George Birthington's Washday

    There was a gap of some 6 years between when I first plotted out a major Pacific Northwest train excursion and when I finally got to do it, during late August and early September of 1997.  While 11 days (six vacation, two weekends, one Official Designated Holiday) was not quite long enough for a real useful Amtrek, who knew if Amtrak would still be around the next year, let alone when I have enough vacation time again?  They used to have two different routes betweem Chicago and Portland OR, and I would have preferred to take one train out and the other back.  Oh well, at least the one remaining Chicago-Portland route covered plenty of new territory, though I would merely be "doubling back" on the return.  At least I could relax, sit back and watch the new counties go by.
    Eating on the train can be expensive, but I revived an old custom by bringing along cereal, bowls and spoons, buying milk each morning (in which I had breakfast anyway) along the way.  The scenery was nice up in the Rockies of course, except too much of each direction would be under cover of darkness.  The Columbia Gorge was cool too, if a bit less canyon-like than expected.  My only confirmed views of a major volcano were on the train near Mount Hood...could not even see that on my other two trips through the gorge later!
    The way out started an hour late on the first Thursday, which for Amtrak usually means they only get later as they move west...instead of crack-of dawn arrival in Portland on Saturday, we would not reach Oregon until noon.  Worse yet, though Thrifty rent-a-heap has a downtown office, my travel agent-of-torture was lazy and set up my reservation with the airport location, meaning a long #12 bus ride up to PDX, and then a long van ride from their to Thrifty's off-site lot.  Once there, I was first reminded of an episode of TV's Seinfeld ("You take reservations well, you just don't know how to HOLD reservations")...they could not find my current reservation, but did find the old one I'd cancelled when I added a day to the trip.  Both were for the weekly rate, but the newer one had a higher rate, so I can't complain when the clerk gave up, managed to re-activate the old rate but with the added day tacked on.  The next part only needed rain to be right out of the movie Get Shorty...instead of the small, maneuverable, gas-sipping "economy car" I'd requested, I was presented with a no-way-I'm-parallel-parking minivan.  Yep, the vehicle whose inventors will be amongst the first up against the wall when the revolution comes, and whose regular drivers seem to take advantage of the cheap optional lobotomy.  Mileage was OK (low 30s), but it's not the kind of vehicle I expected to ever drive, let alone on foggy mountain roads, on I-5 or in search of elusive downtown Portland or Seattle parking spaces.
    By the time I found said Portland space, by way of quick stops at Fred Meyer's for cassette tapes, Arctic Circle for lunch and an aborted attempt at an angle space my Geo Metro would've easily fit at Powell's Books' private lot, it was exactly 3pm.  The good part anyway, the space had a 3-hour meter, with restrictions lifted at 6pm, and was a 550-foot homer from home plate at Civic Stadium.  From there, I walked back to Ozone Records for a couple zines, then across the street back to the book-fan's Mecca, Powell's City Of Books.
    Powell's is big.  Really Big.  Am told 2.5 million new and used books.  I somehow managed to find a few I wanted, the only drawback being I whatever I bought had to be carried home, so I left with but 1 book, a few more zines, and a vow to return on some long fly-out weekend.  The owners are related to the Powell folks in Chicago, also fun bookstores but quite a bit smaller.  From there, I happened to walk down Oak St, where I stumbled upon an all-zine store whose name eludes me right this second.  Several more zines later, I aimed for Powell's separate travel store.  Happened by a phone about half-way there, so I tried (and at last succeeded) to reach the home of the at-the-time central mailer of APA Centauri.  We would get to meet up after all, for coffee shakes at a local establishment (one of the few downtown corners not ruled by either Starbucks or Seattle's Best), and a quick walking tour.  One stop was at 2nd Avenue Records, loaded with used vinyl ("What's with the flat black Frisbees?"), but did have some CDs, including my first sighting of Negativland's new release "SIDISPEP" (its true name garbled to protect the guilty, ha).
    From the outside, Civic Stadium looks like a small, but normal, 1930s-era ballpark.  On the inside, it's a wacky J-shaped multi-purpose stadium, with a crappy astroturf field at least 30 feet below streel level.  It had hosted the Pacific Coast League Portland Beavers for eons, until the AAA team got a better offer from Salt Lake City.  Now, Portland has the Rockies' affiliate in the short-A Northwest League, where only another former AAA city (Spokane) comes anywhere near it in market size.  This is the lowest level "Organized" league I've ever seen, and the play looked it...pitching ruled for both Portland and for the "Southern Oregon" (Medford) Timberjacks, the A's entry in the Northwest.  Portland scratched out a couple early runs, but poor defense hurt them late.  However, one pitch from victory, the visitors pulled a couple bonehead plays themselves and the Rockies won 4-3.
    Leaving town proved a challenge, as Burnside was a series of No Left Turn signs even where I needed to get on I-405 north.  East of there, night-life traffic added to the mess, but lefts were legal?!?  Thought there might be the Hidden No-Left-Turn sign trick (a favorite of cash-strapped Chicago suburbs), but a cop passed me westbound without a thought.  Another car passed me, then the intersection would be clear.  "Bang!"  No, the car was still partly in the intersection...perhaps distracted by the flashing strobe lights on the car he hit?  I managed to squeeze around for the turn, then beat it out of town as quickly as I-405 and I-5 legally allowed.
    Overnight was at a decent motel in Kelso, just within range of enough Portland radio to catch some of what I missed during the day.  A quick flip through the TV channels revealed the first wave of the Di-die media barrage which would follow me the rest of friggin' trip.

    First order of business Sunday was a side drive down WA route 4 to pick up little Wahkiakum county.  The road was wedged in between the Columbia River and the bluffs, but fortunately there was the appropriate "County Line Park" for a convenient turnaround.
    Back to Kelso, then up busy I-5 to Olympia.  I'd been up and down the I-5 corridor from Seattle to Eugene several times from 1980 to 1986, but had spent no time in any of the cities in between.  I'd at least been on the streets of Portland via Greydog and Green Tortoise...Olympia I had seen only from I-5.  All I got to do this time was the state capitol grounds.  There was some sort of fair or flea-market downtown, but no parking was found and I had many miles to go, so I picked up US101 north for my 3 missing counties on the Olympic peninsula.  101 hosts, alas, a series of seasonal tourist towns, so the going was slow and monotonous, with only foothills of the Olympic range visible from sea level.  Was all too happy to make a U-ie at an intersection just inside Clallam county so I could head back to saner places.  Not that the roads to and through Tacoma, and route 18 to I-90, were Big Fun either, but there were moments.  The Hood Canal floating bridge and the Tacoma Narrows suspension span were cool...and were both at least the second version on each site, as a former Hood Canal bridge sank in a storm, and the original Tacoma Narrows was the infamous "Galloping Gertie" which had demonstrated the power of resonant frequencies so effectively back around 1940.  Passed Cheney Stadium near I-5, home of the Tacoma Rainiers, the Mariners' AAA team.  Four hours earlier, I would've gone, sigh.  I-5 and Route 18 had standard-issue urban-manic traffic, the latter also loaded with construction zones.  Was a relief to reach I-90, just as it entered the Cascades.
    With one exception, I made no advance motel reservations, as these kind of trips are "free-floating", by necessity.  For instance, it's hard to tell if conditions will keep me from reaching a night's destination before 5am, or I reach it at 4pm with no reason to stop in the town other than the motel reservation.  Not that I worried too much about being shut out, as the minivan was roomier than any car I normally get?  Ideally, Sunday night would be at Ellensburg...I did need to dip down to Yakima, but that was just an hour south on I-82, so could drop down there, catch supper somewhere, then back to Ellensburg for the night, an hour closer to Seattle.  However, while rooms were available, a big regional rodeo in town artificially inflated the rates.  A roadside dump for $58?  No thanks, I wound up at the Super 8 in the Yakima burb of Union Gap (is Gary Puckett the mayor?).
[I finds out later, Puckett is from Union Gap.]

    Tried to get an early start Monday, but sleep deprivation was already a problem, and I already knew the next couple days would make it worse.  My only detour west was a stop in Roslyn, where one of my favorite TV shows, Northern Exposure was filmed.  Many of the familiar storefronts are still in place, and the Brick was in fact playing itself ("Washington's oldest tavern").  The town's primary occupation appears to be sitting on benches or chairs in front of most recognizable places, staring intently at anyone who drives or walks by with a "Don't even THINK of whipping out a camera" gaze.  Just as well, in a couple instances...the bare-bones Dr Joel storefront is now a souvenir shop.
    I HAD driven in Seattle before, during my stay at the Radio Geek cult commune during the summer of 1980.  Enough to know to stick the van in one place and leave it there until I needed to drive again.  For efficiency's sake, I aimed for the long-term/economy lot at Sea-Tac...which they don't have, just a massive, expensive near-terminal concrete deck.  I was told there are a number of commercial remote lots off-site, but trying to find them, shop prices, then catch vans each way?  I swallowed hard and used the $15/day airport lot.  Besides, I could leave everything but the few essential items for the Seattle day inside the van, then retrieve the bag I would need to take with me that night.
    Sea-Tac had the nerve to post a sign "comparing prices" with still more expensive airports, which somehow neglected to list the long-term lots at O'Hare, Midway or Portland Int'l?  I confirmed my flights at the Alaska ticket counter, then dashed to the opposite end of the terminal for the bus to town.  While a holiday, they had some daytime express service, and the weekend day pass was in effect...am guessing I got about $7 use for my $3.20 investment.  The express bus normally uses the transit tunnel downtown, but it's used only Mon-Sat so I still haven't seen it.  Busses that take the tunnel are equipped with both diesel and electric!
    Ah, my memory was not totally shot, as the low-70s numbered Metro routes were still the direct buses from downtown to the U District.  I rode up to Ravenna Park, one of my favorite urban walks, to briefly check out the old neighborhood.  The familiar apartments were still there, but the graveyard-shift 7-11 was no more!  It was one of the smaller 7-11s, but they managed to squeeze 4 tiny businesses onto the site!  Back over to the U District to take some appropriate street-name photos for Fred Brooklyn! Argoff, and a quick lunch at Jack-in-the-Box.
    Regular MarkTime readers may recall my past mentions of the Box, on St Louis, Texas and California trips.  The tacos are as mysteriously tasty-but-deadly as ever, though in Seattle they add lettuce?  Had one of those and a teriyaki bowl, something I enjoyed from the '93 southern Cal run but is not on the menu in the Saint Louis area?  There were a LOT of storefronts in the area pushing teriyaki, bento (Japanese noodle soup, I gather) or Pho (definitely Vietnamese noodle soup).  Seattle has had a substantial Asian population from the start, but I remember seeing little business evidence of it in the past?  Most, however, were closed that day...could not tell it it was the holiday, Monday in general, or was it a fad that had bottomed out?
    I next hopped the trolley bus over to the Fremont area.  My sister's last Seattle residence was still there, but the co-op she worked at was not found.  In the same stretch of Fremont N, however, I did encounter a misspelling of MarkTime prominently displayed on a supermarket {they called it "Marketime"}.  Walked downhill to the "Interurban" statue...did they move it, or did they widen the street?  Either way, it's impossible to photgraph properly without standing in the middle of heavy traffic.  Caught a bus loaded with Bumbershoot attendees, which dropped me a measly block from Pike Place Market.  I just wanted to walk through, mostly down to catch the waterfront streetcar, but the place was crawling with tourists.  I wanted to do Ivar's Acres of Clams for dinner.  Play Ball was fast approaching, but my name on the list was not...was able to KEEP CLAM, however, as the adjacent Ivar's Fish Bar was entertaining, and cheaper too.  A seagull convention was in town, and customers were encouraged to toss them food.  Some brave souls held up fries, for dive-bombing gulls to grab on their way from the awning to the water.
    The streetcar was crawling with turistas, too, but I had neglected to try it before, so I wedged myself it for the brief ride down to the Kingdome area.  As it turns out, I did not HAVE to order my ticket in advance, as they drew "only" 32k that evening, but I had a great seat, 2nd row of the upper deck just 1 seat left of home plate.  "Junior" had a great night, two homers (took him up to 46 dingers for the season), plus a double, single and a walk, definitely making up for being a non-factor the several times I have seen Griffey in Chicago and Milwaukee.  The Mariners built up a 9-2 lead, showing off their great offense and decent starting pitching.  When Lou Piniella felt he needed to use the bullpen, though, groans filled the Kingdumb.  One grand slam later, the Padres made a game of it, but they managed to get Tony Gwynn for the final out.  I don't remember seeing Gwynn in person before, so was looking forward to this.  He does made great contact, rarely looks bad on a missed swing, but just lacks the speed for legging out enough grounders to catch .400...was a close out twice this night.  The 'dome was not as dark & stark as it was for my soccer visit in 1980, and the fans obviously appreciated their good team.
    With time to kill, I walked from the south end of downtown to the north, and then some.  Silly me forgot to avoid the area east of Pike Place Market (such a cruddy area to be stuck between the market and the tony Westlake shopping district!?), but survived, blisters, sore legs and all.  I had trained for all the walking most Saturdays in August, to make sure the softball knee could handle it.  Well, the knee was fine, but the rest of me remembered that the nearest thing to an achy walk I'd had in August was when I had to climb a steep street on the way to the Red Roof motel in east Madison WI.
    I caught the bus before the one I had to, just to be safe, so the rest of my time-killing was reading magazines in the Alaska concourse at Sea-Tac.  It also gave me a chance to try out a remote Internet access booth.  Not sure if it's good to know, or scary, to know I can access my AoHell account from a public place?  Time gets expensive on these things, so all I did was scan the e-mail, noting at least 2 Seattle people tried to contact me for possible meet-ups after I'd already skipped town.
    A Good Thing about the Internet...if one has patience, and some idea of what flights and rental cars are supposed to cost, one can compare prices and book flights & cars without having to call each company, or try to visit a travel agent during their few business hours.  I've done best with Travelocity, certainly compared to America on Hold's official travel site, but am still hoping to run into a travel site with more versatility, closer to the Sabre or Apollo travel agents and airlines use, or at least accesses more of the cut-rate lines?  In any event, this power can be a dangerous thing, when one has a sudden whim, such as one late night in July when the desire to check flights between Pacific Northwest and Alaskan cities took hold of me.  The obvious first thought was Anchorage, being a good sized city and with more than one airline, but then for the heck of it I tried Juneau, too...hey, if I only get to Alaska once in my life, may as well pick off the capital!  Juneau was a bit cheaper, and still has a batch of flights (in-season), though only on Alaska Airlines.  Only?  The airline has a good reputation, especially as it's a low-fare carrier (on its mainland network, anyway).  [Ironically, though, they had some trouble with a plane somewhere in the northwest that afternoon, which even affected my flight later.]  The fare on one round-trip was almost reasonable, so I booked it for a one-day adventure.  Alas, while it was enough in-season for a full slate of flights, it was also too soon for off-season lodging rates, an especial pisser when I wasn't getting in until about 2 am.

    The Best Western was nice, though hovering dangerously close to "cutesy".  What I wound up with was more a suite than a room, with an oversized bed, separate roomlet with a sleepable couch, and a kitchenette I would have no time to use.  Great place if you're there for a week on an expense account.  At least it was right on the Valley Express bus route for downtown Juneau.
    The populated parts of the city use a string of small alluvial plains where creeks run off the mountains that rise abruptly out of the Gastineau Channel arm of the Pacific.  The airport, and most large stores, are in the suburban Mendenhall Valley.  Named for the glacier that carved the valley out of the montainside, it's the widest, flatest zone in the city.  I'll get back to that later, as first order of business Tuesday was to take the bus down Glacier Highway, the city's 4-lane road down to the traditional city center.  All the state government action is found down there, and it is where the cruise ship docks are located, of course meaning bunches of tourists and the stores that cater to their questionable tastes.  I hoped to pick up the local paper, to read on the way down in case there were activities the check out (or avoid) during the day, and to check for movies in town for the evening.  The Juneau Empire, as it turned out, is an evening paper which comes out about 3pm.  Also, they had had no Monday edition thanks to the holiday.
    Walking took me on almost every level street in this part of town, and on a few of the steep ones, huff puff.  If there's high rents in town, it doesn't feel like a similar-priced neighborhood in a Lower 48 area.  Prices on some things were not bad...the bus was $1.25, no transfers (timed where, if you needed the other route, they radio ahead for the bus to wait), postcards were 6 for $1, and so long as you avoided any fresh fruits, veggies or meat, and could get by drinking water, food was not remarkably higher than it the higher-cost cities of the I-5 corridor.  My big surprise was not finding salmon on menus away from the tourist zone...do locals prefer to catch & cook their own, do they get tired of it by season's end, or is it just too valuable as an export commodity?  I had haddock for lunch, and assorted fried seafood for late dinner.  In between, to set a spell with a soda out of the rain, it was Taco Bell...again, any menu item with only non-fresh or otherwise unidentifiable ingredients was priced in line with many big-city downtowns, but the fancier and "supreme" items provoked classic "sticker shock".
    Early weather was merely cloudy, with the rain being only in the forecast, so I took the Mount Roberts tram up.  The mountain is about 6k, the tram stopping at 1700 feet.  I started up the slippery packed-mud trail, making it about half way up, except then a wall of rain could be watched sweeping across the channel.  Took longer getting down that to go up (would have been faster if I did not care what shape I was in when I reached the trailhead, ha), so everything exposed to the elements was soaked by the time I reached the tram station.  It did show that the full hour I had spent checking and rechecking nearly every backpack in the REI Oak Brook store was not wasted.  I wanted as small a pack as possible that could hold everything I needed for the Juneau sub-trip (a day's change of clothes, maps, blank tapes, etc), comfortable enough to drag around for 16 hours.  About the only important think I did not think to check was waterproof, but then it was hot & sunny the afternoon of my research, and the store had not yet installed a rain-simulation device.  The pack came through the rain just fine.
[As I discovered during a brutal 100+ weekend in July of '99, however, contents of one section can get wet from heavy sweating.]
    I then trudged back through the tourist-shop zone and up the hill towards where the capitol was to be.  Nothing was standing out as being a major state building, so when I happened upon a bench under an awning and next to an Juneau Empire box and a mailbox, I used them all, sitting down to dig out the postcards, to glance at the paper, and to find the downtown map.  Turns out I was just a block south of the capitol, but nothing stood out uphill from my vantage point?  Walked up, and yep there it was, a yellow brick building that could pass for a school in most older urban neighborhoods.  Its main distinguishing feature is a set of 4 thick granite pillars at the main entrance.  Some neat native art in the lobby, but otherwise the inside felt just like the 1890s half of my first grade school.  I found out the tours were hourly, but I had JUST missed the start of one, so I moved on.
[Not that I am complaining about the architecture, just that this was a change from the usual Show-Off-Your-State styles, such as the granite & marble opulence towering over Olympia WA?]
    When I finally found the small ad on page 4 that was the Empire movie section, two theaters were listed, with 7 movies between them.  The only film that came even close to appealing was Excess Baggage, if only because it was the only obvious comedy (most of the rest were too dark and/or violent), and I'd sorta liked the trailer.  Two problems, they only had one showing of each film, at around 7pm, and neither theatre mentioned an address...in a city of 30,000, why bother?  I deduced that one was downtown...it was, with a simple art deco-ish front but no marquee (street too narrow for one, or perhaps the earthquake risk?).  The other, I then reasoned, must be up the Mendenhall Valley.  I walked down to the southernmost bus stop, caught the next Valley local bus, and asked the driver.  She did know where it was, telling me which street to ring for my stop.
    The local route circles around each little patch of housing away from Glacier Highway.  We crossed Salmon Creek, appropriately enough clogged with the carcasses of post-spawn fish ("and the live seagulls who love them, on the next Ricki Lake...").  Farther up, there was Lemon Creek, which I was unable to see well enough to tell if there were floating lemon carcasses, or it was just some sickly yellow color, or what?  The stand-out feature of this area, other than it being reminiscent of similar all-white trailer trash communities south of I-70, was the razor wire on the gate of a state prison hidden in the ravine.
    The north end of the Valley local route (with only 3 all-day buses, the routes are not numbered...the other is Douglas, the populated area the other side of the channel) is a wide loop around the Mendenhall Valley's populated area.  I was not sure where the famous glacier was in relation to the bus route or the community, but I did catch a glimpse of it through some trees.  Drats, had I known for sure where it was in relation to the bus line and the theater, and I had remembered my watch was on still on Pacific time (an hour ahead of the local Alaska time), I may have gotten close enough for some clear photos.  Anyway, the theater was off the main road, on dead-end side street.  The sign said the lobby opened at 6, but it was not open yet...of course!  I began walking back up the road.  Not far up was a pedestrian bridge...and enough of a clearing in the trees to see a massive wall of dirty snow looming 3 to 5 miles away!  I went up to the middle of the bridge and took a few shots through the fencing, hoping maybe one will turn out (the only finished roll I haven't taken in yet, it turns out).
[The Inevitable Doomsayer in me comes out when seeing such things...the people in this neighborhood probably deep-down have some idea about the forces that created this piece of relatively flat ground in a mountain zone, and that it would take only a few degrees' drop in normal temperature to bring that wall of ice forward again, or else a long hot spell away from it coming down in liquid form.  I thought it best to leave them in blissful ignorance, even knowing that someday they will blame me for not sounding the alarm while there was still time to evacuate the area, :)]
    The sidewalks along the main road doubled easily as paved biking/hiking paths, set back some from the street, often at a different elevation, and sometimes there are trees in between.  Only spotted a few local creatures...an orange-red squirrel, a pair of what looked like oversized blue jays but with black Don King hair, and perhaps the largest, goofiest slug I have even met (not counting the former Executive Defective at EviLCA, ugh), chocolate brown with the front end leathery-smooth, the back half the appearance of evenly spaced small tufts of thick hair (a hair transplant gone horribly wrong?)  Not sure why I noticed it, except perhaps the ingrained urban instinct to spot and avoid brown blobs on the sidewalk?  Had to look closely to notice any signs of life (a slight wave in the antennae).  I could not remember if bright flashes of light were on the list of Things To Do If Menaced By A Vampire-Snail ("Pound a stake made of salt into its heart"), but in the tree-shadows it was my only hope for the photo op...the slug was not obviously more (or less) lethargic after the shot, so hopefully it survived the ordeal.
    Oh yeah, the movie.  Excess Baggage was good news/bad news.  Christopher Walken pretty much played his vicious, McNugget-short-of-Happy-Meal self.  Harry Connick Jr, wasted in a smallish role as a slimy car saleman/thief.  Sally Kirkland, still gorgeous after all these years, also wasted in a bit part as a waitress/self-published singer.  The lead guy, sorta looks and sounds like Dean Stockwell's half-Italian love-child, did a great job with a lacklustre script.  Alicia Silverstone, believe it or not first movie I'd seen her in, was cute until that chronic pout began to bug me, and was not a strong enough actor to carry the weak material.  Had some laughs, though some of them were unintentional (they went to great lengths claiming the film was set in Seattle, but the actual Vancouver location peeked out often, when it wasn't screaming "Go Canucks!"...some nice shots with the "BC Transit" light-rail in the near background, for instance).  OK, but won't pay to see it again.
    I got the impression I was within an hour's walk of the airport at this point.  It was, even by my round-about, kill-time route.  I sought out a dinner place, and found a nice late-night spot in one of the three long strips that pass for malls.  Ordered the biggest seafood item on the menu, $14 for what would probably be $8.25 at a similar-type Chicago restaurant, like say the Skylight restaurant at Higgins & Harlem, but I guessed (correctly) it would take time to finish.  Alas, business was just slow enough where the waiter came around fast and often, but I found ways to drag things out.  The baked potato came with a condiments tray...sour creme, chives and bacon bits.  I used more chives that usual, and I made the unusual move of also using the bacon bits, which of course had to be mixed in with the potato, but not fast enough to make a big mess, eh?  And keep that coffee coming...best savored with the sugar slowly stirred (not shaken).
    The round-about walk from the restaurant to the airport was partly intentional, partly accidental.  My directional instints serve me well in mystery areas, and while the path I was on was inviting, I began to get the uneasy feeling I was not heading a direction that would get me to the airport on time, or ever.  I had two great downtown maps, but how many tourists are in the Valley for anything but the airport or the Alaska Marine Highway ferry terminal?  However, from the vague set of lines on the bus schedule, I came to the conclusion I was right.  The Road I Should've Taken ended at Glacier Highway, just round the bend from last night's hotel.  The airport street is a half-block from that, but I took the long way around, it still being only 11:20, and 56 to 60 degrees depending on the minute at the state credit union.
[If it's that sensitive, they're lucky I didn't find the thermometer intake and exhaled deeply a few times..."98 degrees?  Oh no, the glacier's gonna thaw AAAAAAAK!  Save yourselves!!"]
    Another block later, across from the enclosed Nugget Mall which would fit inside a typical Sam's Club store, there was what from the back and side appeared to be a large version of a standard-issue convenience store.  I came around from, looked inside and saw nothing but wall-to-wall videotapes.  Ah, the 6-hours-of-December-daylight entertainment headquarters!  Was about to return to the street when I caught a glimpse of the rear wall's cooler doors.  Indeed, a combination video/convenience store!  Oh yeah, soda in all forms is high up there, typically $1.29 for a 32-ounce cup on tap, $2.29 for bottled 2-liter, but figured a big cup would easily last until flight time, and it wasn't going to be any cheaper at the airport, if their concessions were even open (as they were not).  While hardly hungry after a big dinner, I had to check out the baked-goods section on the way to the register...can't remember the last time I saw such a selection of fresh donuts, muffins and other goodies in one place, even at a bakery or donut shop.  Whittled my decision down to the maple bar and the apple fritter, which won as I figured it would get less mangled on the walk to the airport.
    More than a few folks had no where else to go before their flight...the terminal was open and there were more seats scattered about the terminal than one would encounter even in a large airport.  O'Hare, for one, detests loiterers, and discourages sitting anywhere but near an active gate after midnight.  I found an open seat on an area where the radio reception was OK (do they deliberately build airports to block out FM radio signals these days?) and listened to KTOO's "Mule Train" program of neat old country, and a goofy DJ (with a visiting girlfriend?) on rocker KSUP until they opened the security checkpoint for the day.

    Hmmm, I managed to avoid radio talk to this point.  For one thing, while I don't deliberately avoid the subject these days, it's also not really worth the time to think about too much?  Actually though, on most trips I have had good luck finding background, and even foreground, listening. WSJY west of Milwaukee was a good-odd soft AC (at the time anyway);  Madison metro's WIBA still hangs on as a full-serve AC, local news even at 10:30 on a Saturday night, WORT is the nearest thing to a Pacifica station within 400 miles of Chicago (of course I forgot to check KDHX on the last Saint Louis run?), and WMMM-FM is a good soft album/modern/whatever, with the always amusing Radio Free Madison always worth catching when I'm not visiting an apartment a short fly ball from WNWC-FM's interference-spreading stick?  (Them mothers get out...102.5 often heard here, even in winter!);  Rochester MN's KNXR, well ez listening is rare enough anywhere, but this one has an eclectic mix of instrumental ez, jazz and big band atypical of what used to be a pervasive programming format, and fine-voiced announcers way out of line for the market size (must be all them high-priced Mayo Clinicians in the audience);  Minneapolis-Saint Paul has as good a mix of stations as I hear in any market that has a shortage of blacks and Mexicans;  A surprising number of competent, non-satellite stations were heard on the train ride through North Dakota and Montana;  KAAQ in Spokane plays a good mix of standards and MoR between 6am and 6pm (otherwise, it's a so-so satellite feed), and while there it was nice to hear Tom Leykis again, via KJRB;  Portland and Seattle have a wonderful mix of stations, though they suffer from the wobbly terrain and/or poor transmitter placement...the signals mess up in motion even on car radios!  In Juneau, I had trouble deciding what to leave on when I had a chance to listen...KINY a decent full-serve AC, when not running blocks of talk (Art Bell I can take, but Rush...no, was WORSE, Michael Mudhead filling in for Rush!), KJNO automated oldies but fills time before the news with TV theme songs, and the above-mentioned KTOO and KSUP.  As always, tapes of most of the above are available for trade!

    As if I needed proof I was tired...slept right through the beverage service, and for all but about 30 minutes of the flight back to SEA.  We landed on time, but technical trouble with the walkway kept us in the plane awhile longer.   Even at 6am Wednesday, I-5 northbound traffic was nuts, so I was all too happy to shift over to Route 99 through downtown and north to Everett.  My next totally new county was the all-island Island, which is bridge-accessible from the east and north.  I opted for the Camano Island portion, via Rt. 532 through Stanwood.  After my U-ie back to the mainland, there was supposed to be a state highway from Stanwood north to almost the Anacotes Ferry free remote lot, but must have missed a turn from poor/nonexistent signage, for it became a back-road following a levee which turned the wrong direction, so had to get back on I-5 and pass through downtown Mount Vernon at what would be the AM rush hour if there was work in that town.
    The ferry remote lot is a long ride east of Anacortes, but it beats $5 parking at the dock, or much more to carry the vehicle with you on the ferry, never mind the traffic bottle-neck at loading and unloading times.  Plus, the shuttle is part of Skagit County Transit, one of the rare long-sighted transit agencies aware of how much it costs to collect and handle money.  Yes, no fares!  The service looks infrequent from the schedules posted on the shelter, but the system covers a lot of ground with low population density.  The Washington State ferries, another cool mode for this here transit junkie, but this particular ride was practical too...the most economical way to reach San Juan County!  I had wanted to ride all the way to the main (San Juan) island, with the county seat Friday Harbor with its eateries and "Pig War" historic sites, but I was already running late and with a full day's hell drive still to pack into just the afternoon.  (I had been counting on a second driver from Seattle to Spokane, but work and transportation problems kept my pal down south.)  So, opted for the nearer Lopez Island, with a relatively short wait for the return ferry, made shorter by fog hampering visability for some miles out from Anacortes.  In turn creating a few cool photo ops on the back-side of the fog!  To simplify matters, passenger fares are collected only outbound from Anacortes...the ride back from any San Juan County dock, and rides between each island, are free except for vehicles.  Radio reception favored Vancouver, especially on AM, so made a point of listening to CKLG, still hits I guess or maybe hot AC, and CBU...major disappointment, no more "Morningside" in the late morning, instead a lighter talk/entertainment program.  The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. had just reorganized its networks, aargh!  The former standard CBC Radio was calling itself "Radio 1", and CBC Stereo I found out later morphing into "CBC Radio 2".
    Sometimes when I'm driving, especially in cities, I get bad vibes from the traffic patterns in the pack of cars I'm stuck with.  Such was the case with the bizarre lane-changing and leap-frogging cult on route 20 heading east into Burlington.
[Leap-frogging, what I call it when when the car ahead of you is at or below posted speed, you pass it, then awhile later the goombah passes you real fast, gets back your lane, then slows back down below your speed;  cycle repeats unceasingly until you aim for their rear bumper or a bridge abutment in total, terminal frustration.  A Stupid Driving Stunt especially popular around Grand Rapids and Holland in Michigan.  See also "But I Want to Lead!", aka "Speed Up Only When They Attempt To Pass You", not to be confused with "Tailgate In A Fucking Hurry When There Are Plenty Of Clear Passing Zones/Two Or More Lanes Each Way", a sport second only to Packer Worship in Wisconsin.]
    Anyways, fortunately there was a Jack-in-the-Box in Burlington, at normal lunch time though I really was not hungry (come to think of it, did not even have dinner that night, not that there was anywhere to stop on the roads I took east of Coulee Dam).
    I'd been on Route 20 across the Cascades before, so knew the fun I was in for...heck, heading west in a wet treacherous pass in 1980, the car ahead of us suddenly left the road, swerved, then flipped over, eventually landing on its feet but pointing the wrong direction?  The driver got out and walked around, but sounded disoriented as we chatted and stuck around until a patrol car came by.  Well, with the rain, fog, and yes being in a minivan, can't say I was having fun.  US 2, while well out of my way, would have been OK if only for being an undriven route.  I wound up detouring south of Twisp, on routes 153, 17 and 174.  This would bypass, barely, the Grand Coulee Dam zone.  I regretted this not long after, when small thoughts of dinner came to mind, but since every place since Twisp was under sunny skies in desert-like eastern Washington, the urge to make time while I could was stronger.  Besides, I knew I wasn't going to like the next leg of the drive, Route 21 back to 20 to head for Kettle Falls or Colville.
    Ferry County alone is a prime reason I consider Washington up among the 10 Toughest States to complete.  Ironically, to take Rt. 21 north requires a ferry, a free ride across the Columbia River.  The alternatives were either one of a pair of unnumbered back roads between Rts 155 and 21, neither guaranteed to be paved along their 25-30+ miles, or hook up with US 2 to Route 25 for 91 miles of slow-going.  All the above options were going to be at night...the ferry dropped me off on just as dusk was vanishing.  Rt 21 might actually be good in the daytime, but it winds a bit along the river then has open cattle range and the occasional jaywalking deer to keep you awake and below the limit for the long haul to the next town, Republic on Rt. 20.  Tuned around for ballgames, finding the Giants having a bad night in Oakland on KNBR, the messy back-of-the-pattern signal of KIRO with the Mariners hosting the Padres, and bits of KJRB with the Spokane team winning at Yakima.  While I was eventually back on 20, again fighting rain and/or fog, 90 frustrating minutes to cover 45 miles.
    I've decided that if I needed to rely on a travel book, I prefer the Moon Publications, out of Chico, CA.  AAA TourBooks are free, but ignore perfectly good ma & pa motels anymore, especially in cities where there is a high concentration of high-cost chains that happen to advertise in the AAA books and club magazines.  The first Moon book I bought, Road Trip USA, covers a number of cross-country non-Interstate US highways (including US 2).  They mention quite a number of motels and eating establishments on the routes, though I noticed they skipped over a few towns, and lacked detail for any sizable city.  I was much more impressed with their Washington state reference book, digging very deep into cities and towns all over the state, much like any travel book I would hope to produce if/when time and resources ever permit.  Limping into Kettle Falls on fumes, I passed an odd motel/RV park combo, but thought it best to get gas first, so I could start the thing again in the morning.  While the van was chugging down its 16 gallon refill  (the previous fill-up lasted it about 425 miles), I consulted the Moon book, which deemed the motel worthy.  And it was, even with an overly-enthusiastic proprietor and all the kitschy yard decorations in front (have we not all groaned at the sight of the "Bent-Over Old Woman" lawn thingee?).  While it was not really late yet, I hit the pillow snoring...rare anymore, even when dead tired, for me to get to sleep so quickly, and stay asleep so soundly all night.
    For amateur astronomers, it might be finding new comets.  For coin collectors, perhaps finding a "P" mint mark for a year when the Philadelphia mint was supposed to use no such marking.  One of my ultra-rare delights is discovering unlicensed broadcasters.  "Pirate" radio is illegal still in the US, though with available micro-transmitters, or frustrated CBers with a stack of CDs, and some folks deciding their local radio suck swamp-gas, unlicensed transmissions are supposedly sweeping the land...though their very nature (flea-power, oddball frequencies, questionable technical knowledge, balancing desire to broadcast vs FCC's manic insistence on monitoring the airwaves for unauthorized transmissions, confiscating the transmitters used and fining the users for the privilege) continue to make them rare finds even where known to be common (Brooklyn, Berkeley, central Illinois and such).  All my years of radio fandom, I can confirm having received less than 20 "pirates", on AM or FM, locally and in my travels (check the above link for some stories).  I tuned around the AM and FM dials Wednesday morning without a reference aid (left it in the van), finding country on 1240, I forget what on 92.1, and standards-type vocals, with a slightly shaky signal, on 102.5.
    The folks following along with atlases and radio reference books quickly figured out I got the pair of stations from Colville, less than 10 miles east on Route 20, but they are scratching their heads wondering what's this 102.5?  I wondered too, while listening during my morning bowl of Toasty-O's.  Twenty minutes of uninterrupted, unannounced music, abruptly into BBC news at the hour, and more music before a local break...promotion of a live noon talk show at a restaurant in downtown Kettle Falls...on "102.5 Community Micro-Broadcast Radio"!  Well that explains the B- signal, except it was no worse all the way to the far end of Colville!  Did they think these things suddenly become legal, or do they just no know better, besides being a bit off the beaten track for the FCC cat-detector vans, or perhaps it's the proximity to the tribal lands of the Idaho Skinhead Nation?  (Did not hear any "Limbaugh and Helms are leftist pinko liberals" spoutings, so the latter is just Mr. Doomsayer's guesswork again, ha).

    Welcome to Thursday #2!  For Pend Oreille county, it might have been faster to stay on US 395 from Colville to Deer Park, cut over to US 2 and do a 20-mile U-ie, but that would not have been sporting.  Besides, was actually a nice sunny day for once, so Route 20 was almost pleasant and scenic up, down and around to the Rt. 211 cutoff.  And hey, the only FM received on half that stretch was the CBU relay in Trail, BC, though again with the semi-lame-o "Radio 1" replacement for "Morningside".  US 2 was a fast 4 lanes most of the way to Spokane, so I made the N. Division AAA parking lot just short of 1pm.  The main information I needed was directions to a post office, where I would grab a couple Priority Mail boxes, stuff them with all the recorded tapes, plus any map, book or souvenir I did not need again on the trip, all to be mailed to myself at work.  Worked great, as they came in my first day back at Oakbrook Terror Tower. Also mailed off three batches of tape-letters I was working on along the road...sometimes (like that hell Wednesday from Seattle to Kettle Falls) making tape-letters is a great way to stay awake on a long drive.
    There was a Golden Corral steakhouse next to AAA, so I knew where lunch would be.  I was in desperate need of fresh vegetables, so their food bar did the trick.  Proud to say I ate nothing but real food, leaving no room or desire for dessert.  Finally got a new location directory, for this chain that generally sticks to smaller cities.  Alas, 1997's stand-out stop, Cedar City UT, was not listed?  Where will that odd Mormon family go to eat while the kids ask one parent to ask the other parent about something?  Across the street was another Hastings CD/book/magazine store, another chain which seems to avoid big cities and the eastern US in general.  I always have good luck finding things I have in mind, but hardly do well when I have nothing in mind, so I did not stop in.
    I've always considered Spokane a strange breed of cat...a fairly large city no where near any other city, with at least 3 major religious stations on the commercial FM band.  A nasty campaign ad on KAAQ was blasting the mayor for spending money to keep a Nordstrom's in town, while neglecting road repairs.  This was heard somewhere between giving up dodging road cones on N. Division, having to do the construction barricade slalom on Maple (eventually having to bale out on that when orange trucks blocked further forward progress) and being relieved to find the flashing arrow merge sign ahead did not affect my getting on eastbound I-90.  Too bad they aren't doing any working on their roads!
    The next part was reminiscent of the last part of my Oklahoma county quest a couple Thanksgivings ago, when terrain and road layout meant that the easiest way to get my last few Oklahoma counties was by taking a road in Arkansas with an occasional side-trip west back into OK.  Actually, for this part of Washington US 195 was a fast direct route, but for just a little more time and work I could take WA route 27, then take a short cut-off to US 95 in Idaho.  As with the OK/AR strategy, this would wind up giving me more new ones (3 to 2) in ID...was in that state only a few more miles between Spokane and Lewiston/Clarkston, but Idaho's counties are smaller.
    The northern approach to Lewiston and Clarkston is a steep slide down a canyon wall into the Snake River valley.  Great view of both cities from the top, much more interesting than what I saw at ground level, :).  The run west on US 12 would be faster than it looks on the map, certainly less nasty than Route 20, yet the scenery is still nice, a desert/rangeland-foothills motif.  The main trouble was the sun in my face, as I rushed rushed west to try making the Walla Walla County line in time to get the photo in daylight.  Not quite, but perhaps there was enough twilight to counteract the trouble my flash has with reflective signs?  Behind and to the right at that point were a bright crescent moon moon, and Venus peeking through what was left of the twilight.
[Nope...the photo was too dark]
    Washington State completed, it was a coin flip whether my overnight was to be at Pendleton or in the Tri-Cities.  I picked Pasco-Kennewick-Richland, figuring US 12 would be better than a state highway in Oregon, I'd be picking up Umatilla Co. anyway taking I-82 to meet I-84 for Portland, that there would be a better selection of lodging (likely true), local radio (definitely!), cheaper gas (I'll say!!) and more chow (well...).  Well, Pasco's Motel 6 is the first motel you see coming into the Tri-Cities westbound on US 12 or southbound on US 395.  I'd seen it from Amtrak just 2 minutes from Pasco station, so it's close to downtown too, but the eats were meager there!  Pasco must be the poor brother of the 3, as everything I've heard of (except Motel 6 and a Burger King), and most of the local pizza places, were in the other 2 cities!
    About 10 miles before this, I'd spotted a gas station off on some side-road posting $1.19 for gas.  To this point, everything I used or passed was far higher than what I pay in northwest and west suburban Chicago ($1.24 or so).  "Best" in Portland was $1.41, probably a combination of make-up taxes (no sales tax on store-bought items, so was a useful state for stocking up on tapes and batteries) and it being one of the few remaining "We-Pump" states (NJ, and who else?).  So, the only time I gassed up in Oregon was the "Bring it back full" last stop before returning the rental.  The butthead insisted on topping it off, even as I was insisting that she stop, aargh!  High station was $1.52 at a 76 near Civic Stadium.  Washington state was high north of Portland (just low enough for Portlanders to think they're getting a deal), and in high-density parts of the city of Seattle, otherwise it was tyically about $1.35-$1.39 at the majors, $1.29-$1.32 at Arco.  So, when I had enough cash it was usually Arco, but when needing to use credit, it was the "cheapest" of the rest on the same side of the street I was on at the time.  Arco is also one of those useful convenience stores, including some edible sandwiches if I just want a small lunch and/or artificial stomach-fillers.

    Anyhoo, the traffic and the smell of the Boise Cascade paper plant kept me from changing lanes in time for the $1.19 station, but I did better Friday morning anyhow, on my way out of the Tri-Cities, $1.11 at the Arco just before I-82...even the majors here were running $1.15, one of those anomolous "gas war" areas perhaps?
    By Friday morning, a few of the radio talk-show hosts were getting as sick of all the Princess Di death hype as I had gotten by the Sunday morning already.  At least one was heard to say, "Geez, you'd think she was Mother Teresa or something".  Not hardly...Mother Teresa's death that day barely put a small nick in the Diana coverage!
    I-82 to I-84 took me through the Columbia Gorge on the Oregon side, for just a few more new counties as I raced back to Portland.  Construction zones slowed the pace, as did a swarm of slow traffic on the west side of The Dalles where I'd finally found a Taco Time when I was actually hungry.  So, my hoped-for last bit of Portland exploration time was gone...after the gas adventure and a reverse of the downtown-to-rental pickup excursion, I made it back to Union Station with only 20 minutes to spare.
    So of course we left late again, though this time for a good cause...the northbound Coast Starlight was late, so they held for connecting passengers.  This was handled remarkably efficiently by Amtrak standards, then at last on our way.  This at least gave me one last shot at recording the legal ID of a fun little local talk station, to intrigue/confuse the Wisconsin folks..."1010 in Milwaukee, with a K call?"  Not Milwaukee, Milwaukie!  If I ever get back to Portland long enough to explore some suburbs, that's a definite city-limits photo op.  The train ride back was anti-climatic, and the train managed to make up the lost time, dropping me at the Glenview station only 10 minutes late on Sunday.

The Place For Stat Freaks

Totally new counties:
MN 3 (for 50), ND 8 (24), MT 8 (24), ID 5 (17), WA 20 (for all 39!!), OR 6 (24), AK 1 (1).

New state:
Alaska (#49 of 50)

Completed State:
WA (#21)

Newly-driven counties:
OR 7 (7), WA 32 (33), ID 4 (4)

New capital:
Juneau AK  (leaving only Honolulu HI and Helena MT)

New capitols:
Washington and Alaska

New Largest Cities Missed:
for ND (now Wahpeton), WA (now Puyallup), OR (now Beaverton)

New MLB ballpark {for baseball}, Kingdome, Seattle [since closed]
Other new ballpark, Civic Stadium, Portland OR.

All states now visited since 6/93, except not yet to Hawaii.


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