Okay, here's an interesting twist on the concept of film al fresco; one of my slip neighbors rigged up a video projector to his laptop so he can show movies on his boat. The catch is of course that there's no really large wall on which to project the image. His solution? Stick the projector out on the deck of his boat and use his mainsail as a projection screen! Voila! Instant big-screen outdoor movies! We watched "Star Trek: Nemesis" on Friday and have another screening planned for this coming weekend. Since this is in the nacient stages, we're still looking to improve the system. For instance, next time, he'll probably turn his boat around so it's in the slip bow-forward (with the stern end toward the walkway), and we'll use the power cruiser in the slip across from him as our seating area -- that way we can have at least 3 tiers of seating, thus accomodating the impending hoards of marina denizens who will no doubt want to get in on this great deal!
Yesterday the 18th was the 23rd Anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens, and for my generation this is probably the one defining event that ranks akin to Pearl Harbor, the JFK assassination, the Apollo 11 moon landing, or the Challenger (and perhaps now Columbia) disaster that practically everyone in this country can respond to when asked the "where were you when -- ?" question.
If you lived in the Pacific Northwest at the time, you can't help but remember it. If you happened to be more directly affected by the eruption, like I and many others were, the images of those days will probably remain etched in our memories with photographic clarity.
I can clearly recall waking up around 7:30 that Sunday morning and looking out the window of my dorm in Barto Hall at Central Washington University in Ellensburg. The window faced north, and the morning sky was clear, blue and promising a sunny, warm spring day ahead. I went back to sleep, but was very shortly awakened by one of my neighbors running down the outside walkway, banging on a succession of doors, loudly proclaiming "The mountain blew up! The mountain blew up!" I remember jerking up out of a sound sleep, and the first thing I saw was a roiling cloud of such intense blackness, that it looked like a smoke plume from some huge fire. It covered half the sky, creating a weird diptich effect, the right side blue and featureless, the left side a convoluted mass resembling the lobes of some gigantic brain the color of river mud. You could actually see the cloud moving across the sky, while at the same time literally boiling as it scudded along.
My first thought was to try to contact my Mom, who lived in Longview, a scant 50 miles as the crow flies from the mountain. Of course telephone lines were already jammed, and so I had to content myself with calling my father in Oakland to let him know I was okay, and to ask him to call my grandparents in Portland, as I couldn't get through to them either. At this point, around 9:00 a.m. or so, I still had very little idea as to what was going on. The eruption had been in-progress for literally only a few minutes, the news coming out of Seattle showed spectacular live pictures of the eruption in progress, a huge atomic-war mushroom cloud looming beyond the backdrop of the city like something out of a George Pal movie. But, the reports contained very little specific information in terms of what areas were being affected and how badly. All I knew was that in the few minutes it had taken me to get up and make three phone calls, the sky outside my dorm had grown increasingly dim, as if there had been a sudden, unexpected solar eclipse. In a matter of minutes the entire sky was completely obliterated by the advancing cloud, and shortly thereafter, the ash began to fall, a fine mist that shrouded the campus outside in a gritty, gray fog that smelled unnervingly like burning matches. It quickly became impossible to see the 50 yards or so across the open field that separated Barto from the dining hall.
It's still the eeriest, scariest, and at the same time most beautiful image I've ever seen.
One of my upstairs neighbors, no doubt driven to inspiration at the sight, started playing Pink Floyd's "Dark Side Of The Moon" at what must have been around 150 decibels. He had this huge pair of Boze speakers, each roughly the size of a small refridgerator, and of course his first response to the news was to park one of these on the walkway outside his front door and crank the volume to "11". Even though it was loud enough to rattle windows (not to mention my teeth!) it did seem like an appropriate soundtrack for the event.
A few minutes later, I noticed someone actually prowling around outside in this hellish landscape. There was a small tree just below our room, next to the main entrance, and this figure ran out of the fog to just underneath it, in what at first appeared to be a desperate attempt to use it as some sort of shelter from the falling ash. As soon as he reached it however, he began shaking the slender trunk violently, causing the ash that had already fallen onto it's leaves and branches to cascade down into a small avalanche. For about two seconds, the tree and tree shaker disappeared in a solid column, like the concrete support to a freeway overpass. As soon as it stopped, the shadowy figure darted out from beneath and vanished into the choking mist, undoubtedly in search of the next opportunity to shower himself with ash fallout. I only hope he still has working lungs 23 years later.
For the next four days the CWU campus was completely shut down, as was for all practical purposes the entire town of Ellensburg and a good portion of the eastern part of the state for that matter. I-90 from Snoqualmie Pass to Spokane was essentially shut down, and people were warned to limit driving to absolute necessity only. For most of that Sunday and well into Monday, the ash continued to fall in a constant, dry, eye-burning, lung scraping drizzle. We'd walk around with damp rags over our faces, and every nook and cranny of our clothes and skin would get covered with the stuff. It seeped in under the doors, so you'd have to roll up a towel and place it at the base of the door in an ultimately futile effort to keep it out. But of course, the grains were so fine that the mere act of opening and closing the door would cause plumes of it to be swept in.
For several days we were the biggest story on the planet with images of the eruption, it's aftermath and stories of our efforts to deal with the crisis circling the globe (no mean feat considering cable mega-news channels such as CNN didn't even exist at the time) . I still have my copy of the Longview Daily News (being the closest city to the eruption cite, and for a brief moment in history, the focal-point of world attention) published two days later, with the full-page spread of the blast zone. Jimmy Carter came to town to view the devastation and with promises of rapid mobilization of Federal emergency support. They even made a movie out of it (regretably quite forgetable, even with veteran actor Art Carney playing Harry Truman, the stubborn owner of Spirit Lake Lodge, who refused to leave his home of some 40-odd years, and who is now entombed beneath the pyroclastic outflow created when the upper third of the mountain slid down into the lake), which had it's world premier at the Columbia Theatre. We were big news, and everyone wanted to know how we were dealing with one of the worst natural disasters in human history.
And deal with it we did, although in ways that were decidedly less than heroic. We ventured outside only when absolutely necessary, and then dressed like deep-sea divers or moon-walking astronauts, every inch of our bodies covered to try to keep the ash from sifting into our clothes, our bodies, into our eyes, and noses and lungs. We washed our clothes repeatedly, ate oatmeal, macaronni-and-cheese and hamburgers for three days, because the food service staff didn't know how long it would be before the next deliveries could arrive. We dialed phones millions of times, always hoping that somehow the lines would clear and we'd finally be able to contact parents, loved ones and friends (by the time I got ahold of my Mom sometime on Monday, it turned out that everyone in Longview was fine, although there had been some concern since my other grandmother's house was right across the street from the Cowlitz river, which crested about a foot below the top of the embankment). In short, we did what people always do in these situations, we tried to carry on with our lives as best we could under adverse conditions and just waited for things to improve. Eventually, they did. The skies cleared, the Kittitas winds swept the ash into the air, the rain washed it out of the sky and into the ground. Roads reopened. So did school. And over time, things got back to normal.
I didn't get a chance to go home until nearly three weeks later -- and wouldn't you know it? There was a second eruption that sent another ash plume southwest this time instead of northeast; before things finally settled down later that summer, I had the distinct displeasure to be in the fallout zone of all four major eruptions.
It wasn't until about ten years ago that I finally got a chance to get an up-close look at the mountain, and even though the plant and animal life was already well on its way to recovery, the difference was still startling. Hundreds of thousands of acres of trees had been blown down, and the downfall salvaged over the years to the point where there were now vast bare tracts, with only a few plants and seedlings sprouting out of the ground. It still looked very much like photos of lunar landscapes brought back by the Apollo missions.
We'd spent a lot of our summer weekends as kids at Spirit Lake Lodge, and I was shocked at the difference in the landscape. I can still remember the pristine clarity of the water, where you could easily read the labels on pop cans 50 feet below the surface. And at night, the sky was so clear and dark you could see the entire belt of the Milky Way spread out like a curtain over your head. We'd lie in our sleeping bags under the open sky and watch the tiny pinpricks of satellites traverse the blackness, catching our attention simply because they moved against an unmoving background. Today the lake remains a shadow of its former self -- it's basically just a large mud puddle -- but the water quality has been slowly improving. Plants and animals have returned. Trees are growing, people can even drive right up to the new Visitors Center and look straight into the gaping maw that was once a mountain. And as they make that drive, some of them might think to stop by a small plaque that marks the the site where Spirit Lake Lodge and its irracible owner are buried under hundreds of meters of pyroclast and felled trees.
Otherwise known as National Outdoor Intercourse Day (NOID), a "holiday" celebrated almost exclusively on college campuses, and no doubt a modern-day take on some ancient Pagan rite-of-spring ritual. I first heard about it about 12 years ago, from a friend who used to attend Washington State University, although I always figured it was not exclusive to that particular school. In fact, when I Google it, my old grad school alma-mater, Western Washington University comes up right at the top of the list, and I sure as heck don't recall the event when I was up there, although I grant that it's probably not the sort of thing one would want to advertise ("Dude! We did it in the Sculpture Garden!"). I'm pleased, however, to see that the day has taken on some important educational overtones, as a way to promote sexual awareness and safe-sex practices -- always a good idea.
So kids, if you feel those hormones a-ragin' and are overwhelmed by an uncontrollable urge to brave the elements and indulge in a little "coitus al fresco", stop by that booth, have a nice chat with one of the volunteers, take some literature and a handful of condoms (don't be greedy now, same some for others!) and for cryin' out loud USE 'EM.
Last night a bunch of my sales staff and I went go-kart racing up in Mukilteo. My everyday wheels is a 1975 VW Bus, which as everyone knows has about as much get-up-and-go as a tortoise on Percodan. So, now way I'm gonna pass up a chance to do some serious race-driving (at speeds approaching 30 miles an hour!).
I got there a few minutes later than the rest of the group, who were already suited up in their white race-car-driver jumpsuits, complete with gloves, head sock and racing helmet. I snuck in the back of the pack, dressed in black from head-to-toe, grabbed an appropriately colored black helmet put it on - and Racer X was born!
Did pretty good too. Won my third heat (after placing third & second in my first two), and had the fastest single lap time out of a group of 16. Of course, I'm paying for it today, as these little lawnmower motored things vibrate like a mother, and there was so much contact between vehicles that we even got a stern reprimand from the track "official" (one of our bunch evidentally got it into his head that these were actually just souped-up bumper cars, and that the real purpose was to inflict as much bodily damage on the rest of us as possible. I may have a slight case of whiplash). Still, it was pretty fun, even if I'm bruised and sore in places that it's just not normal for me to feel bruised and sore in.
And as a result of all this, I missed Rick Miller's acoustic set at The Sunset Tavern, for which I am still feeling guilty -- or maybe that's just the bruises talking...
Saturday was "Opening Day", which in these parts denotes the official beginning of Boating Season. Sponsored by The Seattle Yacht Club and this year celebrating it's 90th Anniversary, this is considered one the not-to-miss events in boating circles.
Last year I took "Tigers Eye" out to the log boom east of the Montlake Cut for the first time. I've seen the crew races and boat parade from the shore a number of times in the past, but couldn't pass up the opportunity to view it up-close from the water. After a series of unimitigated disasters I eventually limped back to my slip late Sunday afternoon, having endured a weekend of mechanical breakdowns, snagged anchor lines, desperate cellphone calls to boat-towing companies, a knuckle-biting return to Lake Union and the final insult of running out of gas in Portage bay. Needless to say, this year I was less than enthusiastic about the prospects of taking the girl out for another weekend of abuse.
Fortunately, another option presented itself. I'd done a bit of volunteer work for the Maritime Heritage Foundation last summer for Tall Ships Seattle events (remember all those big sailing ships that were here last year?), and got a surprise invite to board the Virginia V as part of the official boat procession.
If you've never been on board this beauty, or are one of the six people in Seattle who haven't at least heard the blast from her two-ton steam whistle, then truly you do not know what you've been missing. The last of a venerable line of Puget Sound cruisers collectively known as "The Mosquito Fleet" , the Virginia V (as in Roman Numeral "V") is a direct link to our past. This is how your grandparents and great-grandparents traversed Puget Sound, from Olympia to Bellingham, and from Bremerton to Seattle, in the days before cross lake bridges or even a decent highway system existed. There were literally scores of these boats (hence the comparison to the ubiquitous insect from which the fleet derived its name), criss-crossing the sound, carrying mail, cargo and passengers to all points within reach of shore. In the early 50's the Puget Sound Navigation Co. (or "The Black Ball Line" as the company was more commonly known) was bought out by the State of Washington, and the fleet was incorporated into the new State Ferry System. Most of the ships from that period are long gone, and the Virginia V very easily could have followed in their wake, if not for the vision and hard work of a community of people dedicated to preserving this last link with a venerable maritime heritage. She is literally, the last of her kind, both as the only surviving member of the Mosquito Fleet, as well as being one of only two remaining steam-powered, wooden-hulled passenger ships still operating in the United States.
So, getting an invitation to embark on an Opening Day Cruise as part of the Procession is no small matter to a boater. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance!
We left the South Lake Union dock (only a 5 minute walk from my slip -- tres convenient!), at around 11:00 a.m., and proceeded to take a leisurely cruise uplake to Portage Bay, where we joined the procession fleet, which included the usual complement of mega-expensive "stinkpotters" (as sail boaters derisively call them; they in turn have an equally derisive word for us, "rag baggers"), gorgeously restored wooden launches, cruising sail boats, aqua-cars!, kayaks, dinghys, skullers ("Opening Day" also being held in conjunction with the U of WA's "Windermere Cup" crew races), and pretty much anything else that floats. We then assembled behind the SYC Commodore's "gig" and proceeded through the cut, waving at the crowds on shore, blowing off the mighty steam whistle, and getting umpteen bazillion pictures taken of us. Even as we speak, thousands of Seattleites are picking up prints or downloading digital images that include me standing at the bow, waving and smiling like all get-out.
And that's probably the closest I'll ever get to being the King of the Parade!
For those of you not "in the know", in all but a literal handful of nations, today is traditionally celebrated as "International Workers Day" to commemorate the struggle of working people throughout the world, and in honor of the date in 1886 when the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions declared the implementation of the eight-hour workday. This holiday is officially recognized in every country except Canada, South Africa and the United States, despite the fact that it originally began here.
Some of you might recall a little event from your U.S. History euphemistically referred to as "The Chicago Haymarket Riots", which occured on 4 May 1886, and which are usually charactized as an anarchistic melee akin to Seattle's more recent N20 anti-WTO protests. The bad rap is due primarily to the fact that what had been up to the end a peaceful protest (itself a response to a police massacre of labor activists the previous day, which left four dead and scores wounded) was marred by a bomb thrown into a crowd of Chicago's Finest, killing one and injuring nearly 70, and which resulted in a second lethal response from the CPD. Although the person or persons responsible were never clearly identified (some sources suggest the culprit might actually have been an "agent provocateur" on the police payroll), the incident provided a convenient justification to attack the entire Left and labor movement in Chicago. Anarchists in particular were harassed, and eight of the most active were charged with conspiracy. Despite a lack of evidence connecting any of them to the unknown bomb-thrower (only one was even present at the meeting, and he was on the speakers' platform at the time the bombing occured), all eight were convicted. Albert Parsons, August Spies, Adolf Fischer, and George Engel were hanged on November 11, 1887. Louis Lingg committed suicide in prison, The remaining three were finally pardoned in 1893.
I suppose it's not surprising that the government, business, and the media would want to hide the true history of May Day, portraying it instead as a holiday celebrated only in Moscow's Red Square. As early as 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed into law a bill that gave us instead Labor Day - a holiday devoid of any historical significance other than its importance as a day to swill beer and sit in traffic jams. The final insult came in 1958, when then President Dwight D. Eisenhower designated May 1st to be "Law Day", thus attempting to completely erase the significance of the date from the annals of U.S. history.
For a brief lowdown on the real history of May Day, check out this link.