Oh my GOD I just had one of the greatest vacations of my life.
First off, I went to Eugene, Oregon — aka "Track Town USA" — for the United States Olympic Track & Field Trials. As those of you know me well are all too aware, I am a rabid fan of track & field (or "athletics," as it's known in the rest of the world). That might seem strange to you, as there aren't too many of us track geeks, but my love of the sport was burned into my soul back in high school, when I finally discovered that long-distance running was the one sport at which my then-skinny ass did not suck. After years of being that kid who always got picked last when choosing teams, I suddenly became an athlete, and to this day, 22 years later, I am still the Rockdale High School record holder in the one- and two-mile runs. (Yes, I know, you're very impressed.) I went on to a brief and undistinguished career with the University of Texas Longhorns, where I set the school record in the 9,600 meter run (that's a joke, which Bret – my former teammate who accompanied on this trip — will be happy to tell you about).
So I'm still a huge fan, and if I had done nothing but watch eight days of the nation's best track & field athletes compete to make the U.S. team for the Beijing Olympics, I would have been blissed out. But it was so much more than that, thanks in no small part to my loving and scheming wife. (More on her later.)
To start with — and here's the part you care about — this was in Oregon. And Oregon is synonymous with beer. Good beer. And the track meet was no exception. Yes sir, the organizers at the University of Oregon knew there would be hell to pay if they pulled a German World Cup and limited the crowd to McDonald's and Budweiser. They supplied some decent food, good coffee, and a beer selection that included Widmer Brothers Hefeweizen and Drop-Top Amber. Track and a generously hoppy brew? Sweet.
(Okay, I know you don't care so much about the track, but I have to rave about it at least briefly. Skip to the next paragraph if you just don't care.) I got to see three American reccords — in the men's 100 meters, the women's 3,000 meter steeplechase, and women's pole vault! Plus two national high school records! And most exciting, I got to see Tyson Gay (that's him signing autographs in the photo) run the fastest time ever recorded by a human being in the 100 meters — 9.68 seconds, wow — but it didn't count as a world record because there was too much of a tailwind. Still, record or not, it gave me goosebumps. And really making me happy, six former Longhorns made the team. And it all happened at Hayward Field, one of the most revered track stadiums in America.
The party of course, continued away from Hayward Field. Eugene may be a tiny college town, but it has its share of good breweries and bars. The ones I enjoyed the most (and recommend):
McMenamin's East 19th Street Cafe, part of that cool chain of Oregon brewpubs. Decent food, quality brews. Just two blocks south of the stadium.
Villard Street Pub, three blocks east of the stadium, and the party place for the trials. Pretty much every athlete (except the ultra-religious ones, I suppose) showed his or her face there once their event was done. I swear, you've never seen a bar with so many incredibly fit patrons. Villard Street was hosting a microbrew and wine festival simultaneous to the trials, and the highlight for us was that it featured several beers by …
Eugene City Brewery, a Rogue-owned bar that makes — oh this made me happy — Track Town Ales. Seriously. Dig the logo with the track spike. The lineup includes 100 Meter Ale, 200 Meter Ale (this was an IPA that became the favorite of me and my track geek friends), and Triple Jump Ale.
And the kicker was Track Town Pizza, featuring decent pizza (click on the link and get a laugh out of the menu), a fine beer selection (shouldn't every college student be able to have an IPA with his pizza?), and a wall adorned with historic pictures of famous track & field stars. It was like my personal room in heaven. (See photo of me and the other track geeks at TTP below.)
So that would have been enough to bliss me out. But it gets better.
There were two rest days in the middle of all this, so Bret and I headed up I-5 to Portland to spend them with our buddy Bill and his family. I've raved before about what an unbelievably insane beer scene Portland has. In fact, I did a three-part series on it, the highlight of which was Bill leading me, Todd, and a neighbor on a bicycling tour of Portland's brew pubs. (See part two of that series.) Just getting to see the Bill Family would have been enough of a bliss-out.
But wait, it gets even better – Mags (that's the aforementioned wife), wanting to make this a big 40th birthday event, flew up from her family visit to Kansas City, accompanied by our friends the Jaurigue family. Okay, so that would have been enough bliss.
But wait — does this sound like one of those old Ginsu knife commercials? — it got even better. No less than Todd himself, my best friend since high school and former Portlander, secretly flew in from Cleveland and surprised me!!! That was arranged by the wife. Honey, that was one hell of a present. I love you.
So of course, having Bill, Bret, Mags, Todd and me together led to the inevitable combo beer tasting/poker game. Then, the next day, we (minus the wife, who had to get back to KC, but with the addition of Erik, another Portland friend/track geek I know) did a reprisal of the bicycling brewpub tour, and it was just as wonderful as the original. Thankfully, since this post is already way too long, I can just send you over to Bill's recounting of it.
I spent way too much money, but since my 40th is coming up in August, I did so with the wife's blessing (and help, thanks again), and had more fun that I thought possible. I'm pretty sure I've never had that much fun for 10 consecutive days. And believe me, I haven't even scratched the surface of everything I could say about the trip. I could prattle on about it forever.
Buy me a beer the next time you see me and I probably will.