I pulled into Portland around sunset, crossed the grated bridge through the city limits, two fingers of light left on the horizon. Hard to keep my eyes on the road with the snow-covered volcanoes on my left, the sky turning the color of abalone shell, blue-turquoise-pink. Loren and I stayed up late playing records, then down the rabbit hole of YouTube, digging out rare clips. We watched some late-period Bowie videos that were hard to watch, a 16-minute interview with a record producer isolating each of the eight tracks on the song “Heroes,” then I slept on the couch in the same outfit I wore to work that day and the next, drinking the same cup of coffee in the car all morning long, driving to the coast.
The trees are tall along the roadsides, some have their arms up like they’re being frisked. We ambled along a clammy-smelling, muddy trail to a cove where the surfers gathered, and sat for a time watching the waves break, a slurry of brown-gray foam, the dull rush of sound collapsing, ricocheting off the rocks. Foam bubbles raking the shore, spitting up again: Loren distracted by the bits of colored plastic there, his mom wanting him to call back by 3 o’clock her time, the fact she and her husband were coming for 16 days and voted for Trump, the likelihood that would come up during their stay.
We picked our way down the coast starting at Canon Beach then south, stopping in small towns, a Saturday morning with the monkey puzzle trees frozen in the mist, people out with bonfires burning trash, blue smoke, the quality of light from the muted sun Loren and I argued over, getting the exact phrasing (he called it ‘dusty light’ but I challenged if that was a texture or visual thing he was going for, then thought what a dick I sounded like, for saying that).
The constant changing of CDs on a road trip. The fact I have tinnitus and sometimes use that to my advantage to turn the music down, or say I need a break. A package of half-eaten roasted seaweed Loren had on the dash above the steering wheel that would slide down and fall off one side when we turned: he’d catch it with one hand and put it back and then it would slide down the other and he just kept putting it back.
When we got back to Portland it was dark, Loren knew I wasn’t drinking for the month, but as we sat there waiting for the lights to turn, looking out the car window, it seemed there was nothing better to do in Portland on a Saturday night.
Loren cited a Buddhist belief that we should break the rules we set (implying to do otherwise is putting too much power in the rules), and then he asked if I’d ever heard of a French experimental book in which the author set out to write a full-length novel without using the letter E, but then decided that was too contrived, broke down and used the letter (but only twice): and somehow, there was a lesson in that for me to consider having just one drink—but I shook it off and we went record shopping instead, had sushi, made smug comments about the cherries they used as garnish, then watched a documentary about Antarctica when we got home.
The Bowie video isn’t from his last record but one that came before; the concept is that it’s the next day following the recording of “Heroes,” in Berlin, and Bowie’s clearly older and not doing anything to hide it, he’s sentimental about his time there, but doesn’t sound it: and walking along some beachside town with Loren he gets sentimental about his time in Berlin too, when he was single and made music with friends he played with in San Francisco, the singer had moved to Berlin and took Loren to an abandoned Soviet bunker on the outskirts of town, through a cutout in the barbed wire fence and into the ruins of an old fortress, its murals of Russian aristocrats in the dining hall, tunnels filled with puddles leading to darkness underground…and leaving, the signs in German that warned of hidden mines, ‘trespassing verboten.’
In the morning before I left we talked about his itch to get out and travel again, that feeling of being penned in by money and work. I took the 5 north playing ambient CDs he leant me but they only made me tense from the coffee and all their plaintive strumming, and I had to pull over at a rest stop and clear my head with some fresh air, reminded of stops we took driving across Germany with Eberhard, that you could pull over and actually sit down for a cup of coffee and enjoy that moment like it was part of the road trip, even if it didn’t feel like it.
I think Loren was feeling limited in his life like he wasn’t getting his due, the way it starts to pull back and you see yourself through the camera, and it doesn’t feel as interesting anymore.
In the morning the mountains were wearing veils and I strung together towns from the south to the north, taking Highway 18 east to Auburn; even though it takes longer than 405, it’s more scenic. And when I got home I picked out something for dinner, left the Volvo in the driveway, it showered, and when I pulled away there was a dry patch roughly the shape of my car there on the pavement, soon to be washed out again and erased.