Monday, June 11, 2012

Day Seventeen - The State of Washington

I awake with a headache/hangover. One glass of red wine - not even a full glass, and this is what it does to me, especially matched with staying up too late (I also sometimes get these headaches when I read too long in poor lighting). I feel miserable. Pam sets about mothering me. Icecream headaches, she has heard, will cure migraines. She whips up a smoothie for me. It tastes good, but doesn't do much to help the headache. Perhaps more mundane medicines will do the trick. We are taking to breakfast at a little diner. Their treat. So far, all of the people we have stayed with have insisted on taking us out for at least one meal. It's heart-warming and makes me feel humble. Everyone is so lovely. Say what you like about Americans, but almost all of the ones I have met have been welcoming and friendly - from people working in Visitor's Centres to my internet contacts. 

Anyhow, breakfast - I choose scrambled eggs and orange juice. Typically these headaches also leave me feeling a little nauseous, but it is not too bad. My phone rings just before they bring the food out - it's Jeffrey, my Seattle contact, raving about how awesome Rhapsody had been the night before. Yes, by one day I missed seeing a band I enjoyed performing live in Seattle. But the only feasible way we could have fitted it into the itinerary would have been if we had driven from Bozeman to Seattle in one day - a ten hour drive, and would have meant missing out on staying with Pam and Gene. And that would have been a real shame. We make plans to meet up later - tonight or tomorrow. Jeffrey runs his own business now, so is understandably quite busy. But he will find time for us.

Leaving Spokane, we cross the Washington prairies. I would have to say, this is not what I expected of Washington, the Evergreen state - miles and miles of flat grassland, dull green with a  hint of gold - no trees and few hills. I doze a bit, trying to sleep off my headache. Finally the prairie gives way to mountains and trees and the landscape becomes decidedly more picturesque. Windfarms line the ridges - giant alien blades spinning. We pass lakes over which osprey soar.

We do not stop for lunch - breakfast was so epic. As we near Seattle, the evergreen state truly begins - with pine trees clustered across the hills and flanking the road. We strike Seattle at rush hour. What fun. The traffic is more or less funneled across an island in the middle of a lake and moves at a snail's pace. The GPS trills merrily away, going silent as we enter into tunnels and then make an awkward turn off the main freeway and find - with relief, our accommodation. We are staying at El Gaucho - the most expensive place of our trip, and by far the most upmarket. We surrender our car to the Valet, who whisks it away to places unknown and resolve to not call on it again until we leave. Seattle has a good public transport system.

Despite being the most upmarket and expensive, or perhaps because of it, El Gaucho lacks some of the facilities found in the cheaper motels - there is no fridge and no microwave. The writing desk is hidden away behind closet doors, but does have a good desk lamp. The bed seems higher than usual and the mattress is so very soft that it is like sleeping on clouds. What it also has is an abundance of pillows. Huge, fluffy pillows. Plus a really comfortable couch and flat screen tv. Very comfortable. We collapse into the clouds for an hour or so, whilst I scout my Seattle guide (Quirky Guide to Seattle) for interesting things to do and leave a message for Jeffrey to say that we have arrived.

Jeffrey was my penfriend back in the 90s, when inter-country communication was done via snail mail. We wrote for a few years, he came to visit New Zealand, we wrote a while longer, before losing touch. I managed to track him down first on MySpace, and then finally he joined Facebook. We share a love of power metal (when he came to NZ, he bought a suitcase full of cds).

Tim and I make our way to the sculpture park on the waterfront. Seattle in the evening is a place for walking - and everybody seems to have a dog. It is also a very multi-racial city. Jeffrey rings whilst we are wandering, and we agree to meet up at the Pike Place market. Currently it is closed for the evening, but there is a grill there where we can grab dinner.  We arrive, order and wait a while until Jeff arrives. He's already eaten. I have a salmon sandwich -  it is good, thick, succulent and richer than NZ farmed salmon, and I can see why they say, "in Seattle, eat salmon."

Jeffrey then insists that we go out to see the Locks, but we first take the bus to visit the local troll. Called the Fremont Troll, he lurks under the freeway bridge, a VW beetle under his massive hand. Lighting is poor, but we manage a photograph.

Jeff then leads us through the Swedish area of Ballard - which looks pretty nifty, past an NZ and Australian themed pub and finally to the Locks. It is now after 9pm, and naturally, they are locked. We refuse to break the law by climbing over the fence (which is tall and spiky, anyhow) and begin to walk back. Along a train track. In the dark. To one side are the docks; dark, silent but for lapping water. To the other, the backs of buildings. A lonely place, but at least I am not alone and Jeffrey seems to know what he's doing, right? We return to the bus stop without incident, missing our bus by ten minutes. I examine the timetable, the next one that will take us straight back into the central city isn't due for nearly an hour. I resolve to say nothing. Tim and Jeff are chatting about sci-fi novels (Dune). We catch another bus, getting off at some random point. At this stage, we have to put our full trust in Jeffrey - I have no idea where we are or how we need to get back. I suppose we could walk, but it is full dark now and I cannot help but feel a little edgy in strange cities. Especially US cities, where people can carry guns. I bury my fears as we walk and bus-hop our way back to 3rd Avenue, where we studiously do not look at people that might be dealing drugs. It's fine, really, and I am just paranoid and edgy, but it is still with relief that we leave Jeff at a bus stop and make our way upstairs and into our marshmallow bed.

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