A few weeks ago we were making dinner at my house and Gabrielle mentioned that her boyfriend, Ben, was coming to visit. We decided to do something special, get out of Seattle, and take a weekend road trip.
We considered a few destinations, but finally settled on Astoria, Oregon.
We left Saturday morning. My car was temporarily out-of-service and the borrowed car was a manual, leaving Brian as the designated driver. I became the navigator and our Quebecois friends the DJs. Through heavy rain we drove south from exit 169 to exit 49, where we broke from the freeway to wander a little road along the river and over to Highway 4. Then we headed due west to Cathlamet, where we crossed over humble little Puget Island and awaited the hourly $5 ferry.
A few more mossy trees and soggy houses later, we reached Astoria. The town sits at the northwest corner of the state of Oregon, with its mighty Columbia River-spanning bridge connecting us to our home state. The Washington side is rugged and windswept, while the Astoria side a bit flatter, with rolling hills and bright green farm fields. The town itself stretches close to the waterfront with piers and ports welcoming the boat traffic. The highway winds along the base of the hillside; the hillside’s fading Victorians welcome the car traffic.
We spot the Norblad, our hotel for the night, and we check-in early. The building has been beautifully renovated, with tall Euro-style rooms filled with natural light. Our room overlooks the local co-op grocery and later I will hear a lone guitarist playing seafaring tunes in the parking lot. We head to the communal kitchen to make lunch. On the menu: Ben’s specialty grilled cheese, featuring kimchi + sliced Granny Smiths + sharp white cheddar + decadently buttered bread.
After lunch we’re ready to explore the town. Nearly every moment is scenic (I’m glued to my camera) and I can see why this town has had so many movies filmed here. The streets are full of unique, independently-owned stores and we notice the impressively-curated nature of each one.
We haven’t been walking more than five minutes and Gabrielle has already found the local bookstore.
Around the corner there’s Metal Head, which “smells like incense and teenage angst” (thus spoke Gabrielle).
Now it’s my turn to pick a store and so I choose the one filled with antiques. Gabrielle and I are mesmerized by the curious assortment of highly referential/topical postcards – Jeanne d’Arc (we’d just talked about her in the car), salvage heaps (we’d just talked about them at the ferry dock), deco architecture (just mentioned and researched the week prior) -even Gabrielle is noticing the surreal quality of Astorian curation.
We walk towards the water and along the Riverwalk. It feels like there’s public art everywhere in this town, but there’s never any interpretive plaques. The arrangements seem so intentional – yet the viewer is always left in mystery, wondering if it truly is. Is this what it’s like to be in a town used so often for movie sets? (The Goonies, etc) It causes a slight refinement of reality for the benefit of the camera.
We stop in at a brewery on the dock, then walk the streets ogling the architecture, our usual modus operandi. There’s a lot of old stuff here, creative and vernacular stuff, lovingly real stuff.
The sun has been shining brightly with us our whole day in Astoria and as it sets it is starting to get colder. We head quickly back towards downtown and to another brewery where we can get food – Rogue Brewing.
I cut out early to write and record the beauty of the day.
And so ends day 1 of location scouting for the perfect back drop to our dreams.
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