I took a short but much-needed vacation last week, spending a long weekend in Portland, Oregon. I had multiple agendas, for a brief trip: to revisit a place I hadn't been since I was a dorky adolescent; to indulge myself at Powell's, where--inexplicably--I had never been; and to visit my father's grave...incidentally, where I had also never been. We'd had the service, at Willamette National Cemetery, but they hadn't yet placed his ashes in the ground. So. Complexity. High stakes, a lot to accomplish in 72 hours. I've been meaning to write about it since, and finally figured I'd have to take it a day, and a Significant Task, at a time. Here's part one.
* * * * *
I stayed at the Benson Hotel for several reasons: it's centrally located, it meets my aforementioned standard re. bathrobe provision, and it's where we stayed on a lone trip when I was 14 years old--me, Mom, Sis, and Grammy. We were there to attend some figure-skating extravaganza that did not have a Seattle tour date that year. The Benson was swanky then and is swanky now, and so I'm not sure how we managed to afford the arrangements. We must have had a coupon. At any rate, we went clomping into the lobby in our puffy down ski jackets, me toting the brown paper grocery bag that contained Grammy's vacation staple: clanking bottles of tequila and margarita mix. I am sure that we made nearly as great an impression on the Benson elite as the joint itself was making on me. Doormen! Valet parking! Room service on a little cart, the plates covered with shiny silver domes! It was the nicest place I had ever been.
In our short, alcoholically musical stroll through the lobby, I developed an instant obsession with the grand marble staircase that curved down from the mezzanine level. Just the word--mezzanine--a whisper of exotic opulence! God knows what Hollywood musical I'd seen such a staircase in--probably all of them--but I knew immediately that I had to come swanning down that staircase like a debutante, when we were going out for the evening. I would glide across the mezzanine, pause in front of the gigantic gilded mirror on the landing to ensure all eyes were on me, and then sweep down the last stairs into the walnut-paneled lobby. Before spinning through the revolving door and folding myself into the backseat of our 1980 Ford Mustang, I guess. (The pony car and me: both going through our Awkward Years.)
And bless my Grammy, because she indulged me. Part of our trip included a visit to some department store or other, where I selected, and she bought me, the most glamorously mature outfit I could conceive of for the occasion. This was: a teal-green corduroy shirt dress. Worn over a pale yellow Oxford button-down with blue pinstripes. Also, I am sure, suntan nylons, and some wedge-heeled sandals that were, at the time, the tallest shoes I owned. Oh, honey, I think on behalf of my adolescent self. It was so bad. I see this now. I saw it relatively soon then, when I wore that same ensemble to my eighth-grade graduation ceremony a month later, and all the other girls turned up in white summer dresses. Oh, I remember the gravity of that error, of realizing it just...too...late. Age 14, dressed like a 30-year-old secretary, and with the social and fashion acumen of a ten-year-old. Oy vey.
But I didn't know it right in the moment. I felt beautiful, when I pressed the "M" button in the elevator and tottered out on that half-level above the lobby. Where was Mom, while I was dorking around on the mezzanine? Probably out adjusting the driver's seat of the Mustang back to midget range. Where was Sis?...and more importantly, what was she wearing? I have no idea; they're both just gone from the memory. What I remember is only Grammy, standing at the foot of the stairs--sadly/mercifully without a camera--her face upturned to mine, rapt, as I came wobbling down the steps. She, and I, thought I was beautiful. We might have been the only ones, but it was enough.
* * * * *
When I was checking in, the desk clerk asked "Have you stayed with us before?" and I nearly laughed. "Years ago, when I was a kid," I hedged. It was juuust possible that he was not born, yet, when I last came unsteadily down the grand staircase. "Well, welcome back," he said. Indeed.
* * * * *
Do we change, much, in a quarter-century? Yes, and no. I am accustomed, now, to traveling alone; there are things I like about it, and things I don't. Nonetheless, here are some of the things I packed, on this trip: all black undies. A black negligee to sleep in. And a dress, a teal-green sweater dress that Joan Holloway would be proud of. Just in case. Just in case I needed to get Fancy, just in case I needed to imagine myself sexy. In case, in case, in case.
I didn't end up wearing it, this trip, for whatever that's worth.
* * * * *
The first night, I walked back to the hotel tipsy and blissful from one glass of pinot noir and too much excellent risotto and bread at Pazzo. On the sidewalk, just before the doors to the lobby: an Elvis-impersonating busker. Fat Elvis, with cape and jumpsuit and a stuffed toy hound dog (?) in front of his displayed hat. He had a little karaoke-style machine set up with an instrumental track, and was inexplicably singing the Beatles' "Something." Okay, then. I was tempted to make a request, but what? I believe Dad originally seduced Kathy with "One Night With You," but that seemed inappropriate. Me, I favor "Suspicious Minds" or "I Can't Help Falling In Love With You." But there was a clutch of couples coming the other way up the pavement, so I smiled but did not break stride. "Thank you. Thank you verra much," he boomed into the mike behind me, someone else's change plinking into the bucket.