Hell is Other States, Pt 1: PretentiousPDX Hits the Road

Idaho is beautiful: But only sometimes.

(August 2012)

I have a confession to make. In spite of my recent fame as slinger of rad tracks on the radio, I am not actually a hipster.

Now, my frequent partner-in-crime, Jenna B, fits the bill – but while I’d like to think that I possess a certain élan and perhaps a bit of that same hipster sensibility, I am at my core an Imposter (if you want to get truly meta, you could argue that pretending to be a hipster is the purest form of hipsterism, but that’s for a different conversation). I just can’t handle the lifestyle.

In addition to my boring, white-collar job and my distinct lack of facial hair, I’m a Catholic Republican who drives a Camry and lives in the suburbs. I wear suits unironically, and shopping at Goodwill usually makes me itchy. I own a timeshare, for reasons that surpass even my own understanding. I’m even more fastidious when it comes to my favorite hobby, traveling. I always fly the same carrier (Alaska Airlines) whenever possible; I always use the same rental agency (Enterprise), and if the hotel doesn’t get at least 2.5 stars on Priceline, I don’t want to stay there. I avoid crashing on friends’ couches whenever possible and I would rather amputate my own arm with my Enterprise Plus rewards card than stay at that hipster mainstay, the dreaded hostel.

Jenna is a hipster. I’m just pretentious. Which I suppose is alright for a guy who pens a blog with the sobriquet “PretentiousPDX.”

The reality of this hit home this week when I took to the skies to attend the christening of my newest godson in the appallingly remote hamlet of Challis, Idaho. While it would not normally be my preference to visit West Coast Appalachia, the wee tyke’s father hails from Challis, and an implicit part of the whole Godparent-Godchild agreement is you actually attend the Baptism. So off I went.

As Challis is approximately two hours from ANYWHERE, I consulted a map and a flight schedule and decided to make Boise my point of entry into The Gem State (sidebar: I didn’t see anything remotely resembling a gem during my entire trip). From there, I planned to rent a car and drive the four or five hours north to Challis, stopping along the way in Ketchum to visit the grave of my literary idol, Ernest Hemingway.

The first leg of my trip went swimmingly. I arrived at Portland International Airport at the start of a scorching hot Saturday. After dropping my car in Long Term Parking and breezing through security (Like a Boss!), I wheeled my trusty TravelPro suitcase down Concourse A and towards my date with destiny. I was early for my flight, so I got to indulge in one of my favorite hipster activities: Judging People.

PDX – Gateway to Adventure… And sometimes, Hell.

Flying used to be An Event that you dressed up for. Nowadays people tend to dress very shabbily – like they’re going to a slumber party. Personally, I always prefer to wear a suit or sport coat when I fly – not only does it allow you to look like a Badass at the airport, but it also keeps your jacket from getting wrinkled in your luggage and the pockets provide a handy place to stash your passport and boarding pass. As it was a hot day outside (although not in the Terminal, thanks to the wonders of Modern Air Conditioning), most of my fellow travelers were dressed more slovenly than usual. So while the poorly-shod masses went about their usual airport diversions (reading Dan Brown novels, sleeping on the floor, and hunting for Iced Mocha Frappuchinos), I relaxed comfortably in my sports coat, gingham button-down shirt and slacks and smirked benignly at them over my Ray-Bans. I also took the opportunity to Instagram The Shit Out Of™ some airport photos prior to boarding.

Here’s how it’s done, kids.

Not long after I settled into my seat on our Bombardier Q400, an Asian man wielding a Singaporean passport slouched into the seat next to me. He then proceeded to scrutinize every page of HIS OWN PASSPORT with a puzzling intensity – he looked at each and every stamp with the kind of care and attention that I’ve previously only seen employed by those who practice the most rigorous disciplines (surgeons wielding scalpels, jewelers appraising diamonds, Jenna checking out the guys at Dig A Pony, etc.). After eyeballing each page with Utmost Care, he’d flip the page and in so doing, jab me with his elbow.  This puzzled me greatly, as presumably this was his passport, so HE MUST HAVE BEEN TO ALL THESE PLACES. Had he forgotten?  Had he stolen someone’s identity? Was he perhaps a Communist spy, trying to commit his cover identity to memory?  One simply couldn’t tell.

I sat there for a few moments, quietly formulating negative thoughts about Asian tourists, when I happened to look behind me and noticed an empty row a few seats back. I threw the closest flight attendant a Look That Must Be Pitied, and she very kindly asked if I’d like to change seats. I jumped at the chance and, shortly after I settled into my new seat, we taxied down the runaway and were off.

The flight to Boise from Portland is relatively short – deceptively so, because the shortness of the journey belies the fact that in crossing the Blue State/Red State divide, you leave one world behind and enter another. Boise International Airport is moderately attractive airport, and reminded me somewhat of what San Jose International would like… if SJC were deserted. The other thing that was immediately apparent about Boise is how belligerently white Idaho is – with the exception of a smattering of Asian tourists (no doubt wielding much-scrutinized Singaporean passports), everyone I observed traversing the walkways of BOI was, without fail, white, blonde, and tan. I’ve never seen a collection of people more homogenous this side of a James Taylor concert.

Before exiting the airport and embarking on my foray into the wilds of Idaho, I allowed myself one last moment of pretention. A small queue had formed at the rental agency desk, and while I wasn’t particularly in a hurry, I do like to flex my jet-setter muscles, so I pulled out my Enterprise Plus card and slipped into the (empty) line reserved exclusively for travelers of my ilk. I saw the look of surprise on the faces of the Plebes who had been waiting in line for some time when I breezed past them with a smirk and strode up to the next available agent. I’m sure it was insufferably obnoxious on my part, but hey – thems the breaks. Serves ‘em right for dressing so casually. However, as the next two days would prove, I was due for my comeuppance.

If you want to travel like a boss, carry these.

I was still smirking when I wheeled my rented Ford Fusion out of the BOI rental lot, onto Highway 84 (yes, my least favorite Highway in Oregon followed me all the way to Idaho) and towards my next destination, which, unfortunately, happened to be the Boise Wal-Mart (or more likely, A Boise Wal-Mart… I’m sure they have several). As Challis is somewhat lacking in the Retail Sales department, my godson’s mother had asked me to pick up some make-up for her at Wal-Mart prior to my arrival in Challis. (Wal-Mart seemed like a dubious source for fine foundational products, but this being Idaho, I didn’t question it.)

Inside Wal-Mart, my Idahoan Culture Shock continued. I have a friend who attends law school in Waco, Texas, and she swears that approximately 90% of the Texan submissions to People of Wal-Mart come from the Waco store. While this one wasn’t quite so bad, apparently, during the summer, the Boise Wal-Mart has a dress code. As far as I can tell, every woman under the age of 40 is contractually required to wear cutoff jean shorts while shopping at Wal-Mart – with bonus points given for tightness and shortness of hemline. I’m no prude, but if I had to guess, there was probably only enough denim circulating in that store to make one pair of jeans… but they’d be a Size 0.  As if it wasn’t surreal enough to be shopping for eye-shadow in a different state, to do so surrounded by a sea of women who are constantly crotch-grabbing in a futile attempt to prevent their shorts from riding up… well, it definitely pried of away a finger or two from what had previously been my firm grip on reality.

The kicker to all this came when I went to check out. There were two young gentlemen in line in front of me at self-checkout, and as soon as they got to the self-checkout kiosk, they began talking very animatedly and pointing towards the entrance of the store… but they were making no attempt to ring up the small handful of items in their basket. As a general rule, I try to spend as little time in Wal-Marts as possible, so I was growing somewhat impatient at the delay – but I soon figured out what was causing it. Walking into the store was a very attractive young lady (emphasis on the young – she looked to be about high school senior age), wearing the pre-requisite jean shorts – but in her case, the shorts were not up to the task, because, um… well, there’s no delicate way to say this: one butt cheek was making a mad dash to freedom out from underneath the hem of her shorts. Any red-blooded American male would’ve found it a riveting sight, I’m sure… but at that particular moment, even if Christina Hendricks and Rihanna had both walked in and asked me to help them shop for a bathing suit – nothing could’ve induced me to stay in that Wal-Mart a second longer than necessary. So I did what many a crotchety old man has done before – I cleared my throat as loudly as possible. Our two budding lotharios looked at me, looked back at the girl, and then briefly back at me. “Oh, sorry bro – but we gotta go uh, check something out.” And with that, they went off after the girl. Classy.

Ready to put Boise in my rearview.

It was with much joy that I exited Wal-Mart, hopped back in the Fusion and headed down I-84 and towards my final destination. My joy would prove to be short-lived, however.



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