Tom McCall Waterfront Park

washed out on the waterfront

External image

This is probably the one good, non-muck shot I had taken when I wandered out of my apartment yesterday to go see what the fuss is all about at the Rose Festival. It’s at the Tom McCall Waterfront Park every year, but this year the Waterfront Village has been re-named “CityFair” for God only knows what reason. Here’s a look at just how muddy the whole thing was, and why we’re only getting around to the possibility of drainage ditches for the fair NOW is another matter entirely.

Of course, being relatively intelligent, I anticipated the park being a mess, so I wore jeans I knew were going straight into the laundry and my pair of boots as I made my way downtown. Waterfront Park is a stretch of land along the Willamette River; it runs between the Burnside Bridge to the north and the Hawthorne Bridge to the south, with Naito Parkway on its western border. It’s a good spot where several festivals/fairs/events are held during the year, and tonight was both the opening night and media night of the Rose Festival. I’d never gone to opening night because I’d been working overnight weekends and had to sleep.

City Fair is a condensed version of your state or county fair – it’s rides, carnies, and vendors hawking both trinkets and gastrointestinal atrocities that I’d sworn off after two years of working live shows for the California Mid-State Fair.  

I walked in through the entrance at Stark and Naito, the closest to the final MAX stop along First Avenue before the tracks hook onto Morrison. The mud at that entrance was already lapping at feet, making the sort of gurgling noises that one associates more with stomach trouble than anything else. This didn’t dismay any of the children I saw around, who were pictures of mirth, splashing around in rain boots with parents close at hand. The picture at the top was taken at the north end, which is reserved for the very little kiddie rides and had the most grass still intact. In the middle just before you hit the Morrison Bridge mid-point are the truly sphincter-loosening rides (with associated names like the Zipper, the Kamikaze, and Vertigo – I’m convinced operators give the rides these names to counter the bright coloring on them and imply true danger), which I wanted to get on, but refuse to in wet weather – there’s absolutely no fun in getting thrown around by the Zipper* if you’re getting drenched at the same time you’re being spun in an independent cage while the apparatus rotates.

*Yes, if you’ve read David Foster Wallace’s “Getting Away From Already Pretty Much Being Away From It All” about the Illinois State Fair or have seen a Zipper at any of your local fairs, you know what it looks like and how it works. I’m pretty sure there’s a franchise on it; it’s the same type of ride every time I’ve seen something named “The Zipper.”

At about 5:15 or so, a torrential blast hit downtown Portland, sending everyone huddling under the Morrison Bridge, looking like some bizarre type of refugee camp made up of photo and information booths, along with the burger stand just outside the bridge. This is where the odd truce of Portland is on display: where pierced hipsters, suburbanite families, and the urban ones from both Nob Hill and NoPo mix, all huddled together, hoping to put umbrellas down for a few minutes before venturing back outside. After about 10 minutes huddled in there with them, I went back out, turning south. 

The south end has no rides at all; this area is purely commerce and media. Three of the four TV stations had set up for live shots (the exception being Fox 12, whose live truck I saw near the kiddie rides on the north end) and I waved hello to my own co-workers, sheltered by the tent they’d set up for live coverage next to the humming microwave truck. The media set-up is across from a long line of covered park benches to protect the eaters. I brought no cash to the fair on purpose; again, I wanted to resist all temptation to eat something that falls in the category of “things you can only get at a fair or in most of the Deep South." 

Portland being cosmopolitan (or liking to think of itself as such, depending upon your point of view), fair food includes everything from burgers, hot dogs, pizza, Mexican food, and cheap ramen to those good old fair staples: cotton candy, deep fried Oreos & Snickers, funnel cake, deep fried ice cream, root beer floats, and what one booth called "apple pie fries”, which promptly made me throw up a little in my mouth and politely refuse when the woman at the booth offered a free sample. Of course, there was a beer & wine booth, which shockingly had the most reasonable prices for any concession at the fair. (All the parents thinking of the messes their kids would make in the car with the muddy boots on the way back probably needed at least one.) I saw a kid eating an elephant ear that was bigger than he was.

There’s one tent by the south end that’s pretty much a mini-expo center, hawking everything from jerky to cheap jewelry, and of course there’s always a piercing booth – all are complete with very aggressive sales folk, who are just dying with pitches to Come On Over And Try This Out, You’ll Be Amazed, whether it’s for stereo equipment or what have you. Their luck seemed about as poor as the folks running the usual carnival games, who were barking for more folks to step up and toss rings on bottles, shoot water guns, test their strength and win a prize, anything for the chance at a stuffed animal that would be soaked within minutes (many of those stuffed giant things were packed in plastic for just such an occasion.)

By this point I was an hour in and tired of the whole mess in the rain and sought some fun, which led me straight to Ground Kontrol for a couple hours with arcade games and happy hour beers. I want to go back when it’s sunny and the park is not a muck-filled mess, because the Zipper and Vertigo were calling out to me.

That said, today’s for laundry and then Lykke Li - I was also at the Fair so I could pick up the tickets from my co-worker. Of course, the sun is shining as I write this and I look at the filthy cuffs of my jeans and the boots I’ve got to clean off and ask, “Well, why didn’t you come out yesterday so I could have avoided this?”

External image