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Monday, July 8, 2013


Our siege of the Pacific Northwest continued as we rented a car to head down to Seattle. I wanted to use Enterprise car rental- “We’ll pick you up!” My plan was to call their office in Seattle, and tell them to pick us up in Vancouver. Enterprise had a few choice words about my plan, and I was surprised at some of their choices. Soon we were on the lovely Chuckanut Drive, which hugs the Washington coastline and ends up not far from the Skagit River, which, as our luck would have it, was where the Skagit River Bridge was sitting.

Our hotel was not far from the Puget waterfront. We walked over to catch the Underground Tour of Pioneer Square. It tells the story of one storey: After the Great Seattle Fire of 1889, the entire district was rebuilt on the second floor. Why? Because of the overflowing Crappers, of course. The new flushable commodes developed by Thomas Crapper backed up every time there was a tidal surge from the Puget Sound, creating a rat problem and a cholera nightmare. Now, a system of tunnels under the streets give access to the original brick facades of businesses long extinct.

We headed to Seattle Center and up the Space Needle, which doesn't have as much room as you would think, given the name. We returned on the monorail, another leftover from the 1962 World's Fair, when the idea of going four miles an hour seemed quite magical.

The Seattle Duck Tour was fun- a refurbished LST craft from World War II retrofitted with a quacking horn rolls through the city streets, then splashes into the water. How we would have frightened the Germans if we had only thought of the quacking horns in 1942. We trolled around Lake Washington, admiring great rear views of the skyline. We saw the huge houseboat where they filmed "Sleepless in Seattle." I wouldn't have gotten any sleep either- what if I forgot I was on a houseboat and went out to cut the lawn? Even worse because I have an electric mower.

We went to the famous Pike Place public market, where the merchants toss the fish around the stall with each order. No one was seriously injured but we didn't press our luck by going to the knife store.

Before hitting the road to Portland we stopped into the Seattle Aquarium, where we watched those ever-insouciant otters at play. They are always up to something, but I did beat one of them at a game of dice when the staff wasn’t looking. I won three fish and a watch.

In Portland, our last destination, we went out for a beer, which is an embarrassing undertaking. Did you want a wheat beer? What about a fruit selection, or one of our fine blonde ales? At the tavern we went through the entire list of what they were "pouring," from Eugene City Brewery Honey-Orange Wheat ale to Laurel Wood Organic Tree Hugger Porter. It was the first time I ever wished I was Archie Bunker.

On Wednesday we took a free walking tour through eastern downtown area. We learned much about the quirky lifestyle of Portlandia. The town was founded by two men from different cities, who flipped a coin to decide which one they would name it for. The other guy was from Boston, and if the coin had landed "tails," we would be standing in Boston, Oregon, and the traffic would be a hell of a lot worse.

From the Thompson Elk statue (which looks unlike an elk but much like a deer with a thyroid issue) to the Benson Bubblers (iconic public four-station water fountains found around the city), Portland abounds with whimsy. Did you know that in the mid-1800s visiting sailors were drugged, taken captive and forced aboard ships bound for China to work as slave crewmen? That is where the term "Shanghaied" originated, and parts of the underground "Shanghai Tunnels" where these men were kept are still there. I’m not sure the expression would have survived had the men been taken instead to the town of Cockermouth in England.

We rented bicycles for our ride through Washington Park. And by ride I mean that I pushed the bikes up massive hills while my wife cursed at me in a foreign language she does not even speak.

The Rose Garden at Washington Park is a test garden, which is like a zoo for different varieties from around the world. It must have been a multiple choice test, because there were zillions of them, all hoping to someday be in the tournament of roses, where they all get together and try to kill each other. Here we were able to stop and smell the roses; so much different than Seattle, where you wake up and smell the coffee.

A formal Japanese Garden is also an attraction at the park, and it is a great place for contemplation and deep thought. Here, as I reflected near the Poetry Stone I wondered: does Eastern philosophy make me look fat??

We had lunch at one of over 400 of Portland's famous food trucks, of every origin and flavor. My favorite was the Ethiopian food truck. As far as I ever knew, there IS no food in Ethiopia. People eat truck tires and suck sap out of trees with a straw to survive. Whatever food WAS left is now sitting in this A-hole's food cart in Portland.

What trip to Portland would be complete without a trip to Powell's Bookstore? The place is like a library, with over one million titles. They do not carry the whole book, just the title.

Thursday we walked the lovely waterfront of the Willamette River, a lovely name to call your river if it’s a girl. There was a Navy PT boat being refurbished, and veteran Ron Taylor gave me a fantastic tour of the work they were doing on the hull, and of the craft's power plant. Especially intriguing was the torpedo, which had its own compressed-air turbine engine, and spun two propellers in opposite directions for stability. I tapped it on the nose with a ball-peen hammer just for fun to see if it was armed. It was, and we were all blown to smithereens.

Vancouver was originally known as “Gastown,” a reference to “Gassy” Jack Deighton, who ran a popular tavern in the late 1800s. I case you are wondering, his nickname referred to his talkative nature, thus the gas exited from the front.


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