OR Day 2 - Waterfalls, Weirdness, and Worms
I started my first full day in Portland with a trip to their famous Stumptown Roasters, one of the first big name third-wave coffee roasters to come out of the Northwest and one of the biggest suppliers of roasted beans for other coffee shops all over the country. They also just recently got bought up by Peet’s Coffee for an undisclosed sum (which I’m willing to guess must have been a huge chunk of change). Personally I really liked their coffee, but I don’t think I’d be able to tell it apart from other similar coffees. That could be because I have an unsophisticated palette, or possibly because they’re so commonly used that they are the taste of so much other coffee as well. Either way it was a solid start to the day.
My first fully awake stop of the day was to Multnomah Falls, which I was told was a must see in the area. The falls are special because it’s actually a double waterfall! There is the main 542 foot drop, a small base of eroded basalt, and then a shorter (relatively) 69 ft drop making for total height of 620 ft. which put Multnomah as the tallest waterfall in Oregon, and the second tallest year-round waterfall in the country. The fact that it is a year round waterfall is impressive in its own right, because, as you can see from the picture on the left, some of the smaller falls in the same park can get pretty frozen because they don’t have the same rushing energy. The main falls truly were stunning in a way my lousy photography really doesn’t capture, which further cements the sun as one of my greatest enemies for giving off such a glare. I also wish I could have gone up to the bridge that arches over the lower falls because that must be an extra amazing view.
Naturally I had to take a very dumb selfie with the water fall so I could make a joke about the TLC song Waterfalls since I was blatantly not listening to their advice. This is an exceedingly unflattering photo, but in the interest of journalistic integrity I fear I must share it.
While the falls are obviously the main draw of the little park, it also is right on the Columbia River Gorge so it was basically impossible not to walk down any trail and stumble into some absolutely beautiful nature.
My next stop for the day was to see National Sanctuary of our Sorrowful Mother, more commonly referred to as just the Grotto, which features a Catholic church and sanctuary on ground level and a botanical garden located 110 feet up on top of a cliff that is also part of the 62 acre property making for a pretty wonderful mix of man-made and natural beauty that would impress anyone regardless of religious affiliation.
Naturally since the place is called the Grotto, I started with their grotto (the word grotto no longer seems like a real world). This incredible piece of work created in 1924 by Friar Ambrose Mayer, and conceived of as natural cathedral. The Grotto clocks in at 30 ft. wide, 30 ft. deep, and 50 ft high, and it’s carved directly into the basalt of the cliff which producing some lovely rocky shapes. Years later, a marble recreation of Michelangelo’s Pieta was added to the cave, and I think it really adds something. I’m not a religious person, but there’s something about such huge rock formation combined with such a delicate sculpture that I just found oddly calming to stare at.
After taking in the Grotto, I went to see the main religious building on the grounds, the Chapel of Mary. I thought the stone and marble construction on the outside was really pretty so I wanted to at least see what it looked like on the inside, but I foolishly thought that because it was a Monday nobody would be in the Church and ended up awkwardly interrupting a service. I had underestimated the piety of Oregonians, but I had not underestimated the suspected prettiness inside as the chapel has gigantic paintings along the walls by Jose de Soto which were quite impressive.
As beautiful as the lower level of the grounds was, it was after I paid the six bucks to take the elevator up to the top of the cliff that I really had my breath taken away. For me the showstopper here was the Meditation Chapel, a magnificent contemporary place for reflection built in 1991 out of glass and polished granite. It was so sleek and unexpected 110 feet off the ground.
I was smitten with the Meditation Chapel from the get-got but if the architecture didn’t do anything for you it’s hard not to be impressed when you go inside and see the panoramic view of the Oregon-Washington border, including Mt. St. Helens! Were it not for the bronze statue of the Pieta (presumably someone in their curatorial department really likes this sculpture), you wouldn’t even know it was a religious building, because, between the views and the leather recliners for seating, it was just a perfect spot to sit and think and not worry about the world for a couple of moments.
The big feature of the upper level is the multi-acre botanical garden, featuring lush natural forests, flowers from all over the world, and award-winning roses all beautifully arranged around walking paths. It was so immersive and lovely, and because it was so high up on the cliff there were also incredible views all around you if you weren’t too distracted by the flowers to remember to look up. I was really struck by the sheer variety of natural colors. Everything was so vibrant, and it’s always crazy to me that things in nature just happen. It’s not like the flowers are trying to look pretty for us, they just are which is bananas.
Along the walking paths in the gardens were several sculptures showcasing some remarkable craftsmanship in woodwork, stonework, and bronze and marble sculpting. Every piece was impressive in its own right, but the natural wonder all around them really elevated everything making each sculpture a nice little man-made accent to all the beauty that was already there. I couldn’t photograph them well because of the dang glaring sun, but the most impressive pieces to me were a series of 34 ridiculously intricate wooden carvings of the Via Matris (Mary’s Big Adventure, if I may sacrilegiously translate from Latin) by Professor Heider of Pietralba (bottom center).
One of the coolest adornments along the walking paths was a series of shrines commemorating different kinds of Catholics from around the world. While the history of the missionary work that led to Catholicism spreading so far is a gigantic mixed bag (to put it mildly), I did think it was a lovely acknowledgment of all the different cultures that fall under the larger church umbrella and the different individualized takes on worship therein. As critical as I often am of religion and the Catholic church in particular (if only because I know it the best), I’ve gotta acknowledge that they make some damn beautiful buildings and these little churches in miniature were a great way of seeing what these buildings might include in countries I’m not sure I’ll have a chance to visit in person any time soon. The shrines include: Our Lady of Lavang Shrine, built by The Vietnamese community of Portland in a traditional pagoda style with an amazing sculpture of the Madonna inside; a replica of the Our Lady of Czestochowa shrine in Poland including a recreation of the Black Madonna, a jeweled icon that gets its black color from the soot of incense and candles of several centuries’ worth of worshipers, all housed in a simple wooden structure; the Dambana, a Filipino pergola built in the shape of a traditional Filipino woman’s head-garment called a salakot, featuring walls made of capiz, a flat seashell often used in Filipino windows, as well as some lovely carved figures of saints with historical connections to the Philippines all made by local Filipino artists; and the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a tribute to Juan Diego, an Aztec Indian who the Virgin Mary supposedly spoke to leading to him helping spread Catholicism to Latin America, built in conjunction by Portland’s Knights of Columbus and the local Hispanic community in a traditional adobe style with a stunning mosaic of the Madonna on the wall inside.
Last but not least was St. Anne’s Chapel, a small building tucked into the woods that looks like a little red one-room schoolhouse. Instead of chalkboards and desks inside though were several pastel paintings of the Madonna from around the world making it a pretty neat hidden gem in the expansive grounds of the garden.
After all that grotto-ing, I had worked up quite an appetite so I got some lunch at a place called Lardo which had both a very silly name and rave reviews online. They specialize in high-quality and inventive pork based sandwiches (though they do have a little bit of everything). They started out as a food cart (a Portland staple) serving their own unique take on charcuterie, before expanding to open up two brick and mortar locations with expanded options and a whole lot of local beers on tap. I got a sandwich called the Pho’rench Dip, a Vietnamese inspired twist on a french dip with tender shaved beef on a crunchy house made french bread with savory hoisin sauce and a spicy sambal mayo with an immensely tasty pho taking the place of the traditional au jus as the dipping sauce. It was a fantastic combination of flavors that had a leg up on a more standard french dip because the sauce also worked just as well on its own as a soup as well as complement to the sandwich, which blew my mind. On top the amazing main course, I also got a side of French fried liberally doused in deliciously fresh shaved Parmesan which actually came to my order as a communication mistake but one I was more than happy to accept. To wash it all down I got a local craft beer call the Stack Poole Tropical Stout from Pono brewing. The tropical flavor came from the beer being aged in rum barrels which gave it a little hint of sweetness that wasn’t too overpowering as well as making it quite alcoholic which got me surprisngly tipsy for 1 in the afternoon.
To work off my tipsiness as well as to just enjoy a beautiful day, I started walking around the blocks of downtown Portland. I first fueled up by going to a sleek local shop called Case Study Coffee Roasters which had big glass windows and fun art everywhere, not to mention a mean cold brew to get you that caffeine fix.
While I was walking, I was very excited to see all the quirky public art in various parts of the city. I think my favorite piece was the whimsically ridiculous sculpture Transcendence by Keith Jellum of an 11-ft. bronze salmon swimming through the corner of a brick seafood restaurant, fittingly enough on Salmon St.. It was utterly absurd, but also three stories up so surprisingly easy for the average pedestrian to just not notice. What a fun Easter egg for a city to have.
After enjoying the urban sea-life, I continually strolling to Pioneer Courthouse Square which featured a silly weather machine built and designed by artists and artisans at Omen Design Group Inc. The goofy contraption is always spinning in the wind during the day, but at noon it really comes to life (which unfortunately I missed) when it lights up, blasts a little trumpet rendition of Fanfare for the Common Man, and then gives you the day’s weather report. If it’s sunny out, a little yellow sun will pop up out of the orb on top, if it’s overcast a Blue Heron will appear, and if it’s raining or snowing a dragon will pop up (obviously). I wish I could have seen it in action, but its still a neat little oddity to just look at.
I also really liked that the park had very classic looking columns all in a row along the perimeter, except in a quirky Portland flourish, the last column was built to look like it had toppled over and broken providing public seating and tables for outdoor chess players. I like the very light-hearted approach to city planning.
Properly caffeinated and sobered up, I set sail for my next stop of the day, the one-of-a-kind museum dedicated to all things weird, odd, or spooky, The Freakybuttrue Pecularium. I mean this is just the store-front so you know you’re in for a bizarre and unique museum experience.
Once inside the Pecularium, you are greeted by two life sized statues of very different fictional creatures rife for visitor photo-ops: a lovely gentle giant Bigfoot and a Krampus that is more Satan than Santa.
After being greeted by the stranger staff members, you can get a quick preview of the museum’s far out collection as well as some very (unsurprisingly) bizarre cartoons on the World’s Smallest Theater, which I was very glad to see also had cute little theater attendees.
If the previews in the teeny theater enticed you, it’s only $5 to see the rest of the Pecularium collection in person. If however you are wearing a costume or have a cute pet, you get in free which is an excellent policy that I unfortunately was unable to take advantage of. Still $5 seemed like a pretty small price to pay for such a concentrated mix of the macabre and the bonkers. There was no real theme linking the displays beyond oddness, but in general the pieces ranged from handmade art, collectibles, kitsch, hoax historical items, and combinations of all of the above ranged in amusing and/or shocking displays. Even the grosser displays had a tongue-in-cheek playfulness to them, which kept the tone of things on the sillier side and made for a fun museum experience where you truly had no idea what was going to be around the next corner. My favorite displays included: a different reading of the phrase alien autopsy featuring graphic viscera, a cardboard cut-out of Bones from Star Trek (Damn it, Jim!), and a hole where you could put your head to look like you were the victim/patient of the autopsy; an entire cardboard city being besieged by creatures that look like a mix between classic Japanese kaiju and high school sports mascots; a haunted doll house that has some really extreme spookiness of every variety happening in each room even including a monstrous toilet; and a horribly graphic display about illegal organ harvesting cheerfully narrated by cute little cartoons named Sidney the Kidney and Bob New Heart, that is a mix of revolting and informative.
The most unique feature was a room that was decorated with all kinds of light and soft-textured sculptures to make it look like you were standing right in the middle of a brain. This being the Pecularium though, things couldn’t be as normal as that, and if you stick around the display the brain gets infected with a zombie virus and through sounds on speakers and the changing light displays you can watch the virus spread and transform the normal brain into a zombie brain. It’s a weird and wild ride, that is impressively creative even it’s mildly baffling that anyone thought to do this (which does describe much of this museum).
All throughout the museum, and especially featured in the giftshop, is silly and spooky art work by local artists Colin Batty and Mike Wellens (check out more of their work at the museum’s online shop. Pieces included lovingly painted pictures of Bigfoot fighting zombies, sculptures of Paul Revere riding a freaky alien horse, display case of insects that include real beetles as well as a photo of Volkswagon and Ringo Starr for good measure, and many more that I encourage you to try to take in from these photos. The gift shop also had handmade comic books and various pranks and gag gifts, so naturally I had to fight to walk out of there without spending all my money.
The one purchase I made is the one I’m sure everyone reading this would really prefer that I didn’t. To truly call myself an adventurous traveler looking for one of a kind local experiences, I felt horribly obligated to try the Pecularium’s signature dish: the Bug Sundae. I went with a classic hot fudge and caramel sundae with whip cream and worm larvas becasue that seemed like the least gross option. Honestly for as unpleasant as they are to look at it, the bugs don’t really have any flavor beyond a mild savoriness so it was kind of like putting cornflakes on a sundae, though it was still probably the worst part of the otherwise pretty tasty ice cream dish. Now that I can say I’ve done it, I’m not sure I ever need to do it again which is always the sign of a good adventure.
To help wash the worm out of my mouth and keep me mentally limber for comedy, I got some more coffee at a nearby place called Groundworks Coffee that had a big spacious store and some strong roasty coffee.
From there it was on to a long (but very fun) night of comedy as I double dipped into two Tuesday mics. The first mic was at Porland’s branch of the Helium Comedy Club franchise. Because it's actually a pretty big name comedy club, there’s reliably a good audience and so a whole ton of comics showed up to try to get on the list. The list is a lottery that is slightly un-randomized to make sure it’s not the same people every week in a row. Luckily while you waited for the names to be drawn, the club had a pretty well stocked bar which made for a fun place to sit, chill, and drink. I tried the Amber Ale from Full Sail Brewing which was ridiculously smooth and easy to drink. I didn’t think I’d get on the list so I signed up online for another later mic online (the Portland scene is big on online sign ups, though there are some in-person lists. I actually liked this system, because then you at least you know you have a spot going in which is cool), but I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I had gotten lucky and made the Helium list.
The show ended up being a blast and I could see why it was so popular, because there was a good sized crowd and they were very receptive to all the comics so the whole room just had a good energy (I’m sure the good beer helped out).
All the comics were very solid, but if I had to pick a favorite from the night was a I’d go with a guy named Dan Weber who had a bit of a hippy aesthetic, but really sharp, clever, and pointed material, and a fantastic delivery. My favorite line of his was a fun dig at his own appearance: “I look like the mad professor who would dose his class with LSD before a final just to watch what happens”
My favorite line of the night came from the host, Brandon Lyons, a super charismatic comic that kept things moving at a brisk and funny pace: “Do you think there’s a hardcore crip out there who won't eat ketchup? That’s commitment”
Andrew Krainock - My doctor immediately pointed out I was circumcised, which was odd
Sarah Baran - I used to be known as the girl with worms
Chris Johnson- I saw another Black guy looking sort of sheepishly at the Popeye’s menu, so I just jumped in and said “this is a Popeyes you don't have to order fried chicken we've got mad cold slaw in the back”
Alex Rios - I'm recently doing really good. My car has frosted tips
Shain Brenden- I’m starting a club for black magicians called Africadabracan-Americans. We embrace inclusion through illusion
My own set went really well, which was a fun surprise given that was pretty late on the list, and everyone else around me was so strong I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep up. All my punch lines landed, and the crowd was pretty enthusiastic which was a great feeling. Plus, the green room had this poster so I was honestly gonna be happy with this club no matter what happened:
After my set, I boogied to get to the other mic I signed up for on time. It was at a bar called the Lamp, which was a great laid back lounge-y vibe to it. This was a later mic, and it had a more experimental and eccentric feel to it than the Helium mic, which made for a more unpredictable viewing experience. The comics were still consistently solid, and I was happy that the crowd was also willing to go along with the stranger bits because those were my favorite parts.
I got there a bit late coming from Helium so I missed some of the comics, but my favorite bit I saw was a group of three guys who went up and called themselves the Love Boys and answered audience questions about relationships. I can’t really describe how surreal and odd it was, but it was very funny and not like something you tend to get at the average open mic which was fun.
My favorite line of the night was from a comic named Dani Zamudia (sp?)- My grandma doesn’t know the difference between the crying and the crying laughing emojis so she’s always on Facebook just reposting tragedies with hysterical laughing.
Raj- I grew up in India, and I don’t know if you know that they don’t use toilet paper in every part of the world so it was crazy coming here. I had to learn to shit a new way!
Ben Harkins- You shouldn’t give people the death penalty until you know what comes next because it might be slightly better than prison
Ben Warwick- We’re hippie parents. Our kids don't have tv, we just flat out neglect them
Dylan Jenkins- nobody wants to be a bassist. it's like wanting to be an assistant manager
Alaina - I teach English online, which is a lot like being a cam girl
Ross - If I see a penny on the ground, I think “aw that’ll be fun for someone else”
My own set was weird, because I didn’t feel like telling all the same jokes twice in the same night so I just did darker and weirder jokes than I’d done in a while. Some of them actually did alright which was fun to learn, but it was understandably a bit more uneven, though that was 100% on me and not the room which was fun throughout. All in all it was fun and jam-packed night of Portland comedy.
Favorite Random Sightings: A bumper sticker that said, “Sveiks!” (no clue); Jim Dandy; “I ♥️Mr. Plywood” (a very dull Mr.); “Come for a taste of your childhood unless your childhood sucked”; Potato Champion (my kind of champ)
Regional Observations: Portland abbreviates itself as PDX which threw me off for the first few times I saw because at least one of those letters is not in the original word.
Albums Listened To: Squeezing Out Sparks by Graham Parker & The Rumour (I’m glad Judd Apatow helped bring Graham back into popular consciousness); Ssssh by Ten Years After; St. Elsewhere by Gnarls Barkley (as overplayed as the song Crazy got, this is a pretty great album); Stadium Arcadium by Red Hot Chili Peppers (doesn’t hold up super well); Stage Fright by the Band (a top to bottom great album)
People’s Favorite Jokes:
What’s the difference between a Greyhound station and a lobster with boobs? One’s a crusty bus station and the other’s a busty crustacean
Songs of the Day:
Bonus Video of the wacky Weather Machine in Action: