It’s Rose festival time here in the Rose city. For those of you who are not familliar with Portland’s traditions (and you should be… we are a strange breed), the Rose Festival is SeaFair, Fleet-Week, the County Fair and a Macy’s “lets kill as many plants as possible and drag them through downtown in a blinding rain so the masses can catch pneumonia while listening to 7,274,194,534 bands play Louie louie” parade all wrapped into one, with the deep-fried Twinkies and enormous people who eat them included. This festival also heralds the beginning of a week of traffic snarls begging reference to New York or LA, a fair full of the tweaker-tastic-est carnies ever to grace the face of a rickety ferris-wheel and a parade of naval might and innocence. It is going to be the point of many blogs this week, so stay tuned.
I began my introspection about my feelings toward this festival when I was sitting in the first of many traffic incidents that surround the Rose Debacle. Indeed, as I was sitting on an on ramp for I-5 I was thinking to myself that it looked like there was a hydrant busted near the river, as I saw a plume of water blasting into the sky. As my trusty steed inched along behind the strangest looking person I have seen in traffic in a long while (a feat considering the people who live in this city) I soon came to realize that this plume of water was accompanying a knife-edged prow and rather large gun, all floating down the river to the groovy soundtrack provided by Felix Da Housecat and my radio.
In reality, this plume of water was one of Portland’s old-timey fireboats. It is tradition here for them to accompany the ships of two separate countries navies up the river, announcing their arrival by rocketing fountains of water hundreds of feet into the air, vaporizing it into a pretty veil which is caught by the wind and blown over the crowds who have gathered to watch the procession. This is very pretty, and when lue and red dye isadded to the water it is all very patriotic, but it also has the effect of blanketing them with Mercury and biologically-poisoned Willamette River water from which it is not safe to pull fish for eating.
Once this Hazmat shooting patriot-fest has passed the drawbridges which make our city proud, the ship that it is leading comes into view.
In the case of the one I witnessed from my position on the parking lot that was I-5 at the time (presumably because the other drivers had died of heavy metal poisoning after ingesting some of the fireboat spray only minutes earlier), a massive, proud ship of the US Navy was being rotated and parallel parked by Tugs from the Port of Portland. This vessel was the USS Lake Champlain, a Ticonderoga Class AEGIS Guided-Missile Cruiser. It was festooned with all of its accouterments: guns raised high in the air, Torpedo launchers pointing ominously off the sides of the deck, flags speaking the cryptic language of sea-farers fluttering in the breeze, and decks lined with sailors in their dress whites interspersed with local politicians wanting to be seen actively encouraging our military. Painted its dark Haze-Grey color scheme and flying the largest American flag I have ever seen, it instantly projected the power and technological sophistication that was the US military. This was, however, not the best part. The best part was that you could almost see, despite the distance and residual ribbons of fireboat-effusions, the cringing faces and rapidly ablating masculinity of the Canadians.
Thats right, I said Canadians.
In what I can only consider a good-will gesture, a few of Canada’s brown-water fleet of warships (a term that I use, in this case, loosely) are invited every year to take part in the festivities (another term used loosely). These war ships are such in name alone, as their diminutive nature is dwarfed in the worst way by the smaller of the Cruisers brought in from the US navy. Indeed, these ships could pretty easily be picked up and placed on the helicopter landing deck of the nearest US War-Boat (one of the tugs was bigger). Painted the daintiest color of robyns-egg blue and mounting no guns larger than a 20mm BOFORS cannon, these vessels telegraph loudly their status as protectors of maple syrup, denim, great snowboarding, and not much else. I honestly felt bad for these men, doubtless proud as any sailor in any navy of any country of the world, to see their little blue boats silently harangued by the majesty and pageantry afforded the US men-of-war. I hope that their faith in socialized healthcare is enough to get them through the coming week of 8-year-olds asking “why is your ship not as big as that one” while standing on the rear (I hesitate to use the term “poop”) deck of their boat, in the shadow of the overhanging bow of the US cruiser-next-door.
I will say, however, that I feel bad for the men of the US ships as well. Not only are they about to be subjected to the hipster-chick culture of Portland women and their retarded actions during fleet-week, they are men used to plying the worlds oceans hunting pirates…or counting whales…
Or whatever they do.
I can’t imagine that they are very comfortable being cooped up in a smallish river, 100 miles inland from the nearest ocean, with no room to maneuver and no means of defense. Rumor has it one of them even hit a sandbar on the way up the river. They may feel uncomfortable about their claustrophobic lack of options, but they need not worry; the only thing they have to fear here is a determined Portland-hipster/hippie attack, and the best defense in this case is to toss some weed and a sixer of PBR off the back of the boat and watch them follow it over the seawall like so many dread-locked lemmings.
By this time I have passed the waterfront, heading up the industrial wasteland that is the 405 interchange, so I will digress. Though you should keep an eye on this bat channel as tomorrow I go for a stroll amongst the unwashed, usually rotund and often horrifyingly annoying masses that make up the bulk (heh heh heh) of Rose-Festival Main-Drag atendees.
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(as an aside, I would like to point out that the Canadians actually have a rather large and capable Navy, full of high-tech toys (bought from us). This is a joke, so those of you who are Canadian that are going to read this (you know how you are): shut it. Also: as far as ships colors are concerned, the Dredges of the US Army Corps of Engineers take the cake: their wallpaper is Paisley))