MONDAY, AUGUST 10 I’m not afraid to fly anymore, but I still hate it with a passion. I sometimes say that The Wall Street Journal pays me to sit in airports and on airplanes, not to write about the plays I see once I finally get to wherever I’m going. My recent trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival was a case in point—not horrific, just disagreeable, rather like a protracted bout of chronic but tolerable pain.
Judging by the preponderance of evidence, I might as well stay up all night before embarking on an early-morning transcontinental flight. Yet I find it impossible to do so, even though I never manage to get more than three hours’ sleep. You’d think I would have known better this time, seeing as how I had to hit the road at five-thirty in order to reach Kennedy Airport in time to stumble through security and board a plane bound for Portland. No such luck: I didn’t turn the lights out until three-thirty.
Why Portland? Because there are no nonstop flights from the New York area to Ashland, home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. You have to fly somewhere else, usually Los Angeles or San Francisco, then change planes, and long experience has taught me that this is more flying than I care to do in a single day. So I decided to fly into Portland and drive from there to Eugene, which is roughly halfway to Ashland, which is three hundred miles from Portland.
The flight itself was uneventful. Suffice it to say that I amused myself by listening to my iPod and watching a couple of old movies, and that I felt only moderately battered when we finally landed in Portland. Alas, the drive that followed was unpleasant in every possible way. As I tweeted shortly after checking into my Eugene hotel, “The highways of Oregon are made of coarse-ground rubble lightly coated with used motor oil. So are the drivers.” Had it not been for the whirlpool and Dungeness crab chowder at Valley River Inn, I might well have turned around and gone back home.
TUESDAY, AUGUST 11 Twitter being what it is, I heard the next morning from a sympathetic Oregonian who advised me to get off the interstate just south of Eugene on Highway 58 and spend the next couple of hours driving through the Willamette National Forest. It would, he assured me, soothe my soul.
I took his advice, and within a few minutes I found myself approaching the Lowell Covered Bridge, which was so pretty that I pulled off the highway for a closer look. It was a good omen. The rest of the trip was exactly as advertised, and the further I drove, the happier I felt. I ascended by easy stages into the Cascades, noting the terse signs that indicated the changing altitude and other relevant local phenomena: ELK. ROCKS. SLIDES. The traffic on the two-lane highway was sparse, the views breathtaking. It was as if I’d somehow wandered into a mural by Neil Welliver. Every time I passed an RV, I recalled my as-yet-unfulfilled dream of renting a Steinbeck-sized camper and driving from coast to coast without benefit of itinerary, governed solely by whim. Alas, Mrs. T would never go for it—she likes to plan ahead—but the dream, inspired by my youthful admiration for Charles Kuralt, lingers in my soul to this day.
Somewhere along the way it hit me: Nobody in the world knows where I am right now. That thought filled me with a pleasure bordering on ecstasy. At fifty-nine, I find that my life is at the mercy of curtain times, deadlines, and endless responsibilities, and I spend far too much of it sitting in front of a laptop, plugged into the world. Now the plug had been pulled, if only for a day. No one was waiting for me in Ashland, nor did I have a show to see that evening, and Mrs. T, who was tired of travel, had stayed behind in Connecticut. I was beholden only to myself.
At length I reached Odell Lake and noticed that both my stomach and my gas tank required attention. A sign told me where to fill the former, and shortly thereafter I pulled into the parking lot of Odell Lake Lodge & Resort, a rustic mountain hideaway patronized by outdoor types. I went into the restaurant and ordered a smoked salmon salad sandwich, and the young waiter brought me a thick slab of fish stuffed between two buns. I took a savory bite, then asked him, “Did you guys smoke this fish here?”
“Sure,” he said matter-of-factly, as if such culinary miracles were commonplace.
After lunch I picked up an Odell Lake Lodge brochure at the front desk and poked my head into one of the rough-hewn cabins, longing as I did so to shred my schedule and spend the rest of the week there. Then I drove to the nearest gas station. As I filled the tank, my long-forgotten cellphone rang for the first time in two days. It was Mrs. T, calling all the way from the other side of North America to see how I was.
“You won’t believe where I am right now,” I said, the spell of the Cascades not yet broken.
“Probably not,” she replied.
(To be continued)
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The Lemonheads sing “The Outdoor Type”: