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Gas, Füd, Lodging
Judge Vardigan

Summer 2002
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Oregon

Last gas, last füd, last lodging. Last state. After three summer weeks in Michigan, Chicago, and other Midwest places, I wound up with the hottest weather -- 100 degrees -- in the Pacific Northwest. But 100 degrees in those parts comes without the humid swelter, so it's just straight hot. And that's easy.

OysterPortland's easy too. Easy driving, easy walking, easy eating. My first stop was Montage, a Cajun type of place under an overpass. (Thanks to Portland veteran Chris Baty for the tip!) You're supposed to get oyster shooters here, that's what everyone says, so I got one. That's it over there in the photo, in my hand. It was okay. It made me a little squeamish. What I liked better was my entrée, a jazzed up macaroni and cheese (jalapenos, chicken, tomatoes) that reminded me a bit of Emmy's Spaghetti Shack here in San Francisco. Montage serves Mickey's malt liquor -- that reminded me even more of Emmy's. We went instead with ice-cold northwestern Rainier beer -- just right for the hundred degrees.

 

Paradox Palace Café
3439 SE Belmont Street
Portland, OR
Map this restaurant

Last StoolParadox Palace Café is close to the idea of Portland I had in my head, as is SE Belmont, the street it's on. Elliott Smith ("either/or," for the record) whispered out over the booths, managing not to sound like what you'd hear in a Portland-themed coffee shop in some other city. It fit, effortlessly. The clientele was a mix of hipster and hippie. About 80/20 for the hipsters. The kid next to me asked if the coffee was vegan. "Depends on what you dump in it," he was told. I sat on my stool at the low counter and ate a fruit cup followed by a couple cups of non-vegan coffee, which was great, like all the coffee I had in Portland. I wondered if this would be my last seat on a stool this trip (it was). To immortalize it, I snapped the picture you see here, and frowned into my coffee cup.

Eric and LisaThe next day, after a Mount Hood hike with my host and longtime homey Eric and his soon-to-be-wife Lisa (pictured), I had San Francisco, my cat Lou Whitaker, and my own bed in my head, and they would not get out. I would barrel through straight on a drive requiring untold cups of coffee.

This was at the time of the big Oregon fires. It hadn't rained in I don't know how long, and again it was 100 degrees. I wasn't terribly close to the fire, but it still made a sick brown early sundown from 20 miles away, and when I pulled off in tiny Wolf Creek it felt like the last town left, anywhere. All it had was a gas station (ominously surrounded by police cars)…and this miraculous espresso trailer. There was no regular coffee but the woman brewed a new pot just for me. While it dripped we talked about the fire, she having just come from volunteer-fighting it. As we talked she made a woman and her daughter two drinks that were the spitting image of Frappucinos.

Espresso TrailerFrom there it was a blur of a coffee-addled drive into California where I declared my last banana at the produce police stop and pointed the car for SFO and the AVIS rental drop.

I left the car in a massive, empty parking structure at 4 in the morning. Goodbye to the white Chevy Malibu -- who's driving it now, and where? So long to the stoplights and atlas. Farewell to Frank and Matt and Steve and their great diners, but hello to the new eaters sliding onto stools right now, calling for coffee and menus after their long drives.

Judge Vardigan

 

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