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North By Northwest

by William J. Hughes, February 12, 2014

North to Boonville. I’m going, finally, to Seattle. That’s about all everyone around here in Sacramento refers to when the inevitable I should, could be living somewhere other than here comes up. It’s better in Portland, Seattle. It rains but…

I-5 north to get there and plans for 101 south back.

Been up north to Redding to Calatrava’s Sundial Bridge across the real Sacramento River, not the delta ditch around Sacramento. The white egret bridge was confusing, very rural surroundings meet futuristic in a not so comfortable sci-fi fit.

Mt. Shasta, like Buddha with a cloud crown. Been around Burney, water, water, everywhere, the Fall River thick and rich to the brim/rim. Been around Yreka on the Irish green coast at a cattle ranch somewhat helping with the calving. If you showed that California to all the outside California dreamers they’d think it was from some odd/other California dream.

Up, up and across the border into Oregon, sun, slightly rain, softly, steady.

Ashland. You haven’t Shakespeared? You must, like you were nuts for not. The town is New England on this coast, fall colors in bunches, mist and moist. It somewhat disappoints. I wanted, expected the Shakespeare stages to be out in the woods, Birnum Woods (get it?), but they’re close to town. I guess why, restaurants and nearby stuff.

Back on I-5, a Shenandoah Valley on this coast, all the lush colors still wet on the canvas, always half-shrouded hills, Brigadoons, lumber logs on lumbering lumber trucks, the former trees all chained down.

First stop for the night in Eugene to stop halfway up, and to see the mega-sports complex of the Oregon Ducks who can’t beat our Stanford “trees.” I keep that to myself, friendly as the reputation is up here, once you poke an opposing football fan.

The campus football complex is, I think, a disgrace to education, gargantuan, but a money maker, and try and take it away from the populace, the stadium looming up in the twilight, a certain Roman grandeur, but when in the USA of Rome…

It’s rainy with slashes of sunlight in the morning and on to Portland, where everyone’s all-natural dreams are supposed to come true. That’s the idea from down in Cali anyway.

Been a long time since I was here but even then much impressed by its user-friendliness. All I’d ever known was Manhattan so anyplace like Portland is like a village squared.

Can hardly see it from what I can see through the gray cover. It looks a bit too jumbled together, a rusted gray-green on the over and under passes, old, like an old shoe factory town in Massachusetts. Don’t hate me Portland; I know where your heart lies.

The rest up to Seattle is hurtling traffic, lumber trucks with moss covered logs, never as desert dull as I-5 to Los Angeles, always green, always a few signs to Mt. St. Helens and Rainier, the line of fire right down to Lassen. The two mountains on the way back depending on the cover — the clouds decide.

Boeing decides whether Seattle lives or dies, a couple of miles of its home base as you arrive, military like, then two industrial gray pods, the baseball and football gods. Ehh-gods! And the skyline not at all pleasing to the eye, looking like a great locale ruined by a metropolis.

But I’m here to “experience” it, first stop being a Studio Motel 6 north of town, complete with kitchenette and the same reasonable price.

The city’s “Music Experience” by celeb-architect Frank Gehry. I don’t own a car so any city parking always takes me by surprise.

The Gehry Hall is ridiculous, Gehry gone all over-inventive because he can because of his breakout Bilbao Spain/Basque Getty Museum, his metallic building here representing what? Not rock ‘n’ roll and native son Jimi Hendrix and Curt Cobain or Pearl Jam. I expected that, not Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall in Cleveland by the other celeb-architect I.M. Pei, Gehry’s is too sterile, too airport terminal. And that’s the outside.

Experience Music Project, Seattle

Experience Music Project, Seattle

The inside doesn’t disappoint, meaning I expected it to disappoint. Again, too sterile, too cold, too big to reflect the Jimi Hendrix at Monterey Pop or each Fillmore on each coast, no roadhouse feel, no Sun Studio Memphis, no Muscle Shoals or Ashbury Park.

There’s guitars and techno-touch stuff but cold to the touch the same way in Cleveland showed off its rock ‘n’ roll “stuff.”

That’s enough, some Sci-Fi and pop culture stuff but so what? And no, I didn’t go up in the Space Needle. I’ll save that stuff for an amusement park.

Asking around about legalized pot, wanting pot shops on each block. No, not yet. Nuts.

Coffee, the holy water of the city, Starbucks prayed to ten times a day on ten different corners. I see them of course, but setting a course for the Public Market and the waterfront.

Seattle is too big for me, too used to my ten walking blocks of Sacramento complete with restaurants, bookstores, cafes, and coffee.

Parking is a pain eventually, the Public Market kind of carnival midway like, trinkets and shops, fish on ice, trinkets and farm to fork, cobblestones, tent covers, a Starbuck’s like the first one, small and teashop like, a line out the door, also a French Bakery café next door. In there, can there be such a thing as a bad cup of coffee these days? Drizzly rain.

The waterfront doesn’t do much for me. It’s not in Santa Monica, sorry. Early darkness so headlights on as I bump around Seattle for its celeb-architect Rem Koolhass’ central library, not for going in it because parking is a pain, for just the view of the big elevated cube of it. There’s a Powell’s of Portland type bookstore somewhere in here but I’m city-satisfied, almost. A stop back near the Public Market, a scaled up art gallery only for native northwest art, masks and Orca gods, not trinkets.

All cities have suburbs, even Seattle, and the I-5 traffic slows, clogged, mobbed, the usual globs of it. Why is it called “rush” hour? “Crawl” hour sounds much better.

My Motel 6 is the best so far and that’s saying a lot of Motel 6’s across America. I can use my little kitchenette instead of fast-fooding it. I can’t remember the name of the supermarket I went into for my dinner essentials but “wholly organic,” you can get well just walking in, free bites all over the place, from fresh shrimp to pumpkin cookies. I’m not exactly a starving artist, but I’m certainly on a budget so round and round I go, twice around at least before they have to call the deli police.

Raining in the morning. I guess up here it’s like the weatherhead in LA. “It’s 75 again today…” Up here “There’s a chance of rain today…”

Nothing can rain on today’s parade — the ferry out to the San Juan Islands from Anacortes.

Friends said I had to do Canada but here I am in Anacortes at the ferry terminal like Long Island to New London, Connecticut, after a cup and a bagel at one of those uncountable coffee kiosks that we need more of back home.

The rental car comes on board with me, sun shining, crisp as a Washington apple. Sorry, when on location…

Out on deck, on the lookout for Orcas. Not so possible this time of year, one of the crew members tells me as the big ferry plows through the inland sea, headed for Orcas Island. How could I not?

Disembarking, driving — my kind of hiking.

Swanky and down to earth farming and yachting, resorts, Viking land like — forests and rugged coastlines, sun shining brightly, only 26 miles around and lo, or rather, hi and behold, a nine-hole golf course as green as all greens combined, local non-yokels out on the course, the clubhouse more like a large toolshed; rustic golf, the better of the two worlds. The reason I mention the golf, Bandon Dunes, Oregon vs. Pebble Beach on the way back home. And lo and behold a street called Enchanted Forest Road. It is.

Hefty and humble homes, Orca symbols everywhere, the holy of the whole earth before we got here, the open Orca Pacific out there beyond the other forested islands.

Someone brought an art gallery to Orca Island, with a young lady born of Sacramento, who tells me the Seattle I want is Bellingham. She teaches pre-school on the island so it’s not exactly cut off. Not exactly to the point where they have one of the most remarkable, most “cool,” most “radical,” most “awesome,” skateboard parks I’ve ever seen. Who knew?

Last ferry out at 5:10pm. A gift shop and a café, windows on the twilight/sunset colored waters of the harbor. Orca cards, Orca in traditional totem form. Nobody around.

And here comes the ferry, right on time, steamboat like.

It’s that time of late day when it’s dark and light together, purple, with an orange/red sunset line across the horizon, house lights like signal lanterns on the islands, our ship all aglow, white wash from under the stern sparkling in the dark, stars bright, almost full moon, too, an almost native view with local natives out on the deck with me agreeing that the 1%ers are taking more than their share of the islands now when once upon another idyll…

Docking, heading north for Bellingham, raining. It’s winter but is this also spring and summer and fall?

In Bellingham, by chance, down the block from the 6, Boomer Burgers Drive-In, classic, nuclear-familyish, well used, drive-up slots, gorgeous young women as the “hops” minus the roller skates. Even in the dark Bellingham looks like it fits the bill, Seattle cut down to size, medium.

Raining in the morning and Bellingham is easy around, squat, set out on the North Coast. A breakfast café where Bogart with a butt meets hipster with a blunt.

That done, by the cloud covered height of the sun it’s time to head home.

A lot of I-5 south to Eugene again and a Rt. 136 out to the coast but no Rainier or St. Helens, ceiling too less than zero.

Now it gets better, Oregon all wet and fertile and the coastline all Easter Island and Scandinavian, those chunks of land in the Pacific like our own eternal Easter Island heads, another America from all the Americans there are, and humpbacked sand dunes.

Golf. Do you love golf? Do you breathe golf? Do you smell the salt air of the living museum of the Scottish links? Well, here it is, Bandon Dunes, courtesy of some guy named Kaiser from Chicago who made his millions from greeting cards on recycled paper. Don’t that make you haters of land consumption golf feel better?

This doesn’t feel like Scotland; it is Scotland, low links course, scrubby and verdant green, weather appropriate, rainy, breezy, sunny, nobody around, Bandon Dunes and two other links courses and a 3.5-acre punch bowl, undulating putting green to get you used to Scottish putting surfaces, and, not a driving range, a practice center complete with a miniature practice golf course.

I’m flabbergasted. I tell all of them here on staff that they’ve somehow topped Pebble Beach, inns, and lodges, suites and cottages, only for golf for miles around at a reasonable price beyond belief.

Believable, 101 south through the Redwoods, Boonville on, not steroids, more rain all the time, my car made tiny, me too, beneath the giants. What a planet, imagining us not on it, but grateful we could stop the axes at some point.

Pointing my nose on over above Clear Lake on Rt. 20 to I-5 at Williams, Yuba City, Sacramento, not raining.

One Response to North By Northwest

  1. T. C. Chill Reply

    February 13, 2014 at 11:54 am

    Just keep on writing those articles about the rainy, moss-covered Pacific Northwest. As you’ve noticed, our traffic IS bad. We can never get to Starbucks for all those “lumber trucks carrying logs.” FYI, even in Mendocino County the lumber trucks carry lumber…. (the long flat things) and log trucks carry logs… (the long, roundy things). And no, Portland is not Manhattan and there should be more bagel shops on the west coast. East coast transplants never think of themselves as provincial and yet they can be capable of making some pretty ignorant pronouncements, such as Seattleites praying to the gods of a famous home town coffee company. Oh, how little you know us! Not everyone slakes at the sign of the green logo, let alone prays to it ten times a day… News alert, some won’t even cross the threshold! This is coffee snob central, the choices are many and people have their faves. But then how could you get to know us from a motel in the north end? Eeuw. Don’t compare us to Santa Monica, don’t diss our architecture, or make fun of our rain (which HELLO, Cali could certainly use). The orcas and Mount Rainier only show themselves to the worthy.
    GO HAWWWWKS!!!!!

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