Eugenology

artichokesEvery 6 weeks or so, it seems, we take a weekend or trip outside the confines of Walla Walla—this time it was to Eugene, Oregon, where one of Susanne’s oldest friends lives. We were ready for fun, good conversation, and even the potential of hunting in the woods for chanterelles.

I’ve never mentioned it before, but there’s a part of I-84 that weirds me out a little. A miles-long tree farm. It’s not that I don’t support the tree growth—I definitely do. It’s not that it take 10 minutes, at 70 miles an hour, to get past all of the trees, since I’ve driven by thousand acre woods many times before. It’s the regularity of the planting, the perfect squared distance between each tree, so that they’re plotted out on a grid, should you have the opportunity to see them from above. They look like alien-planted trees. As a person who grew up near several wooded areas, it seems weird to me that to ride my bike through these woods, I’d have to go in a straight line. That’s just . . . somehow harrowing. Driving past, the trees all start to drag on my peripheral vision. Row after row after row after row, they all point at the sky in brown-gray lines that start to resemble actual aliens. And then my head turns, just a little, because now I’m half-sucked into my deciduous voyeurism, and I notice that every so often, the space between rows is marred by one or a few fallen trees. Imperfection in the grid! Whew! And then I can get back to driving.

It’s possible I’ve lost my mind.

Anyway, we made it past the mindtrap of I-84 and continued on into first Portland, turning left to pass the state capitol, and then tucked into Eugene about an hour after dusk. It was difficult, in the dark, to get a sense of Eugene, especially from the highway, but it seemed to be the same splayed out street and residential design of Portland. Heck, it has a Trader Joe’s. Any city with a Trader Joe’s is A-OK in my book.

Susanne’s friend and her husband were happy to see us, but this moment of welcome was quickly supplanted by the greeting from their kitten, Ruby, who cantered over to us and began thoroughly sniffing our feet, ankles, and baggage. I half-wondered if she wasn’t one of the new covert drug-sniffing cats of the National Security Agency. Okay, okay, there are no such drug-sniffing cats. But heck, there could be. So she rubbed herself on us as we sat down to relax, which made me wonder: after 6.5 hours of sitting down driving, why am I sitting down to relax?

It was great to catch up; we discussed dining options and agreed to venture to Ratatouille for dinner. I kept waiting for a cute animated mouse to bring me soup, but it never happened. The all-vegetarian fare was enjoyed by all of us, 3 of whom are ex-vegetarians. I was annoyed at their idea of hummus, however. Just because chick peas are pureed and in a bowl doesn’t mean you can call it hummus—while these were supposed to be takes on the traditional preparation, they were a bit too far gone for me to hold them in the same category as hummus anymore. Or perhaps merging cilantro and garbanzo beans is good in its own right, but when I think hummus, I don’t think, “let’s have some cilantro!”

Dinner was tasty, and I appreciated that anyone would focus on creative vegetable dishes without a ton of accompanying pretense. What I was going to find out shortly, in fact, was that Eugene really doesn’t have much pretension, if it has any at all. We went next to Off the Waffle, a fairly new establishment that was just voted Eugene’s Best New Restaurant. Once again, category names don’t mean much, as Off the Waffle is a restaurant like one’s neighborhood chocolate shop is a restaurant, but I recognized I need to adopt more of the west coast laid back attitude. And I’m certainly not saying they weren’t the most ridiculously tasty waffles I’ve ever eaten. It was a quirky little storefront on the ground floor of a house, with a variety of savory and sweet versions of the Belgian liege waffle, a yeasted batter that they make with pearl sugar so they come out of the press puffy and caramelized. We sat on an old leather sectional sofa and ate out of our 100% recycled paper containers like jackals over a fresh kill. On all sides of us were the brown bags the owners use for the plain waffles—people walk in and out all day, ordering plain waffles to take home or to work, clutching the warm waffles and crinkling the bags in joy. But the bags on the wall are for decoration, each with the scribblings of some customer who was pleased enough to leave a happy, if not idiosynratic, note on the wall. It was like sitting in a room of non sequitors.

At that point, we were stuffed, so we trundled back to Susanne’s friends’ home, where the kitten was extremely pleased to see the return of her four scratching posts. And then there was Saturday.

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Categories: driving, visiting

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