Friday, September 7, 2007

It's called a kilt because.....

An Evening Primrose, growing by the highway
Taken 9/2/07 in Smith River, California
This picture has nothing to do with the trip.

Wednesday morning got off to an early start. I was taking the Volvo into the good folk at Swede One for its 90,000 mile check up. Swede One had moved since my last visit and I had no idea how much time to allow. Having slept poorly, I headed out the door about 7:15 for an 8:00 a.m. appointment. Need I say that it took only fifteen minutes to drive to the shop?

Was I prepared? Me, the consummate reader? Of course not. With nothing to read, I resorted to window shopping. Nice Volvos for sale at Swede One, but nothing better than what I was dropping off, so I moved on. Across the street I saw a sign for Lanvin French Bakery.

This really caught my eye, and only in part because I hadn’t yet had breakfast. My first partner, Steve, was a grad student studying Math at The University of Montana. His major professor was Hien Nguyen. Professor Nguyen’s father had been a physician in Viet Nam, but his family left for France before the fall of Saigon. After living in Paris, the family moved to the United States, and Professor Nguyen ended up at UM. His father was not allowed to practice medicine in the US, but felt that he and his wife had picked up a new profession while in France, that of bakers. As the parents were named Lan and Vinh (I have to admit that I’m not sure just how the given names are supposed to be spelled), they opened a wonderful French bakery in Missoula, Lanvin. In time, Professor Nguyen started his own software company and left the university. His company was so successful that his parents no longer had to work, and sadly, Lanvin French Bakery closed. Seeing the name in this Vietnamese section of Portland made me curious, so I paid them a visit.

The pastries in the cases were not nearly as appealing as what I remembered seeing in Missoula, but tbat didn’t stop me from getting a Paris-Brest and a type of cream puff. I saw a sign on the wall honoring someone named Nguyen, so I asked if they used to have a shop in Missoula. The woman serving me had to go into the back room and send out a teenaged boy to answer my questions in English. He had never heard of Missoula, and had no idea that once upon a time, another Nguyen family had opened a business under the same name as their shop. Oh well. I guess that Nguyen is about as common a name as Smith—at least among the Vietnamese. Oh, and that software company that Professor Nguyen started? My current partner, Gary, works there as a software tester. Wasn’t I just talking yesterday about it being a small world?

The Volvo being prepared for the trip
(The handsome man washing the car is the owner of Swede One,
Dave Davis. See why I like to take the car to Portland?)
Taken 9/6/07 in Portland, Oregon

Having dropped off the car, I planned on a car-less city day. Taking Portland’s wonderful rapid transit system was a matter of walking a half mile to the station, buying a ticket, and riding the train all day—or as much of the day as I cared to ride. And all for only $4.25 for a full day ticket. Arriving at the station, however, the first thing I see is a transit authority cop handcuffing and frisking a young man. Next I noticed several transit authority workers spread around the station. Finally I noticed the “out of service” sign on the ticket machine, or rather, on both ticket machines at the 82nd Street station. Not wanting to end up in handcuffs myself, I asked one of the workers what I should do. She assured me that Tri-Met was aware of the problem, and I should just get on the train and explain to anyone who asked why I did not have a ticket.

At this point I should note that all the times I’ve ridden Max, never have I had anyone ask if I had a ticket. I was sure that this one time I didn’t have one, someone would ask. But no, I rode the train from 82nd Street NE to Chinatown across the river and left the train with no one the wiser that I was riding without paying.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I planned the service call so that I could participate in two activities, the men’s massage group on Tuesday and Line Dancing on Wednesday. Once I arrived in Portland, however, I could find no information about current line dance instruction. Having been let down by the web, I took matters in my own hands and decided to stop by the bar and ask directly. I knew it was somewhere near Chinatown, but wasn’t sure exactly where. And of course, I hadn’t written down any addresses.

There are three shops I always visit when in Portland. All three are within walking distance of each other in or near the Pearl District. Powell’s City of Books claims to be the largest bookstore in the country. I have no idea if they are justified in that claim, but I do know that I’ve never been in a larger bookstore. The Tea Zone has more blends of tea than anyone could possibly want, and Spartacus Leathers, well, what can I say about that place in a family-oriented site?

Off the train, and walking around looking for C.C. Slaughters, the bar where we danced the last time I was in Portland, I found many interesting shops and restaurants, but not the bar I was seeking. Giving up that search, I headed across the city, walking from first to tenth, where Powell’s sits on Burnside, taking up the entire block from tenth to eleventh. Powell’s however, doesn’t open until nine, and once again, I was early.

I continued walking up Burnside to twelfth, Spartacus’s corner, but that toy store doesn’t open until ten. Having had two French pastries at Lanvin, I felt it was too soon to head to the Tea Zone, so I killed time by walking around a few more blocks, eventually using up minutes by reading about every book in the Powell’s window displays. By the time I reached the front door, it was 8:55, only five minutes to wait.

Looking around at the group of people who were assembled waiting for the store to open, I thought back to my days as a grocery clerk for Lucky Stores, Inc. Our store also opened at nine, and there was always a group of people, almost always men, waiting outside for someone to unlock the door. These men had one goal in mind—get the nineteen cents a quart Franzia wine. Yes, the winos were waiting, and so were we. In one of those aha! moments, I realized that we were the same. Just as the winos couldn’t wait to get their morning fix, we bibliophiles couldn’t wait for the next literary fix served up so nicely by Powell’s. When the doors were finally unlocked, there was a rush, an orderly, polite rush, but a rush none the less to get inside and start shopping for books. I was no different.

Having found an acceptable way to spend time by looking at and buying books (only 11 this trip), when I left Powell’s, Spartacus had already been open for a while. In the toy store, I found nothing that I needed, and quite frankly nothing I wanted that I didn’t already have, except for… Oh my gawd, is that a leather kilt? (You were wondering about the title of this epistle, weren’t you!) OK, I’ll admit it, I’ve wanted a leather kilt for quite some time, but I’ve never found one I liked. Spartacus had several kilts (or rather kilt like garments—these have no real pleats), but I couldn’t make out the sizes from the codes used on the tags. A friendly clerk suggested I try two differently marked kilts on in the dressing room. How could I refuse? The smaller of the two was definitely too small for my frame, but the larger fit only if I tightened it to the last hole in the strap. (I’m not about to describe how you put on a kilt. If you’ve never done it, use your imagination.) As I would rather lose inches, not gain them, I passed on the kilt purchase, and went into the back room where I found one thing I did want—a book. Of course. What were you thinking?

Beasts is a compilation of ninety-nine photographs by fifty-two photographers “reflecting on the relationship between men and animals and that of man as an animal himself.” The cover image is a cute blond boy holding what appears to be a malamute pup. Craig and Apache, by photographer Robert Emery Smith, was taken in 1993 in the San Francisco Bay Area. It is available in a variety of sizes at prices ranging from $200 to $600, with the edition limited to 10 prints. As I have started my own Men With Dogs collection, I deemed this book an important addition to my professional library. If you’ve forgotten my own men with dogs, all but one are currently on display at the Bank of America in Crescent City, California, or you can see them on Picasa.

Alan and Ivan
(Man and dog not in BofA show)
Taken 10/29/06 at the mouth of the Klamath River, California

Walking back toward Chinatown, guidebook in hand, I now had an address for the line dancing bar, which, it turns out, has changed format. Turning the corner, I entered another bar, the Fox and Hound. The bartender was very eager to be of help, even phoning to find where I might go to dance, but he came up empty handed. I ordered a shrimp salad and, since I wasn’t driving, a gin and tonic, and had lunch.

After lunch, I boarded Max, returned to my motel room, took Gypsy out for a walk, and then napped. It had been a stressful, but rewarding morning, and now I was just waiting for a call to come get my car. The call came around four, but rather than tell me that my car was ready, Jennifer told me that they hadn’t even started my car, and would need at least three hours, which meant finishing up Thursday morning. To compensate me for the inconvenience, they were renting a car for my use. Hertz would be calling me shortly.

At this point, I had two concerns. First, would my car be ready early enough on Thursday to allow me to drive to Missoula. It’s a ten hour drive between point P and point M, and there’s a time zone crossing that makes things even worse. My other concern was that knowing how much stuff I had taken out of the Volvo and stashed in my motel room, including Gypsy, her box and her travel bed, would Hertz have a car large enough? As it turned out, I said thanks but no thanks to the Ford Focus Hertz was offering, and took instead a Kia Sorrento. Who knew the Koreans made such large vehicles?!? I didn’t really need a car as I was content relying on public transportation, but I was concerned about getting all my stuff back into the Volvo in a timely fashion.

Parking the Kia at the motel, I climbed back on Max and went to buy myself a kilt. Amazing what having time to think about things can do. Well, that and some on-line research I did which showed me that if I wanted a leather kilt, and I did, I wasn’t going to find one for less money than what Spartacus was asking.

Once in my kilt, I told the clerk I was going to wear it, and to put my walking shorts into the rainbow beribboned man-bag I bought as well. Kilts don’t have pockets, don’t ya know. Well, the Seattle made Utilikilts do have pockets, and pockets, and more pockets—so many that you can carry all your electronic gear with you, if you don’t mind looking like a mal-formed kangaroo. This little leather piece has one small pocket which looks for all the world like the key pocket in a pair of Speedos. Nothing that will hold car keys, wallet, change, Swiss Army Knife, not to mention cell phone, PDA, and a good book to read on the train. The manbag held it all, including my walking shorts. The clerk kept trying to put things in a bag, but I was wearing the kilt and carrying the manbag. What on earth did I need any other bags for?

I did practice sitting down a few times with a mirror handy. Didn’t want to scare the horses, of course, and the leather kilt-like garment didn’t have as much “fabric” as my authentic Scottish-made wool kilts. Once I was sure that I could sit and still be decent, I headed out walking through downtown Portland in a skirt. OK, I guess it’s time. You know why it’s called a kilt, don’t you? Because the first ten to call it a skirt all got kilt! (That’s a joke son, you’re supposed to laugh.)

Portland is a large, metropolitan city, and only one person looked at me strangely as I traveled home in my bit of leather. A few stations after I boarded the train, the train itself came to a halt between stations. And there we sat. For quite some time. With the doors closed. Finally, a voice came over the intercom announcing that we would be backing to the previous station as the tracks ahead were blocked. It turns out a semi-tractor had managed to stop a Max train just ahead of us by running into it. It would be quite some time before the tracks were cleared, but Tri-Met would be sending us a bus. It turns out that Portland, as well run as it appears, is not terribly good at taking care of breakdowns in the transit system itself. My trip back to the motel, which should have taken 20 minutes, took closer to two hours.

At that point, I decided the Kia was a definite plus, and drove to Mudai, my favorite Ethopian restaurant for dinner. As there was no line dancing to be had, I went back to Steam for some restful time in the steam room and hot tub. I was still wearing the kilt.

And I'm still wearing it!
Self-Portrait in Black Leather Kilt
Taken 9/7/07 in Missoula, Montana

You now know more than anyone would want to know about how I spent my day in Portland. It was a fun-filled, if occasionally stressful, day, and when I finally hit the hay, I slept like a baby.

No miles traveled, but I went to bed feeling that I had indeed progressed in my travels.

Oh, and by the way, if you ever want to ask, make sure you phrase the question exactly this way: Is there anything worn under the kilt?

That’s the only question I’ll answer on the subject.

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