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Lowering the Bar Mitzvah

Detroit Airport

I’m in airports a lot these days. A lot a lot. Getting anywhere from Eastern Washington, in the age of regional carriers means lots of legs to get to my final destination, making air travel something of an airport crawl without the really good beer. I’ve been stuck in Salt Lake Airport on Christmas, stranded in Minneapolis multiple times due to weather or mechanical trouble, on the tarmac in Spokane waiting for an overbooked deicer to get to our plane, and of course there was that time in San Francisco when we were told we’d missed our flight even though it was an hour until takeoff. I continue to stand by my United boycott after that bull hockey. Still, as the 14-hour drive home from SFO pointed out, flying is faster than ground travel. And because I often have faraway places to go (I mean, seriously, everything is far from Walla Walla), I wind up spending copious hours of time in airports. So perhaps it’s unsurprising that the more time I spend in airports, the greater the opportunity for unusual things to happen to me while I’m there. Read More…

Coral Reef Therapy

coral reef hawaii fishI’ve known, abstractly at least, that I’ve wanted to go snorkeling since I stood waist-high in the crystal clear water of Puerto Rico, way back in 1983. Seeing tropical fish up close, in their own environment, was captivating to newly minted teenager me. But we didn’t have much time on the island during that vacation, and didn’t get around to snorkeling.

I told myself that I was too clumsy for something that would require breathing a different way, plus hand-flipper coordination. I’d probably concuss myself on a reef, get into an altercation with an eel, or worse. I satisfied myself with episodes of Blue Planet and short-lived glances at tiny tiger fish in local mall aquariums. But by the time we booked our trip to the big island of Hawaii, I’d promised myself to strap on a mask and fins and check out a nearby coral reef.

And now I’m addicted to snorkeling. That didn’t take long.

Water fills up my ear canals and then all I can hear is the sound of my own breathing through the snorkel tube. Other than the taste of briny water on my tongue, I stop noticing all of my senses but my sight. There’s a bright yellow angel fish, nipping plankton off of the coral ridge. A dark black, blue striped fish darts in front of me, followed by a school of them. A silvery fish that looks like a living dagger hovers near the surface, as if she can’t wait to evolve to a land-walking biology. Sea urchins that range from dark purple to bright pink nestle in the pockets of the reef, and now I can’t imagine eating one cut in half.

A school of tiger fish off in the distance, eating in such a frenzy that they generate the only cloudy portion of water I see around me. If it looked like the water was overcrowded with other snorkelers before I headed into the pool, I now have lost myself in solitude and mind-numbing beauty. And where I’m generally clumsy on the surface, I feel almost masterful under the water’s edge, able to spin and turn and control my trajectory. Read More…

Where Ghosts Go to Lounge

Hot Lake Hotel before renovationI shouldn’t write about this while I’m still here. It’s creepy enough in these hallways at night, but right now the sun is still up and I can pretend I won’t be a nervous nellie after dark.

We’ve driven out to the Hot Lake Hotel in La Grande, Oregon, former resort and when that didn’t pan out, sanitorium. Now former sanitorium, as that didn’t last, either. Three hundred plus windows in a blocky brick frame, at one point all blown out, the wind and rain assaulting the structure for decades, folks round these parts had given up on the building as part of a bygone era when the train stopped here and let off hundreds of passengers. La Grande, like Walla Walla, was a destination in the pioneering West, until the population centers crystallized along the coast and sucked the life out these inland cities. Portland and Seattle became economic black holes for the likes of places at the edge of smaller mountain ranges, and to this day, there is much grumbling about people here getting the short end of the stick. Read More…

All’s Faire

stiltwalker at the eugene country fairWe headed to Eugene, Oregon, on our trip that at one point included a visit to Crater Lake—a visit we canceled because the lake is still under many feet of snow—and when our friends suggested we go to the Oregon Country Fair, we agreed. I was enthusiastic, having gone to the Montgomery County Fair and New York State Fair at least a dozen times combined. I’m a fan of seeing which child’s chinchilla took the blue ribbon, who won for best blueberry pie, and honestly, is there anything more exhilarating than going for a ride on a rickety Ferris Wheel?

The Oregon Country Fair is none of these things. Read More…

On the Timberline

We raced out of town on a weekend getaway for all of the obvious reasons, not the least of which it’s gotten very hot in Walla Walla. Even worse, it’s uncharacteristically humid, so 95 and 98 degree days feel powerfully worse than they should. At least in drier heat one can take actual solace in the shade. Now the shades just mock the old-timers into second guessing their memories. We began on our usual route west along the gorge of the Columbia River, and past the creepy tree farm on I-84, stopping briefly in The Dalles for our regular visit to Burgerville. Then at last we were on the winding, scenic highway to Mount Hood. And there it is that we encountered a species of human very new to me: the skier. Read More…

Their Neighbors to the South

Having just spent a week en Canada, I am continuing to think about the small but notable differences I encountered while there. They may be little things, but they’re enough to remind one that one is in a foreign land, a land largely absent of GOP/Democrat partisan bickering, American Idol crooning (they have their own version), and conversations about whether evolution is a Real Thing or not. Read More…

Land of the Taxidermist

patinoire at west edmonton mallI’ve driven through large swaths of Canada several times now—if I’d stitched them together they would pretty much connect the east and west coasts, except for the fact that I’ve never driven into Manitoba. That said, I have not driven in Canada much at all and for someone used to watching out for bands of small, white-tailed deer, Canada is a bit of a different game. In the way that junior varsity basketball players against NHL left wing players match up. Which is to say that they don’t. Read More…

Boom in the Night

Quantas airplane in flightLet it be known that I fly a lot, especially now that I’ve moved to this dusty corner of the country. It just isn’t possible to drive everywhere I want to go, certainly not with $4.00 gas staring me in the face at the station. Most of my trips originate not at the lonely Walla Walla airport, which hosts a few flights a day to and from Seattle, and which will bump up the fare anywhere between $400 to $1,000. So I trek out to the Tri-Cities, an hour away, and go from there. It’s a Planes & Automobiles adventure every time. Read More…

Glitteratzi

Vegas VicIt’s hard to land in Las Vegas without at least a few preconceived notions about the people here—degenerate gamblers, greedy casino owners, exhausted showgirls and the like—images conjured up from so many Hollywood flicks, tell-all books, and mafioso lore. I’m sure Sin City lives down to its seedy reputation on a regular basis, but there is another side to the place that doesn’t get much attention, probably because it’s not as dramatic.

There are actually a lot of hard-working people here. Read More…

Delta, Delta, Delta

It is a grave disservice to a human being, this whole daylight savings time, especially since this particular human does not work in agriculture, and deprived of an hour’s sleep, has considerable trouble envisioning how the indirect benefit of farmers’ labor applies to him. But the usual strain of shifting forward one hour has just been exacerbated by the supreme offense of the delayed flight/missed connection combination that only modern air travel affords on a regular basis. It’s one thing to be in a later time zone for 78 minutes during an afternoon layover; it is an entirely different thing to have to wake up at what feels like 4:15AM to catch a final leg home. And when one has not planned for that extra pair of fresh underwear. Such injustice in the developed world. Read More…

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