This Year’s Long Weekend on the Road
Almost nothing went according to plan, but we did manage to enjoy ourselves somewhat, and turned up a few interesting books on the way.
The original idea was to drive down to Portland, see the last-ever performance of Trek in the Park, do some antiquing and bookscouting, and come home in a leisurely back-roads manner, stopping anywhere we felt like it. Working around Julie’s new work schedule, we’d leave Sunday morning and be back some time Tuesday afternoon.
The weekend did not get off to a good start. We spent Saturday in the ER at Harborview Hospital, because Julie had an infection that wasn’t getting any better and I finally put my foot down about getting her some medical attention, despite her protests. I won’t bore you all with the details, and Julie’s fine and recovering nicely, but it did kind of set the tone for how our weekend would go.
We seriously considered just canceling the whole trip– well, I did, anyway. But the hotel was paid for and we’d passed the go/no go point on a refund, and Julie was adamant that she certainly felt well enough to ride in a car, sleep in a hotel, and see a play. So we hit the road Sunday morning as planned, and by the time we were south of Tacoma we were feeling pretty good. The sun was out, we were excited about seeing the Trek performance, and it was good just to be on the road again.
Then, about forty miles out of Portland, this happened.
Rain. Sheeting, gully-washing buckets of it. The closer we got to Oregon, the worse it got.
We are hardy Northwesterners, and normally rain is something we just ignore. But Trek in the Park is exactly that– it’s in a park, not a theater, there’s no seats or roof or anything. And in the last five years it has become hugely popular, so if you want to be able to see the show without binoculars you need to be there three hours early.
Arriving in downtown Portland, we checked in to our hotel and considered the options. Given the rain, we thought perhaps the performance would just be canceled. But the concierge at our hotel was also involved with local theater and she said, “No…. it’s Portland. This is the last one ever, remember. And when I did Shakespeare in the Park if it rained we would just power through it, the audience still showed up. I don’t think they’d cancel.”
The thought of re-enacting the Woodstock mud scenes in the pouring rain with a huge crowd of Star Trek geeks was not enticing. I like Star Trek a lot, but Julie is the one that truly loves it. So I put it to her. She shook her head. “If I felt better, yeah, but I just don’t think I can sit out in the rain for three hours. For decent seats we’d have to go out there right now.”
And since the rain still showed no sign of letting up, three hours before showtime, we decided to forget it. For plan B, we called some old friends and made dinner plans. And as soon as it was all settled, calls had been returned and the arrangements were firmly in place… the sun came out.
Don’t tell me it wasn’t cause and effect. YOU’RE WELCOME, Portland Trekkies.
For one deranged moment we thought about calling everyone back, canceling dinner and hightailing it off to Cathedral Park, hoping the rain had scared enough people away that we could still find a good vantage point to see the show… but that would have been horribly rude to our friends, who had no interest in seeing the play and wouldn’t have wanted to come with us. And it would still be wet and muddy, and Julie was still a little woozy and nauseous from the painkillers they’d given her at the ER the night before.
In the end we decided the hell with it, we were committed to dinner. So dinner with friends it was.
Most of the rest of the evening is of no interest to anyone outside our immediate circle of friends, but there was one kind of comics/geek thing that surprised us.
We had decided on McMenamin’s at the Kennedy School in northeast Portland for dinner; it was the most convenient location for the folks we were meeting, and at roughly the right budget level for everyone. What we were not expecting is that it really is in an old school building. Today it houses a restaurant, a movie theater, and a hotel, but it still is laid out like a school.
This was charming all by itself, but what won us over completely was coming across this painting in the hallway.
Tolkien’s Birthday, by our old friend Rebecca Woods. Portland is a huge comics town, of course, and it’s hardly unlikely that we’d see some work done by friends of ours displayed somewhere. But still, it was something we weren’t really expecting. Julie was so delighted she let out a squee that made other people in the hallway turn and stare. “It’s Rebecca!”
Anyway, for a plan B, it went pretty well. Dinner was okay, the company was congenial, and we got to see some cool art.
Nevertheless, we were feeling a bit dispirited the following morning, and decided to just cut it short and head for home. However, there was no way we were leaving Portland without checking in on a few of our favorite places… in particular, Cameron’s Books on 3rd and Stark.
Cameron’s is, simply, my favorite bookstore in the world. There are nicer bookstores, and bigger ones. In Portland everyone is agreed that Powell’s is the bookstore, and we do make the occasional pilgrimage there. But it will never be my favorite the way Cameron’s has been for forty years. Cameron’s is my place, that’s all. I don’t know quite how to explain it. I used to go hide out from my life and my family there back when I was an awkward, screwed-up teenager, and to this day it feels like I am walking into a place of refuge whenever I visit; it’s the same feeling as settling in under a favorite old quilt. I’ve spent many pleasant hours in the hardcover mystery section, which is actually a display window space that’s been converted to another bookshelf room.
Ever since I was a sophomore in high school, I’ve been going to Cameron’s and finding weird cool out-of-print stuff. That’s how they have survived the brave new Amazon online-dealer world that has been so devastating to other small indie bookstores over the last decade; they carry stuff no one else does. Mostly it’s old magazines– Life, National Geographic, Playboy, Rolling Stone.
Julie sneaked this shot of me in the mystery-section window. You could find me in that same spot, at least a couple of times a year, every year back to 1975. During the seventies and early eighties, it was a weekly thing.
Cameron’s does do online sales these days– they’ve adapted that much– but it is otherwise unchanged from the days of my youth. Which is in itself sort of comforting. There’s just no substitute for going and rooting through the stacks yourself and seeing what oddball stuff you can turn up.
And I did find all sorts of cool stuff. Cameron’s makes its rep on the old magazines, but what I like to find there are the long-out-of-print licensed paperbacks. I bowled out these two right away.
Murray Leinster’s original 1964 Time Tunnel novel really had nothing at all to do with the Irwin Allen TV show, but he somehow leveraged it into getting the gig to write the licensed books for that show. The really weird part is that both his original novel and the first of the licensed books he did have essentially the same cover.
This has confused collectors for decades. The Time Tunnel book I found was the second one, though, which I’d never seen anywhere, so I scooped it up.
The Monkees book I bought just because it was such a weird one-of-a-kind thing. It’s not really a BOOK, it’s more a compilation of joke articles and backstage photos and– believe it or not– comics. Here’s a sample from “The Four Little Swingers.”
If you’re noticing a certain Dennis the Menace look, that’s because the comics in the book were all done by Richard Hodgens, who apprenticed to Hank Ketcham.
I also turned up these two, both impulse buys.
The Bonanza novel was because I tend to pick up any paperback that was spun off a Western TV show just as a reflex, and I’d never seen this one before. And it tickled me to see this as the frontispiece:
With an endorsement from Ben Cartwright himself on a Bonanza book, how can you go wrong?
And Play Dirty was just because I liked the look of it. I’d never heard of the movie or the novel, though I gather it’s another anti-war late-sixties effort played out against a World War II background. But the idea of “The Dirty Dozen” in Rommel’s North Africa sold me. This is the only trailer I could find for the movie.
I also turned up a couple of Ernest Haycox Westerns in hardcover. Haycox wrote the original stories that a lot of my favorite old Western movies are based on– Stagecoach, Abilene Town, Man In The Saddle, that kind of classic old-school stuff. He was actually from Portland, so it’s not unusual to find his books in Oregon bookstores and thrift shops for very reasonable prices.
These two, Canyon Passage and Long Storm, were from the late forties, towards the end of his career. This was actually the ‘movie edition’ hardcover of Canyon Passage; I’d seen it once before in a rare books display in Lincoln City, and that guy wanted fifty dollars for it. Cameron’s had it for four. This is why we love Cameron’s. Long Storm was right next to it for two bucks, and I’ve yet to go wrong with a Haycox western, so I picked that up too.
Julie found a couple of books for herself as well. This haul cheered us considerably.
Something both Julie and I had wanted to do for a while was drive out to Sellwood, which is where Portland’s “antique row” is located. I’d wanted to try and find the Looking Glass Bookstore, since I knew it had relocated to Sellwood from its original location at 5th and Taylor downtown. Way back then, Looking Glass was part head shop and part underground bookstore: the place where I’d originally found Star*Reach, Byron Preiss’ Fiction Illustrated, Steranko’s MediaScene, and a zillion other cool things when I was in high school; it had been my other Portland favorite place, and I was curious to see what it had turned into. Somehow we’d never made it out there on our previous Portland expeditions.
That neighborhood was also where you’d find the Sellwood Bridge and the Staff Jennings marina. Staff Jennings was my grandfather, and I’d spent a lot of time at the marina when I was a kid. Grandpa Jennings had died in 1968, and I knew that the business had folded a couple of years after my uncle Bob had died. But I thought the buildings would still be there, and maybe the moorage. I had a nostalgic urge to visit the docks where I used to run around when I was little, and Julie had never been down there.
So we set out for Sellwood.
Only to find that it was all gone.
They had torn down the marina to make room for the new bridge that was under construction. All we saw was a muddy mess.
The photos above are from a county site documenting the project, we could never get that close. Our view of it was obscured by a bunch of orange cones and annoyed commuters. Anyway, there wasn’t anything to see except a bunch of guys in hardhats using heavy earth-moving equipment.
We discovered that the Looking Glass was defunct, as well. I looked it up on the net and found this incredibly depressing article. Reading it made me feel absurdly guilty for not trying to find the place sooner, even though its modern-day incarnation probably wasn’t nearly as awesomely subversive as I remembered it. In any case, it was gone.
All that left us feeling a bit deflated again, especially since “Antique Row” turned out to be a little too precious and touristy for us. We did a little driving around east Portland– we found my grandmother’s old house in Garthwick, now up for sale, and Julie’s grandfather’s place out on 78th and Stark, which had definitely seen better days. That didn’t help our vaguely bleak mood either. Finally we decided to cut our losses and hit the road for home, and soon we were on Highway 30 headed north.
And that was pretty much it, except we decided to stop in Scappose for a bit.
There’s not a lot to do in Scappoose… at least, not for us. It’s a nice enough little town, just one of several wide spots in the road between Portland and Astoria on Highway 30. But they did have a new Goodwill there that we’d noticed on the way down, and we decided to check it out.
Turned out that particular Goodwill really is a very nice place with a meticulously-tended book section.
And to my complete amazement, there was a lot of hardcover science fiction there. I would not have thought Scappoose to be a hotbed of SF fandom, but there you go. I already owned most of what they had, but I did fall for these two omnibus collections of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories.
I’d seen them in comic book form a number of times, and I’ve always meant to read the originals. Here they were, and in SF Book Club original hardcover, no less. I’m getting to be a bit of a hardcover snob in my old age and although these weren’t valuable or anything, they were nice books and you couldn’t beat the price.
Julie found some blouses as well, So that left us feeling a little better. Retail therapy always works for us.
But that was our weak little last hurrah. We were tired and cranky and Julie was still feeling a bit unwell, so the rest of the trip was a straight shot for home.
Not a bad weekend, we saw some friends and certainly I scored some cool stuff… but still, mildly disappointing. At any rate, we’re determined to make the next trip better.
See you next week.