Northern Delights, September 2000
You can't step twice in the same river, the old Greek said. We tested his assertion at the Willamette, the Deschutes and the mighty Columbia during a vacation that had a lot to do with recent history and things that have changed and things that have not.

We were in Portland five years ago to the week, and I had stayed there 10 years earlier. Bend we have visited five times before, including each of the past three years.

In 1985 in Portland I stayed at a $50-a-night hotel called the Imperial, and when I went out at 9 o'clock to find dinner, I found instead rolled-up sidewalks. I ate at a coffee shop on Broadway. On this trip, sitting in a sleek bar in the same building as the renovated Imperial, we looked out on Saturday evening streets almost as busy as the weekdays', full of people shopping and heading to dinner. One nice thing about the way Portland has grown is that it hasn't gotten embarrassed by some of the more idiosyncratic elements of its downtown. The street corner water fountains, for instance, and the bronze beavers at Pioneer Square haven't fallen victim to a preoccupation with sophistication.

We stayed in the hotel adjoining the sleek bar; the regular rate for a room that looked onto a ventilation shaft was $175. We preferred our room at a sister hotel a block away: Fifth Avenue Suites, $99 for a huge corner room with a very nice bathroom. A couple of nights our fellow guests included some hiphop performers and their retinues of rather skanky dancers, but they were well-behaved. And it was entertaining to step out the door and face of pack of little girls with cameras and autograph books.

Our first two nights in Portland we ate in a recently trendy neighborhood called Nob Hill, first at Paley's Place and then across the street at Wildwood, with David's Aunt Bonnie and Uncle Ed. Last time we were in Portland, we were four months from even knowing Bonnie and Ed existed and a year from meeting them. Now we've eaten with them in Portland, Bend, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Moab, their house and our house, and they're among our favorite dinner partners.

Day 3 was David's birthday, so the dinner was at Jake's Famous Crawfish, where we ate on the same occasion five years ago, the night that Robert Packwood left the Senate. It's one of those tourist favorites that does what it does very well: fresh seafood and professional service in a dark, comfortable room.

Earlier that day we got married at the 24-Hour Church of Elvis -- I remember looking for it on a previous trip and not finding it -- and then spending the rest of the morning at Powell's City of Books, the bookstore so large they hand out maps. On Sunday we had taken a long looping walk around downtown and had lunch at Southpark, another new Roadie recipient.

Tuesday we headed out to Bend by a round-about route: up the Old Columbia Highway (and then the new) to the Dalles, then down along the Deschutes. The old highway has some fantastic roadhouses and signs. Maybe because such a small percentage of drivers venture off the new road closer to the river there was no money to be made by putting in more modern restaurants. Still, the fact that they survived at all amazes me.

Any such roadhouses on the outskirts of Bend would have had little chance of surviving the past five years. Maybe that's not completely fair: Most of the places we have eaten, and the only place we have ever stayed, are still there. But except for the downtown core, Bend doesn't look very much at all like it did in 1993, the first time we were there. All the way out China Hat Road, to the place where we used to shoot, there are now houses, with yards and trampolines. There are a lot of new houses, and they really aren't as inexpensive as you might think, and they're much closer together than they ought to be. The Mongolian barbecue is still there next to our motel, but in town there's an Outback Steakhouse and I'm sure Applebee's isn't far behind. I guess as tourists from California, and relatively recent ones at that, we have no claim to any sorrow over the direction of Bend, but we're glad we got to see it before.

We stay at the Riverhouse, and even a year ago there were marmots living next to the parking lot, but I didn't see them this time. We paid more for our room in Bend, on a weeknight, than we did in Portland.

The Pacific Crest Trail passes close to town, so we spent most of our three days there hiking on that route, in Three Sisters Wilderness and farther south. The first day we saw quite a few people, including a man who had somehow managed to get lost on one of the best-marked trails we've seen. (We were a little worried about him. Our scorn that day went to the Prize Idiot of the Trip: The driver in front of us on the road back to Sisters who locked up his brakes at 50 mph so his dog could jump out the window and chase a chipmunk.) We saw only one person on each of the next two days: a ranger doing trail maintenance and a young French woman who appeared to be through-hiking, or at least attempting to. Mid-September is pretty late to be in mid-Oregon if you're trying to make Canada before the snow. It had actually snowed on that stretch of the PCT, at 5,000 feet, the previous weekend.

We timed our drive back to Portland so we could have lunch at the Rendezvous in Welches, a place that attained legendary status in our trip annals on the basis of one excellent lunch and a very angry cat. I am so happy to report that, even without the feline floor show, it is still a superb place to eat. The bacon-and-tomato sandwich I had remembered so well was still on the menu and I had to have it again. I wish there was a nearby hotel other than the Scottish-theme place because we would like to have dinner there and it's really the kind of restaurant from which you want to be able to walk to bed.

So there you have it, and hear, hear, Heraclitus. Some things get washed away, and some things stand fast, and sometimes it's not so much the river that has changed but the person stepping in it.