Monday, March 19, 2007

Birthday Week Revels: The Great Grey North

There is something about a good road trip that not only to cancels out pre-caffeine crankitude, but makes getting up at the crack a perfectly acceptable option even when I'm on vacation and should rightfully be catching up on much needed beauty sleep. Although it's only a three hour drive, the road doesn't often take me to Seattle. It's not that I don't like the city (I do!), but somehow when the road calls it seems like it's the beach and the Gorge win most of the shouting contests. So, when looking for a vehicular last hurrah to usher out the past year, Seattle seemed like a good choice.

Finding a day less rainy than the rest was the first order of business. As it turned out, the meteorological 8-ball deemed that day to be Monday. Sunday evening found me setting my first day of vacation alarm for an hour that is WAY earlier than even my non-vacation rising time. Car packed with maps, honey baked ham sandwiches, beverage, and an assortment of cd's, my mom and I were on the road and had already stopped for breakfast by the time I usually get out of bed for work. Like the army, we do more before breakfast than most people do in a day. There are, however, some significant differences between us and the army: 1) we have issues with authority and also the man; 2) the only things we invade are restaurants; 3) the only way we'd run up a hill was if there were free donuts at the top.

Our first stop was Castle Rock. Why Castle Rock, you ask? Because I had forgotten that it is not actually Castle Rock but Kalama that is home to what Cowlitz County boasts to be the world's largest totem pole, a totem pole that is far superior to Oklahoma's world's largest totem pole due the fact that Washington's is a genuine wood carving, whereas Oklahoma's is a totally jive concrete totem pole. This is not unlike the difference between the original Stonehenge and the one in Maryhill, Washington - except for that there is something charming and completely un-jive about Sam Hill's replica and the kind hearted, peace loving Quaker application of his misunderstanding of the original's pupose.

Because Castle Rock does not seem to have much going on due to being totally busy being the Gateway to Mt. St. Helens, our sojourn there was short. And that was okay, because Pike Place Market was waiting. Pike Place Market is a wonderful place full of sound, color, activity, and leering fish mongers who ask passing women if they want crabs. It is also a place my mother has never visited (at least I'm assuming so, since she does not have crabs), so I was excited for her to see it.

All in all, the three hour drive to Seattle went pretty quickly. While we were fortunate not to encounter too much traffic on the way, finding a parking spot once we'd arrived in the city was no small feat. Eventually, after many rounds through the park house directly across the street from the market, we did find a terrifically close spot, because we are apparently blessed with good parking spot mojo, if not speedy spot locating mojo.

By the time we finally got to the market, we both had to pee like Austin Powers in that scene where he is first awakened. This was when we discovered Pike Place Market's disturbingly low bathroom stall doors. They are so low that anyone walking by can totally see you doing your business, which does not make for the best in micturatory enjoyment. They reminded me very much of the little short stalls we had in grade school, except for that they didn't bother me back then, because I too was little and short. There is something disconcerting about peeing behind a door that only comes up to your shoulders when you are seated. Frankly, I don't know how men do the whole public viewing at the urinal thing. In retrospect, I can only say that I am supremely grateful that everyone in the bathroom observed what I hoped was an unwritten law about never looking stallward when passing.

Mission bladder relief accomplished, the next order of business was to find some lunch. After a quick round of entrance area, we settled on an out of the way lower level spot called Crêpe de France. Much to the delight of my mother, who would happily eat sweets for every meal, this meant that she could legitimately imbibe in strawberries and vanilla cream for lunch. Much to my delight, the crêpes with strawberries and vanilla cream were huge and deliciously fortifying for our invasion of Pike Place.

Hopped up on sugar and cream, we cheerfully toured the market, looking at the variety of art, jewelry, and flowers. Even on a grey Northwest day, the place has such a bright, bustling atmosphere. This atmosphere is only magnified by the stalls of fresh and dried flowers stretching in a rainbow of color as far as the eye can see. Everyone from the woman who made beautiful pressed flower collages to the crabs guy at the fish market was friendly. One jewelry peddlar even spoke German with us, lulling us into a false sense of security and leaving us ill prepared for our skirmish with The Surly Seattlite.

Full of crêpes and good will, we ended our business at the market by going out onto one of the balconies across from the park house to strategize our next stop. Powellhurst was on the march. As we were sitting on a bench, minding our own business, enjoying the fresh air, and looking at a city map, a man approached. As he closed in, he slowed his pace. I am assuming this was so we could reap the full benefit of his disdainful pronouncement of us as tourists before he crabbily clomped his way into the market.

What did he have against tourists? Did a tourist kill his mother? Did one try to bludgeon him with a Triptik? Has demand for "I HEART Seattle" t-shirts become so big that the prices have skyrocketed, rendering him unable to afford one? Or is it that he no longer gets propositioned by the crabs guy, because the vendor is too busy offering STDs to strangers?

At first, there was a part of me that wanted to ask him what we had done to so affront him. But then I thought, "Whatever. Shine on, little man. You are obviously a sad shell of a fun human being, if you have nothing better to do than this." Besides, I didn't want to hold him up. I was sure there was more work waiting for him down the street at the Space Needle and those tourists weren't going to heckle themselves.

Now wise to Seattle's dark side, we made our way out of the market and across the street to the Seattle Aquarium, a land of frolicking otters and other assorted marine life. As aquariums go, Seattle's is a really nice one. It has a maze of outdoor exhibits leading to an underwater dome where visitors including tourists and other undesirables are treated to a 360 degree view into a 400,000 gallon tank filled with fish, sea stars and assorted plants. The dome has something for everyone. The benches lining the tank provide not only an excellent view, but are also a relaxing place, perfect for resting your feet as you take a break from wandering about the city. It is also shadowy enough to provide a good lurking area for any undesirables who are so inclined.

By the time we exited the aquarium, we were almost ready for the ride home. On the way out of town we did take a moment to drive past Seattle's peace rally and wave at the hippies before making a short jaunt past the Space Needle to ensure that the Surly Seattlite wasn't headed their way. Peacenicks left safely playing hackey sack and reeking of patchouli, we embarked on the long journey home.

In the odd way of road trips, the drive home seemed much longer than the drive to Seattle. We passed the time singing and playing the traditional Alphabet Game and as well as the Alphabet Game Powellhurst Style (don't ask, all you need to know is that it involves dirty words and that you'd lose all respect for us if you knew any further details). Then, because it was the night before my birthday, we stopped for ice cream for dinner, followed by a car picnic of honey baked ham sandwiches and diet soda for dessert. If whoever invented dinner had been thinking, this is how it would have been designed. If you eat dessert first, there's always room for it.

And so, we arrived home after a long day in Washington. The Phillip DePoy mystery I've been reading has a line in it that goes, "Her hand fit into mine the way a perfect word ended a poem." That's how our trip to Seattle was too. It all fit together, but perhaps instead of the way a perfect word ends a poem it was in the way the perfect phrase opens a story. It is, after all, the start of a new year in my world.


Leslita said...

Happy Birthday Martina! It sounds like a lovely day.

Chris said...

Totem pole, market, aquarium, space needle. What a lot of post cards you must have sent me.

Martina said...

Leslie: Thanks! It WAS a great day and such a good vacation. It feels so weird to be back at work again.

Chris: Well, we didn't actually see the totem poles. If I ever find them, I'll be sure to send a postcard (or at least a picture).

Sonya said...

I thought about you last Tuesday while I was at the doctor ;)

Happy Belated Birthday!

Martina said...

Thanks, Sonya! I hope everything went okay with your appointment. This has been a crazy month for medical tests, accidents, and illnesses. I know so many people who are having challenges right now. I don't know what's going on with the universe, but it could ease up any time now!