Portland, OR in the rainy season.

14 October 2010

If you're wondering where I've been for the past couple of days, I've been busily preparing to go on the road again, by way of the downright amazing Roger Waters concert at the Verizon Center on Monday night. Work's not sending me out and about again, Lyssa and I are on vacation in beautiful Portland, Oregon for the next week or so. We didn't get to go anywhere earlier this year due to work obligations but we have some friends whom we've been meaning to visit for a while (namely, Blue Heron, Teaotter, and Amberite). It took us a couple of days to get everything worked out, but early on Tuesday morning Hasufin and Mika were nice enough to drive Lyssa and I to Baltimore-Washington International Airport to catch our redeye flight out of DC. When you get right down to it, it's cheaper to fly out of BWI than it is anywhere else around here, and it really does matter when you're paying your own way for a change. We got to the airport over an hour early so we sat around the terminal reading and waiting for the checkin kiosks to open up.

I'll be frank: United Airlines sucks. If you can get away with it, don't book your flight with them.

Nowhere was it listed that we had to pay $25us apiece for the first piece of luggage to check and an additional $35us for each additional piece of checked luggage. I travel light but even I can't fit an entire week's worth of clothes into my backpack. Thankfully Lyssa and I only had one extra piece of luggage apiece, but that was an unpleasant surprise so early in the morning. Also, both of us ran into delays at the security checkpoint. BWI does not have racks of baggies for people to put the contents of their pockets into so bring your own if you're flying out of there. Like the few people ahead of me I didn't put Windbringer into a separate bin to go through the x-ray machine. I'm not sure why the three people ahead of me got away with it but I was held up by a security officer who swabbed my laptop (for the first time in ten years, incidentally), backpack, and hands and then ran all of my stuff back through the x-ray machine to double check. Lyssa, on the other hand, was selected for secondary screening which meant that she was taken aside, sat down in one of the Chairs of Shame, wanded, frisked, and generally humiliated, probably because bits of her clothing triggered the magnetometer.

Neither of us had to do the fully monty, thankfully. Ordinarily I like going out for dinner first and then going dancing for a bit before sutff like that. Then, at the gate minutes before we were supposed to board our flight they wheeled another chemsniffer out for a surprise pre-boarding screening. I got picked again to have my backpack and hands swabbed; they found just as much nothing as before. While the argument could be made that someone up to no good might pick one of the first flights out of the airport in the hopes that security would be more lax, people better spoken than I have already said their peace, so I refer you to them rather than repeating the common sense of others. Our first flight was a hop to Chicago, Illinois, then an hour-long layover before our connecting flight. Unfortunately we travelers were packed into the plane like sardines in a can. There was no legroom at all and we found ourselves squished shoulder to shoulder with scarcely any breathing room. I still have bruises on my knees from the hard plastic back of the seat in front of me.

After touching down in Chicago and escaping from the tin can we'd spent two hours of our lives trapped in, Lyssa and I caught breakfast at a small cafe' within sprinting distance of our connecting flight. Like most food at the airport, it wasn't top shelf but it did serve to keep us going for another couple of hours. I didn't find it particularly objectionable, either, but Lyssa was far from impressed, for what it's worth. I found it interesting that the pub end of the cafe' we were at was still serving alchohol at 0700 CST, but when you take into account that some folks get off work around 0500 CST it makes a certain kind of sense. Lyssa and I boarded our connecting flight without notable incident, and this time we had slightly more legroom than the first but were packed shoulder to shoulder yet again. I found myself regretting choosing my leather jacket for this trip's outerwear because the reinforcements add a bit to the wearer's body size and I hadn't intended to make anyone sitting next to me suffer. In preparation for the cross-country flight I'd packed a half dozen books into my backpack to keep myself busy; much to my surprise I'd hit the 24 hours of uptime mark shortly after taking off from Chicago and wound up sleeping almost the entire way to Portland. Lyssa woke me up 20 minutes before landing at PDX, which made for a very groggy and still wanting to read Time Lord.

Sky Mall catalogs aren't exactly gripping reads, but their selection of spying devices aimed at people with too much unallocated money and concern that their partners are cheating on them caught my eye. You can find better prices for that kind of thing at Think Geek, though.

After disembarking we met Amberite past the point of no return at PDX, grabbed our luggage from the conveyor belt and headed for the house she shares with her roommates by way of the Whole Paycheque hot bar for lunch. The spread there is much more varied and of higher quality than that of either Whole Paycheque that Lyssa and I visit back home, and we were very surprised to get a decent meal there. I was particularly impressed with the Mongolian barbeque tofu, and will probably be going back there for a second helping before we leave.

For the record, if you want to use the student wireless network at Portland State University you need a username and password from a current student to log in. Their students-only wireless network uses WPA/WPA2 to provide privacy in communications (using AES to encrypt and decrypt), EAP-TTLS and PAP to authenticate. Due to the fact that it's someone else's network I highly recommend using a VPN you trust, just in case the folks who run the not-wireless side are watching.

After getting at AJ's place and hauling our luggage out of her car I curled up to nap for a few more hours, partially in an attempt to dodge jetlag but mostly because I was dead tired and could barely function at that point. I remember making two trips to the store with Blue Heron and Amberite to get stuff in only the most general manner. Blue Heron made a northern Chinese variant of sweet and sour chicken for a late dinner that night, a recipe that I really need to get my hands on because it was so good. We also got to meet their three cats (Josie, Buddy the Radioactive Cat, and Flash (who is said to be my feline reflection due to his paranoia and generally unfortunate dental health)). I wound up crashing for the last time that day around 2200 PST8PDT last night and slept clear through until the next morning.

I woke up the next morning around 0930 PST8PDT, which was kind of early as people seem to reckon things around here but suited me quite well. One of the things about life on the west coast that I rather enjoy is the time difference: it might be 0930 over here but as far as my body's circadian rhythms are concerned it's 1230 in Washington, DC, which means that I got to sleep in for a few hours. At any rate, Amberite wanted to show me around Portland State University. For a few months she's been sending me photographs of some of the unusual things she's found and I wanted to check things out for myself.

Let me make this clear: I have no idea where I am. This is a new neighborhood, a new town, a new state. If it wasn't for my smartphone I wouldn't be able to find my way around because nothing looks familiar.

Early yesterday morning Amberite left to attend class and I was supposed to join her for lunch and then to go exploring around campus. I wound up getting up a bit later than expected and so had some time to kill. I found a cafe' called Palio's completely by luck, where I've been getting breakfast for the past few days. Their prices are good, their food is pretty good, and the coffee would go best with a diving board (much to the chagrin of my peripheral nervous system). I picked up a sandwich for Lyssa and then blundered around a bit looking for a bus stop. After getting turned around a few blocks away Amberite directed me to a stop (by coincidence, right outside of the aforementioned cafe) where I caught a bus that eventually took me to the PSU campus. Once I got there and found my bearings we spent the afternoon wandering around campus looking at the sights. Amberite took me through a couple of the science buildings to look at the displays in a few of the physics labs (which also house some of the exhibits of their physics museum); photographs will be put up in a couple of days. Much to my surprise I also got to peek into some of the applied nanotechnology labs (which immdiately made me think of the funding debacle of the past quarter century).

The bulk of this entry was written at the Smith, one of the small student coffee shops that dot the Portland State campus. Not a whole lot has happened since I sat down to sketch out the outline of this entry yesterday afternoon. Lyssa's been working during the day and I elected to spend the day close to home base to get a few things finished that I didn't get a chance to work on last night. We went out to dinner at what could possibly be the finest fish and chips shop on the continent (which I'll write up in a separate post later). This morning the power went out so I took Lyssa to Palio's because they have free wireless and hadn't lost power. I'm pleased to say that she finds this place fairly comfortable and likes the food. We're going clubbing tonight, and I've pinged a couple of local hackerspaces to see if they wouldn't mind a visitor from the other side of the country.