Despite any troubles in the past, my mother and I became quite close after I went away to college (I think not living together helped, although her giving up drinking was a breakthrough for us both). Thus it was particularly difficult for her when I moved all the way to Hawaii. We kept in frequent touch through phone and internet, and even visited each other (her flying to Hawaii in May, me flying to Ohio in August) but such trips just weren’t practical. If I’m lucky I can find $600 round trip from Honolulu to Cincinnati, but even $600 is a lot of money and generally involves multiple layovers so that I spend at least an entire day in transit. When you factor in time changes and jet lag, it just doesn’t make any sense to visit for less than a week, and yet neither of us could really take that much time off work.
The West Coast provided a good alternative. For a 5-6 hour flight at less than $300 roundtrip, it provided a good halfway point (both money and timewise) for both myself and my mother. Last December we decided to meet for an extended weekend in Portland, Oregon as an early Christmas celebration and so that I could attend a concert. Neither of us had been to Portland before so it was an exciting little vacation that both of us could enjoy without worrying about work or home stresses.
Although I did some planning beforehand (researching “must-sees” and public transportation), I prefer to do most of my traveling on the fly, and thus we spent most of our trip wandering aimlessly through downtown Portland. We spent an entire afternoon in Powell’s City of Books, the largest independent bookstore in the world. We had lunch in Portland’s Chinatown and strolled along the riverfront. We even walked across one of the many drawbridges, much to my mother’s chagrin (she’s had a fear of drawbridges since she was a child). We wandered the Saturday Market, saw street performers and dressed up canines (Portland is very dog-friendly), and rode the street car. One night, for dinner, we had sushi.
My mother isn’t nearly as adventurous as I am. (Nor is my father; I really can’t say who I got it from.) Over the years she’s become more open to new experiences, but there’s one thing I’ve never had much luck getting her to try; raw fish. I dragged her to a conveyor belt sushi bar, promising her that there would be something there that she’d enjoy.
For the uninitiated, conveyor belt sushi is exactly what it sounds like. The restaurant centers on a large conveyor belt on which single serving plates of sushi (and often other food such as soups, salads, and desserts) revolve around the room. The plates are color coded by price: a yellow plate might be $1, a blue plate $2, and so on. At the end of your meal the server simply adds up your plates for your total. Conveyor belt sushi restaurants are perfect for sushi beginners because you don’t have to know what things are called, but simply wait and grab whatever looks appetising. They’re also relatively cheap and, in my opinion, just plain fun.
My mother wasn’t getting into the fun. As soon as we sat down she complained to me about the guy beside her at the bar; apparently he was sitting too close and crowding her space. I ignored her gripes and immediately offered her a plate of shrimp sushi. Though my mom likes shrimp, she wasn’t too keen on the rice. I grabbed another plate for her to try. Apparently my coaxing and cajoling caught the attention of the man sitting next to my mother, because soon we were both persuading my her to try this or that.
Despite my mother’s original annoyance, our bar neighbor turned out to be a nice guy, and even helped convince my mother to try a few things she may not have otherwise. Mom, for her part, has no problems chatting up strangers. When she mentioned our hometown of Cincinnati, the man revealed that he’d just been there filming a television show about traveling. “My daughter loves to travel,” my mother gushed. (This was before I’d decided to go to Japan, so she couldn’t tell him about that.) We made a bit more small talk as we ate our food, and eventually the man paid his bill and left.
After he’d left the restaurant, the server clearing the bar looked to us in awe. “Do you know who that was?”
We shook our heads no.
“That was Rick Steves!”
“Rick Steves, the travel writer!”
We were clueless. We shrugged and finished our meal, but when I got back to the hotel I searched online. Sure enough, Rick Steves is a well known travel writer. Less than a month later, as I was researching my first trip out of the country, I kept stumbling across articles written by him. I couldn’t help but smile.