I have intentionally left out some juicy bits in the blog thus far. However if I used the same discretion in my Portland blog it would not do this city and my time here justice. There, now you’ve been warned…
Portland, Oregon is a city of epic proportions, a city pumped full of fun, a city with an air of generosity and genuineness. My brief stay in Portland with friends Kristi and Zack quickly morphed into an extended stay. Kristi and Zack have been the most generous hosts and have shown me tasty food joints, fun community happenings, beautiful hikes and scenic views, and playful, peculiar and even promiscuous evening activities. I’ll start with that last one.
On my first night in Portland Kristi took me to a vegan strip club. Zack made the lame decision not to join. We did however have male accompaniment. We spotted Roy near his window on the second tier of the house as we crossed the driveway towards Kristi’s car. We asked him if he wanted to join us and after approximately ten seconds of contemplation he was in. None of us had ever been to any type of strip club before and we all were a tad nervous about it. We assessed our cash situation and shared in a giggle outside the front door of Casa Diablo before we headed in. Enter stage right. There was a dancer on stage naked, except for a neck-tied bandana and a g-string. We passed through the entrance, past the stage which was centered in the room with poles at either end and made our way quickly to the bar. I stole a few glances back at the stage as we sat at the bar and ordered our drinks – I wasn’t imagining it, we were definitely at a strip club. Our topless bartender casually poured local brews from the tap and delivered them to us in exchange for cash. To no surprise we received our change in one dollar bills.
I carefully and thoughtfully surveyed the scene. There were mostly men, a few straight couples and a handful of lesbians. People were scattered around the stage, mostly clustered around the poles at either end of the stage and then seated towards the back at tables that were dimly lit. With drinks in hand we approached the stage. I suggested that we sit in the middle of the stage between the two poles where the dance floor narrowed. To my estimation the lack of poles and sufficient floor space meant that the strippers wouldn’t pay us much attention. I was right for the most part. A dancer was in the middle of her performance. There was money on the stage. When the music stopped, the dancer collected the money and her clothes and left the stage. After her performance the DJ (yes, there was a DJ) announced that everyone sitting at the stage should leave a dollar per dance. We were starting to understand the etiquette.
We fished through our wallets while the next performer prepared to step up onto the stage. Then the most unlikely song came through the speakers, “Hotel California” by the Eagles. I unfortunately will never be able to think of that song in the same way. The girl took who mounted the stage wore tattered scraps of clothing and was the only girl who did not wear black knee-high leather boots with five-inch heels, she danced bear-foot. Her most impressive move was a dash in between poles, where she would then grasp the pole with both hands, swing around several times and then run back towards the other pole. When she approached the three of us she immediately took a liking for Roy. I was enormously glad that we had a guy with us because I wanted to receive no such attention. She attempted to crawl across me and towards Kristi and in the process knocked over my cup of beer. Kristi instinctively took back one of the dollar bills we left on the stage for her.
For the most part I was uncomfortable yet was amused by the novelty. I tried hard to control my nervous giggle. Another song choice “Drops of Jupiter” by Train produced a little chuckle. I dutifully put my one-dollar bills on the stage at the start of each song, yet pushed all my money in front of Roy, who was happy to receive the attention. We ran out of cash at the exact moment the dancers circled back around to the top of the lineup and the girl with the neck-tied bandana reappeared on stage. With that we were gone. We tried to place the ‘vegan’ categorization of the strip club, but couldn’t. Perhaps if we had asked for the food menu we would have come away with a better appreciation for their slogan “the only meat is on the pole.”
I awoke with the sobering awareness that I had indeed gone to a strip club the night before and I wondered what else was in store for me during my stay in Portland. That afternoon I accompanied Kristi and Zack’s roommate, Aaron to the downtown REI store where he worked. I picked up a few MREs, a keychain compass and a pack of beef jerky and left my purchase with Aaron while I took off on foot to explore the downtown area. I walked around the Pearl neighborhood passing by cute restaurants, boutiques, small grassy parks and numerous buildings that were questionably commercial. I used the trusty Google Maps application on my phone to steer me in the direction home. It encouraged me to cross a couple of bridges that were not pedestrian accessible, so I had to improvise. Downtown walking was easy – a grid system with pedestrian walk signals. Outside the downtown area not so easy – I crossed a few highways in ‘frogger’ fashion and was pleased when cars actually came to a full stop for me.
I returned to the house, met up with Zack and a few of his friends and we drove to a community-wide art fair called “Last Thursday.” There were artists everywhere. When Zack and I stopped into a Mexican restaurant for mediocre burritos there was even a couple of musicians near the counter playing their guitars and singing songs in Spanish. The street was decorated with colorful booths showcasing an eclectic variety of goods for sale. Zack bought a couple of necklaces with very large medallions, which he referred to as ‘hippy bling’ from a very talented young Mexican artist. I even bought a print that I found particularly striking from another artist. I was stopped by one vendor who gave me a free sanitary pad. The people at the street fair were equally as eclectic as the art. Zack and I accidentally parted ways at an African drum circle that I stopped to take in. When we attempted to meet back up I scanned the crowd near where he said he would be and completely missed his waving hand of recognition. I mention this because on any other street I would have no trouble picking Zack out of a crowd. He is a skinny white guy with trim facial hair and partial dreads and on this day wore a thick cloth headband, a dusty colored t-shirt, jeans and had brown satchel strung across his back. It was refreshing to be around so many genuine people.
(Zack at Last Thursday)
Kristi came on the scene in time to pick us up and bring us to Darcell XV’s for a spectacular drag show. Darcell was a 70-something year-old drag queen with jolting eye makeup. She told a battery of one-liners that people hesitantly laughed at, not because the jokes weren’t funny but because it was difficult to decipher what she was saying through all her mumbles. For her age though she did a fabulous job and so did her entourage of drag queens. The crowd was mostly women. Present were two bachelorette parties and a dear older lesbian couple that was celebrating a birthday. At the conclusion of the show we wasted no time in moving on to our next exciting stop, the Alibi Tiki Lounge. Here we sang a few karaoke songs each. For the first time ever I used an alternative stage name: Day-zee, which is apparently my ‘west coast’ name [it’s best not to ask.] Under this new guise I sang some Stevie Wonder and Outkast. Kristi and I did a tribute to Michael Jackson, her singing “Heal the World” and me signing it. Our KJ was inspired and followed that song with “Man in the Mirror.” We moved onto another karaoke bar where Kristi continued the MJ tribute and sang “Remember the Time.” Zack and Ali sang “Time Warp” and I busted out “Let’s Talk about Sex.” Overall it was a calm karaoke night, yet very satisfying.
(you should have seen what these drag queens had underneath those dresses!)
We returned to the house and slid into hot tub. Not before long Kristi disappeared into the house and came back with a hoola hoop. This was not any ordinary hoola hoop though, there were large nubs sticking out of the exterior of the hoop, evenly spaced along the circumference. Kristi dipped each of the nubs, which were Kevlar wicks, into a canister of white gas. She gave the hoop a few twirls around her hip, shaking off the excess gas and asked Zack for a light. Zack was already out of the hot tub and carefully raised a lighter to each of the wicks setting each aflame. Kristi stepped back from the hot tub and turned the wooden deck into a stage, carefully swirling the fire hoop around her hips, legs, torso and neck. It was mesmerizing to watch the fire circle around her body.
When the wicks ran out of gas she returned to the canister and this time Zack was dipping his own contraption in the gas. Zack lit Kristi’s hoop on fire again and then lifted the two wicks on his contraption to her hoop to catch fire. Zack spun the fire poi – two long chains with wicks at the end. He looped the balls of fire around in circular patterns in front of his body, behind his back and above his head. The combination of their two performances was stunning. Roy, who had joined us in the hot tub on our return from karaoke asked to spin the poi. Then a new contraption entered into the fire dancing – the fire fan. Roy whipped around the fan, Kristi twirled the hoola hoop and Zack spun the poi and all the while I basked in the warm bubbles of the hot tub, fully enjoying my late night entertainment…
The next morning came sooner than expected. After brunch Kristi left for a weekend Che Kung retreat, the other roommates left for a weekend backpacking adventure and I took off to get my car serviced. My Jelly Bean is still running as smooth as ever, even after the 8,000 miles I’ve put on her in the last couple of months. I’ll need new front brake pads and a flush after the next 3,000 miles; and come to think of it I’m not quite sure where I’ll be after the next 3,000 miles – maybe Colorado, maybe Utah or maybe I’ll make it all the way back to Phoenix. The guy at the service counter noticed the cowboy hat in the back seat of my car and asked why so many people from Massachusetts wore cowboy hats. I told him it was my “road trip” hat and then tried to make some sense of the why people in Boston wore cowboy hats; I forget now what I said. He lit up when I told him about the road trip and we spent a good half an hour talking about places to visit in Oregon and Washington. I love when I meet people like this on my road trip.
The afternoon was lazy. Zack climbed into a hammock suspended by tree limbs that was nearly eight feet off the ground. He explained where his emergency medical card was before he attempted this feat. I chose the hammock near the fence that hung a normal distance from the ground. A dog on the opposing side of the fence barked viciously at my mere presence in the hammock and so my stay there was limited. I took advantage of the spacious wooden deck that had previously been a stage for fire spinning and rolled out my purple yoga mat for a long satisfying practice. It eventually turned into night and Zack cooked a delicious dinner for the two of us that featured cilantro sprinkled Halibut on a bed of beets, zucchini, potato and hazelnuts. Good food was soon followed by good dancing at the Good Foot.
(Zack in the hammock)
Dancing at the Good Foot was comparable to the ‘Sand Storm’ dance party at Kristin and Mo’s wedding reception, the random hip-hop shake downs in the kitchen at my old Mission Hill apartment and that Halloween dance party when Liz and I wore full-body spandex suits, dressed as Thing 1 and Thing 2. On this Friday night the DJ was playing old funk and soul interlaced with several Michael Jackson songs. Zack, Roy and I took to the dance floor after enjoying yet another round of really tasty micro-brew. We danced and we danced and we danced and so did everyone else. I have never been to a venue that was more about dancing. The scene was not particularly gay or straight, not too alternative or too preppy, not many obvious couple or obvious singles; there wasn’t even a group of sketchy men lining the exterior of the dance floor. The intermittent MJ songs were greeted with shouts of delight. It was a wonderful way to pay tribute to an artist who shared so much beautiful music with the world in the peak of his existence. So we danced and I could think of nowhere else I’d rather be.
I branched out the next day and went off on my own to explore some more. I stopped by a local farmer’s market on the PSU campus and purchased a vanilla honey latte, cheese croissant and pint of raspberries. On my drive out to Mt Hood I munched on the berries and croissant and rather enjoyed filling the pastry with the berries and eating it like a sandwich. I drove to Timberline Lodge, and walked on trails alongside skiers, snowboarders and their dogs. Initially I was pleased I had my hiking sandals on, noting that my hiking shoes would have gotten soaked from all the snow. My toes froze quickly however. I looked upwards to the continuation of the trail and tried to figure in my head how many times I would slip and fall on my ass coming back down. I cut my losses and moved on. Next I drove to the gorges along the Columbia River and got out of the car to enjoy a five-mile hike alongside Eagle Creek. Afterwards I met up with Zack who had just finished volunteering on the east side of Mt Hood. We met at Multnomah Falls, which was one of the most beautiful waterfalls I had ever seen, yet the hoards of other tourists enjoying the same view somehow made the experience less special. The evening concluded with spicy Thai noodles, Jasmine flavored shisha, a double shot of espresso, few bites of chocolate cake and riveting conversation.
My fifth and last day in Portland had been built up since my arrival. That evening, after Kristi’s return we all went to Striperoke. Striperoke is exactly what you think it is: strippers dancing to karaoke singing. The door to the club was wide open when we arrived and in the distance we could make out the performers in the distance. We had our IDs checked by a man whose head and visible arms were covered in tattoos, ordered drinks from a seemingly normal male (clothed) bartender and found our way to a booth a few yards away from the stage. The place wasn’t particularly seedy. Because of our strip club outing just a few days ago there was no shock or nervous giggles. It also helped that these strippers were comical and had the good sense to keep on at least a few articles of clothing. One stripper at a time and one karaoke singer at a time would take to the same stage. Whatever you sing is what the stripper dances to. Kristi and I tried to come up with songs that we could sing that would be really hard to dance to; we added our slips to the line-up. I was called up on stage first. I stood there in my brand new high-wasted khaki shorts, an aqua blue tank top which was tightly tucked in to right underneath my boob and a matching blue boa that Kristi happened to have. Berlin, the stripper came up to me and said “You’re Big Al?” I laughed. I normally get that reaction from the KJ when I go to retrieve the microphone before my song. I sang “Chantilly Lace” by the Big Bopper, which I believe was a popular song in 1957. Here’s the Big Bopper himself singing the song, just in case you were wondering… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4b-by5e4saI
I could think of no better scenario to be wearing high-wasted shorts and singing oldies than on a stripper stage. Berlin rocked it out though. She was also on stage for Kristi’s performance of “Shout.” Kristi’s song choice really stumped Berlin and although she joined Kristi in slowly crouching down to the lyrics “a little bit softer now” she didn’t have much a clue for how to dance along; it was really funny to watch. Towards the end of the night I anticipated Zack and Kristi’s duet to Du Haust. It is a classic duet performance complete with dead pan expressions, sun glasses and arms folded across the chest. Unfortunately their karaoke card was trumped by a heavy-set metal guy with long brown hair whose performance of the song was good, but not nearly as entertaining as the duet would have been. I was anxious to see how the stripper would react to the song. After all this was the song I did an interpretive dance challenge to the Halloween I dressed in full-body spandex where I injured myself by doing a leap across the floor and landing in an unexpected split. The stripper didn’t really change her dancing style for the song she just adjusted to the beat. For that matter none of the strippers really embraced the interpretive dance quality of each song. One exception though was when this one guy sang “Thriller” the stripper actually did a few MJ moves like the crotch grab and the moonwalk – impressive.
I am supposed to leave Portland today, but have decided on one more day in this fabulous city. When I finally do make my departure I will surely miss Kristi and Zack, the wonderful people I met and the irreplaceable memories.
(Zack, Kristi and I at the food carts getting dinner before Striperoke)