do you ever have the feeling that your senses have been dulled by life? Or maybe it's not the senses I mean... maybe it's my response to what my senses present that I find lacking. And I don't mean in a "nothing's any good anymore" way -- this isn't anything unusual or different, and that's the problem. But sometimes, for instance, I'll hear a piece of music and I'll think to myself, "this should be affecting me more than it is." I fail to be moved by moving things, and I wonder why that is. It's not a lack of emotional response, it's more like I simply fail to recognize some things for what they are. There's an intellectual/perceptual element to it.

Then again, maybe it's more a question of type than degree. I'm not a specifically auditory person, so maybe music isn't the most direct path to my limbic system. Since getting to Portland, I've been able to go out walking in a much more interesting environment that I generally could in Memphis, and I'm rediscovering some senses that I haven't used as much in recent years. Like smell, for example. I walk around Portland feeling surprised and interested in the way it smells. And yes, that sounds really gross, though it isn't really. One house might smell like incense, and another like curry, and another like wet leaves. Now and then -- often when there isn't anyone else visibly around -- I'll catch a whiff of what could only be pot. (It probably says a lot about my relative drug naievete that I always have to think about it for a second before I can identify it.) The point is, I haven't appreciably felt my sense of smell engaged with my surroundings since London. And while it brings some minor risks (have you ever caught something like cooking garlic on the breeze, savored the aroma, and then realized that it was actually a portable toilet? Stuff like that happens to me all the time,) I'm enjoying it a lot.

But I still worry that I miss a lot of what goes on around me. I'm good at catching visual things, less good at auditory things, and I often wonder whether things like television and a lot of the music I listen to have dulled my appreciation for life's more subtle beauties. It's an intangible sense of not quite fully experiencing the world around me.

What it probably really calls for is hallucinogens. But not while I'm still looking for a job.

Update: It looks like I'm about to get my first official temp assignment in Portland, so that's a small relief. I'll say more about it, I'm sure, once I've actually started -- not that there'll be much to say. For the record, incidentally, my measured, tested, scored office skillz = teh hawtness. My MS Word and Excel scores were perfect. Not good, perfect. And I type like a motherfucker. It's so nice to be appreciated, even if it's only for bullshit.
10:15 PM ::
Amy :: permalink
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Sunday, October 21, 2007
One More Before Bed

A few more notes about Portland, before I forget them:

There's a lot of rain in this city, a fact of which I was well aware and completely prepared to accept. What you don't hear about as much, though, is that with a lot of rain comes a lot of rainbows. I've been seeing them all the time since I got here -- in fact, one of the first things I saw on my way into town that first day, driving through the cascades just before sunset, was a huge rainbow to the west. And I know it sounds silly, but they always make me feel better.

Last night I was walking to the supermarket when a car pulled up right alongside and just past me. I hesistated; then the passenger door opened, a blonde woman in a backless red dress leaned out, and heaved her guts up. Several times. Noisily. And it was only 7:30.

They get to have roses and autumn leaves at the same time here.

As I write this, there's a homeless dude with a shopping cart wheeling beneath my window overlooking Division. He's ranting his ass off. I can't make out any of what he's saying.
11:57 PM ::
Amy :: permalink
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Progress Report #1

The stress of moving has finally caught up to me. Through all of that difficult trip, the initial confused wandering around town, the subsequent San Francisco trip, and right up through this week I've been fine, holding my own, staying optimistic, having faith that everything was going to be just fiiine. And I'm not saying I don't feel that way now.

But damn, I'm pretty tired.

I feel like sleeping all the time. I'm a little lethargic. I want to go out, meet people, do things, but this room is so safe and peaceful, and the street outside is still mostly unknown. I'm breaking out like crazy. I'm getting headaches. I wake up with stiff shoulders every morning, and my jaw's sore from grinding my teeth at night.

It's cool, though. I'm fine, everything's good -- it's just that moving is, you know, hard. I have two major objectives at present: 1) to find a reasonably stable source of income; and 2) to find a more permanent place to live. I've been working on both, but the past few days have seen heavy activity on the place-finding front -- and kids, it's not fucking pretty. It's still easier by far than it was in London or LA -- I can reasonably expect to live in almost any part of town I want, if I'm willing to put in the effort, and there are plenty of prospects on Craigslist on a daily basis. And I'm not going to go into detail, because nobody's really interested. But let's just say it's been... interesting.

So I think I'm going to put finding a new place aside for at least the next month, and focus on the income, which really needs to come first anyway. The place I'm in now costs a bit more than I really wanted to spend, but it's not outrageously expensive, I like the two housemates well enough, the room is comfortable, it's in a pretty good neighborhood, and I can stay on a month-to-month basis for a while. So I think now I should just make the best of a perfectly acceptable situation. I know, though, that if I stay through November, I'll almost certainly end up staying through December as well, and once I've gotten two or three months worth of comfortable, I'll be even less likely to budge.

But maybe this is just paying my dues. Hopefully in a few months I'll know a few more people, I'll know the city better, I'll know what my life is really going to be like and what I can afford, all that kind of stuff. And maybe by then I'll feel secure enough to weather the storm of Portland crazies with spare rooms.
8:33 PM ::
Amy :: permalink
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Saturday, October 20, 2007
And Marilyn and Joe Do, Too

Everybody say happy birthday to my mother because today's her birthday yaaaaaay!

Happy birthday, Mom. I love you and miss you.

9:50 AM ::
Amy :: permalink
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Thursday, October 18, 2007
A Few Initial Impressions Of Portland

I love Portland. No, seriously... I looooooove Portland.

So, I've been here for a couple of weeks now. It's probably time to get down some of my first thoughts about the place before they become corrupted by experience.

1) People are awfully polite here.

I don't know if I actually believe this -- it seems so... impossible -- but as yet I've seen very little evidence to the contrary. Checkers at the supermarket smile and chat to you, but they do it in a way that damn near passes for genuine interest. Drivers wave you across the street, or wave thanks when you let them into traffic. Passerby on the sidewalks nod and say hello as often as not. Even the bag lady who gave me the finger as I drove by did it with a huge grin on her face. I've yet to have anyone fail to hold a door for me. And the traffic -- I mean, I know there are assholes here, but I'm constantly astonished at the docility of Portland drivers. The average speed even on the freeway seems to hover around 50 mph, 25-30 on the city streets, and without much sense of impatience or aggression from other drivers. Everyone's just kind of getting on with it.

There has to be a fucking catch somewhere.

2) The roads are confusing, but they make perfect sense.

Portland is basically laid out on a grid, and almost all of the streets are two-lane, neighborhood streets. Even the major thoroughfares rarely extend beyond four narrow lanes, and are generally lined with trees, houses, and parked cars. The grid is frequently interrupted by strange little jogs off-course, and in some places they've gotten fancy with one-way couplets and roundabouts that sometimes throw me off. Downtown, as far as I can tell, is a maze of idiosyncratic diversions. But even so, I never seem to get lost. I can get from any Point A to any Point B without a map, as long as I know roughly where each point lies. Driving is inefficient, but satisfyingly vague and abstract. I just kind of wander from place to place, but somehow I always get there.

3) The food is really, really good.

I have yet to have a bad meal here. Even the stuff considered "mediocre" by locals is as good as the stuff considered "good" in Memphis. Now, obviously, I haven't had everything, and I'm sure there are bad meals to be had. But this is clearly a city that takes these things seriously, and is willing to back up words with culinary action. Just this afternoon I walked to the local supermarket (a regional chain that tends towards creative-yuppie snoot, but also acknowledges that Cap'n Crunch is delicious), and I took a chance on an apple. Apples are the ultimate test for me -- there are so many bad apples, and so few good ones. I love them above all other fruits, but having come to know what an apple is supposed to be, I just can't bring myself to eat another pallid, mealy industrially-grown apple. I've gotten used to disappointment and a lack of apples.

But this apple was nearly perfect -- sweet, but still a little acid, firm and crunchy, the kind that snaps cleanly when you bite into it and turns into a puddle of juice when you chew. Better still, this particular apple was grown within fifty miles of Portland; no New Zealand or Chilean importation required. And it was organic, but since so little transport was required to get it to the store, it wasn't particularly expensive. I honestly can't imagine what more you could ask from an apple.

And there are bakeries everywhere -- good ones, that bake good bread. There seems to be at least one in every neighborhood. And coffee shops, and patisseries, and Thai restaurants that serve more than pad thai, and even the junk food is more satisfying. And milk in glass bottles! And well-prepared salads! And these people must fucking love macaroni and cheese, because it's absolutely everywhere.

4) But the fashion is fucking awful.

The guys are merely affected -- lots of strange facial hair and silly hats wandering around town, but I don't have a problem with that. But the women... eegads. I've seen so many fashion spreads in the local newspapers of locally-designed clothes, stuff that doesn't even look good on the models, much less the girls on the street. The mode courant in Portland seems to require on of a thousand styles of unflattering gunny sacks paired with an absurd home-knit scarf and mukluks. I don't get it.

My first day in town, I went driving. My ipod was still dysfunctional, so I was left with the radio. And that first hour in the car, the radio played me no less than half a dozen songs that resonate with past periods in my life -- songs that called up strong feelings from old lives, songs I still associate with hopefulness and optimism. And all songs that I haven't heard in years. It was weird, but it made me happy. And just yesterday, walking up Division, I saw a poster tacked to a post that said, "All you have is now." That was it, no web address or anything, just that one pseudo-zen statement. But I thought about it and I decided, even if that's true, I'm really into now, I'm all over now. There are still tensions in my life -- I need a job, and I need a permanant place, and I need to meet more people in town -- but essentially, I'm absolutely fucking thrilled about now. I'm having one of those rare moments when there genuinely isn't anywhere I'd rather be. And no, I don't know how long it'll last, but it'll do for now.
5:04 PM ::
Amy :: permalink
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Monday, October 15, 2007
Warm, Golden Welcome

I'm home from San Francisco.

I'd intended to post once before I left, but it just didn't happen. And this won't be a very thorough post-trip write-up, because I'm fucking exhausted. But it's something.

I had a really good time. I easily doubled the number of wines I've tasted over my lifetime, had some excellent meals, saw some cool stuff, and got to hang out with my darling Smithers. San Francisco is easily one of the most beautiful cities I've ever seen -- I mean, the city itself is beautiful, as well as its setting. I went to City Lights Books and the Beat museum, I saw a bunch of Rodin bronzes, we went to Alcatraz, we rode the damn trolley, and we spent Saturday night in the Castro watching Hal Holbrook on the Hallmark Channel. (Yeah, I wasn't quite sure what to make of that, either.) I saw some very, very interesting people. It was a lovely trip.

But it confirmed for me this suspicion: I have absolutely no interest in living in San Francisco. It's nothing personal -- I loved it, I want to go back, and would even like to make it an annual routine. As far as I'm concerned, it's the only city in California worth bothering with. But the only San Francisco I'd want to live in -- the scruffy, gritty one where unemployed artists and poets can struggle with drug addictions and still maintain flats in North Beach -- is long gone. San Francisco now is shore-to-shore gentrification, "funky" in only the most sedate, domesticated sense of the word, and it just isn't worth the effort and expense to me anymore. Not when there are alternatives.

So I was glad to get home. The descent into Portland was perfect -- it was just at sunset, and the whole city was washed in gold. The sunlight was refracting through the clouds, making little rainbows everywhere. Once on the ground, everything was fantastically autumnal -- cool, breezy, big piles of yellow leaves everywhere. I took public transit home, dropped off my suitcase, ran out to get some dinner, and returned to the welcoming embrace of my room...

And the cat had peed on my bed.
11:16 PM ::
Amy :: permalink
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Sunday, October 07, 2007
Fuck Wyoming, or, How I Came To Portland

Sit down, children, and I shall tell you a story. Yes, it'll be pretty long -- and stop whining; if you think you're going to be bored reading it, just think how bored I'm going to be writing it. My apologies, in advance, to those of you who've already heard some of this. Now, are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.

So, let's start a bit before my actual departure, in the lead-up to the trip. I have a car, as you know, that's a bit old -- it's a '99 Ford Taurus with 150k miles, and it has a dodgy (but apparently completely correct) transmission, and it has suffered from a minor tendency to run hot, but no other major problems. Still, because it was older, and because I was going to be driving it a long, long way while towing a small trailer (which, incidentally, was theoretically well within the weight guidelines specified by both Uhaul and Ford, even fully loaded, which it wasn't), my mother and I thought it would be wise to have her looked over by a qualified mechanic before I undertook the journey. Upon collecting her at the garage post-checkup, the mechanic gave her the thumbs-up. Except that the next day I noticed that she was still making a squealing noise that she'd been making before we took her in and had the belts checked. So just prior to leaving, I took her back to the garage with a little sniffy impatience, and the mechanic replaced the alternator and some other small bits, and said, "okay, now she's really ready for the trip."

I should point out that I got this car from my mother, and I don't think either she nor I have ever really trusted it. She's had a lot of difficulty with trying to get the transmission repaired (which they can't do, I guess, since there's nothing technically wrong with it -- it's just a shit-tastic design flaw that makes it jerk and slip in first gear, and there's nothing Ford can do about that however much they charge us) but since my old Lumina was on its last wheels, I figured I'd be safer in the Taurus for a trip of this magnitude.

Anyway, the point is, upon starting off down our long gravel driveway in Mississippi, I believed we had taken all reasonable measures to ensure that I didn't end up stuck on the side of the road, soaked in hot antifreeze, waiting for a tow truck. (Note: that's what English majors refer to as "foreshadowing.")

I made it across Arkansas with no problems at all. It was a slow kind of drive -- I made most of the trip doing a stately 60 mph -- but everything was going smoothly and I was beginning to relax into it when I crossed into Oklahoma. I was slightly concerned about my timing since I'd agreed to meet Nelson (who goes by several names in the comments of this blog -- I'm sure you know whom I'm speaking of) and didn't want to leave him waiting any longer than necessary. I've known Nelson for a number of years now through various online fora and knew he was a good sort, so in spite of my mother's dire threats against his wellbeing should anything unpleasant happen, I was happy to drop by Tulsa on my way across the state for a quick hang-out session. The problem was, the car had begun to get hot -- I mean, really hot -- and I'd already had to stop once to let her cool down.

The weird thing is -- I know I can't verify this after the fact, but you'll just have to believe me, or not, I don't care -- in the days before I left Memphis I'd been waking up several times a night with the creeping anxieties. One night in particular I'd woken with a strong image in my mind of sitting on the side of the road with white smoke billowing out from under my hood. But I have images like that pretty frequently (mostly of car collisions, which started after my car accident back in '01), and I've learned to ignore them.

But this time, that was exactly what was happening. I was in a rest stop, the sweet chemical smell of boiling coolant filling the car, watching white smoke leak from under the hood of the Taurus. At that point, I started to really get anxious about the trip and how successful it was actually going to be. After 30 minutes or so, I got out, checked the coolant level, saw that it was miserably low (after I'd already topped it up that morning), and carefully refilled the reservoir. Then, cursing and begging the car under my breath, I set off again. I made it as far as the Muskogee turnpike.

I admit in advance that I could've handled all of this better, but you have to realize: 1) I don't know much about cars, though I know enough to not get myself badly hurt; 2) I was too far from home to get back, and beyond direct help, alone on the interstate with all my worldly possessions; and 3) I really, really didn't want this to be happening. I tried to keep myself calm there on the shoulder of the Muskogee turnpike, tried to relax and give the engine time to recover, and tried not to freak out. What I actually did, after another 20 minutes of cooling time, was to pull on a work glove (for protection, see), and start slowly releasing the cap on the coolant reservoir. That shit had been boiling, so there was a lot of pressure built up, and I knew I had to be very, very careful. So I gave it a slow turn, and then waited until the hissing steam stopped, then turned again, and waited again, and then thinking I was pretty close to having it open, I turned a bit farther than I should have.

I've only told a couple of other people this next bit, because it's sort of embarrassing. Basically, what happened next was that the cap shot ten feet straight up in the air with a loud bang, and the next thing I knew the sky was raining near-boiling antifreeze down upon me. I yelped and jumped away (too late if anything really bad had happened -- I know I was lucky), but I was already soaked in the shit. It was in my hair, it was all over my clothes. I even have a small mark on my right arm where a particularly soggy part of my sleeve held it against my skin a little too long and scorched me. When I was sure I'd escaped mostly unharmed, I took a look at the car and saw the huge pool of green antifreeze on the ground under the car.

And that's when I called AAA. And then I called my mom. And then I tried to call a couple of other people, and then I changed my shirt and sat and waited for the tow truck.

This all happened around 3:30 on a Thursday afternoon. By the time the tow truck showed up and got me hooked up, it was almost 4:15 and we were still 20 miles from Muskogee. On the way into town the tow truck driver was calling around, trying to find a garage that would take me so late in the day. The first two said no; the third one said okay. So I ended up at Scott's Repair on Main Street in Muskogee, Oklahoma. After a quick look, they told me it would either be bad, or really, really bad -- in either case, they wouldn't know for sure until the next morning, so I should get a room in town. They gave me a lift to the Royal Inn, I checked in for two nights, and then, in my room, I quietly freaked out.

The weird thing is, I actually felt worse about Nelson than I did about my car. I knew he was probably still waiting, wondering why I hadn't shown up, and I didn't have any way to contact him directly to let him know. I'd also foolishly left my cell phone charger in the car, so I was reluctant to use it too much lest I not be able to use it at all. I showered, washed all the antifreeze out of my hair, changed clothes again, and went for dinner at the Pawnee Restaurant next door. The food there was exactly the like food in your junior-high cafeteria, except the portions were bigger -- frozen, formed patties of chicken fried steak, instant gravy, instant mashed potatoes, canned veggies, frozen pie. I knew that if I peeked back into the kitchen, I'd see nothing but lowest-grade Sysco products in the back. That is to say, it was absolutely terrible, but it was dirt cheap, and I wasn't really tasting it anyway so it didn't matter. The rest of the evening passed by way of phone calls and poor TV reception, though I did finally manage to connect with Nelson and apologize for standing him up.

The next morning I got word from the garage that I had avoided the automotive worst-case scenario -- the fix would be expensive (and endless gratitude to my mother for picking up the tab so I could be on my way), but it the car was repairable, and I could get it back that afternoon. Nelson actually drove all the way down from Tulsa to visit with me, and feeling much relieved, I went out to explore the wonders of Muskogee with him for the day. Whatever he tells you about what happened is a vicious lie -- we went to a little native American museum, we looked at roses, and we ate burgers. He turned out to be a lovely guy, and I'm genuinely thankful to him for coming all that way to hang out and help me keep my mind off of things. I've rarely seen someone I didn't actually know first-hand go to such lengths to be a friend to me. So thanks for that, Nelson.

When the lady from the garage came to pick me up that evening, I found out how fortunate I actually was. Among other things, the repair to my car had required a specific part (don't ask me what it was, I'm not sure), and it was a part that the garage would never normally have had available. Nor, they said, would any garage in Muskogee normally have had one -- it just wasn't the kind of part a shop keeps around. However, some months previously a woman had brought the same model of car into the garage for work that happened to require exactly this part, and then decided that she'd rather have a new car instead, and had simply handed over the title as payment for the work they'd already done. The garage then bought the part anyway, intending to fix the car and sell it. Except then a man came and bought the car, but wanted to make the repair himself, leaving the garage with only the part and no car to put it on, and that was the only reason they had that part sitting on their shelf that day. It sort of beggars belief, doesn't it? If that chain of events hadn't unfolded just that way months previously, and if I'd broken down anywhere else along the way, and if I'd been taken in by one of the other garages the day before, there was a very real chance that I'd have been stranded in Muskogee into the next week, waiting for a part to arrive. As it was, the scary-looking but very sweet-natured mechanic at the garage worked his ass off all day long to get my car working again, and I was almost miraculously back on the road as of Saturday morning. Before he let me go, the mechanic told me that if he'd been the one to check my car before that trip, it would never have left the garage in the state it was in -- he said that the entire cooling system was a mess, and there were too many obvious signs that all was not well. So there's a lesson in there somewhere about the damage a lazy mechanic can inflict.

I drove for sixteen hours that day, and managed to make it from Muskogee to Boulder, CO by 11 PM. Kansas was blissfully uneventful, although my iPod died that evening (you know all that music and listening material y'all suggested before the trip? I barely got to listen to any of it, and the whole rest of the trip was made in solemn silence.) My friend Randy gave me refuge that night, and we spent Sunday wandering around Boulder. It was a much-needed break from what had become a very stressful trip. We walked around Boulder, had a good lunch, then hiked to the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain (I was absolutely pathetic, stopping every fifty feet to gasp for breath in the oxygen-thin atmosphere), and then had dinner at a game restaurant where I had a nice bit of wild boar. So again, thanks to Randy for taking me in and giving me a chance to take a break for a day.

The next day, Monday, was the worst of the whole trip. Nothing went wrong as such; but every single mile was a struggle, and I made pitiful little progress over a long, difficult day. I made it from Colorado to Wyoming with no problem, and made it as far as Cheyenne before things turned ugly. But heading west towards Laramie, I was suddenly confronted with what turned out to be 60+ miles of straight incline up the side of the continental divide; and that was further complicated by a cold front coming in over the Rockies, blowing down my side of the mountain at 70 mph. So there I was, in a crappy, overheating-prone car, dragging a trailer up one side of the Rockies into a headwind that could've qualified as a class I hurricane. It was, shall we say, a rough day. Since I was now hyper-vigilant and wary of overheating again, whenever my engine temperature began to creep up towards the red, I would pull over and wait 15 or 20 minutes for her to cool back down. The problem was, under the circumstances, she could only go 5-6 miles at a time, usually at 30-35 mph, before she'd start to heat up again. So it was ten minutes forward, followed by twenty minutes stopped on the side of the road, then ten more minutes forward, and another twenty stopped, and ten forward, twenty stopped, all the way from Cheyenne to Laramie and beyond. I drove about 170 miles in twelve hours -- if you're keeping score, that's an average of a little under 15 mph. In Rawlins, WY, I gave up for the night and got a room, genuinely wondering if I was going to make it to Portland at all.

And while we're on the subject, I want to say a few things about Wyoming. Before making this trip, I was happy to see how many new states I'd be passing through, and I was strangely happy about going through Wyoming -- I actually chose the northern route across the Rockies rather than the Colorado route, in part because I wanted to work in one more new state. Having now done that, let me say this: I've seen Wyoming now, and I don't ever need to see it again. It is a vast, vile, empty shithole. As I drove, I was reminded that one of the more noxious Republicans was from Wyoming, but I couldn't quite remember who. I kept thinking that perhaps it was John McCain, but I knew he was from Arizona. Then I remembered: Dick Cheney is a product of Wyoming, and that explains a lot. Wyoming is exactly like Dick Cheney's hollow, dead heart -- it's an endless wasteland devoid of warmth or joy, filled only with brown scrub, howling wind, and pursed-lipped, prune-faced women. New Jersey used to be my most hated state; now it's Wyoming. When I die and go to hell, I know it will look exactly like Wyoming.

Clear on that? Good.

The next day, things turned better -- just past Rawlins there was a sign marking the continental divide, and from there everything became much more downhill. Having made it across the last of that barren fucking steppe, Utah was like divine salvation -- I can see why the Mormons got so excited about the place when they got there. The drive from Evanston, WY to Ogden was absolutely magnificent, easily one of the best drives I've ever taken. It was shockingly beautiful -- obscenely beautiful, like nature flashing her tits at you -- and so smooth and downhill that over the entire 80 miles I only burned off an eighth of a tank of gas. I made it to Twin Falls, ID that night, back on track (if two days late.)

And the final day went mostly smoothly, up past Boise and into Oregon, a bit hilly but not enough so to cause any problems. The trip over the Blue Mountains was alternately amazing and a bit boring, and then I finally hit the Columbia River. That's an amazing stretch of highway, even if it wasn't exactly what I expected -- it was much bigger, much more dramatic than I'd imagined. It was all steep mountain on one side and wide river on the other, and the farther west I traveled the more the landscape was overtaken by fir trees. The last bit was a little hairy -- the sun had gone down and it had begun to rain in earnest, and the light from my headlamps seemed to be sucked into oblivion by the damp darkness. I spent the last hour of the trip fighting through the pull and spray of semi trucks, trying to keep my car between the lines on the highway, feeling my way down the road towards the muddy glow of Portland.

And then, rather suddenly, I was here. I'll tell you all about Portland another day, though you may have some waiting to do. Tomorrow my darling Smithers arrives in town, and after a few days wandering around Portland together, I'll be in San Francisco with him until the 15th. How amazingly sweet of him to take me along, eh? And what amazing friends I've got! So many people went so enormously out of their way to help me cover the 2, 435 miles from my mother's driveway in Mississippi to Portland, and I'm hugely grateful to all of them for their help and support. Suffice to say for the moment that I think this was exactly the right thing to do, and after my initial few days in town, I think Portland, at last, might become something a bit like "home." It's been a little strange at moments, but I'm ecstatically happy to be here and I love everything I see.

Anyway, more on that later. The lessons you should take away from the story are these: 1) bad mechanics can fuck your shit up; 2) friends can undo a lot of the damange; and 3) Fuck Wyoming.
2:57 PM ::
Amy :: permalink
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Thursday, October 04, 2007
Fuck Wyoming - The Preview

So, I'm finally in Portland. It was a very, very rough trip with many difficulties (though not also without some highlights), and I'm two days late getting here, but I'm here, I'm safe, the car is still more or less intact, my stuff is still intact, and I think now I pretty much have to make a go of this because I don't think I can get back to Memphis the way I came.

But it'll be a few days yet before I can sit down and tell you the whole story. It's a long story to tell and it'll take a while to write, so you'll just have to be patient. But I'm here. It's exactly what I was hoping for, and exactly what I thought it would be except strangely not at all like I expected. But I'm ready to fall in love with Portland.

I'll write more soon, I promise.

PS: For the sake of following up: Buddy from work, whom I wrote about here, died on Monday. So that was about seven or eight weeks from diagnosis to death. Poor Buddy... and poor Buddy's family.
12:33 PM ::
Amy :: permalink
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