Mar 22, 2017
No Turning Back: A Roadtrip in the Pacific Northwest at the Dawn of Trump’s America
Important thinking happens on a drive. Living in Brooklyn, time spent bounding down long empty roads with nothing but music to keep you company is not only a rare occurrence, it’s an impossible one. Seeking a moment of silent reprieve from post-Trump daily life, I went to find it on the road.
I have long been an activist, so critically following daily political happenings and their social counterparts is not an uncommon activity for me, but since Trump, things felt different—heavy, crazy, and foreign. The tether to my phone was shorter. If I looked away, would I miss something truly heinous?
Marijuana consumption was a priority on this trip, making Oregon and Washington an easy choice for our destination. Determined to get as blazed as possible, we stopped at a cute cannabis shop tucked along a winding road. A man presented us with receptacles the size of glass cookie jars, only they were filled with beautiful buds, beaming at me. I was mesmerized by these nuggets, their purple strands, crystallized leaves, and citrusy aroma. Walking out with my king-sized joint of Oregon’s Lemon Kush, I thought: Maybe this will soften the beginning of America’s decline.
Speeding past endless Portland evergreens, I tried to focus on the serenity of the view—the houses all painted in greens, deep yellows, and shades of rust. The front porches with rocking chairs. The air so crisp and cold it teeters between exhilarating and mean. When hunger took over, we ate at Tusk, a pink- and white-toned Middle Eastern-inspired eatery located in a cluster of local restaurants. For a moment, the world felt normal again when the host and I quickly realized we knew each other from New York. I took that as a good omen, and decided to enjoy a meal with my friend on a beautiful vacation. I would not think about the hundreds of people being detained at airports around the country. I would eat Pistachio Gooey Butter Cake, quite possibly the most decadent slice of confectionary brilliance I had ever tasted.
Fastened back into the passenger seat, I was lulled by a dreary-weather playlist and sedated by Bloody Marys and weed: we sought a glimpse of Portland’s famous waterfalls. Re-sparking a joint, I closed my eyes to enjoy the spray of frigid drops splattering my cheeks. But my nerves crept back. What will happen to this beauty when we have a president who does not believe in climate change? Will the mountains stay snow capped? The rivers frozen?
Despite the socio-political maelstrom, Portland succeeded in charming us. We filled our short days there with tourist staples and hangs with local friends, before we left for our next destination—Vashon, Washington, an island off the coast of Seattle. On our way there, we swung by Sea-Tac Airport to pick up another friend. He had flown in during the massive airport protests in response to the travel ban. I bombarded him with questions. Are people still mobilizing? Has anyone been released from detention?
As my companions reached the end of their patience with my preoccupation with the fall of the Republic, we arrived at a dock where we would drive our car onto a giant ferry. School children, fisherman, and lots of SUVs joined us on board, waiting to go home.
Vashon is a quaint and quiet town surrounded by the freezing Puget Sound. On paper, our cottage was conducive to my desire to unplug. Its walls were lined with windows and overlooked glimmering waters; its lawn was full of swinging benches. But as we built a fire on the pebble-heavy beach of Puget Sound, surrounded by twinkling lights and clutching tall glasses of red wine, the white nationalist named Steve Bannon who had been appointed to serve on the National Security Council crept into my thoughts. Watching the sunset over idyllic waters while exceptionally high, I wondered how a place so beautiful could feel so rotten. I barely slept.
The morning on Vashon was as incredible as the night. We had yet to be faced with the Pacific Northwest’s notoriously rainy weather. Clad in warm socks, cozy by the indoor fire place, the lazy day I had dreamed of unfolded. Smoking a still-incredibly-legal joint, and drinking from a bottomless mug of coffee, I almost felt relaxed. Then, the pro-religious discrimination judge, Neil Gorsuch, was nominated to take the open seat on the Supreme Court. What chance did we have to stop executive and legislative injustices if the court, too, is tipped? My nerves were burdened again when we packed our car and headed for Seattle, where a rented houseboat awaited us.
Arriving at the marina in Seattle felt like pulling into a weird little neighborhood, where neighbors chat from the decks of the boats they live in, working on the engines as they exchange pleasantries. Our houseboat somehow managed to be larger than any one bedroom apartment I have ever seen in Brooklyn. Our marina was Located on West Lake and provided a view of the Space Needle as well as blissful sailboats, coasting the day away.
While my travel companions opted to spend our only night in Seattle on the town, I stayed on the boat to try and digest the day’s newest terrors: the confirmation of Rex Tillerson; learning nominee Gorsuch founded a club in college called “Fascism Forever”; the resumption of the previously halted Dakota Access Pipeline. Vacation was not stopping the New Order from ploughing ahead, nor my instincts to stew the horror of it.
The most badass thing about Seattle is their staunch commitment to enacting policies that reflect the values of the people who live in their city (go figure!). During our visit there, they were moving full steam ahead with some inspiring bad-assery. Seattle had decided to divest and cancel a $3 billion contract with Wells Fargo due to the bank’s choice to invest in something the cities residents do not support– the aforementioned Dakota Access Pipeline.
We spent the day in Capitol Hill, a hip neighborhood that is easy to recommend to anyone visiting from NYC, and you could sense their spirit of resistance. Seattle was proud to stand up to policies they don’t believe in, and the people and ideologies that lead to those policies. Signs in business windows shouted “NO FASCISTS” and “BLACK LIVES MATTER,” and for the first time in weeks, I felt a bit hopeful. Seattle seemed to model exactly what my mind could not seem to grasp–what it looks like when Americans fight back. Hell, the coffee shop even sold The Jacobin. I allowed myself to appreciate Seattle for what it was that day: punk as fuck.
On our way back to the airport, we stopped at a small park, quiet save for the train crossing a bridge overhead. Smoking my last joint, the familiar noise reminded me of Brooklyn, and I tried to process what had happened on the road. I had loved every place I had visited, and everything I had seen, but I did not feel rested. I berated myself for not being at JFK to protest the Muslim ban, for not being in New York to rally against Betsy DeVos. I missed things, which is what happens on vacation. But I couldn’t shake the guilt of not standing with my community. Under a bridge in a beautiful place that I had never been to before, I confronted the fact that nothing was the same as it had been before. But in this lush corner of the Pacific Northwest, at least, I had been shown how to fight back, once I got home. ♦
Photos by Jennifer Mills.
A Quick Guide to the Pacific Northwest by Car
Incredible Mediterranean fare with a seasonal menu, it’s a must eat. Try the “Black Gold”, a gin cocktail, served a murky black thanks to activated charcoal.
2448 East Burnside Street Portland, Oregon 97214
A family style brunch spot, the small plates are affordable–so try more things! White beans and collards with baked eggs were a standout dish, but the service was even better.
10 NE 28th Ave Portland, Oregon 97232
You can’t go wrong with an easy and cool local dive with a music venue next door. Equipped with a fireplace out back and a full food menu, it’s perfect for cold, late nights.
3939 N. Mississippi Ave Portland, Oregon 97227
Thunder Island Brewing Co.
A local brewery literally located on the edge of a river, overlooking a massive range. There is no other way to drink a beer than seated in front of that view.
515 SW Portage Road Cascade Locks, Oregon 97014
A Catholic shrine and a botanical garden on the edge of a mountain that looks like it could be a hidden pocket of Middle Earth. Silent, beautiful and well worth your time.
8840 NE Skidmore St. Portland, Oregon 97220
A historic chateau with incredible views of the city, stop by to hike on the grounds or just to enjoy the sights. Bring proper shoes, the grounds are muddy!
3229 NW Pittock Dr Portland, Oregon 97210
Located conveniently Downtown, it’s an easier spot for a home base, with quick access to both the airport and popular neighborhoods. Unique to the hotel is their rich collection of historical photographs, pleasantly greeting you around every corner.
400 SW Broadway Portland, Oregon 97205
Located in the heart of bustling Capitol Hill, this bar/eatery not only has Bloody Mary’s with mini-cheeseburgers for garnish, they also have unlimited steak fries. Enough said.
1024 E Pike St. Seattle, WA 98122
Kaladi Brothers Coffee
Good coffee, booze and food? That is enough to keep us happy. It’s on a great street as well, grab a latte and a snack and walk around.
517 E Pike St. Seattle, Washington 98122
A long time Seattle staple, this music venue and bar hosts some of the coolest indie acts that come through town. Not coming to see a show? Enjoy karaoke and choose from an alarmingly long list of Red Bull inspired cocktails to put you in the mood.
2200 2nd Avenue Seattle, Washington 98121
Bathtub Gin & Co
A romantic speakeasy specializing in gin cocktails, it’s a cozy spot to indulge in a fancy drink or two. It gets crowded though, so show up early or be willing to wait for a table. 2205 2nd Avenue Seattle, Washington 98121
One of Seattle’s most famous parks, you can choose to spend your days hiking the trails or enjoying the driftwood covered beaches. Either way, you won’t be disappointed.
3801 Discovery Park Blvd. Seattle, Washington 98199
Zion’s Gate Records
In Seattle, Sub Pop reigns supreme. In addition to local jams, they boast a huge selection of new and old vinyls, you’ll have wish you had more room in your suitcase.
1100 E Pike St. Seattle, Washington 98122
Road trips rule because many hours in the car = so many records. Here are some albums that suited our dreary, ethereal days in the Pacific Northwest.
Weyes Blood, Front Row Seat to Earth
Julie Byrne, Not Even Happiness
Yumi Zouma, Yoncalla
The National, Trouble Will Find Me
Spotify’s Late Night Jazz playlist (I’m serious.)
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