Monday, July 28, 2014

Revisiting Recent Posts - Sounds, Reviews, and a Rigorous Quirk Analysis

Long time (or, frankly, brand new) readers may recall that C and I went to New Orleans last month.  Or they may not.  I forget most sentences I read before I reach the period, which makes comprehending a paragraph something of a struggle, and is why I pepper conversations about current events, literature, grocery lists, or anything else built upon the written word with a lot of strategic guess work.  Which is to say I would not blame you for forgetting that I recently wrote at length on the Crescent City.  In fact, I hardly remember doing so myself.  But to jog your memory, I have two (maybe three) follow up items to cover related to that trip.

The first requires me to really stretch the capabilities of the internet and enter the brave new world of multimedia.  Did you know you the internet is capable of transmitting sounds?  Yeah, me neither, but it turns out that it is.  I think it works a little like a record player, though I have yet to find the grooves.  But in any case, this allows me to stretch my interests in comparative urbanism by offering a sonic comparison of the Louisiana urban and rural environments.  To wit:

Exhibit A: Sounds, Royal Street, French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana.

Exhibit B: Sounds, field , Loyd Hall Plantation, middle of nowhere, Louisiana

Make of it what you will.

The second involves the power of user reviews.  We stayed at a B&B in New Orleans and would not hesitate to return in the event we ever go back to the city.  At our departure, the innkeeper came "hat in hand" (as he characterized it) and asked, if we were so inclined, if we would post a review of his establishment on one of the many internet sites dedicated to such things.  As a small business relying in no small part on the tourist trade, it would seem their success ebbs and flows with their rankings.  Sure, no problem.  As stated, we enjoyed our stay, wished the inn great success, and were more than happy to do so.

Back home I drafted a review which C and I posted to both Trip Advisor and Yelp.  I also posted a review for a restaurant in Natchez, Mississippi that I thought was fantastic--creative and well executed cocktails, delicious food, historic setting.  However, I just checked and my Yelp reviews do not show up.  Neither business has many reviews on Yelp (just seven total each), so it is not like my review has been lost in the crowd.  Perhaps an algorithm quarantined them.  A new user claiming to be based in Anchorage shows up and posts two 5-star reviews of places on the Mississippi, then disappears back into the river mists.  Yelp probably thinks I'm a shill.  For whatever reason, the reviews are invisible.  So, I've decided to provide links here and my recommendation for good eats and good sleeps in the south:

La Belle Esplanade, (New Orleans B&B)
King's Tavern (Natchez restaurant)

The value of my doing so is negligible; the vast majority of my blog readership was with me on the trip and already has a pretty good idea about the places.  But I can't let Yelp keep me down.

The third item that will (finally) bring this now extended update to an end, wraps in Portland as well.  I described in earlier blog posts observations in both cities: a devil--red suit, horns, palatable desire to doom souls to an eternity of damnation--biking the streets of New Orleans and waving with some vigor as he passed a church; and Darth Vader in a kilt, on a unicycle, playing the Star Wars theme on the bagpipes in Portland.  But in the great quirkiness competition, I give the nod to New Orleans.  In Portland, you get the sense that the weird is a bit affected.  Darth Vader probably spent the last year learning the bag pipes and working on his unicycle balance for the sole purpose of taking it to the streets in order to out-quirk his neighbor.  In New Orleans, you got the sense that the devil was just headed to work and may not have even known what he was wearing.  Maybe it is the weight of all that sediment flushing out the Mississippi, but it seems the weird runs deep at the river's mouth.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

First the Wine, then the World

“Excuse me.  Do you know where the food trucks are?  The ones that were on the TV?”  The woman—maybe in her seventies and put together for travel, all function and no fuss—stopped in front of me and C on the corner of Salmon and Park in downtown Portland, her head turning back and forth to stare down the cross streets, hoping to see a kimchi taco beacon guiding the way.  The whole food truck thing was clearly getting out of hand.  We knew where there were some trucks, a full city block full in fact, and were headed there ourselves, though I have no idea if they had ever been on the TV.  We pointed her a few blocks further on, and then set off ourselves for bowls of meat and mole.

We lived in Portland eight years ago.  Being on a student and minimum wage budget at the time, food trucks were a common enough dining option.  There were a handful clustered on Third Avenue, a few with a permanent spot on Pioneer Square, and solitary operations that had staked territory on random corners.  Now, there are thriving neighborhoods made up entirely of portable food, old parking lots entirely given over to kitchen-equipped panel vans, and tourists seemingly visiting the city for the sole purpose of eating from a paper plate while huddling underneath a tree.  But then the proliferation of food trucks was not the only thing that had changed.

In the years since we have been gone, downtown has filled in a bit, developers have put up new buildings, the city has picked up new energy.  It was still “Keep Portland Weird” weird—where else are you going to find Darth Vader in a kilt and on a unicycle playing the Star Wars theme song on bagpipes?  But in between the  unicycle and street punks, there were also hour-long waits for doughnuts and a whisky bar that calls itself a library and requires a membership to get in.  And get this: memberships, which just give you access to the place so you can spend money on booze, start at $500 and are at capacity with a waiting list to join.  I'm not sure that is a business model that would have succeeded in Portland eight years ago.  But now there is more of everything: more money (apparently), more restaurants, more coffee, more stores, more visitors, and more public spaces devouring parking lots (which I support).  So less parking, but more of everything else.

There were also thousands of people attending something called the World Domination Summit.  When asked, a woman serving our coffee one morning explained that it was a conference for people to exchange strategies for dominating the world with their next BIG IDEA.  I'm no expert, but it seems if you want to dominate the world the first step would be to not tell thousands of other people how to do it too.  Rather than rub elbows with our soon-to-be overlords, we instead fled to the hills. 

If you ask anyone from Portland what they like about the place, every time—absolutely every time—he or she will say that what makes Portland great is that it is one hour from the beach and one hour from the mountains.  And it is.  Mt. Hood towers over the city and tails south into the Oregon cascades, with world class wilderness escapes at the ready.  The Oregon coast beckons to the west with sea stacks looming in the fog.  But we opted instead to explore Oregon's agricultural assets, and found ourselves in the vineyards.

With wine in belly, we made our way back to town and to the airport, a flight to catch.  It was a quick trip, just a weekend tacked onto a day of work, but long enough to make me first remember and then miss some of the many benefits of Portland.  Trail runs in Forest Park.  The Saturday Farmer's Market.  Two-dollar hamburgers at Jake's.  Ready access to cheese.  And, of course, that whole one-hour to the beach, one-hour to the mountains thing.  Downtown still smells like piss.  But then I suppose you have to have something to excite the senses of lost tourists as they try to find those food trucks from the TV.  Consider it a street-level amuse bouche.