Wet. Really wet. Abnormally wet. That was the prognosis this weekend after we received a one-day record rainfall for the month of August (.57 inches recorded at Sea-Tac Airport) in a twelve hour period ending at 5:00 p.m. on Saturday. Now, for those of you out there who already have this picture of Seattle as being perpetually damp, let me point out that this amount equals our average total monthly precipitation for the month -- and we'd already received about an inch prior to this weekend, with even more rainfall expected through the middle of this week.
So, in case anyone asks, just tell them everything they've heard about The Pacific Northwest being wetter than the bottom of the ocean is absolutely true; if nothing else, it'll keep at least some the lookey-loo's away until next summer.
"We Were Highballing, So The Hogger Beat 'Er On The Back"
Travel by train is just so civilized, especially if you're lucky enough (as I was on my return trip from Portland) to ride on one of the cross-country routes, in this case the "Coast Starlight". Unlike buses, you're not packed in with dishevelled, sweaty, unsavory looking characters, who've been on the road for several days -- and smell like your laundry basket after you've been camping for a week. And unlike airplanes, you actually have the advantage of being able to see and enjoy the scenery you're passing through.
There's a sense of spaciousness to rail-riding that is absent in just about any other form of long-distance transportation; you can actually get up, walk around, go to the lounge -- or better yet, the dining car for an actual sit down meal, with white linen tablecloths, real silverware, a waiter taking your order. And if you're on a really long trip, you can even spend the night in a private sleeping cubicle. You sure don't get that kind of service on airlines, which except for their convenience of speed have evolved into little more than "buses with wings".
Another thing I like about trains is how they exude an atmosphere of congeniality. Almost everyone you meet on a train -- from the conductor on down to the youngest passenger -- seems genuinely pleased to be there. Maybe it's the novelty of the experience, but they're relaxed, physically loose (perhaps from all that swaying back-and-forth), cheerful and unhurried. Train travel facilitates an opening up of personal space in a way that being packed together like sardines in a plane or on a bus can never come close to matching. You're not forced to interact with the person sitting next to you, but at the same time conversation just seems to come out as a natural consequence of the environment.
Since I usually travel solo, I almost always end up seated in the dining car with other people -- to maximize space -- so I'm invariably put in the position of eating my meal with complete strangers. Yet rather than feeling like an imposition or invasion of privacy, in my limited experience it's quite the opposite; the conversation is always generally pleasant, the food surprisingly good (albeit somewhat on the pricey side), and the service nearly impeccable.
For many people rail travel is something of a treat, a throwback to an earlier era when getting from one place to another could be measured in tens of miles per hour instead of hundreds. Trains move at a speed that can easily be assimilated; there's a sense of human scale to be had in rolling through towns and villages, following the courses of rivers and creeks, skirting the edges of farms, pastures and wilderness, paralleling roads and highways in one continuous ribbon of experience, like a movie that scrolls by on an infinitely long spool.
But, what I find most fascinating about train travel is the brief glimpse it allows into the hidden sides of peoples' lives. There's a good reason why we refer to "the other side of the tracks" as the downscale, the less-than-ideal, the lower class side of things, because in small towns and villages the tracks parallel the main streets, and are literally the dividing line between the carefully maintained storefronts and houses on the front side and the detritus that accumulates behind them: the brackish inflatable swimming pools, encrusted plastic lawn furniture, and broken toys strewn through a thousand back yards; the post-apocalyptic landscapes of abandoned buildings, the rain dissolved carcasses of rusted vehicles, the geriatric leaning of old chicken coops and garden sheds, all the things that we keep hidden from the neighbor's view, but which are unceremoniously on display for the benefit of complete strangers thundering past at 70 mph, on their way to somewhere else.
The only real disadvantage I can see with Amtrak is the general laxity in their scheduling (the railroad conductors' watch, that symbol of late 19th/early 20th century chronological accuracy having been chucked at about the same time that Amtrak was created in the early 1970's). On some trains nowadays they even make a point of displaying computer generated maps showing your position on the route, with a digital clock to let you know how far behind schedule you actually are. It's not unusual for the Starlight, which normally makes a 35 hour one-way trip between Seattle and Los Angeles, to arrive hours late at its end destination
So, I fully expected to depart late from Vancouver, but was pleasantly surprised when the engine rolled up right on-time. I learned later that there had been a tunnel fire between Sacramento and Eugene, and that this train had actually been sent down from Seattle earlier in the day to pick up the unlucky passengers who had to be rerouted around the blockage -- sometimes even with trains you get stuck riding the bus.
Of Waves And Seagulls, Football Crowds And Church Bells
Back from PDX last night after a very relaxing train ride from Vancouver (more on that later).
I always feel a little disconnected at family gatherings. Most of my relatives live in fairly close proximity to each other, and so they benefit from an almost daily interaction with each other that's lacking in my relationship to them.
But, I also recognize it's not their fault. Regardless of the circumstances that brought me to where I am today, I'm the one who chooses to live 200 miles away, and so much of the responsibility for keeping myself "in the loop" rests squarely on my shoulders. But, it's still somewhat disconcerting to listen to aunts and uncles, cousins, grandparents talk about things they did together yesterday or last week or last month and know that it's completely outside of the frame of reference that defines my life, and that for the most part, that's the way things will always be.
Still, it does make me appreciate the limited time I do spend with them, and I hope I've done a good job of letting them know that.
The wedding was quite lovely, small-scale, intimate even, and the new bride (my cousin Jessica) and groom (her new hubby Luke) seem like a great couple; I wish them all the best.
Because the event was at my aunt & uncle's in North Portland, I only managed the briefest excursion into downtown. But, for future reference, Tri-Met has extended the MAX Light Rail "Yellow Line" north to the Expo Center, which is at most a 10 minute walk from their condo, and it takes only about 20 minutes to get from there to City Center -- at a cost of $2.60 round-trip, it's a real bargain (not to mention another glaring example of what Seattle's missing in terms of mass transit options). Got off right underneath the Burnside Bridge, smack in the heart of the Saturday Market,
From there it was an easy 10 block trek along the edge of Chinatown
to Powell's (bought an old Thomas Pynchon, and new Jonathan Raban & Mark Chabon).
Afterwards finished off with a pint of Hammerhead at Ringler's Pub.
(Just hope my coleagues at Annex Theatre don't get mad that Mike & Brian have co-opted their name!)
Time seems to be in flux today. I think it started sometime in the middle of the night during a dream the details of which are hazy, except that it seemed to involve watching an episode of the Original Star Trek TV series that I had never seen before. But when the alarm went off this morning, as it is wont to do every day at exactly 6:30 a.m. Pacific Time, my body felt like it had just lain down to sleep only a few minutes before.
Normally, the process of getting my proverbial s**t together, toting bags of clothing, toiletries and work-related things to the shower, doing the morning ablutions and heading up to the parking lot takes a prescribed amount of time, usually, 40 - 45 minutes all told from alarm-to-car. Today, it was a mere 35 minutes, a bit foreshortened, but not enough to arouse suspicion.
Still, it was time enough to stop by my favorite greasy-spoon place (which is really not greasy at all) for breakfast on my way in to work. Again, this is a process that over the course of several years has proven to require a relatively set amount of time to complete. This morning however, the cafe was unusually busy, and I barely made it in to the office by the stroke of 8.
My boss has been on vacation for the past two weeks, which normally means that upon his return my working day is relatively busy, but not today. Frankly, it's been a little boring, and the morning seemed to drag on-and-on, the hands on the clock behind my head moving at a snail's pace around the dial. Finally, Noon.
Yet, upon returning from "lunch" (since I didn't actually eat anything, having had a sufficiently sized morning repast to last through the workday), time seems to have inexplicably speeded up, to the point where in the blink of an eye, it's suddenly 3:30 p.m. And I have no idea how these last 2 1/2 hours sped by so quickly.
Of course, now that I'm conscious of this varying passage of time, the rest of the afternoon will probably creep along at an excruciatingly petty pace (as The Melancholy Dane would soliloquize), until that final tick of the clock clicks over to the five, and it's time to go home again.
After spending the better part of the past 10 days on-shore, my first full evening back on the boat last night was a bit disconcerting. For one thing, it was just enough time for my body to forget the fact that everything beneath my feet is in a constant, if at times almost imperceptible state of motion -- and usually along at least two of the three X,Y,Z axes at once.
Last night also saw the last gasp of Seattle's venerable annual paean to all things that make loud noises, on the land, on the water or in the air, SeaFair. Judging from the number of people, and the strewn plastic beer cups around my marina, evidentally quite a few of my neighbors spent the weekend at the hydroplane races on Lake Washington, and were intent on extending the floating party for as long as possible. My slip neighbor implored me to help myself to one of the three kegs of beer on his boat, but somehow the idea of drinking warm Bud Light at 10:00 at night just wasn't all that appealing to me.
For those not in the know, SeaFair is an old-school annual community celebration that began around 1950, and was itself an offshoot of an even older event known as "Potlatch Days", which itself was a sort of Anglicized rip-off of a traditional Native Northwest Indian ceremony.
In it's modern incarnation SeaFair is a month-long series of local, neighborhood and community events (parades, street fairs and the like) capped off by the annual "Torchlight Parade" through downtown, followed by a weekend drinking binge predecated on the excuse of watching hydroplane racing and airplane aerobatics over Lake Washington. Hundreds of thousands of spectators line the banks of the Lake, while thousands more take to all manner of floating vehicles (in 1979 I made the voyage with a college roommate from Mercer Island to "the log boom" -- the floating spectator area adjacent to the hydroplane course -- in a ramshackle raft made of 55 gallon steel drums and 2x6 planks) for a floating party powered by testosterone, sunshine, beer and jet aircraft fuel. It's the sort of event where every year, at least one person is seriously injured after falling overboard (although invariably it's reported that they were "diving") and either landing on: a.) another boat, b.) the log boom itself, or c.) their own boat's prop (this year it was c.).
Perhaps the sine quo non example of the ultimate SeaFair moment is embodied in the famous 1955 fly over made by Boeing Chief Flight Engineer Alvin "Tex" Johnson, who took the "Dash 80" -- the prototype of Boeing's 707 jetliner -- on a little cruise over the Lake, flipping it upside down in a barrel (or aerolon) roll a mere 400 ft above the deck, sending a hundred thousand spectators into estatic amazement, and scaring the living bejeezuz out of Boeing President William Allen. That was a half century ago, but old-timers still talk about it around this town with the same sort of hushed reverence that in an earlier era would have been reserved for memories of Presidential visits, World Series victories, and famous battles.
Although the huge influx of out-of-towners in the past decade has dilluted enthusiasm for the event somewhat, the general populace still clings to the old tradition with a certain reverent irreverence if you will. Culturally it's become a demarcation line dividing the "old" Seattle of blue-collar radical unionism, lumber, and fishing, and the "new" Seattle of computers, bio-tech and overpriced housing markets. It's Weyerhaeuser and Boeing versus MicroSoft and Amazon; Lutefisk verus sushi; Ford pickups versus Hummers.
Every year the local newspapers are filled with letters from irate "New Seattlites" bemoaning the noise, the smell, and the jingoism, as the air is temporarily shattered by the subsonic vibrations of Navy F-18's cruising just above to tops of buildings. But, every year, a crowd of roughly 250,000 (or about half the size of Seattle's total municipal population) shows up on the shores or out on the water to enjoy (sometimes over enjoy) this annual ritual celebration of our water-faring roots.
Winding down my last full day of housesitting, and it's been a nice diversion for the past, sort of like living in a hotel for a week, but still within driving distance to work.
I figured out the PS II situation, although boredom quickly set in, and I ended up spending my few free evenings reading through a collection of Richard Matheson short stories instead.
Top 10 Things I'll miss about living in an actual house:
10. A full-sized kitchen (even sans microwave)
9. A full-sized bathtub
8. A queen-sized bed
7. Being able to wake up, shower, do morning ablutions, dress and
get out the door in 25 minutes.
6. Free laundry
5. A nice, friendly, well behaved dog
4. An 12.0 Cu Ft. refrigerator
3. Heavy duty cookware
2. Actually being able to move from one room to another
And the #1 thing I'll miss:
1. Not hitting my head on the ceilings
Shadowdaddy and Webcowgirl (turns out both my hosts have livejournal accounts -- who knew?) will be back sometime tomorrow, so it's been a day of cleaning, picking up the myriad small items that have conveniently ensconsed themselves in various rooms, and generally making thing presentable for their return. I'll miss the amenaties, but it'll be good to get back "on board" my own little floating home again.
Got the video game problem fixed, but after several hours of playing, I've remembered why I never really got into these; it's basically the same thing over-and-over again -- watch the mission intro, try to complete the mission, fail, start again. After about 20 consecutive tries, get really frustrated, go to the internet, find cheat codes, and spend next hour running roughshod over the landscape. Get bored again.
Crafty was a big hit yesterday, even though I myself personally spent way more money than I should have. But, unlike other Annex fundraisers, I actually got some nifty art-gifts for my extravagence. Photo link as soon as I can upload them.