Monday, June 24, 2013


Malcolm Young's Gretsch guitar, EMP Museum, Seattle, Washington
We are staying near the south shore of Lake Union. Next door to us is a cancer research center, across the street is the lake. From our hotel-room window, we watch aquaplanes take off and land.

It is a healthy walk to most places from here, but as long as the weather holds, Sandra and I are game. Traveling by foot is a good way to learn a city. Feeling the slope of hills in your calves and quads gives a greater appreciation for the terrain, as well as a sense of satisfaction at arriving anywhere.

This belief betrays a bias. I prefer to move as slowly as practical. I prefer to observe along the way, sometimes at the expense of reaching a specific destination.

The means justify the ends.

We are here in time for the 36th Annual Lake Union Wooden Boat Festival. It's a large and friendly looking event that we pass on our way to EMP Museum.

I prefer to observe along the way, but sometimes there is a destination worth reaching. And so we must bypass the wooden boats in favor of all things Jimi Hendrix.

At EMP, we hear original mixes of Hendrix's “Crosstown Traffic” on headphones. Turn down the vocals and listen to Jimi play rhythm guitar like the bad-ass Motown cat he was.

We see Malcolm Young's Gretsch guitar and Angus Young's Gibson SG. We learn that an older brother, George Young, played with the Easybeats and co-wrote their 1966 hit “Friday on My Mind.” And that AC/DC once shared a bill with Split Enz in 1975, which is hard to imagine nearly 40 years later.

We see footage of old John Landis films and interviews with the famous director. We see uniforms from various flavors of Star Trek, Stargate, and other classics.

Upstairs is Sound Lab, where you can play instruments and record music. I jam on guitar and bass for a while, then watch others do the same. Folks with no or limited experience are the most fun, because once they conquer their initial self-consciousness, they discover what musicians know: this is a blast.

So is the museum, and it is difficult to pry ourselves away after only a few hours, but we have packed too many activities into too short a time period and so we must. Back at the lake, we eat at Duke's Chowder House. Our concerns that it might be too touristy are soon alleviated by fine food and drink.

Sandra has crab chowder, steamed clams, and a cherry mojito. I have Northwest seafood chowder and salmon stuffed with Dungeness crab and Oregon bay shrimp, washed down with Mac & Jack's African Amber Ale, which is similar to Ballast Point Calico back home.

From Duke's we return to Safeco for another ballgame. We stop at Pyramid Alehouse, which has good beer but too many people and plastic cups.

At the ballpark, Miss Washington 2011 throws out a ceremonial first pitch. She is kind of gorgeous and has a surprisingly good arm. Former Mariners left-hander Mark Langston, now 51 and a dozen years removed from his last game, throws out another ceremonial first pitch. He is also kind of gorgeous and has a surprisingly good arm.

The home team wins in extra innings. Chone Figgins is the hero, one of the few times that word could be applied to him during his Mariners tenure.

Longtime star Ichiro Suzuki, now in the twilight of his career, collects two hits. He will play seven more games at Safeco as a member of the home team before being traded to the Yankees. Sometimes there is a destination worth reaching. Personally, I'd have stayed in Seattle.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Federal Way to Seattle

Safeco Field left-field entrance, Seattle, Washington
Our seats are in Section 116, field level along the right-field line. The stadium organist plays Weather Report's “Birdland” during warmups.

Dark clouds hang overhead, but no drops fall, as they haven't for several years on this date. The temperature at first pitch is 71 degrees, and there is almost no wind. The retractable roof remains open as the Mariners host the Boston Red Sox.
View from Section 116 of Safeco Field, Seattle, Washington
The gameday program, called “Grand Salami” (a play on the baseball term “grand slam”), features contributions from industry friends such as Jeff Angus and David Laurila. Not the usual extension of a team's public relations department, this program is independently produced and disarmingly honest in its assessment of the Mariners.

Seattle is shut out by a mediocre veteran pitcher named Aaron Cook. I've documented the gory details elsewhere ($), but this excerpt is relevant to our story:

It is understood that when I refer to the Mariners as the home team, I mean in name only. Red Sox fans outnumbered Mariners fans by plenty at both games we attended. Many stayed in our hotel, a fact not lost on folks who worked at said hotel. They expressed, in the diplomatic way that hotel workers must express things to customers, displeasure at seeing so many people root for the “other” team.

This was not an issue before 2004, when the Red Sox broke a nonsensical curse, attracting in the process a legion of people who self-identify as “long-suffering,” which might be the only thing more nonsensical than the notion of a curse. What bothered the hotel workers most was that many of these “fans” called Washington home. Their connection to Boston was that, frankly, that city's franchise had been successful where Seattle's had not.

The hotel workers seemed disappointed at my lack of outrage. As a customer, I could be more passionate about such matters without fear of appearing unprofessional. Instead, I nodded my head and explained that the situation is pretty much the same in San Diego.

They shrugged their shoulders and returned to being diplomatic. I shrugged my shoulders and, blissfully indifferent to outcome, boarded the shuttle that would take me to Safeco Field.

After the seventh-inning stretch, we explore the ballpark. Another industry friend recommends visiting the upper deck for a view of the city. We are not disappointed.
View from upper deck of Safeco Field, Seattle, Washington (Space Needle in background)
Former Padres left-handed pitcher Oliver Pérez finishes the game for Seattle. He is a favorite of ours from his days at Lake Elsinore in the California League, and we cheer when his name is announced. We cheer again when Pérez strikes out another former Padres player, Adrián González, to end the eighth inning.

After the game, on our way back to the hotel via their courtesy shuttle that is nearly an hour late, we pass a man on the sidewalk playing a miniature drum set. I'm reminded of Soundgarden's “Spoonman,” which celebrates and features Seattle street performer Artis the Spoonman.

This is a city of music and musicians. And even as the thwacking of drums recedes, the rhythms resonate within us and lull us to sleep in preparation for tomorrow.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Tacoma to Federal Way

The drive from Tacoma to Seattle is short. We make it last four hours thanks to a stop in Federal Way for lunch with a friend.

Brandon Isleib and I used to write for Hardball Times. We've spent a lot of time discussing baseball with each other, as well as another common interest, music.

He is a fellow composer and musician, so we end up talking about geeky stuff like time signatures. Brandon also writes about Magic the Gathering, another geeky pastime I would lose myself in if I gave it the chance.

Our friendship has thrived in virtual realms for years. Until now, though, we have never met in person.

Sandra and I swing by Brandon's place, and he guides us to Pac Island Grill, which serves real Hawaiian plate lunches. We spend the next two hours and change snarfing a steady stream of grilled meats punctuated by the occasional starchy item.

The food is broke da mouth good, albeit not as good as the company. Our conversation is of no consequence to anyone other than ourselves. It is the best kind of conversation.

Later, when we drop Brandon off, we meet his wife. Amber is a huge Burn Notice fan, which helps when I cannot remember the name of one of that show's villains.

It came up at lunch for reasons forgotten. When I describe him to her, she immediately recognizes him as Simon Escher, played by the exquisitely creepy Garret Dillahunt, who also has a B.A. in journalism from the nearby University of Washington.

Now I don't have to think about that anymore. Amber has relieved me of a great burden. Now I can concentrate on the short drive north.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Butchart Gardens to Tacoma

Butchart Gardens, British Columbia – A rare sight... no people
Butchart Gardens oozes tourists. We permeate the place like a plague, pausing only to gawk and bump into other tourists. The ones from Japan are most charming, neither giving nor taking offense when bodies collide. It's bumper cars with flowers.

The garden's story is long and convoluted, winding like its many paths. Two brothers made a fortune in the cement business. One of the brothers married a Scottish lass, Jennie, who became so famous for her hospitality that she reportedly served tea to 15,000 visitors in one year.

She built a garden, and it kept expanding. Fast forward several decades, and here we all are, bumping into one another.

After a morning of bumping, we eat lunch at the cafeteria. The food is expensive but tasty. We share a salmon noodle salad (vermicelli with black beans, corn, garbanzo beans, peppers, and edamame) and blueberry cheesecake on the patio.

To drink, we have a pint of Hermann's Dark Lager on tap. Hermann's is brewed in Victoria, and it's good to see the local product represented.

* * *

Back on the coach, Lyle is up to his usual tricks. “What an idiot,” he says calmly as a car passes him on the right. “Sorry, he probably doesn't know it's illegal. He's probably from Van-COU-ver.” It's the worst swear word he knows.

* * *

On the ferry, across the strait, off the ferry. Dogs sniff our bags and we return to the car.

More driving. US-101 to WA-104 to WA-3 to WA-16. We cross the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in a carpool lane that confuses us. We can stop at the toll plaza and pay Washington $4 now, or we can pass without stopping and pay $5.50 later. The confusion arises over whether or not carpools must pay a toll.

Either way, we are in a hurry to catch a ballgame, so we keep moving. Months later we receive a bill.

The game–Tacoma Rainiers vs Las Vegas 51s–starts at 7:05 p.m., and we arrive at the 19th Street exit by 6:55. We didn't buy tickets in advance because we weren't sure how long it would take to get from Port Angeles to Tacoma. Besides, when I checked last night, good seats were available for cheap.

Traffic stops. The van in front of us unloads three kids, who walk off the freeway off-ramp and up the hill toward the stadium. It will take us 40 minutes to go that final half mile.

We fail to find the Rainiers game on the radio, catching instead the Mariners up the road in Seattle. Félix Hernández is pitching against the Red Sox.

One of the announcers notes that top prospect Danny Hultzen is making his home debut in Tacoma against ancient left-hander Jamie Moyer, who played for the Mariners from 1996 to 2006. Moyer is 49 years old and returning from a season lost due to elbow surgery. He puts us all to shame.

Meanwhile, we miss the game. This spawns an article ($) that describes, among other things, what happens next:

Whatever the case, we continued along 19th Street to a hospital, not because I needed mending–although this could be another metaphor–but because we had to find our motel. We got directions from our somewhat trusty phones and proceeded to a part of town that defies reasonable description.

To the north, there is an adult bookstore, a thrift shop, and an empty lot strewn with trash. To the south, a dingy-looking Chinese buffet. The freeway was spitting distance from our room, which I know because I felt droplets while we walked to the pizza chain just past the adult bookstore. Or maybe that was rain.

There were some negatives as well, but I'll spare you the details.

Either way, Hultzen was pitching against Moyer about five miles from us. Hernandez was pitching against the Red Sox 35 miles away. And we were carrying a box of chain pizza back past the adult bookstore, the thrift shop, and the empty lot strewn with trash to our room, where we dined in luxury, washing our pizza down with fine craft beer [ed note: Kiwanda Cream Ale and Tsunami Stout] procured some days earlier in Oregon and now sipped–in the mode of Paul Giamatti's character from Sideways–out of paper cups generously provided by our motel.

So if you ask my opinion of Hultzen, I will tell you that his presence in Tacoma helped destroy a perfectly good evening of baseball for me. If you want to know what I thought of Alex Liddi, I can tell you only that the beer was delicious despite being consumed out of paper cups and that the flowers on Vancouver Island made our delay worth the while.

Still, the motel looks like the kind of place that would find you hookers if you asked at the front desk. Not that we ask.