On the second morning of a two-day trek to our new hometown of Portland, Oregon, we were up early and waiting to eat breakfast at place called Ardella’s — a quaint little restaurant in the picturesque town of Willits, California. Two young men working at the gas station had enthusiastically recommended the place. I could tell it was small-town northern California when the regulars showed up exactly 7 am, as a waitress was unlocking the doors and flipping the Closed sign to Open. We left with full bellies and lots of local gossip. TJ took the lead as we took scenic route 99 — a mountainous road that made my coffee slosh in my stomach. The only thing between me and the Kalmath River, sometimes fifty feet below, was my own skill as a driver. When we finally reached I-5, the major highway that would take us the rest of the way to Portland, my shoulders were so tight they were at my ears. We got in much later than we expected, hungry and sick of the road. It was a relief to have no trouble finding the house with the room we’d leased for a few days until we found an apartment. I’d used AirBnb, my first time, to save money for a hotel, and I wanted to actually feel what it was like to live in one of the many neighborhoods in Southeast Portland. The whole AirBnb experience could be its own post and probably will be, but not today. Our hostess, a woman named Karen, asked us each morning, how we were fairing — in general and on our apartment search. On the first morning, we were able to tell her that we’d found a place and by the second morning, we’d signed a lease. She said we were people who “Get Shit Done” —
which was a statement I took as a compliment, though our aggressive attitude was beginning to fatigue. Once we signed the lease, I was already online looking for train tickets to Spokane, Washington. Our apartment wouldn’t be ready for another week, so instead of sitting around, we were going back to where it all began. It was in Spokane and the smaller city of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho that TJ & I started what would become one of the most important relationships of my life, to date. In my Creative Writing thesis for graduate school, I wrote as much about Place as I did about People. It was significant to me that we were coming back to these particular places together, even though two years before we’d left separately — TJ was in AZ working, and I was bumming around Spokane when I decided that maybe we should be in the same place. But I’d made leaving the Pacific Northwest more complicated than it needed to be. I was unfaithful and I was selfish, and anyone who knew me would not have guessed that two years later we’d still be a couple. Yesterday, we dropped our cars off at our new apartment complex, took two buses downtown (I felt very accomplished), and got on an Amtrak train headed eventually to Chicago. Barely out of the train station we were blown away by the lush green of Portland, and by the snow-capped Mt. Hood. It took less than 30 minutes to be in Vancouver, Washington and from there we followed the Columbia River. The train was pretty full with families, elderly travelers, and backpackers. TJ and I found the lounge car at the front and made friends with an older couple. The four of us enjoyed red wine from California, and eavesdropped on people around us. Near the middle of Washington, the temperature rose over a hundred degrees, forcing the train to slow down to a measly 45 mph. This was the time to whip out our bad books — Nora Roberts for me and James Rollins for TJ. We dropped off to sleep a couple times and spent almost a hundred dollars on food and refreshments. The heat delays set us back an hour and forty minutes, and it was late when we pulled into Spokane. The River City was just as I remembered, passing Browne’s Addition and downtown, the streets were abuzz with folks out on a Wednesday night. We’ll spend a few days with TJ’s family, visit a few of my fellow EWU alums, get our stuff from storage and head back to our new home with a U-haul. I hope you enjoy our pictures from the trip.