When J-Ro Went To Portland….Part 5

Southeast Grind, my second home in PDX!

Southeast Grind, my second home in PDX!

My first Portland Sunday was a proper day of rest (The Lord himself would have been delighted with me). I was completely cream crackered, having been on the go since I arrived and not really paying any attention to the spectre of jet lag that was hovering around me. It eventually walloped me upside the head and rendered me incapable of any sort of forward motion or day-planning, so I just threw on some threads, loaded up my backpack like Dora the Explorer, and headed over to Southeast Grind, my unofficial Base of Operations for things to do in Portland (click here to read about why I loved this place so much).

I pretty much decided I was going to plant my tired old self there for the day, but first I had to grab something to eat, and being as wrecked and fuzzy-brained as I was, I chose to fall up the road and go to Jack In The Box, an American fast food franchise outlet. It wasn’t the smartest decision I’ve ever made. I hated it. I’d been pretty fussy and paranoid about food since I’d arrived in the States (it’s a long-standing issue that I won’t bore you with in THIS article anyway), and I think I’d had a pre-existing notion about how the chicken teriyaki rice & veg bowl I’d ordered would taste…and it didn’t deliver. I was bitterly disappointed, pretty much all of the things I’d eaten that looked familiar to me all tasted just that little bit different to how I’d expected them to taste, so in my mind I couldn’t ingest them. I chewed grumpily on the twisty fries I’d also ordered instead. At least they tasted like I thought they would. I also tried to make a dent in what was certainly the largest liquid-carrying vessel for one person I’ve ever seen. It went waaay beyond ‘Go Large’…they called it The Quencher. I could barely hold it in one hand without being terrified I’d drop it. I’m surprised it didn’t come with armbands and a fucking lifeguard.

Fairly accurate representation of self.

It’s safe to say that Jack In The Box isn’t exactly gourmet fusion cuisine for foodies. Thus, I was Jack’s complete lack of surprise when I found that I’d basically left the whole thing and, despite the best efforts of my kidneys and bladder, the remaining two-thirds of the bucket o’ fizz I’d stupidly said ‘yes’ to. I noticed that there was a guy outside the main doors who looked a bit out of it, and was rooting through the fast food joint’s bins outside. I looked at my tray and instantly felt like a complete asshole for contemplating chucking out so much food. So ninja-style, I gathered the bowl of chicken and rice and The Quencher and sidled out the door without the staff seeing me, and I gave them to the guy with a brief disclaimer of “the food is fine, I was just full” in case he thought I was trying to pass off something that had gone bad. As it turned out, he barely registered me and just muttered something unintelligible as he took the food off me in a complete daze and shuffled away. I didn’t really mind; I was just glad SOMEONE was enjoying the food and it wasn’t wasted. Pay it forward and all that.

But it got me thinking as I left Jack In The Box and strolled the short distance to Southeast Grind. I was about to put down roots for a few hours in a lovely place with some nice tea and maybe a treat of some kind, tap-tapping away on my new laptop in a foreign country I’d been able to travel to for a holiday, feeling happy as a clam; so I took stock and felt so incredibly grateful to have the life that I have, that I’m able to find contentment in the everyday things I do (when my mental health is being managed properly obviously).


A mini shanty-town set up at the junction of two streets next to a main road. The white object directly under the tree on the left-hand side is an umbrella for shelter & shade.

The problem of homelessness is a massive one in Portland, from what I’ve seen first-hand and from what some locals have told me. Maybe it’s because the population is roughly ten times that of Limerick, but it’s very visible and in a very unfamiliar way to me. I took a couple of pictures (see above and below) of the setups I saw dotted throughout the city centre and the suburbs that you would never see out on the streets of Limerick.

This is a slip road coming off a freeway where cars roar past at full speed. I'm standing across the road from the zebra crossing to take a pic of this particular camp, because it actually takes up a big portion of the footpath.

This is a slip road coming off a freeway where cars roar past at full speed. I’m standing across the road from the zebra crossing to take a pic of this particular camp, because it actually takes up a big portion of the footpath.

Look; anyone with a molecule of common sense knows that there are homeless people in every city, and Limerick is most certainly no exception. I’m not blind to it in my hometown by any means, and this isn’t a preachy bleeding-heart post telling people what to do or anything like that. It’s just me observing the different forms that homelessness takes wherever you go depending on population and city size. I’ve never seen anything like those mini tent townships; as fantastic as Portland was, that was definitely something that has stayed with me. That and the incredibly wide demographic of people affected; young, old, disabled, war veterans, addicts, men, women…nobody seemed immune. Which is a scary-ass thought. There but for the grace of circumstance go I.

J-Ro goes solo…in Edinburgh! (Part 1)

Swear t'God, that's my halo.

Swear t’God, that’s my halo.

If there’s one thing that I absolutely love, and I haven’t done enough of, it’s travelling solo. Don’t get me wrong, group holidays or taking a road trip with pals are great craic in their own right, but if you want to know yourself, I mean really know yourself when you’re not surrounded by all the people and things that define you back home, then head off on your Tobler somewhere for a few days, preferably somewhere you’ve never been before, where hardly anyone knows you. I say ‘hardly anyone’ because God knows, this social media-ridden planet can be tiny.

You find all sorts on Daft these days...

You find all sorts on Daft these days…

There’s something really nice about having an city to yourself, on your own schedule, at your own pace. It’s very self-indulgent. I guess it’s because I’ve been single in my adult life for so long (don’t feel in the least bit sorry for me, I’m only killing time until Tom Hardy gets that vial of blood and personal dating profile I sent him). Years ago, I decided that I didn’t want to wait around until I had a partner to go on mini-breaks and other adventures. Good thing really – otherwise I’d have mummified myself out of sheer boredom.

Now to date, my solo trips have been few and far between – and fairly local. Apart from that ten-day trip to Israel five years ago, but I’ll save that for The Book. The UK and Ireland have been my go-to destinations, and I’ve played it safe. There’s always been people I know within a text’s distance. This time the chance came up to be in Edinburgh for over a week in the form of cat-sitting for two really good mates who were coming back to Ireland for a visit, so off I went. Lucky for me, this cat is the best of craic – all he’s missing is opposable thumbs and he could look after ME for the week. One smart cookie, is Arthur.

Arthur touching my foot - and my heart.

Arthur touching my foot – and my heart.

I’ve been to Edinburgh twice before with friends and seen a few different sides to the place, all of them really cool. Unfortunately for my waistline, but fortunately for my sense of direction, I use restaurants and anything food-related the way Google Maps uses red pins. So when I arrived in The ‘Burgh, I had a calorie-based sixth sense about where to go and what to do. Plus, it’s probably one of the best cities ever to get lost in, because it’s jam-flippin’ packed with mad stuff like history and shit. I love me some history…

Some history; just lying in the middle of the road like a mad bastard.

Some history; just lying in the middle of the road like a mad bastard.

So in went the earphones and on went the shades (just so I’d look like I was pure one of the locals and not a – *GASP* – tourist.) I strolled around the main streets and lanes, hitting up Gregg’s to get something pastry-ish and drowning in fondant icing, and my disguise as a local was complete. I gave the game away a few times up around the Castle when I stood still to take pics and fought the urge to hug identically-dressed elderly American couples who stepped off giant shiny tour buses nearby and just scream “IT’S SO FUCKIN COOL!” Instead I fought the urge to tell them all that Sean Bean lives there and actually dresses like Ned Stark all the time in real life. I probably should have acted on that urge. And filmed it.

In between being an Agony Aunt and a cat-sitter, I explored bits of Edinburgh I hadn’t had the chance to. I also found the most brilliant vintage boutique and hair salon called Miss Dixiebelle’s just up the road off Prince’s St, and they fixed my neglected dejected mop of misery and gave me back a bangin’ set of Bettie Bangs. I was born again, in the light of flamingo wallpaper and rockabilly tunes. What a time to be alive!

I could well get used to this pampering lark.

I could well get used to this pampering lark.

The after shot. God bless Miss Dixiebelle.

The after shot. God bless Miss Dixiebelle.

On my first day a-wandering during the week, I’d gone completely arseways direction-wise, getting everything mixed up and thinking up was down. Normally I’d have been murdering myself for being such an idiot, but because I had given myself permission to enjoy the trip and treat it like a holiday, I actually found it quite liberating. So, thanking the Gods above and below for the good weather, i just began strolling. I saw this vintage shop that took my breath away. It was like an Aladdin’s Cave, where I seemed to suffer serious sensory overload. Such colours, and stuff and things and petticoats and lovely bits… *sigh* I basically wanted to do this the entire time I was in there:

This veritable Vintage Nirvana was Armstrong’s in Grassmarket, and I want ALL THE THINGS in there. That’s if they let me back in after the noises I made when I clapped eyes on a frilly blue vintage dress, and the worse noises I made when I realised even my left arm wouldn’t fit in the waistband.

The retail experience, I won’t bore you with. But suffice to say I got some things. Frocks for two weddings, so my one specific mission was accomplished. Some bits I got hold of can be seen on my Instagram, and wait until you get a load of the Bettie Page figure-hugging dress I got. I’ve never felt more sexay, and that’s saying something since I’ve put on a truckload of weight the last year. That’ll be up in a few weeks when the wedding bash is upon us. SERIOUSLY. Best dress ever.

Today (Saturday) I decided to head to The Edinburgh Dungeon by myself, Billy No-Mates that I am. Figured I may as well commit to being creepy Forever Alone girl. Great craic altogether. The feckers put me in a cage in the torture chamber. Sound. However I got chatting to one of the staff members while we waited to begin the tour, and when I went in for the official pic, Stevie (my new bestie) was only mad to get in on the action. So in he hopped, and he became my accomplice. By the time our tour was over and I went to get my picture souvenir, I was famous. The lads working told me they had a great laugh when they saw the pics of their mate and some mad Irish one waving an axe and acting terrified on a boat. I got a keyring, so now me and Dungeon-Stevie (totally his name now) are immortalised forever, bound by plastic and metal.

Pantomime terror - NAILED IT.

Pantomime terror – NAILED IT.

So now, I’m flippin’ wrecked, but clear-headed and happy at the same time since I can’t even remember when. So tomorrow, I’m buying into the whole tourist thing proper-styles, and getting on an open-top double decker bus for a big sightseeing tour all around the city. Can’t fucking wait! I’ll doll myself up good and proper so I’ll stick out like a sore thumb sitting with all the couples in matching windbreakers and fanny-packs; a goth among the pigeons.

Then on Monday – I’m getting tattooed. YES…

On Tuesday, because life is awesome – I’m going to get a book signed by the legend that is Amanda Palmer. My mission is to get a selfie with her to add to my collection. Well, it’s more a pair of pics than a collection, but hey. You gotta start somewhere right?

Jen Ronan & Jon Ronson - or

Jen Ronan & Jon Ronson – or “When J-Ro Met J-Ro”

Me and Irvine Welsh - soundest Scotsman since Robert The Bruce

Me and Irvine Welsh – soundest Scotsman since Robert The Bruce

Tune in for Part 2 in the next few days! It’s gonna be a good ‘un….