Going Coastal
July 3rd, 2011

Recently my wife and I drove to Portland, Oregon, where it rains all the time. But people there don’t complain about the constant rain. Instead, they’ve adapted. They’ve learned to live with it. You might even say they’re amphibious.

My first mistake was not packing some audiotapes, because the only radio stations you can pick up in southern Idaho are all religious stations. They come in so clearly, I kept looking in the rear-view mirror, wondering if a flatbed truck hauling a transmitter was riding my bumper. Evidently growing famous potatoes isn’t enough; unless you are “saved” you and your tractor are on the furrow to perdition.

Eastern Oregon isn’t much different. You’re still in the rain shadow of the Cascades, and still subject to eternal damnation if you don’t give up your wicked ways and mail in a contribution to advance the radio ministry of Reverend Know-It-All.

By and by pastureland gave way to forest and the cloud ceiling lowered until there was no longer any space separating heaven from Earth. Between windshield washer swipes I caught fleeting glimpses of the passing landscape: verdant stands of pine and fir, basaltic cliffs, big rivers and big lakes as well as many little lakes—recently formed bodies of water so numerous that Oregonians are evidently hard-pressed to come up with colorful names for them.


Thanks to a swollen prostate gland and the Pathfinder’s unquenchable thirst for gasoline, we stopped often. In Baker City, I learned there is no such thing in Oregon as a self-service gas pump. Soon as you pull up, an attendant appears. He or she will ask how you intend to pay, and which grade of gasoline you prefer. The attendant inserts the nozzle and switches on the pump, then disappears and only returns after your tank is filled, to remove the nozzle. It’s not the same as full-service, not by a long shot. What it is, is a state-wide make-work program. Sounds like a good idea except what happens if one elects to transit Oregon via a road less travelled by? How long am I going to sit by the single gas pump at, say, Bly, before an attendant appears? And how the heck does one buy gas in backwoods Oregon after business hours?

I decided to deviate from custom and stick to the Interstate, which are spotless, thanks to another state law that mandates the death penalty for litterbugs.

In Portland, we headed for the municipal airport—think Starbucks with airplanes—where we linked up with Alex and his girlfriend Kate. Then it was off to the Weston Hotel, where our 16-year-old Pathfinder enjoyed an underground parking spot that cost more per day than I normally spend on a motel room. But I had no choice. There is no such thing as a free parking space in downtown Portland.

Luckily, the Weston provides free umbrellas, so we were able to walk around a bit. I didn’t see a lot, because my eyeglasses kept fogging up, but what I did see impressed me favorably. Portland is a haven for energetic, educated, ambitious, attractive young people. Opportunities for socializing abound, in the way of coffee shops, cafes, dance clubs, art galleries, pizza parlors, etc. If you have a trust fund, you can afford a nice house and a comfortable organic lifestyle in Portland; if all you have is a college degree, you can probably find a job waiting tables or parking cars or pumping gas. Remember that question you had regarding Isaac Newton’s Second Law of Thermodynamics? The girl mixing your cappuccino will inform you that Newton never posited such a law. It’s Rudolph Clausius who first formulated the Second Law of Thermodynamics. (No wonder those cowboys in the bar back in Wells were befuddled!)

The following day we joined friends for breakfast at an elegant bed & breakfast inn, where I was impressed with the waitress’s familiarity with various smartphone apps and computer programming in general. As she and my son carried on a conversation in a language that is utterly foreign to me, I couldn’t help wondering how and if I would manage in a place where everyone is so smart and well-educated. I found myself missing Utah, where I’m considered something of a brainiac—and not because I am one.

Later, as we huddled beneath the inn’s portico against still another deluge, I noticed three flags were on display overhead: The American stars and stripes, the Canadian maple leaf, and the Jolly Roger. What? If someone were to hoist a pirate flag in Salt Lake City, it wouldn’t be just an amusing prank. Whoever did it would be fired, and Orrin Hatch would introduce an amendment to the Constitution prohibiting the flying of pirate flags at business establishments across the nation—including the infamous Jolly Roger Saloon in Evanston, Wyoming. Again, I wondered how my life would be different if I lived in Portland instead of Salt Lake. In Salt Lake City I’m considered a troublesome agitator. In Portland, I’m The Establishment.

We were in town for a wedding, which was scheduled to take place at the Arboretum. How does one go about having an outdoor wedding in rainy Portland? Well, you just prepare for rain. I couldn’t help noticing that the bride wore boots; the maid-of-honor wore galoshes.

I’m pleased to report that for one bright shining moment the sun came out and the ceremony went off without a hitch—other than, of course, “the” hitch. The reception afterward? Thunder and lightning, hailstones, high seas and gale-force winds. But no worries. I suspect I was the only one who even noticed.

On the way back to the hotel Alex did a pretty good imitation of Gene Kelly from “Singin’ In The Rain.” How he knows who Gene Kelly is, I have no idea. Along the way we saw variations on the theme: Lady GaGa in the Rain. Justin Bieber in the Rain. Snoop Dogg in the Rain.


Me? I somewhat resemble Ratso Rizzo in the rain. Perhaps if I were to spend more time in the Pacific Northwest I’d adapt. After all, cloudy wet weather does agree with my Scottish skin, and yes, it’s wonderful to see flowering shrubs of the kind that never survive for more than a week or two in Utah. A lot of people we know are moving in a north-by-northwest direction—if for no other reason than to get away from Orrin Hatch—and I suspect my wife would be one of them were it not for me, the unreconstructible, sunburnt desert rat.

-Richard Menzies