Vagobond Travel Museum – A Random Hitch-trip on Interstate 5

The following is a true account of a hitch trip I took from Portland, Oregon to Seattle, Washington back in the year 2000. It was included as a fictional trip in the 2009 edition of my novel Slackville Road.

I wasn’t laughing as I struggled to navigate the I-5  on-ramps in Portland. The interstate is surrounded by concrete walls that make it hard for motorists to stop and dangerous for hitchhiking.  Technically, it’s illegal to hitch on the Interstate anyway.

I walked to the last exit before the road crossed the Columbia River. I sat there nearly an hour and finally decided to catch a city bus into downtown Vancouver, WA.

After the bus dropped me off, I walked through a tunnel and over the Columbia River, thereby crossing the imaginary line that separates Washington and Oregon. The Columbia felt more impressive than the state line.

There was  a bum lying on a park bench listening to country music on tinny radio. I said hello and he began complaining about the rain as he smoked a  cigarette he mooched from me. It wasn’t raining as he laid there enjoying the smoke, but he was still complaining because that’s what bums do.

He told me a lot of the tramps had been getting their gear stolen in Vancouver. He told me he was going to Phoenix to “get where it was still warm and didn’t rain all the time.” Every bum has a dream. Bums are dreamers.

Further on through the park, I was hit up for a smoke by another tramp who told me he was called ‘The Duck’ when I introduced myself. He hit me up for change and then when I refused him, he walked with me towards the next on-ramp. He too complained about the rain and told me about the ever growing bum population in Vancouver.

Curiously, he had a huge bag of stuff he complained about too. Far more stuff than most bums carry with them.

When I asked what  he was carrying, he asked me  “Are you drunk?”

It was about 10 AM.  I told him I wasn’t. It was true. I wasn’t drunk at 10 AM.

“I am.” He seemed proud of it. Then by way of explanation he said, “I been trampin a long time. Hey, by the way, you got any cardboard?”

Again, my answer was negative. I had a sign with Seattle written on it. That was all. So I guess I lied. It was cardboard. I just didn’t have any cardboard for him.

“Well I gotta get me some so I can fly some cardboard and get me some spending money. I’m in danger of sobering up”

He was dressed all in camouflage. He was big and sort of scary.

“I gotta piss…You know, I wouldn’t be a very good tramp if I couldn’t piss and walk at the same time. “

That was pretty much the end of our time together since I started walking a bit faster as he slowed down. Suddenly I heard the splash of urine on the sidewalk. The Duck didn’t seem to mind that it was daylight or think that the couple walking behind him would mind a wet sidewalk. I walked as fast as I could to get away from that human disaster and tried not to burst out laughing as he kept cussing about the rain which was now starting to fall while he was pissing all over himself. That was the last I saw of The Duck.

I finally caught a ride from a tattoo artist who told me about his shop getting robbed and how he worked from home now. He dropped me off at a rest area.

I sat with my sign at the ramp. No one stopped for a long time. People are scared of hitchhikers now. Finally, a neatly dressed man in a v-neck sweater walked over to me. I smelt Jesus all over him. Big smile. 

“Hello, Friend. How are you today?”

I thought to myself, I don’t want to be preached to. “Praise the Lord, I’m fine.” I hoped he would leave me alone.

“I was hoping to talk to you about Christ the Redeemer.“

I lied, told him I was Christian, told him I went to Church, told him what I thought he wanted to hear, but he wouldn’t go away until I knelt down and prayed with him. Meanwhile cars were passing us by and ignoring my thumb.

“Dear Lord. Please help this man to find your salvation and forgiveness…” he began. I guess he hadn’t believed me.

“…and a ride to Bellingham,” I added. Then we went on until the Amen at which point he stood up.

“Can you give me a ride?”

“We’re packed full and we never pick up hitchhikers.”  And then he walked away. 

I felt like hitting him. I thought of doing a speaking in tongues and being possessed by God routine but didn’t have enough energy for anything like that.

To my surprise, that prayer worked, because a few minutes later he, his wife, and his five-year-old daughter made room for me to get in their car anyway. All I can think is that his wife made him do it.

Hot damn and thank you Jesus!

He called himself a planter. He had brought his family  from some Baptist church in Texas. They apparently felt that we don’t get enough of a chance to know Jesus in the godless Northwest so they were sending missionaries to save our souls. 

He said that if the Arabs and Jews find peace the world would end in 3 ½ years. That helped me understand why so many Christians stay on the side of Israel. 

They dropped me off just North of Tacoma at another rest area. My next ride was a middle class white guy driving a nice Lincoln Towncar.

He pulled over and I ran up and  got in.

“You mind if I drink while I drive?” He asked me, holding up a can of Bud.

“As long as we don’t crash,” I said, though I was already worried and considering getting out.

“I’m a state senator,” he told me. “ I help make the laws, so I can break ‘em.” He laughed. He told me that he was pretty moderate about his drinking and driving.

“What’s your name?” I asked him. “Maybe I voted for you.”

“Gordon,” he told me. “Call me Gordy.” I was pretty sure I had voted for his opponent. Maybe he was a liar though. 

Gordy dropped me off in downtown Seattle near Westlake Center.

I heard chanting and shouting down the street and walked to see what was up. Pro-Palestine protesters were demanding that the violence stop in the Middle East. Banners reading “Stop killing our Children” and “Stop Israeli Violence” flew high.There were about thirty police officers and maybe fifty protesters present. Lots of bystanders looked on. I briefly considered letting them know that the world would end in 3 ½ years if peace came, but figured they wouldn’t care if it did.

 

Vagobond Travel Museum – The USA Trip

In 2009, when I returned back to the USA, my purpose was three-fold. 1) Get the necessary paperwork to work and get married in Morocco 2) Earn some money so that I could start a life in Morocco and pay for the marriage and bureaucracy in Morocco 3) Make sure that I hadn’t completely lost my mind by giving myself a little time away from the girl I had fallen in love with.

It seemed like as soon as I’d started on my way – things began to fall apart. Ultimately, I ended up connecting with old friends, having a huge falling out with my father, strengthening the relationships with my brother and my uncle,  hustling enough to get things going in Morocco, and accomplishing all three of my goals.

I’d left Hawaii, traveled across the USA by Amtrak, explored Spain and Gibraltar, crossed into Morocco, had some European adventures, hitchhiked across Canada, and now I was on my way home…to a place that didn’t feel at all like home anymore.

Here are a few posts from that time:

Bellingham

Big Bear Lake – My Childhood Home

Holcomb Valley in Big Bear Lake

Back to New York

Portland Maine

From there it was back to Morocco – which I suppose should be the content of the next Vagobond Travel Musuem.

Vagobond Travel Museum: The Amtrak Amtrek Across the USA

Back in 2008, I left Hawaii and set out on an adventure that took me across the USA by Amtrak train, I called it the Amtrek. This week, for the Vagobond Travel Museum, I bring you the collected articles and videos from that trip. The trip began in Honolulu and then went to Portland, Oregon from where I crossed the country and ended in New York City with a one way flight to Barcelona – the truth is, the trip has never ended since I’ve never gone home.

Along the way, I couch-surfed and asked my hosts the same set of questions, those videos are below and worth watching. Keep in mind, this was before couch-surfing had gone mainstream.

Here are the ten lessons I learned on that trip:

  1. The trains through the Rocky Mountains have the most incredible viewing cars for enjoying the magnificent landscape.
  2. Sacramento is a lot cooler than I thought it would be and the train museum is a must see..
  3. Utah is an incredibly rugged and scenic state filled with some very cool folks in Salt Lake City.
  4. I want to travel by train to Austin, Texas and Detroit, Nashville, and New Orleans. I’ve still never been to those cities.
  5. I love New York and Boston – taking a train to them was the way to go. People in these cities rock.
  6. Philly and Chicago are both incredibly cold in winter, but the people I met in them were pretty great.
  7. It’s better not to hurry, a 14 day rail pass was too short for a true American experience.
  8. Too many museums in too short a time can’t be appreciated – so get a longer rail pass.
  9. Libraries are havens of free wifi and peaceful places to work – trains should always have wifi and should have libraries for passengers.
  10. Making the wrong friend can suck out part of your enjoyment of life and destroy a train trip – the right friends can make a boring stretch very exciting.

 

Art at the Met and Thoughts Before Leaving the USA

Exploring Chicago in the Cold

The Host Videos
Couch Questions in Hawaii

Lost. ;(

Christmas in Portland

Couch Questions in Portland

Couch Questions with MJ in Sacramento

Couch Questions in Salt Lake City

Couch QUestions in Chicago

Couch Questions in Boston

Couch Questions in Providence

Couch Questions in New York City

Liquid Gold Tour – Portland, Oregon’s Beer, Wine, and Saki Scene

Article & Pics by Linda Kissam

Linda Kissam explores Oregon's Great GrapesThe Zen of wine is my deal. I like it. I like to drink it. I love sharing it with friends and pairing it with food. I like to learn more about it whatever city I am it. Every once in a while I come across an area so well-known for its wine that all of its other liquid assets take a back seat to it. So when I arrived in Portland, Oregon, for a short 2-day wine tour, I thought yippee, Oregon wines, some of the best stuff around. What else could I possibly want to taste in the land of great Pinot’s? As it turns out…Saké and beer… definitely.

I love a city that treats its visitors well. You can expect your vacation to get off to a great Hotels in Portland, Oregonstart at the Portland International Airport (PDX). Clean, efficient and striving to be as “green” as possible, it’s the perfect start to any vacation. The airport is located nine miles
north of downtown Portland and is conveniently connected to the city center via the MAX light rail train. The trip between the airport and downtown Portland takes about 38 minutes and is about $3. I stayed at the impressive Doubletree Inn just a short block from one of the stops. Easy, breezy, convenient.

I became part of a larger group of adult “beverage expert’s.” Our tour guide planned out what I consider was the perfect introductory tour to the Portland beverage scene. I thought she would lead with the wine card, but nope, Saké was our first port of call.

SakéOne is about 30 miles west of downtown Portland in the beautiful Willamette Valley,Linda Kissam explores Oregon's Great Grapes famed for its many exceptional wineries, America’s premier producer of Saké, Saké One (820 Elm St., Forest Grove, 800/550-SAKE). Most visitors are surprised to learn it’s American-owned. Several high-quality Sakés are produced, including some flavored varieties, including Moonstone, Momokawa, G, and Murai. Saké One makes an engaging alternative to tasting strictly wine while exploring the Willamette Valley.

Tasting room and facility are open 11:00 am to 5:00 pm, seven days a week, except. Guided tours are available and last about 20 minutes. Expect to have your ideas challenged about what is and isn’t today’s Saké . This is the really good stuff. My group that was treated to a food and Saké tasting. You’ll have your choice of three tasting flights (generally without food). And, on the third Saturday of each month, they offer Saketini Saturday ,a showcasing of sake and mixing cocktails.

Linda Kissam explores Oregon's Great GrapesYea! Our second stop is Montinore Estate Winery. It’s one of the top producers of case wines in Oregon offering Certified Biodynamic wines from 230 acres of grapes. Located In the North Willamette Valley, it is snuggled against the foothills of the Coastal Range, and a short drive to the incredible Oregon Coast. Pinot Noir still rules but there are many different types of wines to taste. It is open 7 days a week, from 11am to 5 pm. I enjoyed tasting the latest vintage of estate grown and bottled wines while enjoying the sprawling views. All the wines are great, but be sure and try the 2011 Müller Thurgau (white) ($16) and the 2008 Graham’s Block 7 Pinot Noir ($40).

Lunch time found us at South Shore Café: Located in a (slightly leaning) 100-year old Linda Kissam explores Oregon's Great Grapes
clapboard in North Willamette wine country, this is where the locals stop for a fresh generous local lunch and some friendly gossip. Our group loved the gracious owner. Her homemade soups, sandwiches and treats brought a collective “ahh” from the group. Take the time to walk across the street to Smith’s Berry Farm, an upscale garden market filled with local produce, local plants and specialty gift items.

Back in the van our next stop was the more of a boutique -style winery. Hawks View Cellars is a family owned and -managed winery tucked away on Chehalem Mountain in Sherwood, Oregon, just 30 minutes from downtown Portland. This facility produces small lot, limited quantity, ultra-premium estate grown Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, as well as wines made from top vineyards in Oregon and Washington. For my Linda Kissam explores Oregon's Great Grapestaste, the estate grown wines were the standouts. Care is evident in the wines, the tasting room and the beautiful grounds. This is a great place to relax and spend some quality time. It’s about 30 minutes from Portland. The 2011 white Pinot Noir ($26 – Now sold out) made from 100% Pinot Noir fruit was a star. Hopefully when you go the next vintage will be in stock. With spectacular views of five Cascade peaks from the patio and tasting room, stay a while and relax in the spectacular setting, and enjoy pure Northwest style wines and hospitality.

Our final beverage stop was Two Kilts Brewing Company. Now, I am not much of a beer drinker, but this place (located in a plain-Jane strip mall) has the right vision and products to turn this wine diva into a beer babe. Constantly in pursuit of the finest India Pale Ale and Scotch Ale (all made with local ingredients) they make creative premium brews. When I was there, they had a Korean Food Truck just outside the door. The unforgettable pairing of an iced cold, vanilla- laced beer with a spicy Korean taco is a pairing I won’t soon forget. Owners Chris & Alex are rock stars in the making. Stop by Monday-Saturday, 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Ask for a sampler taste.

We were dropped of at McMenamins Grand Lodge for check-in and a little R&R beforeLinda Kissam explores Oregon's Great Grapes dinner. This is a 77 European-style guest room hotel located in Forest Grove. One of the most unique lodging facilities I have ever stayed at, McMenamins showcases rolling lawns, lush landscaping, a movie theatre, a couple of restaurants, small bars and some truly mesmerizing artwork gracing the hallways. Built in 1922 as a Masonic & Eastern Star home, the Grand Lodge is quite the drama queen. Renovated and opened by McMenamins in 2000, every part of this hotel screams history from the individual room names, the hallways, and even the overhead pipes. Note that there is no air conditioning and shared bathrooms are the norm. Reasonably priced.

Dinner was a very special treat. Amazing is a better term if I am being honest. 1910 Main ~An American Bistro is owned and operated by chef/owner Kathy Compton. Showcasing local ingredients, Kathy created 1910 Main after 30 years of catering and restaurant experience. Kathy brings a love for great food, wine and company to her restaurant.

We were treated to a 7-course wine makers dinner filled with specialty courses such as Gin Linda Kissam explores Oregon's Great Grapescured Oregon Coho Salmon Tartar on Crisp Potatoes paired with 1 2011 Apolloni Sparkling Rose ($29). Each course was a visual and gastronomic feast for the eyes and tummy. Despite the fancy food, the restaurant is warm and casual. This is a must-do for dinner.

All in all, Portland surprised and delighted, and definitely exceeded my expectations…and certainly expanded by liquid assets horizon. This was a pure gold experience. Ahhh, if I’d only known what I have been missing, I’d have long ago staked a claim to Oregon’s Washington County.

Resources:

Portland Visitor Bureau

The Double Tree Inn

McMenamins Grand Lodge

Hawk View Cellars

SakéOne

Montinore Estate Winery

Portland Hotel Deals

 

Places I’ve Lived #17 – Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon PowellsAs a child I had to go through Portland a couple of times while taking Greyhound Buses from Myrtle Creek to see my grandfather in Tacoma and then in high school I rode with a friend who used to drive up to Portland from Redding to buy pounds (you know what I’m talking about and if you don’t then never mind). So I didn’t have a great impression of Portland. Bus stations and bad elements.

When I moved there from Florence, most of my good friends from Bellingham and a couple of them from Redding had moved there. One of my best friends was living in a van in a neighborhood between where two of my other friends rented houses. I moved into the neighborhood with my VW. It was pretty rad. A bunch of my friends were musicians and we had frequent jam sessions and drinking bouts. I got a job tending bar at a pretty funny gay bar in Southeast Portland. If I had been gay, my love life would have been busy…but as a straight guy living in a van, I still did alright.Portland, OregonI was looking for a place to rent but didn’t have to hurry as it was only September and Portland was laid back and cool. This was a pretty radical city and nobody worried much about George W. Bush as it was obvious he was a one term president. We drank, we made music, we built shit on computers, we had fun. Then it was September 11th, 2001 and everything changed. We all gathered at my friends’ Tony and Ray’s place and watched with horror – we knew it was going to mean war. I went to Fred Meyer  and bought some spray paint – I painted my sheet to say “No Retaliation. Enough Dead. Drop Bread not Bombs”

I hung it up next to the freeway and then parked some distance away to see what people’s reactions would be. A couple of guys in big trucks stopped and ripped my sign up. I understood their fear and anger, but over the next weeks watching the American flags get waved, seeing the ‘Merica’ mentality take root, and understanding that the open minded and progressive 90’s were never coming back ripped my soul apart. I saw ignorance and racism bubbling to the surface. I wanted no part of it.

Portland, OregonI bought a ticket to Hawaii and parked my VW van in my mom’s back yard. I had $180 in my pocket.  I’d never been to Hawaii but I figured I could find a way to make it work and I hoped that with a population that wasn’t dominated by white people, that maybe the unhealthy patriotism sweeping the mainland wouldn’t be as oppressive and ugly.

Two years later, I came back to Portland following a flight attendant I thought I’d fallen in love with on Oahu – I got a job as a stock broker and rented a room in Ray’s house for six months – but that wasn’t the life for me. I found a publisher for Rough Living:Tips and Tales of a Vagabond and quit my job as a stock broker. I was good at it, but my breaking point came when our analysts told us that it would be easy to sell Krispy Kreme stock as we moved into war with Iraq because people were freaked out and needed comfort food. I moved on doing what I called my ’50 Book Tour’ – fifty was the number of author copies my publisher had given me.  I loved Portland – it was cheap, had great food, a hip and progressive community of smart people, and plenty to do. The winters in Oregon however bummed me out. I drove up to Bellingham where I sold books, did author talks, and then took a job on a salmon boat so I could earn enough to get back to Hawaii.

Portland, Oregon

Portland, OregonPortland is the largest city in Oregon and the 25th largest in the USA. It has a population of about 650,000 people. It is divided up into four quadrants Northeast, Northwest, Southeast, and Southwest. Portland is a city of cool hipster neighborhoods and great food. It was once a blue collar port town with a reputation for being a haven for organized crime but in the 1960s a bunch of hippies and counter-culture types began to move in. During the 1990s and 2000s, it started to become a bit of a high tech hub – with spillover from Seattle and Silicon Valley. Intel is based in Portland. Portland sits at the point where the Columbia and Willamette Rivers converge and is characterized by many bridges. Portland is home to the world’s largest bookstore Powell’s Books.

Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) in Portland

OMSI Portland OregonWe love spending time in Portland, Oregon. It has a little bit of everything.

Last trip, we spent nearly the entire day at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry – OMSI for short. We went all in for the ultimate explorer package so we got to see a planetarium show, an Imax movie, explore the exhibits, and take a tour of the Blueback submarine.

It made for a full day with the two story outer space explorers exhibit, the gingerbread architecture show, and the regular exhibits plus the extras. For the three of us, the bill including lunch and popcorn came out to right around $100…which was quite a deal. We opted for the Sesame Street planetarium movie – which was safe and fun for Sophia, but probably she could have enjoyed one of the more advanced shows just as much – she’s five but inquisitive and already knew most of what Big Bird and friends taught.

For lunch, we left and grabbed a pizza at the Lucky Labrador Beer Hall , a huge family friendly beer hall with ultra-cheesy delicious pizza and home brewed root beer (plus plenty of adult -beverages and a varied menu and I’ve been told special events on a regular basis) – a super cool, laid back place. Then we went back to Omsi.

OMSI Portland OregonWe watched the Exploring Space IMAX which was a great introduction to the two floors of space related science exhibits and hands on displays. The Blueback tour was interesting if you are interested in military history or life for military submariners but since none of us were – we could have easily skipped that one – the smell of diesel while comforting to me was overwhelming for both Hanane and Sophia and the tour was only mildly interesting for any of us.

OMSI Portland OregonWe were very happy to see a Dr. Who themed Gingerbread house – Tardis actually- and the rest of the space themed structures were equally impressive. Finally, we didn’t spend nearly enough time just playing with the general science areas and hands on experiments – areas in physics, lasers, design, and more. It was a full day and we left feeling like we got much more than our money’s worth.

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