Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A long weekend in Portland during Reed College's Centennial Celebration

This past weekend, I headed for Portland Oregon for Reed College’s Volunteer Weekend, scheduled this year to coincide with Reed’s Centennial Celebration.   I participated in meetings both as  representative of the DC chapter, and as a member of the class of 1972 helping to plan our 40th reunion.  But I also had the chance to visit with many old friends in Portland, to have some nice meals, and to get in a good hike on Mount Hood.

I got in late Thursday night, and Friday morning met Moshe Lenske for breakfast; at his suggestion, we ate at the HiS Bakery at the corner of 72nd and Woodstock.  The prices were low and the pecan buns were particularly scrumptious; and at Moshe’s urging I picked up some cookies and muffins to take on my planned hike on Sunday and then save for eating on my flight home.  That evening I had dinner with Reed friend Darcia Krause, who was hosting me for the weekend. 

There were meetings all day Friday and for most of Saturday, but Saturday morning I managed to get in another breakfast, this time at the St. Honore Bakery in Lake Oswego with Reed classmate Martha Hicks, whom I hadn’t seen since leaving Reed for the McGovern campaign in December 1971.   This bakery was considerably fancier and, as befit its location, considerably more expensive.  I had a nice vegetable quiche, plus a bag of choquettes to go.

Saturday at lunch time, a collection of food carts gathered at Reed College as part of the Community Day celebration.  The idea was a nice one, but the operations were pretty inefficient as long lines formed and students and alumni volunteers waited to get lunch.  I had a couple of tacos as well as a kim chee quesadilla at a Korean Fusion cart.  Delicious food, but as a result of having to wait so long, I could only catch the last hour of the brown bag session discussing the search for Reed’s next president.

That evening, several volunteers gathered for a no-host dinner at Suzette’s Creperie, an institution run by Reed alumna Jehnee Rains (‘93).  The crepes themselves were less than memorable, but there was a very nice appetizer – a small gougère stuffed with fig, bacon and arugula, and an exceptional dessert – a bruléed fresh peach half served with a dollop of mascarpone, strewn with fresh berries and decorated with a fruit sauce.

I had to rush off from dinner to meet Lorene Scheer, a friend from my TDU days, at the annual La Voz  Salsa Party held at the SEIU local union hall where Lorene works.  I got there just too late for the salsa lesson, but the music was good and I did my best to fake it on the dance floor.  The only beer available was a home-made IPA – delicious. 

We had to rush off from that as well, to get to the fireworks display back at Reed.  The fireworks were stupendous, comparable to the annual Fourth of July fireworks display over the National Mall in DC every year.  But, with an important difference.  For years we have skipped the crowd scene down on the mall, with its security restrictions, the ban on alcohol in one’s picnic basket, and the heavy traffic coming back to Adams Morgan.  Instead, we have been watching at a distance from Cardozo High School, which is at the crest of a hill looking over downtown DC.  But at Reed, the firework display was up close, closer indeed than when sitting on the National Mall, less than a city block away.  It reminded me of the special power that fireworks have up close.  Maybe we should try going down to the Mall again.

Sunday I met up with Lorene again for a hike on Mount Hood.   (Breakfast at Toast was decidedly ordinary).  We were aiming to hike up Cooper Spur on the north side of the mountain (I have always done my hiking on on the southern and eastern sides).  But when we arrived at the road into the trailhead at the Cooper Spur resort, we found that the road had been closed because of fire danger.  Instead, we opted to hike into Elk Meadows even though we were worried about having to cross Newton Creek without a bridge.  The first creek crossing was easy, but the only way across Newton Creek was over a few logs that trail workers had placed across the stream in various locations. 
Newton Creek

The first creek was easy to cross

Crossing Newton Creek via logs

Here is the side of the ridge we had to climb after crossing the creek (by switchbacks, of course) to reach the meadow.  
Ridge wall overlooking Newton Creek
 We passed many huge old growth trees along the way.  Rain was coming down for much of the hike, and we did not get the marvelous views of Mount Hood that are reportedly available from the meadow on nice days.   

Instead, it was raining steadily when we reached the meadow, and we ducked into a shelter at the edge of the meadow to eat our lunch We encountered on section of the trail in which one bare tree after another could be seen with its branches curled around itself, like a bramble.   

The mountain was shrouded in clouds the entire time; when we got to the top of Elk Mountain we could only stare down into the fog, although at one point the mists lifted at least enough to show us this view of the lower slopes of the mountain.

Before I headed to the airport to catch the red-eye home to DC, I had a chance to continue exploring the fascinating menu at Pok Pok, a restaurant featuring Thai pub and street-stall food that has become a must-visit for me every time I get to Portland.  As is usually the case, the restaurant was jammed, but we were early enough that the wait for a table was only a half hour.  I have known for some time that those waiting for a table have the option of heading down the street to the Whiskey Soda Lounge. Pok Pok will call over when your table is ready.  But this was the first time I took that opportunity; I’m glad I did.  The lounge has common ownership with Pok Pok and a similarly great menu.  We shared Neua Sawan, a dish of  deep fried marinated dried beef with deep fried kaffir lime leaves (I have used the leaves for flavoring when I make Tom Kha Gai but the leaves are too tough to eat; deep frying made them delicate as well as delicious) and Som Tam Thawt, a deep fried version of som tam.   The couple at the table next to us said that they only eat at Whiskey Soda Lounge any more because Pok Pok is so hard to get into and they find they like the lounge’s menu even better.  

We had to finish up quickly to head over to Pok Pok for dinner (we considered blowing off Pok Pok and lingering where we were).  For dinner we shared Khao Soi Kai, a mild curry soup that could be heated up with a very spicy curry paste that came on the side, and Mou Paa Kham Waan, a dish of spicy “boar collar” meat served with iced mustard greens to cool down the palate.  The drink special, a spicy vodka martini, was also delicious.  We were so full that Lorene had to take half the food home in a doggy bag, and I had to rush off to the airport.  A great end to a nice long weekend.

Visiting Seattle to see DC United play the Sounders

I spent September 16 to 18 in Seattle, taking advantage of DC United’s first weekend away game against the Seattle Sounders. I stayed with cousin Phyllis Levy and her family, who despite being Sounders fans, gamely put me up and took me to the game. Friday we celebrated the 86th birthday of my aunt Essie, with dinner at a Chinese restaurant followed by Phyllis’ carrot cake at home.

I had the opportunity to reconnect with several old friends while I was in town  — Reed College classmate Jon Grudin, Freeport High School classmate Tom Kellock, and Litigation Group colleague Michael Bancroft —  but going to see the game was the highlight of the weekend.  The game itself was eminently forgettable from a DC United perspective: we got trounced three to nothing. I accept that this is a rebuilding year, but we never know which team is going to show up — the team, that team that gives the ball away and yields soft goals, or the exciting attacking team that displays real grit in the back (for example, the team that beat Real Salt Lake at RFK stadium the following weekend). This time it was the former, and it was depressing evening to be an away fan. The problem was compounded by the boorish behavior of some of the other DC United fans, who took out their frustrations on Sounders fans who were seated nearby or passing by. Some of the Barra Brava leadership in particular could not stop yelling at the opposing fans. And as much as I have come to detest the "wings of an eagle, ass of a crow" song, it seems especially perverse to fantasize about "shit[ting] on the bastards below" when the singers themselves were there in the stadium to be shat on.  I was embarrassed to be part of the same supporters section.

Beyond that, however. the fan experience was stupendous. The Sounders’ Stadium is in downtown Seattle, only three blocks from Pioneer Square. Fans gather by the hundreds, growing to the thousands, as a brass band plays.

Then they march to the stadium, chanting and singing and displaying their colors. I marched along with them, concealing my DC United jersey under my red DC United raincoat.

There were many empty seats when I got into the stadium, but the numbers continued to flow in, eventually reaching a sellout crowd of more than 36 thousand spectators. The team covers part of the seats so that it can sell all the tickets and hence create more demand for advance ticket purchases; but the number of covered seats has been getting smaller and smaller. The main Sounders supporters group is situated behind one of the goals, but fans throughout the entire stadium were intense supporters of the team. They showed their support by dressing in the team’s chartreuse colors, or wearing scarves of blue and chartreuse – well over half the fans were wearing the colors (including lots of green raincoats) and many were also painted accordingly.  For me there was a stark contrast with the atmosphere at RFK stadium at DC United games, where there are various supporters groups arrayed along one side of the stadium but most of the rest of the fans are largely passive except for cheering when a goal is scored.  We do have one plus over Seattle though:  Seattle needs to have seats that bounce when fans jump up and down.

And fans throughout the stadium made noise – chanting Seattle.... Sounders, and clapping their hands over their heads. Maybe it was easier for them on the night, because their team was kicking butt, but I was impressed. In the first few years of the league, DC United supporters in the Screaming Eagles and eventually Barra Brava set the standard for MLS fans, but we have now been far surpassed. If we can reach the same energy and fervor and broad-based support that the Sounders enjoy, we will have come a long way.