Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Portland Hellos and Goodbyes

We just returned from Portland, where we drove Vienna to her first semester at Reed College. Jenny had been dreading this transition for years, knowing how much she will miss our daughter. I've been more excited, anticipating the adventures that await this amazing young woman, knowing that she'll be surrounded by people as cool and quirky as she is. Even so, I've carried seeds of my own personal sadness at the prospect that our little girl has become a young woman set to embark on a life of her own, with Jenny and I as a smaller and smaller part.

We departed barely a week after our 2008 summer vacation, me having just begun classroom teaching for a new semester and my second year as director of the SJSU peer mentor program. Class ended at 1:15 and we were on the road north at 1:30, settling in for a 12-hour haul to Portland. It's a boring drive; there's no other way to describe it. We took I-5 the entire way up, pausing only to refill our tank and bellies from time to time. We arrived after one in the morning and checked into our hotel. I'll admit it: we stayed at a Comfort Inn, forgoing the undeniable funkiness of old-road motels for something quiet and consistent for the six-day stay that would follow.

The next morning, we went to Reed with our young college student. Vienna snagged a so-called "quiet-dorm," remarkable mostly for the fact that most of its denizens have no interest in quiet. Her two-person suite is small, but it has a door for Vienna's private room and windows overlooking a leafy green park with a swing-set. New Reedies were walking the campus with smiling parents; some kids jamming on musical instruments, others playing Frisbee, and a few young women sunbathing topless.

The rest of the day was dedicated to sessions teaching the three of us about the college experience to come. That night, we left Vienna on her own. Jenny and I found an amazing old-school steak place called Sayler's. Thereafter we shot some video of downtown animated neon signs (with me nearly getting my camera stolen by a genuinely scary guy outside of the Alibi tiki bar). We closed out our night with a return to Thatch, a tiki spot we first visited in April.

By Thursday, Vienna had pulled her dorm room into shape, and we three completed more Reed welcome activities. Our spirits were high, even though we knew that our next step was to leave Vienna on campus that evening and not see her again until Sunday. We learned about the campus health plan and Reed's plentiful on-campus jobs. Given the famously intense workload of this place, we weren't surprised to hear that first year students who exceed more than five hours of employment per week jeopardize their studies. That afternoon, we said our goodbyes to Vienna and I kept a close eye on Jenny. She was a little somber but not too sad, knowing that we'd see our daughter one last time before we departed back to California.

Friday was the beginning of two days dedicated to Jenny and I visiting Portland. We knew that Vienna had a packed schedule: meeting with her adviser, choosing from Reed's numerous fall kick-off activities, and getting to know her dorm neighbors. We committed to not calling her, affirming her independence. But we checked Facebook for her updates. Otherwise, Jenny and I got to know and love Vienna's new hometown. The weather was warm and the skies were clear; we felt lucky that we caught such a nice day.

Our tour began with a drive to Council Crest, following up on a friend's suggestion to glimpse a 360-degree view of the surrounding countryside. We then visited the Japanese Garden, proclaimed to be the best of its kind outside of Japan. Afterward we wandered the International Rose Test Garden, amazing ourselves with the hundreds of aromas waiting among the gravel rows.

Jenny and I drove back to town afterward, grabbing a tasty al fresco meal at La Buca (across from a streamline moderne Coca Cola bottling plant) and visiting the terrific Velveteria, a museum dedicated to -- velvet paintings. And yes, there are sad clowns, kung fu fighters, tributes to the King, and even an entire wall labeled "Unicornucopia."

The most memorable part of the collection was a singular painting of the creepy leader of the Heaven's Gate cult. [Note: Don't have time to visit Portland anytime soon? Visit Amazon and grab a copy of Caren Anderson and Carl Baldwin's book, Black Velvet Masterpieces.]

That evening, Jenny and I caught a second-run flick at the Laurelhurst Theater where you can have pizza and beer on individual tables while watching your movie. We concluded the evening with more neon photography before returning to our room, tired but happy.

Saturday began with breakfast at the Byways Cafe, a popular spot known for its long lines and lengthy inside wait-times. The food is undeniably good, and the decor is a road-tripper's mecca filled with an impressive collection of kitschy souvenirs from tourist traps around the country. Afterward, we wandered the stacks at Powell's, one of the largest and coolest new and used bookstores in the country, and ambled around the Saturday Market. Wherever we toured, we passed folks walking and carrying dogs, so much do Portlanders love their canine friends.

In the afternoon, we walked around Chinatown and dropped by Voodoo Doughnuts, a strange but tasty stop known for its weddings under the "Holy Doughnut." Jenny got something called a "Triple Chocolate Penetration," which seemed to balance out my plain 'ol glazed. It's best not to dwell much further.

Later on, we sojourned in the Chinese Garden, a one-block portal to a quiet and serene world of flowing water, lotus flowers, and gingko. Jenny and I stopped for an hour at the tearoom, finding a table upstairs that overlooked the grounds. Jenny savored a hibiscus herbal concoction while I learned how to steep a sampler of Oolong teas in the traditional Chinese style. We then walked about the gardens some more before returning to the loud world beyond.

Dinner was at 50 Plates, a new place we saw reviewed in the local paper. Reservations had already booked every seat until nine, but we stayed anyway to sample food available at the bar. Perhaps there's a difference, but I'm pretty sure I ordered everything I would have wanted anyway. The bar menu is terrific. I was particularly entranced by the "meat stick," priced to inspire patrons to wonder whether the server must stop at a convenience store before bringing the meal. This restaurant, a high-end interpretation of lowbrow comfort foods, was entirely worth the visit.

We made a quick stop at Cargo, an across-the-street shop brimming with unique and fascinating furniture and pop culture detritus from Japan, Vietnam, and related parts of the world. The artifacts, advertisements, and communist propaganda posters from Indochina were particularly eye-catching. We then made a quick stop at Cacao to satisfy Jenny's love of drinking chocolate, and then checked out some other Portland neighborhoods in search of animated neon. At this point, I couldn't get the sound of The Dave Brubeck Quartet's "Take Five" out of my head; I'm sure that that this tune will help me produce a swell video of the gorgeous signage [select 'view in high quality' to see the video properly] that blinks and pulses throughout the Rose City.

On Sunday we visited with Vienna one last time (for a while), anxious to swap stories about our various adventures. Jenny and I were thrilled to hear that she's making lots of friends and remains excited about her choice to come to Reed. Our daughter seems to have made this new home her own already, speaking like an insider, an owner of her new life. She spoke glowingly of her anticipation of forthcoming psychology classes. No doubt: these folks are going to push Vienna in challenging and fruitful directions.

That afternoon, once Jenny and Vienna returned from church, we said our real goodbyes. It was sad for us all, a sense that this transition is permanent. But it's exciting too. Our daughter is where she needs to be, where she deserves to be. She worked hard for this, and she merits all the good times she's going to have. Jenny and I tried our best to think positively about the home to which we would shortly return, a much quieter place than we left. We enjoyed a relaxing Sunday in Portland, balancing ourselves between joy and sorrow. Then we plotted our course south, just the two of us.

[Photographs by Andrew and Jenny Wood]


Marquita said...

This was a great piece. I enjoyed reading it. I was wondering if there was some risk for Vienna from having her pictures and location on the internet since there are so many crazy people out there.

I am just going to trust that all is well with her.
Tell Jenny I said HI.

Andrew Wood said...

Thanks for your kind words, Marquita.

And as to risk - that's a fair question. Since she's an adult now, we've chosen to balance that risk with the benefit of her friends, family, and other loved ones getting to follow her adventures at Reed. Naturally we'll modulate our sharing of her news if we discern any increase to that risk. Of course, in this crazy world, such risk can only be managed. Sadly it can never be eliminated...

Jenny says hi!