Saturday, May 16, 2009

surprise trip to seattle

My uncle said, “Why don’t you take the bus to Portland? It’s cheaper.”

I said, “Taking the bus is for poor people. I’m taking the Amtrak train.”

As it turns out, the Amtrak route to cross the US-Canadian border is a bus, and what should be a four hour trip by car has turned into a twelve hour one, thank you US Customs. Thank God its been a pleasant day mostly overall. The Canadian Border Services Agency is one of our main clients at work, so I spend a lot of time drafting legal advice about border issues, so I know how much power border officials wield and how strict they could be. This led me to pull a Liz Lemon, wolfing down my sandwich as fast as I could before customs officials could confiscate my “smuggled” food. Unfortunately, it’s the long weekend, and every single Canadian wants to spend the Queen’s day in the States, so there was a massive hold up at the Customs border. That left me with two hours to wait in a crowded bus and hold my pee while feeling pretty nauseous from eating greasy sandwiches too quickly. Mmm.

It was all made up with a delicious coffee at the first Starbucks that was built 1971), in Seattle. Let me explain something first: I wasn’t supposed to be in Seattle. I was supposed to be on a train to Portland. But thanks to the good people at the border, and every other vacationing Canadian, I missed my connecting train and found myself stranded in Seattle with three hours to kill. Not that it’s there aren’t worse places to kill time.

As I stepped out of the King Street Station, I felt the warm sunshine hit my skin and thought, “Crap. I am screwed.” Because I had left all planning everything to the last minute, I did not have a single American cent in my pocket. I asked a man at a Tourist Information booth, who told me there was no currency exchange place except on Pike Street. I am pretty sure this was a lie and a ploy to drive me into the tourist distict.

At any rate it worked. As I rode on Seattle’s (FREE!) public transit buses, it occurred to me that I only had to find an ATM to take out American cash. By that time, I was already halfway to the Pike Market. Oh well The first place that I found an ATM was a strip club. For once in my life I exercised my judgment and decided to go for the second ATM I found – conveniently located right next to the world’s first Starbucks in the Pike Market. It’s definitely worth checking out, for anyone in Seattle, if not just because of the fact that this location has the original Starbucks logo. Not many people realize that the double-tailed mermaid logo we are familiar with today is very, very, very edited (read: BOOBS).

After I treated myself to some bobo booby corporate coffee, I strolled through the Pike market. I love Seattle for the sole reason that there seemed to be a Food & Wine Festival going on at the time with many, many, many free samples, mostly cheese-based. Yessssss. I found another Starbucks (my total Starbucks count during my three hour stint in Seattle was about eight), in front of four old black men were serenading the crowds with old school Motown songs a cappella. I bought myself some roasted corn on the cob and sat at the harbourfront listening. You know, we all love to hate America, but there are pieces of American culture that I can’t help loving. Starbucks. Motown. Corn. Fat, friendly Texan tourists that call you ma’am. The weather was beautiful and sunny, and I decided to walk all the way back from the Pike Market to the Pioneer Square to the station.

the train ride to portland was odd. The car next to us was full of drunk middle-aged people who stop everyone that passes through on the way to the dining car to sing Happy Birthday. Then they demand a speech. For me, they decided to sing Van Morrison’s “Gloria”. Everyone that emerges from the car has this flushed smile on their face. I wonder if I will be like that, drunk and happy, when I am old.

am in the travelodge now. was thinking about going to the jazz bar nearby, but i saw that it was karaoke night, and i'm tired from, er, sitting on public transit for thirteen hours. tomorrow i begin exploring the city of roses. till then i sign off with the train conductor's message:

"Thank you for choosing Amtrak. Chickadee China, the Chinese Chicken."