Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

Good bye, Portland, and thanks!

On the train from Portland OR to Seattle WA

We took the train from Portland to Seattle. I would never have suggested it, because the last time I did, the train arrived hours late, departed even later, got stalled for hours on a siding every time it met a freight train, and a broken toilet gave our coach the aroma of a porta-potty on a hot day. So although I still enjoy traveling by train, B will avoid it at almost any cost.

But for whatever reason, she suggested that we make the run from Portland to Seattle by train, and a good thing she did. Our train arrived spot-on-time, departed without delay and went zipping down the tracks with no diversions to sidings for freight trains, arriving in Seattle exactly when they said we would. Either the track was a line dedicated for passenger service, or we were just lucky. I have the feeling it was a dedicated passenger line because it was smooth as silk instead of a track pounded into bone-jarring shapes by freight trains.

I have no doubt a bus would have been just as punctual, but it wouldn’t have had the comfy seats we had, and there’s just no way to put a price on the luxury of being able to get up on a four-hour trip to stretch your legs or get a cup of coffee from the bar car. The coach was new construction, clean with well-appointed chairs and tables; there were even electric outlets between the seats so we could keep our phones and tablets charged, and free wi-fi. Why can’t we have nice things like this in our neck of the woods?

As soon as we got into Seattle we went to the Moore Hotel downtown. The Moore gets mixed reviews from the on-line crowd, mostly the whiners who complain it’s old and it’s not air-conditioned, both of which are true. But it’s been recently remodeled with a retro look that I thought was appealing. And even though it doesn’t have air conditioning, we didn’t think that would be a problem in early October, and it wasn’t. Besides that, the room was clean, the location was close to most of the places we wanted to visit, and the price for a room downtown couldn’t be beat, so we were happy with it.

While B was freshening up, I flicked through the cable TV channels just to confirm that television programming still sucks the big wet one, and then we were back on the street. It was just after noon and we were plenty hungry for lunch, so our first stop was Pike Place Chowder in Post Alley, the place Jason & Jennifer recommended to us at breakfast in the Portland B&B. Hugely popular, there was already a line around the front of the shop when we got there and it just kept getting longer while we ate. Good thing we went straight to it. B ordered a sampler of four different kinds of chowder, while I went for broke with a bowl of New England clam chowder. It was more than we could finish, although we made a valiant effort.

We wandered into a few shops in Post Alley after lunch, but B wanted to book a ride on the ducks so we didn’t stay long, just had a quick look around before catching a bus to Westlake Park.

Riding the Ducks in Seattle WAThe ducks turned out to be quite a lot of fun, in spite of the fact that we didn’t really see all that much of Seattle. The driver took us up to Lake Union, put the duck in the water mostly to show us the houseboat from Sleepless in Seattle, then drove back to the city center by way of Pioneer Square, pointing at about a half-dozen buildings while pelting us with a few random tidbits of info. It wasn’t so much a tour as a short game of trivial pursuit.

What made the trip so much fun was the driver, a natural-born comic who kept up a steady stream of one-liners and took his hands off the wheel to raise his arms over his head way too often to get us to wave or clap as he sped through downtown traffic. He even came with a soundtrack of pop tunes that were the punchline to a lot of his jokes, although mostly he played them so he could crank them up way too loud and pump the brakes to the beat when we came to red lights. Which all the passengers thought was terrific fun, and so did quite a few of the pedestrians along the pavement (we caught a couple of waitresses at a sidewalk cafe gettin’ jiggy when he played the Sir Mix-A-Lot classic, Baby Got Back), although there were a few who gave us the stink-eye as we went by. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of Seattle’s citizens consider the ducks one of the most obnoxious tourist attractions they have, but my guess is that Seattle police look the other way when they see a duck coming down the street.

When our driver returned us to Westlake Park, we jumped on the monorail to get a ride to Seattle Center, the park surrounding the Space Needle. The monorail is a leftover from the 1962 World’s Fair, just like the Space Needle. It probably seemed like the height of space-age technology when it was built, all chrome and plexiglass, riding a single concrete rail from downtown Seattle to the park and back, and it still has a distinctive space-age look, but in a retro-kitchy way, same as Googie architecture. Each monorail train is really one long, open car with bench seats from front to back on the inside. Actually, it has no front or back; it’s a two-headed monster. When it gets to the Space Needle, the driver gets up and walks the length of the train to the other end where he sit down in an identical driver’s seat for the trip back. It bumps and rattles along its track and makes you wonder to yourself, If this is space-age, how did we ever land on the moon? But what’s important is that the monorail just looks space-age. It can’t transport you to the future.

The Needle, now, that thing has the space-age look down cold. I doubt there’s a better example of space-age architecture anywhere. It was closed for a private party, but we just had to be there today. Who goes to Seattle and doesn’t want to see the Space Needle right away? There wasn’t much at Seattle Center still open at that hour, so we just walked around a bit to get the lay of the land, then rode the monorail back to the city center, wondering how rich you gotta be to be able to rent the Space Needle for your very own private party.

It was time for a beer. B picked the Elysium Bar, serving beer from the local Elysium Brewery. I was expecting a brewpub, not the very swanky bar we walked into. The hostess could barely conceal an expression that told me she was thinking, “Where am I going to seat these hayseeds so the regulars won’t see them?”

We just wandered the streets for about an hour after that to see what there was in the neighborhood of the hotel, ending up down by the Public Market again, mostly empty and quiet by that time.

For dinner we stopped at a joint called Serious Pie for some gourmet pizza. Really. Gourmet pizza? I had my doubts at first. What could you do to pizza that would make it better than it already is? And the place looked kinda frou-frou, like a gentrified dairy barn with lots of exposed beams and trestle tables that the customers were seated at community-style. When our pizza was served and I took my first bite, though, my opinion of gourmet pizza joints, or at least this particular one, improved considerably, and it got better with each bite. That was some of the best pizza I’ve ever had. B loved it so much she said we were going to have to go back before we left, and I didn’t argue.

We picked up a bottle of wine from a corner store on the way back to the hotel and sipped it from plastic cups in front of the TV before lights out. The shows still sucked, even with the wine.

pacnw day 5 | 6:32 am CST
Category: play, travel, vacation | Tags: ,
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