Me At Work

I have a job. Like we all have to for some reason, have jobs. I’m not crazy about it, but I have rent to pay and I’m fond of eating, so there it is.

One of the ongoing issues I have with my workplace is the noise. The place where I work is an industrial building converted into an office space with a vast collection of cubicles. One big box containing many little boxes. From 8:30 am to 5:00 pm, Monday through Friday, I occupy one of those little boxes. As I labor away under florescent lighting, I am surrounded by numerous other office drones laboring away in little people compartments of their own.

And they talk.

They’re not doing anything wrong by talking (usually). Talking – on the phone and to each other – is necessary for their jobs to one degree or another. It’s just that some of them are so LOUD. I can hear some of these people from five or six cubes away! I guess their parents never taught them about “inside voices.”

One of the defining characteristics of introverts is the way we handle external stimuli. There is a great book by Marti Olsen Laney, Psy.D. called The Introvert Advantage. In one chapter, she writes about studies that have been done to better understand the neurological differences between extroverts and introverts. It turns out, our brains really are wired differently.

The neural pathways and neurotransmitters that extroverts tend to rely on are ideal for reacting to a piece of information quickly and easily. Their brains are wired to react to the world around them in real time.

By contrast, the introvert brain is set up to take that same piece of information and internalize it. To think it through, commit it to memory, and then respond to it.

(This explains why it is a mistake to try to “cure” oneself of introversion. It is not a pathology. It’s a facet of one’s personality that is hardwired into the brain. Laney argues that the goal is not to change, but to learn how to work with your tendencies, rather than struggling against them.)

Anyway, you can see why introverts can feel drained by too much stimuli. That stuff doesn’t just bounce off of us. Our brains are constantly trying to process it. Too much, for too long, can be exhausting, even when it’s something we enjoy. Imagine how much worse it is when it’s something that annoys us to begin with! Imagine how much worse it is to deal with while we’re trying to concentrate on something, like doing our jobs.

The other day, I had an incident. It’s the sort of incident that used to occur many times throughout the day before I asked to be moved to a desk in a quieter area. Thankfully, these events are less frequent now, but they still happen from time to time.

My cubicle is at the end of a row. On the other side of the cubicle wall to my left are some folks who work in a different department than me. On the other side of the cubicle wall behind me is one of my co-workers. To my right is an aisle, on the other side of which is my boss’ cubicle.

There was some sort of hubbub about some technical issue in that department to my left. It had everyone over there chattering away about this and that. In the cubicle behind me, my co-worker was chattering away with someone who had come over to ask her a question. In my boss’ cubicle across the aisle to my right, two people were chattering away with her about something of great importance to the three of them. All of this, in combination with the usual background chatter that always permeates the workspace.

Sound, piling upon more sound, piling upon more sound, coming at me from multiple directions – this is a scenario that stresses me out like few other things can.

Again, none of these folks were doing anything wrong. They were just having the conversations they needed to have to get things done. They had no way of knowing that while they were doing that, I was sitting at my desk with my head in my hands, grappling the anxiety attack they had unwittingly triggered. It was all I could do not to get up on my desk and scream, “SHUT THE FUCK UP!!!” at the top of my lungs.

But I didn’t. I just sat there and waited for that feeling to pass.

There are so many days when I wish I could just stay at home and hide from the noisy working world. Unfortunately, I can’t figure out a way to get paid for that.

The Town I Chose

I have lived in the Portland area for 11 years, 6 months, and 15 days. When I first arrived here, I did not know the city at all. Exploration and discovery quickly became my favorite hobby as I eagerly endeavored to acquaint myself with my new home. So many cool little neighborhoods. So many great restaurants, bars, and coffee places. So many picturesque settings. I fell in love with the place and its endless possibilities.

As with many love affairs, the excitement waned over time. I tell people that Portland has changed a lot over the last 11 years. It has, but truthfully, I’ve changed as well, at least in my approach to living here. I’ve become more of a homebody; more set in my ways. Somewhere along the line, I stopped exploring.

Last Sunday morning, on something of a whim, I drove across town to have breakfast at Zell’s Cafe. During my early years in Portland, breakfast at Zell’s was something of a regular occurrence for me. I hadn’t been there in ages though, since I moved farther away from that part of town. When I stepped through their door, I immediately remembered why I used to like this place so much.

Zell’s Cafe sits and the corner of SE Morrison Street and SE 13th Avenue in a neighborhood known as Buckman. It’s a relatively small restaurant, but the large windows lining the two walls that face outside make it feel bright, airy, and open. It feels like a bigger room than it is. It is warm and welcoming from the moment you enter.

I took a few minutes to reacquaint myself with the menu before zeroing in on one of their mainstays – the German pancake. Thicker and fluffier than a crepe. Denser and more eggy than a buttermilk pancake. I ordered it with seasonal fruit, which in this case was a mixture of fresh peaches and berries. It was sweet, but not too sweet. Decadent, yet somehow healthy. Completely satisfying without weighing me down. Of course, I also had a side of bacon, because… bacon.

After my meal, I took a walk. I had driven through this part of town several months earlier and noticed some changes that I wanted to check out up close. Gentrification of Portland neighborhoods is an upsetting topic among many locals. Personally, I have mixed feelings on the matter.

On the one hand, yes, gentrification often displaces people who have lived in these areas for years. It drives up housing prices to a point where only people who enjoy a certain level of affluence can afford them. I have seen the artistic community that used to be a fixture of the east side pushed out by tech industry types and trustafarians, as one friend of mine likes to call them.

On the other hand, this type of development, some say, is an unavoidable by-product of the economic growth and population explosion this area is experiencing. If that is true, then I definitely prefer Portland’s approach to what I’ve seen in other parts of the country. Take for example my native Northern Virginia.

There, gentrification is epitomized by the construction of what they call “town centers.” These are basically outdoor malls designed to look like cool little downtown areas. But they’re not. They’re just malls, partnered with overpriced apartments. There are several of them in the region. They all look more or less the same. They all house the same national chain stores and restaurants. It’s banal consumerism trying to masquerade as something hip.

At least in Portland, when a neighborhood gets gentrified, the emphasis is placed on bringing in unique local businesses. You will rarely, if ever, see chain stores. A place like Zell’s can continue to exist, because that’s the exactly kind of place developers want anyway. The cool little mom-and-pop joint, not a TGIFriday’s or an IHOP.

In this case, the new development existed on the block of NE 11th between SE Belmont and SE Taylor. They put in a very nice Market Of Choice (a local high-end grocery store), a very chic-looking coffee bar, a tap room for one of the local cider breweries, and a handful of other small shops and businesses. And yes, also the overpriced apartments.

Even that though manages to fit in with the existing architecture of the neighborhood. Walking through the surrounding blocks, I still saw many of the beautiful old houses I remembered being there in the past. Proof that Old Portland can, and should, coexist harmoniously with New Portland .

As I strolled the aisles of Market Of Choice (I don’t know what it is about a really nice grocery store that makes me so happy), I thought to myself, “Yeah, it would be nice to live in this part of town. I doubt I could ever afford to, but still.”

For the rest of that Sunday, I was in a great mood. I love going out for breakfast, but I don’t do it that often anymore. Trying to save money. But starting off my day with a nice meal in an old familiar place, followed by lovely walk in the surrounding environs really set a great tone for the day. I was upbeat and energetic from that point on.

I might make this a regular thing. Take some portion of each weekend to get back out and explore. Revisit some old haunts and find some new ones to enjoy. Take some time to walk around and appreciate all that has changed alongside all that has not. Rekindle my love affair with this strange, quirky, ever-evolving city.

Tomorrow, I’m thinking blueberry pancakes at Sanborn’s, followed by a stroll through the Brooklyn neighborhood. Also bacon. Care to join me?

Pride

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Today, at Tom McCall Waterfront Park in downtown Portland, under mostly-sunny skies, the 2019 Portland Pride Festival will commence, culminating with a parade tomorrow. Yesterday, I read an article in Willamette Week about the early steps towards holding Pride events in Portland back in the 1970’s. Some of the organizers of those events were quoted. They all spoke of how frightened they were to acknowledge being gay to their friends and co-workers, let alone in a public setting. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around that.

I am a white, heterosexual, cis-gender male. Over time, I have come to realize that this affords me a certain level of unearned privilege. I don’t know what it’s like to fear what will happen to me if people find out I’m straight. I don’t know what it’s like to negotiate the various obstacles society has placed in my path based on my race, my gender, or my sexual orientation. I can’t even imagine what it must feel like to face any of that.

I have seen some of the bullshit my LGBTQ friends have to endure, but it would be disingenuous of me to say that I understand what they go through. It is impossible for me to truly walk in their shoes, so how could I? Still, I do see their struggles and I do my best to learn. I do my best to get it. I do my best to be an ally.

At the end of the day, I just want everybody to be treated fairly and equally. To be given a certain basic level of respect and dignity that all human beings deserve. That seems like such an obvious premise to me, and yet there are still so many people out there who refuse to see it that way.

Homophobia, like most fear, is rooted in ignorance. In an instinctive mistrust of that which we do not know. That which we perceive to be different from ourselves. I remember feeling somewhat awkward and fearful about the existence of gay people as a child. These were biases taught to me by the way gay men were portrayed in media at the time, the teachings of the church in which I was raised, and the attitudes of other straight people around me.

As I grew older, and got more involved in theater, I had my first opportunities to work with openly-gay people. I quickly discovered how foolishly ignorant I had been for so long. I was embarrassed to realize that I had been judging an entire group of people without taking the time to get to know a single one of them. That’s the very definition of prejudice! I was grateful to these new friends of mine for teaching me this lesson, simply by being themselves.

Over the course of my adult life, I have known many people who self-identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, or transgender. Some have been close friends. Some have been mere acquaintances. Some have been classmates, co-workers, or colleagues. Some have been teachers and mentors.

All of them have enriched my life in one way or another. All of them have helped me recognize my own biases. All of them have inspired me to try harder to overcome those biases. All of them shown me the wonderful diversity that exists within the human race.

It underscores what I said earlier about fear and ignorance. Those things melt away when you embrace the “other” whom you once feared. The fight for equality becomes a much more personal issue when you see people you love and respect being subjected to hate and bigotry. It’s no longer a philosophical question, but a very tangible problem affecting people you care about.

That’s why, when I hear that some assholes in Boston want to throw a “straight pride” parade, I can say without irony that these idiots need more gay people in their lives. These are the same variety of dimwits who don’t understand why “All Live Matter” and “Not All Men” are fucking stupid responses to calls for racial or sexual justice. These are the morons who don’t even try to understand and are weirdly proud of their ignorance. These are relics of the status quo those early Pride organizers faced in the 70’s. Thankfully, their archaic why of thinking finally seems to be on the decline among straight Americans.

So to all of you who will be marching today under that beautiful rainbow flag, to those of you in other parts of the country who have already marched or will march later this month, and to those of you who choose not to march, but have your own ways of standing up for your right to be who are – thank you. In addition to strengthening your own communities, you are contributing something valuable to the broader world around you. I admire your courage and I am inspired by your example. I hope you enjoy your celebrations, whatever form they may take.

You have so much to be proud of.

Travel Tales: Yachats and Beyond, Part 5

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Shopping in Newport

Upon reaching Newport, I went straight to the Historic Bayfront District. I had it in the back of my mind throughout this trip that I would try to find some nice little gift to send to my Mom for Mother’s Day. I had been to the Bayfront once before, and I remembered it being a good place to shop for artsy-craftsy things. Mom likes that kinda stuff.

The Newport Historic Bayfront has the look of an old fishing village, and to some extent it still is one. There is a marina with a bunch of fishing boats and a huge fish packing facility. Mostly though, this area is now a tourist attraction. Much of the old architecture is still there, but the buildings have been converted into shops and restaurants.

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Moving in and out of gift stores, I found myself surrounded by families once again. This time though, I saw beleaguered parents dealing with screaming, whining, misbehaving kids at every turn. Maybe being alone ain’t so bad.

Anyway, I found a nice pottery coffee mug with the image a sand dollar on it that seemed right up Mom’s alley. I figured I could pair it with a bag of beans from one of Portland’s great coffee roasters. Mom loves good coffee.

With Mother’s Day taken care of, it was time to get dinner.

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Sea lions enjoying a day in the sun.

 

We need to talk about Mo’s

Mo’s is a chain of family seafood restaurants that originated in Newport in the 1940’s and now has several locations along the Oregon Coast. I had seen their restaurants plenty of times, but I’d never tried one. I had been walking around the Bayfront for quite a while at this point and had noticed a some very nice looking places to eat. But as I when I left the shop where I bought Mom’s gift, I found myself right next to Mo’s and figured it was time to give this place a try.

They actually have two locations in the Bayfront District – their main restaurant (which apparently is the original) and a smaller one right across the street they call their Annex. I went for the Annex, because it didn’t look as busy.

The dining room had big windows offering nice views of the bay from just about any table. That was the one nice thing about the room. It was a small, boxy place where the sound reverberated around in a way that was irritating. Just a noisy, crowded little room.

They were able to seat me pretty quickly, but then I had to wait a long time before the waitress came around to take my order. That’s fine… they were busy… I get it. I ordered the blackened red snapper, which came with a cup of “Mo’s World Famous Clam Chowder,” which the company brags about on the sign out front.

Clam chowder it one of my favorites foods, but I am admittedly picky about it. I feel it’s one of those dishes that is best kept simple. Lots of nice big pieces of clam, some potatoes, and a well-seasoned broth that’s not too thick or floury. That’s it. Some places try to put all this other stuff in it and you lose the flavor of the clams.

I waited a pretty long time to get my cup of chowder. (Again, I get that they were busy, but how long does it take to ladle some soup into a cup?) It finally arrived and I took my first taste of Mo’s signature dish. And I have to say – “Mo’s World Famous Clam Chowder” – is not actually clam chowder at all. It is potato and bacon soup. Very tasty potato and bacon soup, no doubt. But it ain’t clam chowder. I mean, if there were clams in it, I couldn’t find them.

I was barely two spoonfuls into my world famous potato and bacon soup, when the waitress brought me my entree. That’s a little amateurish if you ask me. Everybody knows they’re supposed to time the cooking so that the customer can finish the appetizer before you bring them the entree. I nearly said something about it, but I didn’t want to delay things any further.

I took a bite of the fish. Apparently the chefs at Mo’s think overcooking fish is the same thing as blackening it. It was dry and bland. The so-called blackening spices added nothing in terms of flavor. The whole point of blackening fish is to give it some heat and spice. This missed the mark completely. The mashed potatoes that came with it were okay, and added some much-needed moisture to the plate.

So to sum up my first experience with Mo’s – mediocre service, “world famous clam chowder” that does not taste like clams, and overcooked fish, all served in a noisy, crowded little dining room. Can someone please explain to me why this place is so popular?

The Home Stretch

Leaving Newport, I decided not to make anymore stops along the coast. It was getting late and there was still a long way to go to get back to Portland. I didn’t want to be driving sleepy going into the home stretch.

I continued north on Highway 101, enjoying the scenery as I passed through Depoe Bay. Things slowed down as I got into Lincoln City. I’ve noticed that people always drive a lot more slowly on that stretch of the 101. I’m not sure if that’s because they’re worried about getting pulled over for speeding or because they can’t remember where their hotel is.

Lincoln City is one of the larger coastal communities. It is home to the Chinook Winds Casino Resort, a very popular destination. I’ve been inside the casino several times, mostly because it’s a convenient place to stop and use the bathroom. I’ve been tempted to play a little craps, maybe a few hands of blackjack, but never have.

A little further north, and I turned onto Highway 18, taking me back inland towards home. At first, it’s another mountain pass.¬† The curves are gentler, but it’s still a fun drive. It eventually leads out into a long, boring stretch of road, through a flat, boring landscape. It’s the kind of road where you can easily lose track of how fast you’re going. Consequently, I got a speeding ticket there about five years ago.

According to my insurance agent, it’s due to come off my driving record this month, which will finally make my premiums go down. Which would make this a really bad time to make the same mistake. I set the cruise control for 55 mph and marveled at how slow that really feels when you’re passing through the middle of nowhere.

About halfway between Lincoln City and Portland is the city of McMinnville. It’s a mostly suburban community, but with a bustling downtown area, featuring charming early twentieth century architecture. It is also home to McMenamins Hotel Oregon. They have live music every night in their Cellar Bar. I’ve played there a few times myself. It’s a great venue for a solo act; a very intimate space where you can really connect with the audience. I decided to pop in and see who was playing.

I parked in the middle of downtown and wandered around for a bit. No matter how many times I’ve been to the Hotel Oregon, I can never quite seem to remember which corner it’s on. I found it eventually (thank goodness for smart phones) and made my way downstairs. I grabbed a table, ordered a beer, and started scribbling in my journal while being serenaded by Billy D. I got there just in time for the start of his final set. He played some brilliant blues on his acoustic guitar and regaled the crowd with some classic 60’s tunes. It turned out to be a perfect way to cap things off.

It took me about another hour to get home. I rolled into the driveway at around 11:20 pm. And yes, the front of my car was heavily  coated in the remains of splattered insects. A mere fourteen hours after I washed it and it already needed washing again. Ah well. Live and learn, I guess.

All in all it was a great little day trip. Looking back on it this week as I’ve been writing, I am struck by just how much there still is for me to explore out there on the coast and places beyond. I hope you’ve enjoyed my little travel tale. I’m going to start writing about some other topics this week, but there will be more travel stuff in the future, I’m sure.

Keep exploring.

Travel Tales: Yachats and Beyond, Part 4

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The Beach

When I was a kid, my family used to take vacations in Ocean City, Maryland. It was the classic northeastern American beach town. An unapologetic tourist destination boasting a massive boardwalk lined with attractions, carnival rides, and places to eat. The smell of Alaska Stand french fries and Coppertone sun tan lotion. Kids building sand castles. Grown ups sunbathing. People of all ages splashing around in the water.

When I was a teenager, my Dad started taking my brother and me on trips down to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. Dad liked it because it was quieter and less crowded. It did not have all the tourist attractions of Ocean City, but the beaches were perfect for swimming and hunting for sand dollars.

As an adult, I got to know the beaches of Los Angeles. The biggest difference between LA and East Coast beaches is their size. The shear distance from the place where the sand begins to the place where it meets the water is enormous. In some areas, like Santa Monica, the beaches are busy and touristy like Ocean City. In other spots, like Manhattan Beach, they are quiet and more refined, like the Outer Banks.

I used to walk on the beach a lot during my latter years in California. I would stroll along that space where the water comes just up to your ankles, carrying my shoes in my hand. This became a meditative experience for me. The strong and steady presence of the Pacific Ocean had a way of clearing and quieting my mind. One of the heartbreaks of moving to Portland was knowing that the ocean would no longer be right down the street. So now, whenever I go to The Coast, I make a point of taking at least one walk along the Pacific’s edge and reconnecting with that feeling, even if only briefly.

As I approached the city of Newport, I knew that I would soon be close to South Beach. I’d never been there, but I’d heard it was nice. In planning this trip, I had circled South Beach as my spot to stop and commune with the ocean. There was a nice big parking lot for it, right off Highway 101.

Beaches in Oregon have their own distinct nature that sets them apart from their East Coast and Southern California brethren. Stretches of sand serve largely as punctuation between the rock formations and majestic cliffs. Touristy boardwalks would be out of place in this environment. The water is freezing cold, so people don’t go in and swim much. In fact, everyone you see is fully dressed, often in their cold weather gear. This is no place for a swimsuit.

Most of the activity takes place on the sand. People fly gigantic kites. They make bonfires. They fish or dig for clams. Mostly they relax and take in the beauty of it all.

I found a parking spot. I took off my shoes and socks, and walked barefoot across the grassy area that preceded the sand. A tall ridge stood between me and the beach, with a worn path leading upward through the reeds and tall grasses. I made my way to the top of the ridge to see the Pacific stretched out before me.

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A strong wind from the north intimidated me a bit as I trudged my way across the beach. I would not be deterred. Looking down at the miniature dunes, I was reminded of the aerial shots of deserts you sometimes see in movies. A thin layer of sand was being blown across them like a tiny sand storm.

Little bits of shells. Scattered pieces of driftwood. Charred remains of bonfires past. I paused by an old log and rolled up my pant legs.

When I made it to the wet sand at the water’s edge, I stood patiently waiting until a wavelet reached out and encircled my feet.

“Hello, old friend.”

I turned my back to the wind and started walking along the wet sand, the frigid water periodically rising up to touch my feet again and again. I listened to the sound of the waves, the sound of my own breath. For just a moment, all thoughts left my mind. All the stress and anxiety I carry with me floated away. I felt a sense of peace and tranquility that I have only ever known when connecting with nature in this way.

I do not know if there is a God, but I am also not willing to declare that there is not one. When I was a child, I believed the teachings of the church I was raised in wholeheartedly. With time and age, I have learned more about the world around me. I’ve learned more about the nature of organized religion. The only conclusion I can come to is that if there is a God, not a soul on this Earth truly knows who or what that is.

I find it both hilarious and lamentable when I see people of faith arguing, sometimes warring, over whose religion is “right.” It seems to me that they’re all talking about the exact same thing, just using a different set of metaphors to describe it.

In recent years, I’ve become somewhat enamored with the sort of new age notion that regards the Universe as God. The idea that God is not a separate entity from us, but rather the collective energy of all things great and small, swirling around together in the vast cosmos. I like this idea. It suggests that God is something we are all a part of. It implies that we all share a certain level of responsibility for its care and well-being.

As I stood there on the beach, my quieted mind offered up a new thought – maybe this is God. Not a being, but a moment in time. Me, the sand, the ocean, the wind, my awareness of it all.

This quiet. This calm. This feeling of connectedness.

God is this.

I allowed the water to slosh around my feet one last time before starting the trek back to the parking lot. As I crossed over the ridge, a group of children came running past me from the parking lot, their parents lagging just slightly behind. As I crossed the grass, I listened to a man speak calming words to his very excited dog, who was straining against his leash.

I got to my car, popped open the liftgate, and grabbed the towel that was waiting there for me. I sat on the edge of the tailgate, cleaning the sand from my feet.

A couple standing at a nearby car appeared to be arguing about something. A family car pulled into another spot. Its doors swung open and another very excited dog came bounding out. This gave me a smile. A teenage boy emerged from that same car with a shovel in his hands. I wondered if he was here to hunt razor clams.

When my feet were clean, I put on my socks, put on my shoes, unrolled my pant legs.

I took a deep breath.

I resumed my journey.