Monday, July 8, 2013

TREATS AMONG THE GRUNGE

The last time I stayed in Portland, I had two sleepless nights since the hotel was right across the street from a gay bar. No, I did not suddenly hook up. That would just be awkward for a prude like me. Instead, I laid awake listening to the pulsating club beat and then the drunken shouting that passes for a conversation in the middle of the street after last call. As nice as my boutique dorm room was at the Ace Hotel, I swore I’d never stay there again.

Instead, I chose the historic Benson Hotel, which turns out to only be a few blocks from my previous accommodation. It’s still part of the Grunge District, out-grunging similar areas of Vancouver and Seattle. After settling in, my dog and I set off for a self-guided walking tour—with no guidance whatsoever other than a map littered with advertised establishment logos. All the ads seemed so anti-grunge.

We walked by a block of food trucks and, although my dog would have settled for any of them, nothing satisfied my picky vegetarian tastes. We moseyed onward to a vegan restaurant, recommended by the hotel concierge. A very nice woman whose body was completely covered in tattoos—remember when tattoos meant DANGER? (Or was that just me?)—offered to hold my dog while I stepped in to order. As I retrieved my dog and waited for my carrot beet apple ginger juice (“The Rising”, of course), the tattooed woman ran to fend off her car from two drunk men who were insistent on breaking in, even with her present along with a cluster of outraged citizens. (I was clueless, positively un-civic, mistaking the yelling for some early partiers leaving a certain nearby club.)

The dog and I zigzagged along sidewalks, working our way to the water. We encountered many friendly homeless folks and a few drug users caught up in their own escapist state of mind. (No judgment. At a certain low point, I can see how escape would feel like the best option.) Each corner I turned led to something seedier. It got to the point where I stopped letting my dog sniff pee spots since I couldn’t be sure if the scent was canine or human-derived. The distinct stench nostalgically reminded me of Santa Monica paring garages back when I lived in Southern California.

An oasis appeared! I lucked upon a Ben & Jerry’s and allowed myself a double scoop waffle cone (Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz and White Russian!). I can’t get either flavor in Vancouver. It’ll take some intense workouts to work that off, but one must indulge every now and then. It is my vacation, after all. (There. Suitably rationalized.)

I walked along the river, crossing on an old train bridge, now a pedestrian/cyclist pathway. Graffiti artists competed with one another to tag the posted signs, so much so that I could not discern any part of the original message (“Danger. Bridge Subject to Collapse”?!) On the way back, I passed a naval ship from California, moored at river’s edge with sailors looking utterly bored as they sat in lawn chairs, smoked cigs and stared back at passersby. The men acted like zoo animals with attitude.

Next to a congregation of early street campers with heavily marked up arms, I came across a large line of people for what I presumed was the night club du jour; instead, the patient folks awaited a doughnut fix, the street marked off with the temporary rows one might navigate to go on Pirates of the Caribbean. Doughnuts? How ridiculous! It was an easy judgment, being as I’d already filled up on ice cream, a far better cause for treadmill penance.

Come morning, I trod familiar ground, fueling up at Stumptown Coffee and, yes, “accidentally” happening upon Voodoo Doughnuts and finding my way in the line, something I could justify as it was only half as long as the night before. (Besides, the bathroom mirror at The Benson was the most forgiving I have encountered in months. (Forget towels and mini shampoo bottles. I wanted to smuggle the full length mirror (and lighting) in my carry-on bag.)

I asked for the two most popular vegan doughnuts. I know, Dear Reader, that must seem like a paradox, mixing “popular” and “vegan” in the same sentence, but they don’t raise an eyebrow in Portland. This is the No Judgment Zone for all walks of life. Were the doughnuts worth the wait...and the weight? Probably not. I’m not exactly a doughnut connoisseur. As I tourist, I dutifully seek out lines and get sucked in by the hype. I’d say that most people would have oohed and aahed over the peanut butter chocolate doughnut. I preferred the drier, more subtle other one until the candied gobs slapped atop the icing became overpowering nuked my tastebuds.

And what of the Ace Hotel, that unfortunate lodging that came with complimentary, albeit ineffective, earplugs? Still in business. The gay club across the street two years ago has shut down, replaced by a ramen noodle house and an under-renovation space that looks to house future trendy shops. My timing was all off. Or I needed to support the gay business with a few dances, drinks and one of those forgettable hookups. Yes, it’s all my fault the gay bar closed.

Driving away from Portland, I began to pay for my sins. Yes, that sugar coma feeling overpowered the last-minute caffeine surge I imbibed at a café called Public Domain. This after I had repeatedly brushed my teeth in the hotel room in a frantic moment of regret reminiscent of Lady Macbeth. Out, damned sugar! Out, I say! And as if to rub more sweetener in the wound, the oldies station on my car radio played a perfect piece of pop confection: The Archies’ “Sugar,Sugar”.
Sweet memories, indeed.

2 comments:

Rick Modien said...

Dude, amazing. How do you write like this?
Have a safe trip. I can't wait to read about your experiences in SoCal.

Rural Gay said...

Hey Rick. Thanks for reading!

I feel so much more relaxed when I am away. I hope it seeps into my writing.

The adventure continues...as soon as I can get my sand-covered schnauzer off a too comfy hotel bed.