Thursday, September 29, 2005

To Hell and Back

Freezeout Saddle in Hells Canyon
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
You're traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That's the signpost up ahead—your next stop, the Twilight Zone!

Actually, this desolate, listing signpost is at Freezeout Saddle on the edge of Hells Canyon in eastern Oregon, but it’s always nice to have an excuse to quote from The Twilight Zone and there were some Twilight Zone-ish elements to our trip (discussed and depicted in previous entries), so I think it’s legit to reference "The Zone."

Hells Canyon was as far east as we got. It’s as far east as anyone gets in Oregon without plummeting into the Snake River and floating over to Idaho—something we elected not to do.

The one thing I wanted to be sure to write about was the National Monuments we visited on our trip. National Monuments are the great unsung heroes of the National Park/USDA Forest Service/Bureau of Land Management troika. For some reason, known only to the troika, National Monuments don’t quite merit National Park status, and I say “thank god!” for that. If they were National Parks, there would be scads of RVs shilly-shallying their way through them and degrading the environment with copious amounts of greenhouse gases and just generally ruining my wilderness experience.

National Monuments just don’t seem to be on the radar screen for most people. What are they anyway? A “National Monument” could be anything. My theory is that most people have the notion that National Monuments are birdpoop-covered statues of some guy they’ve never heard of or boulders with plaques on them commemorating some event they’ve never heard of. The term “National Monument” is just too ambiguous and vague. Rather than stop at a National Monument, most folks probably prefer to keep driving toward something less abstract—like a Dairy Queen.

Doing so, however, means foregoing a hike through these stupendous blue badlands (at the Sheeprock Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument)

Blue Badlands

and missing the Painted Hills (also part of the John Day Fossil Beds NM)

Painted Hills

How can a Dilly Bar or a Peanut Buster Parfait trump that?

It is true that a few people do check out the National Monuments, but they tend to carom from scenic viewpoint to scenic viewpoint, stopping for no more than a few minutes before driving to the next one.

Now I don’t expect everyone to relish launching out on trails that head straight up, but many perfectly able-bodied people won’t even get out of the car to take a 10-minute stroll down a flat, wheelchair-accessible trail. I timed one couple that drove up at one of these viewpoint/trailheads. They got out of the car, walked over to the interpretive sign (which they ignored), aimed their camera at “the view,” and then got back in the car and sped off. Total amount of time spent outside of the car: 50 seconds. Unbelievable.

When people opt for that sort of an experience they cheat themselves out of so much. At Newberry Crater National Monument, for example, B and I took an 8-mile hike around Paulina Lake—a collapsed, water-filled caldera that’s a mile above sea level. Along the trail, we climbed a cinder cone, traversed a field of glinting black obsidian that clinked like broken beer bottles as we crossed it, and took a dip in a natural hot spring, all while breathing in pure mountain air and viewing jagged Paulina Peak from every possible angle. But that’s not all. Near the end of the hike we stumbled across this wonderfully rustic restaurant/bar that’s part of an old-timey resort tucked away in the woods.

The Bar at Paulina Lake

It was a bit of a Twilight Zone moment, come to think of it--it felt like we’d been transported back to the 1950s or perhaps even earlier. This is what it looked like inside. And here’s the resort’s little store. I was just so charmed by all of it. Plus, how often do you get a chance to stop for a beer without leaving the trail? It was a first for me.

So this is the kind of thing the people who choose to bypass national monuments miss out on. Apparently, not many people are interested in the Oregon Trail either, because attendance at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center (brought to us by the Bureau of Land Management) just outside Baker City was quite sparse. And the interpretive center was truly outstanding. They had these exhibits with pioneer figurines (presumably fitted with hidden electric eyes) who would suddenly start talking to you, that is, telling you their story. Just to be clear: these were not real people dressed up as pioneers but realistic manniquins. And when I say “realistic” I mean their clothes were tattered, filthy, and stained with sweat under the armpits. Cow and horse dung (possibly the real stuff with a coat of shellac on it) lined the trail, and the livestock’s noses were shiny as if wet with mucus and/or spittle. I appreciate it when someone strives that hard for authenticity.

You may be thinking: Wasn’t it just the cheesiest thing ever? In fact, no. Somehow, despite the admittedly high potential for cheesiness, they managed to sidestep it. Plus, the exhibits were interactive in a very low-tech, noncomputerized way, which of course wins points from me. Text-based exhibits would pose questions the pioneers would have faced, i.e., do you take that big-ass cast-iron stove you bought in St. Louis and paid so much money for or do you leave it behind? You then make your decision and lift a wooden panel to see if you made the “right” choice. As you probably guessed, taking the iron stove was a boneheaded idea, but plenty of pioneers took them and soon regretted it. Apparently, the early segments of the trail were littered with cast-off stoves (and lots of other cumbersome items people had been foolish enough to bring). Anyway, I found all these “what would you do”-type questions to be highly engaging and informative. I also came to the conclusion that I would have lasted about one day on the Oregon Trail before saying, “Fuck it, I’m going back to Chicago.” I’m glad we were able to travel to Oregon in style in the 1989 Honda Civic instead of jolting along in this thing.

Prairie Schooner

The other smart thing they did was to include lots of primary source material (e.g., diaries and letters written by actual pioneers) in the explanations and the short films they had playing here and there. Probably the coolest thing was that you could take a 3-mile hike to a section of the actual trail where the wagon-wheel ruts are still visible. Amazing to think that they’re still there after more than 100 years!

Marker on the Oregon Trail

This is probably all I’m going to write about our trip to central and eastern Oregon. I haven’t said hardly anything about the fantastic hikes we took in the Three Sisters Wilderness, the Blue Mountains, the Wallowa Mountains, and the Eagle Cap Wilderness (we hiked every day), so if you want to see some more photos, click here for a slide show. It will take about two minutes to view.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Marlon Blando

So far I am extremely pleased to be a member of the Oregon Mycological Society—even though I have yet to hunt and collect a single piece of fungi. That’s because I just got back from a special OMS program about cooking and eating wild mushrooms, given by Dan Brophy, a locally famous chef and former instructor at the Western Culinary Institute here in Portland. I am currently enjoying a nonhallucinatory mushroom high. Had I not been a member of the OMS, the only way to get that high would have been to sign up for a $35 class held at the heinous and insufferable Whole Foods, where they bill Brophy as the "mycological madman." (I doubt that moniker was his idea.) Instead, owing to my elite status as a member of the OMS, I paid nothing, neatly avoided Whole Foods and its pushy denizens, and ate some of the tastiest food I've had in several months.

Here’s what I learned (and ate):
  • I sampled freshly picked sautéed white chanterelles and sautéed yellow chanterelles. I prefer white to yellow, although both are exquisitely delicious.
  • In Japanese cooking there’s a “fifth taste” known as umami (pronounced “oooo Mommy”), which means (roughly) “ultimate deliciousness.” Mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, Thai fish sauce, cheese, and Ranch-flavored Doritos have it. To add umami to your cooking, just add mushroom dust (or Ranch-flavored Dorito dust).
  • The technical term for something that has too much salt in it is “too salty”; the technical term for something that doesn’t have enough salt in it is “Marlon Blando.” (Maybe you had to be there, but I couldn’t stop laughing about that.)
  • It is possible for polenta and risotto to NOT be “Marlon Blando.” Tonight was the first time I ever liked, in fact, loved either. Possibly the secrets to non-Marlon Blando polentas and risotti are to have several cooking degrees (i.e., know what you’re doing) and to be sure to add a generous amount of wild mushrooms (lobster mushrooms in our case)—and plenty of kosher salt.
  • I need to order a mushroom log—pronto—so I can grow my own shiitakes and attempt to make the wonderful soy-marinated shiitake caps with black sesame seeds Dan made.
  • I need to get out on a mushroom foray ASAP, so I can learn how to collect my own ‘shrooms here in Oregon where there are more than 50 edible varieties.
To die for (not literally, one hopes)!

Saturday, September 24, 2005

The Walking Dude: What's His Deal?

Last November I made a trip back to Chicago to visit my family and had an interesting encounter, which I documented on my blog. Here’s an abridged version of the entry:

After college, I got a job in Chicago. I spent my lunch hours walking along Michigan Avenue. About a week into my job, I noticed someone who shared my habit—a guy whose fashion sense was hopelessly stranded in about 1975. He had a droopy walrus moustache, sideburns, and feathered David Cassidy-style hair. He always wore a dark blue, three-piece suit with flared trousers, a shiny polyester shirt with a whammo-bird collar (open to mid-chest), flashy gold necklaces and a matching bracelet, and zip-up ankle boots. Such a get-up might not have stood out so much in Las Vegas, but in Chicago it was quite arresting.

Now bear in mind that Chicago is a city of 3.5 million. Nevertheless, I saw this guy all the time—usually at lunchtime but in the evenings and mornings, too. I started seeing him in other parts of Downtown as well. He was always alone and always on foot. He never carried anything like a briefcase or an umbrella. He just walked, strangely aloof amid the hordes of shoppers and office workers. I never saw him talk to anyone or even make eye contact. Freaky!

So last Friday I was in downtown Chicago around 1:00 PM walking with my brother on a nearly deserted path near Lake Michigan. Who should we see coming toward us but the guy! What are the chances of that???!!! He was dressed exactly as he always had been, except the zip-up boots had been replaced with black rubber-soled walking shoes. He looked distinctly down at the heel. His hair was longer than I’d ever seen it (although still feathered), but a breeze that lifted his coif revealed a huge swathe of white hair beneath a superficial layer of dark brown. It looked as if he’d dyed his hair himself and missed a bit (a rather large bit) in the back.

Although my brother had never seen him before, he agreed that this guy was highly unusual and that evening told his girlfriend about him. She later told me that she knows exactly who we saw and that this guy is a gigolo and that “everyone in the graphics arts community knows about him.” Whaaaa? At the time she mentioned this, I was engaged in a cutthroat game of Trivial Pursuit, so it didn’t dawn on me until later how very bizarre her statement was.

A gigolo!!!! Well, call me naive or skeptical, but I think gigolos are an invention of Hollywood. And even if gigolos do exist, this purported “mid-day cowboy” couldn’t possibly have been making his living as a gigolo. His demeanor is so peculiarly otherworldy and lacking in charisma that it would put off even the most enthusiastic/desperate customer. The 30-year-old suit and the sloppy dye job aren’t doing him any favors either.

In conclusion, I have to say that this guy and his raison d’etre remain a mystery, but that seeing him again has reignited my curiosity. I don't know how well I've conveyed just how puzzled and intrigued I am by his steadfast refusal to update his wardrobe and the fact that he and I have crossed paths probably more than 100 times since the 1980s. I will have to cross-question my brother’s girlfriend about the gigolo statement, but I have a feeling that it's one of those instances where speculation gradually evolved to “fact.”

Last night my brother e-mailed me several links, which made it clear that I am not the only person who has spent years wondering who this guy is. In fact, someone surreptitiously followed him around and made a little film about him called “The Walking Dude: What’s His Deal?” where you can see him in full “shabby Yanni” mode striding through the streets of Chicago, taking care of nonexistent business. It is absolutely fantastic, and I am happy to report that you can view it here. Please do so immediately; it’s only about a minute long. It will be a minute well spent and will leave no question as to why I (and so many others) are fascinated with this guy. Alternatively (if you don’t have broadband) there’s a gallery of stills from the “dudementary” here. And a discussion/speculation (some of it quite hilarious) on this blog and this one, too. Be sure to read the comments.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Broken Buildings

Broken Buildings
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
Derelict old barns and abandoned ranch outbuildings are everywhere in eastern Oregon. For some reason, I just love the way they look—the more askew and collapsed they are the better. I became a bit obsessed with them, in fact, and stopped constantly to photograph them. They look so dramatic against the mountains and the threatening skies.

Collapsing Building

Old Shack and Old Trucks

Empty Ranch Building and Dead Thistles

I find these buildings oddly comforting, they’re just so basic and wooden and without purpose. And yet they persist. They turn no profit. They contain no microchips or plastic components. They weren’t made in China. Perhaps what I like most is that no one thinks it necessary to tear them down and put up a Chuck E. Cheese or a Hard Rock Cafe.

What’s their story anyway? There are quite a number of ghost towns in eastern Oregon (thanks to a 19th-century gold boom [and subsequent bust]), but these buildings aren’t part of any former town, they’re just out in the middle of ranchland all on their lonesome. A few had “No Trespassing” signs on them, which is kind of ridiculous. What’s there to trespass on?

Hard to say how old they are. I’m sure the harsh eastern Oregon winters strip paint and rot wood in no time, so perhaps some of these building are no more than 30 years old. Then again, maybe they’re 130.

Damn! I have lots I want to write about but no time to do it. I'd much rather be documenting my trip than spending all day hacking away at the pile of work on my desk and then squandering my evenings slogging through my To Do list, which has become quite enormous and daunting. I promise, however, that I will get around to blogging about the actual main purpose of the trip, i.e., hiking up and down the mountains of eastern Oregon. Soon.

Monday, September 19, 2005

The $700 Pie

How Much Would You Pay?
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
If I am to believe the proprietor of Lear’s Restaurant in Enterprise, Oregon (pop. 1,940), there are people who would pay as much as $700 for the pie from which this wedge was sliced. What is it with Oregonians and their affinity for crappy-looking pies—awarding them ribbons at the State Fair and paying out megabucks for them at local auctions? What’s more, the people of Enterprise don’t appear to have money to throw around willy-nilly on substandard pies. I don’t get it.

The slice you see here (dispatched handily by B and me) was good, but I wouldn’t say it was outstanding. I’d certainly not pay $166.66 for it, and, thankfully, we were able to get it for the bargain price of (I believe) $3.50.*

Anyway. Eastern Oregon was full of surprises—the $700 pie being just one of them. I’m ashamed to admit that even though we’ve lived in Oregon for four years, eastern Oregon was basically a big question mark. It still is. And isn’t. A few observations. Whereas western Oregon has lush moss and Douglas firs; eastern Oregon has sagebrush, juniper, and Ponderosa pines. Cars in western Oregon sport Kerry-Edwards bumper stickers (still!); cars pick-ups in eastern Oregon sport “Support Our Troops” ribbons (often more than one—and a big ol’ American flag decal to boot). Western Oregon has Walmarts, Outback Steakhouses, McDonalds, Starbucks, Taco Bells, Jiffy Lubes, Rite Aids, Linens ‘n’ Things, Home Depots, Office Depots, and (shudder/cringe) Krispy Kreme Donuts. Eastern Oregon has none of these.

OK. I’m generalizing and oversimplifying and probably stereotyping. But I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to escape the withering assault of homogeneity for a short while.** In Baker City or Enterprise, there’s virtually no franchise/chain/corporate presence. If you need office supplies you head downtown to a stationer’s store. I’ll say that again—A STATIONER’S STORE. When was the last time you saw one of those? Here’s the one in historic downtown Baker City.

Stationer's Store in Baker City

Wouldn’t you rather get your photocopies made here than at a Kinko’s in some godawful strip mall? I would.

Wouldn’t you rather buy your groceries at this 100-year-old store and tavern in the practically microscopic hamlet of Inmaha (population: 22)? (Note the wooden Indians.)

Inmaha Store

Well, maybe not. But my point is—I think all these horrible chain franchises are bad for people. Bad like high-fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Unwholesome, overprocessed, and ersatz. They undermine the quality of life.

There is one thing (at least) on which western and eastern Oregon stand united and that thing is good beer. Enterprise, for example—small as it is—is home to the most excellent Terminal Gravity Brewery, which uses snowmelt from the nearby Eagle Cap Wilderness as its water source. Terminal Gravity is also where locals who prefer tie-dyed hemp skirts to camouflage vests hang out with others of their ilk. After dark, staff members who also happen to be fire dancers and bellydancers perform in the field behind the brewery. Who knew? It's unexpected discoveries like that that really make a vacation memorable.

Terminal Gravity IPA

Terminal Gravity India Pale Ale—straight from the source!

So far, I’ve given a rather skewed impression of our trip to eastern Oregon. We did not, in fact, go there simply to guzzle beer and scarf substandard pie. It was a hiking trip; we hiked every day (and drank beer afterward). And it was awesome. More on that tomorrow.

*Now that I think about it, it is entirely possible that the owner of the restaurant was just trying to palm off an unsaleable (look at it!) slice of pie to a pair of gullible city folk.

**Even in Portland, which prides itself on supporting indy businesses and being noncorporate, these places are still present—especially in outer Portland and most certainly in the suburbs. I try to avoid patronizing them, but even passing them by in a speeding car has a negative effect on my psyche.

Monday, September 05, 2005

What to Say?

Contrary to what recent postings on this blog might suggest, I am not, like Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, unaware of the dire situation in New Orleans. I’ve been reading, listening, and watching in horror at what has been happening in New Orleans and the other areas destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
  • Corpses piling up in the streets
  • People begging for food and water
  • Raw sewage
  • Talk of dysentery, cholera, and typhoid
  • Naked desperation
  • Lawlessness
  • Refugees
  • A president who doesn’t give a shit about poor people

How quickly a part of the U.S. came to resemble the Third World.

Truly shocking.

I just don’t know how to write about it. I’m no bloody good at sophisticated political analysis or astute social commentary. When something like this happens, my response is unfocused and purely emotional:

Fury (because people who didn’t have the wherewithal to leave New Orleans ended up with an express ticket to Hell)
Outrage (that Bush didn’t get off his vacationing duff and [for a change] exercise his executive powers for good instead of evil)
Indignation (that Michael Brown, head of FEMA, got appointed to his job because he’s a Bush crony. He’s not even remotely qualified for the job. But, hey, according to Bush, “Brownie” is doing a “heck of job.”)
Disgust (at middle-class and upper-class Americans who are whining about gas prices)
Shame (that catastrophes like this happen in other parts of the world all the time and most Americans [myself included] hardly give them a thought)
Guilt (that we’re leaving on vacation on Tuesday )
Grief (over the deaths and misery that could have been prevented)
Anxiety (because the hurricane season isn’t even close to being over)
Fear (that terrorists will see this as a golden opportunity to strike again)
Worry (because a majority of Americans [myself included] have no “emergency plan.” B and I don’t even have a decent flashlight. How daft and naive is that?)
Thankfulness (that I am safe and healthy, have a roof over my head and a working toilet and that I know where all my family and friends are)

Anyway, a totally incomplete and inadequate response and one that does little more than echo the feelings of helplessness and outrage of countless other people—Rush Limbaugh excepted (as Julie points out).


Anyway, as mentioned above, B and I are going on vacation, as planned. I do feel guilty about that. Like maybe I should just donate* the vacation money to the relief effort. But, sadly, I’m not that selfess. I’ve been feeling extremely burned out about my current work project (be thankful that my personal blogging manifesto specifies that I am not to rant about work on my blog). And part of me is feeling notably pessimistic about the state of the world and the direction it’s headed in—and is telling me to take a vacation while I still can.

So we’re off to eastern Oregon on Tuesday for a healthy dose of hiking and (hopefully) a modicum of mental distraction. If it turns out that eastern Oregon has Internet cafes and—who knows—it just might, I’ll do a couple of remote posts from Hell’s Canyon or some similarly exotic-sounding place. It’s always been a regret of mine that I haven’t documented my vacations better, so here’s my chance to redeem myself. Back on the 18th.

*If you haven't made a donation yet and you would like to, consider the McCormick Tribune Foundation Hurricane Katrina Relief Campaign. It will match 50 cents for every dollar you donate and it's paying all the administrative costs. I made a donation a few days ago, and even though they'd already raised the amount they said they would match, they are still matching donations. Thanks to Crystal for the link.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

DIY Freak Show

Immodest Carrot
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
I’m not sure whether to give a “not work-safe” warning or not, so consider yourself warned if you want to click to (further) enlarge this well-endowed carrot. Can you believe it didn’t get the blue ribbon in the “Vegetable Oddities” category at the Oregon State Fair? They awarded the blue ribbon to this snake gourd, which, while impressive in length, just doesn’t capture the imagination the way that carrot does.

As I mentioned a few days ago, fairs no longer officially sanction freak shows, but there’s still plenty of freakiness to be found if you know where to look. The Exhibition Hall, home of the hot-to-trot carrot and the snake gourd, is a cornucopia of bizarre exhibits. The Oregon Veterinary Association’s exhibit was one of the most enigmatic. The exibit was unstaffed so there was no one to explain the hodge podge of items they'd assembled. It looked like they simply dumped the contents of some old storage room out on a couple of tables. Among the curiosities were an X-ray of a snake that had swallowed a heating pad and an ancient and rusted cow speculum about the size and shape of a magnum of champagne. (Formidable.) For some reason, though, this feline nervous system sandwiched between two pieces of glass creeped me out more than anything. Those wonky baby-blue eyeballs give me the willies!

Feline Nervous System

Sadly (and inexplicably) I did not photograph the army of scarecrows; the elaborate kingdoms made of Legos; the collection of handmade nun and priest dolls that represented every holy order that ever staked its claim in Eugene, Oregon; or the wall of poetry entries. (Who knew you could enter poetry at the state fair?) I did, however, document the pies and cakes. I hate to say it, but the caliber of the entries was appallingly low. Look at this lopsided, dented, poorly frosted chocolate cake.

Sorry Cake

I mean, I know that things don’t always turn out as one had hoped, but if I’d made that sorry-looking cake, I wouldn’t have bothered to schlep it to the fair. Then again, maybe this person knew what kind of competition she was up against because that cake won a third-place ribbon! Perhaps its merits lay in its taste and not its appearance. But the pies weren’t much better. NB: Jamie, I think you’d have no problem blowing the competition right out of the water.

Despite the less-than-stellar appearance of all those baked goods, I do think it would be great if fair-goers were allowed to sample the entries. Instead we are forced to actually buy food. Fortunately, there is plenty available—about 85 percent of it deep-fried. One stall sells nothing but deep-fried stuff: deep-fried Twinkies, deep-fried Snickers, deep-fried Oreos, and deep-fried Rocky Road bars. I love their motto: “It’s New! It’s Great!”—which is remarkable for the utter lack of creative thought put into it and the brazen lack of truthfulness. Their stall is not new—they were peddling the exact same stuff last year (perhaps literally). (Read my eye-witness report here.) As to whether a deep-fried Snickers or a deep-fried Oreo is “great,” I’d be willing to wager that they aren't. I didn’t see anyone buy any of them, and if there’s one thing that people at fairs do, it’s buy fried food. Those things must have been extremely nasty.

So that’s the end of the freak show. The rest of the stuff we did was wholesome, with a freak factor of virtually nil. Here’s a quick rundown of recommended fair offerings if anyone’s planning on going over the weekend (it runs through Labor Day):

  • The Peking Acrobats (Astounding. Don’t miss them.)
  • Hypnomania (I am unhypnotizable, as you would expect, but the show is good fun.)
  • Pepe and the Bottle Blondes (A Cuban band led by an entertaining goofball.)
  • The petting zoo (Where else can you see a baby kangaroo and an alpaca standing side by side?)
  • The Mount Hood burger (Apparently, the slice of pastrami they slap on it is what makes it a Mount Hood burger. Don’t ask me why. Excellent fries come with it.)
  • All the animal barns (especially the Romney sheep)
  • Umpqua ice cream

Avoid Like the Plague
  • Shenaniguns (Awful, awful western gunslinger “comedy” duo. Tired, tired jokes and excruciating puns.)
  • Cow patties (They’re everywhere!)
  • E. coli (Wash your hands if you touch any of the animals.)
  • Stalls hawking cell phones, vegetable slicer/dicers, hot tubs, wood-burning stoves, socks, leather goods, twirly things, sunglasses, etc., etc., etc.
  • Dippin' Dots (Flavorless, ersatz ice-cream BBs.)


Oink, oink!