Sep 11, 2017

first impressions

Our new home is a duplex with a mirrored duplex across a small yard. The presence of two absolutely huge pine trees divides the lot, and throws a lot of shade on the building. Pine needles litter every surface. Saori commented later that it felt like a camp house, but not in a good way.
Still sitting in the car in the driveway, I told Saori, "you know, if you hate it, we can always break the lease." She had been preparing herself to be let down the whole trip, but it wasn't apparently enough as we did a first walk through together. Let's face it, even with new carpeting and new lino, it's still a dark apartment, kind of dingy, and 800 square feet, which combined with the other two factors, makes it feel smaller than it is.

We pulled in our luggage and unpacked the car. We splurged on a 20" self-inflating air mattress, which I can tell you was worth the extra $40 for saving us from 1) waking up in the middle of the night on the floor and 2) blowing it up manually.

It was muggy, and hot, and I realized belatedly that the duplex had no air conditioning. Actually, none of the apartments I had seen had air conditioning. It's just not that needed up here. Saori picked pho for dinner, so we went to a place nearby. It was a relief- a moment to sit in a restaurant, away from a new, unpacked apartment, to get a bowl of hot soup, at the end of a long day. A moment too, to take a step back and get perspective on the situation.

We came back, spread our borrowed sheets on the inflatable mattress, and crashed, physically and emotionally exhausted. I was 33 years old.

the rest of the way to Portland

Sunday, we got up early, ate our packages of cold cereal with milk, and hit the road early because the only breakfast options was a Denny's inside a sad casino. We drove all day, continuing across the wastelands of Nevada, passing derelict brothels and silent and vast military installations. We finally starting getting to more interesting areas with lakes and high desert plains, before we reached Reno. Reno was nicer than either of us were expecting, but then we were expecting Reno to be the cheaper, skankier version of Las Vegas, so there was a lot of wiggle room there.

We stopped at a diner at one of the casinos close to the Reno main drag, and got a big, greasy, diner lunch. We picked it mostly because it was close by and had street parking. Pressing on, we passed the border into California, which was about the same, and drove on for a few hours more towards Susanville. Susanville is situated between the Douglass fir and Redwoods pine covered mountains, and the scrub and grasses of the rolling high desert. We arrived to find a thin smell of smoke in the air, the first taste of the forest fires which would follow us to Portland.

Checked in to a typical cheap roadside motel, and walked next door to a discount grocery store before returning to the motel for the night. I wouldn't have minded walking around a bit more, or visiting the local brewery gastropub, but Saori was done for the day.

Monday, labor day, we got up early, ate the cereal we had brought, checked where forest fires were burning, and hit the road again. We continued northeast, driving between pine forests and high deserts, although finally we were in the mountainous forests of northern California and southern Oregon. We stopped for BBQ in a small city near the border. It was the first BBQ since I'd arrived back in the US, and after all, it was my birthday.

We pressed on. The smoke in the air got thicker. Road closures due to fires had limited us from taking a more scenic route, but this way was scenic enough. Lots of traffic from people returning from Crater Lake, and Burning Man, and we saw lots of Burners, easily identifiable by the white dust coating the vehicles, and the bicycles hanging off the back. We did really appreciate, however, the passing lanes every ten miles or so, so traffic didn't get too backed up on the forest roads.

We stopped to use the bathroom and take a break at the outskirts of Portland at a KFC, which ended up a semi-go-to for pit stops. The smoke was as thick as it ever was, and it rained ash. Although we didn't know it at the time, this was from the very nearby Eagle Creek fire, which is burning through Columbia gorge. I took over driving, and we pulled into the driveway of our duplex around 5pm.

Sep 3, 2017

Nowhere, USA

4AM is my least favorite time of the day. But that was when my alarm went off to wake us up so we could get on the road to Portland by 5 AM. Why so early? Because for inexplicable reasons we decided the best course of action for two people who don't work was to travel across the country on the long weekend when the working population is on holiday. Actually, it just worked out that way with the communication with the property management company.

Anyway, we said goodbye to the cats, locked everything up, and drove out into the night. No traffic. We took some stupid detours I'm chalking up to lack of caffeine, and while I grumbled my way along, Saori really enjoyed the desert scenery revealing itself in the dawn. 

We stopped for a quick breakfast bite in Wickenburg, and then pressed on to Hoover Dam. I had been once, as a teenager, and remembered enjoying the tour and architecture. Saori had never been, so we went for it. It was pretty packed, but we were there early enough that we didn't have to wait in a line of cars. Lots of visitors too, but it looked like most people were there to take photos from the top of the dam. We got into the tour immediately, actually. They have crowd management down to a science. Line up in a queue, then into the theater for a ten minute movie presentation.

The movie bothered me, actually. The dam was presented as a heroic and bold step to tame a dangerous river which caused havoc and destruction with its flooding, [while the real reasons were the sales of hydroelectric power and the diversion of water to create new agricultural communities]. With the application of rolled up sleeves, good old American gumption, and ingenuity, nature could be tamed and contained for the benefit of all! If you don't include Mexico, which the film neglected to mention. Or even name. On the whole, 50% fact, 50% propaganda.

Tour was good. It's still an impressive sight, the tunnels for the water, the beautiful industrial art deco architecture in the turbine halls. We enjoyed it a lot, and then we were on our way again.

Drove through Las Vegas without stopping. Didn't even get off the freeway. Passed right through and waved to all the headliners playing the Vegas EDM festival over the weekend. Headed out instead into the desert, threading the desolate strip of highway 95 between the vast wasteland of Death Valley National Park on one side, and the Nuclear-bomb-pockmarked radioactive lunarscape of the even more massive Nellis Air Force Range. This area was so isolated and uninhabited, that it made Arizona look like New Jersey. We drove for more than two hours, and didn't pass so much as a gas station before we got to Beatty, Nevada, which by distance is possibly one of the remote outposts in the west.

Beatty had two restaurants. We ate at both of them. At the Happy Burro grill we got open faced hamburgers smothered in their homemade chili, and I had mine served up with a PBR. We ate outside on their weathered deck, under a dirty yellow umbrella on wooden cable spool tables. Saori bought a tee shirt from them with a big smiling burro on the back. Later, strolling the "town" we saw burros roaming free by the giant RV Park.

It's a strange town. They know they're between Reno and Vegas, and get visitors for Death Valley, so they play up their connection to the Nellis Range. Lots of references to Area 51, and a few more to the nuclear waste storage and nuclear weapons testing nearby. Relatively speaking. Most of the tests took place at least 50 miles inside the range, and the prevailing winds carried the radioactive fallout towards southern Utah. Although 10 miles outside of town, a low-level nuclear waste dump caught fire a few years ago.

We stayed at the internet-savvy Atomic Inn, which was a typical 1950s roadside motel until it was made over as a destination retro-kitsch motel with a nuclear-alien-scifi motif. Cutout aliens. Radioactive isotope signs as the logos. Our room had a giant framed photo of Barbarella. We were quite happy with the rooms. A nice big window with a view to a joshua tree, it was clean, spacious, and the AC worked great.

After we checked in after lunch, we basically konked out. We were exhausted. That last stretch of driving through endless desert did it especially to me. So we took a nap for about an hour and a half, and then went wandering through the town. We ate dinner more from habit than anything else at the other restaurant, and it was ok. Cold beef sandwich and cheezy potato soup.

It's surprising to see how vibrant the town still was. People lived here. The women working at the FamilyDollar yelled at the kids playing the aisles because I'm sure they knew them well in this small town. Kids played in the playground after dark. Chatting with the receptionist when we checked in, I asked about a ribbon hanging behind the counter. Third Place for Beatty Days. It piqued my interest, because getting third in anything in Beatty would seem to me as a huge slap in the face. But it turns out it was for a parade float in the annual parade and festival the town throws. This year, she told us, the truck was going to be decorated as a flying saucer, pulling a trailer made out to be a motel room with little kids in alien costumes harassing grandpa who was trying to sleep.

Slept as much as usual, which lately, is not great.

Aug 31, 2017

ride to the pacific

We toasted some of the leftover waffles mom and Saori made in the toaster oven for breakfast and watched the early bird show outside since we were also up early to catch the recycling trucks.

I went on a short hike after breakfast, catching a good look at another coyote who warily regarded me before loping away. I sent a note to the property manager and shortly after got an email reply. She had apparently tried to leave me a voice message yesterday, and due to the bad connection, or my burner sim card, nothing got recorded and I never saw it. We were approved for the apartment. Cue the scramble.

I ran over to my bank and took out a cashiers check for the deposit, and then picked up Saori and went to her bank for the first month's rent. We then hit FedEx and overnighted the two checks to Portland. Afterwards, we took a breather at Starbucks for some iced coffee, and headed over to BestBuy to get Saori a new phone. 

Saori's iPhone 5 is in sad shape. The screen is falling off and it's statiky, like someone is jamming the communications. So we got her an unlocked Moto G5 Plus, which is very highly reviewed, water resistant, and a third of the price of a new iPhone. 

We headed home afterwards, drained. How do people in Phoenix manage? I'm drained driving in the middle of the day. I don't even go near the roads in rush hour. 

Ordered Papa John's pizza for dinner, the first time I've had American pizza for dinner in several years. Even though I can't enjoy Taco Bell anymore, I still love papa johns takeout with it's shamelessly garlic butter sauce. 

Aug 30, 2017

the desert retirees

Another odd day where I wish I got more done than I did. No word from the property manager. 
Making stumbling progress with cell phones, internet, and cable tv plans for Portland. 

The other day we stopped by Changing Hands, a local used bookstore because Saori wanted a book of baby names, something to read together, strike out names, and find inspiration. There some really awful, cloying books which included newborns staged in photos inside seashells, some books with names from all around the world, and then a book about the baby name wizard. 

This book is fascinating to me because it gives you baby names, sure, but sorts the data on them, categorizing them by feel, popularity, trends, and breaks down naming trends on a state-level. It explains the implications of the cultural phenomena when everyone wants to have a unique baby name, and it talks about why all of our peers are "stealing" our baby names. It's a fascinating text on sociology, taste, branding, and generational culture- especially for someone who works in the business of sociology and culture. And it's quite funny too. 

"Jett" and "Tate", for example, both came from a list of a 50 or so "light and breezy" names which are all currently in the top 200 names for boys. The website paired with the book is also fascinating: which has interactive graphs for first name popularity stretching back to the 1880's. 

The second book is a baby guide for dads, a la the Boy Scout Handbook, titled "Be Prepared" and featuring retro style charcoal sketches, diagrams, and lists. The rounded corners and water-resistant cover also give nods to the Handbook. It's upbeat, "get it done" kind of attitude, and funny, but the kind of humor gives me a strange feeling that once I'm a father, I'm not going to find it so amusing. Especially after reading about Colic.

Actually, I feel very prepared to be a father. I just bought a pair of Columbia active sandals, and, consulting the family tree, it turns out that I come from a long line of fathers!

Anyway. Speaking of parenting, today we went to BuyBuy Baby, so named because Baby-Bed, -Bath, and -Beyond ran into copyright issues, and picked up a wedge shaped pillow for Saori's rounding form. Bite of lunch at KFC since it's been a few years, and then ran by Fry's Electronics for a check of cell phones. 

Dinner of sauteed zucchini and eggplant over reheated rice. Then a fruit smoothie for dessert. Drove out to the Wal-Mart to search for an adapter to see if Saori's sim card would work in my phablet. No adapter, but bought some more fruits and veg. And soap and shampoo. 

Saw two coyotes tonight. 

Aug 28, 2017

Number One!

I've been away from Phoenix for over three years now, and I've lost my Phoenix sensibilities.

My blood used to be so thin, the heat felt milder. My eyes were adjusted the sonoran desert- any green was magnified, magnificent, and I could appreciate the loveliness and subtle richness of the desert. Coming back from years living in a dense urban center at the edge of the Black Forest, Phoenix looks like it does to many outsiders- an industrial ghost town on Mars. When you have six lanes of blacktop in Germany, you call that the Autobahn, and it connects the largest cities in the country. When you have it Phoenix, they call it a "busy street" and it connects residential neighborhoods.

I arrived a week ago- Saori picked me up with Larry navigating. Saori had her boho shawl and sunglasses on. The girl back in the desert. I took mom and Larry to the airport early sunday morning for their flight to meet my brother in DC, and I hope they are having a good time over there. Wish I could come, but this has been a vacation in their planning for a long time, and it's really sort of happenstantial that we're in town while they are gone.

We've been relaxing a bit, shopping a bit, and working on our to-do lists.

  • Pack and sort wedding and home stuff. Almost all the wedding gifts went to mom's house here in Phoenix, so we have to see what we can fit in Larry's car to drive up, and what is going to stay behind. The good news is 
  • Pick an apartment. We picked one, sent in our applications, etc. Now just waiting to hear back from property management company.
  • Set up cell phone service. Still in progress. Shopping for cell phones service in the US is kind of like getting to pick which stick the provider gets to shove up your anus. 
  • Ditto for cable TV and internet.
  • Buy a mattress. Timing is good: lots of sales going on for Labor Day. The bad is we don't have a secure address to send it to.
  • Car research. Gonna need a car in Portland. It will take some time. 
We've also been taking some time to do fun things. We met some former classmates at a cool new bar in a rapidly changing neighborhood in north downtown, Saori got her hair cut and we had lunch with some old friends of ours from Phoenix, we took daily strolls with Larry in the morning to check out the birds and varmits of South Mountain park. We met Larry's son Dan and his girlfriend at Oregano's. We've eaten tacos at least every other day. Today we drove up to Old Town Scottsdale and bought another Mexican rug/blanket.

We're eating a lot. Too much. We have European stomachs and we are subjecting ourselves to American feedbags. I've been doing pretty well since I arrived since I was eating something about once or twice a day and moving around a lot, but since I landed in Phoenix, I've been stuffing myself and I feel terrible pretty much all the time. I love Mexican food and AZ Mex and New Mexico and I haven't had any remotely good Mexican food for years. The US is exemplary in so few positive things- we positively suck at all metrics of health, education, and welfare, and our legal and justice system is fraying, but we're still #1 for best shopping destination, and I would put the US against any other country for the food culture. 

Aug 23, 2017

Saint Louis

When the pressure equalized in St. Louis, a wave of warm, moist air swept over me. And I smiled, because I’d missed it. The smell of trees and grass, you could almost hear the cicadas. It conjured up memories of lazy summers with grandparents in Oklahoma, barbecues, condensation on cold local beers with friends on muggy nights.

I was surprised by how much I’d missed Saint Louis. It’s not even tied to University nostalgia- I didn’t miss the school or campus, nice as it was- but the city, the landscape, the atmosphere. There is a stateliness to Saint Louis, a city built at a time when buildings were built to last, and at the peak of American influence and power. The space-age modern curves of the airport terminal, the odd and mysterious mason temple, the small, deep red brick houses. And although the city has been decimated by population loss and decay, it still retains its dignity. It’s an interesting parallel to New Orleans, which has suffered similar tribulations but functions now as a city for tourists, hawking a fantasy or pastiche of it’s past self. Actually, I’m sure St.Louis wishes they had the tourist draw of New Orleans.

I took the MetroLink in from the airport, and walked up Delmar to Allison and Jonathons apartment. Jonathon’s had the place for a decade, right behind Delmar, and it’s a really cute place, part of a complex that must have been built in the 1940s or 1950s. Lovely corner flat, 600 square feet and a kind of a squirly plan wrapped around the core, but cosy, especially when it’s full of all the great stuff. Full of plants, books, furniture, and decorative items. They need more apartment or less stuff, but I can imagine that it’s a hard call in either case. I might imagine its the kind of apartment we could have if we were someplace for ten years. I was happy to have a couch to crash on, and I also just enjoyed the hell out of seeing the two of them again. They make an embarassaingly cute couple. Their personalities and conversations bounce off each other really well.

After I dropped my bags, we drove out to grab a drink at Urban Chestnut brewery, which I had also sorely missed, and avoiding the trivia night going on inside, took a seat in the empty beer garden under the orange and purple sky. We chatted a bit, and after our beers, we went to dinner at an Italian place in Clayton. I treated my hosts, and the food was pretty good. We were all quite tired, actually, and all went to bed a little after ten p.m.

We were all up early- seven am found us drinking coffee and eating Jonathon’s breakfast sandwiches- fried egg topped with melted white American cheese on an english muffin. Allison went to work, and then Jonathon left to go teach an orientation studio at the university, and I stepped out for my very long day.

I took an uber to the Budget rental agency by the airport, where I picked up a rental truck. I’d asked for a 12’ but got a 16’. I haven’t driven regularly since I left the US, almost four years ago, and to be driving again makes nervous, so I was sweating as I pulled that monstrosity out onto the road. I did get the extra insurance on it though, in addition to the legally required minimum. And traffic is never that bad in depopulated corners of understaffed St.Louis. I drove the truck a few miles to the storage unit by the airport, and pulled it around. Taking a page from my brother I’d hired moving help, but due to scheduling problems, I wasn’t able to get them until 2:30. I was at the storage unit by 10:30, so I figured I could use the time to sort, and get a head start on the loading since you pay the labor by the hour.

O time capsule. I was greeted by a worn looking green basket filled with plastic coat hangers and a dusty dust buster. Goodwill? Toss the basket, definitely, but the dust-buster still functioned (!) when I turned it on. Just needed a good cleaning. As for the plastic hangers. Well, we’d need hangers, there was nothing particularly wrong with them, so they went in the truck too. The whole thing was kind of maddening. I was hoping to open up the unit and scornfully tossing things and throwing boxes into the goodwill pile wholesale. The reality was we did purge a lot before we moved, and while I was able to fill a suitcase of my clothes to donate, most of the boxes had books, clothes, kitchenware, and many things which were not easy to simply say “toss.”

Box by box, I unloaded the storage unit. I had a mishap early on, when after loading a long mirror into the truck, my foot got tangled in the hanging cord, and I stepped through the mirror, shattering it. I checked myself out and everything looked ok. I had the good sense to have worn sneakers instead of sandals for the loading day, but it turned out later that there were some small shards that cut their way through my shoe and into my feet. It was just an annoyance to clean up and find a place to trash the rest of the glass.

I’d rented a good hand truck with the truck, and with the loading ramp, I found I was making good progress, and could manage the entire load myself. I called the labor office and had them change my order so that my moving help would go instead to the shipping terminal. Of major furniture, we only had a solid wood table, a small chinese cabinet, a green upholstered bench, and a Tibetan trunk. Boxes of camping gear, speakers and stereo equipment, books, and tons of clothes, which will probably be the first things to go.

Covered in sweat, dusty, and grime, and bleeding from a few small cuts, I drained a gatorade and checked the now-empty storage unit one last time. It was not without some bitterness and regret. Roughtly $75 a month, for 54 months tallies up to four grand. Could have bought a lot of stuff with that money. Really, what was irrreplacable? Ok, there was the chinese antique dollhouse, and the Tibetian chest, the chinese cabinet. A Mexican mirror, a Peruvian rug. A few other things with sentimental value. If I were to go back, I would have shipped the good stuff to someone, anyone. Shipping would have been a few hundred dollars, and taken up not much more than a closet, maybe not even that much, and Goodwill for the rest.

But who knew. We loaded that storage unit in a hurry and in uncertain times- planning to open that padlock in six to eight months, with a vauge and haphazard view to a move to Boston.

Clock is ticking. So, drive. I checked out of the unit at the manager’s office, and headed out on the freeway towards the shipping terminal, lightened, at least, by the fact we wouldn’t have the slow hemmorhage anymore.

U-ship is a pod delivery service run by ABF. They offer door to door service, or terminal to terminal. Terminal to terminal is a significantly cheaper, but I guess most people opt for door to door, since there wasn’t much in the way of clarity or transparency in the u-ship at the terminal itself. I show up with my truck to the address. There’s no indiciation of where to park, or even if you’re at the right place since there was no U-ship signage. I found the front door and you walk basically straight into the logistics center, where one of the women got off the phone and asked me what I needed.

They gave me yellow high-visibility vests to wear on the site and walked me through the loading docks to the side lots where they would deliver a pod. I pulled my truck around and waited a bit. It was enjoyable, actually. It had rained in the morning, and the puddles of water on the acres of empty concrete reflected the blue sky dotted with slow-moving clouds. The few empy silver trailers scattered around the lot were nearly sculptural, like chess peices. It was the feeling of being nowhere under a big sky.

I got my pod and the moving help arrived around the same time. Two college kids. I used “Bellhops” and I was pretty happy with the service. $45 an hour is basically professional moving labor cost, and I’m sure they’re not paying the kids that, but it was convenient, and the kids were polite and hardworking. They followed my directions on where and how to pack, and had suggestions of their own.

At first, actually, I was bit nervous if everything was going to fit since those cubes look a lot smaller in person on that big lot, and especially next to my 16’ truck, which I filled to the doors. But I’d run the area and volume calculations and I knew that it would all fit. We tetrised it in: big and heavy stuff first, light boxes on top. It all fit, and I think it will hold in place until we get it to Portland. We just have to watch out for a potential avalanche when we slowly open the doors. Items may have shifted in flight, and all that.

It took 45 minutes to transfer the contents, and I released the kids. I signed the bill of lading at the office, collected my cell phone which had been charging on one of their desks, and drove back out with an empty truck. Got lost when I was close by the rental truck return, and found myself at the St. Louis Mills shopping mall. My feet had been taking a beating from all the walking in thin converse sneakers, and I’d been scouting around for a new pair of athletic sandals. I was ahead of schedule, so I parked and walked in.

It was a ghost mall. The lights were on, and so was the A/C but all the stores were shuttered and dark. There were only a few stores- temporary furniture clearance centers. It was sad and a little eerie. I turned around and left. The Cabela’s was still there, so I went inside. Some small changes there too. When I left the US, Cabela’s was an outdoor store with a hunting department, like BassPro, but I guess it’s now a hunting store, with an outdoor department. Guns, ammo, camo. At the back though, I found a good selection of water and athletic sandals, and picked up a pair on sale. Columbia, to match my jacket. I paid, and drove on.

Gassed up at $2.09 a gallon, and returned the truck. Just shy of 50 miles on the odometer. Took an uber back to Saint Louis with a wizened old man who simply couldn’t believe the GPS. Actually, knowing St.Louis, I think Uber is rigging the nav systems to find the shortest distance rather than the shortest time, to make sure they squeeze all the pennies.

Back at Jonathon and Allison’s place, I grabbed a hot shower and stole a beer from the fridge. Got caught up on email and the couple were soon back from work. We all nursed our beers while we dithered a bit on where to eat dinner. Jonathon drove us over to Cherokee street, which has also seen a lot of changes, much more upscale now, and we waited about ten minutes to get into the cool ramen shop. We all got the same pork ramen bowls, but I also ordered a bowl of kimchi to share.

After dinner, we drove through the dark to get some frozen yogurt really just down the street from where I used to live, and talked about people with whom we’d gone to school. We all retired early again. I didn’t sleep well. Actually, I tossed and turned both nights. I don’t know if I just couldnt get comfortable on the couch, or what it was.

My phone woke me up at the disagreeable hour of five am, and I quickly got ready to go. I wanted to make sure I got to the airport early since my flight was oversold. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see Allison before I left, but I got a nice message from her by the time I got to the airport.

I hope people don’t judge America by their airport breakfasts. I had a greasy puff pastry stuffed with eggs and cheese, and topped with bacon. Served from “La Tapenade: A [Vagueley] Mediterranian [Sounding] Cafe” which I can’t tell if its more or less egregious than “Linguini’s Italian”, which at least has the decency to shed all pretense and use the name of a pasta as a fictitious proprieter. Or a wry declaritive statement, depending on how you read it.

If I opened an Italian restaurant, I’d call it Don Parma John’s and we would just serve pasta. The whole thing would be a mechanized assembly line. Whichever pasta was ordered would be dumped into a basket carried along a boiling trough to cook it, raised to drain, then dumped into a hollowed wheel of cheese, which would then be turned vertical and rotated like a clothes dryer to tumbled the hot pasta with the cheese. The order would then be scooped out by the servers who would add whatever toppings from the electric grill- sausage, chicken, peppers. Served, naturally, with breadsticks from the breadstick machine.

We would use Mafia pricing- meals would be cheap, but for every visit but we get to “call in a favor”. People would have to register the first time they came, and for every visit they chose to make, they could get a text later, telling them it was time to repay the Don- either with a social media task, another visit on a particular day or time, or bringing in a new customer. People who incurred the displeasure of the don by refusing the task would be warned and then banned.


I touched down to immigration chaos in Seattle. I don’t know if they were recovering from a computer system outage or what, but the halls and corridors were full of people, all foreign passport holders, sitting on the ground in roped off areas. There were merging streams of passengers going through a single frazzled immigration officer who was shouting “just American passport holders come here please! Show me your passport!!” etc. Once I was through that bottleneck, then it was not so terrible getting through the automated return system.

SEATAC seemed to be in dissaray, actually. The signage was confusing and bad. My flight was 1, Hall C, Gate B, but there were no useful maps to indicate what the halls were, and I nearly left the airside space trying to get to area C. The language throughout was English and Korean.

I like Alaskan Air. They mostly fly small turboprop planes, offer beer, load from both ends of the plane, and the flight from Seattle to Portland flew over some really lovely and wild mountaous forests, interspersed with dramatic, snow capped volcanic peaks. We breezed by Mount Saint Hellens, which was a really amazing sight when you see the scope of how big the mountain exploded. It looked an asteroid struck the earth, the scale was so immense.

On the ground in Portland, I got my luggage and ordered an Uber to Ruben’s house. Ruben, a classmate from Wash U,  put me up for a few nights, although he was actually gone most of the time I was there. His family had already taken off, and he want to join them in St.Louis the following day. He showed me around the place, and left to meet a friend for dinner. I crashed.


Friday was a scramble. I had to wait for Ruben to take off to the airport so I could get the keys from him and lock up the house, and I had three apartment visits lined up that morning, not to mention the new sim card I needed from my new office downtown. When he finally left, I was short on his heels, taking an Uber downtown to my office. I dropped off some fresh baked bread from Stuttgart, along with some RitterSport chocolates, and picked up my new sim card from the front desk.

My first appointment was at 10, and I was late, so I sent a frantic email explaining I was running late, while desperately trying to get my sim card to work, and to get the uber app to work. My iphone 4 is agonizingly slow. Five minutes to request an uber. I was about 15 minutes late for my appointment, the first showing, so it was a bit of a hurried visit.

Walked around the neighborhood a bit after, and then the Uber app ceased functioning at all, so I caught a bus to my next showing appointment. I was on time, but barely, and only because I sent word I was coming but that I was 15 minutes late. Not a great neighborhood, on a major street intersection, next to tons of live nudes, porn shops, lap dances, and some kind of sex-positive community organization which as far as I understand from the website is a kind of sex workshop with private rooms and an S&M dungeon. Talking to the landlord, and looking a bit closer at the neighborhood behind the house, the picture emerges of a neighborhood at the bleeding edge of development- not yet popular or cool, but definitely seeing new investment, interest, and construction way ahead of the gentrification curve. Might be a place to buy in a year or two. The apartment was certainly priced that way.

Good vietnamese bakery across the street. Got an iced vietnamese coffee and looked longingly at the pork belly bahn mi sandwiches, but I had no time to eat, sadly. I’ve been using an A5 sized notebook to record all my notes, schedules, adresses, and information about the move. It’s handy, durable, compact, and it’s got a unique binding system that lets me tear out and move pages around. I went to pull it out at the vietnamese bakery and panicked when I realized it was gone.

Did I leave it on the bus? Did I leave it in the apartment I just visited? I darted back across the street but the landlord was already gone. Breathe. Think. Not a total panic- I didn’t have any bank or credit card info or social security numbers in there, and nearly everything is duplicated online or in paper in some from or another. Did I really lose it? Follow the meter rule. In the shade of the building, I went through my backpack, methodically checking every pocket. And there it was. I just started using this bag this trip, and I slipped it in a pocket I’d never noticed before. Big explicative of relief. On to the next thing.

Next apartment was really cool, but really like living in a californian highway town with everything centered on the highway. Saw the apartment, where they made a big deal about a great pet policy, and went to the Rite Aid next door where I finally got a decent street map of Portland. Took the bus back to the city center which wasn’t as long as I thought.

Seeking a center, I went to Powell’s City of Books, where I bought a coffee and plonked down in the cafe to use the wifi and plot next steps. Made some calls, resolved some issues for St.Louis, and then headed over to a neighborhood nearby across the river which had some small apartments for rent. After checking out the quaint old bungalows, and with the lateness of the day, I decided to walk back to Ruben’s house on the far side of Mt. Tabor from basically 20th street, a distance of several miles, but one which would take me throught the heart of East Portland.

Grabbed a burger and a beer along the way, and passed through some lovely neighborhoods. Portland, by and large, reminds me a lot of Tempe, Arizona. Small bungalows mostly from 1920s-1950s in the style ranging from victorian to wood shingled to Californian spanish, some cheaply build and clad, some really nice. Mostly old buildings with some really mediocre modern low rise apartment buildings sprouting up in the old residential neighborhoods. Lots of trees. Good sidewalks, great bike lines. Hiked over Mt.Tabor, really a large hill, technically a fumarole from the Mt. Hood volcanic system, and down into Ruben’s neighborhood. Like all my evenings, I stayed in, looked at houses online, wrote emails, played with Ruben’s fat cat, Belle.

Saturday morning I used Ruben’s car to get some donuts. Sort of. I realized after I bought them that they were actually vegan donuts. Portland! Not bad, but something was a bit different about them. Coffee was very, very good.

After breakfast, I used Ruben’s bike to get around. Ruben has a really nice road bike, a superlight Trek with a single band instead a chain. Fast and light. It was a delight, acutally, to combine my “six flights of stairs twice a day” legs with a lean bike built for speed, and Portland’s dedicated bike highway streets. I fairly flew. Only one appointment in the mid-afternoon, so I headed first down towards Milwaukie neighborhood, and then rode the MAX back up to close in Southeast and Ladd’s Addition.

It appears that in Portland, Pearl district is basically neuvo-hipster, peroxide-hipster, hipster-by-retail. The real hipsters come from Southeast, where they don’t have such things as chain stores or parking. Ladd’s Addition, I have to say, is breathtakingly lovely. Old bungalow houses in rainbow of styles, all from the 1930s-40’s, tree canopy covered streets, little community gardens and tiny shops, and people obviously love the houses and living there. I want to live there, but I dont think we will either have the chance or be able to afford it.

I went to see an apartment very close by the area, which is still super trendy- including small farmers markets, bike bag shops, and coffee. These apartments were anomalous- 1960’s or 1970’s apartments, super typical of the midwest or west, motel style with exterior stairs, small windows, and clapboard siding. Maybe fifty units in the complex. Faint reek of ancient cigarette smoke. Bad carpeting, cheap fixtures, acousitic popcorn ceilings. University dorms, first apartments. I used a new system to check it out without an agent. gets your info including credit card info, and front and back side of your photo ID. In return, you can visit an apartment anytime you want using your phone to get smartbox access codes.

I biked across SE, across the Williamette River, and along the riverfront parks, which were full of people enjoying the lovely sunny day and the thronging Saturday market. Any fears I had about missing being in a crowd were immediately dispelled. I followed the bike trail along the river and up around to the industrial side, over by the still-functioning central station and between heavy industry and overpriced luxury condo towers. Crossed over to 23rd Ave (“Trendy-Third”) and saw another depressing example of an absolutely terrible apartment in a great location with a reasonable price.

Crossed the street back over to McMinamens or something like that, apparently a very old local chain of brewery/taverns with a heavy atmospheric feel somewhere between psychadelic/fantasy/dive bar. Monsters painted on the ceiling outlined by neon lighting. Pool tables and shuffle table. Wooden booths and tables, metal cafe tables on the sidewalk outside. Surprisignly good food. I got a beer made with raspberries and a “trucker grilled cheese” which was toasted ciabatta with bacon and gouda and tomatoes and a cajun spice cream salad dressing, and it was amazing. Spicy tater tots on the side. America is a bit overlooked as a great food country.

Biked back across the industrial north side of town, and caught a MAX train back to north of Tabor. Biked down to check out the outside of the apartment on Burnside and returned to Ruben’s apartment. Took out his car again and ran it over to fill it up with gas. Or someone else to fill it up with gas. Forgot that it’s illegal to pump your own in Oregon. It’s a stupid thing only kept alive for sake of tradition.

Sunday was even quieter. I was severely chaffed and sore from all the bike riding, so I took public transit all day. First went to check out the old victorian house for rent. Cool, interesting, questionable immediate neighborhood. Then bussed over to the MAX to take a trip to Beaverton.

Beaverton is a separate city from Portland. Many Portlanders use it as a bedroom community, it has the biggest population of Latinos in the area, and it is also home to some major industrial players like Adidas and Nike. It’s new, boring, spread out, suburban. Big shopping centers, Target, strip malls. Even the “main street” had a feel like Chandler or Glendale or some more commerical parts of Ahwatukee. A few 1960’s buildings, mostly newer. More Californian than Portland. The apartments available there were like ASU dorms or student housing as well, but nicer and newer. Still felt like student housing. And the rents were not really any cheaper considering the distance to downtown. Between St.Louis and Stuttgart, we are completely spoiled when it comes to apartments.

Walked around, stopped into a local coffee shop to get a flavor of people and place, and hopped on the train back to Portland. Hit the lovely central library for another hour or two of apartment comparisons and seraching, and then browsed some of the stores downtown before a burrito at Chipotle and returning to Ruben’s place for the evening.

The next morning, I locked everything up, left a bunch of food and water for the cat, and headed out to the airport via bus and MAX. At the airport, had some of the best damn airport coffee I've ever had at Stumptown roasters, and settled in at a table, taking occasional peeks at the sun as it went through it's 99% totality. Interesting, to be sure, but hardly worth flying to a different city over.

Flew one of Alaska airlines' big boy planes to Saint Louis.

Aug 21, 2017

Stuttgart Top Ten Lists

Things I loved about Stuttgart

  1. 28 days of vacation a year, plus tons of public holidays.
  2. Everyone, from the state burocracy to the local drugstore, delivers a constant and dependable level of professional competancy. You may have to fill in a lot of forms, it may be initially unclear what is required, but if you go and wait, you can ask, and they patiently and politely answer your questions. In the end, it’s logical, straightforward, and clear. And they do their work.
  3. Low-to-mid rise urbanism (most buildings five to six stories). There’s enough people and businesses to feel like you’re in a city, but you can feel what’s going on street level from the building, and on the street, you don’t feel trapped in a canyon.
  4. Efficient, mostly clean, fast transportation to nearly every corner.
  5. People seem to value the social contract- there’s not much theft, littering, or even jaywalking. It’s more polite than the US, with a kind of genteel cultural framework if not adhered to, often respected, and always acknowledged.
  6. Perfectly located for exploring Europe. 3.5 hour train ride to Paris. 3.5 hour drive to skiing in the Alps. Barcelona, Amsterdam, Porto, London within a 3 hour flight.
  7. Especially in the neighborhood where we lived, the old stone buildings from the turn of the century- everything built to last, and well-detailed. When I live in a building with stone carvings, I think about the craftsmen who labored over a hundred years ago to carve the work, about the architects and designers who felt that the buildings should be beautiful, and that buildings where people lived were worthy of the expense and effort of fine detail and craftsmanship. It’s like flying first class- the quality of the experience is designed to make you feel like you are someone special and important.
  8. Attitudes towards alcohol, and driving. When you can drink beer at 16, you’re drinking largely with your school buddies in the park, or at home, at least under the eye of the public and your parents. It seems to me there is much less binge drinking in college simply because the novelty has worn off. And you can drink almost anywhere, which means there can be large, lively festivals year round. Drivers licences are hard to get in Germany, time consuming, and expensive. Everyone takes extensive private courses, and racks up many hours before they can even sit for the exams, which are notoriously difficult. Partially as a result, deaths from cars are half of what they are in the US.
  9. Thermae. Squeamish Americans need to learn from Japanese, Germans, Finns, and many other cultures which can see nudity as something other than ugliness or sexuality. Seriously, saunas are great, the most relaxing places I’ve ever been, and for me, it’s an elegant reminder of how much we all have in common, our physiological heritage (what does it mean to exist as a largely hairless primate?), and a visual reminder of our transience.
  10. The attitude towards public space is different- it’s treated more like a shared ammenity, and it looks extremely flexible in its use. Sidewalks are wide because more people use them for walking, but also because they’re used for stands, temporary parking, loading zones, cafe tables, and a wide vareity of uses which blur the lines between public and private. There is a very small bar in Stuttgart, for example, which can seat somewhere around 500 people because everyone who goes there just buys beer at the bar and sits in the massive public square around the bar. Servers bring drinks out to the square and collect empties. Other public squares are used for festivals, vegitable and flower markets, flea markets. In the US, this kind of space is disseaparing, eaten by private space.

Things I hated about Stuttgart

  1. Too fucking far from my family in the US
  2. Almost no imagination nor excitement to the city, apart from festivals.
  3. The slow and constant drain of joy and spontaneity until you're just like them.
  4. The mentality that change is bad until proven good, with backing studies, comparisons, and twenty years of long-effect studies on said change.
  5. You're already too late to plan anything. If you haven't booked your vacation at least two years in advance, good luck, and I hope your reserved that restaurant for dinner at least a week in advance. On the upside, Germans only ever holiday in Mallorca because that's where all the other Germans go.
  6. German contracts. For example: I'm leaving the country. I want to cancel my internet. I have to give three months notice before the end of my contract period, or I have to pay for the entire next year to the next end of contract.
  7. The world view which is divided into that which is local, or correct, and that which is other, which is exotic and exists solely for your entertainment.
  8. Routine and organization is too crystallized. If you want to join a neighborhood softball team, you are expected to commit to three practices a week, plus beers afterwards. Nothing can be done quickly nor provisionally. If you play soccer, that is your life. If you bowl, that is your life. Your free time hobbies should be approached like a job.
  9. General lack of taste in design, music, modern architecture, and food.
  10. German language is unnecessarily complicated, and saddled with a smug surety that the refusal to adapt to changing culture is somehow a good thing.

There was an article on the BBC for returning expats, and one of the things it advised people to do is to write down and acknowledge how they changed from their time spent abroad. I'm not sure that it's really valid in my case. I've had a lot of life in the four and a half years since I graduated, and I'm less convinced that living internationally changed me as much as the life did.

Leaving Europe

I’m walking backwards on the moving sidewalk. Slowly losing to the sun as we chase it westward across the pacific ocean. I’m tired. We were up late packing and last minute trash runs and tidying so we only got to bed at midnight. My alarm went off at 4 A.M.

My first waking thought is: shit. Muddy-headed, irritable, and off-balance from sleep deprivation, I am not excited to travel. Everything that must be done sits in front of me, and all the problems which I don’t yet know about. The reward for all of this is a strange bed in a strange city, where straw by straw we have to build a new life.

Yesterday around 9pm, in the dusky summer evening, bathed the yellow light bouncing off a cloud overhead, I popped open a really good bottle of Sekt from the winery where I used to work. I took a glass out to the terrace and Saori joined me with hers (sparkling water in this case). We sat mostly in silence, thinking about our time in Germany. I was here for three and a half years, Saori for a year longer.

Talking about our favorite memories from living in Germany, thinking about everything we did, all the cities, beinnales, ski trips, hiking, saunas, in the end, what we both enjoyed the most were house parties in Stuttgart. Spending time socializing and eating in pretty and lively apartments with warm and interesting people. Saori’s friends led me to a job, and led us to an amazing apartment. Our friends moved us out and up all those stairs, recruited me for a better job, fought for us at our offices, helped us with taxes, intervened on our behalf. They cheered our good news, consoled us, shared their stories and experience, took us with them on road trips, planned trips around us and with us. We sweated together in the saunas, and did yoga together (well, more Saori than me). Many went to great lengths to see us, and many cried when we left. It’s makes it all the more painful to leave knowing how much our friends will miss us. Saori and I both feel a bit unworthy of the friends we have, or at least confused as to how we got so many good friends. Leaving these people has been the worst part about leaving Stuttgart. A great apartment is nice. Drinking a glass of wine on the roof is nicer, but nothing can beat sharing a bottle or two with friends on the roof.

It’s also hard to leave because it’s the first time we’re unpicking the lives we’ve made for ourselves. Most of my major life transitions have come at more or less “natural” moments, or at least were out my control. Ok, maybe leaving Phoenix for graduate school in St.Louis was also a decisive moment, but even that was something coming- I knew from undergrad I wanted to go to grad school, and it was just a question of when. This move is a bit more radical. We intentionally interrupted the course our lives were taking. We stopped the track, and peice by piece, unstitched the tapestry of our lives here. It’s kind of painful. An act of destruction required to create a new tapestry, but there’s pain nonetheless, especially thinking about the rebuilding it’s going to take.

We will make new friends. I am mindful and heartened by the fact that there are great people all over the world. It’s an exciting prospect to begin our lives in Portland knowing a few who live there already, and a slow treasure hunt to find new ones. It will be harder than Stuttgart though. There aren’t as often the kind of social events which brought Saori and I into contact with the friends we made there. And there’s also a vulnerability to people living in a foreign country. The strangeness destroys the automatic defensive mechanisms. Heimat is a word in German which losely translates to homeland. Where you’re from, a strong part of your identity, the small geographical area where you grew up and live. In their Heimat, people’s lives fall into strong routines with those automatic barriers. We have to push a bit, throw ourselves out into the community. Meet our friends’ friends.

I’m flying an airline called Condor to the US. It’s a German budget airline, just imagine RyanAir, but for 10 hour flights. The legroom is the smallest I’ve ever had on an international flight, I was lucky to get my roll-on in an overhead, and the in-flight entertainment is pay-per-view. You have to buy coupons with codes. Now to be fair, there are two movies you can watch free, proided you brought your own headphones: Garfield, and Harry Potter V. Be still my heart, and lurching stomach.
The in-flight safety video threw in some half-hearted humor which was largely inexplicable. A Marilyn Monroe puts on her own oxygen mask before helping her lookalike daughter. Charlie Chaplin. “That’s one small step for you, one great leap for passenger safety,” explains a man in an space suit.

If not for the cramped seats and nickel and dimed entertainment, the whole flight experience would have an air of campiness to it. People watching movies were interrupted with a commercial for duty free items for sale on the plane. Hostesses hawked cartons of cigarettes through the aisles. Like a Chinese import shop, they made a special announcement they were selling glasses for observing the solar eclipse. $4. I bought a pair.

first impressions

Our new home is a duplex with a mirrored duplex across a small yard. The presence of two absolutely huge pine trees divides the lot, and thr...