We first visited Oregon in the early '90s when our daughter was scouting colleges. Lewis and Clark, with its breathtaking location and drop-dead gorgeous campus, seemed like the perfect place, but Alexis, a confirmed desert rat, was unimpressed. Her horror at the thought of rainy winters and gray days put a damper on my hopes of using her college years as an excuse for regular jaunts to the City of Roses.
But my daughter's refusal to cooperate with my fantasy didn't keep me away.
Over the years, I've visited this personal paradise as many times as I could afford to, and on every occasion I grew more convinced Portland was the smartest city around.
Situated along two magnificent rivers (the Columbia and the Willamette), the city boasts a temperate rainforest climate, a public transportation system that's a model for the world, a collection of hip neighborhoods, Powell's City of Books (an independent bookstore taking up a full block), the most authentic Japanese garden this side of Japan, kickass restaurants, the freshest produce outside of a farm, a thriving downtown, a vital arts community and the largest urban park in the continental United States.
If that weren't enough, Portland is less than two hours from the Pacific Ocean and a coastline that can only be described as magical. And despite the area's popularity with tourists, it is possible to get off the beaten track and discover an unpopulated stretch of beach. There is little as exhilarating as the sounds of pounding surf and invisible foghorns in the distance.
On this trip, after a couple of days taking in the sights of the city, we headed out to Seaside and settled in at a bed and breakfast a couple of blocks from the shore. Since the place was reasonably priced, we thought we'd save some money on meals. Silly us. We had no way of knowing that the guy who ran the place was only marginally more qualified to prepare a meal (or set a table) than I am to perform neurosurgery.
As we sat down to our first breakfast, I noticed the cloth napkins looked like they'd been left over from the previous guests. The wrinkles and telltale stains were a dead giveaway. This did not bode well.
Though I could detect the aroma of eggs being prepared in the kitchen, I thought cereal was a safer bet, so I chose one from the basket holding an assortment of miniboxes. Of course, there was no soymilk available. (Note to bed and breakfast proprietors: Offering 8-ounce containers of soymilk is an economical way to score points with guests who prefer to avoid milk products.)
The first bite told me everything I would have preferred not to learn: The cereal tasted like it had been sitting in the box, absorbing Oregon humidity and waiting for some fool to open it, since it had been purchased a decade or so ago. I would have felt guiltier than I did about wasting it except for the realization that it wasn't really food; it was soggy cardboard masquerading as some strange form of edible substance.
The eggs weren't any better. The trick to eggs is low heat. Cook them on too high of a temperature, and you'll end up with a dry, brown, unappetizing mess. Our host seemed genuinely surprised to learn this when, a day or so later, I gently shared this culinary "secret."
On subsequent days, we were treated to undercooked French toast topped with two dried-out strawberries (serving tasteless berries in Oregon is a sacrilege), cold toast, a tea assortment served out of a faded Whitman's Sampler candy box (presentation is everything) and other equally sorry excuses for breakfast fare.
While my husband's capacity to ingest anything bearing even the slightest resemblance to food kept him from going hungry, I was forced to rely on every espresso stand on Route 101 to keep me going until lunch. So much for saving money on meals.
Apart from our Seaside lodging experience, the trip was perfect. But on our last night back in Portland, I tuned in to the Weather Channel hoping to catch some news of the monsoon's arrival. Nada. Just minimal coverage (15 seconds of footage) of a wildfire at an undisclosed location in the Coronado National Forest.
Ah, Tucson in the summer. We were coming home to record-breaking temperatures, no rain in sight and a mountain range up in smoke. Tucson, the City of Perpetual Hope. You gotta love it.