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The View

August 3, 2011

Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder. I don’t think that’s accurate, though. Or, I should say, I don’t think that’s complete. Everything is in the eye of the beholder. Absolute truth doesn’t exist–truth depends on your vantage point.

Take Tuesday, for example. Some might say it was a great day with a few significant mishaps. Others might say it was a second straight disaster of a day. I’m not always the one in the family who focuses on the positive, but this time Sam and I both see things the first way. Sarah, well, it’s a bit more difficult for her to look on the bright side right now.

We woke up Tuesday morning in an Econo Lodge in southwestern Washington that was much heavier on the Econo than on the Lodge. The place was so bare-bones that the free breakfast didn’t even include cold cereal. It was the kind of place where you lock that extra sliding-loop lock at the top of the door as soon as you get into your room. The only problem was that our lock looked like this:

But for $54.99 plus tax we got two beds and a shower and we didn’t get even a little bit murdered, so we dipped into our reserves for breakfast and hit the road. (This time I packed up the car a bit differently so that Sam was in much less danger of avalanche in the back seat.)

Tuesday and Wednesday are our Oregon days. The plan: to see as much of Portland as we could squeeze into a few hours before heading west to the famed Oregon Coast, where we’d drive down scenic US 101 as it hugs the shoreline all the way to California.

What a cool city Portland is! We started in Beverly Cleary’s old nabe, where there’s a small sculpture garden in US Grant Park featuring Ramona, Henry Huggins, and Ribsy. Abby read the whole Ramona series and I know she’ll be sorry to have missed this. Sam never got into Ramona but nevertheless found a way to enjoy the statues.

Even better: just a few blocks away is the real Kilckitat Street.

It was a great way to start our day.

From there we headed to the hospital. Not because anyone was sick or injured, but because the massive OHSU (Oregon Health & Science University) complex is on top of a hill so high that they built an aerial tram to take people from ground level to the hospital. It’s a bit unusual to use a commute to the hospital as a sightseeing excursion, but for $12 total for the three of us we got a round trip up and down the mountain and panoramic views of the city and of Mt. Hood in the distance. And all in just a few minutes.

Our next stop was Pioneer Courthouse Square, a public square opposite a majestic downtown courthouse. The square functions similarly to Manhattan’s Bryant Park: free concerts at noon every day, food vendors around the outskirts, lots of room for people to sit and enjoy the weather, occasional movie screenings at night, and an odd statue or two.

The best part was the DoubleTree Cookie Caravan, which was parked on the courthouse side of the square and staffed with at least half a dozen folks who were handing out free cookies.

By the way, Downtown Portland is fantastic. The buildings are interesting, the streets are clean, the city is small and walkable, the traffic is reasonable, and although street parking is limited we were able to find a spot only two blocks from where we wanted to be. Downtown is also oddly quiet. Not empty (there were plenty of people bustling about) but quiet–no sirens blaring, no screaming vendors, no car horns, just a bunch of people going about their business without making very much noise. It’s something I’ve never experienced in any other city.

The city also boasts several public fountains that kids can splash in. We only had time for one, so I picked Teachers Fountain–more for the name than for the look, which was cute but not nearly as physically impressive as some of the others around town. These days it’s rare to have a major city with a public declaration of appreciation for teachers and the work we do, making it all the more enjoyable. Oblivious to the message, Sam took off his shoes and enjoyed the fountain even more than I did.

Then came lunchtime. Sam insisted on having one of those cup-o’-soup things in macaroni-and-cheese version. This about the most disgusting food possible for humans to consume. I could swear I heard a Geiger counter registering dangerous levels of radiation as ot water turned the hardened block of artificially orange ramen into a softened cup of artificially orange ramen and matching fake cheese sludge. Sam loved it, until he accidentally spilled a bunch of it onto his lap, the car, and his favorite stuffed pal, Blankie. As he screamed in pain we quickly yanked him out of the car, got his hot, wet shorts off, and grabbed some ice from the cooler to put on his legs. It was a while before he calmed down and we got the car cleaned up and dug out a clean pair of shorts for him. We were thankful that he wasn’t seriously hurt. We couldn’t say the same for Blankie, who was now bright orange on much of his head and body. he spent the rest of the day in the trunk.

Unfortunately that was about all the Portland we had time for. The coast beckoned. And it was incredible. Beautiful weather, beautiful scenery, and a few interesting stops to make.

We got a fascinating glass blowing demonstration in Lincoln City:

We stopped to gaze at several lighthouses, including the one at Hecta Head that claims to be the most photographed in the world:

We drove over cool bridges:

And just north of Florence, the Sea Lion Caves. America’s largest sea cave was a big stop on our itinerary not so much for the sea cave itself, which was OK, but for the Stellar sea lions that often visit. Sea lion attendance is never guaranteed but we got lucky and saw about 100 of them sunning themselves on the rocks just outside the cave:

At this point we were about halfway down the coast and just a few miles from our hotel in Florence. We were all looking forward to checking in, eating dinner, and getting to bed at a reasonable hour. And then, half a mile from our hotel, we saw a suddenly very familiar sight: a police car in the rearview mirror, lights flashing. Sarah’s second speeding ticket in as many days. Her mood suddenly turned south.

She was valiantly trying to recompose herself as we pulled into the hotel parking lot and she went inside to check us in. Sam and I made plans to cheer her up. It didn’t work. She got back in the car to announce that her credit card was missing. For the sake of expediency and discretion I’m just going to go ahead and say that the next hour or so was not a lot of fun for any of us.

Eventually her card turned up at a full-serve gas station we had stopped at hours earlier–Sarah had never noticed that the attendant had forgotten to give it back to her.

The good news continued when we found out that our hotel has a washer and dryer, which I promptly used to restore Blankie to full health.

We definitely had our challenges but all in all it was a great day. At least, that’s how Sam and I see it. Hopefully Sarah will see it that way soon, too. But even if her vantage point doesn’t change, her seat in the car definitely will.

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