The City of Roses

It was my second sojourn to the Pacific Northwest. My first had been to Seattle, Washington only months earlier. Portland was our destination this venture. Do you know how Portland got its name? During the Lewis and Clark Expedition passed by it early on, and in 1845 two early citizens flipped a penny. One was from Portland, Maine and the other was from Boston, Massachusetts. So the winner, from Portland, Maine, decreed the city to be name Portland. Prior to leaving for Portland, my Midwest relatives were concerned I would be in danger.

“Oh Portland? I hear there’s so much crime there…”

“Keep an eye out, they shit on the streets.”

The usual Fox News talking points. When I asked if they’d been to the Portland or PNW area recently, all were disgusted with the notion. These concerns were none of mine. The city itself, labeled a haven for the weird, peaked my interest. Where the weirdos are, I will surely follow. 


My wife Maura and I flew into Portland International Airport (PDX) from Des Moines. The Portland airport was one of the nicest I’ve been to. Clean, tons of food, and a lot of green space. As horrible as travel and flying is, PDX wasn’t too bad. There is a light rail just outside the airport, which takes you to the center of downtown. Tickets were $5 for an all day pass, affordable for most everyone. 

We rode the light rail to downtown. The stops on the outskirts of the city were a mixture of faces. Homeless, going car to car asking for change. The locals ignore or shake their heads. The out-of-towners newly arrived, staring wide eyed. One couple, mid 50’s from Montana, both divorcees, were all over one another. Mouths enveloped, tongues intertwined, real PDA. Even the homeless guy was like, “calm down guys.” 

Our stop was one of the last. We arrived downtown about a block from our hotel. The streets were quiet, it was a Thursday morning, as we wandered. The Hyatt Centric suited our needs, and, as the name implies, centric. Plenty of shopping, restaurants, dispensary, and anything you might need in a few blocks radius. 

We had tickets to the art museum so we headed towards it. It was only a few blocks away from our hotel, so we stopped for a bit of lunch. Addy’s Sandwich Bar was what we found. Addy’s was quaint, my wife and I sat outside. The streets were quiet, everyone at work. Maura enjoyed her salad while I munched a pastrami sandwich. We finished then walked a few blocks to the Portland Art Museum.  

Portland’s art scene is huge. The art museum is the seventh oldest and recently became one of the 25 largest art museums in the United States. For $25 you get to see a ton of exhibits which when we were visiting included Forces of Nature, Perspectives, Otis Quaico (S)KIN DEEP, Shades of Light, Iska Shamsuddin, along with their extensive collection.

The museum was easily walkable, featured multiple floors and a ton of different cultural art to take in. To see Waterlilies by Monet or Van Gogh’s Cart with Black Ox in person is an experience. You see photos online, but standing in front of the physical painting is profound. Put your phone away, sit in the moment.

Another exhibit of the museum was a floor dedicated to the Black Lives Matter movement. Portland protests for the murder of George Floyd lasted months. Photographs of Portlandians standing arm in arm against an armed array of police. The writings of those who were on the ground and relayed what they saw during those months. These stories are the reality of what the people of Portland experienced during such a tumultuous time.      

Outside, a Black Lives Matter banner hung near the entrance of the museum. This banner has been replaced numerous times because of vandalism. The ripped banners were part of the exhibit, and a fresh one still hangs outside. The message is clear; you try to tear us down, we make art from the remains and continue to stand for what we believe. 

We walked a block to a bus which took us to Arlington Heights to see the Japanese Garden and the Rose Garden. The Japanese Garden is a 5.5 acre area, with a waterfall, teahouse, and a mountain view. The spectacle is quite something. You walk up a zig-zag trail that takes you to a small village. The buildings are all Japanese architecture, the tea house, giftshop, and bathrooms. A variety of paths lead you around the garden as you take in the intricate grounds. 

The teahouse was a welcome sight. They served a variety of Japanese teas along with little treats. Maura and I were quite exhausted from the travel/art museum. It was a good reset for the rest of the afternoon. We toured around the Japanese Garden awhile before making our way back outside. Down the hill a bit is the Rose Garden, or aptly named International Rose Test Garden. This garden is the oldest officially operated public rose garden in the United States. The area features over 10,000 roses, different colors and smells to overwhelm your senses. 

After taking a shuttle back to the hotel, Maura and I changed for dinner. We found Dolly Olive only about a block from our hotel. Dolly Olive featured Southern Mediterranean ingredients and flavors, house bakery, fresh pasta, and Italian aperitifs. The Dolly Focaccia bread was incredible, and I enjoyed a delicious eggplant parm. The meal hit us right, and after a day of travel we were both exhausted. We went back to the hotel to get some needed r&r.


Our good friends, Sam & Erin, were coming from Arizona to join us for the weekend. They were flying in at lunch time so we had time to kill. We found a breakfast spot a few blocks from the hotel. The Daily Feast, a little diner with modern flourish. The place was packed, two spots opened at the counter so Maura and I quickly took the seats. 

We order black coffee and water. There were a good amount of dishes, so I settled on the ‘Full Monty’ , a full breakfast of eggs, toast, bacon, sausage, and hashbrowns. I knew I would need my strength for the day. Maura ordered the ‘Lox Plate’ bagel, cream cheese, smoked salmon, and all the fixings. The meal was delicious, affordable, and the staff was attentive.

After the meal, Maura went to the bathroom and I waited outside. As I stood waiting, a man approached me with paperwork and his phone. He appeared distressed and astray. His English was broken, asking me how to get somewhere. 

“Is this…eh..right way?”

He showed me his phone, it didn’t have service so he was unable to find the right train. He then held up a paper with the address. The place he was going was the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It made me nervous for him. But I located the address on my phone and found which bus would take him there.

“You’ll take the green line all the way there. Should take about 20 minutes. Hope everything goes well man.”

He gave me a smile and a handshake. “Thank you, thank you. Eh…cannot go worse. I’m 30 minutos late. Ah well. Adios.”

His bus pulled up and he climbed aboard. I watched him go hoping for the best. He waved as he left, and my wife walked out as I watched him go. Hoping that, whatever awaited him at the end of that bus, was fortuitous.  

We still had time before our good friends Sam and Erin arrived so we decided to check out Powell’s City of Books. This was one of the reasons I wanted to visit Portland. Powell’s is the world’s largest independent bookstore. It covers an entire city block, features multiple levels, and has a rare book room. Kid in a candy store? More like an English major in a bookstore.

The main entrance you walk into is where the checkout is. This area is quite large, featuring all kinds of apparel and little gifts. The store is broken up into colors, each representing different sections and genres of books. The inventory is vast, and if you are looking for a particular author or subject, you will definitely find it. 

The top floor featured the rare book room. Only a few people were allowed in at a time. Many books were behind glass, but incredible to see. They had a journal of Lewis and Clark that was around $25,000. Many author signed copies lined the walls, many of whom rarely signed their own work.

I could have spent all day there. But alas, we had plans, I limited myself to only a handful of books and a t-shirt. We made our way back to the hotel and met up with our good friends, Sam and Erin. The ladies had planned a spa day so they left Sam and I to our own devices. Sam was experiencing food poisoning, nicotine withdrawal, and god knows what else. He stayed in bed with the lights off. I was left to discover the city alone. 

My first stop was the dispensary around the block from our hotel, the Mint Cannabis Co. It was set up similar to an Apple store. Incredibly clean, wood floors, white cabinets, and friendly staff. One of the more jarring things was the prices. Incredibly cheap for quality products. There is also no sales tax in Portland. I was able to get 2 pens, joints, and edibles all for under $100. 

Outside, I unboxed a pen, a sativa called Tangie, and took a few hits. I started to wander the streets looking at the sights. I came upon Rich’s Cigar Store. I was once a tobacconist, so I had to stop in. Inside, the store was divided into two parts, to the right were pipes and tobacco, the back/left was cigars. I walked up to the counter of the pipe section, an old man ironically resembling Neil Young, was puffing on a pipe.    

“Howdy, what’re you smoking?”

“Bill’s Blend. It’s our most popular smoke.”

“I’ll take 4 ounces of that. Any others you recommend?”

“The Midnight Express. A black cavendish.”

“That’ll do just fine. I’ll take it.” He was a man of few words so I kept it brief. I looked around the store a bit more before departing with my tobacco. I walked another block or two. Took a right. Another block. Came upon a store called MUJI Portland. It is described as a minimalist Japanese retailer with a wide range of products. I walked around for some time, before buying the softest sweater I’ve ever put on.

I stopped at Target around the corner from our hotel to grab some things. I walked out and a woman was casually smoking weed out of a pipe. She took several hits, coughed, then continued about her business. I’ve never seen someone smoke that casually and carefree like that. I went back to the hotel to hangout before we headed out for dinner. 

We all changed for dinner. Sam was still succumbing to his sickness so it was Maura, Erin and myself. We took an Uber to Lovely Rita, a little bistro that doubles as a gin bar. The place was nearly empty aside from us, and a table of old folks. The waitress let us know they had a large party going on in the private room so food might take longer than usual. No problem.

We ordered drinks; an old fashioned, the barrel aged negroni, and la paloma. As we enjoyed drinks and conversation, I couldn’t help but watch and overhear the table of old folks. They were the types that had money but weren’t rich. They expected the best, and because they had to wait a little longer for their food, they became irate. Complaining and whining about the food not coming out quick enough, the poor waitress taking their berating’s while trying to calm them.

She was very apologetic to us about our food, but we quickly put her at ease saying to not worry. She seemed relieved she wasn’t dealing with another table of entitled country-club snobbery. We sat and chatted a while longer before our food was brought out. Maura had the salmon, Erin had the steak, and I enjoyed the fish n’ chips. We enjoyed our meals and the waitress brought out free dessert. 

It was Erin and I’s birthday but she didn’t know that. She just wanted to thank us for being understanding and cool as opposed to her other table. Best believe she got more than a 20% tip when we left. We had picked this restaurant because it was only a few blocks away from our next stop, Ground Kontrol arcade bar.

After a few blocks we came upon Ground Kontrol. This area was a bit more lively, bars were busy, music going on across the street. I believe GWAR was playing a show, several squad cars were parked but everyone seemed excited to thrash to the costumed metal mavens. We went inside Ground Kontrol and grabbed a drink. Here you purchase a prepaid card, essentially serving as tokens for each arcade game in the place. 

The arcade was set up into three different areas. Immediately when you walk in, to the right is a good sized room with probably 20 or so games. Going past this room straight you walk into the “main” area, a large bar, along with probably another 30 or so games, and a giant projection screen, showing people’s high scores and beverages they offer. Then walking further back you find the bathrooms and then another larger area that features two stories, a small bar on the first along with some games and on the second floor several games packed together. 

Games were usually 50 cents to $1 to play (swiping the card in each machine), and there was a huge variety there. Some of my favorites included Twilight Zone pinball, Lord of the Rings pinball, Gauntlet Dark Legacy, NFL Blitz, Ninja Turtles, Final Fight, Soul Calibur II, and the list goes on. We stayed about 2 hours or so playing games, as the night got later it became busier making it hard to get on certain games. We finished up and called an Uber, taking us back downtown to our hotel to call it a night.


Saturday was another busy day, my brother Luke and his girlfriend Vicki were driving to visit us from Seattle. They were coming in the morning so we hung out till they arrived, meeting them near our hotel. Our plan was to go to the public market held every Saturday down by the riverfront in Old Town. We walked to a park near our hotel to meet our out of towners.

We exchanged hugs and got on a tram to the market, which took about 10-15 mins. After getting off we walked about a block or two and arrived. The market was set up in different sections. A lot of stalls of goods were set up down by the river. It was a beautiful day, a bit hot, but lots of people were out. We split up into little groups and wandered around. My brother and I were looking before we walked away to smoke a quick joint. 

The stalls were filled with all sorts of things, art, jewelry, clothing, food, and  accoutrements. Stalls were run by a variety of characters, long dreads, lack of body wash, plenty of body hair, dogs, smooth-talkers, and veterans. Exploring the market was an experience, smoke a joint, grab a beer, and take in the scenes. After we got our fill we took the tram back to downtown.

We arrived downtown and wanted lunch and a beer. I found Von Ebert Brewing and we headed that way. On the way we were all walking and talking, distracted. I looked across the street and saw a woman bent over pants at her ankles, wiping her ass. Apparently I was the only one in my group to see this woman when I brought it up later but I couldn’t believe no one else had seen it.

Our lunch spot was Von Ebert Brewing + Kitchen. Plenty of room, a lot of great beer, and unique food. Plenty of food options, pizza, sandwiches, the occasional salad for those that want to feel good about themselves. The beer was quite tasty, with a lot of options and varieties for those that wanted a change.

After lunch and several beers, we spotted an ice cream/cookie dough spot right across the street. Not wanting to miss this opportunity, we stopped in and ordered. The Cookie Dough Cafe is the name of the store, and it was delicious. My stomach was full before this, but after enjoying a half cookies and cream, half brownie batter, my stomach was distended. You could’ve rolled me back to the hotel like Violet Beauregarde in Willy Wonka.

Lunch ruined us. We were stuffed to the brim with cheese and cookie dough. A quick nap at the hotel was a necessity. We rested our eyes, before retaking the city. Our feet made their way to the Pink Rabbit, a hip little bar with neon lights, over-priced delicious cocktails, and great bathrooms. Our reservations for dinner were quickly approaching so we finished up and started walking.

Dinner was at Bamboo Sushi. They were incredibly packed and our table wasn’t ready yet. We stopped in at Scandals, a relaxed gay bar while waiting for our table for dinner. It was early, not many filled the rainbow filled walls of the establishment. We sipped our drinks until we were informed that our table was finally ready.

Bamboo Sushi was the spot. We sat at a table outside, ordering several appetizers, and as many rolls as we could muster. Even said, bring on the sake as we drank into the night. As the rolls began to come out, we devoured them with the speed and grace of a pride of lions.

After we finished Luke and Vicki had to drive back to Seattle so we ended our night there. Our flight was early in the morning so it was the right call. We exchanged hugs and goodbyes as we made our way back to the hotel. 


We woke up early to get our bags together for our return trip. What we were unaware of was that Portland’s Marathon was going to run right by our hotel. Luckily our Uber driver, either unaware or just didn’t care, drove through the police barricades and picked us up in front of our hotel. We all got yelled at to “Get the hell off the street” so we quickly threw our bags in and our driver sped off. 

The airport was quiet, still early in the day. Once we boarded our plane home, that’s when a shift occurred. A Hispanic family boarded the seats in front of ours. The mom and son sat on one side of the plane. The father and daughter sat directly in front of us. The young girl, elementary age, had been crying since she boarded the plane. After they sat, she went from crying to hysterically screaming out loud.


It was horrible. Directly in front of you is this poor girl, yelling and screaming, her poor dad trying to calm her down. She was hysterical. Right on cue, a white woman savior came back wanting to help, 0 credentials to do so, but since she’s the star of her life and everyone else’s, she thinks she can help this poor girl. Of course, she just makes things worse. Now the girl is in the aisle, screaming, crying, unable to calm down. The flight attendants inform the family they can’t fly with her like this. The parents are distraught but completely understand.

The family leaves the plane. Everyone on that plane is silent. This wasn’t a normal little tantrum, it was a melt-down of hysteria and everyone felt horribly for this little girl. My anxiety was at 9 or 10 the entire flight. You want to help but know you can’t, others, like the woman who had to inject herself into the situation believed she could help. Unless you are a child therapist please don’t come near my child. The flight arrived in Des Moines some time later, without a hitch.

It felt good to arrive back in Iowa. We had left our car at a nearby hotel, so we grabbed a shuttle from the airport. It was just us and the driver as we headed back to the hotel. We made small talk and of course she asked where we had come from.

“Oh we’re just getting back from Portland, Oregon.”

“Portland huh? Heard there’s a lot of crime out in those parts.”

I just smiled and shook my head. Some things just never change. It was good to be home.

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