Seattle and Friday Harbor, May 1999

Over Memorial Day weekend (plus a few days before) LG and I had a nice trip to Seattle and Friday Harbor, WA ( 1 2 3 4 ). The trip was marked by its decided lack of "adventures" (in the travel-mishap sense). Indeed, practically everything we tried to do worked out more easily or cheaply than we expected: we got to stay with friends for the three nights we spent in Seattle (two in front and one in back), our transportation often worked out even more conveniently than we hoped, and so on.

Tuesday, 25 May

Headed out at 6am thanks to a ride from Pat. Our flight to Chicago arrived early, which helped because we had a very short layover. I slept the whole flight. Our flight to Seattle arrived early as well. I slept most of that flight, too, although I did manage to completely finish the "American Way" magazine crossword puzzle for the first time in a few recent attempts.

Waited for Briand and Chris at the airport. Met an adorable little kitten who was travelling with its owner somewhere. Missed our kitties. Drove into town with B&C, parked at the Kingdome, walked around downtown. Had lunch at a Cajun place, I had something-creole (chicken, I think).

Went to sign up for Bill Speidel's Underground Seattle tour. The 1:00 tour was departing as we arrived, and we decided to wait before purchasing tickets for the 3:00 tour. Walked around downtown, through Pike Place Market, up and down 1st and 2nd Avenues. Meandered back for the 3:00 tour, which was now sold out. Doh! Bought tickets for the 5:00 tour. Went over to the Seattle Aquarium (which has a very attractive logo, don't you think?). Saw various sea critters.

Got back for the 5:00 underground tour, which was a very enjoyable experience. Recommended for either tourists or locals. Our guide was Gail, a very clever and funny person who told us lots of stories about life in Seattle around the late 1800s. The downtown burned down completely in 1889. The city decided to flatten out the hills on which it was built by sluicing mud from top to bottom. Downtown merchants decided the multi-year project was too long to wait for rebuilding, so they rebuilt (with brick) with storefronts on the 2nd or 3rd floors. When the hills were washed down, the runoff was channelled into retaining walls built up on the sides of the streets, leaving sidewalks intact beside streets that were now 10-14 feet elevated. Pedestrians had to climb ladders to cross the streets. Sometimes people died falling from the street to the sidewalk. Eventually the sidewalks were covered over by arches, becoming tunnels as former ground floors became basements; hence the "underground" tour.

Went out to Ray's Boathouse for dinner, joined by Chris's wife Jen. Had extremely yummy Copper River King Salmon, which was currently in season. The salmon was a perfect complement to my BV Carneros Pinot Noir. Headed home to Briand's palatial Snohomish estate (aka "Briand's Bed and Breakfast", which is a bit of a misnomer because we didn't get any breakfast).

Wednesday, 26 May

Rode in to the campus of the evil empire with Briand. The receptionist at his building kindly called a shuttle bus for us which took us to a bus stop, where we caught a bus downtown. Took an educated random guess at which stop to choose, got out and found ourselves right in front of Tim's building, the Columbia Seafirst Center. It's the tallest building in Seattle (twice the height of the Space Needle), and Tim has a swell view from his 64th floor office, including the ever-cool Mt. Baker, a lot of downtown and Puget Sound, and that puny little Space Needle.

Went in, called Tim; he took us over to his house (very near downtown) to drop off our bags. Met Agneschka (one of his two other houseguests) and Irontail (his enormous cat). Went back to Columbia Seafirst Center, Tim went back to work, and we went up to the observation deck (73rd floor). Spent 45 minutes loitering and peering out over Seattle. Clear, sunny day, great views of most of downtown, the Sound, and Mt. Rainier (but not Mt. Baker because the observation deck doesn't quite go all the way around). Watched a lady in the booth give a radio traffic report. They do the ones for several (all?) of the local radio stations from there.

Finally headed out and walked north toward the monorail to ride up to the Space Needle. Changed our minds along the way (having seen great views already), and grabbed lunch in a sandwich shop downtown. Decided to take the ferry to Bainbridge Island for the afternoon instead. Boarded and talked to the friendly captain for a while before we left. We couldn't go up on the bridge, though, because he thought there were Coast Guard inspectors on board or something.

Had a nice ride, wandered around Bainbridge Island for a while. It's a pretty little town that has a nice downtown area where people like to hang out, shop, etc. Sat on a bench and wrote a card to Marlene, whose engagement shower LG missed for this vacation. Pondered the tourist map to find the post office. I figured we needed to go the end of the block, take a left, then down a little ways and take another left. Knowing that the map area was smallish, I thought I might even be able to see the building from where we were sitting. Turned around and saw the building all right -- 100 feet across the parking lot.

Wandered back to the ferry. Being late in the afternoon, there were lots of scurrying commuter types (some actually sprinting) coming off the boat. Rode back to Seattle, had a short walk to a bus stop, caught a bus which took us directly (if somewhat rush-hour slowly) to Tim's house. Once off the bus, we had to walk about 100 feet to his door.

Met Tony (Tim's other houseguest), ordered pizza, munched on wine, cheese and cookies. Ate pizza and then headed out for the Elvis Costello concert. A most excellent show, very much enjoyed by both LG and TM. (Also enjoyed by reviewers: 1 2 3.) She recognized every song (unlike me) but at least there was one that I recognized before she did ("God Give Me Strength", which is from the soundtrack of "Grace of My Heart"). Home on the same bus (which picked us up right in front of the theater), a little visiting and some Polish vodka, then bedtime.

Thursday, 27 May

Left at 6:30am for the Victoria Clipper, with a ride downtown from Tim. He had to be at work by 7am that day, so it wasn't even an inconvenience for him. Boarded the Victoria Clipper II (there are IV total). What should have been a 3-hour ride turned into more than 5 as we had to take a circuitous route to avoid stormy weather out in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. To top it off, our cabin included a group of school kids -- about 14,000 of them I think -- who provided a constant barrage of noise the entire trip.

Finally arrived two hours late and met Ian where we had planned for lunch, but he and Yona had long since eaten and had to leave, so we arranged to meet again for breakfast the next day. Ate lunch ourselves (met Peggy, the owner(?)). Walked out to the Orca Inn, half a mile or maybe a little more out from downtown, checked in, dropped off our bags.

Back in town, had a snack and then went to a movie ("Shakespeare in Love") at the local theater. Skipped dinner, walked back to Orca Inn, and went to bed early. The Orca Inn has a little bit of interesting history itself: once upon a time it was cheap housing for Alaskan cannery workers. Sometime recently it was shipped to Friday Harbor on barges to be transformed into its current status as a cheap motel. Actual motto: "Spend a night, not a fortune." It's the cheapest overnight stay on the island ($49/night for a double bed), the rooms are spartan (bed, desk, TV, private bathroom) but clean.

Friday, 28 May

Picked up a brochure on the way into town for Cap'n Howard's Sailing Charters, whom we had sailed with two years ago. Discovered with some pride that he had used my photo of the whale breaching in his new brochure. Vaguely remembered giving him permission to do so when we had communicated briefly by email after our last trip, but had never heard anything about it since.

Had breakfast at Bella Luna with Ian and Yona. Had a very nice visit with them. They seem like cool people (actually, everyone on the island does), and maybe I'll even get to work with them sometime.

Tried to go to a couple of bookstores, but they weren't open yet. Walked out to the San Juan Island Library, met Kathleen (director) and Carrie (the other librarian). They seemed nice, too (see previous comment about island people). The library is very impressive for a small community because they get plenty of volunteer support and have their own taxing district, meaning that they don't have to fight with the government to keep their budget allocated for themselves.

Walked back to town, went to Serendipity bookstore, met Carol (another island person, are we catching on yet?). Went to the Harbor bookstore and bought postcards. Stopped by San Juan Boat Tours to sign up for a whale watching trip. Proudly showed them Cap'n Howard's brochure and they were able to identify the whale in the photo as L38 (a member of one of the three resident pods of the area), aka Dylan.

Went to the Sunshine Gallery (art gallery) where we were to meet up with Hugh and Marj. Talked to Trudy a bit while waiting. Hugh and Marj arrived and we went to lunch at the Cannery House diner. Yummy sandwiches.

Spent the afternoon with Hugh and Marj, first at their house. It's a beautiful house on Little Mountain with a view of the Olympic Mountains, Mount Rainier, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Met Opus (their cat) and Loki (their dog). Watched bald eagles, enjoyed the view, walked in the woods, admired their many irises. Drove out to the west side of the island to a couple of overlooks and to Lime Kiln State Park, aka "Whale Watch Park". Didn't see any whales, but saw an otter, a couple seals, and a tiny little garter snake. The park is undergoing some growth, with a new overlook, expanded parking area, and widened trails being put in. I have mixed feelings about this.

Went back into town (still with Hugh and Marj) and had dinner at the Thai Kitchen. This might have been my favorite food of this vacation. It was quite yummy.

Finally went back to the room, turned on the TV and fell asleep while channel surfing. LG woke up, then woke me up, and we turned off the TV at the obscene hour of 9:45pm.

Saturday, 29 May

Bought an apple and some granola for breakfast from King's Market (the local grocery). Went on our whale watching tour on the Blackfish with Darrell (our captain) and Leslie (naturalist and photographer). Only the J pod had been around lately, and we found them (and scads of other boats) on the west side of the island. I didn't get any photos as spectacular as the one of Dylan from a couple years ago, but we did see quite a few whales. We even got to the point (with lots of guidance from Leslie) where we could identify a couple of them. Also saw Dall's porpoises, cormorants, seals, and of course (ho hum) bald eagles.

Had lunch at the Fat Cat Cafe. Went to Susie's Mopeds to see if we could get mopeds overnight. I really wanted to get out to the west side of the island for a sunset. But they don't rent overnight. :-(

Sat on a bench in a little park downtown for a while. LG napped while I watched boats in the harbor and still more eagles overhead. Went home, read for a while.

Headed back into town for dinner at Mi Casita, a Mexican restaurant. Found it impossible (as usual) to resist a second margarita. Stopped and bought a nice map including topographic maps of all the San Juan Islands and street maps of all the towns. Had some ice cream at the Friday Harbor Ice Cream Company. Went home, watched a little TV, stayed up even more obscenely late (10:30pm).

Sunday, 30 May

Ate more of our granola for breakfast. Walked into town about 10am to meet the Victoria Clipper (containing Rick, Evelyn, and Eli), which was to arrive around 10:30. Found the ferry already present, but not yet unloaded, so we were able to greet them off the boat. Went to the hotel, dropped off their bags, and walked back downtown. Had lunch at The Bistro, some nice little individual pizzas.

Caught the San Juan Island Shuttle out to Whale Watch Park. Got there just as the pod was moving by the area, so we got to see a few. The tide was out, and Rick and I explored lots of small marine life in the tide pools among the rocks. Saw teeny crabs, anemones, fish, and various unidentifiable things.

Rode the shuttle back to Friday Harbor via Roche Harbor. Saw alpaca farms (there are several on the island) and got some tour-style commentary from our shuttle driver.

Walked back to our motel and took a little nap. Walked back downtown for dinner at the Downrigger (seafood place). Had more Copper River salmon, still delicious but I liked the preparation better the other day at Ray's. It still went very well with a pinot noir. Walked around on the pier for a while. Went back to bed at our becoming-normal 10ish.

Monday, 31 May

Checked out, left our bags at the motel. Walked downtown, "mailed" a card to the Symera team, and mailed the rest of our (few) postcards. Had breakfast at Bella Luna, our first repeated restaurant visit of the trip. Moseyed around a little. Happened upon the Friday Harbor Memorial Day parade, stood and watched the rest of the event.

At one point during the parade, a little boy (2-ish) went running across the street right through the middle of the (stationary) women's auxiliary. They remained stoic, but mom was less so. She called to him across the street and wagged her finger to call him back to her. He went running back through the women, but stopped right in the middle of the street, picked something up off the ground, and ate it before continuing.

Went up to the Whale Museum. Talked to the manager (Kent) about displaying photos in the gallery for sale. I might send a couple out there. It would be way cool to sell a photo, I think. Explored the rest of the museum.

Moseyed back in the general direction of our hotel, stopped for ice cream along the way. Picked up bags, headed back downtown about half an hour before we were supposed to meet the Victoria Clipper. Found it already loaded. We couldn't find four seats together, but we found 2 and 2.

LG and I sat with a few people who had just finished the Swiftsure International Yacht Race. Well, actually they had not finished it, because they'd had some sort of trouble which resulted in one of them (at our table) getting his hand twisted up in some riggings and cutting off the end of one of his fingers (last knuckle). He also broke a bone in his hand and was bandaged and splinted up from elbow to fingertip.

Rough weather in the strait again forced a re-route from normal, this time through Deception Pass, a well-known scenic narrow passage between a couple of the islands. This re-route didn't delay us very much, and we arrived in Seattle just about half an hour or so late. We all had to go through US customs in Seattle, since our boat had originated in Victoria.

Drove with Rick and Evelyn down to Bernie and Tim's house in Gig Harbor. This involved going across the Tacoma Narrows bridge. If that name rings a bell, it's probably because you've seen the old video footage of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge Collapse of 1940, showing the bridge swaying and buckling wildly in the wind. We didn't have this problem as we were going over it.

Had dinner kindly cooked by Tim, met various pets, slept in their son Spencer's room on a trundle bed.

Tuesday, 1 June

Rode to SeaTac with Rick. Morning traffic was lighter than Tim predicted and we were plenty early. Sitting near us at the gate there was a very large woman, a stereotypical Eastern European steroid/bodybuilder type, no ankles, hairy legs, hairier face, sleeveless muu-muu dress, sandals. She was having her breakfast: raw hotdogs right out of the package.

Tried to get bumped to a later flight for a pair of $600 vouchers, and thought we had it when they announced that they were using us as volunteers. But when we got to the counter, instead of saying "here are your vouchers" they said "first class". Oh well, flying first class isn't so bad. Real glasses and china. Warm nuts. Hot towels. A rose in the bathroom. Good food (relatively speaking). Free wine. A sundae for dessert. Comfy seats. Noticeably less engine noise. Maybe I had on my rose-colored glasses, but I could have sworn even the view out the windows was clearer and prettier.

The only down side was that LG and I weren't sitting together, so if we got bored we couldn't bug each other. Also, a couple peasants from the proletariat section (coach) came up and used our bathroom during the flight. No one seemed to mind though.

As we pulled up to the gate at O'Hare, there was a suitcase sitting out in the middle of the tarmack. After a couple of minutes a refueling truck pulled up. The driver peered out his window at the suitcase for a minute, looked around (nearest luggage truck was about 50 yards away), and then got out and threw the suitcase on his truck.

Had a longish (3hr) layover in Chicago due to some other flight being cancelled. Ate lousy pizza, felt a little woozy. Went to our gate. There a couple of people were reading books. He was reading "A Widow for One Year" by John Irving and she was reading "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie. About half an hour later they switched books and continued reading.

The flight back to Champaign was uneventful, and Pat remembered to be there to pick us up even though we had never given him the promised reminder call. Good for him.

Tom Magliery