Leaving Portland...

May flew by; now it's time for me to leave Portland and return to the east coast.

Before I talk about that upcoming journey, I thought I'd reflect on the vandwelling experience of the past 40 or so days in Portland. What did I do? How expensive was it? and so forth....

As I reported in my 2 earlier Portland posts, I found a space to park overnight, discovered a source of very cheap hot-food, and joined a local gym to shower. Those 3 were the game-changers as far as the experience being comfortable or rough. It wasn't rough at all. It was comfortable; in fact, it was downright luxorious.

Getting to shower everyday made me feel civilized. The gym was open 5 am to 10 pm which was good enough for me to get in there once a day. I exercised pretty hard and got back into running shape. I've gained weight on this trip from the beer, calorie-rich food, endless sitting, and lack of exercise, so it was really refreshing to kick my ass again. This gym was Loprinzi's Gym, down near 41st and Division.

In general, I avoided spending time in the van. One, it was hot in there during the day, and two, there was a big beautiful city outside; I didn't want to lurk in the dark. I used the bathrooms at the gym or coffee shop and swore off the Port-a-Potti in the van. I'd really only use the van for sleeping, then come morning get the hell out of there.

Nights in the van were fine. The temperature usually dropped to the 50s so I was comfortable. Of course in an urban area you get disturbances such as motorcycles, trucks, bums wheeling rattly shopping carts etc., but that's OK. I wore an eye-mask to block out the glow from street lights.

Discovering super-cheap hot food at Fred Meyer's every night meant I didn't have to deal with cooking in the van. Cooking in the van can be fun and it's usually more cost-effective, but it creates a lot of waste water. And when you're parked indefinitely in an urban area, getting rid of that waste water is tricky! I don't like dumping on the street. It's offensive, it's ugly, and it can get you in trouble.

How cheap was the Fred Meyer's special? Well, typically, if I eat out, even just buying a sandwich, is 3 - 10x more expensive than cooking rice and beans in the van. I estimated that a standard van-cooked rice/beans meal came out to approximately $1.50, maybe less. The can of beans is around $1, then you factor in the cents for the helping of rice and the propane to heat it. But by hitting up Fred Meyer's every night at 9 PM when they slash the hot-food prices by 50%, I could get more food for less than $1.50. No mess, no prep. And the food wasn't all that bad, either.

I did have to buy coffee everyday in order to sit in a coffee shop to type. That bothered me. But I didn't want to hang out in the van; I wanted to sit somewhere with cool air, electricity, bathrooms, and so on. And there weren't any viable libraries in my neighborhood. So I spent more at coffee shops than I liked to spend. A cup of coffee is anywhere from $1.25 to $1.75 and that's for their stale-ass house brew. Then it's .50 cents a refill, or maybe free refills if it's a larger shop. That adds up. I much prefer brewing my own coffee but it was a sacrifice. I cringed every time I forked over that $1.25...

What else... entertainment was cheap too. I'm entertained by browsing bookstores and there's Powell's (and it's mini-versions) in Portland. Many an evenings were spent trolling the bookshelves. Portland also has some good discount movie theaters and I got to attend some cool "retro" screenings including a splendid showing of THE RUNNING MAN (in case you're unfamiliar, it's a 1980s sci-fi film in which Arnold Schwarzenegger is trapped in a gameshow. it's great, and seeing it on the big screen, surrounded by like-minded fans who cheered every time the Governator said something ridiculous, was very fun).

The first few weeks, I was really excited by the bar scene, especially on Hawthorne. I went there every night. But that got old and also costly. A pint of tap beer was usually $3 - $4. A tall-boy of Pabst was $2 to $2.50. And Pabst makes me feel like an alien is about to hatch from my stomach so I generally avoid that crap.

So toward the end of my stay I changed the alcohol-getting ritual. I'd buy a tall-boy at the drugstore. A tall-boy of Tecate or Budweiser - both totally tolerable beers - was around $1.50. I'd take it back to the van, kick off my shoes, put on NPR, and drink it in there like a true wino. This was my little decompression ritual at the end of the day after typing for 8-10 hours. Then once the buzz faded I'd get up and walk over to Fred Meyer's and join the crowd of young people, bums, and hippies who arrive for the hot-food happy hour.

I benefited from arriving in Portland just as the rain stopped and summer began. It's been dry and sunny here the past 2 weeks.

I guess that's it. I had a lot of fun here and I hope to return someday.

Now, I'm driving back east. This time I'm taking the direct route --- straight mind-numbing interstates. No wandering, no exploring, etc. On the east coast I'm going to reconnect with friends and family, then in July take a Wilderness First Responder Course in North Carolina. And after that, I don't know...

I'll try to post from some point on my cross-country express trip. Thanks for reading!



This entry has nothing to do with Portland, van-dwelling, or road-tripping.

On my friend Olivia’s blog she recently posted an entry called “stuff boys like”. Beer and sports seemed conspicuously absent from this list, so I asked her about it, and she stated that she didn’t know any guys who liked those things, and, furthermore, thought these things were gross.

That was the catalyst for the following essay. Many of my friends have been surprised to hear what a football-fanatic I’ve become over the past few years. A common reaction is a curling up of the lips in disgust and “Really?!” as if I just admitted I'm into scat porn. It's true that 5 years ago, the only sport I watched was the annual broadcast of the New York City Marathon and I sneered at football and fans of it. But when I moved to Rhode Island, I started hanging out with football-watchers, and game-by-game, I got hooked.

So I wrote the following essay to describe the elements of football that I find interesting, as well as some of its qualities which I object to.


Let's begin with something I've often heard: “I HATE THE NFL; ITS A BUNCH OF FAT MILLIONAIRES RUNNING AROUND IN THE MUD!"

You 'hate' it for that reason? What? Did you hear what you just said? How could that not be appealing? Where else in the world do you get to watch one millionaire force another millionaire to eat turf? Where else do you get to see a millionaire sit sobbing on a wooden bench wiping the tears with broken fingers while having some kid walk up periodically and squirt gatorade into his mouth? Where else do you see a 400-pound millionaire legally chase down a 140-pound millionaire (I’m referring to when a tackle goes after a kicker, by the way)? Nowhere.

Player payrolls are indeed a turn-off and I think the scale of wealth - in the NFL, or in modern civilization in general - is completely out-of-whack and unjust. But, if you accept the extravagances of football on the level of absurdity, it’s very enjoyable. Society is brimming with the ridiculous and the NFL is just one of its biggest and most conspicuous cases of it. Just consider the NFL on par with the stuff of a satirical novel like "Starship Troopers"- except it’s really happening! In fact, if these guys were making regular salaries, I wouldn’t enjoy it at all; that would just be sick.

THE ANNOUNCERS: The sentences that comes out of those guys mouths... holy shit. It's a show unto itself. But I think in order to appreciate it, you have to be removed from the game and look at it objectively. The whole joke is to take what they say out of context. In fact, for awhile, this was the only way I could enjoy football - by making fun of the crazy sentences uttered by John Madden and his cronies. Classic lines include: “And there’s another Bear on the field!” and also, from this last Superbowl, “He’s one of those guys who always gets penetration!"

THE ATHLETICISM: Football is the fusion of many other sports. Running, jumping, wrestling, throwing, catching, marksmanship, strategy, and leadership. Players in the NFL are at the peak of human fitness - even the “fat” dudes can make incredible jumps and run like The Flash. In each game, no matter how lame the game may be, you’re likely to see some brilliant leaping-catches and bullseye-throws --- all shown in glorious slow-motion, of course. It should make you appreciate the nutty marvelous potential of the human body.

THE MAYHEM: Football is one of the only sports that encourages instances of total mayhem. The best example of this is the fumble. If a ball is dropped but is still alive, the field becomes a real circus. It’s total chaos. If the weather is rainy or snowy, it’s even better. Sometimes a ball will be fumbled 3 or 4 times within the same play; it just keeps flying out of their hands like a bar of soap. The announcers go crazy, the fans piss their pants, and the coaches have aneurysms. Often quarterbacks or kickers who aren’t supposed to get involved in the rough-stuff will be forced into the fray because the ball bounces their way. I wouldn’t be surprised if one day the waterboy surfaced in the aftermath of one of these pile-ups.

And yes, in the above graphic, I juxtaposed Bosch to the NFL.

THE MYTHOLOGY: I’ve been reading a lot of Joseph Campbell’s writings on mythology lately and one thing that seems missing from his essays is an analysis of modern sports in the context of mythology; maybe that’s because Campbell spent the bulk of his career working from the middle of the quad at Sarah Lawrence!

If you follow football, you'll realize early-on that it's not just about winning and losing. Each season has a cast of heroes, villains, dark horses, underdogs, and so on. There are tragedies, comedies, mysteries, science-fiction (thanks to the crazy drone cameras floating around the field!), and even some romance (players are always running around dating celebrities and it often spills over onto the field). Football can be absorbed and enjoyed as modern mytholgy just like comic-books and modern fiction can.

Much of this has to do with how the sportswriters interpret the teams. For example, Tom Brady is always portrayed as noble and unselfish, but who really knows? You have to suspend your disbelief and just get caught up in the myth-making, even if its clearly fiction.

For example, the Dallas Cowboys are “America’s Team”. They’re supposed to be on par with Superman or GI Joe: brave, noble, and 'the best'. That’s why when they are totally dysfunctional, as they were last season, it can be really entertaining. Imagine watching John Wayne have a hissy-fit while shooting himself in the foot and falling down the stairs of the salloon - that was the train-wreck that was the 2008 Dallas Cowboys.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have a team like the Baltimore Ravens which is universally vilified and portrayed as barbaric. You WANT the Ravens to seem dysfunctional otherwise you’d say they were losing their edge. Is this just because Ray Lewis plays for them and their mascot is an animal synonymous with death? Maybe.

Everyone loves to hear the myth about the back-up player who relieves the injured starter and wins the game; Tom Brady became famous that way. And everyone knows that the Philadelphia fans are some of the cruelest, most abusive spectators in the history of sports, while the crowds at Green Bay are known for have a nearly religious-attachment to each game (I’m sure they’re asshole hecklers, too). The fans for the Oakland Raiders come dressed as skeletons and monsters and form a “black hole” in the stands meant to intimidate the opposing team and invigorate their own. There are the scary linebackers who fulfill the role of the Minotaur at the end of the maze and, in turn, you have the brainy Daedelius-esq coach who enables the player to beat the Minotaur.

The best storyline last year was in the Superbowl, where aging, troubled Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner (above) pulled his shit together for one last hurrah. In 1993, they almost gave Clint Eastwood an Oscar for playing that very same character in “Unforgiven” - so why not enjoy it in the NFL, too? Warner lost, but he went down with his guns blazing, which was the perfect ending.

THE PERSONALITIES: OK, this falls into the “Why I hate the NFL” category. The players and coaches usually do NOT seem like likeable guys to me. Either they take the game so seriously you feel embarrassed for them, or they’re so egotistical and playful that you get mad at them for squandering their gifts. Of course, there’s a whole middle-ground of dudes who just show up and play without being melodramatic, but the networks never show them; why would they when Terrell Owens is just a few yards away throwing a temper tantrum?

THE TENSION: There are only about 12 meaningful games in a season before the play-offs. A team can only fuck up so many times before the whole season is considered a catastrophe and the management starts firing people and planning for next year. That means that every game has a special tension. Compare that, to, say, baseball, where those pot-bellied, polyester-wearing, tobacco-chewing douchebags play, what, 900 games per year? (to baseball fans: relax, in a year or 2 I'll probably be writing an essay about why I like MLB...)

THE FUCKUPS: Making a mistake in front of millions of fans is the risk these players take when they step onto the field. They’re under a level of pressure and scrutiny most of us will never know. It’s inevitable that within each season, there will be a handful of egregious, unbearably-humiliating bloopers. I don’t mean a simple dropped catch. I mean when a player runs the wrong way on the field or a kicker misses the ball. I’m not too proud to say that I really enjoy these cringe-inducing incidents.

THE STRATEGY: Don’t ask me to explain football. I can’t. I might try: “Well, there are two teams, and one ball, and... most of the mascots are cartoon animals!” that’s about as far as I’d get. The NFL rulebook must look like the Encyclopedia Britannica. Every time I watch a game, I’m constantly going “What the hell?” in response to some weird play, penalty, or decision. At first, this made me feel disoriented, but now I’ve come to appreciate the depth of knowledge. I like the fact that it’s so fucking complicated; that makes the jobs of the players and coaches that much harder.

Coaches must forgo eating, sleeping, and sex for 6 days out of the week in order to prepare for Sunday... I imagine them sitting up round-the-clock staring bleary-eyed at videos of opposing teams and drawing plays out on chalkboards. And still, more often than not, come game-day, they see their gameplan get totally dismantled by a smarter coach. That’s tragic! And it makes for good entertainment! You often hear how football is like a chess-game. I don’t know how to play chess, so I can’t vouch for that metaphor... but I do know how to play Battleship, and I can tell you that the NFL is a lot more complicated than that...

THE VIOLENCE: When I was a kid, there was nothing I enjoyed more than sitting on the carpet and bashing 2 action figures together for hours on end. I grew out of action figures and matured into playing video-games which were more often than not about 2 guys bashing into each other. Now I’m an adult and I watch that happen in football (of course, I still collect action figures and still play video games...).

Some people object to the violence in football as if it represents some kind of barbarism and, as a civilized people, we shouldn’t bother with that. What? Sure, it’s technically barbaric, but it’s the most controlled, ritualized barbarism imaginable. It’s only barbaric when compared to how soft, quiet, and safe many of our lives have become; it’s like Candy Land when compared to the true war and cruelty that still goes on around the world and that will persist no matter how “civilized” we get.

And this is when I get to the “beer” part of the essay because when I drink beer and watch football, I often find myself getting philosophical and dwelling on how violent the NFL is, and how it fits into society as a whole. I don’t like all violent entertainment. Anything involving unwilling or exploited participants does not interest me. For example, those fuckheads who paid homeless guys to fight and videotaped it: No!!! I’m still scarred from the day my older brother rented “Faces of Death” and I snuck-watched it through the living room window and saw those dudes torturing a monkey: No!!! I also had nightmares after seeing that power-lifter’s elbow pop the wrong way during the Olympics. Again, no!!!!!!

But a bunch of super-athletes in high-tech pads, earning paychecks that range from decent to spectacular, fully informed and fully consenting to the risks of the game, taking to the field and trying to outwit, outrun, outthrow, and outstrong-arm each other - Yes!!!!

Note that there is an element of violence in the NFL which I can’t stand and that’s the freakazoid injuries which happen a few times each season. The photograph of Tom Brady’s knee getting bent the wrong way is burned into my mind, and I still get shivers thinking about how Roy Williams horse-collared Musa Smith and broke his fibia so severely his whole shin looked wobbly! AAGH! That stuff is gross, man! I don’t object to it --- it’s a risk of the game that all those guys take for a chance at fame, glory, and wealth. I just think it’s disgusting, and I don’t want to see it! (it should be noted that the NFL banned maneuevers, such as the horse-collar tackle, which tend to result in those vomit-inducing injuries).

The other dark side to the NFL which has been getting much-deserved attention is the long-term effects of concussions. First of all, let’s all remember what a concussion is: it’s your brain banging against your skull. Now, you can imagine how for these players, who have been diving headfirst into linebackers since 6th grade peewee football, all the way up to age 40, their brains have done a lot of slurping around! Many of these guys go into retirement and, tragically, by age 50 or 55 they’re demonstrating neurological problems normally reserved for people of age 70 or 75. According to critics, this was “covered up” or swept under the rug by the NFL for many years because, obviously, it’s a pretty sad and sobering destiny for these much-beloved sports personalities, and it sucks some of the magic out of the game. Recently, the NFL has opened up to it, and *seems* to be trying to raise awareness about the long-term repercussions of football-related injuries.

THE FANDOM: When I was living in RI, I cheered the New England Patriots, and was lucky enough to follow their magical season where they went undefeated until the Superbowl. I'll probably always have a special place in my heart for the Patriots since they were my "first" team, but really, I don't care. So long as you're familiar with the mythology of the league you should be able to enjoy any game that's showing on the TV over the bar. This past year, while road-tripping, I watched games in cities up and down the east coast, and the season was no less enjoyable.

I can see why people hate NFL fans or sports fans in general. How can you not be condescending towards a guy walking up the street wearing an ill-fitting Drew Bledsoe jersey? There are always stories in the paper about sports fans behaving badly (or in some cases, criminally). I'm not one of those guys and I try very hard to avoid them. I don't wear a jersey, I don't pelt anybody with anything, and I don't cry when my team loses (or wins, for that matter).

Every time you feel repulsed by those types of fans, remember that there is a minority of dudes like me sitting back and interpretting the game on the level of Greek mythology! Thanks for reading.


Tour of Portland

Hello readers. Thank you for all the positive feedback to my last entry. In response, I've written this entry to give you my impressions of Portland after about 3 weeks of vandwelling here. I've shrunken the images on this entry since there are a ton of them, but as usual, by clicking on them, you can see the full picture in a new window.

ABOVE: A view of downtown Portland from the Burnside Bridge. Portland is known for its many bridges and the Burnside Bridge provides a conduit into the heart of downtown. It's always scenic and windy up there. There's a sidewalk for pedestrians and a lane for cyclists, but sometimes these asshole cyclists come flying down the sidewalk anyway. Why?

ABOVE: The green space along the river. Portland is famous for its abundant green space. The whole river walk area is really gorgeous and pedestrian/cyclist friendly. On weekends, this area becomes a big craft/food fair, with live music, street performers, and a beer garden.

ABOVE: One of the many walkways along the river to encourage outdoor recreation and walking/cycling commuting. May is Bike to Work month in Portland. One of the events includes the city giving free breakfast to cyclists.

ABOVE: World-famous Powell's Bookstore, which I mentioned before on this blog as being the biggest used bookstore in the world (supposedly). You literally can get in lost inside it.

ABOVE: Downtown Portland has these funny water fountains that are always spouting water, without any prompting by a potential drinker. What's with these? Why are they always running? Is that more hygienic or something? Is it just because it looks cool? Or is it Portland's way of boasting about how damn wet this climate is? If you know, please post below.

ABOVE: The endearing food trucks (or carts, whatever) of downtown Porltand. They sell delicious food at low prices.

ABOVE: Plaid Pantry. They're all over the place. They're the 7-11 of the Pacific Northwest.

ABOVE: The Laurelhurst Movie Theater, in the Laurelhurst neighborhood. Note the great coincidence that as I took that picture of the vintage movie theater sign, a vintage yellow car rolled up to the traffic light. Laurelhurst is a fun old-school neighborhood with bars, coffee shops, music/book stores, and so on. The Laurelhurst Theater shows slightly older movies at a discount price. And you can drink beer and order pizza while you're watching.

ABOVE: Laurelhurst park.

ABOVE: I took this picture to show what most of the houses look like in the neighborhoods farther from downtown. I don't know how you'd describe them in proper architectural terminology, so here I go: they're typically low and wide, with big porches, big gardens, and a kind of chaotic, dilapidated look to them. It's great. That's how yards should be. Of course, there are also some stupid-looking houses with senseless amounts of grass, just like anywhere, but they seem to be in the minority.

ABOVE: Fred Meyer's - the Wal Mart of Portland. If you go around 9 PM, they slash the prices of their hot food by 50%. You can get a full hot dinner for 3 or 4 bucks. I've gone a few times for this, joining the crowd of other dinner-bargain-hunters. Its like a weird happy-hour of supermarket dining.

ABOVE: The Hawthorne neighborhood strip. In taking this photo I realized how difficult it is to take pictures of a street. You'll just have to trust me that it's a cool strip of bars and restaurants that seems to make overtures to college-aged people. It's the closest hub to where I've been parked. This is where I go at night when I want to get a beer. There's also a smaller Powell's here for book-browsing.

ABOVE: Rosie the cat, looking pensively toward the Portland skyline from my brother's apartment.

ABOVE: I hadn't showed the interior of the van in awhile, so I thought I would. I strung up an extra line to dry my gym clothes. I've kept the van parked more or less in the same spot since I've been here (with 2 or 3 voyages to my brother's neighborhood) and nobody has bothered me. I've been able to get my drinking water from my brother; I'm not sure where all the other RVers and van-dwellers get it (I haven't seen any of those 25 cent/per gallon vending machines like in the southwest). I also don't know where they go to dump waste, but since there are so many people living in vehicles, there must be some place.

I had been burning candles in the van to combat the moisture level (which may only combat it on the psychological level, but so be it) until I mentioned this to my friend Kate, and she said, "Dude, don't fucking burn candles in the van!" and alerted me to the very depressing health hazards of parafin (google it yourself to learn more). So now I'm in the market for beeswax candles.

Also, for people who follow van-dwelling, there's an important bill underway in Maine that will seriously curtail vehicle-living. Some people are afraid it will set a precedent for laws in other states: http://pressherald.mainetoday.com/story.php?id=255609&ac=PHnws

If you read that article, it basically sides with the bill, and portrays the campground owners as these pitiful business owners who have been unfairly harmed by Walmarts and whatnot. It doesn't describe how disgusting and overpriced most of these RV parks are, nor does it question WHY many campers might choose a parking lot over a campground (because RV parks are disgusting and overpriced). I know some RV parks are family businesses... I'd like to see them thrive, but they've got to come to their senses, and change the way they run their campgrounds if they want to draw in the modern frugal RVer.

Anyway... this is only a snippet of Portland. I'll keep taking photos and do another entry soon. Thanks for reading!


Portland, OR

This post is a little different than the usual. The course of my trip has changed. I've parked in Portland, OR and I plan to stay here for another few weeks.

This was a long time coming. Let me explain. In 'Travels With Charley', John Steinbeck's novel about traveling the country in a truck camper, he notes how at one point, without warning or explanation, he stops "seeing". No matter how beautiful or interesting the world is around him, he's done. Done, done, done. It's not a choice but an irrevocable mental state brought on by, simply, seeing too much for too long. He's burnt-out. And he's sad about it. But he accepts it, eventually, and steers the camper around and drives back to his home in NY. (It's an amazing, sweet, hilarious novel about road-tripping... I highly recommend it).

Anyway, that's how I've felt for a while. In fact, I'd say my "seeing" stopped after I left Slab City in southern California way back in February. I can't explain why, but everything after that felt a little flat, a little drab, a little lifeless. Locations of exceptional beauty, such as Death Valley, just made me feel tired as I drove through them, whereas earlier in my trip, I was thrilled by comparitively insignificant and mild scenes.

So, I've stopped. It seems senseless to continue driving when your heart isn't in it. It's almost worse to visit a place like Death Valley and not appreciate it, than to not visit it at all and save it for a time in the future when I can "see" again.

Portland has proven to be a fine place for parking the van. First, it's very, very easy to find a place to park overnight on the street without being harassed, and many others are doing it, so you're not a freak. There's campervans and RVS and trailers all over the place. Second, it's a small, pedestrian-friendly city, so I can get around and do stuff without having to move the van.

My brother lives in Portland, so I've been able to spend time with him. For the past week I've been parked in a little neighborhood near a little family-owned gym. I joined the gym (month membership: $40, no sign-up fees!) to exercise and to have shower/bathroom access. Being able to shower everyday seems to bet the key for me not to go crazy. I go in there every morning, exercise, use the bathroom, and shower.

The pacific northwest is coffee-crazy so there's cafes on every corner. I've been going to a cafe a block from my van and using it for internet and to power my computer. I'd prefer a library (libraries don't expect you to buy anything and are quieter) but weirdly there are only 2 libraries in this neighborhood, and neither of them have desks!

At night, there's many bars and movie theaters, as well as some nice walks. Powell's Bookstore, the biggest used book store IN THE WORLD, is just over the Burnside Bridge.

My only complaint at this point is the precipitation. Portland has so far been as rainy as everyone warned me it would be. Rain comes every day, many times a day, often with no warning. Of course, the mentality toward rain is totally different here than on the east coast. Portlanders just walk around in the rain without umbrellas or raincoats. They don't give a shit. From a van-dwelling perspective, it's difficult for me to keep the interior of the van dry because I have to keep the windows closed all the time. My gym clothes are always still a little cold and wet the next day when I put them on. Oh well....

I'll probably do another update about vandwelling in Portland, complete with pictures, in a week or two. Thanks for reading!