People and Places

A Washington Postscript

Posted on June 10, 2012

I’ll end my Washington trip posts with a final postscript while aboard our nonstop JetBlue flight from Seattle to Boston.

We left San Juan Island on the large green and white Washington State Ferry boat, parking our car in one of the boarding lanes two hours before to make sure we got on.  We discovered that this is the standard operating procedure, especially in the busy season.  You park your car and then go off and do something until 15 minutes before boarding.  Our place was just a three minute walk down the waterfront, so we simply hung out at the apartment, finished packing, and walked our luggage over to our waiting car.

The girls returned to their favorite coffee and juice bar, The Doctor’s Office (no idea on the name), where they had a final Hairy Ape, a combination of carrot, apple, and ginger.  The woman gave them free cookies to take on board for being such good customers all week, a final “are these people really this nice” send off.  The ferry glided through the channel and scattering of islands large and small for what must be one of the loveliest ferry rides anywhere, pulling into Anacortes and the mainland just after noon.

We had read great reviews of the Gere-A-Deli in Anacortes and stopped for sandwiches and salads, sitting in the cool outdoors, warmed by the sunshine.  Anacortes looked quite charming, a boating town with a vibrant main street area.  But we were off to a final afternoon in Seattle.  First stop, the EMP – the museum of music, pop culture, and science fiction.  I think this was a vanity project by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and reflects his eclectic interests.  It is housed in another undulating Frank Gehry multi-colored creation just under Seattle’s famous Space Needle and across the street from the new headquarters of the Gates Foundation.

It was thoroughly enjoyable.  The exhibit on native son Jimi Hendrix reawakened my appreciation for this rock guitarist genius and pioneer.  The exhibit on Nirvana was as interesting for the near total absence of attention to David Grohl and Pearl Jam and insistence that Nirvana was a punk band.  Not sure about that claim – grunge as a subset of punk maybe.  While the exhibit was also a celebration of Seattle’s music scene, it did grudgingly admit that no great band has emerged from that scene since Nirvana and Pearl Jam.  It was also interesting to note that Cobain came out of Aberdeen, just south of quirky Fork on the Olympic Peninsula.  Might explain a lot.

The exhibit on horror films had the only real substance, talking about the way the genre allows us to safely explore our darkest fears and taboos.  There were great interviews with people like director John Landis and clips from various movies, including the Exorcist, a movie that still scares me to this day.  I saw it a midnight opening when I was in high school and when my friends dropped me off at home that night I practically sprinted into my house and went to sleep with the lights on.  My eventual college roommate Gregg Laronde did the same, except his older brother Steve had unscrewed the light bulbs in the upstairs hall and in Greg’s room.  Freaked out, Greg was getting undressed when Steve burst out of the bedroom closet.  Greg, pants around his ankles and shrieking, stumbled into his parents’ bedroom.  I think he was never quite the same after.

There was some other fun stuff in the EMP, including fascinating oral histories with key people in music (this room was almost empty, though I could have spent a day there), especially watching the short videos with musicians talking about their craft.  There was a fun display on sci-fi, including the robot from Lost in Space (“Danger, Will Robinson.  Danger” – who remembers that?), and some interactive displays with blue screen technology.  The Making of Avatar was impressive for the sheer obsessive and technical genius of James Cameron and his team.   But in the end, the museum never hung together.  It was like spending time in Paul Allen’s very expensive man cave and concluding that maybe he never really grew up. 

It was telling and highly symbolic that across the same street stood the Gates Foundation, dedicated to solving the world’s biggest problems, like ending malaria.  The Gehry exterior of the building was wildly imaginative and different, but the inside spaces were not particularly interesting or effective.  In many ways, that sums up the EMP.  More fun than substance.  More quirky than coherent.  But if you didn’t think too hard about it, it was an enjoyable couple of hours.

We ended our Seattle stop with dinner in a little Sicilian restaurant in the south Seattle neighborhood of Columbia City, the single most diverse area code in the country according to the last census.  Way off the tourist track, it is a historically preserved area with lovely blocks of modest homes, often surrounded by the ebullient gardens that typify Seattle homes, and a cool main street full of bookstores, bistros, small shops, and yes….a Starbucks.  La Medusa had authentic Sicilian food (like a bit of anchovy paste in the meatballs and a sardines entre), a small friendly room, and good wines. 

It also had Donna, the requisite super friendly waitress, who had lost all the edge of her native New Jersey and smiled at us like she knew something about us we didn’t know yet, like we had just won the lottery or a Nobel Prize or something.  Still, her sunny care and cheery goodbye were nice ways to end our trip, even if it included getting back to the hotel in time to see the Celtics lose the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Finals and the likely last chance to play for a national championship with this collection of aged players.

Tomorrow, back to work, putting out metaphorical fires, eating salads – lots of salads after a week of ice cream, cookies, and dreamy meals — exercise, and the welcome routines of non-vacation life.  Checking out for a time was recharging and much needed, but I subscribe to the notion that the keys to a good life are lots of people to love and meaningful work.  It’s why I really don’t get those many people we met who left homes thousands of miles away and resettled in the San Juan Islands or a place like Port Townsend, as wonderful as they are.  I don’t understand how one leaves behind family and friends and enjoyable work that matters.  Or the sense of being rooted in a place like New England, where we share the same passion for our sports teams, sense the way the air changes when autumn really arrives, know the shortcuts around town, and walk the streets our fathers and mothers, our grandfathers and grandmothers walked.  When I visit my mother in Waltham I always slow down to glance at a stone retaining wall alongside a small nondescript house.  My father built that wall when I was young and just starting to go to work with him in the summers.  I mixed mortar for him and struggled to carry stones.  I was so bone tired at the end of the day, I’d fall asleep across the bench seat of his red Chevy C-10 pickup (the one on which I learned to drive way on job sites way before I was old enough), my head on his lap, the truck smelling of sawdust and cigarette smoke, even though the ride was just across town.

Every time we visit some new place I spend the first three days fantasizing about living there and another three days listing all the good things our home town lacks in contrast, but at some point I realize I could never leave.  I’d miss that wall.

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