Travel Thursday Encore–How to mix pleasure with business–Seattle 05, Day 3, Part 1

Officially passing the halfway mark of this long saga–imagine if I wrote so much for a three-week trip! Better yet, don’t imagine it. . .

Stepped out of the hotel and walked over to the big street just in time to see the bus flash past! Oh wait, wrong bus. Phew!
The rain finally fell silently on the beautiful city, truly an emerald city, but no one except some of the tourists minded. It was not a torrential downpour, nor a quick tropical shower. It was like an ever-present sense of wetness, more than mist, but no barrier to a fine walk. As a matter of fact, I’d found that, with the proper company, it was preferable to sunshine.
Being alone, of course, doesn’t help.
And it didn’t last–by the time the bus left me off at the top of the hill, the sun was out again. The weather had a big hand in the rest of the day, but not as expected.
Having planned on places to be today, but no set times, I figured I’d check out a neighborhood I’d never been to, Capitol Hill, and see what the views were like from there. It turned out to be another interesting great neighborhood with too many hills, like Queen Anne, again reminding me of Los Feliz, with all the little new-agey yoga bungalows and coffeeshops. I had no idea this was the gay part of town; there was no outward evidence. I also wanted to see the museum of mysteries, UFOs, and such, figuring it had to be better than the sanitized one in Seattle Center that charges two arms and half a leg, but it didn’t open till the afternoon, and I’m not a patient tourist, so I left the big avenue and turned west, noticing with a cackle that this street was called Republican.
I certainly did not expect to be sitting in a shoe repair shop with a guy named Angel, talking about every subject on Earth while giving snacks to every dog that walked by, on a leash or not. I’ve always noticed that it’s the recent immigrants that want to talk politics the most, and that was no different this time, though I don’t think Angel was that recent. As I was gawking over how many different shoe polishes he had in the store, I asked him what he would recommend for my boots, and after a quick glance he deadpanned, “Shoe polish.” Ha ha, up yours too. But he was fun enough to leave a positive impression for this journal.
With the museum still closed and social and footgear needs attended to, I eventually moved back down the road, already sweating with a combination of the sun and me dressed for rain, still heading downslope on Republican, seeing all the tiny roundabouts with trees on even the small streets; I guess that’s one way to keep the speeds down, and much prettier than sleeping policemen {what they call speedbumps in Spain}. Passed the only theater in Seattle showing Bride and Prejudice, which I never did see. Went into the Broadway market, found nothing I really needed, and walked behind it, where I came to a library. Figuring I would rest up a bit while doing some random researching, I came across some mentions of Tashkent Park, which was a block away, so I went there to rest up a little longer and think of that city, which I hadn’t been to in a long time but was pretty sure I’d be going through on my big trip either later in the year or next year.
After moving north another block, turned west on Roy–hoping it wasn’t pronounced Waugh like some Canadian version of Sade–I came across Kerry Hall–there’s that man again!–which appears to be the last remnants of the old campus of the Cornish College of the Arts. At the time it wasn’t worth much of a thought—I’m surprised I even wrote it down—but I was to remember it the next day when I went to an art museum and saw a fantastic exhibit by one of their alumni. Plus I later remembered it as a setting in a mystery novel. . .
Onward. I headed northwest on Belmont, which was a steep downhill with lotsa nice country-type houses, the kind you occasionally see in Pasadena and such. As a matter of fact, the whole walk along here, with the ivy-covered walls and little statues on the fences, reminded me of the street from Gamble House to the Rose Bowl.
Eventually I arrived at Lakeview Blvd., which when you go southwest becomes a very thin overpass, very high above Interstate 5–did I mention I was afraid of heights? The sidewalk was maybe four feet wide, with cars whizzing by even though it’s a long curve–and very elevated, don’t forget–and the barrier was less than waist high with a tube-like handling area on top. Scaaaary. But even with all that I paused to get some photos, for right across Lake Union was the Space Needle and a particularly excellent view of the monstrosity known as the Music Experience Museum. From here you could tell exactly how ugly it is, looking absolutely nothing like a broken guitar. It was so ugly I had to photograph it, ya know?
Finally got across to firmer ground, this time Eastlake Avenue, which I know well as the route to the University, the bus always going slow enough in one stretch for you to see the massive REI flagship store. But instead of continuing my walk north along this street I cut through the parking lot of the Cancer Cure Center and got on Fairview–not to be confused with the Fairview a few blocks from where I live in Pasadena. I crossed this street as well to get to the lakewalk {since it wasn’t a river, I didn’t know what else to call it. . . okay, we’ll go with waterfront}. There’s a little park and then a floating wood walk past the small marinas, until. . .
Due to the early morning rain, I had planned to go to the softball game first–if it wasn’t called off due to the weather–and then do other touristy things I had in mind, but since I had a lot of time before I had to get to U Dub, and I was right here, accidentally, where I needed to be. . . float plane!
Come back next week for plenty of photos from even higher than the Space Needle or Smith Tower!

;o)

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Travel Thursday Encore–How to mix pleasure with business–Seattle 05, Day 2, Part 2

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.

All by its lonely on the right


Despite being afraid of heights, I couldn’t resist going up for some shots. It’s a completely different feeling than the Space Noodle (Yes, I changed that, I’m funny that way). For one thing, the design of the elevators–each car has a driver!–lets you see the people in the hallways as you zoom 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 tiny 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!
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.


Finally back inside, I wandered the exhibits, which if you see them will explain why it’s 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 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 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 their hometowns and countries as they passed 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 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—think Jungle Cruise at Disneyland—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 topside, 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 somewhere 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, 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. . .

Corncobs at middle-back

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 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!
More importantly, she flushed and shut up.
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)

Travel Thursday Encore–How to mix pleasure with business–Seattle 05, Day 2, Part 1

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. . . dammit! 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 move 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 Earl Emerson, though it could have been J.A. Jance, who wrote that cheap hotels with hookers offering their wares on the hoof abound along 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 young lady 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 bug guy coulda stuck out his trunk to shake if he wanted to. There was one lady there to answer all the kids’ questions, while a 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 so 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 for 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 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 the enclosure 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 big guys were given a large chunk of ice to play with, and inside it was what appeared to be 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. Maybe she was BFFs with the one in the Space Needle.
As soon as you come in the gate and past the food area, there’s a huge grassy empty space. Don’t know if they let ya 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 to LA 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 salivated 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’re a people watcher. For the non-rainy days, there’s 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 that when I don’t care that much, I go for the funny. It’s barely Tuesday, you gotta learn to play along. . .

More next week—it was a really long day. . .

;o)

Travel Thursday Encore–How to mix pleasure with business–Seattle 05, Day 1, Part 2

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 has 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.
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 Kerry Park 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. 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. And just about every other tourist was Asian, though 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 mp3 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. 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 the 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)

Book Reviews: War, Worrying, Seattle, and Star Trek

Last time it was a sprained ankle that kept me at home reading all day (websurfing not included). This time it’s a possible torn knee ligament that’s got me zooming through my booklist. I don’t think this is what people mean when they say “I wish I had more time to read.”

Yesterday is Dead
Former reporter now detective leaves San Francisco for his old hometown of Seattle to help an old buddy who thinks he’s in danger. Then his ex-wife shows up, and he meets a Bohemian painter who wants him to do more than pose nude. . . why must life be so complicated? he sighs.
As it turns out, this is another old novel now being re-released, I assume for the first time in electronic form. As someone who’s spent a lot of time in Seattle, there were some niggling moments of wondering, but when you have the hero be a veteran of the Korean War it’s pretty obvious. Another note later about Hong Kong about to be handed over to the Chinese confirms this took place in the late 90s. On the other hand, for once, this doesn’t really get in the way of the story, which is a pretty good if not great hard-boiled detective novel of the kind I used to devour years ago. 4/5

Star Trek: New Visions Volume 2
As often happens with these comic books/graphic novels/painty stories, this is a collection of previous releases. . . except this isn’t as much of a painty thing as the others. I remember the old photobooks, some of them Star Trek, taken right from the episodes, but in this circumstance the “art” is actual photographic faces or bodies of the characters badly added to background drawings. I didn’t find this visual Frankenstein appealing, especially since the body positions at times look somewhat unnatural.
On to the stories. The first one, involving quite a number of guest characters from the original series, is frankly horrible. In addition to reading like a bad fan fic with pictures, it begins with the character speaking aloud to himself, even when around other people, instead of the more traditional thought bubbles. Considering in later stories this is not present, it makes the mistake all the more glaring, but really, there was nothing that could have saved this story. 1/5
The second story is a callback to Captain Pike’s Enterprise, and brings back Number 1. It also makes great use of Scotty, and though in the end the story was rather bland, it was magnitudes better than the first. 3/5
Thirdly is a short piece about Spock’s former fiancée, dedicated to her actress, who recently passed. Too short to really opinionate.
Lastly is a sequel to the Doomsday Machine, picking up right where that left off. Like the second it’s not really much of a story, barely more than an idea, with too much of a coincidence at the end of three million years to make it anywhere near believable. 2/5.
In the end this was quite disappointing, even if got better after the disastrous start. Not-so-simple math tells me it all comes out to a 2/5.

The Worrier’s Guide to Life
Hilarity starts right away with fetuses worrying about their looks and body types, including pierogi, broken slinky, and badly drawn dolphin. Then there’s the ye olde video games like Harpsichord Hero and William Burke, Tomb Raider. And I’d give anything to meet the Un-Tattooed lady, pierced ears or not.
A lot more hits than misses, even for a guy who had no idea why some female things were funny. So I’d imagine it would be even funnier to women, especially those who would identify with the author, if not admit it. Though it isn’t too obvious, I surmised she was British from a few of the drawings. I also surmised that this might be a weekly, or even daily, comic-strip-like deal, and a little research proved it was, so you can continue to enjoy it after devouring this quick read, as I will. 5/5

History of War in 100 Battles
Despite how relatively short each chapter is, it takes a while to read through. And this isn’t like most books of its kind where half of it is taken up by notes and bibliography.
With my preferences it was obvious “Deception” was going to be my favorite par—Trojan Horse, anyone?—and it was. Overall there were two types of occurrences that made me enjoy this: finding out about battles I was unaware of, and reading a new version, sometimes with a completely different take, of those I did know. The author must be commended for including not just the ancient world, such as Greece and Egypt, but something as out of the box as the fall of Tenochtitlan to the Spanish in the 1500s. A must read for fans of history who know that war isn’t always won by superior numbers. 5/5

Code Name: Infamy
From the beginning it’s obvious that this is not the first of the series, as the main characters are deposited in this story as though the audience is already familiar with them. In general this didn’t have much of an effect, though at the start it made for a little rough going. . . yet I’m sure fans of the series would be annoyed if there was a bunch of exposition they’d already heard, so it cuts both ways.
This is a story of a crazy Nazi general who can’t accept the failure of WWII and goes to the Japanese to help him get his revenge on the US before Japan goes under as well. The heroes are OSS agents whom, as mentioned above, seem to have been through adventures before, considering their rapport. It’s obvious that the author is a aeronautics buff even before reading his bio-blurb at the end, as we have plenty of fliers here, including early aircraft-carrier-based planes. There’s a new submarine as well, not to mention nukes.
The best parts involved the personal moments of the heroes, from the carrier pilot having doubts about his ability, or will to continue fighting, to one of the OSS officers meeting a prostitute in Chile and instantly falling in love, to their little hot tub party on Iwo Jima. They made up for the awkward feeling at the beginning of how I’m supposed to already know these people.
3.5 rounded up to 4/5

;o)

Travel Thursday: Last Day in Seattle

Took all morning to get credentials and do orientation–same as every year, of course–but now I’m ready for the Long Beach Grand Prix. . . though nothing’s gonna happen till tomorah. Sigh. . .

My last “continental” breakfast–an orange, a donut, orange juice. . . I think I was still feeling the amazingly pleasurable aftereffects of yesterday’s Kobe burger. {Yes, I suppose it could have been the waitress. . .}
Before we leave Seattle, I have to tell you about this amazing website (www.lostinSeattle.com) which will take you down to street level and tell you what building you’re looking at, down to whether it’s open or not, even the hours it will be open; it’ll even tell you how many hours and minutes till they open!. It’s almost like an interactive Thomas Guide, but more so. Anyone going should look this up before anything else, and bookmark it.
Had to get to the airport early–but not “too” early–but instead of going to look for some old haunts from previous trips downtown, I was feeling a wee bit tired and merely laid in bed. Since the bus to the airport stopped a couple of blocks from the hotel, I figured that made up for not searching for the futuristic movie theater where I saw “Lawnmower Man 2,” for instance, among other places I’d visited in previous trips that I wanted to see again, but not too much.
Glad I remembered the monorail doesn’t start up till 11, which would have been a lot of walking with a big backpack for nothing. This time I did catch the express instead of the stop-every-block, so I had to put up with less scenery, or rather the same amount but speeded up too quickly to worry about.
Sea-Tac sometimes gets silly, but there were no problems passing by security on this trip, even though the lines were longer than Long Beach and I had to struggle a bit more with my boots. The guy right before me in the security line forgot the rule about no lighters and chucked his in the bin with a look of regret. Didn’t see why, it was just a plain plastic thing you can get at any drugstore–not exactly a heirloom or even with a sports team on it–but he probably hated begging for a light as soon as the plane landed.
You can tell Sea-Tac is a “modern” airport because it has a “family” restroom.
Saw a young guy wearing U Dub gear and we talked for a while, until it came out that his father usta be the coach at. . . oh, shit, this guy was the kid of my college coach! What are the fuckin’ odds? Surreal. And since we didn’t get along–me and the coach, I mean–I certainly didn’t want to relive any memories, and was glad when I was told Daddy was not coming to the airport to pick him up. Though it did make me feel a little bit good, in a narcissistic way, that the kid had decided against playing for his father and went to another U. Ha!
As I saw a Qantas flash by outside the window, I wondered if they still showed the pre-flight video of a pre-fame and always beautiful Tara Fitzgerald doing all the safety procedures. Then I wondered if I could buy it. . . it’s one of her best works. {okay, that was a little bit mean, but she’ll never read this.
I hope.}
I CAN’T BELIEVE THEY WANT SEVEN DOLLARS FOR THAT SMOOTHIE! The whole eating experience was so in contrast to the beginning of the trip at the Long Beach airport, with the bored servers and the long waiting.
Heavy G takeoff–thought Sea-Tac was longer. I’ve flown out of Sea-Tac so many times, but I don’t remember anything like this one. In fact, don’t remember anything so heavy G since Ayers Rock. Not as bad as a carrier takeoff, of course, but enough to bring some flashbacks as you wait for your eyeballs to pop back into place.
The soft drinks and juice were free, and the beer was five bucks; it just seemed really funny to me that the flight attendant was checking IDs! You think that was in her job description when she signed up?
On the flight up, Alaska had given packs of “trail mix,” with part of the devilish brew being garlic and onion powder, but this time it was pretzels! As an experienced traveler I had brought my own provisions, but pretzels were gravy!. . . so to speak. Ok, dessert, then.
This flight seemed a lot longer than the first, probably because the woman sitting next to me was reading and didn’t want to talk. So what, I could listen to music for two hours, no different than an El Lay commute, except there was nothing to look at.
Then I noticed that across the aisle a man was reading–the cover had huge print, like it was proud of itself–“The Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices.”
It actually took longer to take the bus home than the flight, and that’s not counting the baggage carrousel dance and the wait for the first bus. And I don’t care what she says, I was NAWT flirting with the girl with the Suthin’ accent and bright green nails. . .

;o)