Tag Archives: driving

Life Without Filters

police lights all lit upThese days I use chronic sleep deprivation as a tool. It’s my excuse when I can’t think of a particular word. It’s my justification for taking an early afternoon nap. It’s my benchmark for whether the latest set of nighttime hours aided or subtracted from my sleep deficit. It’s my metaphor for 2012, in which I measure achievement in between unintended bouts of sleep. At some point I may actually drool into my keyboard and short-circuit my laptop. Anything is possible.

But another effect of not granting rest to my brain is the effect it’s had on my frontal lobe. Perhaps my cerebellum is demanding that it operate at peak efficiency so I can like, breathe and blink and such, but my filter for shutting up has gone all wonky. I’m not lecturing passersby as I run errands, exactly, but my big booming laugh is taking more people by surprise.

Last week I left extra early before work because a significant number of my dendrites told me to get a mocha from the patisserie. Not the roastery, not the drive through espresso place on 9th Avenue, but the patisserie. Without enough alertness to remember that the shop wouldn’t be open at that hour, I maneuvered the car to downtown, then cursed at the Closed sign, which of course didn’t care, it being an inanimate sign and all. Idle at the light on Main Street, then press the accelerator. I figured since I was near the post office now I might as well pick up the mail for the office. About thirty feet past the stop sign I recognized that hey, those red octagons mean something important. What was it again? 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…

Driving Miss Dodo

The DC BeltwayOne of my favorite statistics about Washington, DC, is the number of lawyers working in the city: 50,000. That’s one lawyer for every 10 residents. Do these people directly benefit those residents? No, not really. Perhaps some of them do, or must, just by the laws of chance and probability. But certainly, many of those J.D.-carrying folks are members of an elite squad known as the lobbyists. They represent everyone from chemical producers to apple farmers to county-level employees. They’re not concerned about the people in the city so much they are getting into the city. And that is exactly where the residents made their stand. Read More…

Into the Desert

That it only took several hours of packing up and 45 minutes to load a moving truck with our belongings belied the difficulty we’d have with this move after achieving those two goals. Ahead of us was the Snoqualmie Pass, the 3,022 “low point” in the midst of the Cascade Mountains. This range is the dividing point between the volcanic rain forest on the west side, and the dry scrubland leeward. I like to point, snickering, at the evergreen trees emblazoned onto all of Washington State’s license plates, because while they account for 95 percent of the state’s self marketing, they only refer to about a third of its land mass. From late October to mid-June the Pass is touch and go—perhaps it will be clear, or in the midst of a white-out blizzard, or anywhere in between. We were careful to check the weather conditions before heading out, but as I was dragging thousands of pounds in a 16-foot rental truck, I had some trepidation about me. Read More…

The wheels of the bus go round and round

We drove down into Walla Walla on Monday morning, Susanne napping in the passenger seat and me maneuvering through the Snoqualmie Pass in the Cascades. I set my barometer for driving endurance in college, where my parents’ house and the university were roughly four and a half hours apart. The corners of Washington State are about the same distance, so it doesn’t feel like too bad a stretch to get from point A to point B. Anything shorter than this is a breeze, anything longer and I start to feel like looking at asphalt is itself an exhausting prospect. Read More…

Riding off into the sunset burns my retinas

To say I’m sick of driving would be to trivialize everything I’ve seen on my journey across the continent and back, would be to make too much light of the 8,600 miles of the trip, in which I’ve encountered everything from:

  • tiny baby bunnies
  • crystal blue boiling pools of adulterated water that are fueled by the unseen middle of the earth
  • exasperated parents who look like they’re questioning the entirety of their lives
  • all manner of coffeehouses and espresso shacks that dot the West like freckles
  • at least 50 species of birds—sparrows, swallows, hawks, eagles, kingfishers, vultures, quail, turkeys, hummingbirds, and more
  • barns and rural structures in all stages of their life cycles
  • blue-collar men who all looked dazed and stressed, no matter where I encountered them
  • lightning bugs outside a greasy spoon diner in Pennsylvania
  • long moments of coasting down from mountains just after fighting to get to the peaks
  • many, many anti-abortion and anti-Obama billboards
  • tired front desk hotel staff

All of these people, animals, and situations were notable enough that they left their impressions on me. I don’t know their stories, except in some rare instances in which we had time to converse. Like an unfinished painting, I’m left wondering about all of the open canvas and what could be drawn on to fill it in. Perhaps some of these things will get worked into a story or other over time, or my memory will do that thing I hate and blur different events together in its quest to find patterns and meaning. But that tendency is why I write things down—then I retain the edges of each experience.

That said, I am loathe to sit behind the wheel of the car right now, even to go set up Internet in our apartment or buy bread. I’m sure that this hatred will fade, but hopefully I’ll remember that I don’t particularly enjoy driving 3 days in a row for 12 hours a day.

We rolled into Walla Walla on Friday evening, having come through the evergreen forests along the waistline of Idaho. Sister cities Lewiston and Clarkston, watching each other from across a river and state boundary line, seemed small and a bit bedraggled, the road infrastructure not seeming to lead to any important point in either place. We opted to get some drive thru food, knowing how close we were and not wanting to take any more time at a pit stop. Finally, at long last, the wheat fields, close to harvest, signaling that we were almost back. I’d gotten so used to driving into the sun that I didn’t need to put on my sunglasses anymore. Around this turn and that, we swirled around the low mountains, revealing the last inkling of daylight and then burrowing into dark indigo again, weaving through what must have been a tapestry of bold colors, if only we’d had a bird’s eye view.

A bird’s eye view, I realize, is precisely what I’ve been interested in finding this summer. Something to help me understand my time in Walla Walla and how to get through the next portion of it when it inevitably sneaks up on me this winter. I’ve asked a lot of questions about who, what, how I am and I’ve enjoyed the funny moments, for sure (the leaky tub dripping into the kitchen below, not so much), but I do still feel the need for some larger perspective.

Maybe it’s all a big joke, a set on Laugh In that I haven’t realized is still being performed on a sound stage in southern California. Maybe I just need more time to elapse before I’ll come to the punchline, or the Big Reveal. In the meantime, we’ve reached Seattle, and wow, is this town a hoot. All this bluster about saving the planet but everyone chain smokes. Aren’t our lungs part of the planet, people?

I think this is going to be interesting, this fall.

Leaving Liar House

To start off, a few numbers related to our move out of faculty housing:

6 rolls of packing tape

32 boxes of books

50+ pieces of fragile pottery to wrap and pack

3 bedrooms, 1.5 bathrooms, 1 living room, 1 dining room, 1 kitchen, 1 basement and 1 garage to pack up

5 hours to move everything

$625 to move everything

6 hours to clean everything (including 45 minutes on the oven alone)

3 minutes on walkthrough with the maintenance guy to check everything over, downstairs only

0 minutes on walkthrough upstairs

3 friends at final dinner before heading out, featuring food from taco truck (delicious)

3 hours to Ontario, Oregon, landing at a Holiday Inn with the softest, most comfortable bed ever

And on the way here I had to pull over to take this picture:

Then we saw a rainbow off our port side. As the sun faded, the rainbow lost the shorter end of the color spectrum, leaving only pinks and reds. We drove through the Blue Mountains, then the Wallowa Mountains, and it occurred to me that you couldn’t put two more unlike mountain systems any closer to each other. The Blues are covered in sage and scrub brush that looks like soft velvet from the highway, while the Wallowas seemed barren, rocky, so jagged they cut the fat clouds of the late spring storm. I caught my first glimpse of ball lightning in what seems like years, as rain falling from the sky typically barely makes it to the ground in Walla Walla. I will note though that we had a fairly wet spring. Wet for the desert, that is.

Driving closer to Ontario, the sky turned yellow-red, and we knew, living next to Washington State’s death row prison, that it must be a correctional institution. Sure enough, there was the sign. And this is just one of many things I’ve learned about since I moved to Wallyworld.

But now here we are on our roadtrip, and I promise many photos and hopefully, laugh-inducing stories of our latest road trip. For now, friends in Walla Walla, take care, and we’ll see you soon. Friends in DC, here we come!

Dead cows tell no tales

When Mom visited us last week, we tooled around town. No really, we tooled around town, on the outskirts, north, east, and west. This is surprisingly easy, because two streets this way or that, and suddenly one finds oneself in a wheat field. Or at least, we thought it was wheat. It’s been a while since my farm girl of a mother saw wheat up close, but then there she was, clambering out of the car and her head down near the ground, surveying and investigating. She could have been Jessica Fletcher scouring a crime scene.

abandoned barnAs she was looking at the bright green whateveritwas, a man in a pickup truck drove by us on the dusty road. He managed to keep a tall western hat on his head, and he gave me the man nod as I waited for my parent to finish checking out the foliage. I nodded in return, but I’m not really sure why. What is the man nod supposed to mean? That I’m not here to pillage your town? That I’m in agreement on giving the most masculine salutation afforded by social expectations? It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, even as I acknowledge that rolling down our windows to high five wouldn’t have made any more sense. But still, I nodded back at him.

She got back in her seat and announced to the two of us that in fact, it was wheat.

“I just didn’t remember it looking like grass,” she said, almost as if she really wanted to check the earth one last time, like running back into the house to make sure the oven is really, really, super turned off. We rumbled back along this road I’d never traveled, kicking up red dust behind us. We could have been a Mars rover, for all the wheat fields knew, although they were probably more certain than I was of where they came from.

We dead-ended at a T intersection, the car idling, bored, while I tried to figure out if Walla Walla was to our left or our right.

I picked right, making a guess. At noon the sun wasn’t going to give me any indication of where I headed. Where were my so familiar DC streets with their quadrant markers?

It should be noted that DC was once a small town in the midst of farms, fields, and livestock. Pierre L’Enfant liked it because of its intersection of two large waterways, the Potomac and Anacostia rivers. In that way it wasn’t very unlike what Walla Walla is now, I suppose. But certain things—population density of the East Coast, cheapness of land at the time, intentional urban planning by L’Enfant and Masons—helped DC metamorphosize into the large metropolis that it now is. Those things don’t really exist for the Wheat Farming Town that Could, even as it was the site of incorporation for the State of Washington, and its original capitol. Now Walla Walla is only big compared to Dixie, Washington, which has only a single school, and Milton-Freewater in Oregon, best known for the frog statues that run along its main thoroughfare.

So Walla Walla doesn’t need quadrants.

We drove past a farm with several head of cattle, and I saw one cow nudging its face on the still body of a calf. The baby was indeed lying at an awkward angle.

“Oh no,” I said, “I think that calf died.”

Mom looked through my side window. She nodded.

“That’s so sad!”

“Well, maybe he’s just resting,” she said, patting me on my knee.

“No, really?” We’d passed them now so I couldn’t keep looking back.

“I mean, I’ve never seen a calf rest like that, but sure, maybe.”

My mother was mothering her nearly 40-year-old child who really didn’t live in the if-I-don’t-know-for-certain-it-might-not-be-real world anymore. But it was nice, for a minute, to pretend that I was still that gullible.

Down from on high

August rolled around and we were thrilled to take our honeymoon, finally, a little more than a year after getting hitched. This is fine, as it turns out, since my knee is all better and I’ve had time to rehabilitate the joint such that it doesn’t blow up like a balloon animal after short walks.

And the cruise, as already noted, was fantastic, full of animal sightings, a tour of endangered glaciers (as well as one advancing ice pack), and some funny-because-it-sucked shipboard musical performances.

Then we docked back at the Port of Seattle. This wasn’t like disembarking off of an airplane, which has its own annoyances, including the rush to ignite one’s cell phone, waiting for the dumbasses in rows 5-20 to get their bags out of the overhead compartment so you can move forward, and the lovely time wasting exercise of standing in baggage claim. No, to depart a ship, you have to give your stateroom steward your bags ahead of time, thus leaving each person in your cabin precisely one bag of toiletries, dirty clothing from the day before, and all of your valuables-slash-electronics. Then you proceed with your dirty clothing carryon to some previously assigned room, such as the drinking lounge three decks below your stateroom, so that you can wait around until your specific departure time. This departure time, other than seemingly based on how many prior cruises you’ve taken with the line, is an algorithm of the finest mathematics, calculating  your likelihood of throwing a total caniption if you’re forced to sit around next to a bag of smelly underwear for more than two hours.

Fortunately, one dining room out of five is open this morning, so feel free to stand on your head while waiting for a table.

Finally, we were off the ship, roughly at 10 o’clock. We found a cab after standing in a long taxi line, and made our way over to our car across town. One quick cup of coffee back on land and we were off—to the airport. This would have been a great time to gas up the car, but as is my neurotic need to be early or on time, I could only rush down to SeaTac, as if the seconds were ticking away before my sister and her two daughters were landing. Of course, the seconds were ticking away. A full 7,200 of them. So really, we had time to take it easy. But I think our time in the Vista Lounge had addled my brain somewhat, so we did some more sitting as we waited for their flight to arrive.

Finally, it did, and then we were in the car, heading back to Walla Walla, and oh, what was this on the freeway? Traffic?

Bad traffic, as it turned out. It took us 2 hours to travel about 25 miles. Eventually we were able to go faster, and then we were out of the confines of the city, and the metropolitan area, to boot.

At this point I realized we were seriously low on fuel. Now our Honda CR-V is a handy little vehicle, and by handy, I mean it has a computer for everything. It will tell me if a tire is low, as it did on this day. Not which tire is low, mind you, but that one of the four presently supporting the vehicle, take your guess or buy a gauge. It communicates this status with what looks like two parentheses and a very upset-looking exclamation mark, the whole thing in italics, like this:


That this means “pull over, your tire is low,” is simply an amazing moment for technology to me. Because it SUCKS.

Another attempt at useful computering is the gas gauge. Not only do I have a pixelated series of columns showing me how many twentieths of a tank of gas I have—with 14 gallons in the tank, it’s showing me every .7 gallons per column on my dashboard—but I also have a “miles remaining” calculator. My brain likes this little number, like a friend gently telling me how great the road is ahead. This is so much better than that 1980 Ford Escort I used to drive that actually always pretended I had three quarters of a tank, presumably because 3/4 was just its favorite setting EVAR. I have therefore walked, usually accompanied by rainfall, a couple of miles to a gas station, needing to get a gallon so I can drive to the pump. But now I don’t worry, because my car tells me I have 79 miles left in my tank.

79 glowed at me, all happy and reassuringly. And then it read 78. We had passed an exit with gas a few miles back, well within 78-mile range, but who needed it?

I’d forgotten that the gas calculator takes into account, among other things, and for perfectly understandable reasons, the labor on the engine cylinders. So it was as we began to make our way into the Cascade Mountains, yes MOUNTAINS, that the “remaining gas estimate” changed.

Twenty-seven miles. 27. Fifty miles of level terrain navigating gone, just like that.

We kept motoring, and I saw the road sign ahead. The next town was 42 miles away.

I quickly did the math in my head, because I’m a sentient being, and frankly, it wasn’t hard, and realized we were screwed. Sure, I could turn around, but now we were in the middle of the mountain range, so we weren’t going to get many of those miles, the Lost Miles of 2009, back. I wasn’t sure we’d make it in either direction.

I stopped listening to the conversation in the car, and started sweating instead. It was like I could only do one or the other.

Susanne noticed my silence first, and as she was sitting behind me, she only had to look over my shoulder to read the dash and see the root of my concern. It was at this point that she started gearing herself up, getting ready to start walking for gas when our fumes gave out on us.

Now everyone was aware of our little issue. We had 22 miles, or so the car said. I was grateful for a couple of downhill sections of road, and coasted my way in the right lane. We pulled off as soon as we could, but we were really in the middle of nowhere. Next exit, nothing.

Next exit, down to 17 miles of fuel, and we found a ghost town. It really was like something out of a western movie, with boarded up storefronts on one dusty main street, but darn it, they had a gas station with one pump. You never saw people so excited for crappy noname gas. The girls bounded into the convenience store, and came back out, thrilled to find some kind of purple Monster cocktail that drives parents crazy in 6.4 minutes. And we were off again, 503 miles of gassed up goodness sloshing around in the tank. We may have spiked the sales tax income of that little town for that day.

Your car is your cage

Driving from the east coast to Walla Walla, we stayed in all manner of hotel accommodations. The overdone casino hotel on the reservation in Niagara Falls to the bare but tidy room in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, we had pretty much seen it all, or so we thought. Spending one night in the lodge on McDonald Lake in Glacier National Park, we drove down and under the park, coming out on the other side in East Glacier, Montana.

The innkeeper was decidedly pessimistic about the likeliehood we would keep our reservation.

“We’re just opening up for the season, so we don’t have the cable TV working yet,” she said. “It’s okay if you want to stay somewhere else.”

That would have sounded self-sacrificing if it weren’t for the fact that there were no other hotels open that weekend in East Glacier, and that she had left out one little issue that was actually much more important than the lack of television.

The entire town was under a boiling water ordinance because there was too much particulate matter in the water. Apparently it was safe to shower in and brush our teeth. But who wanted to chance that? I lied under the top sheet later that night, trying not to think about the water the linens had been washed in, and how many microbes were immune to the heat of the dryer, and now staking land claims on my skin. Helpfully, exhaustion from hiking set in, and I slept soundly on the listing mattress, and then we were off to Canada, the next morning. O, Canada!

We had time to look around a little while we traveled. Our favorite (?) parts of Montana, other than the truly majestic beauty of the park, were the town of Hungry Horse and the “Bear Safari” west of the park. It is one thing to name one’s town after emaciated livestock, but quite another to use the town name in logos for local businesses. It just didn’t have quite the same cache as say, fat pandas do for Chinese restaurants. Nobody in our party wanted to eat at any grill featuring horses with exaggerated rib cages.

The Bear Safari was a wild idea, the Wild West’s version of an alligator park, I presume. The idea was you drive through an enclosed area where someone has purposefully placed some number and variety of bears. Real bears. The tagline, “Your Car Is Your Cage,” did not instill us with a sense of comfort. Perhaps if we had been driving a Hummer. And even then, I still wouldn’t drive into that. I should see how long this place has been around, or stake out the opposite side of the street to observe which crazy people actually pay admission to this thing.

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