Portland, Oregon, is one of the few major American cities in which I’ve spent very little time. That was bound to change as long as the Thunder and the TrailBlazers keep fielding good teams, and it changed Saturday.
I had flown into Portland in 2006 for the OU-Oregon football game, but we rented a car and drove straight to the coast. And back in 1995, if my memory holds, I had a flight screwup in Seattle, getting out of the Final Four, so I hopped on a late flight to Portland and spent the night in the airport before getting headed home.
This time, I’m actually invading the City of Roses, so named because of a climate (dry winters, wet summers) that is conducive to certain flowers.
We sort of think of Portland as a small market, since the Blazers are the only major-league franchise in town. But
Portland’s metro population of about 2.4 million makes it slightly bigger than Greater Kansas City and about a million people more than Oklahoma City.
Portland’s geography is defined by the Columbia and Willamette rivers. Portland surrounds the Willamette at the mouth of the Columbia. The Willamette, a tributary of the mighty Columbia, flows through downtown Portland. The Columbia serves as the border between Oregon and Washington.
Portland was named after Portland, Maine. This Portland was settled in the 1830s, near the end of the Oregon Trail, with the rivers providing
transportation and the timber industry providing commerce.
Portland began as a rough-and-tumble town, and even into the 1900s was a haven for organized crime and racketeering. But things began changing during the World War II industrial boom, the tone shifted into more of a progressive slant, and soon enough Portland was a bastion of counterculture. Think of it as a Northwest Austin.
Erik Horne and I had a 6:35 a.m. flight out of Oklahoma City – a quick turnaround, since I didn’t leave Owen Field after OU’s spring game until about 11 p.m. Friday.
Anymore, I have to sleep on planes with such early flights, so I got lucky, with a front-row seat and lots of leg room. The skies were so turbulent Saturday the flight attendants never got out of their seats.
When we landed in Denver, it still was quite early, so the Denver airport hadn’t bubbled to its usual crowded self. Erik and I got a quick breakfast – I had a piece of pizza; I love it when places don’t sell out to breakfast food in the a.m. – and our flight to Portland took off about 8:35 a.m. Mountain time.
You sometimes think of Denver as a Western city, which it is, and Portland as a Northwest city, which it is, and lump them together. Trouble with that is, the western U.S. is a big piece of real estate. It’s 1,241 driving miles from Denver to Portland. Oklahoma City to New York State is shorter.
Our flight to Portland was almost three hours; I got another window seat and dozed off much of the way.
But I awoke in time to see the landing into Portland, which is beautiful from the air. The airport sits hard by the Columbia River. The combination of water and trees immediately made me think of Seattle, and there are a lot of similarities between the cities, though Seattle is much bigger and has much more water.
We came out of the airport and encountered chilly, rainy weather. The forecast for all four days calls for low 50s and rain. About what you’d expect, though locals say it’s a little cooler than usual.
Erik ordered an Uber. In D.C. last week, my brothers and I went solely taxis, and it was a great experience. I encouraged Erik to give a cab a try, but he’s a Millennial. There’s no going back.
Our Uber arrived and took us into the city. Traffic was not too bad, one backup, and soon enough we were approaching downtown.
We are staying at a Residence Inn on the east side of the Willamette River. Most of downtown is on the west side, but the Moda Center, where the Blazers play, is on the east side, and we figure we can walk the mile to the arena.
The downtown perimeter is surrounded by a bunch of cool and vintage neighborhoods, and our Residence Inn sits nestled in the middle of classic houses.
We were at the Residence by 11:15 and were ready to work – we both had writing to do.
Alas, our rooms weren’t ready, so we set up shop in the lobby/lounge.
Out West, things start early. The Masters coverage began at noon and the 76ers-Netropolitans NBA game started at 11:30 a.m.
We flipped back and forth between those events, while working and waiting.
Our rooms didn’t come ready until almost 2 p.m., by which time Erik was finished writing and I was well down the road.
We checked in, I finished and we watched the rest of Orlando-Toronto – two games, two NBA upsets. I’ll let you decide if that’s a good omen for the Thunder.
By this time, it was almost 5 p.m. Pacific time, but that’s almost 7 p.m. Oklahoma time, and we hadn’t eaten since Denver, about 10 hours earlier.
A Thai place had been recommended, Pok Pok, so we took an Uber and it was relatively close.
On the way, we passed the Moda Center and the old Veterans Memorial Coliseum, where the Blazers used to play and where the Bill Walton Gang won the 1977 NBA title. The OU men’s basketball team played in Veterans Memorial in the 2017-18 season.
We saw a lot of homeless people on the streets. They say that’s a major Portland problem. There seemed to be a tent city lined up on a sidewalk in front of a Walgreen’s.
Channel 4’s Nate Feken and Brian Brinkley had flown out a little later Saturday, and they met us at Pok Pok.
We walked in, and the place was relatively small and not crowded at all. But they couldn’t seat us until 7:15. It was 5 p.m. They had a bunch of reservations. Our options were sit at the bar, wait until 7:15 or go somewhere else.
I don’t know anything about the restaurant business, but something seemed silly to me. What kind of a system lets tables sit empty when you’ve got customers standing there, itching to hand you a cold, hard credit card?
We decided to go somewhere else. Pok Pok clearly is a good place, if reservations are so dominant, so maybe we’ll be back.
Instead, we went to The Screen Door. A reader, Jason Downing, had recommended it. Jason is an OU alum from Ada who moved the Pacific Northwest six years ago. He called The Screen Door the best food he has found in the Northwest.
Just to be safe, I called the place, to make sure they could get us in. Turns out, it doesn’t open until 5:30. The guy said there was a line waiting for the doors to open, he figured 20-30 people, and he said it took about 10-15 minutes to get everybody seated. I didn’t know what that meant, but we decided to risk it. We hopped in Nate’s rental car and drove about two miles to The Screen Door. Before they parked, they let me out, and I jumped in line.
As we waited, a bearded guy walked by handing out “Impeachment Happens” stickers. And a car drove slowly by, a woman stuck her head through the window and screamed, “The food is terrible there.” I think what she meant was, the food is fried there. There’s probably a petition somewhere to outlaw frying pans in Oregon.
Sure enough, about 5:30, the doors opened.
And not everyone was seated at once. We sort of figured it out. The place was pretty big. Probably 30-35 tables. If you let everyone in at once, think about the pressure on the wait staff and the kitchen, if everything starts at once. Staggering the process, from getting people seated, to taking order, to cooking food, to delivering food, makes for a better system.
We eventually got seated, and it was indeed excellent. Southern comfort in the Pacific Northwest. Erik had shrimp and grits. The rest of us had fried chicken, but it was boneless. A big chicken breast and a huge chicken thigh – I ordered two thighs – with mashed potatoes and gravy. Very good.
The only issue was it took forever to get our food. We didn’t mind too much, since we were having a good time and were watching Clippers-Warriors on my phone. But it’s not a place to go if you’re in a hurry.
Nate dropped us off back at the Residence Inn, and we were bushed. Seemed like we had been awake for 48 hours.
It was 8 p.m. Erik retired to his room, but I had forgotten to pack a pair of shorts, and I wanted to hit the workout room. I’ve got to run a 5K in a few weeks with my 9-year-old granddaughter, Sadie, so I’ve got to do some running.
I walked two blocks to a semi-deserted mall, but it had an Old Navy, so I bought a pair of shorts and enjoyed the stroll.
Then it was back to the Residence to watch the end of Spurs-Nuggets and conk out in the City of Roses.
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,… Read more ›