Saturday, October 4th, 2014

high above the cloudsAlarm clocks. They don’t belong on a vacation. If it were up to me, we wouldn’t have brought a single one along, but they’re kinda built into our smartypants phones. Can’t get them out. Also, we needed them today because we wanted to get up early enough to shower, get to the airport, get through security and still have time left over for breakfast, so we had to endure being rudely awakened by alarm clocks. It sucked.

And it sucked in a very special way because what we both most wanted to do this morning was sleep until eight or nine o’clock, get out of bed long enough to pop a couple of aspirin and drink a river of water, then crawl back into bed for maybe another hour or so. Turned out we might have had one beer too many the night before.

After our morning ablutions we packed our bags with the greatest of care, not wanting a replay of our last vacation when we discovered at the airport check-in desk that our bags were each twenty or thirty pounds overweight, which would cost about a hundred bucks total if we wanted to check them through that way. We opted  to drag them to an untrafficked corner of the airport, crack open all our luggage, throw out the stuff we could leave behind and redistribute the bottles and glasses and other souvenirs we had collected along the way.

Wasn’t gonna happen this time. The cups and bottles and various nick-knacks got evenly split between all the bags and liberally padded with lots and lots of dirty clothes. When we were satisfied that each of them had about the same heft, the big bags slightly more than the small bags, we buttoned everything up and dragged the whole kit and kaboodle down to the lobby.

The front desk booked a town car to take us to the airport. They had a special deal with a private contract driver to take guests to the airport in his big shiny black Cadillac Escalade for a flat forty-dollar rate. And a good thing, too, because Sea-Tac Airport is hell and gone from downtown Seattle. Taxi fare would have been astronomical. We thought about taking the light rail at five dollars a head but stopped thinking about it when we got to the part where we’d have to drag our bags three blocks to Westlake Center, carry them down to the station platform, wrestle them on and off the train and finally drag them to the check-in counter at the airport. When it came down to that or paying somebody else to do it, it was a no-brainer.

Check-in at the airport was uneventful. Our plan, same as before, was to check the two big bags and take the two wheely bags as carry-ons. All well and good until we got to security where my wheely bag was singled out for special attention by the TSA agents. “Is there anything sharp in here that will cut or poke me?” the agent asked as he prepared to swab the bag for explosives. I must look like an especially determined seditionist because they’re always swabbing my bag for explosives. I told him there wasn’t anything in there that would hurt him and he did the swabby thing. No explosives. So I am still free to commit sedition, just not with a Molatov cocktail.

“There appears to be a large bottle of liquid in here,” an agent said, unzipping a compartment and extracting a one-liter flip-top growler full of beer that I’d completely forgotten about. Oh. That. Yeah. Well, that’s a little too much beer to chug right here on the spot, so I guess I’ll check that bag after all.

The TSA agent escorted me out of the security area back to the check-in desk where a ticketing agent helpfully walked me through the process again (sheesh!) so I could go through security screening again and reunite with B. She thought it was pretty darned funny that I forgot about the growler. I was mostly relieved she wasn’t mad that my doofishness forced us to pay to check another bag.

We found coffee and donuts at a Seattle’s Best Coffee shop near our gate, somewhat ironically, as it was the only one we saw anywhere in or near Seattle. Every other coffee shop was either a Starbucks or an independent shop. And there were so many Starbucks shops it made me wonder how the independent shops managed to hang on.

Our flight departed a little more than a half hour late because almost all the airline schedules were still effed up after the fire in Chicago the week before. The delay made passengers very grumpy. One after another, they tromped up to the desk to ask just what the heck was going on. As the scheduled departure time approached, they began to gather in a mob around the gate, boarding tickets in hand, sour looks on their faces. The gate agents got on the horn to assure everyone that they would board the plane as soon as possible, and that we would all make our connecting flights in Chicago. The crowd began to break up, grumbling as they did, but it was about even money that they might have mutinied if one of the passengers had shouted, “I know how to fly that plane!”

As it got later and more people stomped up to the desk, the agents had to make several more announcements, getting just a tad snippy about it toward the end. They also tried a gambit I’ve never seen before to get us out of there and into Chicago on time: At one point, the agent asked people to valet-check their carry-on bags to help speed the boarding process. B volunteered to check her bag. She was the only one.

Note that all of our luggage is checked through to Madison now. B has a bag with her Kindle, some bananas and one or two other items, and I’ve got a book bag with some books and cookies, but that’s it.

We landed in Chicago about twenty minutes before our connecting flight was due to depart but the pilot spent a solid ten minutes taxiing in a big circle around the airport to get to our gate. While we were getting the nickle tour of every taxiway at O’Hare, B called the airline to ask them to hold the connecting flight, but the answer she got boiled down to “sucks to be you.” To be fair, they offered to book us on the first flight out the next day, an option that sucked, so I guess they were right. It did suck to be us.

We raced through the airport and made it to the gate just in time to press our noses against the window and watch them roll the jetway back from the airplane. Maybe we should’ve banged on the glass and shouted at them, made a great big scene. That might’ve been satisfying, but it probably wouldn’t have gotten us on the plane.

B and I gravitated to a neighboring gate to ask the agents what we could do and found they were helping a couple other passengers who had also missed the connection to Madison. The agents found a later flight with another airline and helped get the passengers booked on it, so we hung around to see if they would do the same for us. While we were waiting, B called the airline again and again she was told, and I’m gisting again, “sucks to be you.”

When the two other passengers were done, the agent who was helping them had to go staff another gate, and a young guy who admitted he was “still getting used to it” tried to book seats for us. He seemed to know how to call up our reservations on his computer screen, but he had to stop passing agents to help him with all the rest of the codes to book us on a flight with another airline, so it took twice as long as it took the other agent. Still, he got us booked on an eight o’clock flight out, and that made him a hero to us.

The flight left Chicago and arrived in Madison on time, but it was anybody’s guess where our bags ended up. Somehow, even with those bar-coded tags they put on each and every bag, the airlines do not track your bags the way that, say, UPS tracks a package. They cannot click a few keys on their desktop computer and tell you where your bags are. Most of the agents we talked to on the phone and in person guessed our bags were most probably still in Chicago, but almost nobody could say for sure when the bags would get to Madison or how or who would have them when they got here. After about a half-hour we gave up asking because it was getting late and we were hungry. Coffee and doughnuts were all we’d eaten that day.

Ale Asylum, one of the best brewpubs in town, is just down the road from the airport. That’s where we headed as I pulled out of our parking spot and noticed that the steering seemed a little mushy. My heart sank a little bit. No. It couldn’t be. But yes, it was. There was no denying it when we heard the flub-flub-flub of a flat tire. So after all those delays and the missed connection and the lost bags, the last thing I had to deal with today was changing a flat tire.

Opps. No, it wasn’t. It was the taxi driver who nearly rear-ended me as I pulled out of the parking lot.

pacnw day 9 | 10:54 am CDT
Category: play, travel, vacation | Tags: ,
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Friday, October 3rd, 2014

Port of SeattleWe took our sweet time getting ready to hit the town this morning, not bothering to even get out of bed until about eight. HOW COULD WE BE SO LAZY? It’s just this simple: Today was our last day on vacation in Seattle. Heck, it was our last day of vacation. We were not going to rush it for anything.

We’d decided the night before to eat breakfast at The Athenian in the Public Market. That’s the restaurant where Tom Hanks and Rob Reiner went for lunch in Sleepless in Seattle, when they were talking about dating and whether or not Tom Hanks had a cute butt. (“I don’t know. Are we grading on a curve?”) The stools where they planted their butts are marked by plaques, but we didn’t sit in them. The hostess took us upstairs and sat us in a booth where we had a killer view of the Seattle Wheel, the port and the ferry terminal. The sky was clear and the sun was shining, so it was a way better place for breakfast than the stools at the counter downstairs. My butt would have to wait until another time to meet the chair that once cradled the butt of Tom Hanks.

I ordered what turned out to be the gooiest cinnamon roll ever. Ever! There are no cinnamon rolls anywhere else covered with that much gooey sweetness. You may think you’ve eaten a gooier cinnamon roll, but you’re wrong. It wasn’t even half as gooey as the one I ate. I couldn’t pick it up because the sweet goo had cemented it to the plate. I had to cut it into little pieces and then pry each little piece up with a knife and fork. It was really gooey!

B ordered a breakfast sammie on an English muffin that turned out to be two breakfast sammies on two English muffins. The menu didn’t make that as clear as it might have.

After we put all that breakfast away and washed it down with plenty of strong restaurant coffee, we went to do some basic souvenir shopping, starting just across the street with three kinds of smoked salmon and some beer for Tim. He deserved all that and more for volunteering to check in on our Little Red House and catsit Boo while we were away.

To get a gift for B, we went a little further down the block to stop at a fabric shop where she could buy a swatch of fabric printed with Seattle landmarks that she found on-line and dearly wanted to add to her collection. They still had some and it was practically sitting at the front door as she walked in, but there was no way she could just walk in and out of a fabric shop, so she happily spent about a half-hour wandering the aisles looking at all the other goodies.

The fabric shop was in a building with a whole lot of other souvenir shops at the street level. One level below them is The Pike Brewing Company. If you go to Seattle and you have time to visit just one brewpub, this would be a good pick. The beers are great, but the collection of beer stuff is eye-popping. Even if you’re not into beer or advertising or bottling or whatever, you will be agog at the sheer size of this collection. Seriously. Every wall has a framed poster or beer coaster or collection of bottle caps. Every level surface is taken up by a beer stein or a giant bottle of beer or a grinning little dancing bear holding mugs of beer. Really, it’s almost too much to describe. You won’t believe it until you see it. If you don’t want a beer, they’ll still let you in to wander around and gape in slack-jawed wonder, but if you drink beer I would have to recommend that you partake of at least one of their wonderful brews while you’re there. I was partial to Monk’s Uncle, their tripel.

The Pike Brewing Co

I mention The Pike because, while B roamed the aisles of the fabric shop, dreaming whatever happy dreams quilters have about fabric, I waited ever so patiently for The Pike to open. Okay, not really all that patiently. I could see them getting ready to open. The street level I was on was a sort of mezzanine that surrounded the tavern below, so all I had to do was lean over the rail and I could scope out almost the entire bar. And they’ve made their brewing equipment into a kind of modern art sculpture. The grain is lifted from the basement on a bucket lift to a big stainless steel bin that was high over my head, and the mash tun was on a platform at my level. The boil kettle was on the floor below and a big batch of brew was boiling away while the brewmaster stood by checking messages on her smart phone. I’d be lying if I said that all this didn’t make me thirsty.

But I went straight to the section with all the merchandise first when they finally opened, to get some bottled beer to take home. They had a great-looking flip-top growler I really wanted, too, but I wasn’t sure it would fit in our luggage, so I had to satisfy myself with a couple bombers of our favorite beers. Then, since we were there and it was open anyway, we bellied up to the bar where I asked what was on tap from the casks and ended up with a glass of cask-conditioned scotch ale. Wow. Really good. B joined me in a glass of scotch ale from the tap and we passed a happy half-hour or so there, planning the rest of our day, a trip to Fremont and Ballard to the north of Seattle to visit some of the area’s fine brewpubs.

Our first stop was going to be the bridge over Troll Avenue to look for the Fremont Troll but our visit to The Pike had made it necessary for me to stop sooner, so we made a detour to visit Fremont Brewing first. Looks like it was a garage or filling station before they refurbished it in the industrial chic-look that’s so popular in breweries run by very hip young people. That’s not meant to be a slam; I wake up every morning wishing I was a hip young person brewing beer in a refurbished filling station. They’re living the dream, as far as I’m concerned. The forecourt had been transformed into a beer garden with lots of freshly-varnished picnic tables that was patrolled by a black and white cat who deigned to stop just once to say hello to us, then moved on. They didn’t pour tasters here, so we had to order full-sized pours: B had the Dark Star Stout, creamy and sweet, and I had a saison called Harvest Ale, very refreshing. We passed a relaxing half hour on the patio with our beers in the warm afternoon sun trying to tempt the cat to come back, but no luck there.

Our search for the Fremont Troll lasted only a few minutes, because he’s at the end of the street that runs under the bridge and the street is called Troll Avenue. Not hard to find. I’m not sure why the Fremont Troll became so famous. Probably for the same reasons that the gum wall became famous: It’s just one of those things that somehow caught on with the visitors. Every tourist who comes through this part of town has to visit the Troll. There were maybe a dozen people there when we walked up, and in the ten minutes or so that we were there, maybe a dozen more came by. Nearly every one of them did what we did: Pose next to the troll so they could take a picture and post it on teh intarwebs. There must be millions of photos of the Troll on Facebook by now. Here’s one of them.

Somehow we found our way from the Troll to the right bus stop to get to Bad Jimmy’s Brewing Company for a flight of tasters. Bad Jimmy’s is a 15 bbl operation run out of what looks like a U-Store-It unit with a few tables and a short bar behind the roll-up door and some patio seating just outside. The owner smartly picked a location behind three local restaurant / bars that served pub food, and he encouraged visitors to get food from them and bring it over to the patio to eat with their beers. Wish I had those kind of smarts. We picked out four tasters to try: Strawberry Mango Heffe, Coffee Coca Vanilla Porter, Red Ale, and Cascadian Dark Ale (known to the regulars as CDA).

Hilliard's Beer

From there we went to Hillliard’s Beer, a much bigger operation than any of the other places we visited today. They operate out of what looks like a cleaned-up warehouse; every surface upwards of the floor bears a blinding coat of whitewash and the big open windows let in lots of light that’s reflected off the stainless steel tanks and freezer walls surrounding the open, airy corner of the building where the bar is set up. There’s plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. They served no food, but a food truck called Kiss My Grits was visiting while we were there. Hilliard’s did not serve tasters so we each ordered a full glass of beer. B had Original Singe, a red ale with a smoky flavor, and I had Chrome Satan, a refreshing brown lager.

Then on to NW Peaks Brewery, maybe the smallest operation we saw today, run out of what looked like a very small storage space. The tap room bore a strong resemblance to a basement man cave: There was a bar set up alongside a walk-in freezer and a small group of seats. Their brews are all named after peaks in the Pacific Northwest. We took our tasters outside and sampled them at one of the three or four tables in the asphalt lot out front, surrounded by pony kegs. Enchantment Saison and Redoubt Red very clear and crisp; Stuart Stout was a nice, full-bodied brew.

Stoup BrewingStoup Brewing was another placed that looked like it had taken over a rehabbed warehouse. There were just a few tables inside and quite a few more on the forecourt just outside the rolled up garage door. No food but again a visiting food truck was doing a brisk business selling freshly-made lumpia from the curb. We got tasters of Stoup Porter, Bavarian Hefeweizen and Northwest Red.

We got halfway up the block before I realized I’d left my bag at Stoup! B went on while I went back as quickly as I could, breaking into a trot when I realized our car keys were in that bag. It was still there, untouched under the table where I’d left it. Catastrophe averted.

I easily caught up with B at Reuben’s Brews, our last stop of the night. I couldn’t tell what the building might have been before. The area that was open to the public might have been a loading bay in a previous life. The public area was also the working part of the brewery; the brew kettle and mash tun were bolted to the floor right beside the big roll-up garage door. The serving bar was off to the right as we came in, a few places to sit off to the left and in the back, and more tables on the driveway out front. The place seemed to be enormously popular; there were lots of people inside and out. We ordered just two tasters here as we were already kind of hammered, but there were three guys at the table beside ours who ordered twelve tasters. Yes, they have that many beers on tap. If we’d known, we might have started there and worked our way south, instead of the other way around. We tried Koyt, a light-bodied brew, and Export Foreign Stout, a very robust brew.

We went back to Serious Pie for dinner again. It’s pizza I could never get tired of. Really, I could eat there every night.

pacnw day 8 | 4:37 pm CDT
Category: beer, food & drink, play, travel, vacation | Tags: ,
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