Friday, January 11, 2008

Driving Around With Flat Stanley

To read about Flat Stanley's arrival, click here.

Dear TLC,

I woke Flat Stanley up at 6 a.m. today so that we could go to my work together. He rubbed his eyes blearily. “I’ve still got a bit of jet lag,” he apologized. “Why do you have to leave so early? Don’t you start work at 8 a.m.?”

“Yes, but it takes me an hour to drive to there from here. So I need to leave at 7 a.m.” I then noticed that he had slept in his suit and tie all night. The hazards of not having a suitcase, I guess. But his clothes looked fine (pressed even!) and we made it out the door on time.

Flat Stanley watched the rain whip around the trees during our drive to Beaverton, Portland’s largest suburb. “Does it always rain this much in Oregon?”

I laughed and explained that it was a common perception and it seems very true in the fall and winter. And spring. We get lots of cloudy, grey days and lots of showers pass through the area. But we really do get some beautiful sunny days and even occasionally snow (though it doesn’t look like that will happen this year). “Would you like to hear an Oregon joke?” He nodded. “People in Oregon don’t tan in the summer. They rust.”

Flat Stanley groaned. “Alright, never mind the rain. Tell me about Portland.” I asked him what he knew of the city and the area. He thought a moment. “Well, I know that the area was explored by Lewis and Clark and pioneers came out in covered wagons to settle the place.”

I nodded and motioned to the town on the other side of the river, “That’s Oregon City across the way and it has the home of the Oregon Trail Interpretative Center. It’s got covered wagons and shows people how the settlers came here. And up that hill there, past the outdoor elevator—”


I nodded. “It’s the only outdoor city elevator in the U.S., I think. Because the city is built on two layers—at the river’s edge and up on that cliff—the people living there needed a way to get from top to bottom easily. The original water-powered elevator was built in 1915 and it connected the two levels of the city. That one, though, is electric powered and was put in place in the 1950’s.”

I motioned to the top of the hill. “And up past that is the home of Dr. John McLaughlin, the man who ran the Fort Vancouver fur outpost for the Hudson Bay Company. Dr. McLaughlin is called the Father of Oregon for his important role setting up the area for settlers.” I chuckled then and continued. "And it's rumored that his home is haunted by McLaughlin's ghost!"

We merged onto I-5 and headed north to Portland, also known as the Rose City. There are about two million people living in and around the city, I explained. We’ve got museums, lots of parks, two major universities (PSU and U of P), a zoo and people who love the outdoors. Portlanders are close to the mountains—skiing and snowboarding are just a few hours away atop Mt. Hood. Travel east to the Columbia Gorge for fabulous windsurfing and parasailing. We even have Zoobombers!


I chuckled. “The Oregon Zoo is at the top of a hill in Washington Park. Cyclists will take their bike on the MAX train to the Zoo stop at the top of the hill and then race down rapidly. Usually at night. And sometimes in funny costumes. And if you don’t have a bike, there is usually one to spare. Zoobombers maintain a Zoobomb pile.” Flat Stanley said it sounded like fun but a bit dangerous, especially since he didn’t bring a bike helmet with him. I agreed.

“Tell me about the Zoo at the top of the hill. Do you have pandas? I like pandas.”

“No, but we do have pachyderms. In fact, we’ve got Packy.”

Flat Stanley wrinkled his nose. “What’s Packy?” Elephant, I explained. Packy was the first elephant to be born in a zoo, in captivity, in the Western Hemisphere. He made international news in 1962 and his birthday is routinely celebrated each year. He gets a special birthday cake frosted with apples, celery and carrots. Packy is the largest Asian elephant in the United States.

Portlanders love their elephants and we get pretty sad when something happens to one of them. Pet, the elephant matriarch (she's the Elephant Queen at the Zoo) just died recently (she was having surgery on her foot and the doctors couldn’t save her); all the elephants trumpeted their despair at the exact moment of her passing, even though she was in a completely different part of the park. It was quite sad and quite touching. But even with this sadness, the Oregon Zoo has the top elephant breeding program in the United States. Twenty-seven elephants have been born here, seven of them are Packy’s calves. When I last visited the zoo, they had a new elephant from Thailand and the trainers all had to learn a bit of Thai in order to train the elephant. After all, the elephant doesn’t understand English… There are videos of our elephants on the Oregon Zoo's website here.

We pulled off the freeway at this point and I continued to downtown Beaverton. As a special treat, I took Flat Stanley to Beaverton Bakery for donuts. We have a college student who is interning with us over his Christmas Break and I wanted to bring in something special for his last day with us; we're sad that he won't be returning next summer. Flat Stanley, I discovered when we got to work, loves maple bars as much as I do.

(To be continued...)