May 25, 2001

To Seattle, On a Lark

Day 2: Tacoma, WA to Seattle, WA to Vancouver, British Columbia

When I get to explaining the pun in the title several paragraphs down, my comedic writing abilities will be put to the full test. Trust me - it's one of those "impossible/horrible/I can't believe I'm laughing at this" experiences that I can never do justice in writing about it. And we have had a lot of them... Like the blind guy in the airport in St. Louis... Like the embarrassing night in the downtown Portland, OR hotel... Like the time in the bathroom at Madison Hut in the White Mountains you may have already read about... Like... Oh, we've got a ton of 'em. So keep reading the blog!)

Our second full day of our first real vacation together was sunny and warm - even though we were in Seattle! We knew then that luck was certainly on our side. Verna (I actually call her Quynh, by the way) got a ride to work so Hoang and I were able to sleep a little later and watch some television. We watched as much as we could because we were going to be in Canada for the next couple of days, and I had heard they didn't have cable up there yet. And besides, even if they did have cable, how would we even understand "Canadian" anyway? Right?

We gathered our stuff and drove into downtown Tacoma in search of another exciting celluloid location - our second in two days. First, two things about Tacoma: One, it's really quite hilly - just thought you'd like to know that and two, the city has an unusual and unpleasant stench hanging in the air a good portion of the time. Locals refer to this as the "Tacoma Aroma." I smelled it at points during this and a subsequent trip out there, but for my homies who read this - the Tacoma Aroma is nothing compared to "Smelladelphia." Y'know, when you're sitting on the bridge on I-95 over the Naval yard in traffic trying to get to that humid mid-August Phillies game? Actually, after thinking about that, I'll take Calcutta over that smell. Philly is # 1 in something, at least.

We easily found the giant high school in town that was used for the film, "10 Things I Hate About You" starring Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles. (Before you think I'm totally lame, it was on the way to the highway.) I was profoundly surprised to learn that the school was a regular public school - but shouldn't have been so surprised when we learned that being a real school, classes were in session. Instead of re-enacting the stadium bleacher scene from the movie as we'd planned, the bell rang and before we knew it, 300 kids were staring at the two dorks from Connecticut with the camera in their hands. We immediately started talking German to each other and high-tailed it out of there. Straight to a coffee place for some breakfast.

After breakfast we made our way up to Seattle. We immediately noticed how crappy the highway system is there and were thankful the morning rush was well over. Being tourists, of course we made our way straight down to 1st avenue and Pike's Market. It's funny that Pike's Market has become a tourist destination - it's merely a large semi-outdoor shopping center. Okay, so a few guys at one store famously throw fish to each other. After witnessing the fish tossing for a good 5 minutes we wondered, "What's so great about this?"

Perhaps I am jaded because of my years at the singular Hadfield's Seafood where fish throwing was routinely done behind the scenes. If only we'd thought to do it out in the open, we'd be famous! People would have flocked to the PA/DE line on Route 202 to watch me and my boys throwing fish around. (Not that Hadfield's lacked customers. One of these days, I plan on writing about that place - though it would be a nearly impossible task. Rife with hard drugs, clinically psychotic bosses and workers, illegal hours, knife fights, and an ever-present stench, no one would believe half of my stories. At least one Besetting Vice reader worked there with me - and she'd totally back me up. And she's a doctor, so she'd never lie.)

After poking around the market looking for something - anything - that would make it qualify as "worthwhile" to us (our one purchase: a persimmon, because I'd never had one before) we left and crossed the street to check out another icon of commerce. The very first Starbucks! With bated breath we anticipated what could possibly lurk inside the store. Once inside, we marveled at... Coffee and coffee accessories. Well, the font on the outdoor signage was different, at least. (Since you're no doubt wondering about the pictures, I was on a juvenile mission to take stupid pictures at various places along the way on this vacation.)

What else must one do in downtown Seattle? Yup - the Space Needle. To get there, we eagerly hopped on board the kickass monorail. Homer Simpson was right - it IS all about the monorail. We paid a very nominal fee and rode the smooth train over to the park the Needle resides in.

I have bad memories of the Space Needle. When I was a kid, my family visited Seattle once; well, we were visiting Mt. Rainier and made a quick blow through the city. My pops was never one for cities. Anyway, we splurged and had breakfast atop the tower in its spinning restaurant. We were totally socked in with fog so that was lame, but I distinctly remember the menu was awful - at least for a 12 or so year old kid. I just wanted some stinkin' pancakes. I got some green pistachio-banana lead clumps. I remember maybe 3 meals from my childhood - and this was one.

So with that in mind, we walked to the bottom of the Needle, looked up at it, took our first "Floating Head" picture (another goofy theme throughout the trip) and had the following discussion:

"Space Needle, huh?"
"Yeah. Pretty high."
"Ok, then, what else is around here?"

We agreed that a) we'd both been to the top of tall buildings before, and b) we weren't hicks from Nebraska for whom paying money to ride an elevator is exciting, and c) the food probably still sucked.

We moseyed on over to the Experience Music Project Museum right next door. The EMP is another Frank Gehry monstrosity that we also really didn't have any desire to explore. It's impossible to take a picture of the freaking thing from the ground - though it's kind of cool that my picture looks like an elephant to me. Oh that Frank Gehry, he's WiLd!

The area that these two buildings are in is a nice urban green space, so that was nice to see and enjoy. Hoang tucked the persimmon in her purse and we hopped back onto the monorail. We settled into our seat and waited patiently. Thankfully, we weren't really in a hurry though. For, just outside our tram played out a scene so absurd and funny; yet so tragic and sad - any plans we had would have to wait. To get on the monorail, you must negotiate a maze of metal crowd control aisle-determiners (or whatever). Like at an amusement park, the way they zig-zag back and forth as tightly as humans can stand. (No idea why they need this type of thing in Seattle...)

Those of us who can walk don't think too much about such obstacles, but those who must rely on motorized transport, well, let me tell you - it sucks for them. We, along with all the other passengers, watched for literally 10 minutes (an eternity, within the context) while some poor guy tried to guide his Lark (or Rascal or whatever) through the iron maze to get on the monorail. Honestly, I think he could have driven the damn thing to his destination faster. It was unbelievable; he kept crashing into the barrier over and over and over again. Back and forth, forwards and back, crash, crash, crash. Man, Hoang looked at me and I looked at her and our faces were bright red as we tried to suppress our terribly inappropriate laughter. It went on for so long, and was so ridiculous, we totally thought it was a "Candid Camera" type of thing. These days I'd have taken a picture for posterity. Back in 2001, however, I wasn't so forward thinking and you'll just have to rely on my description. Trust me, as horrible as it sounds, it was funny as hell.

Once back up in the downtown area, we walked to our car and - hey! Where's our persimmon?! Unfortunately, during all the Lark/Rascal hubbub, Hoang had dropped the exotic fruit on the monorail and didn't notice. (To this day, 6 years later, Hoang will swear that it was I who somehow lost the produce. I am going on record here stating that I did not, at any time, handle the produce.) After a brief discussion of her gaffe, we made our way to the highway headed north. It was off to a new city for both of us - heck, a whole new Province: Vancouver, British Columbia. The drive wasn't too bad and the border crossing could have been worse. (At least when the dude asked Hoang if she was a citizen she chirped, "yes," as opposed to another foreign born friend of mine who had great difficulty with that question on a trip to Montreal a year or so prior. That was fun.)

One thing about the 'Couv when approaching from the south - there's no highway into the city. The highway just ends near a bridge and you have to drive through a whole mess of lights and intersections. (This will be fun during the 2010 Winter Olympics - which I hope to attend.) It wasn't too bad for us though as we were ahead of any rush hour traffic - but it was still really lame. I appreciate the city remaining free of ugly interstates (Hartford is the opposite) but on the flip side, you'd think they'd have a least one approaching the downtown area. Oh well. We found our way to the Chinatown portion of the city as you can almost universally find a half decent meal on the cheap in such areas. We were rewarded with an $8 sushi lunch at some place along the strip. It was edible, but that's about the best compliment I can think of for it. If I recall correctly, "sushi" for eight bucks meant a bunch of fake "sea meat" and California rolls. Not sure we got any fish at all... But whatever, we saved a few bucks.

As it turned out, that money-saving was quite necessary. You see, after we checked into our downtown Holiday Inn, and after we were randomly upgraded to the huge "Shaugnessy Suite," we had to wait around for Quynh and her friend to arrive - as they were driving up after working for the day. So we thought we'd be pro-active and pick up some libations for the evening. A 12-pack of Molson Canadian? Um, yeah... 25 bucks or so. Don't ask me how or why, but that's the truth. I should have gotten a whole case so I could forget what I paid for it! We returned to our suite and waited. And waited.

I saved our hotel's brochure because of this. Cracks me up.

Our weekend buddies finally arrived around 8 PM and Hoang and I were excited to hit the town - it being a Friday night and all. Unfortunately Hoang's sister and her friend weren't on vacation and didn't quite have the same vacation energy we did. They simply wanted to go to bed and hit the ground running in the morning. Gee, how exciting! As a result, I think Hoang and I just got something small for dinner, relaxed in our suite, and went to bed early.

To this day, I've yet to taste the sweet, succulent juices of a persimmon.

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