Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Saturday Morning in Portland: Memories of a Train Wreck

As long as I can remember, which is not much before this particular Kodak shot of yours truly was shot, we had an American Flyer sorta starter train set. It had an engine of the day--one that was a model of what ran on coal and steam, not like today's Zephyrs. Some of our friends had big train sets with scenery, tunnels, switches, bells, and whistles. Not us, we had our American Flyer, an oval of track, and a piece of plywood in a storage area under the eaves of our house.

Back when I set my brake on a different roadster and lived out in the countryside, before I turned in a microscope for a gumshoe's private ticket, I had the train packed in a box, under the eaves in a garage. It had quit running a long time before--in fact, I think it went in the box during a big move back when Ike was still running the show and no one looked at you the least bit funny if you fired a Lucky and an expecting chiquita took a drink. But anyway, the train was in a box in the garage.

Well, one thing led to another and wouldn't you know it, I made the acquaintance of Lili, then Mittsy--it was before they were an item--and eventually, when it was time to move on and live closer to where trouble hung around, I sold my house to Lili. She found the train and set it up on display on a beam in the open ceiling of the sitting room. Years past, Lili packed up and moved to Jersey and got into the drug business. Then she put all her whatevers in storage and moved to Sherman-town to hook up with Mittsy.

Well now, this last year, Mittsy and Lili got the Horace Greely itch and moved to The Valley where Mittsy's writing code for the government--you know, fighting the war on whatever. Lili's now dong time with the state in Capital City and so they bought a place to set their brake which is how it is that Dolly-girl was lifting this and that and helping out. I walked downstairs when I heard her come in the door and lo' and behold, there was the train, looking like it'd run from New York, to Jersey, to The Valley, and finally, into Union Station in Stumptown where it's going into retirement.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Trip to the Coast: Lunch at the Columbian Cafe in Astoria and Cafe' 47 in Vernonia, Oregon

Dolly-girl rolled over, stretched, and yawned. A cat jumped off the bed and headed for the door. Old Mister was peeking through the window. A Saturday morning in the fall. "Jack, remember, we got a reservation over at the Coast for tonight. I figured with all the here-and-there you've been up to, another night out of Stumptown wouldn't make no never mind. I remembered. I moved my heater and looked at the clock. "Time to get rolling, Dolly-girl." I like the Coast.

The trip over took us through Astoria, a little 'burg with a big history. Indians, British explorers, trappers, Lewis and Clark. Well, it's a regular history lesson and not a bad place to set your brake provided you don't mind rain about 364 and a half days a year. But we just stopped to tie on the noon-time feedbag at a place me and Dolly-girl have darkened before--a joint called the Columbian Cafe. You can't beat the food and you don't have to worry about a crowd--the place doesn't hold but about 27 even if the stools at the counter are filled. They weren't. Missy was on us like flatware on a napkin. It didn't take us long to do the once over on the whaddaya-want. Dolly-girl settled on a crepe and a baby and I went for just about the strangest, but finest wax on a raft I've ever had. It was a far cry from a Jack Benny I'll tell you. I had them grill a rose and pin it on along with a side of Adam. The cowfeed was their idea. The pint was mine. A couple Jacksons left us full and Missy smiling. Bring cash.

Our spots were hit, but Missy tuned us into a place to get a cold one to settle the feed and put us on our way. We walked into the Fort George Brewery, settled into a couple of stools, and ordered what we'd come for. The brew was a tasty one and they'd put the barley, hops, malt, water, and yeast together right in the joint. Missy served it up in a jar which is not my idea of a beer glass, but you do know you're getting what you paid for compared to those "it's not a pint but it looks like one" glasses they use over in Stumptown.

We finished up, wiped the foam off our kissers, hopped in the roadster, and headed for the part of the Coast we'd come to see. It's hard to beat our part of the Pacific--the beaches are beautiful and empty. Of course, if it's dipping a toe you're after, you'd better be dressed like Mike Nelson 'cause the water's colder than a bad girl's heart. We spent the night in what I'd call a motor hotel, but Dolly-girl told me was a "quaint inn at the Coast" in a town called Gearhart. Not long after we checked in, a storm started blowing in so me and Dolly-girl did the Sunday morning on a Saturday afternoon--she was turning the pages of a new tell-me-a-story and I did a Rex Parker. We had a cocktail in our suite, then turned up our collars against the wind and rain and walked down the street to the local spot for a passable, but unremarkable (and unphotographed) end-of-the-eating day. Dolly-girl had them cuocere una pizza while I had fins and nails. Just OK and come to think of it, I don't even recall the name of the place. You can't miss it, and you won't when you leave.

The morning cracked like a free-range egg in a hot skillet--perfect. We took a walk on the beach, perambulated around the town, then packed up to take the back roads home. We meandered here and there in the Coast Range, through Jewel and Mist and Pittsburg and wound up in Vernonia, just in time to set the brake and see what Cafe' 47 was serving up for the noon whistle.

Cafe' (yep, that's the Vernonia version of an accent aigu) 47 is on the main street which is called Bridge Street, I suspect because it goes over a bridge even though it's the main street. Where I grew up Bridge Street went over a bridge, but it crossed Front Street, which was the main street even though Main Street was in a part of town where it never was and won't likely ever be the main street. Well, it doesn't really make any difference because it's damned near impossible to drive through Vernonia without passing Cafe' 47 regardless of the name of the street. There was one piece of continuity: Bridge Street, that's the main street, is Oregon Route 47. I think that's how Cafe' 47 got its name.

First thing that strikes you when you walk into Cafe' 47 is that someone, and maybe more than just one, really likes license plates. The things are all over the place and you have to believe there are some rare ones there. And if you don't believe it, they have a laminated sheet of paper on the table that tells you they're rare. I'll believe them. There're lots of other decorations, too. After being away and isolated at the Coast, me and Dolly-girl caught up on the news while we waited for Missy to stop by with the whaddayas which turned out to be just the whadda-want because they weren't hitting any sort of beverage spot--follow?

Missy brought the local Bull Run and gave us the low-down on what the place was known for. She told us a few things they didn't have. "Sunday." I guess that was an explanation. Maybe they were busy, maybe it was the end of the week. "Sunday."

I went for it and ordered the potage Murphy along with a Jack Benny on wheat. Dolly-girl went for Jack on wheat as well but slaw in the alley was singing her tune. Missy was back in a minute. "Sunday. Outta wheat. White, sourdough." "Make mine white," came out of my yapper. Before Dolly-girl could answer Missy said, "Yours is sourdough, honey. We only got enough white for one. Sunday." Her explanation.

We split and each ended up with a white and sourdough. The Jack's were what you'd expect and more. Lots of wax, and the raft was on the grill just long enough to give it the crunch and a little taste of the Adam and Eve the hash slinger must have been cooking in the morning. The soup was as good as it gets and I've had plenty where the gettin' was good. It would stand up to all comers. It's worth the trip to the place on the main street, Bridge Street, in Vernonia, Oregon.

Dolly-girl was treating and three Abes covered the damage with a thank-you-very-much for Missy. We headed out, happy as clams, hooked arms and walked down to where the roadster was curbed. Sunday.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Sunday Morning in Portland: The King Farmers' Market

Dolly-girl was in the kitchen putting another percolator of joe on the Tappan when the blower sparked. It was in the hallway in one of those little arched spots where you're supposed to have your blower and the look-em-ups. We do. I picked up. "Felice Domenica. Possano tutti i santi vi protegga oggi." "Mornin' Jack." Kitty. "Buon giorno!" "Working on your eh-talian again, eh (she pronounces it like Dolly-girl). What part of Italy was your family from? Sounds like you speak Italiano iGoogli..." "Very funny, Kitty. What's it?"

"You and Dolly-girl up for a trip to the farm market? I got some people coming tonight and I need to gets some fill-em-ups." I gave Dolly-girl the quick once over on what Kitty was saying and she was game. "We're in, you're on, come over, we'll go." "Got it. See ya."

Half around the Timex and we were headed down the street. It's a nice fall day so we're riding shank's mare. Kitty and Dolly-girl are yapping while I bring up the rear, keeping an eye out for trouble to fall out of the trees like samaras from a big-leaf maple, which is a lot these days. They're paying me no nevermind and I suppose I could take the day off, but then if I did, trouble might not, and then I wouldn't be ready and word would get around. Follow? Plus one good thing about keeping your peepers peeled is you see some things that make you wonder about what goes on in the heads of the people you can't see. In my business, that's sort of time well spent. Like who needs a radio-telescope in their yard and what's with keeping your chiffarobe outside?

We walked up to where we would have set our brake at the King branch of the Stumptown Farmers' Market if we'd been in the roadster instead of trying the whole "good for the body, good for the earth" thing that Kitty and Dolly-girl spout. First stop is to get some cackleberries from a hen rancher we've been talking with when he's there to be talked to. He runs about 700 head down The Valley in Champoeg. I'm here to tell you these beauties stand up and crow!

Kitty and Dolly-girl were checking out the this and thats from a bakery that sets up shop. Before long baked things were being broken and swapped and purrs were coming out of mouths. Fall flowers were everywhere. And there were things maybe you don't see at markets in cities other than Stumptown.

What's-up-docs were easy to be had this time of year. Melanzana were piled high in baskets, just waiting for Dolly-girl to cook up Nonna Bianchi's recipe for melanzane parmigiano, although Kitty prefers the Tagliavore approach to the whole eggplant thing.

There was still a good supply of vegetables, although there was a different feeling to the market today. I watched people shift from foot to foot and back again, turning from the wind, and looking like they didn't like what everyone knows is coming when Old Mister starts dropping low and Stumptown turns the collar of its London Fog up for a few months. But that's the time that brings my business out of the woodwork, and after a few months of not doing much, I'm ready to start working some cases, talking with people who need talking with, whether they want to talk to me or not and finding people who need found. It's what I do.

But something was starting to smell fishy this day at this market, and it wasn't the fins, flippers, oysters, and clams in the cooler. I walked by a joint selling herbs and vegetables. There was something not right. I couldn't put my finger on it, but I got to thinking that maybe, just maybe, someone not wise to the whole farmer game, was setting up shop. I reached in my jacket pocket, in the little slit next to my heater where I keep a notebook. I made a note. "When what's-up-docs aren't, and roses aren't breath, the soups gonna taste like pumpkins and peppers." I'm sure when I find that note I'll wonder "what the hell was that about..."

The three of us made a final walk-around and check-it-out, each of us looking for something different, and you know what I had an eye out for. Then we headed back to where we set the brake if we had a brake to set.

Dolly-girl and Kitty were talking this and that while I went over what sort of caper could have been up back there at the mercato degli agricoltori. I guess time will tell me if she ever learns to speak.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

For Your Viewing Pleasure: The 2009 Plymouth Alive! Docudrama

For Your Viewing Pleasure: The 2009 Plymouth Alive! Docudrama is now available on YouTube!

Part I

Part II

Part III

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A Friday and Saturday in Plymouth, PA: How much fun can you have at the Plymouth Kielbasa Festival?

Come the end of August, Nancy and I headed back to the Valley with a Heart where Nancy's baby carriage set its brake. She was going for the fun of the 6th Annual Plymouth Alive! Kielbasa Festival--2 days of the most intense exhibition of grease-drenched food in the world. I was going to start the road trip with her father. Fourteen kielbasa vendors were on hand along with the requisite potato pancake stands, to feed the fawning public. Eleven contended for the prize of the King of Kielbasa in both fresh and smoke categories. A docu-drama is in production as I type.

Julian, our nephew, and I did the Tour de Main Street, wait, it's really the Degustacja Kielbasi--the kielbasi tasting. Between us we tasted them all and enjoyed full-fledged sandwiches from more than a few. Nancy, eschewing kielbasi, because she's a "vegetarian," focused on potato pancakes, butter with an ear of corn under it, and a deep-fried Oreo. I'll take the meat, thanks.

Along the way, I interviewed a number of people, like these kids working the Komensky's stand and Chief Collins of the Plymouth PD, and that spurred the idea for a docu-drama. It will be coming to a You Tube near you as soon as I can figure out how to edit it and get it to be less than a gigabyte. In the meantime, here are a couple teasers.

All of the vendors had free samples so you could try the multitude of things that creative and innovative people do with a simple kielbasa. And there's also plenty of horseradish to taste as well. Decisions, decisions. Plain white horseradish, or the beet horseradish. Oh, what the hell, how about a little of both. And a Lipitor (registered trademark goes here) . Then there are the combos, like kielbasi balls cooked in a horseradish cream sauce.

They have a different look on public health back there in the Valley with a Cholesterol Clogged Heart--on the one hand, a vendor selling books about heart health and next to him, a 24/7 fitness place selling chocolate covered bacon. The heart-healthy person sticks with the deep-fried Oreos.

There's judging, of course. Here's the mayor of Plymouth, the Honorable Dorothy Petrosky, judging the fresh entries. It's all a double blind contest, so no chance for local favorites, which may account for why the local favorite, Fetch's Market, hasn't won since the very first festival when they may have been the only entry. I wasn't there so I don't know, but it didn't measure up on my kielbasi meter. They did try to influence the passers-by, in my opinion, by bringing in some "kielbasi candy" as it were.

But, when all was said and done, the Inagural [sic] King didn't score in the top 3.
But these guys did!

Bosak's Choice Meats, first in Fresh, second in Smoke
Plains Meat Market, first in Smoke, second in Fresh
Komensky's Market, third in both categories.

The judging was a difficult and serious undertaking. Here, Nancy's friend from high school, comments on his role as a judge.

These guys from Quinn's Market also finished out of the running, but for my money, they had the best sandwich on Main Street--the fresh patty, grilled, with horseradish cheddar cheese, and some extra horseradish on the side. They'll be back next year!