Prior to this day, I had basically resigned myself to the idea that I would never see decent weather again; the heat would simply broil me like a sirloin steak until my charred, crispy corpse was fought over by hungry roadside mammals. What a difference a two and a half hour drive from the Willamette Valley to Coastal Oregon can make! The atmosphere here in Newport, OR is cool and breezy, with partly cloudy skies and temps in the upper 60s. Weather nearly as nice as it’s possible to obtain in this solar system. I need to treasure it; beginning tomorrow I head south until I’m once again scorching my body in the desert of Southern California.
I regret that I didn’t spend more than a night in Portland. It’s a bold, vibrant city with a lot to offer and, despite the local complaints of gentrification, it’s still fairly weird.
My host was Tom, a man I know through one of my closest friends from my Seattle days. Tom is a musician whose work I have adored for a log time. His main project these days is a two-person shoegaze-pop act called Your Boyfriend. Do yourself a favor and check out some of those tracks. He also fools around with another weirdo pop act called Body Academics.
When I got into Portland the outside temperature was around 97 degrees, so I decided to do something inside. I had heard about a comedy joint called The Brody from this interview with Bob Odenkirk. My respect for Mr. Odenkirk is so profound that I figured any venue he respects must be worth its salt. I got there for what I thought was the 8pm show at 7:45, only to learn that I was the first one there and the show would really start at 8:30. I sauntered up to the bar, ordered a PBR and chatted up the middle-aged female bartender, who gave me a brief lesson in Portland politics (she used to be a city planner).
I kept waiting for the theater to fill up. One couple trickled in, then another about 15 minutes later, but that was it. I sat in the entirely empty second row, reading a book by the dim light and resisting the urge to buy another beer (or six).
When the show started there were a grand total of five people in the audience. If you add in the bartender, host, and other comedians, then maybe that number goes up to ten. I’ve been to many comedy shows but never anything that sparsely attended. This is an historic theater right in the heart of downtown Portland, an air-conditioned club on a hot Friday evening, and still they couldn’t catch a break.
To their credit, each of the four comedians that took the mic were brave, professional, and – most importantly – funny. But it was difficult to shake through the awkwardness. Out of sheer logistical necessity, each comedian spent at least 20% of their time looking directly into my face.
The next morning I grabbed a quick coffee and hung out at a Farmer’s Market in the St. Johns neighborhood of Portland, but by 11:30 I was headed south on the I-5. I wanted to get to Newport with plenty of time to spare. Newport is a small town on the Central Oregon coast. To get there from the interstate you turn off near Corvallis and drive about an hour along a narrow, winding mountain road with nary a village in sight. It’s a gorgeous drive – it even reminded me a bit of Montana – but like most of Oregon it is strikingly remote. It never ceases to amaze me just how sparsely-settled Oregon (and for that matter, most of the West) is. Driving through Wisconsin, or just about anywhere east of the Mississippi, even the most forgotten stretches of highway will have a healthy-sized town every 20 minutes or so. Not so in Oregon. There’s hardly a gas station between Corvallis and Newport, and on the handful of occasions when I was bored (and stupid) enough to check my cell phone I noticed that I actually got no reception.
My main destination in Newport was the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, located a few minute North of the city. This is a historic lighthouse, the largest in Oregon, built in 1873. It’s situated on a rocky peninsula that’s home to an astoundingly diverse array of wildlife. One can take a short walk to the cobblestone beach shore and look at California mussels, sea anemones, starfish, purple sea urchins, hermit crabs, and if you’re lucky (I was not) sea lions.
I took a tour of the Lighthouse itself. Everything is impressively preserved so one can really get a feel for what it must have been like to do that job in the late 19th century. It’s amazing anyone ever actually did that job. 365 days a year one was stuck in an isolated outpost tormented by harsh weather (today, obviously, was an exception. Usually it’s wet and windy). Think of the loneliness, the anguish, the claustrophobia such a life would induce. I mean, I used to freak out when I’d leave for work without my smartphone.
It almost seems cruel that people had jobs like that in the past when just a couple generations later the whole thing could be automated and people could make a better living giving 45-minute tour guides describing such a job. Some people believe that post-industrial consumer capitalism has made us all soft. That might be true, but it isn’t such a bad thing. I think one should devote as much of life toward leisure as they are reasonably able to. There’s no pride or manliness to be gained by working harder than you need to. Enjoying things makes us happy, and happy people are better people.
Thus concludes the Northwest leg of the Ghost on the Highway Tour. Tomorrow I have a long day cruising south on Highway 101. I’ll be hugging the Oregon and California coast the entire time, passing mostly through small woodsy beach towns. I’m absolutely stoked.
Wish me luck, ghostlings!