Thursday, June 17, 2010

Feels like home

Hooked up with Sylvain, a couchsurfer from France, to take a roadtrip out to Peggy's Cove and Lunenburg. We spent the car ride out there cross referencing three different maps, realizing how badly we'd forgotten everything we learned in school, discussing french deathcore metal (him) and fifteen minutes trying to explain moose, elk and caribou (me - this is because in european english moose are elk, elk are wapiti or red deer, and caribou are reindeer; he thought caribou was french for moose, this was about fifteen solid minutes of confusion until we found a quarter and a brochure of pictures).

It was drizzling steadily all day, so Peggy's Cove was only crowded with tourists instead of being completely overwhelmed. Even so, there's a reason it's the most iconic and visited site in Nova Scotia. The glacier-sculpted coastline alone is worth the drive - the town itself is basically a model turn of the century fishing village. I'm not sure if any of the boats or traps actually get used or are just there for the tourists to look at. I'm not being disparaging here, it was still neat, although it does feel like a really, really convincing museum exhibit. My favourite part was a giant whale pelvis propped up against a shed, covered in lichen and slowly disintegrating. No one in town knows where it's from or how it got there, it's just 'always been there'. Lunenburg is a still active shipbuilding town - it's where the Bluenose was built, and currently the home of her successor, who is due to be hauled out for refitting. There was a museum with a rumrunning exhibit. I am so proud of my country, you guys.

You know how even when you're at your own house, in the place you've grown up, you can feel homesick? I don't feel like that here. It was the same in Oregon and Vancouver, and Scotland too, a bit...standing on a jumble of boulders, watching the waves, cold and soaked and completely at peace. Maybe everyone has a different kind of landscape that resonates with them - rocks and oceans are mine.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Richmond and ROMA

Got into DC later than expected, due to the previous post. Decided to go try and find a bakery I'd heard about in Georgetown. I failed, but Georgetown itself is beautiful - full of canals and bridges and trendy shops (all much too expensive but it's fun to look at the menus). And DC is a nice city to walk around. Well, the touristy parts at least.

Hopped on the bus to Richmond the next morning to meet up with Matt, aka Stiggen. He is an extremely awesome guy. We went for lunch and spent a few hours trying and failing to find Poe's grave, then wandering this huge rambling park, complete with aviary and koi pond. Richmond is a much bigger city than I'd expected.

His band, ROMA, was playing the last set at a bowling alley that night, so we headed to their practice space to get the instruments and start setting up. The practice space is in a huge three-story warehouse, the top two floors of which are slowly being partitioned to rent out to various bands and artists. Getting between the floors is accomplished by a narrow staircase with pipe railings, or this enormous rickety freight elevator, the kind with a gate and top/bottom doors, exactly the kind of elevator that people get trapped in in horror movies while something claws through the roof. I enjoyed it. The space itself is surprisingly nice - the size of a small apartment, with actual windows. Across from them is a death metal band whose primary strength, like Spinal Tap, is volume. We dismantled the drum kit and mic stands and hauled it all downstairs where the band miraculously crammed it all into two cars in some kind of complicated instrument tetris.

The turnout for the show was slightly disappointing - there were more musicians there than actual bowlers. This wasn't helped by the fact that no one thought to text anyone about the show until we'd unloaded, or that it turned out they wouldn't be playing their set until ten. Which was too bad since the show itself was fantastic - the first band two bands were pretty decent (the highlight was a love ballad about Facebook), and ROMA rocked out much harder than the apathetic, sullen bowling alley owner deserved. I still can't figure out how to describe their music. Alt folk rock? There's kind of a Nick Cave/Tom Waits/garage band vibe to them, they're pretty popular in Richmond but they definitely deserve to be better known.

Packed up and headed to someone's house to drink. Things get a little fuzzy at that point. Fell asleep on the couch watching Waiting (if you work at a restaurant, see this movie. If you enjoy eating at restaurants, don't.) Made pb and banana french toast the next morning, listening to Matt fiddle with the guitar. It was a pretty good way to spend a birthday.

The bus ride deserves its own post.

You know why Greyhound is so cheap?

Because people on it are goddamn crazy.

The gate line for DC was already doubled back on itself when I got there (they'd oversold the previous bus, they are organized like that). I noticed one sketchy guy hovering around the gate - he was this skinny blonde middleaged man who obviously hadn't bathed or changed for a while. Equally obvious was the fact that he was not stable - he kept weaving back and forth and swearing to himself, eyes unfocused. I thought he was some bum who'd wandered in for the AC, but to my surprise he both had a ticket and was allowed onboard. I'd assumed the entire Greyhound company had cracked down on security ever since the beheading, but apparently that's just Canada. I sat as far away as I could.

Things went downhill almost immediately after. The bus driver spent an hour and a half arguing with a woman who had dared to move her bags off the seat onto the ground, which ended with us waiting for the police to come and remove the passenger, who was not violent in any way and could have been handled by actual Greyhound employees. When they finally showed up, people *applauded*. We pulled out, the bus driver gave the mandatory no smoking/thank you for riding spiel, then added a smug "don't try me" at the end, which also got applause. This blew my mind. People were actually impressed by her behaviour? She took an extremely minor incident and blew it way out of proportion. These were grown women behaving like children, but you're congratulating her on what, exactly? Not allowing 'disrespect'? I hate to sound like a judgmental foreigner but...this is the kind of attitude that causes problems for America.

At about 3 am on the interstate out of Clarksville, sketchy guy made his move. He demanded to be let off the bus (we were in the middle of nowhere) and when that didn't work, began screaming and clawing at the bus driver and exit door. The bus swerved around and half the passengers rushed to the front to see what was going on. Luckily, some of them were actually helpful and held the guy down so the driver could find a safe place to pull over and wait for the state troopers. Throughout all this sketchy guy kept shrieking, moaning, and cursing everyone around him. Then he started to have a seizure (the trooper insisted he was faking this, but he sure as hell was not faking the rest of it).

Oh Greyhound. And I get to ride you for another month.

Friday, May 28, 2010


I'd like to say I was sad to leave Memphis but frankly, it couldn't happen soon enough. Nashville was only a few short hours away - getting to the hostel from the station took almost as long as the bus trip, since I had once again forgotten everything I learned and failed to write down the address when I still had wifi. I ducked into the library to use theirs, and also to hide from the guy who'd been following me for six blocks (I used to respond to people when they greeted me on the street. This country has broken me of that habit, because every time I do it never ends well). The hostel is in the west end of Nashville, away from all the tourist hotspots but still full of music and bars. Dropped my stuff off, walked around downtown a bit (highlights include the Charlie Daniels museum, which defies description. If I wasn't in the South I would think someone was parodying it, but they are completely serious. Every kind of confederate flag merch you can think of, a set of furniture made of cow horns and hide, bald eagles and flags and oh god), then came back and ran into Greg which pretty much made my day. Sadly, his next stop was Ashville instead of DC, breaking our trend, but we're almost certain to meet each other again in New York.

Woke up the next day and hit the Country Music Hall of Fame. I had been pretty ambivalent about going, figuring it would be dry and of interest only to diehard country fans, but my roommate Christina talked me into it. And yeah. I have never been so wrong. The third floor alone is worth the cost of admission - it's a history of the evolution of the genre and north american music as a whole. There are old instruments and stage costumes... you know what? I'm going to cheat and just link this, because I keep having to go and name check things and I guarantee I'm going to get it wrong anyhow (I will add that Webb Pierce's car also had horshoes replacing the pedals and a rifle welded to the trunk. The worst part is I think he thought it looked genuinely cool.) In summation : it was fantastic, and most importantly I did not see a single word about Shania Twain anywhere.

Later that evening went out to the bar strip with Greg and Christina to find some free music, which is easy in Nashville. The Broadway strip is mostly cover bands but they are good cover bands. The Flintstones theme, done in bluegrass. Good stuff.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Memphis, and bitching

Greg and I had once again chosen the same departure date - it's nice having someone to chat with and watch your bags while you wander about. We're fairly certain we'll be sharing a bus to Nashville as well.

I am writing this from The Edge - it is a small coffeehouse, with a mic and amp setup, wifi and terminals, an old-school arcade machine with thirty or so games on it (pacman, space invaders, donkey kong, etc), two pool tables, a wall of books, and random murals and drawings taped to the walls. If I ever go insane and decide to open a cafe one day I want it to look exactly like this.

It is raining in Memphis, which makes me happy. A nice respite from the suffocating heat of the last few days. Memphis is not as interesting as you would think...there are lots of bars and crackheads, and not much else. I'm probably being unfair here - there are a few museums and I'm sure if I looked harder I would find a lot of awesome things, but walking around aimlessly has been my exploration strategy for the last month and this is not a good city in which to try that - the area I'm staying in is directly in between old money mansions and cracktown. It's four blocks from the trolley to my hosts' house and they are not a fun four blocks. It is discouraging. Plus, tomorrow will be my third 12+ hour bus trip in the last week, and the novelty has worn off. I'll be glad to get to the northeast, where cities are only a few hours apart. Also, I am allergic to something down here, I haven't stopped sneezing since I got in the city.

Enough complaining. Good things: my cs hosts have a puppy who is weapons-grade adorable, I have a delicious new recipe, Anne drew a picture of my two favourite AIs, and there are both Jules Verne and Clive Barker in the cafe bookshelf.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

New Orleans

Turns out this weekend happens to be the Bayou Boogaloo Midcity Festival, which is about five blocks away from the India House. I found it by accident this morning while looking for the post office, and decided to stay. It's a three-stage music and art/craft/whatnot event, and most importantly, free. And the word Bayou is there for a reason - the park it's in is right alongside the Bayou St. John, which at this point is more like a small manmade lake than a bayou but still has fish in it (I saw them jumping).
Spent about six hours wandering between the stages and craft tents, ate crawfish etouffee and fried eggplant, napped on the grass and refreshed my sunburn. There were probably about fifty different acts over the course of this weekend - everything from brass bands to folk-country to hiphop. Also got to see the youth segment of the Wild Mohicans perform in costume - the youngest was about six or seven, incredibly cute. Sat under a tree and watched people canoe and kayak down the bayou, and thought about how incredibly lucky I am. This is one of the good days.

Friday, May 21, 2010

New Orleans - Cemetaries and swamps

I was told the cemeteries were full of muggers, especially after dark, so I decided to go first thing in the morning on the assumption that muggers probably liked to sleep in after a long night's work. (Lonely Planet guide, you are full of crap, the neighbourhood was fine.) The current site of St Louis #1 was not its original location, and it shows - the monuments are crowded very close together, it feels a bit like the backlot of an abandoned tombstone manufacturing warehouse. But the graves themselves are beautiful. The upkeep of individual tombs is the responsibility of the family who owns it, and when families die out or move away no one is left to look after them. This means they are in various stages of repair- pristine whitewashed and stuccoed tombs are right beside crumbling piles of brick (the local brick is very soft, and if it isn't covered by cement or stucco will just fall apart in a few decades. I eavesdropped on a tour guide). Most people buried there died in the ninteenth century, though a few are recent additions to family tombs - the latest one I saw was 2003.
The star of the cemetery is of course Marie Laveau, the most infamous of New Orleans' voodoo queens. Her tomb is easy to spot; offerings of coins, alcohol, food, jewelry and so on are piled up against the entrance, and it is covered in XXX markings - this is how you ask her spirit to intercede on your behalf. Surprisingly hers is not the only tomb like this - I found two others with similar x's and offerings - one had mostly shells and jewelry, the other had combs and coins and photographs. Both were extremely old and any inscriptions on them had faded completely. I have no idea who is in them and it is driving me nuts.

The cemetery was a short walk from the French Quarter, so I headed back there and decided to hook up with one of the swamp tours. This takes you about an hour out of the city to a huge bayou/cypress swamp, part of which is a nature preserve. This means there are a ton of alligators.

We went out on a small flatbottomed boat for an hour and a half - our tour guide carried a bag of marshmallows with him, which he claimed were for the gators. I thought he was kidding, but no. It turns out alligators love marshmallows - they had learned to recognize the boats as a source of food, and would come swimming up when we approached. This bothered me - was I helping to perpetuate an ecologically damaging tourist trap? Were we endangering the gators by teaching them to view humans as a food source? On the other hand, tourism is one of the only things that keeps protected areas protected. This is not much of an excuse as excuses go. Unfortunately I was already in the boat at this point, so I consoled myself with the knowledge that if anyone got attacked it would probably be the local guides, and retribution would not be visited on the gators. That aside it was pretty awesome. During Katrina the water level in the swamp rose fifteen feet and burst its banks, plowing a hole through the treeline and sweeping any houseboats or houses that hadn't been properly raised (ie on cinderblocks instead of driven piles) downriver - we saw one, four miles from its original site. Most of the others were never found. The area cleared by the hurricane is now a marshy, grassy shallow water habitat, a perfect nursery for wading birds, turtles and baby gators. Circle of life, yo. Also saw feral piglets, which are a nuisance animal and therefore fair game for anyone with a gun. The locals both love and hate them - on the one hand, fresh bacon...on the other, it's like having really smart raccoons that weigh several hundred pounds.

Went for supper at Coop's Place, which despite looking and feeling like a dive bar has an amazing kitchen. I haven't even bothered trying to save money on food here - I think eating ramen in New Orleans is a criminal offense. That said it was still pretty cheap - delicious gumbo, followed by jambalaya, red beans and rice, fried chicken and pepper shrimp. I have never been that full of food before.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Wandered down to BookPeople, an enormous independant bookstore in downtown Austin. Seriously, this beast was three stories, twice the floorspace of the largest chain bookstore i've ever been in. They really aren't kidding about the "everything is bigger in Texas" thing. Unfortunately they only had the huge Erikson paperbacks, so I'm still stuck with Sophie's World.

The bus left at 7:30 that night - I wound up sharing it with another hosteller, Greg. It took me about an hour of awkward conversation before I realized that he was not Joe, the guy I had been talking with the day before. In my defense they were both tall, slightly scruffy and English (all English people look alike? does this make me racist?). After I clued in and apologized we go talong much better. We pulled into New Orleans at 630 the next morning, shuffled off the bus like zombies and stared blankly at a series of maps for half an hour before figuring out where we were and where we needed to go. Unfortunately we were at different hostels so I was on my own.

The India House is a big shambling old mansion - the inside is full of murals and assorted random junk, it is almost aggressively bohemian. I am going to attempt to take pictures, descriptions can't really do it justice. It's like a frathouse, if the fraternity was coed and made up of hippies and hipsters, with less things broken. Passed out in a dorm for a few hours, woke up around one and headed to the French Quarter to explore. Had the traditional cafe au lait and beignets at Cafe du Monde - the coffee is excellent, the beignets are exactly like every other fried doughnut thing that every single culture has a variant of. You can call it whatever you want, you can have the most elaborate recipe, but when you throw a lump of dough in a deep fryer and smother it in powdered sugar you have to accept that most of the delicate flavours are going to be obscured by delicious sugary grease.

Saturday, May 15, 2010


My original plan was to leave San Diego on the 12th and head to Tucson for a few days, then take the train to Austin. After debating the merits of a 40 hour train ride versus three extra days at the beach (it was not a long debate), I decided to skip Arizona and New Mexico completely and fly directly to Texas. Getting on the plane took a surprisingly short amount of time, even with being searched; I got to Austin around six.

Erin had previously informed me that if I failed to go to the Alamo Drafthouse cinema, we would stop being friends. I checked their showtimes and realized the universe was trying to tell me something - Peaches Christ was presenting All About Evil, the movie I'd failed to see in San Francisco, in four hours. My new friend and roommate Alex agreed to join me. We bought tickets and tried to figure out what to do to kill the time in between. Alex then told me about the bats.

Every spring 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats migrate north to Austin and congregate under the main bridge. And every night, hundreds of people congregate on top of and alongside the bridge to watch them emerge to feed. It was like a fireworks display - people packed into anywhere that had an unobstructed view. Three ferries were floating around underneath, also full of people and shining red spotlights on the colony to give a better view. The bats started coming out around nine - not all in one massive terrifying cloud, as we'd hoped, but filtering out over the course of an hour. It was still pretty cool - along the riverbank, where we were, they zoomed by a few feet overhead. In the late summer months the population peaks and it is even more impressive.

We wandered around 6th street for a while - this is where most of the bars and live music performances are - and listened to a super greasy classic rock style trio - the guitarist had a bandanna and vest and was completely into his music, closing his eyes and rocking out. Headed to the Alamo to get seats - where other theaters show you commercials or movie trivia before the film, the Alamo gives you a menu and plays grindhouse trailers, which Alex had never seen. Trying to explain the appeal of grindhouse is difficult - you either think it's amazing or incredibly stupid.
The preshow was almost as good as the film itself - Peaches did a brief musical introduction, with her stage manager and costumer as backup dancers, where she revealed that she had become the greatest queen in SF by murdering all the others, and anyone in the audience wearing cheap perfume and acting like a whore wouldn't be leaving the theater alive. Afterwards was a brief Q and A with special guests and costars Mink Stole (a cult actress who's been in almost every John Waters film) and Cassandra Peters, aka Elvira, aka my new hero. There is selling out and then there is what Elvira does. She's made it an art form, everything from car fresheners to beer. I don't think she ever turned down a product endorsement. It is refreshingly honest.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Still alive

Whoo, wow, Vegas destroyed my brain cells, sleep patterns, and work ethic. But I have spent today doing nothing but lying on the beach reading, followed by a farmer's market, and am now revitalized. I am going to fill in the posts between now and then and post-date them later, yes it's cheating, no I don't care.

Today was a vacation from the vacation. Got up, went back to bed, got up for real, made pancakes and lazed around the hostel, then wandered down to Ocean Beach. As it's still fucking cold it was pretty deserted, save for surfers in wetsuits and a few sunbathers. Spent a lovely six hours alternating between reading and frightening tidepool crabs, then wandered around the Newport farmer's market. Highlights of that include the best strawberries ever, an eight week old retriever puppy, and a hippie riding around a bicycle with a five foot long iguana sitting on the handlebar pouch. Apparently she really enjoys these excursions ('enjoy' in iguana terms means 'does not run away from'). I may do it again tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

San Diego Zoo

(Someone please convince me that now is not the time to attempt switching over to wordpress. God damn it blogger.)

I feel guilty about loving zoos so much. Even in the good ones, you see a lot of stereotypic behaviours (pacing, weaving, head bobbing, etc). And no matter how much paint you use or enrichment items you toss in, a moated enclosure is never going to feel like an ice floe. On the other hand, there are at least a dozen species who would be gone already if not for captive breeding programs (most recently, they reintroduced the Przewalski's horse after being extinct in the wild for thirty years, this makes me so happy), and having big charismatic vertebrates up close where the general public can see them is crucial to convincing people to care about conservation.

The SD Zoo is one of the good ones, though. They've got a ridiculously diverse collection of species, and for the most part the enclosures are very well done. The kiwis have an entire building to themselves - the interior is dark, lit just enough to simulate moonlight and encourage activity. There are several massive aviaries, with tiered walkways allowing visitors to see how different birds prefer different levels of the canopy. Loads and loads of interactive educational materials all over (which in itself is a little depressing - the animals aren't enough of a draw for kids, we have to give them playgrounds to engage them?) I was surprised by how small some of the enclosures were though, and how many of those there were. The serval had an area hardly any larger than the one in the Valley Zoo, and when you're inviting comparisons with the Valley Zoo there's problems. That said, even the smallest enclosures were well done - but with the zoo's reputation, I hadn't expected there to be any of that type at all.

It took me six hours to walk around the entire thing (tour buses are for the weak). It's divided into half a dozen zones (outback, savannah, jungle, etc) and each zone has its own cafe and giftshop, in addition to the main giftshop at the front gates. There are two full time restaurants on the grounds and food carts every fifty feet, because god forbid you miss an opportunity to spend money. Some of it feels like overkill, but all in all it's pretty impressive, and they've made some amazing contributions to species conservation. Most importantly, they have okapi.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


I am just going to condense everything into one post, because let's face it those four days have sort of blurred together into my head. Also, i'm going to do it tomorrow.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Salute the Emperor

Spent the morning at the Aquarium at the Bay – a two-story educational facility on fisherman’s wharf filled with fish and sharks and jellies, most of the species that live in the Bay and a few exotics. The Aquarium is pretty neat – the first room holds a wall tank of stinging nettles, and a cylindrical tank of jellies in the center, lit from the inside. It’s a pretty neat effect. There’s a heavy eco-conservation slant, of which I wholly approve – one of the fish tanks is set up to look like it’s filled with trash ie. What the bottom of the bay looks like right now. This particular tank also had barnacles, which are fun to watch feeding. It’s like a tiny spindly arm frantically scooping water. This leads into the aquarium’s main draw, a two-part tunnel submerged in a massive outdoor tank that simulates walking on the floor of the Bay itself, without all the boats and trash and whatnot. There are leopard sharks, dogfish sharks, skates, rays, giant goddamn sea bass (seriously this thing was the size of a dirtbike) rockfish, you name it. They swim around and over the tunnel – it is especially cool to watch several hundred herring schooling directly over your head. They circle like a giant scaly whirlpool.

The last room has a large touch tank with leopard sharks, rays and skates. I love rays, they’re so inquisitive and friendly. I’ve seen them in touch tanks before and it’s always the same, they circle around the edges, splashing and popping their heads out of the water. They seem to enjoy being petted. It’s kind of weird for a fish. There were also some chinchillas, snakes and tree frogs, probably as some kind of “oh yeah and I guess there are non-aquatic animals in California too, look just stop throwing trash in the bay” thing. More kid-height plaques and activity panel things on how ecosystems are important and what you can do to reduce your impact, which made me feel a little better, although no one seems to ever read these things. Like back in the Oregon Zoo…standing in front of the african wild dog enclosure, in a room with walls covered in Wild Dog Facts, Other Names for Painted or Wild Dogs, How do Painted Dogs Hunt, artwork and photographs et cetera et cetera and hearing a guy tell his children to “Look at the hyenas!” It was very difficult to not say anything they are totally different animals god damn it, hyenas are not even canines, are you stupid or just illiterate?

Despite all this it didn’t take much more than an hour to see all of the aquarium, so Hank and I decided to go pay our respects to the Emperor.

A few decades back San Francisco, rapidly running out of space for the living, was forced to evict their dead and reinter them in the town of Colma, a few miles south. The population of Colma is about 1.5 million, but only 1300 of them are above ground (the city slogan is “It’s great to be alive in Colma!”) Colma is now technically a necropolis and most of the town’s economy revolves around its various cemetaries. Fortunately the BART train passes through, so I hiked down to the Woodlawn Memorial Gardens, almost accidentally crashed the funeral that was happening next door, and asked the receptionist at the office if Joshua Norton was buried there. She knew immediately who I was talking about and handed me a map from a stack of photocopies with his name highlighted in the corner – he is a relatively popular man.

His grave is not elaborate, not compared to some of the statues and monuments in the cemetary. It’s a large but simple pink granite headstone, engraved with his name and titles, flanked by two small bushes. There were no flowers, but coins had been placed on the stone and the grass around it, other visitors leaving tribute to the Emperor. It seemed appropriate.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Still worn down from the train ride and late night, I hung around the hostel until four, when I forced myself to leave. Hiked up Russian Hill, the highest hill in the city. The famous cable cars were built pretty much for this purpose - the hill was home to rich oil barons and suchlike who wanted to build their mansions on a nice imposing hillside but did not want the inconvenience of actually walking up the damn thing. Strolled through North Beach, the Italian district and home of the west coast beat generation. Visited the City Lights Bookstore, a bookstore/publishing house that was named a historical landmark for its role in counterculture poetry and literature. the visit lasted longer than I planned when I started leafing through Kerouac's Dharma Bums... when I looked up it was two hours later (I lost track of time in a bookstore, who would have guessed).
Walked through Chinatown, ate a lotus bun and watched the tail end of a dragon parade. The SF Chinatown may be touristy and over the top, but it's still pretty neat. The buildings are beautiful and strings of paper lanterns are hung everywhere. I need to go back down there at night.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Had one last pastry from Voodoo Dougnuts then went to the train station. The train ride was less painful than I expected – for one thing, the Coast Starlight track is beautiful. It winds through the mountains, I think our highest elevation was 1200 feet above sea level. Though next time I do eighteen hours at once, I’m springing for a sleeping car. Some of the other passengers were…interesting. Like the guy who kept up a constant chatter with anyone who even looked like they were listening to him, in a voice that sounded almost exactly like the quiet guy from King of the Hill. He would sing whenever he moved between cars. Or the lady across the aisle from me who kept demanding the attendant show compassion and move her to a pair of free seats, as she had been on a train since yesterday morning and was feeling very abused by Amtrak (her words). At one point her train had been trapped in place for eight hours. I felt sorry for her and was about to offer her my seat, since I had lucked out and no one had replaced the seatmate who’d left a few hours ago, until she mentioned why the train had been held up…someone had been murdered. This was, to her, a minor detail. I’m sure the guy who got fucking feels terrible about having inconvenienced you.
Made it to San Francisco the next morning, and attempted to find my hostel. I really need to read the guidebook better when picking lodgings…a few paragraphs after it described the location I’d chosen, “a gem nestled in the rough Tenderloin district” was the Dangers and annoyances section, which mentioned that Tenderloin was the one of the worst neighbourhoods in the city and should be treated with caution at all times. I found this out for myself after walking six terrifying blocks through crowds of homeless drunks and drug addicts. It wasn’t even nine am, and I did not want to stick around and find out what the street was like after dark. Got to the hostel, cancelled my reservation, and took the bus up to the Fisherman’s Wharf hostel…it’s in a super touristy area and the hostel itself is very large and impersonal, but on the other hand I’m not worried about being lost in this neighbourhood. Spent the rest of the day wandering about the wharf – took a boat ride around the bay, underneat the Golden Gates and around Alcatraz. The boat pilot called himself Captain Jeff and kept up a running commentary in between beer chugs. He was about thirty, wearing a floral shirt, and looked exactly like a fratboy in every college movie ever. He was fun.
Later that night, went to the Castro in an attempt to get in to the premiere of All About Evil, a horror flick directed by drag queen sensation Peaches Christ. I underestimated what a big deal this was – the rush line was fairly short but the ticket holder line was enormous. Waited with the other ticketless bums for about two hours, freezing in the wind, to find out that they had a full house. Still not a total loss – if you’re going to people watch there’s nowhere better than the Castro at night. Peaches herself was interviewing people in line with a camera crew in tow. She is kind of awesome.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Said my goodbyes to the guys and left for the hostel – that house and the people in it are an embodiment of this entire city…friendly, mellow, creative, talented and full of beer. I’m going to miss them.
The last Thursday of the month is an art walk that stretches for twenty blocks – a dozen galleries are on the street as well, and they prop their doors open to participate. This early in the year it was fairly quiet, I’m told in the later months the street is packed with people and stands. It was still impressive though, plenty of metalworking and jewelery makers, along with the ubiquitous Portland food carts (the one I went to sold pork or vegan meatballs on polenta, quinoa or pita, with green chili or marina sauce and cheese. So good.) There were almost as many vegan cupcake/bake sale stands as there were artists. I wonder if any of them actually make a living off it, there seems to be a ton of competition.
Later that night, we (two American guys from the hostel and Aoba, a girl from Japan travelling with her mom. They were adorable. I had been telling them about Stumptown earlier and showed them the book I bought from Erika Moen, which meant an awkward few minutes trying to explain why there was a photograph of a stripper in it. I suspect her mom now thinks DAR is a guide to life in Portland. ) went to the nickel arcade. It’s a huge arcade set up in an old movie theater, I think they still do shows occasionally. Skeeball, air hockey, Resident Evil, racing, you name it. All the games ran off nickels – the most expensive used four, which is still cheaper than anywhere I’ve ever been. We stayed there until midnight, when they close, and it was awesome. You could trade tickets for candy and prizes at the front desk – Matt and Dave used theirs to buy a pile of party poppers, which are little pellets of gunpowder wrapped in twists of paper than make a sastisfying BANG and spark when you huck them at the ground. We walked the twelve blocks back to the hostel throwing handfuls of them and giggling like idiots.
Goodbye, Portland. I will miss you.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


I managed to visit the Oregon Zoo at the exact time as 300 students - the winning streak continues. The zoo is undergoing renovations but most of the rest is pretty damn nice - the most impressive part is the Pacific Northwest area. It's a series of bridges and walkways that give you the impression of being in a national park. Bears, cougars, bald eagles...really well done. I would feel embarrassed about the Valley Zoo but at this point we've all pretty much written that one off.
Decided to walk up to the Japanese Garden, since it was in the same park area. Attempted to take a shortcut through some of the park trails which turned out to not actually be trails and wound up smeared with mud, which did not get me as many awkward glances as I thought it would. Go go Oregon. The garden itself was less interesting than the trip there, so I headed back downtown and had lunch at an awesome cafe - fast food dumplings and bao. Nom.
I was smart enough to pack an umbrella, but too dumb to take it with me when the sky is covered in dark clouds. Because if there’s one thing the pacific northwest is known for, it’s the dry weather. Ate tinriely too many french fires – there is a food cart on hawthorne called the potato champion. At preston’s recommendation, I tried it out the fries with rosemary truffle ketchup and remoulade. From a street vendor. Oh city.
Spent the afternoon at the Chinese gardens – it turned out they were right beside the train stop. It’s not a large space – basically a single block, surrounded by a high wall. But the inside is beautifully laid out – it would be easy to spend over two hours just looking at the garden areas. There are three or four small pavilions which have little mini exhibits – currently they were running an exhibit on kites, though sadly I missed the kite making class. There is also a teahouse, and…yeah. The guy running the counter was some kind of tea sommelier – the menu was almost entirely composed of tea varieties and descriptions of their fragrance, tone, afternotes, etc. Chilled there for a few hours, drinking puer, eating almond cookies and reading. It was soothing. If I lived there I would probably buy a membership.
Headed back to the house and helped move a piano and organ. One of the guys' mom drove up from California to visit and made chicken tacos. Stayed up burning pallets in the fireplace for warmth, drinking and eating MnMs. Best house ever.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Hiked up Mt Taber this morning, after Preston generously offered to give me the tour. He also made breakfast which gave me an excuse to wash the mountain of dishes I’ve been eyeing all weekend (on a side note, I have become my mother.) Mountain may be stretching the term – it’s a small volcano, supposedly extinct although I’ve been told it’s scheduled to erupt in a century or so, Greenland-style. Like everything else in this damn city, it is green and lush and absolutely beautiful. It’s covered with trails – on a weekend it’s probably fairly busy, but we only saw a handful of people.
Attempted to find the Chinese garden in the afternoon and failed miserably. I did, however, find the homeless shelter.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Stumptown, Day 2

There's a kind of energy to Stumptown that's incredibly uplifting. It wasn't nearly as crowded as I expected, which was kind of a nice surprise - you get to actually have conversations with people, and they're actually happy to see you because they haven't been burned out from lines of fans demanding sketches. There is something about being in a room of super talented and creative people who love what they do and and the people who are enthusiastic and supportive enough to let them do it full time that makes you hopeful.
Due to my getting horrifically lost and taking an unexpected tour of Portland's north district (this city is sort of like a bigger and better cousin of edmonton...Hawthorne Blvd. is Whyte, downtown is offices and upscale shops, west is the zoo, north is rundown residential areas and warehouses), I only made it to one panel. Luckily it was the Beaton/Meconis double header, in which they discussed how to cheat with reference photos, the Tesla revival, being internet famous, and the relative sexiness of historic figures (Spinoza was a dreamboat, I guess).

On a side note, Kate Beaton hardly has an accent at all, I don't know what the hell Jeffrey Rowland is on about. He should meet someone from Newfoundland.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Stumptown, Day 1

Stumptown was amazing. Only my lack of funds and the knowledge that whatever I buy has to be carried is stopping me from loading up on pretty pretty comics. Went to a panel hosted by Aaron Diaz on digital painting. It was fascinating. Even scribbling on the tablet to demonstrate how to use brush tools and blending and create layers, he winds up with this awesome robot house set against mountains. Because that is how he rolls. Bought a set of animal prints from Dylan, then accidentally reminded her that she wrote Bite Me in high school so we could both feel old. Introduced Hank the gerbil to his creator. Mostly I am proud of the fact that I managed to avoid throwing myself at anyone like a terrifying stalker to tell them how much I love them. Tomorrow Kate Beaton and Dylan Meconis have a panel on making history awesome, which I am stupid excited for.
From portland

Shaenon and Hank

Friday, April 23, 2010

Stumbled on Voodoo Donuts while trying to find a western union. Later that afternoon, found the portlaned art gallery while trying to find the library. A few hours ago, found Powell’s Bookstore while looking fo rEmbers. All of these were places I wanted to go to eventually though, so it worked out. Tomorrow I’ll try to go to Stumptown and end up at the zoo.
From portland

Voodoo donuts is a tiny hole in the wall – the easiest way to find it is to look for a surprisingly long queue and the smell of frying sugar. They have dozens of different donuts with names like Old Dirty Bastard (broken oreos and peanut butter over a fritter) Gay Bar (vanilla glaze with fruit loops and rainbow sprinkles) and the infamous bacon and maple donut, which doesn’t need a catchy name. The walls inside are covered with graffiti and with framed obituaries of famous people . It is fantastic.
From portland
From portland

The art gallery was deceptively bigger than it looked from the outside. They have five floors, each with a different style or time period. They also have Monet’s Waterlilies, which is both much larger and more beautiful than pictures make it out to be. To balance this out, they also have a few pieces by some jackass which consist of a)a shiny black cube b) a shiny red rectangle and c)an aluminum circle that I thought was a light fixture until I saw the plaque. This is why people hate modern art.
It turns out the guy whose house I am ocuchsurfing at is only a few blocks from the hostel I stayed at last night. I’m currently in a tent on the third floor – the inside is mostly gutted bare wood, rooms are divided by sheets and tarps. There are about seven people living here, most of whom are in a band. The ground floor is packed with recording equipment, keyboards, and guitars. Right now they’re trying to record some demos – they’re pretty good. It’s a kind of drifting indie rock, no vocals that I”ve heard yet. There is a huge bunch of cilantro sitting in the kitchen, this is a good sign.
The Portland Central library is the oldest library on the west coast - it was built in 1903 and is suitably majestic. The facade is carved with the names of famous authors, and the foyer is supported by half a dozen marble columns with a double staircase leading to the reference section. Most importantly, they have free wifi.

From portland

Downtown Portland is a mix of super trendy shops/restaurants and office buildings. There is a parking lot ringed with portable food stands, everything from korean bbq to gelato, currently packed with people in suits on their lunch breaks. The city centre square is also full of people on break. It's a big open amphitheater-style thing, the center of which is currently occupied by a man in a dress shirt with a bull terrier giving some kind of sermon. I'm not sure whether he's trying to stir the populace into action against the government, telling them about Jesus, or arguing against the ban on bulldogs. No one else knows either. The phrases "rise up", "might", "light" and "American Staffordshire people's terrier" keep getting used. A dozen others are watching him with mild interest; I'm hoping this is some kind of regular noon entertainment.
From portland


Thursday, April 22, 2010

boarding the failboat; Homeland Security in action; Portland!

So after managing to lose my wallet before leaving the country and missing my flight due the the amazing efficiency of US customs (it took six manned booths an hour to move three people through. The staff outnumbered the passengers. Presumably everyone else was there for moral support It took them ten actual minutes to process me once they got around to it, most of which was spent trying to explain the concept of backpacking. Trust me, I don't plan on staying here.), and wandering downtown Portland for three hours trying to figure out where the bus stops were (it's like if whyte ave was the size of sherwood park), I made it to the hostel half an hour before lockout. On the plus side, I had a pretty good conversation with a boisterous bloodshot man on the train about Terry Pratchett and Ving Rhames' stylishness. I'm going to call it a draw. Onbyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy

The hostel cat, Sheba, has planted herself on my lap and keeps trying to help me type. It is comfortingly familiar.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Departure checklist



-existential dread




-internet device