Mar 202012
Authors: Matt Miller

Creeping down Interstate 84 at 2 a.m., half-delirious from fatigue, with the Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” blasting on my stereo, we sang along, screaming “Portland” instead of Brooklyn. With only an hour left in our nearly 19-hour drive, which we had done in one long stretch, the rain was pouring, making it even harder for our sleep-deprived eyes to see the winding road to Portland, Ore.

We had set out from Fort Collins at 6 a.m. on March 9 with little prior planning. There were vague sleeping arrangements made –– maybe a hostel one night, a friend’s house another night, possibly get a hotel. Sleeping bags and tents were packed just in case. We knew our destination, and we wanted adventure.

Most of the drive had gone smoothly, besides discovering that Utah has awful Mexican food. It was with an hour left of our drive that things got hairy.

In the driver’s seat of my 2001 Chevy Blazer (nicknamed Blake), I was covered in sweat. My eyes, which already have trouble seeing in the dark, were blurred with exhaustion and excessive caffeine consumption. After a nerve-wracking hour, we cheered as Blake rolled into a gas station in Portland at 3 a.m.

We stretched our cramping legs and got back in the car to find a place to park.

Blake had had enough, though. He refused to start –– 1,200 miles was all he had in him.

There was no sleeping that night waiting first for someone to resuscitate, or jump, Blake (everyone in Portland seems to be drunk on Sundays at sunrise), then for a tow truck to take my car to a garage.

The good news was the fuel pump in my car could be fixed, and at the garage I had free parking.

By the time we had recuperated from the drive and ensuing car disaster, we had time to finally experience Portland. The week was spent cramming the seven of us into hotel rooms or crashing on the floor of friends’ houses. During the day we explored the city and during the night, we crawled the downtown bars.

Portland was not what I expected. My preconceptions of the city made it into one full of hostile, pretentious people –– a city where the only food was cage-free or vegan, a city where life was far from simple.

What Portland was, in fact, was a lot like Fort Collins, or even Denver. The people were always friendly, including the crossdresser who I haggled with in a vintage shop and Richard, the transient we talked to for a while before he politely asked for money. We all agreed that we felt comfortable there.

Badly needing showers and a good night’s sleep, we dove into the city. We went to the famous Voodoo Doughnuts and ate at the legions of food carts.

Even though we went to a lot of them, Ground Kontrol was our favorite bar. Walking into it was like stepping into “Tron,” with neon lights everywhere, including the bathrooms. On top of a full bar, Ground Kontrol was a classic arcade. A “Star Trek: The Next Generation” pinball machine signed by Wil Wheaton took most of my quarters.

We hung out on fire escapes, went to the biggest used bookstore in the world, Powell’s, and even spent a drunken hour searching the city at 3 a.m. for a lost friend.

After four days in Portland, we took a trip to the coast, where we got a taste of the moody Pacific Northwest beaches, dotted with rocks and rainfall instead of towels and bikinis. From there, it was off to the college town of Corvallis, Ore., where we spent a night.

The drive back east, while not filled with nightlife, beaches or drinking, was a glimpse into small towns and the landscapes of America. There was the two-building town of Brothers, Ore. where an old couple in Grumps told us about how the wolves introduced into Yellowstone had migrated to their area and were killing animals. There was the town of Ontario, Ore. where we stood out so bad that the kid pumping gas thought we were in a band. Twin Falls, Idaho, where we spent a night, is a town famous for a botched Evel Knievel stunt.

On our final drive one of our cars nearly ran out of gas in the middle of Utah, and we took a detour to the ultimate truck stop, Little America. But somehow we made it home.

Even though I left Blake’s fuel pump in Portland, my sunglasses at Tommy’s Diner, my sleeping bag in Corvallis, my phone charger in a downtown hotel and most of my savings and dignity at bars throughout Oregon, I think I came back with a lot more.

News Editor Matt Miller is a senior journalism major. His column appears Wednesdays in the Collegian. He can be reached at

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