The major reason we drove over 500 miles north on our impromptu vacation was OMSI. We first discovered this fabulous science museum on our first visit to Portland, 7 years ago, when the then-2-year-old Neil was intrigued by its exhibits for hours. Things haven’t changed, and we even enjoyed having an OMSI Traveller membership last year.

We were among the first people in as soon as the museum’s doors opened on Saturday, and Neil had every intent on having fun there until closing time. I thought about quizzing Neil about which science museum he liked best: The Exploratorium, the Lawrence Hall of Science, the Tech Museum of Innovation, or OMSI, until Peter pointed out OMSI had the advantage of scarcity. And it is different from our local major science museums, in that OMSI focuses on straight-on science. For instance, The Exploratorium is about weird science, especially perceptions; the Lawrence Hall of Science is classroom science; and the tech is about technology. One of the unique features of OMSI is that it has actual science laboratories with various several-step experiments that require attention and patience.

I know little about Neil’s day at OMSI, because I camped out in the Science Playground, which is like a children’s hands-on museum within a science museum. While Kelly played with sand, put “bricks” in a bucket to be raised or lowered, played with flubber, and made art, I took a mental break by reading J. B. Bury’s Invasion of Europe by the Barbarians. No, it’s not yet another “Eurabia” book; it’s more like an easy-reader epilogue to The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Meanwhile Neil and Peter took on OMSI in all its glory. In particular, Neil was one of the few visitors with the patience and focus to finish the Elements Scavenger Hunt offered in the chemistry lab, and he won a “Table of the Elephants” and a Mole for his effort. The engineer within him also couldn’t get enough of the “ball room” where the object is to curve tubes in such a way to direct small foam balls into a large overhead basket or a pachinko-like maze. After we’d gathered, ready to leave, we agreed on one last visit to the ball room.

If there is such a thing as hell, and I don’t live a righteous life, I’m sure one of the levels in my personal hell will be this ball room. The mind-boggling maze of tubing, vacuums and pumps is enough to drive me insane, but on top of that, it all takes place inside a small room. And within that room, despite the fact that there are two huge signs saying “don’t throw balls,” there was always some group of people who, upon the sight of multiple little foam balls, had to start throwing them at each other, run around screaming, and in the process crash into me and get me pelted as well. The effect was somewhat like simultaneously being inside a Rube Goldberg machine and a demented mini-dodgeball game.

By the time I escaped, I was all too ready to have a pint of beer at the Rogue Ales Pub, one of our regular Portland destinations.

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