The Oregon Trail, Part Two: Portland, the Pacific Coast, soccer and songs

In the second part of this Pacific Northwest adventure, we visit the seaside, fail at a quiz, listen to some folk music, and witness a last-gasp victory

If you’ve read Part One of this story (and if you haven’t, do it now; I’ll meet you back here when you’re done), you might remember I was having a marvelous time in Portland. Maddy, my friend and guide, had so far done a wonderful job of showing me sights both local and further afield, but she had to work on this particular day.

Meeting the locals

With nothing particular to do, I woke up late, read, ate, then decided to venture out into the rain in search of somewhere to sit, a pint, and some people.

In this regard, I’ve got to say it’s one of the things I enjoyed about Portland. East of the river, from Buckman to Mt. Tabor Park along Hawthorne and Belmont, you’ve got the lot: Irish pubs, Thai restaurants, dive bars, coffee shops, curry houses, gastropubs, brunch places (including the wonderfully-named Fried Egg I’m in Love) and much more — all relatively walkable. The streets that separate the two thoroughfares are quiet avenues overhung with trees and lined with quirky, pretty houses, any of which I’d have been proud and pleased to call my own.

Having sat and yammered with the locals for a few hours in the Barley Mill, I wandered back to my Airbnb and waited for Maddy to finish work. We were going to an Irish music jam session in the evening, something that fills me with mild dread at the best of times. I love folk music, but usually of the bleak, sex-betrayal-and-death balladry kind; yip-dee-diddly-aye folk makes me run screaming.

I needn’t have worried. T.C. O’Leary’s was more spit-n’-sawdust than blarney-and-craic, and the eponymous Tom was a genial chap with an eye for a good beer menu and classic pub food. The place was packed, and in one corner, tuning up, were the musicians who’d come for the women’s session. Around ten women (including Maddy’s sister Glynis on the accordion) kept us reeling for hours while the pints poured non-stop. Absolute folking quality.

The Pacific Coast

The next day was another day outside the city, this time in the direction of the Pacific coast. We were off to the seaside! Literally — it’s a town called Seaside. Around 90 minutes’ drive along the wonderfully scenic US-26, you arrive at a vast, flat expanse of sand bulwarked by low dunes and a promenade. We took a windswept stroll out to the ocean, into which I plunged my hand with the feeling something amazing should happen, having never seen the Pacific before. What actually happened was I misjudged the waves and got wet feet.

To remedy this, we had lunch at Mo’s, apparently a local institution and with good reason. Fresh seafood, friendly staff, and a cross-section of customers ranging from retired couples, families with kids, and nearby, a table of dude-bros who were having an unexpectedly wholesome time by the seaside. We ate, had a poke around the small local aquarium in which delighted children were being splashed by playful seals, and went on our merry way.

Ten minutes or so down the coast is Cannon Beach, which was our next stop. Another pleasant little coastal resort, sleepier now we were in the autumn, but still with a few bars and coffee places open along Hemlock Street filled with satisfied-looking locals.

The beach itself is another handsome effort, this time fringed with huge houses, clearly summer residences for people who can afford to maintain them when not in use and at risk of being battered by wintry coastal storms. The main feature of the beach is Haystack Rock, a jutting humpback of ancient basalt, superb in the low late-afternoon sun. Apparently, it features in several films, none of which I’ve seen.


The following day I forced myself into an early start due to wanting to experience that curiously American phenomenon of watching Premier League football on TV, in a bar, with a pint, at eight in the morning. Yawning and bleary-eyed, I wandered twenty minutes downhill to a place called the Toffee Club. I’d pre-scouted the place online and it looked decent. It was more than decent, it was excellent.

Nice furniture, subtle but interesting nods to football history (Everton specifically), and big TVs with sound being piped to speakers all across the ceiling, meaning that the game was easily audible but not intrusive — a very important balance to strike. The beer selection was great, with a superb breakfast menu (get the bacon sandwich and cover liberally with brown sauce), and you know what? If I lived in the area, it’d be my local, regardless of the football. At least, it would be had it not sadly closed down shortly after I visited. A real shame.

Anyway, Newcastle beat Spurs, but that wasn’t important. I have no dog in the Premier League fight.

You know what I love even more than football on TV? Live football. Live sport in general, really. In fact, the last time I was in the US I was taken to see the Atlanta Braves play something called (checks smudged notes) Based Ball. The people I went with treated me with utter kindness, answering my probably moronic questions with grace and patience, so I was really looking forward to watching some live football. Soccer. Whatever.

The Portland Timbers had already blown their chances of appearing in the playoffs, so it was left to the Thorns of the National Women’s Soccer League to uphold the city’s pride. They were playing San Diego Wave in the semi-finals of the playoffs, so we got tickets and headed to Providence Park, me standing out slightly in my Zbrojovka Brno (home team) shirt but hey, it’s red, so I reckon it fitted in nicely enough.

Okay. Right. I don’t want to sound snooty about US soccer fandom (although I feel I’m about to), it’s just different. I don’t know if it’s the vocabulary, the slightly desperate need to seem ‘legit’ or what, but I occasionally find it difficult to take seriously. Case in point: one of the San Diego players got booked, and the chap behind me decided the best reaction to this was to say in a raised voice “Uh oh! Looks like that’s a yellow card for yooouuu!” This was the same bloke who, after a lovely couple of passes to get the ball out of what looked like a tricky defensive position yelled “Oh yeah! Now that’s called playing soccer!” Too many notes, Mozart. A well-placed “G’waaan!” will usually do it.

Now, do I think that red-faced, spittle-flecked bile and hatred getting flung at the opposition for getting a throw-in is pretty twatty? Yes. But do I also find this sanitized, trying-just-a-bit-too-hard version of support just a bit cringe? Also yes. I don’t want to gatekeep football, I really don’t. I loved that it was inclusive, with LGBTQ+, skull-and-crossbones and Ukrainian flags flying and all the rest. I just found it a bit too naively earnest. Surely there’s a place for both socially-conscious, community-hearted Ultras groups that have room for everyone and can create a genuinely fervent, febrile atmosphere?

There is. It’s called Germany.

Anyway, enough of that. The game was belting. A full house at Providence Park (a brilliant ground by the way, it actually wouldn’t look out of place in the Bundesliga, come to think of it), and a 2-1 win for the Thorns coming by way of a 93’ volley from a corner, cleared by the Wave only as far as Crystal Dunn who slammed a stunning 25-yard volley into the roof of the net to take the roof off the place. Superb. The Thorns would eventually go on to beat Kansas City in the final to become NWSL champions.

In the spirit of further competition, we’d arranged to join a bunch of Maddy’s mates for an evening at a pub quiz, so that’s what we did. Now, I love a quiz, even one I’m not officially competing in (see Part One), but I was also prepared for a lot of the questions to be US-centric, which they were. Makes sense after all. I helped as much as I could and we did okay, but there were times I felt genuinely helpless when it came to those classic quiz topics such as TV and sports. I thought a Mickey Mantle was an overcoat for a mouse.

There were a couple more little oddities to come on my final day in the city. We had no specific plans before I needed to be at the airport, so what we needed was a couple of hours of diversion. What’s more diverting than mini golf? In a warehouse? That’s also a pub? I’ll tell you what: nothing. We spent a couple of bizarre hours at what I can only describe as a pint-and-putt before I said a genuinely heartfelt goodbye to Maddy — who had been the loveliest guide on this spontaneous adventure — and headed out.

Final thoughts

Sitting at a bar at the airport, I got chatting to the barman (shout out to Spencer) who, despite having served thousands of people, seemed genuinely interested in everyone’s story. After a while, I was joined by another traveler (David) who was off to see friends for the weekend. He was thrilled to talk to an actual Englishman about English football, and bought me a couple of pints to say thanks.

I think that sums up Portland. I loved it. Friendly, artsy, fun, but not twee; it maintains a bit of an industrial edge, especially driving along the trainyards and docksides on the river, or in the dive bars and gig venues. The uber-hipster Portlandia stereotype is not entirely unfair, but has been embraced by a city that acknowledges that side of itself and can happily laugh along with it without a hint of cynicism.

I know I’ll be back.

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