Good food and Goodwill

My visiting friend Melissa called me in a mild panic last week. She had been in Portland less than 12 hours and already wanted to turn back, possibly at the expense of finishing up the meeting she was currently taking a break from. Portland was way bigger, had far more pavement and people, than she was used to in Humboldt County, the sparsely populated California region where she and I had met. From my office about eight miles away, I pleaded with her not to leave, as I hadn’t even seen her yet; she had arrived well after my bedtime the previous night, and checked into an employer-paid hotel. Now it was late morning and I couldn’t afford to leave work early, so I told her I’d have to meet her after 5:00. I encouraged her to hop a free train into downtown, in the meantime, but the thought of getting lost in the urban grid scared her; so I pointed out that she was just two blocks away from a mall where she could while away the afternoon. It wouldn’t have been my first choice, but I know what it’s like to be disoriented and intimidated by an unfamiliar city.

After I calmed her down I went back to work, and she went back to debriefing from her fisheries job. When I got off a bus to collect her many hours later, she’d been reading a book in her car and was, I’m sure, craving some company and entertainment. I was thrilled not only to see her, but to show off my adopted city to somebody who was unfamiliar with it. Sadly, I had to begin by helping her navigate the strange intersections of Hollywood and a traffic circle perforated by Stop signs. (I don’t know about other cities, but where Melissa and I are from, traffic circles use Yield signs.) Then, after dropping off her baggage at my apartment, we had to turn back and do it all over again—in the opposite direction—to get to the restaurant where I insisted on taking her for dinner.

There was an explicit rule that because this was a vacation, at least for my friend, it was totally appropriate to eat large amounts of food. Over the next two days we gorged on chocolate bundt cake from Grand Central Bakery (delivered by an over-caffeinated and extra-friendly server), shared a plate of Thai food, ate some deliciously fried breakfast at the Cadillac Café, and had pizza while listening to a rockabilly duo at Eugenio’s on Division Street. Melissa got herself hooked on the French macaroons from Pix Patisserie and is now wondering how to make them at home. Unfortunately, we were too full and had too little time to seek out gelato, crepes, or Voodoo Doughnuts.

Another important rule: because we were on vacation, we had to go shopping. I took my antiques-loving friend far away from the mall and into Sellwood, where we spent many hours wandering down Antique Row. I’d been there before, but never had I visited or even noticed as many shops as Melissa and I hit that day. We breathed in lots of dust and admired a lot of heavily marked-up merchandise. My friend was genuinely excited to find a long-handled garden implement of dubious antiquity for only a dollar; it looked a bit menacing as she carried it down the street and into other stores.

We followed up the Sellwood trip with a visit to the Goodwill Bins, where junk is sold by the pound. Melissa claimed to be weirded out by the heaping bins and the scavengers who pounced on them, but I noticed that she made a good three trips around the store with her own shopping cart. I pawed through the clothing and books, and after finding a couple of worthwhile items, I was finished; it was after 6:00, and I was ready to sag into my couch to sleep off the afternoon’s chocolate cake. My dear friend was still in her element and could have thrifted all night, but she graciously conceded.

We rested up at home, trying to form appetites for dinner and dancing. Yes, I did say dancing—am I mad? I don’t dance, and I don’t think Melissa does either, but it was Friday night (on vacation!) and we both thought we’d be up for something fun. The weekly ‘80s dance party in downtown Portland should have been safe, as I’ve heard that it involves people jumping around goofily, and I can probably do that. But the party didn’t start until 10:00, and after having a semi-late dinner down the street from my apartment, we were ready to turn in. Even without the dancing, I was exhausted from a wonderfully busy day. I was happy to have gotten away from my solitary routine, to play hostess, to smile and laugh, to feel warmly connected to another person. I hope to get more visitors soon.

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