A Week Away

This past week, my wife Tara, our son Dash, and I took a trip to Oregon—a week that became loosely book-ended by two major news stories out of Portland: We arrived in Portland mere hours after a hate-filled confrontation on a light-rail train that ended up with two people dead, and we flew out of the city the day before a free speech rally met counterprotests amid heavy police presence.

What’s odd: When we started planning this vacation last fall, our original choice was London—and the breaking news from that city popped up on our phones en route from the airport back to our house.

This is not meant, however, to be a post about political turmoil or about what a friend called the “incredibly disheartening” state of the world. It is a post about getting away—about the first full-week vacation we’ve taken since Dash was born (in fact, since our honeymoon, if I’m remember correctly). But sitting down to reflect on the week, it struck me as odd to talk about visiting Portland without any reference to the big news items still coming out of the city. While we followed that news online—through the Washington Post on the other side of the country—during our time there, we heard very little about it from anyone in the city itself: the ignorance, I guess, of vacationers insulated from the realities of a place.

Our trip was intended as a getaway, and it had the feel of one the whole time we were there, and it’s that aspect of our travels that I’m focused on here.

While my wife and I travel lots—both individually and together, our shared calendar often a blur of trips in one direction or another—we realized last year that very little of it was for the sake of travel itself. As writers, we often have conferences or readings out of town, and we’ve frequently built weekend trips around those events. And with our respective parents just over four hours away in opposite directions from one another, we’re often on the road north or south to visit family. But a trip with no obligations related to either family or to our careers? Those are few. And for a full week? We simply haven’t done it in years.

So… Oregon. A place neither of us have been before. A place we’ve heard great things about. A place where we could explore a little city life but also indulge a taste of nature. It sounded perfect—and really, it was.

Maybe the best bit of joy we had was discovering what a great traveler Dash is. At age five, he was equally enthusiastic and easy-going (except when hungry, but that’s likely the case with all of us). We were concerned about jet-lag, but he pushed through the first day—the daylight fooling us all into “forgetting” that it was hours past his bedtime when we landed, and even then he was excited about the hotel, about popping out for a late-night pizza, and then about watching fireworks that (we couldn’t believe our good fortune!) were perfectly framed by our hotel room window. The fireworks ended at 10:30 p.m. (1:30 a.m. “real time” for him), but they made for a great welcome to Oregon and he kept talking about them—we kept talking about them—throughout the week, the momentum building toward more excitement ahead.

We did a lot of touristy things in Portland—including Powell’s Books and Voodoo Doughnuts—and enjoyed “The Art of the Brick” at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry as well as a trip to the Oregon Zoo. As much as we appreciated the LEGO exhibition at OMSI, which was outstanding, it was as much fun watching Dash design a paper airplane for a wind current demonstration, and later at the zoo, he took particular delight in watching the penguins and then mimicking their walk. Seeing the world through a child’s eyes—a cliche maybe, but it really does shift your perspective. Each time he heard one of the MAX trains, Dash raced to catch a glimpse of it, dancing, shouting, pointing. Who knew public transportation could be such fun?

Highpoints from the nature portion of our trip included visiting a line of waterfalls along the Historic Columbia River Highway, a cruise on the Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler, and then a drive toward and then partially up Mt. Hood, which was simply majestic and awe-inspiring. Our destination on our Mt. Hood day trip was the Timberline Lodge, whose exterior was used in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, but even more than that bit of movie trivia, the interior—hand-crafted furniture from the WPA era—was so welcoming that we could’ve stayed there all afternoon, sitting by the fire, staring up at the mountain.

Lunch at the Timberline was extraordinary—enhanced by the views and by indulging in a little Oregon wine—but we had great meals throughout the trip, whether street food at the Alder Street Food Cart Pod in Portland (Bing Mi was a revelation!) or New Haven-style pizza at Double Mountain Brewery in Hood River (great IPAs) or just the spread of hors d’oeuvres in the M Lounge at the Portland Waterfront Marriott, which we popped into before dinner and then shifted plans and made it our entire dinner.

And shout-out to the concierge at the Marriott who introduced herself to Dash and then asked, “Dashiell? As in Hammett?” and told him that she couldn’t wait for him to read Hammett’s works himself—which she called a “life-altering experience.” Needless to say, we all bonded.

I’m only hitting a few highlights from our vacation, of course, and here are a few photos that offer glimpses of the trip too.

Did we get away from writing? Not entirely. Waking up early one morning, I headed downstairs to do some brief revisions on a draft, and in great news, the trip was book-ended in a different way than those news alerts I mentioned: In the airport waiting for our flight to Portland, I learned that Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine had accepted one of my stories, and the day before we flew back, Black Cat Mystery Magazine accepted another story for its forthcoming debut issue!

A great week all around.