Trip to Portland, Pt. 1

Part of the LSA Internship money I received went to a round trip ticket to Portland, Oregon for to work on automating statistical inference and creating content for two probabilistic programming languages, Anglican and WebPPL.

I’ve always liked what I’ve done, or on the tougher days, I tolerated it. But the significance of this trip was that I went to Portland. I’ve never been there, but I heard it was a great place. Turns out: it’s true. It is a great place.

First off, the stereotype of Portland being weird is true, technically. But relatively, it wasn’t that weird. By that I mean, I was relating my Portland experience with my Ann Arbor experience. Portland is just bigger, and has better food. On the weirdness, though, Ann Arbor and Portland seem to be equally weird.

There are large communities of homeless people in Portland that actually prefer being homeless. But, I think if those folk could afford normal housing, they would prefer not pay for it and continue living in these communities of tents near the highway. It looked like trailer parks except they were tents and not trailers, and they were situated almost uncomfortably close to one of the highways.

There are also people over their who take their “day jobs” seriously. I put that in quotes because to them, it wasn’t just a day job to them. There are many people who work as a barista, for instance, but they only do this to pay the bills while they pursue their education. To many of the laborers I met in Portland, they considered these day jobs as their career. To them, being the barista was their end goal, and they were really good at it. This was mostly the case for some of the more local coffee shops ,or bars in my case. I went to a bar called the Box Social while I was there and the bartender behind the counter was basically a chef except with drinks. Not a cook, who reproduces dishes based off someone else’s recipes, but like a chef who creates his own dishes thoughtfully. This bartender designed “about 90% of the drinks on the menu” by his own words. And it showed; he created the drinks as if he had an intimate knowledge about them. For instance, although he shook a martini and mint julep in the same mixer, he shook them in different ways. He was able to mix my whiskey drink so that the absinthe floated along the top.

Portland happens to also be big on donuts and strippers. And instead of hiring some kid trying to support himself while he waits for his band to take off or a mother trying to pay for her child to get through school, the donut placed hired a pastry chef whose name was actually on the door and the strip club hired, from the looks of it, a Yakuza assassin considering her intricate tattoos. Seriously, she had no blank skin underneath the neck, and I knew stripping was her calling in life because her tattoos were actually part of her routine. Almost like, she was the canvas and the tattoo was the artwork. The tattoos and her dance routine went hand-in-hand with one another.

Considering donuts, the famous donut place in Portland is Voodoo donut, but I prefer another place called Blue Star donuts. With Blue Star, they actually put thought into their donuts and their use of ingredients. Voodoo donut seemed to serve more stoner food. I had a bourbon, blueberry, basil donut at Blue star where the glaze was smoothly distributed and basically shimmered in the light. I went to Voodoo and they threw fruit loops on a glazed donut and called it creative. Sure it tasted nice, but I guess Blue Star turned me into a donut snob.

Believe it or not, I was in Portland for work. So, next blog post will talk about that.



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