The Great American Road Trip Part 2: West Coast

The modern travel way, Olympia, Washington

The modern travel way, Olympia, Washington

My epic summer travels continued this month up and down the West Coast. After two weeks in the Midwest, the West Coast felt like familiar territory. I used to live in Portland, Oregon on-and-off between 2000 and 2004 and I’d recently visited Seattle and San Francisco. Unlike my Midwest adventures, I for this trip I relied more on public and mass transit to get around, except in Seattle and Olympia where your flexibility is limited by the public transit options and I find that in Seattle, like LA, people obsess over talking about traffic and parking.

The sweet, seductive architecture of SE Portland

The sweet, seductive architecture of SE Portland

My sweet, borrowed PDX ride "Banana Lightening"

My sweet, borrowed PDX ride “Banana Lightening”

While it has a reputation for being a rainy climate, the truth is, summer in the Northwest is glorious. Days are overall sunny with warm days that cool off at night. It’s the perfect temperature to dreamily drink an iced coffee, ride a bike leisurely around the city, meet your friends for a picnic in the park, or sip cocktails on the patio.

Sharing a table with Meredith at the Portland Zine Symposium!

Sharing a table with Meredith at the Portland Zine Symposium!

Zinester mail from @nicolejgeorges xoxo!

Zine symposium mail from Nicole Georges!

The Portland Zine Symposium was a big reason why I chose to be in Portland when I did. It’s really amazing to see a project I helped start 13 years ago continue with such vigor and be taken up by a totally new team of people. I feel like that’s the exact legacy I hoped to create with the symposium and I’m so glad to see it worked out. It was also nice to return as a participant and not have the stress of an organizer.  However, much of Portland reminded me of that heady time in my early 20s when I lived there. I would be biking along a street on my borrowed, bright yellow, vintage folding bike named “Banana Lightening” aka “Banana Question,” and remember a feeling I had in that same place over ten years ago. I felt amazed that I had grown up, but still half way convinced that I was going to encounter my 22-year-old self around any given corner.

I love Olympia!

I love Olympia!

I felt a similar feeling in Olympia, where I hadn’t spent too much time since attending the Yo Yo A Go Go music festival in 1999 when I was 18. Then I was a giddy teenager fresh out of my small town. There I saw acts like Elliot Smith, Quasi and the Need play the historic Capitol Theater and spent time blissfully sleeping on a motel floor with four other indie rock fans and meeting up with my zine pen pals from all over the country.

Capitol Theater, Olympia, Washington, where indie rock history was made

Capitol Theater, Olympia, Washington, where indie rock history was made

Olympia now has a strange, sleepy vibe, though it is still home to a very dedicated creative community. The staples I remember like Dumpster Values thrift store, Rainy Day Records, and K Records homebase, are still there, though they have moved. There’s plenty of new, cool places, like the Northern for all ages shows (and good coffee in the morning from a coffee bar called Bar Francis) and Quality Burrito for delicious tacos and cocktails. One of my favorite places to re-visit was The Reef – greasy spoon diner in front, dive bar in back, where the bar tender played KARP on the jukebox in an evening that felt perfectly fitting for Olympia past and present.

An Olympia classic

An Olympia classic

Karaoke pandas, Olympia, Washington

Karaoke pandas, Olympia, Washington

My last day in Washington State got a little cloudy, so it was quite a big change when I hopped an Alaska Airlines flight down to hot, sunny and flat Sacramento. It was my fifth time in California in the past year and it felt great to be back in the Golden State. I got to learn about the growing creative community in California’s capitol and present at the sweetest nonprofit, Hello XOXO, a new space dedicated to fostering women’s creativity and entrepreneurship.

Hello XOXO - a nonprofit fostering women's creative community in Sacramento, CA
Hello XOXO – a nonprofit fostering women’s creative community in Sacramento, CA
Decor love at Hello XOXO

Decor love at Hello XOXO

I wasn’t long in Sacramento though, and after just a quick afternoon and evening I headed to Berkeley to browse the selection at Amoeba records, and meet up with my favorite California boys, Torches, who were touring up the West Coast while I was headed down. It was great to compare road notes over sandwiches and mimosas and think about how much we have all grown creatively since meeting about a year and a bit ago.

Tour highlight: lunch with these rock stars @torches_music

Lunch with Torches, also on tour, in Berkeley

After sending the boys off I took the BART into San Francisco, my last tour stop. I love how San Francisco’s hills rise up over the bay, how the fog blows across it in strange wisps, and how the pastel buildings tile up its impossibly steep slopes. That said, by the time I reached San Francisco I was feeling a little tired. I was ready to go home.

Brunch seriousness

French “Soul Food” brunch in San Francisco!

Fortunately, if you’ve got a friend in San Francisco, they usually know what you need. In this case, Amy took me to Brenda’s, an amazing French Soul Food influenced brunch joint, and then bought a bottle of champagne that we drank out of plastic cups in a park full of palm trees, lavender plants and cute dogs. It was the perfect end to my travels.

Champagne in the park in the 3-D Nickey Hayden glass

Last day of tour and living the San Francisco park life

Seeing new places, returning to places I love and meeting up with people I love in these places, is one of the most life affirming things one can do, in my opinion. At the same time, I’m happy to have a solid home base in Brooklyn, a place where I can nurture my own creativity and reach out to the world from. Being on tour especially means being on almost every waking minute. It means putting your best foot forward always and being open to possibility and risk while getting what you need to do accomplished. My summer was hardly relaxing or carefree, but it was a hugely absorbing journey that’s left me so grateful for the opportunity I was able to create to talk about my passions and projects and remember what’s valuable to me: community, connection, and creativity. And it’s through that kind of risk taking that we learn and grow.

Who Dares Wins

My new motto on the wall of the Makeshift Society

Seattle Through the (iPhone) Camera’s Eyes

Seattle vue de touriste

Oh don't even start with the "Sleepless..." jokes

At the end of one of my recent posts I mentioned that I had just gotten my first “real” camera – a Canon digital SLR. I’ve been amazed at the quality of the pictures it takes and how easy it is to use. However, sometimes when I am traveling light a big camera is not thing I want to haul around. I still have my trusty Power Shot point and shoot, but increasingly I find myself using my iPhone and the camera apps Instagram, Hipstamatic and Camera + for every day picture taking and sharing.

Memory of moody Seattle skies

Queen Anne hill and Lake Union

I remember some camera advice being “The best camera you have is the one that’s with you,” but I may also be remembering that advice incorrectly. In any event, on our recent long weekend trip to the west coast I made the most out of my iPhone to document the trip, including a short one up the Space Needle!

Seattle! Tacoma! SeaTac! What's up?

Arrival in Seattle and testing the new light rail from the airport. Note the rain on the window and the wool scarf + sweater combo.

Though I lived in Portland, Oregon and have been through Seattle a few times I had never had time to explore it. While February is not the ideal time to go as a tourist and will remind anyone who has lived in and moved away from the Pacific Northwest precisely why they made that choice (persistent grey skies and cold rain), it’s still a fun and relaxed city. I discovered great food, excellent coffee, nice views, and a surprisingly stylish hair salon! I also only took off my sweater and wool scarf to change into wedding attire for a few hours. It may be green and non-icy, but Seattle is cold in the winter!

My first morning I met up with the groom’s side of the wedding party (the wedding being the reason for our weekend trip) at Pete’s Egg Nest for a post-bachelor party brunch. Pete’s is a quintessential greasy spoon that is crowded on weekends and dishes up huge servings of eggs and hash browns. That’s a way to beat the winter – drink more coffee and eat more eggs!

Post-bachelor party brunch!

Only half of my breakfast would fit into the camera frame

For a wedding weekend we had a surprisingly relaxed time and I even found a chance to get my hair cut. I can be lazy about making time for a trim and because my hair is so short I have to stay diligent about it or suddenly, before I’m even aware of it, about two months after my last cut, I look like a sheepdog. Fortunately A. (the groom) recommended Derby Salon, just north of the U District. I was unsure, but as soon as I walked in and saw the Bumble and Bumble and Dermotologica products  for sale, the retro aesthetic, and the cool, friendly people working there I knew I had found the right place.

Wedding haircut all set!

New do from Derby Salon

Just down the street from Derby is another den of pampering and temptation: The Trading Musician, a locally owned music equipment store that sells new and vintage equipment. SMH was late in meeting me, so I amused myself by playing around with Phaser pedals. You know when you are in a shoegaze band when you can always justify one more pedal (just like one more pair of shoes). After hemming and hawing about features, tone, uniqueness and analog vs. digital I came away with a simple, functional “Small Stone” El Nano pedal made right here in New York City by Electro Harmonix.

Music store at the rainbow's end!

The Trading Musician: A pot of gold of vintage equipment

Which to choose?

Phaser sampling

After checking out the sights it was time for the wedding. It was nice to have a chance to dress up and be celebratory amidst the rain and the fog of the northwest winter. It was also inspiring to be at a wedding that was so much a product of the bride and groom’s vision and valued their relationship, family and friendships above all. There was also some funny internet confusion because the bride’s first name is my last name. No, I’m not getting married yet.

Tenue du soir bonsoir!

My wedding get up as seen in the mirror in the groom's men's dressing room: BB Dakota dress, Repetto shoes, and my grandmother's necklace and alligator clutch purse

Vows (and groomsmen in converse)

Vows with the groom and his men in matching Converse high tops

The day following the wedding we decided to work off our post-party stupor by getting in our Seattle tourist fix. Now, let me explain that SMH is from the northwest, so any tourist activities were mostly for my benefit. I can also say that a lunch of fresh seafood at Elliott’s Oyster House was a great experience for all. They are committed to local and sustainable seafood and are extra sensitive to food allergies. Their dining room has a great view of the ferry dock, so you can watch the Washington State ferries come and go on their way to Bremmerton and other points in Puget Sound.

Sampling the bounty of Puget Sound

A selection of local oysters at Elliott's Oyster House

Alder plank northwest salmon!

Alder plank baked northwest salmon

After I was satiated with fresh fish there was one more touristic thing we had to do. It really is THE touristic thing. Yes, the Space Needle. As a New York City resident for ten years I have proudly never gone to the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, or Rockefeller Center.  But in another city, why not? I love idea of the past imagination of the future space age, and while the view was mostly of the shifting fog and clouds, it was completely worth the $19 is cost to ride the elevator 600 feet up in sixty seconds. Viewed from the sky I started to gain a better understanding of the city and it’s relationship to the water, sky, trees and mountains, which were well hidden behind winter’s clouds.

Oh yes we are doing this

The past's dream of tomorrow, today!

Foggy Seattle sky view

Downtown Seattle from the top of the Space Needle

However, sometimes when you visit a popular tourist attraction, unfortunate things happen. I’ll leave you with this fetching image.

Portland Revisited and Seattle Discovered

The house in Portland, Oregon where I lived in in the summer of 2002 and 2003

In the fall of 2000 I packed my life into boxes, shipped them across the country, and began a five year love affair with Portland, Oregon. I lived in a house that housed a record label, regularly hosted indie pop shows, and sheltered a somewhat revolving cast of characters who were indie rock musicians or appreciators of the genre. After a year of zine making, playing in bands, biking and making intense friendships (the kind you kindle when you are 19 and you are linked by common interests, far fetched ideas and, often, a lot of drama) I moved to NYC to go college. That was right in time for September 11th, but that’s another story.

Sign outside the Independent Publishing Resource Center

While I was in college I returned to Portland as often as I could and lived there in the summers and helped organize the Portland Zine Symposium until 2004. I deeply associate Portland, its relaxed lifestyle, political commitment and particular aesthetic with my early 20’s, with finding and revising my identity and informing the person I decided to become.

Crepe cart at Cartopia on Hawthorne in Portland

Portland has changed a lot in the past 10 years. By changes I mean it has intensely gentrified and every year another street seems to be taken over by a host of art galleries, wine bars, eco-friendly, artisan produced goods, and food truck pods. I often wonder what the underlying economy is that drives this relentless development. It’s also become somewhat of a national joke thanks to the (very funny) TV show Portlandia. Sometimes it really does feel like the dream of the 90’s is alive in Portland.

Brunch at Junior's, one of my favorite PDX breakfast spots then and now

However, I’m also happy that many of my friends have grown up and been able to buy houses at relatively cheap prices and been able to build their adult lives in Portland. I visited my favorite place, the Independent Publishing Resource Center, which is growing and flourishing. I even attended the Portland Zine Symposium, which is still going strong after 10 years. The choice of zines and dedication to independent media and radical ideas about and society was just as strong as they were when we began it 10 years ago.

Pony Boy Press' Table at the Portland Zine Symposium

Playing in the park with my former housemate's daughter

After Portland I headed further up I-5 to Seattle. Despite my long standing, long-distance fascination with Portland I had hardly spent any time in Seattle. SMH went to college there and despite growing up in Central Washington, his family now all live in the Seattle area.

Puget Sound, Seattle

We jumped in to some touristic activities. This included visiting the Crab Pot, a seafood restaurant on one of the downtown piers that give you a pot of steamed seafood, a mallet, a board and a bib. Coming from Maine I know that lobster crackers would be much more effective than a mallet, but with no shame I donned my bib (I had to go to work after lunch and was wearing work clothes) and dug in.

Seafood Lunch at the Crab Pot

Donning my bib with no shame at the Crab Pot

I also got to enjoy some delicious coffee on Capital Hill, and an astronomically large, grease soaked breakfast (in the middle of the afternoon) at Beth’s Cafe in Green Lake.

Breakfast at Beth's. The hasbrowns and coffee are unlimited. The portoin sizes are legendary.

I really wanted to love Seattle. At first I thought that it would combine my need for a big, cosmopolitan city with the nature, greenery and relaxed lifestyle I love the Pacific Northwest for. But here was a problem I did not anticipate: the traffic. Seattle has terrible urban planning and only adequate public transportation. This is surprising to me, given that Portland, Oregon, has made a major commitment to improving its public transit infrastructure over the past 20 years or so. Seattle’s current mayor is a major bike supporter, but I don’t see a lot of infrastructure being created to encourage cycling. And parking. In addition to traffic and whether I-5 will be totally backed up, that’s all everyone talks about. Where to find it. How to pay for it. I do not want this to be my life. So for now, Seattle is off my “I’ll move there one day when I get sick of New York City” list.

Outside of Trading Musician in Seattle