A Run Ashore

(Note:  This blog isn’t about Ceara Lynch.  Rather, it’s a story about my first visit to the city in which Ceara lives.  I think it’s an amusing story.  Maybe even sort of entertaining.  But it’s not about Ceara.  Just sayin’.)

We had just pulled up under the Burnside bridge. After 6 weeks of battling winter weather in the Gulf of Alaska, the old ship somehow made it safely up the Columbia River and was now berthed quay side in downtown Portland, Oregon. Two nights. No duty or watches to stand and downtown Portland literally within a hundred yards of the brow. It was 1980. I was 27 years old. It was my first time in Portland and I was ready for a good “run ashore.” The plan was simple. Get royally drunk and fucked up the first night. Sleep in the next day until lunch. Grab a bite to eat aboard the ship, go ashore, visit the bank to replenish my cash, and then just wander about Portland a bit until the second evening when I would meet an old friend at the Couch Street Fish House for dinner. After that … well … I’d just play it by ear.  With any luck, I’d find myself a quality hook up.

As I said, that was the plan.

So after dinner aboard, I crossed the brow with a shipmate and off we went. It was a different time back then and it didn’t take long to find our first drink. As I remember, it was a nice place.  Actually, it was a quality place. The sort of place that served Tullamore Dew in leaden-crystal whiskey glasses. A place where the evening clientele wore business attire, stopping (and staying awhile) after work for a quick social drink or two. In short, for that first night ashore, it was a place to get started … not to end up.

And so we left after an hour or so. It was summer, the late sun had just set, and out antennas were up. There was live music coming from somewhere nearby. There was a vibe, a feeling that appealed to a couple young sailors fresh from the ardors of sea. Here was a watering hole where we could relax and not have to worry about offending too many people with whatever antics or indiscretions might occur when young sailors and alcohol intermix. Here was a place that felt like fun. In short, here was the place where I was going to get so stinking drunk that I’d have a hard time walking back to the ship when the bar closed sometime during the wee morning hours of tomorrow.

Wait. Wait just a minute.

That’s right. Before walking through the door and committing myself to a night of alcohol-induced mind-numbing senselessness, better to take my bearings so that I would be able to wander back to the ship without any mishap. But that really wasn’t going to be hard, was it? I mean, I had barely walked ½ mile from the ship that night. There were no tall buildings along the river blocking my view and I was able to actually see the mast of the ship from where I stood. So that was it. Once the place closed down and kicked me out, all I had to do was scan the horizon until I spotted the mast. Finding my way back home couldn’t be any easier.

Five hours of hard drinking later and the place closed.  Myself and a couple bar-fly regulars were shown the door (my shipmate had long since left for parts unknown.)  I don’t remember what time it was … maybe 2 or 3 in the morning.  I was sleepy and I could hear my shipboard rack (bed) calling my name, beckoning me on.  And I remembered. The ship was within walking distance. All I had to do was to find the mast on the horizon and walk towards it.

So I scanned the skyline. And there it was. The mast of the ship. It looked close. Hardly a block or two away. Just beyond that building ahead.

I turned the corner of the the building. And there it was. The mast. The mast of the USS PORTLAND Memorial in Portland’s Riverfront Park.

And I laughed. Out loud. For a few minutes. Because sleeping on the grass beneath the memorial was my drinking buddy from the ship. Too funny!! It seems we’d both been fooled by the memorial. And were too incapacitated to go on. So I found a comfortable place in the grass nearby and slept until sunrise.

That was my first night in Portland. And though I don’t remember much of that visit, I’ll always remember that fuckin’ mast.

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