Tag Archives: driving

Merriweather Blue and the not-so-long journey

Walla Walla is a stop on Lewis and Clark’s exploration across the North American continent, as is evidenced by the seemingly thousands of highway signs dedicated to preserving their memory. Because we had very recently purchased a new car just before our wedding and cross-country move, we needed to come up with a name for it, and well, Lewis and Clark now live on in our household, for we decided upon Merriweather Blue for the car. 

She’s been a reliable, fun vehicle to drive, with nice shocks and a comfortable interior. We enjoy trips in this car, possibly because Susanne used to drive a rather tippy Chevy Sprint, and I a Ford Escort that I pushed more than I drove. Everything is, after all, relative.

Pacific Ocean outside Vancouver

Pacific Ocean outside Vancouver


We piled into Merriweather B. in the middle of Seattle and made our way to the north of the city. Driving by Everett, Washington, was fun because I kept pointing out the amenities of the city as if they were my own. “Look, I have a middle school,” I would announce, pointing at some random building. “Oh, I’m working hard on road improvements using my citizen’s taxes,” I would say. Yes, it got old fast. But Everett was larger than I thought it would be, a proper suburb with all the sprawlish trappings therein.

Washington State pushed up upward into more rugged mountainous terrain and we started seeing snippets of snow alongside the road. Finally we came upon the border, and I mistakenly got in a lane that said, “Nexus Only.” Unfortunately for us, once I realized my error I could no longer leave the lane, lest I drive over orange divider cones and alert the Royal Mounted Police force/Border Patrol/Customs officials to my dalience from the rules. I sheepishly pulled up to the window, our passports in hand.

“I’m sorry, I think I got into the wrong lane. I don’t know what Nexus means.”

She looked at our credentials, very displeased with me.

“What are you doing in Canada,” she asked, tersely.

“We’re going to a conference,” I answered.

“Where?” She sounded like she was sitting on a chair of needles.

“Vancouver.” Hopefully she had heard of it. 

“And what is your business there?”

Was this a trick question? I thought it was a trick question. I looked at Susanne imploringly.

“We’re going to a conference,” she said. 

Say what? That’s what I said! Susanne didn’t know anything more than what I knew! Oh, crap. I count on her to have the right answers to this crap.

“What kind of conference,” was her next question.

I debated, in three nanoseconds, whether to say it was a conference for people who dress up as furry creatures in order to get aroused, then thought better of it.

“Political science,” answered Susanne, and the border guard frowned. Clearly we should have gone with furries.

She handed us back our passports and looked at me, with daggers shining in her eyes, saying, “A word of advice, if you don’t know what something is, don’t get in that lane.”

Well now, that’s extrapolatable to everything else. What a brilliant pearl of wisdom. I nodded, secretly cursing her in my mind, and we drove into Canada. With border patrol agents like her, I thought, Canada better start planning on spending more marketing money to keep its image as a country of nice people, Susanne notwithstanding.

Thirty kilometres outside Vancouver the sun ducked behind clouds, not to be seen for three more days. We made our way to the Hyatt downtown, and checked in to a fancy room devoid of anything complementary. Even the Wi-Fi cost $16 a day. It was like spending time with cheap, rich people, when you bring a nice bottle of wine over to their place and they keep it and open up some crap they bought at Costco instead, and you think to yourself, well, this is why they’re wealthy and I’m not. Yeah, it was kind of like that. But it had a nice view of the street below, and I think Vancouver is the only place on planet Earth where you have mountains and the Pacific across from each other like that. Well, maybe Japan is like that, since it’s been formed by volcanoes. But Vancouver is the first place I’ve ever seen with that kind of terrain, and I found it endlessly fascinating.

Our first evening in town we opted for Ethiopian for dinner, so we checked out Addis Cafe about 20 blocks away. Our Googled directions took us through a neighborhood that is called “Canada’s skid row.” This is funny for several reasons, including the following:

1. Canada has only one skid row.

2. It is this one.

3. Canadians know this because they’ve asked around.

4. Nobody has realized that “skid row” as a concept is like, 70 years old. We call them “crack neighborhoods” now.

While it seemed a bit rough around the edges, I am here to reassure every Vancouverian that really, it’s not a bad neighborhood. But okay, you wouldn’t want to hang around on the corner bleeding $50 bills.

The eatery was small, a row house-style building that was clearly focused on the food and not the ambiance. We ordered a veggie combo with wot and a lamb entree, and were greeted with a  beautiful plate of injera and really well done toppings. The wot was spicy enough to make its presence known to one’s tongue, but without so much heat that it upstaged anything else on the plate. The cabbage was crisp, well spiced, and a great compliment to the lamb, which was tender, rich, and free from gristle, always a possibility with lamb butchering. We also enjoyed the lentils, and the freshly made cheese. We also were delighted to converse with the chef, who was eager and beyond pleased that we’d enjoyed her cooking. She and the waitress were the only employees to be found. I highly recommend Addis Cafe for anyone looking for a low-key, affordable, and excellent meal in Vancouver.

Next up: The Legendary Noodle House and desserts at Sweet Revenge

East side, west side, all around the state

I got up early today, well, early for me, meaning 7:30, well after sunrise but hours before the sun would reach its peak in the spring sky. I got in the car for a long ride to Portland, first following the Columbia River and then dipping down to the interstate. I had plugged in my iPod which is bursting at the seams with 18 gigs of music, I had made a fresh thermos of coffee, and had downed a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios. I had brought with me a banana, directions, my cell phone, and not much else. 

The road from here, Walla Walla, to there is filled with microclimates. East of the Cascade Mountains one will observe magpies; west of them there are none to be found. Out here in eastern Washington/Oregon there are many rolling hills as part of the scrubland landscape–red-brown rocks and outcroppings share space with tan brush that gives the effect of looking like sheep that need to be shorn for the year. Thirty miles west of Walla Walla the gorges begin, and the royal blue river winds through the high hills as if to thumb its nose at the typically pale blue sky up ahead. And that sky is empty; only the long series of enormous windmills dare to drive up that high, standing over the scene like silent giants, spinning slowly and methodically as I zipped by. (Note to Oregon State Patrol: “zipped” means under or at the speed limit.) 

The rolling hills slowly begin to grow, and as they acquire the status of height, they pick up other things: taller scrub brush, small evergreen trees, fine dustings of snow. These, in turn, evolve to another status as deciduous trees appear on the side of the road, the evergreens get taller and taller, and the dust gives way to a thickening green carpet of moss and wild grasses. Now the blue river cutting through the rock looks complementary to the other Mother Earth colors, and then the dams begin, controlling and harnessing its flow.

The dams are not without their controversy. Fishermen wail that their harvests are at all-time lows, just 40 years after the dams were installed. Farmers cry out to keep the dams because they rely on the steady irrigation. Conservationists fret about the livelihood of the salmon spawning capability, tourist guides in Idaho bemoan what the dams are doing to their industry, and security experts talk quietly about risk assessments. I, however, am single-minded in my quest to reach my destination, and decide to defer the arguments for another moment. Such is my luxury.

Dead ahead of drivers on I-84, all of a sudden, is Mount Hood. It looms in the background like a gigantic screen saver and I have to blink many times before I realize it’s the real deal. Snow-covered as far as I can see, top to bottom. A sign that flashes by on my right tells me that it is 11,000 feet tall. That’s two or so miles high, I calculate vaguely. I see the hillsides around it; now they look like a velvet cloth has been cast over them, with the soft grass and moss and the dry patches of sand worked in. I bet this is the doing of the giant windmills. I see parts of two or three windmills passing me on the highway, dismembered on a series of WIDE LOAD-marked semis. Each truck comes with its own pacer car that alerts other drivers to the mystery of the cargo — it can take two or three trucks to figure out what these very very large pieces of white metal are, until you’ve figured it out the first time. 

Eventually I hit actual traffic, and by traffic, I mean more than one tractor-trailer and a nervous-looking woman in a 1990 Ford Escort. I have a moment where my sense memory comes back to me, so I change my distance to the car ahead, lest some jerky driver try to cut me off. I tell myself this is one of the good things about Walla Walla. 

I finally make it to my goal, shut off the car, and walk inside the building, my legs having stiffened up during the long drive and barking at me for neglecting their care. One hour later, I’m back in the car, heading home, to go through the process in reverse, and this time, with the setting sun behind me, gradually turning to a burnt umber and snuffing itself out just as I pull in to the driveway.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a safe flight

We are the proud owners of snow chains. Susanne and I strapped them to the front tires yesterday morning, one $40 purchase closer to being able to get out of our back alleyway and onto the snowy street, which is only 8 snowy streets away from the highway out of town. Turns out we had to shovel the alley all the way out to the street because it was too high for the undercarriage of the SUV. We’re not talking low-riding NASCAR racer here — we’re talking Honda CR-V with a clearance of more than 7 inches. This was not DC snow. Apparently it’s also not Walla Walla snow but since this is our first winter, to us it’s now a package deal in our minds.

Thirty minutes later we had shoveled our way out, and the chains did their job giving the car some traction. Then it was off! To where, we didn’t know. We were just excited to be out of the house! So we went where any red-blooded North Americans would go — we drove to Macy’s and did some last-minute shopping. Nice bargains at the only department store in town, I must say.

Back home, we decided to part out front on the street. The math went like this — if it snowed badly overnight, we’d only have to dig off the car, but if we put the car back in the garage, we’d have to shovel out the whole alley again. So we parked on the street.

This morning, I heard a rumbling like a train was rolling down our street. Unfamiliar with such noise, I looked out the kitchen window. It was . . . wait for it . . . a PLOW! In the alley! Twelve days after the snow first started accumulating, and notably, 30 MINUTES before we were leaving Walla Walla, the plow dug out the alley. Gee, thanks a lot, jackass. Where were you on December 15?

We drove on up to Spokane and it was like a drive into an Agnes Martin painting of white on white. The road was white. The hills were white. The scrubland plants were covered in snow, rendered invisible. The fog was white. The sky — take a guess. There were two rut lines in the road, and so I followed  those to keep on track. I’ve never seen white like that.


Agnes Martin painting

Agnes Martin painting

I think the only place more remote would be the River of No Return in Idaho. Or so it would seem. But come to think of it, there are probably people there. There are not all that many people up here in Spokane. 

As we came into the city limits, the snow started falling again. Forecasts call for a few to several inches to fall today and tonight. We will cross our fingers that our flight takes off on time — and hopefully, with us on it this time.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

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