Saturday, October 17, 2009

Autumn In The Northwest Trip - Day Two

Now Playing -
Bang, Bang  by  Nancy Sinatra

Life - 
This was a pretty great day. Friday dawned Grey and cool, with a faint haze on the horizon. I slept well in the car, though I must have drank more water than I'd thought, or the devious coffee at Shari's was punishing me for mocking it, and I had to get up a few times in the night and stagger into the house, which was a little awkward to me. Better than staggering to a darkened corner or a port-a-potty like we usually have when we camp out in the car.

We're early risers, so we had gotten up, showered, resituated the car and read in the house for a while before Jen roused herself and we followed her on a merry chase into Portland. The roads she took were windy and pretty, lined with thick trees and undergrowth, eventually evolving into groomed shrubberies, planters, then city streets. A note to anyone that finds themselves following someone like Jen - Stay close and keep your foot on the gas! We're used to following folks like my father-in-law, who, when followed, drives 10 miles an hour, signals blocks before turning and often supplements those signals with hand gestures and sky writing. Jen however, had the uncanny talent to hit a light just as it turned yellow, forcing us to quickly floor it to keep up with her. This happened something like 3 times in the drive, and teased us a couple of other times.

She led us to the best breakfast restaurant in the world, The Original Hotcake House. Just a little, dive-styled place, this joint has some of the best food and biggest portions I've ever had in a restaurant. Absolutely heavenly! You stand in line and order first, weaving around a circular dining area, then find your table. Luckily, we arrived between rushes and managed to get a table with little effort, judging by their signage, on weekends and at other times, some folks have to wait for a table after ordering and paying. They're also open 24 hours a day. My friend Rob and I have driven 40 miles out of our way for food at 3am before. If we had grown up here, I would imagine that we'd know the cooks by name.

I ordered the biscuits and gravy with a side of hotcakes, Linz ordered the Gyro omelet with hashbrowns (That's right, a GYRO OMELET!) and Jen got the chicken fried steak. All of our meals were amazing tasting, complimented by some excellent coffee and big enough to stretch the stomach of a grizzly bear after hibernation.

Sated, bloated, gravy spattered and ready for a nap, we once again braved the streets of Portland following the red blaze of Jen as she led us to our exit, and we left, heading Northwest towards St. Helens.

Our main goal here was to look at areas that had Walgreens that I might be able to transfer to and see if there was an area nearby that we liked and could afford to live in. St. Helens and area certainly fit that bill. Picturesque and fairly quaint, it was almost hard to believe that those towns were theoretically close enough to commute into Portland for. Other towns in the area, like Ridgefield and BattleGround have slowly been taken over by the tract housing and cookie cutter housing complexes, but St. Helens and Rainier have managed to keep the ramshackle homes and crusty shoppes that make them feel original and special. We especially loved Rainier, cruising along their hilly roads, admiring the varied Autumn colors.

Then we hopped over the bridge to Longview. Since the first day we started looking into moving out this way, we'd considered Longview/Kelso pretty high on our list of potentials. There was something about it that seemed like it had the best aspects of Pocatello without a lot of the negatives, the housing was still pretty doable and it is in such a great location, an hour to Portland, an hour to Astoria... A long, but doable drive to the parents back in Idaho... Plusses all around!

We'd been here a few times before, but never spent more than an hour or two, just stopped into a Target, bought some beads, got gas, that kind of thing, so our plan for this trip was to really spend some time getting to know the place. Walk the streets, drive around looking at houses, get lost, talk to some locals, see if we could spend the next 2-15 years in this area.

Longview and Kelso are a couple of towns straddling three rivers, so close together that they may as well be one town. It's not overly picturesque, there's a pretty good amount of industrial area and according to the internet, there's a problem with Meth, though not to the extreme of Pocatello. It (By 'it' I mean Kelso and Longview) does have a certain charm though. There are a lot of parks, the trees are plentiful and especially colorful and gorgeous in the Autumn, and so far, the residents have either been slightly goofy and helpful or crazy and friendly.

We spent the afternoon and evening wandering and driving around the towns. A couple of our favorite things -

The lake. There's a long, narrow lake in the middle of town, ringed by a gorgeous, similarly narrow park. Though it's lined on both sides by fairly busy streets, it never really felt loud or surrounded. We walked around it a bit and drove the length.

Especially charming is a tiny island in the middle, carefully groomed and planted as a Japanese garden. We spent quite a bit of time here, wandering the paths, playing with the Gray sqirrels, looking at perfect spiderwebs and relaxing.
Though I'm sure it's far busier in "nicer" weather (It was drizzling and around 60 degrees, perfect weather as far as I'm concerned) it was impressive how tranquil it seemed and how clean it was.

The library. Man, what an amazing building. Built in 1926, it's the original building with a few additions. High ceilings, a pretty good selection of books and a quiet, slightly ominous feeling made it one of my favorite libraries that I've wandered around. Only the banks of computer tables marred the feeling.

Longview's downtown is really nice too, full of amazing older buildings,most of them in use. We wandered up and down most of the streets, sipping a coffee and eating a ridiculously rich almond chocolate bar we bought from a chocolatier. There was an old, abandoned theater there however that made me wish I could baby it back to life.

We're staying in the Super 8, which we got for a great price and while it's a basic room, generic as all get out, the desk/waffle maker at breakfast is manned by a truly batty older lady that wont stop giving me a hard time. I dig her.

We also wandered around the mall for a while and I can't decide if it was truly that lame or if I just don't like malls any more. Either way, there was very little to recommend.

For dinner that night, Lindsay decided she wanted pizza, so we stopped into the Rite Aid near our hotel to ask about a pizza place. (The one in the same strip mall was closed down, which was just as well, it looked crappy.) The clerk looked at me like a deer in the headlights and finally paged his manager to help. She was a little Hispanic lady and recommended us to a place that she'd never eaten at, but some of the girls that worked there liked. This made me a bit leery, but I figured it would be a start, if we didn't like it, it was on a busier street and we could just find a place.

The restaurant she sent us to, Nikki's, was a revelation. It won't be for everyone, but it should be. It's in a little bit of a shady building, the name painted on the front window a little sloppily, and the parking lot is poorly lit. Inside, there's a hodge podge of things that shouldn't work at all, and maybe some nights they don't but last night, they were great. They have a family dining section, just a few tables, a group of four pool tables, a small lounge section, a tiny second dining area and a stage with dance floor attached, beyond that, they had a room filled with gaming tables, where people were playing poker and blackjack. And in this place, they served very nice quality Italian food.

Our server, dressed in a white shirt and black vest was polite and friendly, with just the right amount of sarcastic humor. He let us chose a romantic little table by the stage and offered us a daily special that they have exclusively for couples. An entree, salad and dessert for twenty bucks. That night it was Roasted Garlic Pork Chops and red potatoes. We jumped on that.

It was freaking great. The cook there knows how to use a small amount of seasoning to let the natural flavors show through and everything was cooked just right. The Blue Cheese dressing was made there and perfect, the garlic on the pork chops were roasted like a coffee bean, hard and crunchy, adding an amazing flavor to the meat and the potatoes had just enough seasoning that all they needed was a little pepper. We also had a Chocolate Truffle Ice Cream Cake with Rum/Caramel drizzles for dessert. Twenty bucks, man. What a deal!

We left incredibly satisfied. Bravo, Nikki's!

After dinner, Linz crashed hard, asleep before 9:30pm, only waking up when her sister called from a Karaoke bar asking about a singer's name.

On to Day Three!

Writing - 
Yeah... nothing again. Maybe tonight!


The Grows said...

I am so glad you are enjoying your tirp. It looks so nice there. I love all the pictures. It is so beautiful it makes me want to go. I hope the rest of your trip can be just as enjoyable.

WordWrangler said...

oh! Oh! OH! the lake picture (the first one) is breathtaking. Absolutely gorgeous. And the food? fugheddaboutit! I'm a chocoholic and some of those pics are making me drool!


randymeiss said...

Yes, I want to hear about every meal. What's a vacation without the food? Thank you for sharing.

La Chamuca said...

The Hotcake House is AMAZING. The last time I tried to go there though, it was so packed, I just went the the Jack-in-the-Box across the street.