Two Beers on an Empty Stomach

When you eat alone, and the restaurant is empty, you can type on your laptop and eat a whole pizza. And drink a beer too.

I drink the Umbrella IPA, which I read on the wrinkled tap list is redolent of “gooseberry and bright fruit… balanced by a pale malt character.” After it’s gone, I’ll order the Beak Breaker, a double IPA that I hope will have “such notes of ruby-red grapefruit and sweet pine, [I’ll] break my beak on its olfactory blast”!

Who writes tap lists?

The Pelican Brewing Company is famous. It’s famous ‘cause it’s good, but also ‘cause it’s the only place to eat in Pacific City, 187 miles from Seattle on the Oregon Coast.

The beer is 7.4% alcohol and all I ate on the ride down here was burritos. Two burritos, but small burritos. I’m very hungry. The beer’s here first. 

This is good. It’s good being in a new place. It’s not a foreign place, but it’s a new place. Even that’s enough. Isn’t this the kind of travel I drool over when I’m in a different country? This kind of travel, where I can throw blankets and a cooler into my car and see how far I can get from my front door in 96 hours.

Beak Breaker has arrived: yes, I dare say I’ve broken my beak. I’ll have had a quart of beer by the end of this meal. A quart of beer and a thousand words. A quart of beer is worth a thousand words.

If I had driven down here in daylight, it would have been beautiful. I would have seen the sky churn over the ocean and turn red. But the sun set before I got to Portland; the sky was deepening when I passed Gospodor Monument Park outside Toledo, its iron towers commemorating Mother Teresa, the Holocaust, Mother Teresa again, and Chief Seattle holding still in their chain-link lot.

I drove through the City of Roses, recognizing street names from Portlandia, and the sky got dark, and I realized that already it had been nearly four, five hours in the car since I got off work and drove down, caffeinated and needing to pee in the middle of Fort Lewis-McChord traffic.

When I got out of the car in DuPont to get gas, my whole body hurt because the other day I went to a beginner yoga class because it worked with my schedule and because I wanted to refresh myself on the basics, but I was the only student who registered so it was just me and the teacher, and she let me just work on all the hard poses I wanted, and now I hurt. I groaned when I stepped out of the car, but then I remembered that this was the feeling I had on the camino—oh, Camino de Santiago—and I limped stiffly into the station to use the bathroom like you do on a proper road trip—even though DuPont isn’t that far from Puyallup—with pleasure, feeling like a traveler. I smiled in the bathroom mirror and pumped my fist.

I think the Beak Breaker tastes a little like… another sip. Yeah. Wet dog. Not in a bad way. I’m getting a pizza with artichokes on it. Artichokes are like wet dogs. 

The drive after Portland was harrowing. Harrowing? Maybe that’s too strong. What else means “harrowing?” In Jitterbug Perfume, Tom Robbins says there’s no such thing as synonyms. I don’t know if he believes that; maybe it’s just his characters. But I’m peeved at Tom because I crashed my car in his town—but I’ll let myself call it “harrowing.” It’s not too strong a word.

I haven’t been fearful since the accident. Careful, yes. Not fearful. But tonight, I was. I drove through Tillamook State Forest on State Route 6. There were no lights—this beer feels good in my head—and trees that were as tall as forever lurked on either side—my stomach, not so much—and they had no mercy. The only signs were ones signifying sharp curves in the road and then





I was nervous—no, scared—and the cars behind me didn’t like how slow I drove. They flashed me!

Lol: normally, drinking two beers doesn’t do a thing to me. But all I’ve eaten today is coffee shop fodder: a bagel. Breakfast burritos. Another breakfast burritos… you know, I think that actually is it.

Going through the Tillamook Forest was harrowing. I turned off the music to focus on driving, but I was getting too scared, so I put on an episode of No Such Thing As a Fish, and knew there were just four fun facts each with ten minutes of banter before it’d be done and I’d be almost out of the 50-mile dark foggy rainy forest drive.

I kept seeing turnouts, to let the cars behind me pass, but I saw them too late, and they followed too closely for me to feel comfortable suddenly slowing. I was concentrating on the road, but I’d been concentrating on the road for so long I got to thinking: are my eyes getting worse?  Do I feel dizzy? Am I carsick? Do I have cell service? Am I thinking this because I crashed my other car, or because I’m driving a different car than normal? Am I okay? I did obey all the stop signs.

Every customer in this brewery—and there have been five: two couples and one man talking to the bartender and manager now—must to be a local. It closes at 10:00 and I got here at 9:00. I know the beach is behind me not because I can see it, but because I can’t see anything else. A vacuum. It must be the ocean. That’s how you can tell it’s the ocean. I know I don’t really need to worry about the tsunami evacuation route signs, but I don’t not. That’s where we are now: tsunami country. Funny how I give such pause to them and think Tonight could the night! when I grew up in the shadow of an active volcano.

My pizza—okay, flatbread—is here.

I have eaten the whole flatbread.

I have done what Mom would call “closing the pub.” As in, I’m the last to leave.

I walk in the dark back across the street to the hotel with the food and the quart of the beer. That drive really was scary. I was scared of the elk, rocks, and slides. It was so dark, and driving is dangerous. I’ve done lots of scary things, but driving is always dangerous.

I drove and thought, Just two hours, and hour and a half, 40 minutes till you can get a beer at Pelican Brewery and relax—

—Yes but you’re not at Pelican Brewery. You’re here, on this scary road, so stay focused. Stay here. 

But I made it. I didn’t hit a single tree or median or car and I made it to Pacific City, which probably was three hours farther than someone should be expected to drive in rush hour after work. See, that’s why even this jaunt to Oregon counts as adventure: it’s a little too much, a little too far, a little past where I’ve been before. I don’t know where I am now: how perfect, how wonderful. Mom asked me to stay in a hotel instead of camping in my car like I was planning, so I’m here in this admittedly very nice inn where I have a fireplace and better than average art on the wall, and I guess in that dark expanse I can see from my balcony the haystack rock lurks, sister to Cannon Beach’s famous icon. Don’t take it personally, Cape Kiwanda. Your rock just isn’t as close to the metropolis. I’ll see you in the morning; I’m sure you’re lovely.

I don’t prefer to arrive in new places at night, but there is something to getting into town in the oblivious dark, and only remembering the daytime landscape of your own familiar terrain, and waking up in a new world. That’s what happened when Kate and I landed in Prague. I think that’s what will happen tomorrow. I think I’ll wake up and look out the window and my eyes will go up at the tsunami territory I’ve just slept in.

I listened to a podcast about two guys who’d read the book The Secret. After listening to it, I don’t respect The Secret, but I’d like to watch the movie with a couple of beers in my system. I go to Netflix and see that Fred Armisen has a comedy special about drummers. Fine. If The Secret isn’t on Netflix, I’ll watch Fred. But The Secret is there. Too bad.

It’s playing, but I don’t watch it. I stand on my balcony and listen to the waves that scare me but in a good way. I can’t see them; they’re darker even than wine now. What’s the point of tsunami evacuation routes? Won’t it be too late anyway? Or do they have alarms here? Do they have volcano alarms, though, where I grew up? No. Presumably, when the sky turns black, we climb up on a hill to escape the lahar. Lahar… is not a bad name for a kid.

The sound I’ve been identifying as cars is the waves. I forget that. I grew up near the Sound but the Sound doesn’t sound like the ocean. Here, there is no ebb and flow. It’s a constant rumble.

And there’s a house on a hill to my right, barely lit, and the brewery is closing down but the lights are still on. I see people mopping. I see a couple strolling on the clean streets. I’m here at the wrong time of year, but how busy this place must be in the summer. I know it’s busy in the summer because of how nice is looks in the winter. I wish it were summer but I’m proud to be here in the winter.

I turn off The Secret. It’s stupid.

I would like to be with someone but being alone has a keen pleasure too, one I’ve fought hard to unlock the ability to enjoy. Besides, if there’s no one to talk to now I can just journal about it and tell lots of people later when I blog: is this crap bloggable? Oh yes, oh sure. And tomorrow I’ll see my dear friend Joe, and we’ll have an official Oregon Coast adventure.

But for now, go to a strange town alone, walk into a strange bar alone, order two pints and a pizza—okay, flatbread—and write, watching with detached delight as your brain floats, as you know it will, from the stark soberness that driving demands to the loosey-goosey-whatever-you-want-it’s-so-late-who-cares-anyway-the-rest-of-the-day-is-yours-for-the-playing-and-all-you-have-left-to-do-is-walk-across-the-street-to-the-hotel-where-you-will-sleep-whenever-and-as-long-as-you-want froth of being a lone stranger in a lone town, somewhere south of the cheese and north of the redwoods.


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