Monday, May 28, 2007

Switchback roads, glass balls, and a crab dinner

I remember thinking that we were coming up to that really sharp turn a little too quickly...

The car lurched around the corner, narrowly missed an oncoming car, and whizzed past several houses perched beside the road.


We all shouting shouting at once.

"Raj - bloody hell mate! That's it - you need to let me drive!" (Neil)

"Pay attention! You're seriously gonna kill us!" (L)

"Dammit man - I think you just gave me a heart attack!" (me)

To his credit, Raj didn't seem at all effected by our near brush with death, and continued weaving through the narrow roads towards Newport. His only response to our chorus of "You're not in India anymore" was met with a cheeky grin and an "it's okay, just enjoy the ride".

Yeah, right.

By the time the ocean came into view, Raj had slowed down to a less breakneck pace and we were all ooohing and aahhing over the incredible scenery ahead. Our first look at Newport, Oregon was breathtaking. Little shops and restaurants sat on cliffs overlooking a bay with a beautiful bridge that soared above barking sea lions and noisy birds. The sea air was fresh and warm, and waves lapped at the pebbled beaches past the pier. I'd never seen wild sea lions before, and rushed with my camera to get pictures of them lolling in on the pier and fighting over a floating log in the water, as baby sea lions yelped for fish at their mothers.

We watched them for a long time, then made our way up the coastal road, looking in shops, and wishing the weather had been nice enough to go to the beach. I really wanted to go to the beach because one of the HP guys, Dave, had told me that every year local artisans plant hundreds of japanese glass floats up and down the beaches for people to find. It didn't take long to realize that the weather was too cold for beachcombing, and the odds were against us finding any of the glass floats. So instead of making the wonderful discover I'd envisioned while daydreaming about the trip, I stood in front of store windows, loudly complaining that "$24.99 is way too much money to pay for something that I'm SURE I could have found on the beach!"

(I left Newport empty-handed, and am now considering buying a glass float on ebay, since they have ones from Oregon that are a great price and quite pretty.)

After several hours of exploring Newport, we assembled in a large group at a nice-looking restaurant overlooking the docks. We received a lot of attention as we arranged tables and grabbed menus, joking around about how many glasses of wine we would need to have if Raj was going to be driving back to the hotel (the consensus was that we'd need 1 glass for every 5 miles, which we thankfully didn't follow). To his credit, Raj didn't seem bothered by our teasing, and kept repeating that if we visited him in India we'd understand just how fabulous his driving skills actually were.

This isn't one of my pictures, but it looks just like the restaurant and view of the bay.

When it was time to order, there was no question at all in my mind that I was going to have a crab dinner. I didn't care how much it would cost, and ordered a glass of wine and a cup of chowder to go along with it. I'm a great seafood lover, and would happily eat lobster, crab, and shrimp every other day for the rest of my life. Luckily the dinner was only $18 before tax, so I could enjoy my food without worrying about the price. (one of the best things about coastal towns is the very cheap seafood - I'd consider living on the coast just based on that)

We were served by a young waiter (looked about 18), who in the course of the evening told us it was his first week at work. Being a newbie, he forgot to tell us that a mandatory 20% service fee would be included for groups larger than 8 people. This caused quite a shock when the bill was given to us, and resulted in a half-hour long argument between Neil and our waiter's trainer. His point was that we would have sat at two different tables had somebody told us about this in advance, and that we had people from all over the world who were here on a budget and didn't need to fork over more money for service that wasn't bad, but wasn't worth a 20% tip.

Not to encourage stereotyping, but every Australian I've met (and here in London, I've met many) has the gift of gab and would be nearly impossible to beat in an argument. Add Neil's charming smile and calm demeanor and the waitress was lost. She broke up the bill into two and handed them back to us. By this time, we'd made friends with the entire waitstaff and were back to reprising the roles we'd played in the bar with the Americans (i.e. over-exaggerated cultural stereotypes) . Neil insisted on getting a picture taken with the newbie waiter, with Raj and myself on either side holding up the menus (me pointing at the teeny small print on the back page that read: "A 20% service fee will be automatically added to groups of more than 8 people. You are welcome to add your own gratuity.")

Sadly, those pictures weren't taken with a digital camera, and the prints are in Canada, so I can't show them to you now (they and several others are waiting to be scanned so I can actually post pictures that more than 2 years old).

As we made our way back to Corvallis for the final night in Oregon, I hoped I'd one day get to return to that pretty coastal town (hopefully in summertime), and realized that I had managed to travel all the way across the continent by myself; participated in several successful business meetings and training sessions, and some pretty fantastic adventures along the way. The girl from the tiny Northern Ontario town (that sounded so exotic and beautiful to all of my fellow trainees) had successfully completed her First Business Trip.

The journey home to Ontario was pretty uneventful, and I felt like an expert traveler (or somebody from the Amazing Race as I ran through more airports to make my connections) and made it home without getting lost or crashing into any mountains. On the flight from Portland to Vancouver, I smiled at Mt. Hood from the window of the little puddle-jumper plane, forgetting my fear of flying as the beauty of Oregon disappeared beneath the clouds.

I returned to Canada feeling strong, independent, and more confident than ever before: I'd survived getting lost in Portland and driving through monsoon-like rain in the dark (okay, I exaggerate, but that's what it felt like), boardroom meetings in one of HP's major sites, won 8-ball games in a country bar against beer-soaked, cowboy-hat-wearing Americans, eaten a ridiculously huge crab dinner for only $18, made friends with people from all over the planet, and learned a couple of important lessons:

I could depend on myself to accomplish things I never thought possible.

Never try to ask a cow for directions - they don't know where the interstate is either.


  • At 12:43 PM, Blogger Suldog said…


    Wonderful story! Thanks for sharing.

    The only places I've ever gone on the west coast of North America are more southern - San Francisco, Los Angeles. Oregon sounds like a heck of a nice place to visit - well, at least when accompanied by fun people.


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