without an hour
Friday, June 19 2009
setting: rural Hurley Township, Ulster County, New York
Today we'd be flying out to Seattle from the Albany airport, an unusual luxury because it meant getting to the airport would be easy and stress-free (normally, you see, we fly out of Newark or JFK). But when the alarm went off this morning, it looked a little too light outside to be 4AM, even if it was only days before the summer solstice. Still, I didn't think anything about it until Gretchen let out a shriek from downstairs. It wasn't 4AM, it was 5AM! There had been a power outage yesterday and Gretchen had, for whatever reason, accidentally set the clock to what amounted to Central Time. This meant that we now had only an hour and a half to get on an airplane at an airport that was an hour away. For obvious reasons, there was no time to eat or worry about hygiene. Luckily, we'd packed the night before, so we were on the road in less than five minutes. Gretchen was at the wheel because priority needed to be given to speed (as opposed to safety).
Normally at a little airport like Albany, one doesn't expect to encounter lines or security hassles. Hell, we've actually been pretty good at avoiding these problems at big airports as well. This morning, though, the airport Gods weren't smiling on us. There was a huge line at the Southwest check-in, and it turned out that we had to check in in person. "We're going to miss our flight!" Gretchen moaned as she surveyed the lumbering throng of bleery-eyed travelers in front of us. Somehow, though, she managed to convince a half-on-duty checkout agent to expedite our service. But then we found ourselves at a security checkpoint that seemed convinced that Osama bin Laden himself would be departing at some point this morning from the Albany airport. Gretchen managed to talk us past a few people in front of us in line, but then of course Gretchen's bag was singled out for extra scrutiny. I'll cut the suspense; we made the flight, but it was like boarding a city bus. The moment we were in our seats, the plane started backing away from the concourse.
After two hours in the skies over the East, we had a half-hour layover in Midway Airport in Chicago, and then a four hour flight to Seattle. Because we were flying in the direction of the sun, watch time crawled at about half its normal speed.
We caught a Seattle municipal bus out in front of the airport and rode it out to where we'd be staying, at Mary Purdy's house in the northeastern Roosevelt Neighborhood. As a refresher, I should mention that Mary Purdy (that's her real name) is someone Gretchen befriended back in Oberlin. Until about four years ago she lived in Manhattan and worked as a comic and actor. Since moving to Seattle, she has abandoned showbiz and become a nutritionist (though not a vegan).
On the bus ride I found myself developing a snap opinion of the people of Seattle, which is never a good idea when the representative sample is sitting on a municipal bus. The guy next to me was an enormously fat young man dressed all in black. In his hand was a vintage video iPod, the thick kind with the little wheel on the front. It had a visible patina developed after years of constant contact with greasy fingers. The man kept looking at it and manipulating it, though occasionally he'd produce an equally-weathered flip phone in his other hand and manipulate it as well. Seeing such facile use of such aged electronic marvels by such an unphotogenic man seemed futuristic, in a Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome kind of way. Meanwhile my right ass cheek had no place to rest and so had to be cantilevered out over the aisle.
Just in front of my seat was a seat occupied by three teenagers. None of them were fat, but they weren't very attractive either. All of them had decided to go down the gothic path. There was a girl with blond roots who seemed to be the odd one out of the threesome, which at first seemed to otherwise belong to boys. The other two were in a continual state of embrace (punctuated by occasional embraces of the third), and at first I was charmed that teenagers would be so open about homosexuality. But later in the ride I realized the tallest of the dudes, the one with the biggest and blackest hair, was actually a girl. She seemed a little cuter once I saw her clearly in the face.
By this point the bus was in downtown Seattle, which it accessed through a series of underground tunnels that had been built exclusively for bus use (there were no cars in these tunnels, and they were punctuated by subway-style stops). This seemed like a clever way to integrate buses into areas of extreme congestion. In other places I noticed that buses were powered by electricity pulled from wires overhead (like in San Francisco).
Mary's house was a nice little 1920s Craftsmanesque single family unit behind Roosevelt High School. It had a yard full of weird non-Mediterranean West Coast vegetation and wide roof overhangs to keep the rain off the foundation. At first I thought the brackets supporting the overhangs was indicative of the house's style, but gradually I came to see that all houses in Seattle have such overhangs.
By this point, Gretchen was excited to go out and explore Seattle, but all I wanted to do was nap. I lay down on the couch in Mary's living room and promptly fell asleep. Later Mary's boyfriend appeared and helped me set up the bed in the cozy attic upstairs, and there my slumbers continued.
Eventually I awoke and found Gretchen and Mary downstairs. While they nattered on about the many things wide-awake people enjoy discussing, I was still waiting for my brain to fully boot up. (Not all the little icons had yet appeared in the lower right of my taskbar.)
It was dinner time, and so we set off on foot for a place Mary likes called Araya's Vegetarian Place, a Thai restaurant. If there's one thing Gretchen doesn't get enough of in the Hudson Valley, it's Thai food, and this place had vegetarian in its name.
There was a light rain falling for much of our walk, which was over a mile, and I was the only one not wearing a rain coat. But Mary is serious about conserving fuel. She burns exclusively biodiesel in her car, and (perhaps because biodiesel is now essentially fungible with regular diesel) she drives it as infrequently as possible.
Araya's seem spacious due to a mirrored wall but its booths and warm colors made it cozy all the same. And our waitress uncommonly nice. She patiently explained the hotness scale, which went from one to five, although higher numbers were also possible. I wanted hot food, but I wasn't trying to prove anything, so I ordered my entree spiced to five. This decision led to a bit of a disappointment, as the resulting food was only about as hot as Gretchen normally makes Thai food for me, and it wasn't even any hotter than the delicious "Drunken Mushroom Soup" the three of us ordered together. I had been hoping to have the reflexively-rapid pacing of my eating slowed a bit by chemical heat. Still, the meal was a delight. Later we went on a rambling walk back to Mary's place. By now the rain had been replaced with cold, and I hadn't dressed for that either.
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