ferry to San Juan
Monday, June 22 2009
setting: Roosevelt Neighborhood, Seattle, Washington
This morning Mary dropped us off in downtown Seattle and we picked up our rental car, which of course had been "upgraded" from the tiny fuel-sipping car we wanted to a PT Cruiser, which pissed Gretchen the hell off. "They always do that. I don't want a big ugly car! The whole point is that I want a subcompact so we don't have to use so much gas. Pluswhich it's fucking ugly!" And it wasn't like we had any need for the extra room the ugliness provided.
Gretchen drove us out of town up I-5, eventually taking a side road to the small port town of Anacortes. The city dropped away quickly, replaced by fields and occasional scraps of forest, all of it predominantly evergreen.
The one good thing about our car was that it featured Sirius satellite radio, meaning we had hundreds of channels to choose between. After flicking around between various talk shows featuring hosts with regional accents that made them sound stupid, we discovered the series of stations at the low end of the number spectrum. Channel 4 had music from the 1940s, Channel 9 had music from the 1990s. Gretchen stuck mostly to Channel 7, playing the music of her favorite decade. I like the 1970s quite a lot myself, but I would have preferred a little more decade diversity. Gretchen thought my problem was that I don't much like the music of African Americans, and I have to admit that there is some truth in this critique. When it comes to music, you can't like what you don't like.
At the Anacortes ferry, cars pay for a round-trip ride and then line up in various lines that are loaded according to what ferry is at the dock and where it will be going. Loud speakers blare across the lines, which are functionally like highway lanes frozen in an extreme version of gridlock, a gridlock so severe that you can get out, buy some coffee, or even take a mile-long stroll along the beach (which Gretchen did; the tide was out and it was a stinking swath of mud). The coastal winds were blowing and it was a little chilly outside the car given the way I was dressed, so I mostly kept in the passenger seat reading articles in the New Yorker. A book review reminded me of the existence of a book called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which I remember people recommending to me back when I attended Oberlin college in the late 1980s. This wouldn't have mattered much, but within a few hours we'd be at our guest house on San Juan Island and Gretchen would find Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in its library, and, remembering the same New Yorker article I was now reading, she would pick it out for lack of a suitably-engrossing mystery (her preferred vacation reading). And I would begin reading it instead. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Eventually we loaded up onto the ferry, a process so efficient that it took only about ten minutes for all the cars and people to board. We quickly left our car down below and went up to the spacious people-friendly (heated and car-free) part of the ferry, the deck with oversized booths and numerous tables, chairs, bathrooms, and even a place to buy food. It turns out that there's a surfeit of human-scale real estate on a conventional American ferry, since the size of the human-scale decks is dictated entirely by the size of the underlying car decks, and in America most folks want to bring their cars with them on the ferry, particularly given, in this case, the expense of the Anacortes parking lot.
Gretchen went up to the food dispensing area, which was only a notch better than a vending machine. There she bought a tray of spicy potato wedges, the closest things yet to French fries on this trip. As we ate them, we looked out the window in hopes of seeing orcas, but all we saw were island after island, many of them ringed with fancy houses. We wondered whose houses they were and how people got to them. Other than transportation issues, it didn't actually seem like a bad place to have a vacation house despite the overcast and seeming absence of a real summer. The rocky coastlines were so beautiful and so wonderfully remote. Having a place here would make you want to own a seaplane, and desire for a seaplane seems like wonderful hankering for a Microsoft millionaire to indulge.
After we drove off the ferry into the village of Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, we parked somewhere and walked around to get our bearings. Not much was happening; it felt like a dusty western town for the most part, complete with rusted out pickups and guys with dogs. There were, of course, occasional tourists with cameras and/or nose jobs, but they weren't in the way.
After asking for directions, Gretchen found the location of a highly-recommended restaurant called Backdoor Kitchen. Its name suggested its obscurity, and to get to it we had to walk past a manure retailer and then across a parking lot to an entrance hidden in shrubbery. But then it turned out that today was Noodle Bowl Monday, the only day of the weak when Back Door Kitchen serves lunch. And it was also the last Noodle Bowl Monday until fall. Who of sane mind doesn't want a noodle bowl? We naturally got the tofu noodle bowl, which I immediately doctored with Rooster Sauce. The noodle bowls were thick with chunky tofu, pan-seared onions, and vegetables, all sitting atop a thick deposit of vermicelli pasta. Delicious! While we were eating, a group of local youths showed up and they all got noodle bowls too. I overheard them talking band-talk, the kind of talk young people have when they're in bands. They have to talk about something since they can't talk about mortgages, kitchen remodels, and the children they don't have.
Gretchen was in an exploratory mood, so we drove out to American Camp on the southeast corner of the island. There wasn't much to see there except for one treeless windswept viewscape, although there an Asian dude there snapping lots of pictures all the same.
At the place we'd be staying, Juniper Lane Guest House, we hauled in our bags and took a load off. It was a cozy symmetrical cottage full of odd wood textures, metallic stucco patinas, and tiles. Though perhaps a bit too close to the road, it was perfectly fine as a base of operations. Out in back a farmer was mowing his hay and there was a Bald Eagle circling above him. looking for creatures he might be scaring up (there were also numerous swallows doing the same thing at much closer range). Eventually the eagle descended all the way to the ground to investigate something which he later abandoned, an antic repeated a half hour later by a Turkey Vulture. At some point an extremely fluffy cat bounded toward us enthusiastically and Juniper (the innkeeper) told us her name was Mossy and that she wasn't allowed in the cottage in deference to allergic guests. We'd be calling for Mossy every time we went outside for the rest of our two day stay at Juniper Lane.
Gretchen was still eager to explore the island, but I needed a nap, and so I slept away a large part of the afternoon. Meanwhile Gretchen drove out to False Harbor and even saw a group of orcas out in the Straight of Juan de Fuca. She didn't know it at the time, but such land-based orca sightings are fairly infrequent.
In the evening Gretchen and I went out for dinner at the island's principle Mexican restaurant, Mi Casita. There was long wait on the porch before a table became available, and we weren't the only ones waiting. There was also a large party with a severely-disabled young man in a wheelchair. The poor guy couldn't talk or walk but, as Gretchen pointed out, his parents saw fit to put shoes on his feet in an effort to make him more human. Gretchen has a very pragmatic view when it comes to the deeply disabled, and it makes sense: why bother? There is so much suffering in this world, why expend so much on those who aren't even aware of their circumstances? Gretchen thinks life itself is overvalued, particularly when it isn't accompanied by happiness or quality. She doesn't believe in no-kill animal shelters, and she doesn't think there's any point in keeping the ridiculously handicapped alive. Life is a precious, expensive thing that should be reserved for those who actually want it.
I'd ordered a burrito hoping for the Los Angeles experience, but I ended up with a Staunton, Virginia circa 1982 experience. The burrito came out on a plate covered with shredded iceberg lettuce and a dollop of sour cream. Also beneath the blanket of lettuce were large sides of rice and beans. It was actually quite delicious, but the presentation seemed deeply and offensively anachronistic. As for Gretchen, she'd ordered a bunch of sides so as to construct her own vegan tacos. Unfortunately, our waiter was a total stoner and kept forgetting essential pieces of her order even after she told the guy a second time.
At some point the retard in the wheelchair started making extremely loud Wookie noises, and everyone in the dining room continued on with their dinner as if nothing strange was happening.
After dinner, on a whim, we ducked into Friday Harbor's only movie theatre, Palace Theatre. It's a duplex and the options were The Proposal and The Hangover. We picked the latter entirely based on our love for fellow Oberlin attendee Ed Helms. I'd heard the interview he'd given to Terry Gross about The Hangover and it made me want to see it.
The theatre was small, reminding me of the smaller theatres back when Staunton Virginia experimented with a multiplex in its downtown back in the 1980s (around the same time I was devouring decidedly non-Angeleno burritos). Not surprisingly, most of the other people in the theatre were teenagers.
As for the movie, it was hilarious at times, although at other times it seemed needlessly cruel and unfunny (I'm referring here mostly to the scene where schoolchildren are encouraged to repeatedly taser our heroes, tasering the ugliest of them the most.) At other times it hued unnecessarily close to Hollywood convention, showing, for example, the effects of hangover as being most severe on the least attractive of the heroes and least severe on the douchebag playing the role of masculine eye candy. Still, aspects of the movie were innovative. Most of the events that happen to our heroes are presented as an unknown mystery that they have to puzzle out based on the evidence the next day: a missing tooth, a baby, a tiger in the bathroom, and a hilarious twist when they go to retrieve their car from the valet. Other things go completely unexplained but provide comic texture all the same. It was the perfect movie to see while on vacation in dusty frontrier village at the opposite edge of your country.
The Anacortes Ferry, on the last spit of mainland before the San Juan Islands.
A little zebra-patterned jumping spider on an outdoor picnic table at Backdoor Kitchen on San Juan Island.
Applying Rooster Sauce (that's what I call it) to my noodle bowl. It just happened to be Noodle Bowl Monday at Backdoor Kitchen.
Me and Mossy the Cat (in the shade of the bench) at Juniper Lane Guest House. Mossy is not allowed indoors because so many people claim to be allergic.
Juniper Lane Guest House.
A dragonfly and a Bald Eagle in a single photo.
A Bald Eagle flies over the hayfield behind Juniper Lane Guest House.
False Harbor, a side trip Gretchen took without me.
An orca fin at False Harbor, as photographed by Gretchen.
A lime kiln at False Harbor, as photographed by Gretchen.
Lime kiln furnace.
A stainless steel π somewhere east of False Harbor, as photographed by Gretchen.
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