Portland: Part the First

The University was gracious enough to send me out this year to Portland for RailsConf, the big gathering of Ruby on Rails developers and users. The best part about it for me has been the opportunity to finally meet in person several people I’ve only known via the Internet until now: [Seth->], for whom I used to work, [Jim->], who worked for Seth at the same time, and Mark, long-time Internet friend.

I came up Tuesday afternoon, a day early, so as to provide a bit of time to run around Portland and its environs before the conference began. Mark and his fiancé Cindi picked me up at the airport, from which we took the light rail and bus back to their place. We enjoyed a meal at the local pub, a fun and busy hole in the wall that featured really excellent burgers, before settling in for the evening. (My plans for becoming a vegetarian keep getting derailed by delicious, delicious meat. Why must you be so tasty, animals?) It was great to finally get to meet Mark and Cindi face to face after years of disembodied communication.

Wednesday morning we went and grabbed a rental car and headed out to Powell’s Books, one of the most expansive bookstores I’ve ever had the pleasure to prowl. It’s an amazing place, so overwhelming that employees hand out maps to the place as visitors enter. We spent a happy couple of hours roaming around, enjoying the rare tomes, odd finds, and general wonderfulness of the place.

From there we headed up I-85 to Multinomah Falls, one of the numerous cascades that perforate the Columbia River Gorge, the immense river valley the waterway has carved into the landscape over the millenia. The falls were lovely, and well worth the 30 minutes or so we spent wandering around. I took advantage of the gift shop to replace my wedding ring, which had leapt off my finger as an involuntary sacrifice to the San Marcos River a week or two before, with a $2.00 mood ring (which has the added advantage that I can keep an eye on it to know when Kathy and I are having marital challenges).

We drove back along the Historic Columbia River Highway, a winding sylvan road that parallels the interstate but is a much prettier drive, as it takes one through forests and farmland with some spectacular views. The most impressive of these is found at Vista House, a striking structure built in 1918 on a rocky promontory overlooking the gorge that now houses a museum and gift shop. It’s a magnificent place; one can see around a dozen miles of the gorge from that overlook. (The gift shop has a $3.85 pennywhistle which turned out to be surprisingly good as well.)

We had dinner at The Edgefield Manor. The Manor bears a bit of explaining: the site was originally constructed as a poor farm, a place where impoverished people could come and live while working to grow produce, thereby feeding themselves and earning their keep — an arrangement that seems a good deal more humane than many modern programs designed to address the same need. Later, the premises became a nursing home for a number of years, but was eventually abandoned. The McMenamin brothers, who had by that point been in the business of acquiring old properties and turning them into great UK-inspired pubs for several years, bought the property for $300,000, cleaned and renovated the place, turned loose a handful of artists on the place, and created an absolutely delightful resort.

The Manor now features a variety of services and entertainment: two restaurants, a hotel, a glass blower, a brewery, a 10-seat bar built into an old gardening shed, a golf course, a distillery, a movie theater, a winery, and herb garden, and a grill. The clever, inventive work of many talented artists is evident throughout, even extending as far as the exposed overhead piping. I had a beer sampler as part of dinner, which featured 6 of their brews. All were excellent, though the porter and the ruby brew (a raspberry ale) were my particular favorites. I even liked their IPA, a variety I’m not normally crazy about.

Mark and Cindi then dropped me by the Red Lion Inn, to which it had never apparently occurred that conferences of technical people would actually be interested in using their “free high-speed wireless internet”, which is neither free, since you have to rent a room to use it, nor high-speed, as I’ve not gotten better than dialup speeds, and is only marginally wireless since I have to put my laptop in the window of the room to even get a connection.

More to come in a later post…