PORTLAND: AMERICA’S GHOST TOWN (DURING COVID)
When I received a phone call from dear old pops asking if I wanted to go to Portland, I was certain it was a prank. After all, since I’ve been married (almost a decade, which is nuts), my wife has NEVER seen him take a day off work. Like, literally, never.
So yeah, we were skeptical…until we realized pops was buying a car in Portland, which (buying cars) is one of his great passions. So the plan was for me, Caitlin, our tiny terror 1-year-old, and pops to fly up to Portland and drive the car back, taking about 5 days along the way.
I called my dad about 1,000 times before booking the flights saying that if we book he CANNOT flake/back out/change his mind/bail/etc. and he insisted he was all in. So yeah, I booked 3 one-way flights to Portland (baby is still free, even though we’ve missed out on an entire year of free travel that expires at age two).
By the by, just want to say thanks to COVID, we’ve now missed the following trips (trips where baby would have traveled free): London, Cardiff, Belgium, Hawaii (Kauai), Miami. Screw off COVID.
A FEW THINGS TO GET OUT OF THE WAY
First off, this trip was right smack dab in the middle of the American COVID-19 lockdown. Certain cities and states are more locked-down than others, and Portland happened to be very very much locked down. So this is not the typical Portland experience, but this is our very 2020 Portland experience.
Second, every member of our traveling party (yes, including baby), already had COVID. So we weren’t too worried about getting it, nor were we contagious. Yes, we obeyed all laws and statutes demanding masks and washed our hands a lot etc.
Third, I have entirely lost my senses of taste and smell. Yeah, still. I had COVID over a month before this trip and still (even as of this writing) can’t smell or taste anything. So maybe don’t trust me that much on food stuff.
THE FLIGHT WITH OUR TINY TOT TERROR
So I didn’t know anything about children or babies before I took the plunge and created one. No, really, like nothing. Once as a missionary in New Zealand, this Samoan family (didn’t speak English, I didn’t speak Samoan) a woman handed me a baby, which was probably the first time I’d ever held one. I panicked, because holding babies was against missionary rules, so I put the baby down on this mattress on the floor we were sitting on…Guess what? I put the baby down on top of another baby. Yeah, there was another baby there which I didn’t see. So that was pretty much my whole children experience until September 21, 2019.
And I thought babies basically did nothing but sleep and poop and eat until age 2 when they become toddlers, so I thought I could handle it for 2 years and then be ready for stage 2.
See where this leads? I’m an idiot. So yeah, taking a flight with a 1 year old is not the cruisy vacation it was like when we went to Japan with our 3-month-old. She is absolutely wild, crazy, insane, and totally my kid. So the flight was a bit stressful trying to keep her calm and quiet with books and toys and food. (Proudly, no screens and no sugar).
Luckily, and this is a theme for the whole trip, Papa was there. Aka Grandpa. Aka Greg. Aka Gerg. Our kid started calling him Poppy, then it moved on to Popeye, then what kinda sounded like “Poopy” (appropriate), and finally Papa.
And yeah, she was an angel for Papa pretty much the whole trip. She would go from wriggling and whining and screaming for me and/or Caitlin to perfect with Papa. So that was nice, except her waking up in the night crying and screaming “Papa! Papa!” like she was trying to wake him up. (She failed).
I booked our party of 3.5 (baby is on lap, not a seat, hence free) for the very back row. Literally. I thought this would allow us to get up and roam a bit with her as well as take her to the bathroom easily. Also I thought it would be the least obnoxious for the rest of the plane, despite the fact we’d be getting off last.
And last part of this section: The flight was uneventful (which is how I like my flights) and the Delta flight attendants were awesome. They brought our daughter crackers and crayons and held her and talked to her, it was so good. Thanks Delta!
LYFT FROM PDX TO PAPA’S NEW CAR
Once we landed, the weather was gloomy (duh, of course) but not too cold. I used Lyft (use my promo code MITCH796650 and we’ll both get $5 in credit) to get a ride to the dealership. The weird thing is, I had Lyft use my current location and somehow it thought we were across the river in Vancouver.
Luckily our driver Juan was cool when I called him and still came to get us. It was a quick ride to the dealership and we tipped well since the trip was longer than Juan planned on.
OUR AIRBNB WAS PERFECT PERFECT PERFECT PERFECT PERFECTO
Even though Caitlin got all the glory from Papa, I am the one who found this place (among like 3 others, but still) and booked it. Let me just say parking in Portland is absolutely nuts and looks expensive, so the fact this place had free parking pretty much made it worth it by itself.
But yeah, check this place out (also use my promo code on Airbnb to get some credit on your first stay). It’s a cool Victorian house with high ceilings and 2 bedrooms (Papa snores) and 1 bathroom. It’s in the Nob Hill neighborhood, which is really pretty and fun, but here’s the real reason the place rules:
LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION
Nob Hill is dope. It’s all these rad Victorian homes and it’s very crowded with cars and the houses are close together but somehow was still very quiet. We loved hanging out in the apartment. Pretty much any directyion you walk, there’s awesome stuff around, such as:
Trader Joe’s. Of course there is in Portland, right? And yes, it meets all the stereotypes, and yes, it’s awesome. We had to wait in a long-seeming line to get in (COVID restrictions), but it moved fast and the crunchy cookie butter was worth it.
About a million restaurants are nearby, like 3-5 minutes walking. Including some good ones I’ll mention later.
Lots of other stuff is near, including a hospital and a Goodwill, so what else do you need?!
But yeah the apartment was great, it was nice to not have to worry about parking, and they had a Pack and Play and a TON of baby toys that our kid loved, so it was even more perfect.
ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK PIZZA
Just like I said, there’s sooooooooooo much within walking distance, including the highly-rated Escape From NY Pizza. We grabbed a few slices of ‘za to finish off our night. They have cheese and pepperoni and then a random (or two) flavor of the day. I cant taste but it seemed good. Pops liked it. Caitlin isn’t really a pizza girl and didn’t love it, but (weirdly) there’s a place called Straight From New York Pizza (kinda confusing, no?) nearby that we had later and she liked a lot more. And that, my friends, is how we finished day and night one in America’s ghost town, Portland.
DAY 2: HIKING AND RAIN AND SUSHI
I don’t know how many times I’ve said this by now (I’m now on an airplane and can't be bothered to read the above post) but this is not my most exciting blog. In fact, it’s mostly for posterity’s sake so we remember it. But yeah, the next day was the first day of 2021, which already made it better than all of 2020 combined, and we kinda just sat around and ate…Which is actually a decent day in my life.
Poppy was around to help care for our tiny terror, so Caitlin and I just got to hang and chill and do all the stuff you really should be doing on vacation.
WILDWOOD FOREST PARK TRAIL
First, though, we hiked a bit on the Wildwood Forest Park Trail. The drive to the forest park area was probably 15-20 minutes, and it reminded me SO much of New Zealand since it’s misty and rainy and gorgeous and a trillion green trees everywhere.
Since it had rained a lot, it was muddy and slippery, but we ended up walking close to 2 miles on the trail. It felt amazing to get out into nature, considering 2020 was the year of the indoors, and it was so gorgeous out. We passed a few people but for the most part it was just the 4 of us hanging out enjoying the green earth.
SEN SEI JAPANESE FOOD
Sen Sei was probably the highlight of the trip for Caitlin. We had planned (Ok, SHE had planned since I hate seafood) to consume 1/3 of all crustacean life in the ocean in Portland, but since everything was shut down, she was devastated to not get that chance. Instead, she ate at Sen Sei like 12 times.
And I admit, it was bloody good. It was. (I read Catcher in the Rye lately, do I sound like Holden?) I had tempura vegetables just like in Japan, and although I didn’t have any of the seafood, the veggies and chicken were bombtastic.
But Caitlin, my dear, sweet Caitlin. She was in heaven. I already mentioned how great the location of our apartment was, and the fact that it’s like 2 minutes from Sen Sei made Caitlin insist we go back 8 times. Sen Sei has a super affordable lunch special with sushi and Caitlin has still been talking about it, so go. Now.
Oh, as usual, we couldn’t dine in anywhere, and that would have been cool to dine outside if it wasn’t bloody cold and raining. Some places had covered patios with heat lamps but with a baby we still didn’t eat at one, we just took all food back to the apartment.
Look man, I love harbors. I love ships and boats and stuff, so I was stoked to walk around Portland’s waterfront. And…yeah. It was super pretty, but man. So abandoned. We passed like 4 people, literally, on a Friday night. It was just crazy seeing all these restaurants and shops and boutiques totally abandoned. Kinda scary actually, and as a small business owner I felt sad and wondered how many would survive after this.
We also found Poet’s “Beach” which is using the term “beach” liberally and had a good laugh about the “beach” being a muddy stretch near the bank of the river, and we passed Fireman’s “Park” which was another small (and I mean small) patch of land that we thought was funny.
DAY 3: VANCOUVER WASHINGTON ISN’T NEAR VANCOUVER CANADA?!
The next day, we decided to head over the bridge to Vancouver, Washington to see what we could see. It probably sounds dumb, but I always figured Vancouver Washington and Vancouver BC were just across the border from each other. Uhhh, no. Vancouver Washington is pretty much next to Portland, and even though it was super rainy we had fun seeing it from the car.
We ended up just kinda winging it (like always) and drove to a place called Officer’s Row, which was a bunch of cool old houses, including one which Ulysses Grant lived in. It was a cool neighborhood and fun to see. There’s also some old military planes nearby that we checked out from the car, but the rain made it not fun to get out and walk around.
The main thing I wanted to see in Portland (besides the World Naked Bike Ride, a cool indie rock show, and people riding those ridiculous old bikes with the giant wheel) was Powell’s, and I was stoked it was open. Getting inside though? Not super cool.
Look, I get it. This blog ain't a commentary on COVID. But it sucked waiting in the cold rain for 25-30 minutes to get inside, since they would have to wait for a certain number of people to leave before our line to get in moved. It was cold and it was long but whatever.
Powell’s freakin ruled. It’s the USA’s biggest independent bookstore and seriously I could have spent hours, if not days there. Our baby went to the kids section and stole books from other kids, pulled a plethora of books off shelves, and all sorts of other fun things for baby to do that I was constantly cleaning up. We didn’t buy anything but I was super stoked to see it and I want to go back with more time.
STRAIGHT FROM NY PIZZA
Ok, why is there a place called “Escape from New York Pizza” next to a place called “Straight From NY Pizza”? Very confusing. But I am fat and like pizza so I tried Straight from NY on our way home from Powell’s, and (again, COVID tastebuds) it seemed awesome. Caitlin loved it, so I say go go go!
DAY 4: DRIVING FROM PORTLAND TO BOISE WITH A SCREAMING TINY TERROR
To be honest…that’s about it. We drove from Portland to Boise, and the beginning of that drive is absolutely gorgeous. On the right, there’s Multnomah Falls with the Columbia River on the left. As you drive along the river, there’s just heaps of waterfalls on your right. I mean, it’s not Iceland waterfalls, but it’s beautiful.
After that…meh. Nothing too spectacular about the drive. Our Boise hotel was actually way nice, and the best part? WE COULD EAT INSIDE A RESTAURANT! I’ve never been so thrilled to have such mediocre food as that night at Applebee’s.
BACK TO SLC AND THAT’S ALL, FOLKS
And that’s it really. We had some other funny experiences like being followed by a murder of ravens, almost hitting a pedestrian, and driving in a bus lane but those are probably only funny to me. The last day we drove from Boise to SLC, baby was fine. She was actually really good the whole trip, just didn’t like being confined for 5-6 hours in the car each day, but really, who would, right? I was stoked we saw Portland; I just wish we could see it in all its weirdness and glory rather than its ghost town COVID days.
So…what did we miss? Hit us on Facebook or Instagram and tell us how we’re the worst travelers ever and missed the best parts of Portland, or drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.