North American DipCon 2004:
Portland, Oregon

By  Larry Peery

Take your time: Smell the roses, sip the pinot noirs, and THEN grab the dots!

Portland is a city that takes a while to grow on you. In my case it took 36 years to be exact. There’s a definite Diplomacy related connection between my first visit in 1967 and my second visit last year. Let’s go back to that first visit.

It was perhaps the first Diplomacy game ever played in Portland, perhaps even in Oregon. I remember it well.

The tall one, the quintessential Metternich at six foot seven inches in height, pointed at the map and said, “If you guys support me I can convoy an army from Sevastopol to St Petersburg.”

The middle one, the master of real politque, pondered the situation and muttered, “Yes, but what will I get out of it?”

The short one, still new to it all, pushed his glasses up on his nose and whined, “But what about China?”

The other two looked at him. “What China? Don’t bother us kid! This is serious stuff.”

The tall one was Conrad von Metzke, the middle one Rod Walker, and I was the third.

All three of us were deeply involved in what would eventually be known as The First Golden Age of Diplomacy: Publishing magazines such as COSTAGUANA, EREHWON and XENOGOGIC were running postal games, designing variants, and dabbling in hobby organizational politics. We still had come to Portland with our Diplomacy game -- the original GRI edition with one piece board, wooden pieces, and seven dollar price tag -- in hand to attend a session of the Model United Nations of the Far West representing San Diego State and God only knows what UN member countries. Von Metzke was in one of his student modes at San Diego State. Rod was on leave from the Air Force doing graduate work in Political Science. I was a second year undergraduate with a dual major in Political Science and History.

During our infrequent breaks from MUN meetings we’d gather somewhere to play a quick game of Diplomacy, discuss our various postal games (with such ancient Boardman Numbers as 19660O or 1966AA), or read the latest issue of GRAUSTARK, the then weekly Diplomacy publication that had launched the postal Diplomacy hobby.

Over the years Von Metzke’s real life evolved into a career with the post office, although his name can still occasionally be seen in print in the hobby press. Walker’s retired after a career with Pac Bell and has no interest or time for the hobby but plenty of time for his twenty-second attempt at his first book. As for Peery, he’s still whining, “But what about China?” The only difference now is that, “He’s been there. Done that.”

I never really had any intention of returning to Portland but after meeting Edward Hawthorne and some of the other Piggyback Society members in Denver, where Edward took second place and predicted that he’d be the next North American champion, I felt perhaps it was time for a second visit to the Northwest. I used Expedia.Com to purchase a package including flights from San Diego to Portland, Portland to Seattle, and Seattle back to San Diego on Alaskan Air, and four nights each in Portland (at the Heathman Hotel) and Seattle (at the Vance Hotel, as in Cyrus Vance). The total package cost was USD 860 or so, perhaps a quarter less than I would have paid making the arrangements myself. The Heathman Hotel in particular was a real bargain when included in this package. If you want to spend a night or two in downtown Portland before or after the Con, this is the place to stay and dine.

For about two USD per trip, the Portland light rail system took me from the airport to within a block of the hotel and the reverse when I was ready to leave. During my stay I used the rail, the bus system, or an occasional taxi to get around. No problems. Most of the time I just walked. Portland is a great city for walking!

Over the years I’ve heard stories about the Oregonian attitude toward visitors, especially from California. I ran into none of that. The people I met and dealt with were nice and helpful without exception. I never felt unsafe as I moved about the city. The weather was never a real problem while I was there and the occasional shower simply served to remind me of why the city was so green and lovely. Finally, in comparison to most “large, world class cities” Portland was affordable. All in all, it is one of the most civilized and pleasant places I’ve visited in years, just like the Dippers from there.

So much for generalities; what’s there to do and see in Portland? Quite a lot, actually, if you take the time to look. Here are some of my favorites.

The area we’re looking at is divided by the Willamette (i.e. Wil-la-met) River. On the west side of the river is the main downtown area, Portland University, Cultural District, Pearl District, Chinatown, and Old Town. In these areas you’ll find Powell’s City of Books (and various branch stores scattered around town), one of the best independent bookstores in the country; the Portland Art Museum and Northwest Film Center, Oregon History Center, Portland Center for the Performing Arts, etc. and the Classic Chinese Garden, one of the best Suzhou-style gardens outside of China. Be sure to seek out the Mill Ends Park, the smallest city park in the world, just 24 inches in diameter. The plaque explaining the Park is actually bigger than the park itself.

Just beyond the city center is Washington Park, home to a wide variety of attractions: the Rose Garden, the Oregon Zoo, a Children’s Museum, the Japanese Gardens (superbly done), the World Forestry Center, the Hoyt Arboretum, Pittock Mansion, and more. You can spend a day here and you won’t regret a minute of it.

If you want to experience the full beauty of the place pack up a picnic lunch (and be sure to include a bottle or two of Oregon pinot noirs), and take it up to the Japanese Garden and find a nice spot for a picnic. Be sure to take your camera for some lovely panoramic shots of the city below.

On the east side of the river are some of the city’s major tourist and sports centers: These include Memorial Coliseum, Rose Quarter, Rose Garden Arena, and the Oregon Convention Center, as well as the Doubletree Hotel at Lloyd Center where DipCon will be held.

As you wander about the city you won’t help but notice the large number of places and objects named Hawthorne, beginning with the Hawthorne Bridge, the Hawthorne District (Funky is the word!), home of Dip’s Café (I kid you not), Hawthorne Avenue, etc. I thought, in all seriousness that they had named these for Edward, but such was not the case. Just ask him and he’ll tell you the whole story.

All of this, and more, is located in an area just a few miles square. I found four days to be just about right to allow me to at least sample what one of America’s most beautiful cities offers.

So, even if your primary purpose in visiting Portland is to attend DipCon, take a few extra days to smell the roses -- there are thousands of them scattered throughout the city’s two hundred or more parks -- and sip the pinot noir wines There are nearly sixty wineries in the North Willamette River Valley and many of them produce some great wines. If you can’t make it out to the wineries many of the city’s better restaurants offer samples by the glass. Speaking of restaurants, Portland has some outstanding ones.

So, go to DipCon this year. I’m sure you’ll enjoy the event and the host city. Portland just proves you don’t have to be world class size to be a world class city. This is civilized, urban living at its best.

For more information see
Larry Peery

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