Travel Theme: Smoke and Mirrors

Nothing like being woken up at 5–in the morning, though I’d probably be asleep at 5 in the afternoon too–for a fake fire alarm. Someone jumped the gun on getting out of their presentation, I’m thinking. . . and it’s not like Denver isn’t cold enough in the afternoon. . .

Anyhuey, as you guess from the title, Ailsa has likely seen a magician recently. Smoke is really bad for my eyes and lungs, and mirrors for my ego, so this isn’t exactly my wheelhouse. At least I didn’t have to try too hard to come up with this one, which beleive it or not is the Seattle main library. . .

 

Seattle library--it'll sober ya up

I’m going back to bed. . .

;o)

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Travel Thursday: Seattle Deux

Second day of Mixing Pleasure with Business

So here was the test: I was exhausted last night, as expected after that long climb and longer walk downhill, but the reason for all that exercise in the past couple of weeks was so I would wake up without feeling tired, and it worked! Ready to face the day!
Only to see the forecast calls for 70s. . . Damn! Rainy City my succulent rear end!
Mostly meetings in the morning, as well as that alliteration I’m so fond of. After that, it was back to the hotel to drop off all the photos and stuff, pick up the cameras, and moving a few blocks east to catch another bus.
Except I can’t cross Aurora! It turned out to be a minor-league highway, and I had to go well out of my way–at least a dozen blocks–to get across it. Shit, never heard of pedestrian bridges, people? Though I did see a beautiful jogger that had me vowing to come back the next morning, maybe a replay of what happened in Salzburg with Suzette. . . {hope you weren’t anticipating that part of the story, because the next morning, and the following ones, I totally forgot. . .} Ended up in a very strangely shaped intersection with a couple of islands in the middle. . . just weird, you have to see it to believe it. Took me a while of muttering to find the bus stop, then make sure I was pointed in the right direction. But once I was in position the bus came quickly and we were off on another long jaunt. I’d noticed it before, but this brought it home really hard that Seattle is a very large city, from north to south, or vice versa, in this case. Due to the water on the west and east, there isn’t much room that way, but it had El Lay-type length from the airport to the zoo, and the zoo ain’t the furthest north you can go.
I love reading detective stories set in Seattle–which is why I know all the mystery bookstores–but I guess some are out-of-date. I believe it was in an Earl Emerson, though it could have been J.A. Jance, who wrote that cheap hotels with hookers offering their wares on the hoof in front lined Aurora Blvd., but all I saw were condos and “retirement villas.” Well, maybe at night; every town’s gotta have a red light district, after all. We zoomed through Greenwood and got into Wallingford, another nice neighborhood similar to Queen Anne, though not quite as high-brow. It had even more of a small-town feel, almost like a small mountain town, though not as many trees as Big Bear or Whistler. Nice.
A girl called for the bus stop one block before the zoo, and if she hadn’t, we would have gotten to the ticket booth before this huge crowd that beat us by about five steps. Luckily I happened to notice a sign–not homemade, printed up real–by the side of the booths that screamed: “Yes, there is another window open. Honest. Over here!”
I love this town.
The official name is Woodland Park Zoological Gardens, which is a bit hoighty-toity for me, but at least you can tell they’re internet-savvy, to be the first to grab that url: http://www.zoo.org/
Put simply, the elephants are the stars here. It’s very hard to find a zoo where all the animals are treated the same, as in all of them having equally great places to live. At this zoo, with its overly pretentious official name, you can tell it’s the elephants they care about the most. There’s a HUGE enclosure with a stream running through it, with elevated viewing points for the public. There’s even a full-depth swimming pool, pretty much making this a pachyderm spa! Unfortunately, I didn’t see any elephants in this beautiful landscaped area, because they were all in the barn, which is also huge and looks like something you might spot in the Thai forest. The good news was you could look through the open doors and see the elephants being bathed about five feet away, close enough that the elephant could have stuck out his trunk to shake if he wanted to. There was one woman trainer there to answer all the kids’ questions, while another guy took care of all the adult queries, and it was fun watching the elephant lift his foot so the big paw would be cleaned as well. According to the displays the floor was rubberized, to protect the elephants’ feet and knee joints, and the radiant heat produced cheaply is what allowed the doors to remain open, even though this was a warm day and there was no worries about catching a pachyderm cold.
There’s a funny story on one of the plaques about how in 1921 one of the local newspapers did a fundraiser to raise money to buy an elephant. Kids donated over $3000 dollars, mostly in pennies, and the newspaper put up the rest. What they don’t tell you–it’s called research, people–is that the newspaper had already bought the elephant for the zoo and had to find a way to offset some of the cost while generating a bunch of publicity. That elephant lived into its fifties, but don’t ask me why it was named Wide Awake. At first they used to give rides on the non-sleepy one for ten cents, but Dumbo must’ve gotten bored and took off, though they don’t say if it happened while anyone was aboard. You figure after that they kept him locked up.
Moving on, my next stop was the Rain Forest, which is an enclosed giant cage for the birds, literally, and lets you stroll through a boardwalk full of huge ferns and such, which makes it kinda hard to see the birds unless they’re flying. Very humid, too. Did you know toucans are tiny? {I later saw them close up at Iguazu Falls, but this was my first view not on a cereal box.} The one thing I mostly remember was some crazy squawking avian doing laps near the top of the cage. He was tough to follow, going at full speed until he finally settled down or just got tired. If he hadn’t been flying perfect loops, and never crashing into the mesh, I woulda recommended a visit to the animal psych. And as I read the sign that claimed the animals were “sensitive to noise” so keep it down, a jet flew overhead.
The most fascinating part of this zoo for me was the Nocturnal House; since my favorite zoo in the world is the Singapore Night Zoo, maybe I’m predisposed that way. Speaking of laps and animal mental health, there was one tiny porcupine pretty much behaving like the bird, doing laps around and under a hollowed log right at the front of the glassed exhibit. I couldn’t take my eyes off him; whenever he made a wrong turn, like going under the middle of the log before finishing off the lap, he would screech to a stop, turn around, go back to some imaginary starting point, and start over. I wonder if human diseases and disabilities–not the physical ones, I mean mental or psychological–can happen to animals too, because this little guy had some OCD in him! {And don’t get me started on the beautiful blonde inside there feeding the bats! Yeeech! “No honey, I really don’t want to see what you do at work. . .”}
Most nocturnal animals, according to the displays, have a layer of tissue behind the retinas that reflects light, therefore increasing sensitivity–and explaining why they don’t like to come out in the day, must be blinding. Though due to that, most are colorblind. . . I don’t think I’ve ever pondered the question of animals seeing colors before. Even a bull reacts to the waving of. . . whatever it is you’re waving at it, and doesn’t care if it’s red or not. There was also a display on fish who lived in a cave in Mexico and, through evolution, the species had become blind! I guess they depend on their hearing, and I don’t know about smells underwater, but there’s something weird about having to touch and taste everything to see if it’s edible. Which reminds me of the koala in some farm in Oz-land that, every time he came to a curb, he had to taste it, in case it had changed since the last time. I imagine the animal dentist had a weekly consultation.
Checking the little map I was given coming in, I saw that a bird show was starting soon, and since I was nearby and wanted a rest, I headed off over there. Unfortunately there were no stands like the show at the El Lay zoo, just bleachers, which kill my back, so I stood talking to a woman standing there waiting to be talked to, if the falcon on her arm was any indication; yes, she did have a bird in the hand, go ahead and say it. It was kinda eerie, the way its beady eyes looked at me, and seemed to sneer when I ran out of questions. I didn’t stay for the whole show, though watching the birds swooping down to grab the lure is always fun.
At the far reaches of the zoo there’s the Northern Trail, which is supposed to mimic a walk through Denali National Park, so says the signs. While I did see a bear and some bald eagles, I was pretty disappointed with this part. Sometimes the displays and habitats are too natural, ergo boring to the human tourist.
Who doesn’t love polar bears? Don’t answer that, I don’t want to know. The kids especially loved it when the bears were given a big chunk of ice to play with, and inside it was I think an apple for the bear to work for. Of course the kids gave a rousing cheer when the bear finally got to it, and you could swear the big ol’ white guy was grinning.
There’s a huge gorilla enclosure, which the display claims is the largest of its kind in the world, but most people don’t bother checking out most of it, because it has a glass wall where you can gawk at the gorillas, and more importantly, vice versa. I saw one particularly large specimen sitting on his haunches right at the left side, waiting for humans to walk by so he could study them, looking for a chance to lock eyes. I tell ya, it was spooky. . .

Some other random tidbits:
There was a big display about shade-grown coffee. I don’t drink the java, so I don’t know much about that, but apparently there’s an ecological component to the argument.
There’s a food court, but it’s pretty weak. I will tell you that the girl at one of the snack bars had very little imagination:
“What do you have in the way of ice cream?”
“Um. . . it’s bad for you?”
“Great. I have enough mothers.”
“How many?”
I almost said zero, but that was wishful thinking.
As soon as you come in the gate and past the food area, there’s a huge grassy empty area. Don’t know if they let you picnic there, but bring your football or Frisbee–just don’t tell ‘em I told ya.
Tree kangaroos? In Papua New Guinea. Nothing else I can say about that, but you gotta see it to believe it.
One of the kids scurrying around me was named Nickleby! I don’t even care if his father’s a Melville scholar, he deserves some lashes! {the parent, not the kid. . .}
Louisiana Pine snake! Yikes!
The King Cobra’s fancy name is Ophiophagus Hannah! When I got back I told this tidbit to the Hannah I know, and to my disappointment she looked proud. I also found out later, at the Crocodile Club, that there’s a music venue called King Cobra, up on Pill Hill, which made me wonder what other booze places in town are named after animals.
I think this is the only place where I’ve seen the endangered snow leopard; I certainly didn’t see them during my trip to Kyrgyzstan.
The Malayan tapir is a huge weird thing. It may have the same coloring as a panda, but believe me, that’s where the resemblance ends. Again, you gotta see it. . .
Did you know “Orangutan” means “person of the forest?” Sounds Dutch, but apparently it’s a word in one of the myriad of Malaysian or Indonesian languages.
Sloth bear! He must be giving kudos to whoever named him. It was fun to see the cubs riding piggyback! Hmmm, I don’t think I’ve ever seen piglets ridding piggyback. . .
Nothing more natural than a little girl skipping. She had curly blonde hair, which I think accounted for her mom calling her “Noodle. . .”

After a couple of hours of almost non-stop walking–ever noticed you can get tired walking in an art museum too?–I managed to hop back on a bus quickly, and the ride was long enough for me to recuperate. Seeing no need to go back to the hotel yet, I stayed on the bus until it got to downtown and turned east. Not wanting to end up in the boonies–at least not yet–I got off accidentally at one of the places I wanted to check out, Freeway Park. Unfortunately this turned out to be just a park over the freeway and no bigger deal than that, and since I hadn’t eaten at the zoo, I started salivating when I came across a huge sign for baked potatoes in a nearby business edifice. I clomped up the stairs and entered what turned out to be a thin L-shaped deli-like eating establishment, with some tables along the walls and the place where you order on the inside, and not a lot of room in the middle. I promptly sat down, only to realize I had to get in line to order. Doh!
I seemed to be the only customer at the moment, but the lunch hours had just finished and, from what I saw while I ate there, most people came in and took their food to go. Not even bothering to glance at the menu, I of course ordered the baked potato, though I ignored all the toppings in their little trays before me and asked for it “plain.”
It was interesting to watch the staff: it was owned and operated by an Asian family, with the beautiful perky girl taking the orders, mom cooking, and dad cleaning up the tables and floor. He was very friendly, smiling and saying hello to everyone who came in; the whole atmosphere of the place put me in a good mood right away.
As I said, I ordered my baked potato plain, and yet it still came with green and red stuff on it. The girl made a funny face when I brought it back, and she instantly threw the good-for-someone-else potato in the trash and called for her mom, who finally got the idea that I really only wanted sour cream and butter on my spud; maybe something was lost in the translation. Because of that–hey, I was really hungry and not in the mood to wait!–I give them a four out of five, though the large potato was excellent and the staff really friendly. Of course the place serves other food as well, plenty of different types of sandwiches and a bunch of side dishes, as well as more regular fare like bags of potato chips and such. There’s also a good variety of drinks in the glass-door fridge you see when coming in, not nearly as expensive as most places, and there’s a great view of the street from the tables up against the glass wall that held the banner, if you are a people watcher. For the non rainy days, there is an outdoor patio as well.
I’ll finish by saying it’s definitely worth a visit, and I plan to go there again. After all, you can’t eat at the Metropolitan Grill every meal. . .

Refueled and ready for more touristy action, I sauntered along parts of downtown I didn’t know very well, coming across the new library and the pedestal-type building, neither of which I went into, simply shot them from a safe distance. No doubt walking inside that library is vertigo-inducing. It was tough enough trying to find an angle on the sidewalk to take a picture without going into the street–have I told you about Seattle drivers?
Passed a church that, on their marquee, said, “Jazz worship.” I know some people love jazz, but this is ridiculous! And there’s a Felonious Monk joke in there. . . {Yes, I know that’s not his name, it’s a joke in itself!} And yes, I’m sure it’s a regular worship thing set to jazz music, but I find I don’t care that much; I’d rather go for the funny. It’s barely Tuesday, you gotta learn to play along.
Done with wandering, thinking up a plan, I found myself near the University Street entrance to the bus tunnel, where I came across a board of flashing lights eerily similar to the one in Union Station that was shut down because it caused an epileptic seizure {and has since been started again, huh}. A short trip, only a few stops, took me to Smith Tower, which to my surprise I realized I’d never been to.
Can’t believe more people don’t know about this! Most travelers to Seattle go up to the Space Needle to check the view, and never realize the city has an older, more original observation deck. Smith Tower is an almost-century-old and amazingly beautiful skyscraper which when built had been amongst the tallest in the US, if not the world. Now it’s dwarfed by its downtown neighbors to the north, but out here by Pioneer Square it sits alone and majestic, with only the Piazza San Marco Campanile facsimile at the train station keeping it company amongst the clouds.
Despite being afraid of heights, I couldn’t resist going up for some shots. It’s a completely different feeling than the Space Needle. For one thing, the design of the elevators–each car has a driver!–lets you see the people in the hallways as you zoomed past them, which is fun in a voyeuristic kinda way. I was the only person in the elevator, apart from the operator, of course, who started the history lesson, and he didn’t sound bored doing it, either. He told me these elevators were the last manually operated ones on the West Coast, which is kinda fun to know. Some of us are so lazy we can’t be bothered to push a button.
Since a tourist has no need going to any of the business offices, the elevator zooms right up to the thirty-fifth floor, where you come out in a relatively small but very fancy room with a small gift shop and plenty of exhibits, but more importantly a wrap-around view of Seattle in its entirely. Suddenly you feel like you’re smack in the middle of Seattle’s skyline, even though you’re actually on one end of it. But that’s okay, because even if you’re not into looking at all the other sky-highs, you can see between them right to the Space Needle, the closest view you’ll get to its disk without being in a plane or chopper. To the east you get a fantastic view of Mount Rainier, while to the west is the Olympic Peninsula and its mountains, islands, and Puget Sound, not to mention the waterfront and the ferry terminal at your feet. And to the south, right below you, is Pioneer Square; if you see a long line of walkers, that’s probably the Underground Tour heading for the stairs. A little further up is the train station and aforementioned Campanile, and if you’re really into cheap seats you could probably watch the football game at Qwest from here. Safeco Field is right there too, but its architecture doesn’t allow for a good look at the playing area, oh well.
Above the windows is a running poster that goes all the way around and identifies all the prominent landmarks. Having been to Seattle many times, I still had never seen what looks to be a red fortress off to the southeast, maybe around the airport. I asked the guy on duty what the hell it was, and he chuckled like he got it all the time, which he no doubt did, and explained that it used to be the Pacific Medical Center–imagine Grey’s Anatomy set there–until it was bought by. . . Amazon.com!
And then you notice the door that lets you go outside onto a narrow walkway around the tower, and despite the fact the wire mesh cages you in and keeps you from walking on air, it is small consolation to the animal brain that screams, “If Nature had wanted humans to fly, she would have given us tickets!” Still, it’s a lot better taking photos from here than from inside, if you can stand it. I barely could.
Back inside to the exhibits, which if you see them will explain why its called the Chinese Room in there. The plaque and/or the guide will tell you the dark carved furniture were gifts to Mr. Smith–who made him money in guns and bullets. . . making them, not committing robberies–from the Empress of China. The very biggest deal of these furnishings is the wishing chair, which has carvings of a dragon and phoenix, which when combined is supposed to signify marriage in the Chinese mythological lexicon. So someone came up with the idea/legend that now any woman who wants to get married will do so within a year of sitting in the chair, and uses Mr. Smith’s daughter as an example that the good luck works. Well, I sat in it five years ago and I’m still floundering in the sea of love, so if it indeed works, don’t bother, guys. It’s strictly for the estrogen-powered.
Damned sexist chair. . .

After that, wasted some time in the Seattle Mystery Bookshop. Ever since the demise of Killing Time–what a fantastic name for a mystery bookstore!–in the University District, this is Seattle’s best mystery bookstore. Seattle seems to have a disproportionate amount of mystery novels written about it. I mean, how often do you read a book set in Atlanta, or Houston, or even Chicago? {That was rhetorical, no need to list them!} Emerson, Jance, Peirson, and even a few good one-offs.
Close by was a sporting goods store, whose name I can never remember but I visit every time in town, the only place I buy Seahawks gear; I remember one time talking to a large black lady about Brian Bosworth, or Not Worth, as I called him, in the checkout line, but why dredge up bad memories. This time they were selling UCLA stuff! Which reminded me of the time at the U bookstore with that checkout gal, where I asked her if I was safe wearing UCLA gear around town. She said as long as it wasn’t Wazzou. . . or Oregon, which led me to ask the store guy, who told me this story: In 1948, Oregon and Cal tied for the Pacific Coast Conference football championship. When the member schools held a vote to determine which school would represent the conference in the Rose Bowl, Washington voted for Cal and encouraged Montana to do the same, keeping Oregon at home and kicking off the loathing. Considering Washington was successful for decades and Oregon was a perennial loser till recent years, I think the hatred must have been pretty one-sided on the ducky side, but I guess if someone hates you, you tend to hate them back.
Couldn’t find a shoe buffer! My poor boots. . .
Had bought my ticket for the underground tour earlier, but had to wait a few hours till my appointed time, hence the trip to the bookstore and sporting goods and stuff. Got an ice cream at the pizza-by-the-slice place, ate it while watching the tourists and trying to guess the hometowns and countries of the tourists passing by, and finally went inside and had a soft drink while waiting some more, though I knew how it filled up and left some standing, which is why I went in early as I could. Sitting next to me was a hung-over-looking chick–it was three in the afternoon–who begged me to tell her a joke involving sperm; trust me, I could not make this shit up. Luckily I knew one, and now you will know one too. . .
Guy comes into the sperm bank wearing a mask and holding a gun. He goes right up to the nurse at the front desk and demands that she drink that sperm sample on the desk. She refuses, and he pulls the gun up threateningly. . .
So she drinks it.
The guy takes off the mask; it’s her husband, who says, “See, that wasn’t so bad, was it?”

Which sets the tone rather nicely for the underground tour, don’t ya think? You would if you’ve ever been on it and remember their corny, though cute, commentary.
Hint: if you’re from California, do NOT raise your hand when the MC asks, “Is there anyone here from California?” We get more flak than even Texans! He also said that some people got married down there! But because of the generally dingy condition, you shouldn’t wear a big frilly white dress, let alone heels. At that point there was a cry of dismay from the back; she never stood up, but considering the woman who squealed had painted blonde hair and tons of makeup, I’m guessing she wasn’t looking as forward to the tour as she had been a minute before.
You can’t spend any time in Seattle without soon enough hearing the story about how the town burnt down in the late 1880s, then was rebuilt on top of the ruins. Or, as the introducer to the tour says, “The ruins of Seattle are not as old or famous as those of Pompeii, but they’re the only ones we have. A further advantage is that they are right here in town and not across the ocean someplace. The Pompeiians couldn’t have buried their city without a considerable contribution from Mt. Vesuvius. Seattle’s was a do-it-yourself project. . . though Mt. Reiner is close at hand in case we failed to do it correctly the first time.”
As you might expect, large portions of the underground were still inhabitable, and used for all the stuff you couldn’t do legally aboveground, but even that eventually petered out and the whole level was forgotten, until Bill Speidel found it and thought it would be fun to give tours, which are so famous and popular now you need to buy a ticket a few hours in advance to reserve your spot.
Eventually we were introduced to our guide, who turned out to be a funny redhead with incredible blue eyes, dressed in overalls, such a fantastic contrast to the squealing woman just mentioned. She led us outside and around the corner, where our first stop was a triangular parking garage. As we stood there, annoying pedestrians, she explained the history of the area, how it had been slated to be torn down, how it was saved, and how things stood at present. Then she pointed out a fake owl on the upper floors of some of the surrounding buildings, apparently placed there to keep pigeons away, but according to all the white stains, it wasn’t working so well.
With that part done, she led us across the street to a nondescript door between buildings, where everyone filed down some wooden staircases that reminded me of the line at Disneyland for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Finally we were all gathered in what might have been the lobby of a small hotel over a hundred years ago, with a bar/counter and other remains all around. It was about twenty degrees cooler down there as she continued the lecture, peppering it with plenty of corny jokes and stories about the founder of the tour, as well as the politicians of the time. My favorite: “He’d steal tobacco from your mouth if you yawned.”
From there we traveled through tunnels that looked like mine shafts, stopping at various places to gawk at the history left behind and hear more stories. I know I’m not making it sound very interesting, but it truly is, as well as a lot of fun, though maybe a bit tiring if you’re not used to all the strolling and standing.
There was one part that really stood out in my mind: if you walk on the sidewalks upstairs, you might notice there’s some bubbles of colored glass here and there; she pointed them out before we went downstairs. Well, now we were looking at them in the opposite direction, and she told everyone to yell when they saw someone walk by. So it was really hilarious when one guy did indeed stop and look around to see who was yelling at him.
The end of the tour comes out back in their building, at the gift shop of course. There are plenty of interesting books on the history of Seattle, as well as a few hilarious tomes written by the man Mr. Speigel himself; be sure to use the code word for the discount. And of course you can get key chains and postcards and such, and, believe it or not, Gummy cats. Not as good as Gummy Babes, but interesting enough.
And in case you get to the end of the tour and the guide hasn’t mentioned it, ask about the problem of elevation and the backflow from the toilets in the early days, which leads to a particularly bawdy joke dealing with the “frenemy” relationship between Seattle and its neighbor Tacoma. . .
It was interesting for me to realize–well after the fact–that I had a headache before and after the tour, but not during. . .

Now thoroughly tired, I hiked back to the bus tunnel for another short ride back to Westlake Center, delighted to realize I knew my way through the tunnels and had no trouble remembering exactly where I wanted to go. After the escalator to the Mezzanine Level, I decided that. . . THAT alcove was the one that led to the almost-hidden straight-shot elevator to the monorail platform. Of course there were signs pointing to it, but they only confirmed what I already knew, I swear.
And as the elevator doors opened, I caught a glimpse of the monorail pulling away. Well, there’d be another one in ten minutes, so I went inside the mall, remembering I hadn’t gone through my usual ritual in this place: buying gummy bears. That had to be remedied stat.
Westlake Center, despite being about four floors and airy, is really your typical overpriced mall, the only saving grace being the monorail stop, so I’m not going to bother reviewing this. I did have a chuckle as I passed a display of shades, because I had just read some where that people in Seattle bought more sunglasses per capita than any other city in the States, which seems ridiculous at first glance, but now I saw there might be something to it: you buy a pair on a sunny day, and the next sunny day is so far away that you forgot where you put them and have to buy another pair at lunchtime, and so on. Considering the glare off the bay, I could definitely see the necessity. Though I doubt many had forgotten lately, since there’s been nothing but sun since I’d gotten here. A friend back in El Lay told me it was raining back home, which figured, considering how much I love rain and am hardly ever home for it.
As usual there was hardly any line to pay and walk into the waiting area or, as was the case now, right into the waiting monorail. On the trip you pass by these two hotels/condos that look like corn on the cob, except the corn’s been eaten and you’re just left with the ugly-colored cob. What made this funny was that there’s a duplicate hotel next to the Long Beach airport, as well as one pretty damned close to UCLA, and they all look like used corn. I’m sure I’ve got a photo of them somewhere around here. . .
Once arriving, I noticed that, from the Monorail platform, Seattle Center looked like the Prater–Vienna, Riesenrad, anybody?–with the little rollercoasters and rows of little win-something booths and such.
Quick stop in at the business place to see if there were any new developments before tomorrow’s meeting, or if anyone was so blown away they wanted to see my photos again. Instead I got the secretary eyeing me and claiming, “You look like you slept in your clothes.”
“I napped in them, so technically it’s true.” Hey, I don’t get paid for my looks.
She went on and on about some kind of standard set in this place, which first of all I didn’t care about, since I would never be working here, and second of all, seemed incongruously out of place from someone so low on the totem pole. . . hey, I had to get a totem pole reference in while in Seattle, right? Finally I told her, “Excuse me for speaking–or dressing–my mind instead of following you off the cliff like a lemur. . . er, lemming!”
See, that trip to the zoo HAD been worth it!
After another quick stop at McD’s, mostly out of fatigue than dining preference, it was back to the hotel to rest up and ice my feet, so they wouldn’t swell up and be unavailable for tonight’s fun. I really can’t tell ya what happened for the next two hours, not because I don’t want to but because I don’t remember it. I was pretty out of it.
This time bothering to have an actual sit-down meal, good but not worth writing about, I headed over to Belltown, remembering a previous visit when the whoosh of the monorail in the rain. . . no rain so far, dammit!
Anyway, I’ve been coming to Seattle enough years to see what a change has taken place in Belltown. From slums to a Patagonia store–that’s when a neighborhood knows they’ve made it. Kudos to the people who bought up the buildings before the renaissance.
Too early for the concert when I first got to the place, so I wandered around and found a FedEx, where I went in to get on the internet to catch up on e-mails and such, and to check the band’s myspace to make sure they hadn’t canceled or anything.
Okay, let’s be honest–the concert wasn’t good enough to be blogged about. On to the next day. . .

;o)

Poetry Tuesday: In a Disused Graveyard

Today is Robert Frost’s birthday, if dead people can indeed be said to have birthdays. Since I will always love him for his quote “Writing poetry without rhyme is like playing tennis without the net,” here’s my fave Frosty poem.

In a Disused Graveyard

The living come with grassy tread
To read the gravestones on the hill;
The graveyard draws the living still,
But never anymore the dead.
The verses in it say and say:
“The ones who living come today
To read the stones and go away
Tomorrow dead will come to stay.”
So sure of death the marbles rhyme,
Yet can’t help marking all the time
How no one dead will seem to come.
What is it men are shrinking from?
It would be easy to be clever
And tell the stones: Men hate to die
And have stopped dying now forever.
I think they would believe the lie.

;o)

Actual Beach Volleyball

So. . . after watching “Sand” volletball, it’s official designation, in the shadow of a blue pyramid in the middle of a college campus–Long Beach State–and between a busy street and a parking structure near downtown El Lay–u$c–I finally got to see it played on an actual beach, with the surf in the background. . . and more importantly, with an ocean breeze! I’ve never loved Santa Monica as much. . .

Enough photos for three blogs, but gonna condense it into two. You’re welcome. . .

We start by setting the scene. . .

!!IMG_0303 !!IMG_0376 !!IMG_0413 !!IMG_0414 !!IMG_9953

On to da good stuff. . .

!IMG_0089 !IMG_0103 !IMG_0165 !IMG_0205

Entry level streaker!

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!IMG_0244 !IMG_0255

More tomowoh. . .pwomise. . .

;o)

Travel Theme: Time

Never been much of a beach person, but spending all day yesterday at Santa Monica watching women’s sand volleyball almost convinced me differently.

On this episode of the Ailsa travel blogging network, it’s about time. . . yes, literally; I went there. As usual I had nothing, until inspiration–which, like Han Solo, is my specialty–struck me in the most painful way: inside my head. In the San Fernando Valley region of El Lay, next to a water treatment plant that looks so futuristic it’s been used in just about every sci-fi series of the past 20 years, is a small Japanese garden, which features a water clock. . .

1-3!!!

 

;o)

Travel Thursday–How to mix pleasure with business–Seattle 05

Spending the whole day in Santa Monica. . . that should sound better than it does; I already feel tired. . .

So, today on Travel Thursday–love the alliteration–the first of five days of intense squeezing-every-moment traveling amidst boring business stuff. So long it’ll have to come in installments, or I guess old skool would call it “serialized.”

MONDAY–LA
I like not having to prepare for a trip. Going to some place I haven’t been to before, or only once, I’d be researching for weeks, make sure I found all the places I wanted to see and made some kind of itinerary. But this is Seattle, a town I’ve been to so many times I probably know it almost as well as I know El Lay. Still, there were some places in the Emerald City I haven’t checked out yet, but I was more likely to get back to the Pacific Northwest–again–than Tanzania, so no big deal.
Okay, there was a bit of preparation, mostly physical. In the two weeks before the trip I took long walks every day, partly to think through all the stuff that had to be thought through–that’s when I do my best thinking, not counting pillow talk–but mostly as conditioning for all those Seattle hills. Two days before I left I went to a UCLA softball game–against the University of Washington, of all things; too bad all the girls I knew on that team had graduated, but that is more definitely another story. The stadium is on a hill on the northwest side of the UCLA campus, and this is one steep long climb, so I was happy to see I was only a little winded instead of gasping as usual. Then on Sunday I went to UCLA gymnastics, and climbing up the stairs in Pauley Pavilion a few times is a similar experience, so I felt I was as prepared as I could be.
But nothing can prepare you when you so hate waking up at six in the morning. . .
After an hour bus ride down Rosemead/Lakewood Blvd., and that is one long boring jaunt when you’re trying to stay awake, still had to transfer to a Long Beach bus to get to the Long Beach Airport. Yes, it was still quicker and closer than any other airport, but. . .
The perfectly named Long Beach Airport was probably built in the 40s and looks it, but not because it’s decrepit, I was speaking architecturally. In fact, it kinda reminded me of the background of the last scene in Casablanca. {I’ve been told since then that it’s built in the Streamline Moderne style, if any of you are into that sorta thing.} After a relatively quick check in–my first time doing it with a touch-screen rather than a human–I marched up the stairs to the Legends of Aviation Restaurant & Bar, and I gotta say, the second floor before entering the restaurant looked even more like a time warp! If the plane has propellers I’m staying home!
But then you enter the restaurant and things are back to normal. Since I still had a lot of time till my flight, though I haven’t gone through Search & Seizure yet, I tried to do everything in slow motion, savor every morsel, watch the planes land and take off–and gawking at my first sight of an actual LANCER!–and check out the waitress as often as possible, but even with all that I finally left and went off to have my shoes checked, along with other things.

Restaurant review: Legends of Aviation Restaurant & Bar
{Find the place where all the planes are taking off. Go into the only building. Climb to the second floor.}
Hey, much better than what you get on the plane!
Nowadays, in most modern airports, you have a large variety of eateries to choose from, most of them either fast food or way-overpriced. But in certain tiny flight hubs you may not get much of a choice, like at the Long Beach Airport, where the Legends of Aviation Restaurant & Bar, on the second floor of the terminal–okay, the only building–is the only game in town. Luckily it’s a good game.
The very cheerful waitress told me to have a seat anywhere, so of course I ambled off to grab a table near the windows that showed a view of the airfield. There was even a patio section, though I can’t imagine who would want to put up with all that noise! There was also a bar, but it might have been a better deal to face it away from the view of the landings and takeoffs. . . I’m just sayin’.
Okay, my waitress was a tiny perky brunette named Jessica who made the meal a lot more fun than I would have imagined. She had this enjoyable way of saying “You’re wel-come!” that I wish I could have taped. It got to the point where. . . there was this woman seated across the aisle from me who looked so totally bored that she was willing to spend a few minutes practicing her flirting technique on me, but the more time I spent smiling and semi-flirting with my waitress, the more pissed off she got.
The very first thing said between us was me telling her to take the previous tip away, because I didn’t want to be tempted. She laughed heartily and whisked the money into hiding, calling me a big goof; I’m surprised she didn’t hit me on the head with her pad. Not being in an adventurous mood. . . well, yeah, I never am when it comes to food, but certainly not when I might possibly get airsick, I had the bacon and eggs with wheat toast. You would think it’d be hard to screw up something so basic, but I’ve had too many bad breakfasts to not know better.
This one was not screwed up, in fact it was damned tasty, aided by the fact they got the bacon exactly how I liked it. While I don’t keep records the way I do with corn, that might be the second-best wheat toast I’ve ever had {the first being at the bus station in Duncan, Vancouver Island, Canada}. And like in all great eateries, the waitress has something to do with it, because if you get a surly server it somehow makes the food taste not as good, right?
And then there’s the view. I’m not a hard-core aviation buff, but I’ve flown on enough of them, especially in the Marine Corps and UN Peacekeeping, to recognize the C-130s and such dotting the hangers on the other side of the field, so no doubt this airport has a military component as well. I had to borrow some binoculars–smart of the restaurant to have them on hand–to see that it was indeed a Lancer off in the distance, the most beautiful plane ever built. It was pretty cool having both my senses of sight and taste so fully engaged at the same time. So if you’re the kinda person who loves watching planes, this is the perfect place for you!
Along with a big glass of milk my bill came to just over seven dollars, which is a great price anywhere but particularly in a spot where it’s the only alternative. And after paying I asked Jessica to put the change in my backpack, which I already had on, so it wouldn’t set off the metal detector when my bod passed through; she laughed and did so, though I can only assume that from the sound–she mighta kept a quarter, but I doubt it. The whole experience left me in a great mood to fly, an auspicious start to the trip.
{note: the restaurant had since been “remodeled,” so I can’t vouch for what it looks like now, or the prices. I just hope they were smart enough to keep the food tasty.
And keep Jessica.}

Back to our story. . .
To my surprise, the security checkpoint looked to be made out of those modular trailers you had in high school when there was no more room in the old buildings, and even more surprising was zooming right through. I guess I’m finally used to doing and undoing the laces in my boots, and luckily I was awake enough to wear matching socks.
As usual getting anywhere early, I spent the time reading, in this case most of the UCLA magazine, before going over to look at the snacks. The counter girl giggled as I bought an orange creamsickle and matching yoghurt–to balance the nutritional content, of course–and especially at my face when I saw that sushi–wrapped plastic container, at least–was on sale there too. I don’t know anyone who would take a risk on buying preserved sushi, but some people like to live on the edge. . . me, I’d like a condo two blocks from the edge. {Sorry, old joke}
Do you think they have a security camera in the airport restrooms? Considering this would be the place where someone in disguise would change, or possibly let loose a biological or chemical agent into the air vents, you’d have to think there would be, right? But still, what about inside the stalls? Do the guys in the security room develop a fetish? Are there blackmail tapes? Is that how they caught that Republican senator in Minneapolis? Do I really not want to know? Bingo.
It wasn’t till I sat back down to finish the other half of the UCLA magazine that I realized I was wearing my heavy Washington Huskies jacket {which I ended up never needing, but more on that later. . . SHIT! anyways.}
Finally on the plane, where everyone settled quickly and efficiently so that we took off on time. Can’t remember the last time an airport and flight went off like so much clockwork, though of course the thought jinxes it for next time. Huh.
Got a damn good view of the Lancer as we taxied–seriously, the most beautiful plane ever, some might dare call it. . . sexy? In the way cars can be sexy, of course.
Flight was short due to talking the whole way.

MONDAY–SEATTLE
Ah, Seattle. At times I consider this city to be the second most beautiful in the world, trailing only behind its neighbor to the north, Vancouver. The two are very similar; urban sprawl surrounded by, and dotted with, green landscapes everywhere, but the Canadian entry had the advantage of a small island of recreation right next to the downtown area, as well as a huge bridge with a tremendous view. But Seattle’s a close second. The sports stadiums and Space Needle notwithstanding, it has the feeling and atmosphere of a small village that just happens to go on and on.
But why is it every time I go to Seattle it’s sunny and hot? The last time I was in Portland it was over 100, so I’m afraid to go back there. Rainy Pacific Northwest, my muscular buttocks!
Despite a really easy time grabbing my big backpack from the luggage slide and then walking through what is one of my favorite airports–there’s always a pleasant surprise somewhere in the corridors–I missed the express bus and had to take the regular one, which stopped at every single block. The driver warned me about this, but what the hell, I was either napping or taking in the sights, most of them industrial, around the airport and northward with Puget Sound to the left. I will say there was everything from gangbangers to old rich people on the bus. I also noticed the sign that informed, “No eating, smoking, or littering. NO ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES.” Which I guess means you can drink coffee or water or soda, which is different from most buses I’ve been in. And then a guy brought his dog on, another no-no in most places.
Then I had to transfer at Westlake, and didn’t think at the time to take the monorail. Still, this bus eventually left me a couple of blocks from the hotel, and I got to see that I had just missed the last Duck tour of the day as I walked by the tiny triangular block where they’re based; oh well again. {In 2009 there’s supposed to be a new trolley that’ll run from the airport to downtown and through the bus tunnel, but don’t hold your breath. . .}
As usual excited to get out and about, I emptied my day backpack of everything but camera gear and headed off north, where I had map-scouted a few parks in Queen Anne that were supposed to have tremendous views of the entire town. What the Thomas Guide isn’t good at showing is elevation–hey, if I coulda found a topo map of the area, I would have used it; it’s one thing to know such a place was a good lookout for some photos of the city, quite another to find yourself climbing some of the steepest streets you’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter. And watching a beautiful blonde trudging along in front of you without a problem, then turn to smile benevolently when you reach a crest in the hill and pant for oxygen, is not conducive to good manners. Somehow I managed to gasp, “You do this every day?” only to have her shrug and respond, “You get used to it.” For that lack of sympathy I refrained from asking her to dinner, her loss. {Shut up. . .}
After finding out the first park was useless, and actually catching three people gawking out of their houses like I was a Martian, I checked the map and made my way west, through entire streets of mansions–and if you want to know what kind, just look at the name of the neighborhood–though I have to say the few people I encountered were a lot nicer; perhaps they were used to pedestrian tourists. Finally got to the coincidentally-named Kerry Park {hey, check the date!} and indeed found, after some more huffing. . . er, resting, that it was undeniably a fantastic place from which to photograph the city.
I musta spent at least an hour here, taking some photos, running out of inspiration, sitting on a bench and talking to tourists, then taking some more shots, then continuing the cycle round and round. {If you can guess that shout-out, I’ll send ya a CD} And speaking of inspirations, there was this one geeky-looking guy from Portland on his honeymoon with a model-worthy blonde who hung on his every word. Well, he was probably rich–at least that’s what I keep telling myself, to stay sane. Just about every other tourist was Asian! And more Koreans that Japanese, to my surprise.
Well-rested now, or as well as I was going to get, I plodded down Queen Anne Avenue. It was probably an even steeper hill than the one I climbed, which is pretty bad going down too, partially because I get shin splits, but mostly because gravity urges me to go faster. This area was different from the mansions, reminding me of Vermont or Hillcrest in Los Feliz, El Lay, with its profundity of old-style apartments. At this point I accidentally flicked a switch on my portable CD player and discovered, after a couple of years of ownership, that it had a radio too. Finally, after a good half hour of walking and tons of buses zooming by me, I got to the business district, and immediately found a Kidd Valley.
For those of you not in the know, Kidd Valley is a small local chain of burger joints that, ever since I’ve been coming here, has been known as having the best burger in town. Since I’d always gone to the one north of the University, I had no idea I’d be running into another one, but my mouth instantly started salivating. . . until I got inside. If I were to dig hard enough in my map cabinet I’m sure I could find an old receipt that would have stated a middle-of-the-road-or-menu burger going for about a buck fifty. {Another reference that might get ya a CD.} But now the cheapest burger is $3.39! When did that happen? Age-ol’ story of good reviews and greed, sigh. I ended up going to a market and buying a loaf of pound cake and assorted veggies, since my hotel room had a mini-fridge.
Also in this neighborhood, which reminded me of parts of Hollywood south of Sunset and to the east, were plenty of used book stores that also contained records, DVDs, and even cameras. I ended up browsing a lot longer than I thought, and then I ended up on the opposite side of Seattle Center than I needed to be, behind Key Arena.
As I noticed the giant indoor stadium to my left, a guy shoots out of the darkness and offers me a very discounted ticket to the playoff game going on inside. I kept all my hair–get it?–and walked on my not-so-merry way, noticing that stadium had an all-glass exterior on this side, and the people looked like ants scurrying for food. Instead of humans scurrying for food, I guess. It must’ve been halftime, or else the game wasn’t going as well as they’d hoped; some were already leaving.
Couldn’t help but notice that, unlike most stadiums you see, this one had cheap brick apartments across First Street. Kinda like the ones outside Wrigley Field in Chicago, I guess, except you can’t see the basketball game from these. Down the block were Taqueria Jalisco and another Mexican place, which peaked my interest for a moment, until I saw that, unlike their names, they were not mom & pop type small eateries, but rather more like the horrible Acapulco and other bad chains of “Americanized” Mexican food. Ya know, if you try to order anything from those menus in Mexico, they would have no idea what you’re talking about! Since I didn’t go in, that’s as much of a review as you’re gonna get.
Not wanting to chance Seattle Center being closed, I walked around the periphery until I staggered into the McD’s and took the burger, fries, and my market purchases back to the hotel, where I promptly collapsed.
After a couple of hours of rest and watching TV, I reached for the tripod in my big backpack and went up to the fourth floor of the hotel–no roof access–to try to get some night shots of the Space Needle. I could plainly see people still up there in the well-lighted disk, but even with center-weighted metering I couldn’t seem to get a good-enough shot. Since it was obviously still open, I thought of going over and getting some shots of the city lights, but then I remembered the reason I’d decided not to on this trip.
Still fresh in my memory from my last visit was a girl who worked up there, at the gift shop counter, who seemed way too blasé about being up in the sky every day. Yes, I know it’s human nature and blah blah, but it got to me. Someone asked her how she enjoyed the view, and she simply shrugged.
“Just another job.”
“Don’t you ever look out anymore? You must have when you first started.”
“Got boring quickly.”
And so did you, babe.
Feeling sleepy at around ten–which is shocking until you remember how early I had to wake–I went back to the room and puttered around, making sure everything was ready for the presentation in the morning. My last thought was “I have no idea why that full-length mirror is where it is in the bathroom–I don’t need to see myself piss.”

;o)

Poetry Tuesday: Young Girls

Raymond Souster passed away recently at the age of 92, one of Toronto’s most beloved poets, compared to Henri Cartier-Bresson: “. . . inscribing small pieces of space and time on the memory, catching a moment as it flies.” And he’s obviously a keen observer of human nature, considering his poem “Young Girls.”

With night full of spring and stars we stand
here in this dark doorway and watch the young
girls pass, two, three together, hand in hand.
They are like flowers whose fragrance hasn’t sprung
or awakened, whose bodies now dimly feel
the flooding, upward welling of the trees;
whose senses, caressed by the wind’s soft fingers, reel
with a mild delirium that makes them ill at ease

They lie awake at night, unable to sleep,
then walk the streets, kindled by strange desires;
they steal lightning glances at us, unable to keep
control upon those subterranean fires.
We whistle after them, then laugh, for they
stiffen, not knowing what to do or say

;o)