Monday, August 15, 2011

... lost in astoria...

my time here in astoria has been a bit of a haze. i've just been wandering around, looking at stuff, not doing a whole heck of a lot... deliberate. i had planned on visiting the maritime museum again but now... meh. i can't really be bothered. there's a tattooing exhibit there and i'm sure that'd be interesting - i know we took our youth group into the sydney cbd one weekend and checked out the police and justice museum at the same time as they had a tattooing exhibit there. very interesting. still, though, it's nice to just hang around and not do a great deal.

i'm also wondering if i haven't caught a bit of a cold. (two sneezes and i have just been offered benadryl by the lovely carly here at the three cups coffee house.

i spent some time here last visit (see here for more) and carly and leah remembered me! i don't know how much had to do with the fact that i made sure i brought a badge that i bought from here to help raise money for a local festival but i was remembered. which was nice. carly, since i was last here, has become the proud mother of a little girl named maggie mae (who has since replaced her mother's face on the badges) and we spent some time oohing and ahhing over the pictures i have in my phone of my new niece. maggie mae is cute but i think my nice is far cuter. (no bias - i sincerely believe my niece is the definition of cute. this may be amended in the future but who knows when?)

it's been very cool catching up with the staff here and finding out everything that's been going on in astoria since my last visit. the roasting here (if you follow the link above to the coffee house, you'll see it's part of the thundermuck coffee roasting... thing... operation - that's it!) has been going from strength to strength, which is great.

astoria suffered a bit of a blow with a fire that burned down a bunch of businesses down on the waterfront. i've been asking around and everyone seems to have their own theories. the general consensus seems to be that (a) the fire seems to have started as some kind of electrical fault in one of the food places, then spread to the building opposite on the same pier, and (b) there may have been some foul play, given that one of the business in the immediate area was in some financial difficulty and under threat of foreclosure.

it really is very sad when you hear of things like that happening. it's not like astoria is necessarily a booming hive of unstoppable activity: the canning has completely dried up and the town itself appears to be making a slow and stumbling transition to a tourism-based economy. for a place so rich in pioneering history - lewis and clark wintered nearby at fort clatsop after being despatched by president thomas jefferson to explore the new property acquired through the louisiana purchase, and the outpost known as astoria and named for john jacob astor, new york fur magnate and all-round business dynamo, was founded as the western end of astor's fur-trading empire, to name but two - there is a rich vein of history here to be mined.

for instance, one thing i've yet to do here - and i don't feel too bad about that, since i watched a parade yesterday next to a man who has lived in astoria for six years and he hasn't either - is go to see shanghaied in astoria. as well as being an enduring piece of local theatre that well depicts the history of a place (see windy gully for a slice of history from my home stomping grounds!), it seems to embody the stories that a place tells about itself that may not begin exactly true but have taken on the feeling of truth, until it's hard to distinguish between the two. i know that once i've seen the piece, i may have to completely rewrite those remarks - i have a sneaking suspicion i may not.

astoria is celebrating its bicentennial this year and that's part of why i wanted to come back and visit. reba mcentire (and i've consistently mispelled her name at pretty much every juncture until now) is singing at a concert here this weekend and while i had every intention of seeing here while i was here, dropping fifty shekels on a ticket for the cheap seats in a quaint local theatre was not what i was expecting. i had envisaged (and i don't know why i automatically had assumed it would be like this) some kind of country fair environment with a stage at one end with a bunch of local acts playing throughout a day-long gathering, all culminating in reba's performance for a slim ten bucks to get into the fair. mystery why i'd imagined that.

there was a parade yesterday because these weekend has been the annual astoria regatta - for those australians in the audience, that's "regatta" rhyming with "barter" (like "bah-tuh") not "regatta" rhyming with "batter" (like "batt-uh"). of all the words to lengthen an "a" sound in, i find it hilarious and a little bit charming that they do it with "regatta" and not "bath". but there you go.

i thought the parade was great. lots of local and regional involvement, along with military personnel from the oregon national guard, the coast guard, local naval station sailors, and what looked to me at first like rotc candidates from local high schools but were in fact navy junior cadets. most people stood up out of their seats when the military folk passed by and i could sense a tremendous amount of respect being shown these serving troops. whatever their personal politics, americans seem to accord their military incredible respect (not at all times but at these kinds of times, certainly) and i can't imagine the kind of public outcry at the way the military was deployed that would result in soldiers being booed or spat on. the scars left on the american public psyche by vietnam and the gulf wars are incomprehensible to me.

i took a gazillion photos of the parade and, after looking back on what i wrote two years ago, i'll be very surprised if i get off my butt and actually post any of them online. i'll look at them and maybe do something with ones i like but, yeah... probably nothing in particular. i also photographed the site of the shops and restaurants burned down last year. it saddens me every time i think about it.

i've been writing a lot. i'll show very little of it around but this trip has given me time and space to simply sit down and type. having my own room at my hostel has been super convenient in this regard and it's been so pleasant with the window open and the night air being so mild that i've been up very late writing. ideas are forming and maybe this year nanowrimo might actually be something i win for a change. (coming up to my third attempt!)

at this point i'm thinking more and more about my trip to seattle. i'm following a low-budget, heavy-time-investment route using local public transit marked out by an interesting fellow calling himself "busboy". i discussed my route with a guy at the astoria transit centre on friday and some of my concerns - especially that the initial leg over the astoria-megler bridge might derail my connections from the very outset due to construction works slowing down traffic entering the bridge fromt he oregon side. i was assured that my fears were unfounded, since the first three legs are in fact one long route, broken up by timing points where the route number on the front of the bus is changed but the bus is not. because of this, a late-arriving #50 over the bridge will become a late-departing #32 from south bend to raymond.

as an aside, i learned something rather weird about place names here in oregon/washington. there is a town called bend set roughly north of centre of the state of oregon. the town of south bend is on the washington state coast, further north than bend, at around eight o'clock if washington state were a clock face. finally, the town of north bend is also situated on the coast, this time in the southern oregon coast region of coos country, which is adjacent but one county to the oregon-california border. north bend is more southerly than bend; south bend is more northerly than bend.

i haven't investigated the possibilities of an east bend or west bend but i think west bend would possibly be sitting on the border with idaho and the east bend might be a coast guard vessel sitting off the coast several miles into the pacific!

so after i eventually get from astoria to aberdeen, i'll connect to another bus line to olympia, wa; thence to tacoma; finally connecting to seattle. all things going well, i should arrive in seattle about a block from my hostel and around 6pm. from the time i board the first bus in astoria, i will have been travelling for around eight hours. the entire trip will cost around $10.

i'm looking forward to seeing urban, suburban and inter-suburban/rural washington. i've been given to expect plenty of greenery and not quite so many hills as we go through on the way from portland to astoria. to take amtrak from astoria to seattle would mean going back to portland before boarding the cascades train to seattle. total one-way trip cost, $70. the thruway connection from astoria would depart at 8am and arrive in portland at 10h30; the train from portland leave 12h15 and arrives in seattle at 15h45. total travelling time about eight hours. assuming the cascades doesn't have to stop to let a freight train go past. ironic. i only hope that i won't be getting in the way of too many people with my luggage.

i think that if i won the lottery, i could do worse than buy a house here in astoria. it's a fairly sleepy little place - moments of excitement aside - while still being not terribly far from portland, and - clearly - seattle. if i were a driver, it would be more convenient still. the marvellously inexpensive cinema (i saw green lantern on friday night for $4) and bowling alley (two games and shoe hire last night cost me $10.25 and if i lived here i'm sure i'd join a league and get even cheaper bowling) definitely appeal and the sunday market is bursting with fresh fruit, vegetables and various preserves.

i'm glad that i visited astoria again this year and the next time i visit portland - if i do - i will be sure to visit astoria again.

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