Road trip

Ten Hours

Image Credited to Darren Murph

Image Credited to Darren Murph

This was a travel essay assignment I wrote back in college. Found it while trying to find “filler” for the website, since I’m knee-deep in some important writing projects. Kinda glad I found it.

Many a soul have traversed the path known commonly as Highway 80, and have each had their own memories of the wonders and horrors of that stretch of road. For long commuters it serves as a decisive short cut between the infertile lands below the Sierras and the prairie-like flatlands of Central California. I, too, use this stretch to trek my way home in a grey station wagon designed for soccer moms and families of five. My vehicle and I are an unlikely pair – one, a car built for many passengers, the other, a hapless college student returning home for the first time in over eight months. Home is where the heart is, they say. I’d rather prefer to think of it as the place where I left my soul.

Oregon has the strangest effect on people. Visitors come and take in the foliate scenery, mumble incoherently about the dreary climate, and complain further about the nativist population. Granted, Oregonians aren’t the most welcoming to outsiders. However, there is a silent understanding; you aren’t an outsider anymore if you’ve been there long enough. The northwestern state grows on you like a fungus, crawling deeply in the very roots of your subconscious, latching on to the part of the brain that produces waves of nostalgia. At the very least, that’s how I’ve come to see it.

Years have passed since I was welcomed as a migratory plague from California, infesting the landscape with my “smog-ified” presence. I didn’t care to be considered one of them anyway. The city of Portland, and all its peripheral towns, mattered little to me. The scenery was intoxicating though. Long walks and bike rides caused the coniferous environment to sink in like an intravenous surge. Urbanized teenagers rarely catch the bug to return to a Rousseau-like “state of nature”. But like many unsuspecting white flight transplants, I became a native. Maybe that was their plan all along, to haze newcomers before the natural infection of comfort sank it – the diseased word known as “home.”

This time around, though, I returned not as a native, but an outsider. I still used an Oregon license, insured my grey vehicular monstrosity in Oregon, but I hadn’t been there for long stretches of time in over three years. Nevada had done its best to weed out the Northwesterner in me. As the years passed, it had almost succeeded. I referred to it as a state rather than my state. Have you ever had the feeling that you don’t know which place to call home? Or whether or not you even have a home?

However, once I hit the road, flipped on factory stereo that belted out static rock, and set upon 80 to connect with I-5 North, that lost part of me rekindled – a spark that had refused to die. The journey from the Reno to Sacramento – via the Sierras – was beautiful, but only partially distracting. The flat expanse between Sacramento and Redding didn’t even shake me as the cruise control was activated. Looming ahead, the Siskiyou pass approached, winding roads that continued for at least an hour or two. I never kept track of it. Why should I? It was just another obstacle between the desired destination and I. Then the first positive marker arrived.

The Oregon border. Ashland would be coming up soon. My eyes began to weigh on me heavily. Little sleep due to anticipation, and post-academic lethargy threatened to hinder my progress. For a time, they succeeded in curbing my journey in the form of much-needed rest at an isolated rest stop. An hour’s worth of a power nap banished the need for any more delays. Roughly four more hours and Portland would be in view.

One interesting fact I’d forgotten to mention is how awe-inspiring a night drive can be. Typically, when returning home, I leave Reno in the late afternoon so as to skip past the rush hour blitzkrieg. By then, I-5 would have already cleared up on the way out of Sacramento, and the drive would be smooth sailing from there on in. Yes, the drive is boring if one is looking for outside distractions to keep them occupied while putting along, but the obsidian blanket of twilight also has its form of shrouded majesty – as if the world had been put on hold while you continued moving. In a poetic way, the journey goes smoother.

A tune chimes in on the radio that I know all too well on the road trip cassette I’d made – Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, and Willy Nelson crooning away about reincarnation in “The Highwayman”. How fitting, I think. A song talking about the eternal journey chiming in as I return to the place where I believe my spirit is at rest. That song has stayed with me since I was a child, and here it plays as I return to the one place where the child in me hasn’t died.

So what if I wasn’t much of a child when I first came to Oregon – a snot-nosed prepubescent 5th Grader with dreams of aliens still dancing in his geeky little mind. Although California encompassed the greater part of my elementary school years, most of the “growing up” took place in the rainy state I’d been forced to endure. Maybe this was because the adolescent travails had begun. I’m not too sure. One thing is certain, though, the coincidence is almost too convenient – the most prevalent of my memories are from a place I’d moved to, not a place I’d originated from.

Three hours pass and the signs informing me of Salem’s approach whisk by. I look at the time – three-thirty in the morning. I peer down at my numbing legs, still pressing the gas with shaky anticipation. The gas gauge blinks at me, relaying the dire need for fuel. Pulling over at a Chevron, I curb the grey Taurus next to a fuel stand, exit the driver’s side, and proceed to remove the pump.

“Sir, what’re you doing?” a vagabond-looking attendant says from behind me.

It takes me a moment to fully process what he’s asking. His beady eyes peer down at the pump then return to me. At that moment the realization clicks. Oh yeah, Oregon doesn’t have self-service gas. Shrugging, smiling weakly, I hand the pump back to him, beckon for regular unleaded, and stop into the mini-mart to sustain me with a Twinkie. Of all the little things to remind me of home, it was a bearded man with a lazy eye asking for a gas pump back. Yes, they say home is where the heart is. I disagree. It’s where your soul rests until you go to reclaim it.


Monday, September 23rd, 2013 Prose No Comments

Trippin’ on Moonlight

Some weeks back, I got a message from my cousin. He made an outright demand for “ADVENTURE!” Yes, in all caps. At first, he had a hankering to go to the Oregon Coast, particularly a brewery (or two) we had stopped at before. I suggested something a little more approachable – an idea we’d discussed in passing, the Columbia Gorge. There was a brewery on the Washington side of the river we had yet to hit. He jumped on that idea like it was a trampoline.

Photo by Bruce Berrien

Before leaving for parts un-sober, we grabbed burritos for lunch and did a quick run to Starbucks. My cuz happened to be the customer of the month at this place. They even had his picture framed, knew him by name, and cracked barbs with him like he was Norm from Cheers. So, both he and the baristas kinda looked at me funny when I only asked for hot water rather than tea or coffee. Like a true pretentious douche, I brought my own tea leaves in a do-it-yourself baggy. Worse still, I was all shifty about it.

Once we hit the highway – and I’d timed the coffee cup steep at three minutes (yes, I do that) – I took a sip of the contents.  I’m not sure what happened, but I had a full-body euphoric reaction. It was like a lazy man’s outta body experience…’cept no one went anywhere.

My cousin looked over and said, “Jesus, man, you look like you had an orgasm.”

In a tea-ist – almost spiritual (and less messy) – sorta way, I did. The tea in question was a second flush Darjeeling that was sent to me by a Twitter friend in Darjeeling – one Benoy Thapa of Thunderbolt Tea. Who is he? Probably one of the nicest fellows I’ve ever e-met. That and the only motorcycle-riding, tea-field-diving, ponytail-donning, camera-weilding family man/tea vendor I’ve heard about. It was thanks to him that I was finally exposed to real Darjeeling tea in the first place – not just the dust found in teabags.

He sent me a peculiar tea from the Castleton tea estate. Said garden was named for a building in the neighboring city of Kurseong that looked like a castle. The fields were first planted in 1885 by a Brit named Dr. Charles Graham. At present, the estate is 70% British-owned and quite known for its Chinese varietals that produce a world-renowned second flush product.

The one I had in my possession – and the one that caused the full-bodied teagasm – was a different sort of offering. Unlike the other OPs produced, this was technically an oolong. I even asked my Thunderbolt contact what type it was and he confirmed it, saying that was the information he received from the current owner.

This was unlike any other second flush Darjeeling I’d encountered. Okay, I’ve said that on other occasions, but I really mean it this time! The leaves were the color of…um…forest? Yes, a veritable bouquet of colors you’d associate with that image – root brown, soil yellow, canopied tree green, and sun gold. I had a little trouble finding a comparison. Its anomalous aroma didn’t help, either. The scent brought feelings of fresh water streams, wild berries, lemons and honey. I know, this is sounding more metaphoric than olfactory; I’m sorry. This was difficult to pin down.

There weren’t any specific brewing instructions for this on the Thunderbolt site. Mr. Thapa – as mentioned above – said this was an oolong. Granted, during the trial sip, I went lowbrow with a coffee mug. This time, though, I figured the best way would be to give it a traditional oolong send-off. And I bought a new gaiwan for the occasion. (It’s a he, and his name is Guy-1.) I heated some water to just under a boil, and prepped four successive infusions – two at thirty seconds, two at forty – with 1 heaping teaspoon of leaves.

First infusion (thirty seconds): The liquor brewed light amber with a malty nose. (Very Indian.) The flavor possessed an herbaceous front that transitioned creamily to a vanilla-dipped grape crescendo before tapering off gently. A damn good start, if I do say so.

Second infusion (thirty seconds): The soup infused to a prime-gold color with an amber-ish periphery. It was lighter but also…shinier. As for taste, the initial sip was crisper than before, followed by a bolder middle profile kicking with lemon and apple. Very cider-like, except – y’know – without the fizz or mind-numbing parts.

Third infusion (forty seconds): Yep, still gold. However, the steam aroma changed its tune to something creamy and sweet – like actual vanilla was in there. That didn’t quite translate to taste, but it was still wonderful with a floral aspect appearing alongside the citrusy lean.

Fourth infusion (forty seconds): This was the lightest of the four infusions, but it was also the most obviously “oolong” of ‘em. The foretaste was still crisp, yet there was a rougher, mineral-like transition to the muscatel middle. I likened it to a Formosa Alishan.

Two more steeps followed the initial four, but I didn’t take notes on them. Needless to say, they were nifty. While it held up to a gongfu(-ish) approach quite well, I think the Western way gave it a one-time punch of perfection. Like a liquid rendition of a one-night stand. That isn’t to say the four short steeps weren’t awesome; they just weren’t dipped in awesome like the A-MURR-ican mega-steep.

As luck would have it, I had an opportunity through another vendor to try the first flush Moonlight. I liked it quite a bit, but it had nowhere near the nuance of the summertime cup that nearly road-tripped my tongue to tea-ish ecstasy. Without exaggeration or pontification, this was the best darned Darjeeling I have ever had. Worth a howl or two.

To buy Thunderbolt Tea’s Castleton Moonlight (2011 2nd Flush) go HERE.

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Wednesday, September 14th, 2011 Steep Stories No Comments

Notes from the Road

I recently took a week-long (and well-deserved) vacation, and made an eighteen hour jaunt from Oregon to Southern California. Rather than write an extensive travelogue about my trip, I jotted a few quick notes whenever I had time. Most of them don’t make any sorta of coherent sense. This is the result:

January 12, 2009

-Traveling the Siskiyous late at night is scary as shit. Visibility due to fog is travailing at best.

-A pick-up did a u-turn in front of me then flipped and cap-sized into a ditch. I would’ve called 911 for the poor feller, but I was too busy shitting my pants.

-A car passed me going 90, then sped off. Said car had a Christian dove on the back. Something tells me that is not what Jesus would do.

-I was originally going to stay in Santa Nella. I already traveled fourteen hours at this point, but the usual Holiday Inn Express backdrop plan was $94. Eff that! I called a Marriott. Too bad it was in Merced.

-The road to Merced was like encountering every redneck stereotype on a conveyor belt. I even encountered a “Gun Club Rd.”

…If this is the Heartland of ‘merica. Then Lady Liberty needs a quadruple bypass and a pacemaker.

-I thought of a new story. The night prior to my departure, my brother and I were discussing a Harry Potteresque/steampunish teahouse. He was thinking of a real place with a Ragdoll cat and a St. Bernard on a carpet…something straight out of Hobbiton. I was thinking of a teahouse run by a Ragdoll, and the St. Bernard (as a sammich maker).

The title? The Tearoom of Tally Furrowbrow. A collection of wholesome fantasy short stories with the tearoom as the reflective backdrop.

I need a life.

*End of Line*

January 13th, 2009

-Sometimes working for a hotel is awesome. NOT often. But sometimes. King bedroom…to myself…$39.

…Now if only it came with a prostitute.

(Wait, nevermind. This is Merced.)

-This is one weird town. Hickville is to the left of me. New Jack City is straight ahead of me. Barrio is to the back. The cosmopolitan nature of this gives me tears and candy dreams.

Shut up, I voted Obama.

-The only place within walking distance to eat was a friggin’ Carrows. Uh…no. So, I looked up microbreweries. FOUND ONE!

-The brewery. Oh lord. It’s called “Big Bubba’s”, it’s a steakhouse, and all the beertaps have ornaments. The IPA had a howling wolf. The Irish stout had a bear. At least I think it was a bear. There were cowboys and and a pistol thrown in there somewhere.

-The brewery sampler. Six HALF-PINTS of beer – served in a wooden thingy shaped like a gun revolver. I only finished three.

Verdicts? The IPA and the red ale were excellent. The Irish stout was good but not thick enough. The rest were ass…blame it on the Belgian yeast.

-Just got done drinking my Prostate Tea, while watching Blades of Glory…in green tennis shoes.

I’m livin’ the dream.

*End of Line*

January 14th, 2009

-California drivers have this little habit. They will ride your ass for twenty miles before they pass you. The behavior is akin to canines mating. I wonder if there’s a correlation.

-Driving in Pasadena sucks the testicles of a polar bear.

-Visited the Girl from Boat Trip. She bum-rushed/tackled me with a hug. Awesome.

-Saw this house on the outskirts of L.A. County that looked like a British cottage on a patch of green. I think a wormhole sent it here.

-Angeles Forest has, maybe, ONE tree. L.A. must be really proud of that tree.

-I really do wish they all could be California girls.

*End of Line*

January 20th, 2009

-I learned a new term for “vagina”.

…Ready for it?

“Apostle’s Grove”.

Soooo using that for a book title someday.

-While driving up I-5 North, I noticed a woman jogging on a bridge. She was wearing a sparkly halter top. *sigh* Only in SoCal.

-You know you’re karaoke-ing with a bunch of geeks when they start yelling “FOOT-FOOT-FOOT!” during the base drum hits to a song…as if they were playing Rock Band.

-Orange County states a very strong case for moving southward.

-California has more geek girls per capita than the whole of the Northwest. Yes, that includes Idaho.

-Everything begins and ends with Del Taco.

-Everything I need to know in life can be summed up by Flight of the Conchords.

-XXX Vitamin Water rocks my arse, and not just for the porno name.

-I knew I was back in Oregon when someone pumped my gas…and the gas station bathroom smelled like patchouli.

*End of Line*

*End of Trip*

(Best Vacation…Ever…)

January 21st, 2009

I’m finally home, and I’m sick.

“Welcome to Oregon, here’s your influenza.”


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Wednesday, January 21st, 2009 Musings No Comments

I work for tea money.


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