Something hit me recently, and it wasn’t a joyous revelation. I realised that I may have developed a wee crush on someone.
My first Portlandian Saturday rolled around, and I had the biggest of plans. My original POA had been to head to Skamania County (what a rapid name) and take in the delights and wonders of The Bigfoot Bash n’ Bounty. That’s right; I was heading in search of Bigfoot – or at least a bunch of cheesy imitations and gimmicky tourist souvenirs. It shouldn’t be too hard to get there, I thought. After all, this was America.
Oh, how wrong I was. I spent HOURS Google mapping, Amtrak-ing, Greyhound Bus-ing every which way i could think of online the night before, desperately trying to work out a public transport route to get there and back. Skamania County was in Washington, Oregon’s neighbouring state, but it might as well have been in the Australian Outback. There was no way in the laws of physics I was going to make it. So after much deliberation, I had to abandon ship. In an ironic twist, the Bigfoot festival was proving to be just as inaccessible as the creature that inspired it. Bastard.
When I awoke on the Saturday morning at 6.30am (THANKS JETLAG) I decided that today was the day I would head to the RV & Motorhome show in the Portland Expo Center. As trips go, this would prove to be the easiest peasiest journey ever, compared to the epic journey of the backroads and side-roads that the Bigfoot Festival would have conjured up. A friend had suggested Craigslist for ride-sharing, but I vetoed the crap out of it because NO FUCKING WAY ARE YOU KIDDING ME THEY STILL HAVEN’T FOUND THE SERIAL KILLER WHO’S NAMED AFTER IT SO I THINK I’LL PASS OKAYTHANXBYE
By this stage I was getting used to the MAX (the Portland version of the LUAS), and hopped on it & headed to the Portland Expo Center, where my eyes were treated to some of the maddest-looking yokes that ever graced a road. I was extremely disappointed to find out that for all of their hidden sections and expanding compartments, not one single RV turned out to be an actual Transformer. I wish someone had told me at the beginning, though. I’d spent a full fifteen minutes chatting up this rather hunky red, blue & chrome motorhome in the hope that it was Optimus Prime having some chill time. Alas, it was not meant to be. However, the guy sitting behind the wheel in said motorhome now thinks he has a sleazy Irish girlfriend; so, there’s that, I suppose…
I was sort of hoping for a more rustic affair, packed with a load of motorhome enthusiasts named Dale and / or Earl strolling around in all their Sunday camping finery, smugly showing off their pride n’ joy while their wives Martha or Darlene tut-tutted and left them to it. Nope. It was a giant venue full of the newest and shiniest that the RV world has to offer the discerning retired whoever who has $60k and upwards to chuck around. It was still very cool to check out though. As quaint as it sounds, there’s no way on this green earth any one of these monstrous vehicles could ever negotiate Irish country roads, they were wider than two high-rise car park spaces. These yokes were definitely made for the wide open American road. Looking inside them, I realised they were nicer than some houses I’ve been in. Them Yanks take their driving & camping holidays seriously.
There were still some camper vans that hearkened back to a bygone age with the classic VW hippy vans getting a nod from an American company who had bought the license from Volkswagen and so went ahead and made some really cool small VW-inspired vans, complete with retro interior. I TOTALLY wanted one.
The high point of the day was when I got chatting to an Argentinian RV salesman who, when I told him I was Irish, said to me “Ah the Irish are cool, I’ve got a few friends from there – we hate the Brits as much as you guys do.” I leaned in and whispered “Falklands?” and he nodded, smiling. “Got it in one!” We parted ways, laughing heartily and muttering obscenities about Thatcher.
So ended my day trip to the world of RV madness. I was exhausted by mid-afternoon, having been walloped upside the head by a jet-lag shaped baseball bat, which was how I ended up getting my bearings all mixed up and going waaay too far on the MAX line that was supposed to take me home. I wasn’t too stressed about it, I didn’t have anywhere in particular to be and sometimes it’s nice to get lost in a place, sometimes weird and strange things happen. Which is precisely what did happen.
I eventually worked out at which stop I had to get off, so I waited for the next train to arrive. This being Portland, it was like five minutes, bless ’em. No sooner had I gotten on the Orange line back the way I came, when, at the next stop, who should get on but Colton McBride, he of the gentle Goth persuasion I wrote about in my previous post (click here). Given the randomness of me ending up where I did and how big a city Portland is, I was genuinely surprised at the coincidence. He looked the exact same, apart from being makeup-free. He also seemed a bit more ‘with it’, and didn’t recognise me at all, even when he sat across from me and asked if this was the Orange line. I decided to leave him be. As ‘with it’ as he was, he still clutched his Victorian china doll reverently, fixing her hair and her dress, making sure she was neat and tidy, chatting with a woman who asked him where he’d gotten the doll (nothing surprises me here, it’s Portland) and telling her he’d found her in a thrift store for $3. Fair play to him.
I didn’t push to remind him that we’d met, I just answered his questions about which train it was, and he smiled and went back to making sure his doll was looking presentable. I took a sneaky pic to prove that I’d met him again so that when I wrote about our second encounter I’d have proof that life can be very odd sometimes, and my wondering about the welfare of Colton had somehow prompted the Universe to put him in my pathway once more so I’d see he was doing okay. The fact that he had no makeup on told me that at the very least he’d had an opportunity somewhere to clean himself up, so maybe he wasn’t as badly off as I had initially thought. But who’s to know? At least I got to see him one more time. Cheers Colton!
(tune in next time, when I laze around Southeast Grind thinking about stuff, then I visit the largest bookstore IN THE WORLD)
I’d been all set to do an epic ‘before’ post in the days running up to my solo adventure, but every time I sat down to type, a cold wave of fear and reality would crash over me and I’d shy away from the laptop in terror, only returning to let it entertain me via Netflix and distract me from the magnitude of what was about to happen.
I’d been obsessed with wanting to visit Oregon at some stage in my life ever since I was about fifteen. It was the early 90’s, it was grunge, and all our teen idols were shabbily dressed, softly-spoken, unconventional non-Hollywood misfit types – enter one River Phoenix. I adored him. Every bit of his quirky unassuming self spoke to my soul. I totally got what he was about. I was a child of newly-separated parents, not a Catholic, with one foot in grunge music, the other in whatever metal I could get my hands on. All you young metallers will never know the giddy thrill of obtaining an illicit cassette tape recording of your band of choice with a handwritten label stuck on the face of it; usually with the author’s crappy but big-hearted attempt at recreating the band’s logo in black biro for you…but that’s another blog post altogether. I digress.
So anyway, I discovered through the medium of Smash Hits magazine that my beautiful River had been born in a log cabin in Oregon, and I thought that was the coolest. Along with being a typical moody hormonal teenager, I also suffered from massive amounts of crippling anxiety that could turn my stomach into a churning mass of molten vomit at any moment’s notice, so when I wanted to escape situations that set it off (read: everything), I would begin to imagine myself living in a beautiful log cabin in the wild green woods of Oregon, far from the people & things that threatened to destroy my fragile peace of mind. As the years went by, the dream pretty much stayed the same, but I added the occupation of hermit best-selling writer into the mix. Not gonna lie, that’s still pretty much exactly where I want to be, but with the ability to beam myself anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice so I don’t miss anything important back home.
So Oregon remained one of those places that took root in my mind as somewhere I had to visit if I ever had the time and resources, and I eventually narrowed it down to visiting somewhere like Portland once I found out more about the place. The show Portlandia sang to me from Netflix and told me that I was completely right; Portland was now the place to be for all things weird and unconventional. I did some serious research along with devouring the show and feeling super-envious when I saw all the beautiful quirky houses in the suburbs, or the dynamic shots of all the mad eejits floating around Downtown. While Seattle had been the Mecca for the grunge generation, it seemed like all those folks got older and migrated down the map to Oregon and brought up the next generation of misfits and unconventional ne’er do-wells. Portland seemed to have become the new Seattle, but in its own contemporary way. But our original kind are more than welcome here, after all, we were the founding fathers of the Portlandia generation. (I’m including myself in this because fuck it)
So with all that madness in mind, and all these above thoughts racing around my brain at warp speed, I decided that this year was the time to do it. My finances were healthy enough to support my decision, and my time was my own, so it was just a matter of when to bite the bullet. I decided on September, because I liked the idea of going in my birthday month and spending some time reflecting on what direction I wanted my life to go in, and letting the mental freedom that travel can provide influence my decision. Also, I’m an Autumn / Winter gal at heart, and Portland in the Fall just sounded pretty epic all round.
Once I booked it, I immediately felt scared and anxious as well as completely at peace with my choice, if that’s possible. One part of me was patting myself on the back, telling me that I’ll feel like I’ve come home, I’ve been wanting this for years, and it’ll all be fine. The other more grounded part of me was screaming WTF DID YOU JUST DO YOU’VE NEVER BEEN TO THE STATES LET ALONE SPEND TEN DAYS ON YOUR TOBLER IN A STRANGE TOWN THERE YOU’VE LOST THE FUCKING PLOT and continued to do so right until I set down my bags where I was staying. No wonder I had a pounding headache that night.
to be continued….
I began my last day in Edinburgh by waking up to a juicy, squishy, throbbing mass of inky corned beef that used to be my arm. The first 24 hours are always a bit messy; after I cleaned it, I was pure delighted with myself, checking out my new upgraded HD colour arm in the mirror every ten minutes. Apologies to Mags & Bryan for leaking my tattoo-goo on your duvet. I wrapped my arm in 3 meters of cling film in an attempt to keep it airtight before I went to sleep. Once it was all taped up, I couldn’t help thinking it resembled a plastic-sealed tattoed ham; a vacuum-packed part of a once-badass pig. Oh yes. I was in my sexual prime. Form a queue lads…
So on into town I went, having been dropped off on one end of Princes St, before realising it was the wrong end. If there’s one thing I LOVE to do, it’s running or power-walking down a street that’s – and I’m not prone to exaggeration as you well know – twenty-five miles long, while a gale-force wind bitch-slaps me in the face and I try and avoid people who all seem to want to shoulder me at full force into my supremely tender freshly-inked upper arm. It was quite the sight that met the staff of Waterstone’s fifteen minutes later. I looked like the ‘before’ picture for a Goth heart attack prevention campaign. I know. There’s too much sexiness in this post…
The queue was fairly substantial by the time I got there, with all sorts of folk waiting to meet the fantastic Amanda Palmer and get her book The Art Of Asking signed. If you haven’t heard of the book, I’d highly recommend giving it a go. It’s a wonderful work; part memoir, part guide on how to get over ourselves and reach out to ask for help when we need it. That and she’s also just a very cool interesting person with many great stories to tell from her days earning money as a living statue on the streets of New York. Check out her Ted Talk in the link below, it’s well worth a watch.
While we waited in line, I got chatting to the two girls behind me. Danielle and Cass were from Ottawa, Canada, and had been travelling around Ireland and the UK for the last few weeks. We had great craic, chatting about Dublin and their Edinburgh experience so far. They were SERIOUS Amanda fans, even knowing her PA (Whitney, who told me my outfit was ‘super-cute’ – legend) on a personal level. The Waterstone’s had a café directly above us in an open-plan area up a set of stairs, so we kept ourselves comfortably refreshed with giant coffees & teas all round. I tell you what; if you’re going to be stuck queueing anywhere, a bookstore like that certainly isn’t the worst. I had a ball before I even got up to get my book signed.
When the time came, Amanda Palmer came down the steps looking relaxed and happy and glowy as hell with her baby bump proudly on display. You’d never know that she’d done a massive show the night before, and she was delighted with everyone who showed up. Next thing she took up her ukulele, and before she started to play, she said “If all you guys want to huddle up and stand closer to hear this, I know everybody will keep their place in the queue and not jump, right?” With that, she played one of her lovely tunes, and it was like listening to a friend serenade you. Stopping, laughing, having little jokes with the crowd or bemused Waterstones customers who had no idea what was going on, and one really cute moment where a mother walked past her with a baby in her arms and she slightly melted and we all laughed, because Amanda being the open soul that she is, blogs and updates FB talking about impending parenthood and how excited she is, and what a great father her husband Neil (Gaiman for those who don’t know!) will be to the new arrival. Here’s a clip I took of her playing:
Believe it or not, EVERYONE went back to their original places in the queue! I guess that’s more a testament to the nature of her fans, everyone is pure sound. Imagine that happening in Limerick?? Doesn’t bear thinking about. THE HORROR…
One of the best things to happen was as we got closer to the signing desk, I sent Neil Gaiman a tweet with a pic of Amanda singing, only to find he had replied to me a minute later. Delighted, I was. Announcing it to a giant queue full of artsy nerdy bookworm-types who have quotes from his books tattooed on their bodies wasn’t my wisest move if I wanted to not have the arm thumped off me in disbelief as they said “Fuck off. SHUT UP. No way!” To which I only made the situation worse by responding “Oh God yeah, sure I’ve spoken to him a few times. He’s such a legend.” Well, in for a penny….
Finally, I got to get my book signed and meet the woman of the moment. She’s so frickin’ nice! She didn’t even look bored or freaked out when I gabbled at her nervously as she signed ‘To @JayRow’ on the inside cover. She pulled me in for a hug / picture like she hadn’t been spending all day doing the exact same thing to everyone, we all really felt like we’d had proper time with her, which, given the size of the queue, was no mean feat.
I skipped out of Waterstones (metaphorically – nobody needs to see that) pure delighted with myself. For the rest of the day, I packed and got my shit together, planning on how I would handle the sudden anticlimax of coming home and not getting selfies with world-famous authors for a change. I didn’t feel like getting off the rollercoaster just yet, and wondered what the Universe had in store for me next that I could see myself saying ‘YES’ to.
Later on that evening, I found out…and it was going to be a real ‘drag’.
Tune in next time to find out what J-Ro did next!
After all the craic of Saturday, where I went to the Edinburgh Dungeon and made a new pal, I was all set to rock out the door on Sunday to hop on an open-top bus and go Full Tourist around the city. I was pure excited, having visions of dressing up like a victim in an anti-mugging campaign; neon fanny-pack, Edinburgh Castle novelty baseball cap, my passport in a stupid-looking yoke around my neck, and my phone in a clip belt. Alas, this unnerving vision of sexuality was never to come to fruition – for two reasons.
The first being that when it comes to weather, the ‘Burgh can be a temperamental finicky bastard, so grey skies and wetness in the air were all around. The second reason being that I was completely wrecked. I seem to have a very short shelf-life for the outside world, and it gets shorter depending on how I am in myself. When I’m out, I enjoy every minute, and do my best to soak up the experience of whatever has lured me from the comfort of a couch-fort and a computer screen. But after a while I reach a very definite point where my brain turns on a dime, and the urge to run screaming back indoors is almost a physical one.
It’s a strange sensation to explain to those who don’t suffer with mental health issues. Christ, it’s difficult to explain to myself at the best of times. It’s not a panic attack as such; rather it can feel like the energy level bars on a video game screen depleting into the red and you’ve limited time to get back to base to recharge, or it’s Game Over. It comes out of nowhere, but it makes its presence known. It has no real logic, but your physical brain tries to attach it to something tangible to try and make sense of it. Which, cruelly enough, adds to the weight on your shoulders. I’m aware enough now (thank the Gods) to read the signs and know when to tap out of a situation and retreat to base camp where possible. Jaysus, I’m very high maintenance. It’s all a bit of a cunt really. But, I digress.
So after being sensible and staying in on Sunday and, as my sister says, ‘having a serious chat’ with myself, I woke up on Monday seriously excited to be getting tattooed for the day. There’s nothing more handy at keeping you in the present and worry-free than sitting for almost seven hours while someone etches ink of many assorted colours deep into your skin with needles. It’s not for everybody, I’ll give you that, but God I fucking love it.
I was greeted at the door of a gorgeous Georgian building just off Princes St by one of the coolest guys I’ve ever seen. David Corden, one of the most talented tattoo artists on the planet, is working out of his home studio while he gets ready to open his shop, Semper Tattoos & Piercing, in the next couple of months. Big smile, all style, he grabbed me in a massive bear hug and introduced me to Michelle Maddison, the unbelievably talented woman who was going to be using me as a human colouring book for the day. She normally didn’t work Mondays, she told me later as she worked away using pretty much every gorgeous colour on the spectrum on my upper arm, but my subject matter was what sold it. “It was Jem And The Holograms, how could I not?” she laughed.
We were kept company outside the sterile studio area by Dave and Kelly’s French Bulldogs Chopper and Bronson. A pair of four-legged, big-eared happy-out goofy legends who loved hanging with humans who gave them loves and attention. I loved them! We had Netflix on in the background while Michelle worked, and she gave me Dealer’s Choice, so just for something to focus on when the pain got a bit iffy, I stuck on some Alan Partridge. Not my smartest move. Can’t be laughing while someone is doing some precision-level permanent needlework on your skin. Thankfully, Michelle is steadier than a neurosurgeon, and I’d seen all the episodes before, so it was less of a guffaw and more of a knowing chuckle to myself.
In the end, I broke my own personal sitting record for getting tattooed. Previously having sat for three and a half hours at a time for larger pieces, this one clocked in at a whopping six and a half hours. I was very glad of the Mars Bar I’d scoffed just before we began. I was quite proud of myself, but I think I’ve found my limit now. By hour six I was sweating and drawing inspiration from Tyler Durden in Fight Club and trying to find my cave and my power animal, who was hopefully a cheeky foreign-sounding meerkat armed with a cold water spritzer to douse my arm and bring sweet relief.
By the end of the session, I was rewarded with the most colourful, awesome eye-catching tattoo on the planet. It’s a tribute to my childhood in the Eighties, and my adoration for Jem And The Holograms, which, to me, was the ultimate feminist cartoon for young girls. Who needs Girl Power when you had Synergie and could fool your fella into two-timing you just by wearing extensions and giving him a different name? (Poor Rio. Mensa was never going to have his number on speed-dial, that’s for sure.) Michelle is one of the coolest, most lovely people I’ve ever met, and her eye for colour is almost painful, it’s so beautiful. She has a blog of her own talking about her tattoos and showing her work, as well as detailing her experience of upping sticks and moving to Edinburgh to start a new life for herself, with all the perils and pleasantness and pitfalls in between. Click on my Jem tattoo pic below to head over to her fantastic blog.
In a side-development, I discovered that both Dave and Michelle were both massive fans of the artwork of my first cousin and veritable Instagram royalty Morgan, whose Instagram profile (@c0dex) is a showcase of some of the most gorgeous animation-style artwork you’re ever likely to see. Fucking hell, this Interweb is small. But mighty. Check out one of her awesome drawing pieces below:
That night I headed back to the apartment, with an arm twice its normal size but a hundred times more colourful. I’ve always hated my upper arms, they’re the features guaranteed to ruin my enjoyment of any pictures where they inadvertently show up. Why would I draw attention to them so, I hear you ask? Well precisely because I hate them. Why not paint them with something that brought me so much joy as a child and turn that hatred on its head? It’s a lovely experience to look into the mirror and instead of feeling despair at my shape, feel happiness and remember the excitement of getting up at 7am on a Saturday morning as a kid to watch a girl band kick ass and make me feel like I could do it too. It’s not for everyone, this business of getting inked, but it’s what does it for me.
I find myself going into an almost meditative state, getting in ‘The Zone’ while you and the artist reach a certain level of peace and quiet as the picture starts to take shape…which Michelle and I then smashed to smithereens by reading the holes off various exes who had done us wrong and comparing horror stories. It was fantastic.
And with that, my last night in Edinburgh was upon me. Without knowing it, my friends Bryan and Mags had given me the gift of a proper break away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, and I’d been able to assess some stuff and sow the seeds of ideas and plans for the future on a professional and personal level. To me, that was priceless, That, and I had the company of Arthur, the cuddliest and most affectionate cat in the United Kingdom. I’m very grateful to know the people (and animals!) that I do. They’re the cat’s pyjamas, so they are. (I’m not sorry for that)
All excited and gooey from tattoo juice, I wrapped my arm in cling-film (unpleasant and a complete head-wreck for the night) and threw myself head-first into a fitful sleep. For I had one more Edinburgh adventure ahead of me the following morning….
Tune in next time for another instalment of J-Ro adventures!