Hold the 90s! An Urgent Plea on Behalf of Those in Northern Iraq

Yazidis flee from ISIS toward the Syrian border. Image via Al Jazeera

              Yazidis flee from ISIS toward the Syrian border. Image via Al Jazeera

It has been difficult for me to blog over the past six weeks. Aside from spending some time in the northern Michigan woods and attending my sister’s wedding, I have been closely following the situation in Israel and Gaza since three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed two months ago. So far 1,960 Gazans have been killed and nearly 10,000 wounded. 67 Israelis have been killed by Hamas (3 civilians, 64 soldiers). These statistics do not take into account the three Israelis who were kidnapped and killed, the Palestinian who was burned alive in what appears to be a revenge killing by Ultra Orthodox Jews, and those killed by IDF forces in the West Bank. I lived in Jerusalem for a year, during which time I  traveled all over the country and the West Bank. I would have loved to make it to Gaza, but it is difficult to get in without special permission. My heart is in that Land its people, and I have friends on both sides of the wall. The fighting died down recently with two 72 hour ceasefires, but apparently neither side was able to come to an agreement. As I understand it, the fighting is set to resume again soon. Rest assured, I understand the situation is far more complicated than just throwing out numbers, but they are nonetheless devastating.

During the lull in Gaza , I started paying closer attention to what was happening in Iraq after seeing some disturbing photos and articles on my Facebook feed. After a few days of heartbreaking research, I began looking for ways to help the religious minorities suffering as a result of ISIS’s campaign of brutality.

Add in my full time job, and needless to say, it has been difficult for me to take my 90s exploration seriously in recent weeks. I do plan on continuing and have some fun things planned (hip hop exploration, 90s Halloween movies, a Festivus celebration, etc.), but when I have an understand of a situation where there is great humanitarian need and I have the platform to raise awareness, support, and money, to help, I feel obligated to take advantage of it. I prepared a Facebook post with all the information in it I could muster about the crimes ISIS is committing and what we can do to help. The bulk of that post is recorded below. I sincerely hope you will read on and take action to help those who are being massacred and displaced by ISIS.

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Over the past few days, I have been researching the situation in Iraq, trying to learn what has happened and what I can do to help. I want to offer some of that information here. This will not be not the best explanation of the situation or an exhaustive list of things you can do to help, but it is my best attempt. Please read on if you are interested in understanding and contributing to the humanitarian crisis going on in Iraq. If there is any misinformation here, or if you have any additional information that would be helpful, do not hesitate to contact me or comment below.

First of all, what is going on in Iraq?

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, ISIS, or IS for short) has recetly advanced into northern Iraq from Syria, taking over areas of land inhabited by Christians and other religious minority groups (here is a good article that plots the advance on maps for the geographically challenged). IS is a radical Sunni Muslim terrorist group that wants to set up an Islamic State ruled by Sharia Law. They even announced a Caliphate (a successor to Mohammed who rules in religious and military capacity) at the end of June of this year. They used to be an offshoot of al-Qaeda, but IS’s tactics are so savage and barbaric, that al-Qaeda actually broke ties with them (which sounds insane). People are saying we have not seen an evil like this on our planet since Nazi Germany or Genghis Khan. We are talking about mass executions, entire families being shot in the face, crucifixions, rapes, children being cut in half or decapitated, and people being burned alive. One person even cites an instance where IS decapitated children and set their heads on poles inside a park. There is a report of 1,500 people being massacred in a day. This is brutality beyond what we can imagine, and IS does not shy away from boasting about it on social media. It has been called “genocide” by President Obama and religious leaders and a “crime against humanity” by the UN Secretary General.

To learn more about IS, watch this video and read this article. Here’s the Wiki for good measure. Additionally, Vice recently released a five part mini-documentary on ISIS filmed inside Syria and Iraq.

When IS recently took control of Mosul, which is ancient Nineveh and the second largest city in Iraq, they gave an ultimatum to all the city’s Christians: death, conversion, or taxation. IS also marked the homes of Christians with the Arabic letter nun (ن), which stands for Nasrani, or Nazarine (one of two words that means “Christian” in Arabic. The other is Mesiahi, or “Messiahite”). This identified the homes of Iraqi Christians and put them at risk if they did not comply with IS’s demands. Many of them fled for their lives and have become refugees; some converted to stay; others paid the tax and were killed anyway. Many who fled were robbed by IS at checkpoints along the way. IS has recently taken control of Qaraqosh, a largely Christian town in Eastern Iraq, as well , and 50,000 Christians have fled for their lives.

Additionally, IS has destroyed ancient churches in Mosul, including an 1,800 year old building (although this is disputed here) and the traditional tomb of the Prophet Jonah. Other churches have been converted to mosques, and all the crosses were removed from the city. For the first time in 1,600 years, there is no mass being celebrated in Mosul.

Because Western Christians have been accused of suddenly caring about this humanitarian issue in the Middle East only because it involves other Christians, let me also say that IS is massacring and displacing other minority groups in northern Iraq as well, such as Shiite Muslims, Turkmen, Yazidis, and Shabak. I will not explain each group here, but in brief, the difference between Shiite and Sunni Muslims has to do with who each group believed should succeed the Prophet Muhammad (for more, here are a couple vids and an article). As I understand it, IS marked Shiite houses the same way it marked Christian houses and is involved in setting off car bombs in Baghdad, which is a Shiite controlled area.

IS is also targeting Yazidis, an ancient religious group that combines elements of Islam, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism. IS considers the Yazidis infidels. Tens of thousands of Yazidis have fled IS, some into Kurdish areas and others to the top of Mt. Sinjar. Earlier this week, thousands were trapped on Mt. Sinjar without food or water. IS had surrounded base of the mountain, so it was impossible for them to escape without being killed. Here is raw footage of a helicopter rescuing Yazidis there and firsthand accounts of what happened here. In this video, a Yazidi woman in Iraqi Parliament pleads for the government to intervene on behalf of her people. Please watch the whole thing, and listen to the desperation in her voice.

On August 7th President Obama authorized air strikes on IS if they began to advance any further east, as well as humanitarian aid to Yazidis trapped on Mt. Sinjar. Two days later, he gave this update on the operation. Here is a video of the aid drops and air strikes. 20,000 Yazidis made it off Mt. Sinjar Sunday with the help of US air strikes, although it is unclear how many remain there. This report notes that the US sent 130 more military personal to Iraq on Tuesday; Australia has begun humanitarian air drops in Iraq; and France announced today that they will begin arming Kurdish forces in their fight against IS.

All in all, we are talking about hundreds of thousands of people who are affected by IS’s advance in Iraq, and their attack on religious minorities is absolutely horrific.

With all that in mind, what can we do to help?

If you’re anything like me, you feel helpless in the wake of this incredible evil, injustice, and suffering. However, there are a few things we can do to get involved.

(1) Change your profile picture to raise awareness. Many have changed their profile pictures to the Arabic Nun in solidarity with Iraqi Christians who had it painted on their houses to identify them. I have received FB messages asking me what this picture means, and that has given me the chance to explain it to others. If you do change your profile picture, you may also explain why on the picture’s description or post an article that explains it.

Arabic-Nazarene

The Arabic letter “nun,” which IS forces are painting on the houses of Christians to identify them. Many are changing their profile pictures to stand in solidarity with them.

(2) Study. Knowledge is power, and learning more about this crisis can not only help bring better understanding but allow us to help in ways that better aid those who are affected. I would also add that for those of us who are American Evangelical Christians who want to support Iraqi Christians, we need to understand that there are very few Protestant Christians in Iraqi. Instead, the Christians IS is targeting are mostly Arab Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians who have very different traditions and faith practices than we do. Consider visiting Catholic or Orthodox churches in your area to learn more about how they worship and why. I’m currently reading this book which gives a simple and helpful summary of Orthodox Theology. Also, we need to be careful of the way we speak about these Christians when this crisis subsides. They are always our brothers and sisters in Christ, whether they are persecuted or not and regardless of how different their faith may appear to us.

(3) Give. I found a number of humanitarian organizations that are doing good work on the ground in Iraq, and I want to highlight a few:

First, there is The Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, founded by Canon Andrew White, who is known as “The Vicar of Baghdad.” From what I have learned about Andrew, he is quite an amazing man. He has been in Baghdad for 15 years and refuses to leave the country although he lives under lock down in his church (the only Anglican Church in Iraq) and visits his congregation only when guarded by heavy security. The church runs a clinic that happily serves anyone of any faith or ethnic background. He is also involved in the reconciliation of Sunni and Shiite Muslims, which is an incredible thing. He has appeared on major news outlets and updates regularly on Facebook and Twitter. If all this wasn’t enough, he is battling MS and walks with the help of a cane at 49. Here is a three part video on him.

I would highly recommend giving to his Foundation. You can do so via paypall here.

Second, there is adoptarefugeefamily.org, which works with the Jesuits to aid refugees. You can adopt a family and give once a month support or give a one time donation via paypall to support relief efforts in Mosul here (click on “Donate to Mosul Relief” in the upper right hand corner).

Third, you can help Iraqi Christian refugees by giving to Open Doors, an organization that serves persecuted Christians around the world.

Here are a few more I found: Aid to the Church in Need, Persecution, and Christian Aid.

Here is a Reddit thread that discusses ways to help Christians targeted by IS.

Of course, you can always give through Red Cross or other well known NGOs but I wanted to at least list a few others that may be helpful as well. I apologize that I did not have time to investigate each one as much as I would have liked, so I recommend doing your own research before giving. However, I hope you will give. For us city folk, it would be very easy to forego a few cocktails this weekend and give that money to those who so desperately need it. Others will be able to give more, but we can all give something. Even a little bit helps.

(4) For those who are so inclined, you may sign this petition that urges President Obama to expand humanitarian aid, increase air strikes against ISIS and arm Kurds, Sunni tribesmen, and others fighting ISIS on the ground.

(5) If you are a person of faith, spend time in prayer not only to bring requests on behalf of those suffering but also to increase your own solidarity with them.

(6) Share this post, not because I think it’s the best explanation of this crisis or most exhaustive list of ways to help, but because it will bring awareness and perhaps start conversations that can save lives.

(7) Leverage your social media platforms. Some of you reading this are also bloggers or have a large number of followers on social media platforms. Consider writing something about this issue or sharing an article that explains it. Posting links to charities is also helpful. Even a short blog post, tweet, or an Instagram can make a difference. I understand this may not be what your target audience expects to read, but this issue is more important than web traffic.

Thank you for reading this! I hope it is helpful and inspires you to look for ways you can aid those who have been so horrifically affected by IS. Again, if you see a factual error, have any helpful information, or know more ways people can get involved to help, do not hesitate to contact me or comment below. I’m not an expert on any of this, just a dude with a computer.

Chandler ن

Tuesday “News:” 90s-Related Media I Discovered Last Week

I have been bad at blogging over the past few weeks. However, I have not stopped taking in 90s media, and now I am ready to tell you all about it. So, here is three weeks worth of 90s discovery:

1. Seinfeld Tracker

When we left off, I had finished season 8. Now that the end is in sight, I am pacing my way through season 9, savoring each episode. My plan is to continue to take it slow, even though I am tempted to finish the show in one night. So far in season 9 I have seen: “The Butter Shave,” “The Voice,” and “The Serenity Now.” I am astounded at how the episodes have maintained their quality at the beginning of the final season. I would even say the show continues to improve. “The Voice” was my favorite of the three. In it, Jerry imagines his girlfriend’s belly button talks to him  when she falls asleep, and the gang mimics it all episode:

Kramer also resurrects Kramerica Industries and fakes its legitimacy to secure an intern from NYU, Darren, who manages his daily affairs:

2. Simpsons Tracker

Over the past few weeks, I took my Seinfeld energy and directed it at The Simpsons. I finally finished season 1, and I am two episodes into season 2 (“Bart Gets an F” and “Simpson and Delilah”). These episodes were both way more hilarious than anything I saw in season 1, and I can tell the show’s form is beginning to take shape. I will continue to watch at a rapid pace.

Homer proudly puts Bart's D- history test on the fridge.

Homer proudly puts Bart’s D- history test on the fridge next to his first grade drawing of a cat.

3. Green Day/Dookie

Cover art for Green Day's 1994 album, Dookie, depicting what it will do to your brain when played for any duration

Cover art for Green Day’s 1994 album, Dookie, depicting what it will do to your brain when played for any duration

At some unfortunate point in the past few weeks I listened through Green Day’s Dookie as a part of working through Rolling Stone’s top 40 albums of 1994. For 39:38, I felt like I was somewhere between a mild nightmare and purgatory. I was already so familiar with the hits (“Basket Case,” “When I Come Around,” “Welcome to Pardise,” “Longview”) that I was exhausted by them, and the rest of the album felt like I was getting attacked by Hurricane Dookie, a storm of drum-pounding, hyper-nasal monotony. I understand if in 1994 some people thought this was a kind of innovation, but I’m sure we can all admit now that it was just mediocrity all along, right? The funny thing is, I somehow heard Green Day in the 90s and remember hating their sound. I don’t know how that impression stuck with me, but as a nostalgic 29 year old man, I can finally affirm that my former self was, at some point, right about something. Thus we have Green Day to thank for proving that a kind of objectivity is possible. Seriously, does anyone like Green Day?

4. In Memoriam: Jeff Buckley/Bradley Nowell

May 25th and 29th were the anniversaries of the deaths of Bradley Nowell, front man of Sublime, and singer Jeff Buckley respectively. I managed to write a short post about Jeff on the anniversary of his death. Both died tragically, Bradley of a heroine overdose and Jeff by getting run over by a boat during a night’s swim. Both also died in their 20s and well before their prime. Nonetheless, I have enjoyed discovering their legacy through the music they left.

5. Seattle/Kurt Cobain post 

A few days ago I posted the second part of my six part series about my trip to Seattle for the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death. Each post in this series is structured as a narrative that follow each day I spent in the Pacific Northwest. I began the second day of my trip in Seattle and visited Aberdeen, Kurt’s hometown, on the way to imbibe in Portland. Each post has been quite an undertaking, so it will be a few months before I get through the series. Good thing I’m enjoying it!

Finding Kurt Cobain: What Seattle Taught me About Nirvana, Grunge, and the Early 90s (2/6)

A few weeks ago, I traveled to Seattle for the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death. Over the course of 6 days, I visited sites related to Nirvana and the grunge movement and asked people about their knowledge and relationship to grunge and the 90s. I ate and drank as much as I could afford and even managed to get down to Portland for a day. This post is the second of a 6 part series recounting my 90s adventures in the Pacific Northwest.

Part 1

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I left the apartment Thursday intent on visiting Aberdeen, Kurt Cobain’s hometown, on the way to see my buddy Todd in Portland, and returning to Seattle late that night. I walked on Boylston St. with my camera and shoulder bag in search of coffee and breakfast. Glo’s had worked out okay the day before, so I was headed to Oddfellows, another of Erin’s brunch recommendations.

The sun hid behind buildings on the east, but it was beginning to burn away the cool morning air. I walked through residential streets past Linda’s where I had been the night before. In coffee shops, patrons sat clutching electronic devices, some with pets at their feet.

I came to Broadway, the main drag on top of Capitol Hill, and students were buzzing around Seattle Central College. All kinds of people moved up and down the streets. Across Broadway, I came to the corner of Pine St. and 10th, and found that some clever person had defaced the street signs there.

The street formerly known as Pine.

                                        Defaced Pine St. signs

Oddfellows was right there at the corner. I entered and surveyed my surroundings. Long bench-style tables filled the middle of the open room. A line of stools sat along the bar, and there were two top tables at the front window.

Two workers behind the counter greeted me and helped me with my order. I got the biscuit with a side of bacon and added a cup of Stumptown coffee, a Portland roast that looked ahead to the end of my day.

The place had just opened, and with no one else in line, I launched into the story of my trip and asked for their 90s-related recommendations. They suggested I email KEXP or Subpop Records to ask for interviews, something I did but never panned out (If anyone from KEXP or Subpop happens to see this, I would love to chat with you about 90s music). They also told me about Sculpture Park, where Soundgarden got their name, and a few record stores.

I sat at a two top near the window and typed it all into my phone, then looked up the route to Aberdeen. Soon my food arrived: an enormous portion of scrambled eggs, a biscuit that matched in size with homemade jam, greens with balsamic vinaigrette and my beloved bacon. I ate half the biscuit with the eggs and bacon, taking in greens between bites. The other half I ate with the jam. It was all delightful, especially the biscuit. Some genius found a way to make the outside crispy but keep the inside fluffy and light. I am not kidding when I say it is the best I’ve ever had.

Picture by Through Aviator Sunglasses. See her write up on Oddfellows here.

Picture by Through Aviator Sunglasses. See her write up on Oddfellows here.

I devoured breakfast and walked with my coffee over Broadway to an Enterprise down Pine St. I went through a half-full parking garage to the office where receptionists stood typing and printing pieces of paper. I handed my license to one of them, and we made small talk while she finalized my rental. I told her about the Kurt Cobain statue in Aberdeen and the project that took me there.

At lull in our conversation, a voice from a few feet away asked for my attention. I looked over and saw a tall, African American man who looked to be in his mid-forties. He told me he was a bouncer at a venue in Philadelphia throughout the grunge movement and had seen the bands I had been talking about in their prime. I asked him what it was like.

“That era was about music more than anything,” he said. “It was people who loved making music, not competing with each other. What set Seattle apart was the amount of venues it had,” he said. “To see Soundgarden live, man, there was nothing like it. Mudhoney was underrated too.”

He went on and on, smiling and starring with wide eyes, as if recalling the greatest time in his life. At one point, I noticed his sentences stopped logically relating with what had preceded. He was just saying whatever came into his head, and I was drinking it in. Eventually he snapped out of it, said goodbye, and walked out to his car.

The receptionist and I exchanged a few more words before I signed my paperwork and went out to the parking lot to inspect my rental. Everything looked good. I threw my bag in the backseat.

Behind me was the exit where the bouncer’s car sat running. We caught eyes, and he continued where he left off: “Man, there were so many good bands back then: Mother Love Bone, Alice in Chains. Man, now you got me reminiscing!” Still smiling, he got in and sped away.

I drove out from the fluorescent-lit garage into the sunlight, and flew south on I-5. Soon Seattle was in the rear view, and I was starring at Mr. Rainier. Then the rain started. It was my first experience with the Pacific Northwestern rain I had heard so much about.

My route from Seattle to Aberdeen

                                 My route from Seattle to Aberdeen

I passed Olympia and jumped onto Route 8 to climb toward the coast. Trees thickened on both sides of the highway. I was in the wilderness now. My little car’s cylinders pumped furiously along the steep hills. All the drivers seemed to be going too slow, and I passed them at Chicago speed, feeling invincible. An unmarked police car soon proved otherwise, and I lost 20 minutes of my day and $144.

The rain continued as I neared Grays Harbor, an inlet of the Pacific on the far west end of Washington. Finally I arrived. A sign installed in 2005 by the Kurt Cobain Memorial Committee read: “Welcome to Aberdeen. Come as you are.” I weaved my way up the residential streets and parked across from the Aberdeen Museum of History. I tucked my camera under my jacket and went through the rain into the long white building.

I entered into a open room. Exhibits lined the walls, but the middle was just the exposed wooden floor. An elderly woman pointed out the Kurt Cobain exhibit across from the entrance. It was a humble set up besides the newly-unveiled statue of Kurt crying which sat in the center: a couch he had slept on, some of his T-shirts, and a case with CDs and records in it. In five minutes, I had looked over the entire exhibit and taken all the pictures I needed. It hardly compared to what I had seen at the EMP museum the day before but was a significant step for a town still struggling to embrace its identity as the home of a grunge icon.

The Kurt Cobain exhibit at the Aberdeen Museum of History

        The Kurt Cobain exhibit at the Aberdeen Museum of History

Sign reads: "During the time that Kurt lived with the Shillinger family in Aberdeen, he slept on this couch."

Sign reads: “During the time that Kurt lived with the Shillinger family in Aberdeen, he slept on this couch.”

The recently unveiled statue of Kurt Cobain crying at the Aberdeen Museum of History.

The recently unveiled statue of Kurt Cobain crying at the Aberdeen Museum of History

A man who worked there came out of a back room. He wore brown boots with loose-fitting jeans, and his long-sleeve shirt was tucked in. His belly stuck out slightly over his belt. He had grey hair and callused hands. I imagined he was the patriarch of Aberdeen. He greeted me as I approached him.

“Isn’t Aberdeen a logging town?” I asked.

“It used to be more than it is now,” he replied. “The sawmills are all automatic now. You used to have a couple hundred people working in one, and now you only need a handful. A lot of them are shut down now.”

He pulled out a map of the town with historical sites labeled and pointed to it: “When you come into town Seattle-way, you see a mill on the left, and there’s another one on the other side of town here.”

He went on for a good ten minutes about the mills and the town, pulling out articles and maps as he talked. He loved Aberdeen, and it was fascinating. I wanted to stay there all day, but I began to think about Todd waiting for me in Portland and moved the conversation along.

“What do people here think about Kurt?” I asked.

“Oh, there’s mixed opinions. Niravaaana (he pronounced with a flat “A”) was a long time ago now. Some people my age grew up with all those guys playing in our garages and drowning us out. Kurt’s grandfather passed away about a year ago. You tryin’ to track down some of his relatives?”

He handed me an article outlining all the places Kurt lived after he moved out of his mother’s house.

“I suppose you wanna see the bridge?” He asked.

I nodded, and he pointed me to quickest route to get there.

I shook his hand and thanked him.

“Come back any time and have a look at some of our other exhibits.” he said.

I hopped back into my rental and followed his directions until E Second Street dead ended near the muddy banks of the Wishkah River. I parked on the side of the road and walked into a small grassy area full of Kurt Cobain related sculptures. A sign welcomed visitors to “Riverfront Park” and explained its significance in Kurt’s life:

“Kurt Cobain…grew up just two blocks from this spot. Having spent much of his youth beneath this bridge, Kurt drew inspiration for his music from these surroundings. His song “Something in the Way” recalls his experience under the bridge-his bridge.”

(There is even an urban legend that he lived underneath it when he was homeless)

The Second Street Bridge over the Wishkah River, where Kurt Cobain would spend time.

The Second Street Bridge over the Wishkah River, where Kurt Cobain hung out

I descended to the bottom of the bridge, trying not to slip on the mud as I went. Soon I had escaped the sprinkling rain and stood looking up into the grunge sanctuary. RIP’s and Nirvana lyrics covered the underside. Some graffiti was well done, some written with a sharpie. A sign over the river read: “In Memoriam: From the Banks of the Muddy Wishkah.”  It was a photographer’s delight, and I took pictures furiously.

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Graffiti on the underside of Second Street bridge over the Wishkah River

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Graffiti on the underside of Second Street bridge over the Wishkah River

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Underside of Second Street bridge over the Wishkah River; Sign reads: “In Memoriam – From The Muddy Banks of the Wishkah”

Rain pitter-pattered on top of the bridge, and cars hummed by occasionally. I was alone save the single otter I saw moving in the water. I plugged my headphones in and found “Something in The Way,” a song written about Kurt’s time in this very spot:

Underneath the bridge

the tarp has sprung a leak

and the animals I’ve trapped

have all become my pets

and I’m living off of grass

and the drippings from the ceiling

It’s okay to eat fish,

cause they don’t have any feelings.

The song captured the feeling of that dreary, spectral moment. I played it again and again. I walked around and read graffiti. I took more pictures. I just stood there. For a moment I felt outside of time and somehow nostalgic for an era I had never experienced.

I didn’t want to leave, but Portland was looming. I returned to the park to read the signs and took in one last look at the bridge, amazed this was the kind of place Kurt had come from.

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Plaque of of Kurt Cobain quotes in Riverfront Park in Aberdeen, WA

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An empty guitar stand with a sign reading “Kurt’s Air Guitar” in Riverfront Park in Aberdeen, WA

Just before I hit the main drag out of town I saw a small drive thru coffee stand in an open lot. My mediocre cappuccino softened the idea of three more hours in the car but made it a difficult reality for my bladder.

I drove through the intermittent rain. Occasional sunlight broke through the clouds, until they gathered again and blocked it out. Traffic came and went. Finally, I crossed over a bridge and into Portland. The Colombia River snaked through the urban center below, with as many trees as buildings along its banks. There were bridges running across the water in every direction.

My buddy Todd was waiting for me downtown. I had originally told him I would be in around 1, then 3. Now it was past 5, and the day was getting lost. I found my way down into the city and parked. I stepped out of my car and felt the sprinkles of rain again. In that moment, I understood that these famous rains were nothing like furious Midwestern storms I had pictured them to be. They were only annoying and made everything dark.

There was Todd walking up the street. I knew him from time we spent together at an American school in Jerusalem, more than two years ago now. He had always talked big about his city and now had the chance to introduce me to it.

After a brief bathroom stop, we walked down the street to McMenamins, a Portland phenomenon. Todd explained that the brothers McMenamins bought old buildings and refurbished them into gastro pubs and other awesome shit, all supplied with their own craft beer and liquor. This particular McMenamins was Zeus Café, a small gastro pub. We drank and devoured appetizers during happy hour. All my years in Chicago made me forget happy hour existed, but it was everywhere in the Pacific Northwest. People expected it and made decisions by it.

We left and walked with full bellies to some other Portland staples: Stumptown, Powell’s and  Voodoo Donut. Powell’s was enormous, and the Bacon Maple Bar rewarded our hearty wait at Voodoo.

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             Voodoo Donut’s revolving case of deliciousness

Unsure of what to do next, I texted my buddy Mark who suggested we visit Multnomah Whiskey Library. Todd and I agreed but the entrance evaded us as we walked up and down Alder Street. Finally we found it, only a sign and unattended door that opened to a long hallway. We walked up several flights of steps to another door where groups were passing the time as they waited for a table. The host ushered us through the door into an open brick room. Scattered tables and lamps created spaces for conversation and imbibing. It was wonderful, but the most unbelievable part was the library hung over the bar. Hundreds of whiskeys and other liquors sat so high on the shelves that bartenders used rolling ladders to reach them.

Todd and I were seated, and our server handed us menus that looked like books. There was no way I could decide with that many options, so I asked the server for something local. He brought me McCarthy’s Single Malt from Clear Creek Distillery in Oregon, a delicious whiskey.

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         The bar and liquor inventory at Multnomah Whiskey Library

By now I had decided to stay in Portland for the night, and Todd ran me past Walgreens to buy a toothbrush on our way to another McMenamins. This one was at the Kennedy School, and it was unbelievable. The brothers bought an old elementary school and converted its classrooms into pubs, bars, and restaurants. There was a cigar lounge, movie theater, and one wing was even a hotel. We sat in one of the still-open restaurants sampling their beer and appetizers while I struggled to create a category for what I was experiencing.

We finished the evening at another dive and left for Todd’s house, passing over the southwestern hills that separated Portland from its suburbs. As I closed my eyes for the night, I thought of Gus and Erin and everything I had left to do in Seattle. After the morning in Portland, I would return north to stomp around the Emerald City.