The Oregon trail

Before the Week of Meetings, I went to Oregon (again) where got hugs from eight different people (I counted), some of whom are huggers of exceptional quality.  I am tempted to say that that is a measure of a great weekend, but since there are many weekends when I get no hugs at all, I am reluctant to establish an evaluative framework* by which most weekends suck.  (*Hmm.  I've been proofreading an academic text. I think it's contagious.)

Still.  An excellent weekend by any standard.

It has been 21 years since I lived in Portland. This means that the only thing I can find with absolute confidence is Powell's Books. I think they've moved all the other stuff. I had actually packed my portable GPS in anticipation of this phenomenon, but I am very new to using it, so navigating even short distances was not a seamless process. At first, the GPS seemed very reluctant to concede that we were not in Inverness, California.  I explained to it that, indeed, we had been in Inverness some weeks ago and we had enjoyed ourselves, but it was time to move on and perhaps tell me which freeway exit I should take. In Oregon. Where we were now lost. I made it into town mostly accidentally.  In the following days, apparently still annoyed with me for leaving Inverness, the GPS decided to approach all journeys like a game of chicken. It would wait until I was at an intersection facing at least four possible route options and then hold out to see if I would make a wrong turn just before it informed me that I was meant to, say, take the next right or the freeway on-ramp in the middle lane. It always won.  And it annoyed the holy hell out of me.

I spent two nights at Ben and Stephanie's who luckily live on a major road which is still where I left it. Stephanie and I used to live next to a crack house near Alamo Square, so we have a bond for life. She now has a real house with a very fancy new bathtub and a husband and a large-nosed dog who is afraid of the outdoors. Except for the agoraphobia, they all seem well. The humans were very hospitable and went to great lengths to keep the dog from sticking the aforementioned snout up my skirt, which was one of his great ambitions.

On Saturday. Portland filled with smoke so that I could reminisce about my earlier trip to Ashland. That might not be why, actually. It might be because so much of the west coast is on fire. But is starting to feel kind of personal.  I spent about 40 minutes playing chicken with my GPS and finally made my way to the right freeway, headed west, for what I had been referring to as the Mystery Hippie Wedding.

I do not wish to suggest that it was the wedding of a mystery hippie. It was the wedding of a very dear friend of mine from high school.  It was the other information I couldn't nail down.  Where was it exactly?  When?  And what the hell should I wear?  When the details started coming in--an address, a time--they raised more questions than they answered.  Don't wear heels; the ground is uneven.  Cocktails at 5, but people will be showing up all afternoon to set up their tents.  Bring a towel.  There'll be a bluegrass band.  And a shuttle from a friend's house.

So...a thing where people are camping and possibly swimming in a river?  But also, it's an evening wedding?  WHAT DO I WEAR TO THIS?

It had already been established that I would be staying at the handy Elderberry Inn (the nearness of which was really quite miraculous since there is no town to speak of anywhere around), so I knew I wouldn't be camping, which was nice. (The groom has known me for 30 years or so; he loves me and he knows I have no tent.) Nevertheless, I did have some anxiety about how I was going to get back to the motel since everyone else was camping and just who would be driving this shuttle after many hours of wedding cocktails/bluegrass? I put some sweatpants in my bag in case I ended up having to sleep in someone's tent on the riverbank. If, indeed, a riverbank were even involved.

Well. Aside from one insane hairpin turn and a very long gravel road, it wasn't all that crazy after all.  A small, eager pack of boys waved me down to show me where to park in the neighbor's field. A smiley young man named Max showed up in a car and drove me still further up the gravel road to...a house.  A house!  No one had ever mentioned a house. The back garden of this house had been transformed into a veritable fairy kingdom. In no way did it resemble a campground or a music festival. It looked like, well, a perfect place for a wedding.

And it was.

Under the arches that he had built for her, my beloved friend watched his bride--purple-haired and majestic, looking every bit Titania from A Midsummer Night's Dream--approach. Then, surrounded by their not inconsiderable family on that platform over the river, they chose each other. The bride cried. The groom cried. Many people cried.  Then, one by one, his two children and her three agreed to be a family. And I cried. Just a little. We all sat together in that beautiful, unexpected spot, in the presence of all that love and felt lucky.  Then we had some ridiculously delicious fried chicken and everyone lived happily ever after. 

Also, and I know you'll share my relief, I wore the right thing.

No heels. I follow directions.

Over the course of the evening, I blurted out my life story to at least five strangers and to one friend from high school whom I haven't seen in decades, and for that I apologize. I'm trying to figure some stuff out and they were all kind, patient people. Possible breaches of the social contract were made. Sorry.

A friendly drummer offered to loan me a hammock, but I did manage find someone willing to drive me back to my car and, after a careful drive on the darkest road in the world, I was happily reunited with the Elderberry Inn. where a 1AM shower restored me to normal human temperature and its surprisingly excellent mattress let me sleep like a stone.

Congratulations, David and Kate. You are good people. You know good people. You serve great cake.  May your lives together continue just like that.

The next day, in an effort to eke a few more hugs out of the weekend, I drove to the coast to have lunch with my friend Nate whom I hadn't seen in 15 years. He is the same, I'm pleased to report, which is to say: fantastic. We met in Cannon Beach at a hardware store that is also a bar and a restaurant.  That was novel.  In San Francisco, that concept would be purely aesthetic and they would either sell a few very shiny artisanal hammers or reclaimed rusty lumber-mill saws from the late 1800's.  Not so in Cannon Beach. Their hardware store/bar is legitimately a hardware store and also legitimately a bar, complete with regulars. There is zero fanciness about the establishment except possibly for their ahi tuna salad, but I can't say for certain because we decided that we probably didn't actually need to eat in a hardware store and decamped elsewhere for lunch. I did, however, have two cups of tea in a hardware store, which was a first.

Nate and I prove to have a friendship that weathers well and seems untroubled by a 15-year pause. Nevertheless, note to self: do not wait another 15 years to see Nate; that would just be a silly waste. I was reluctant to say goodbye, but after a few hours it was time for me, the rental car, and the GPS to make our way to the airport.

That was going well until Hwy 26 was suddenly closed for road work and I was directed to a 15-mile detour on a narrow twisty road that seemed to be going in entirely the wrong direction. Eventually, several roads later, I was reunited with Hwy 26 and simultaneously reunited with the hope of ever seeing my home again, but that was before we reached the Portland city limits and the GPS revived its favorite game. I drove in some circles, stopped to fill the tank, got caught in some traffic, and generally came to terms with the fact that I was probably going to miss my flight. Shockingly, I didn't. But in the car-return frenzy, I did accidentally leave my parasol behind.

Life is bittersweet, friends. There's no way around it.