Tuesday, July 14, 2009

2009 - Seattle Neon Weekend

Vienna and I returned last night from our four-day trip to Seattle, ostensibly to videotape Emerald City neon signs but just as much to enjoy some time together during one of the few open spaces in our mutually hectic schedules. I'd just finished teaching a grueling six-week course (cramming 16 weeks into a tightly compressed schedule), and Vienna had some time off from summer work. While the Wood Family is set for our big summer trip in less than two weeks, this weekend was the best chance for dad and daughter, just the two of us, to hang out before Vienna starts her second year of college. The road called us, so we set our course for the California border.

There's not much to report about our first day. We shot north on the I-5 fast-track, pausing only briefly for food and fuel (the 101 image above is from our return trip). We stopped at Eugene, Oregon, staying at the clean and comfortable Broadway Motel. Dinner was at the Hole in the Wall Barbecue, notable for well smoked meats and a fairly decent version of sweet tea (not to mention its surprisingly authentic strawberry lemonade). Feeling somewhat adventuresome, we surveyed our neon options in nearby Springfield, after overcoming our fluster at confusing SR 126 and SR-BR 126. I nearly passed the Holiday Laundromat, still sad that a much cooler sign was not lit, before Vienna recalled my oft-cited dictum (borrowing from Voltaire): "The perfect is the enemy of the good." The Holiday was certainly good enough for our first night. Soon afterward we spotted the Sutton Motel and I unpacked the tripod to grab some swell animation. [Difficulty seeing the embedded video? Point your browser here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hOCW09L37Q4]

The next morning, we drove the remaining four and a half hours to Seattle, grooving on the clearing clouds and anticipating a warm afternoon of blue skies in "Rain City." Our first stop was Pike Place Market (we're suckers for consistency) where we sampled some creamy macaroni and cheese (along with French Onion soup) at Beecher's. After lunch, we ambled along the shops, stopping to watch the guys toss fish for the tourists before buying a tiny box of raspberries. We even checked out the world's first Starbucks location, but chose not to join the lengthy caffeine queue. Returning to our car, we paused at one intersection to gawk at a parade of nude bicyclists celebrating something called World Naked Bike Ride Seattle. This being the Pacific Northwest, no one seemed to mind the spectacle.

Later afternoon was spent north of downtown. We stopped at Archie McPhee's, a goofy shop selling the kinds of silliness you'd typically find in the back of a comic book: a wacky assortment of finger-zombies, cheap tiki mugs, rubber chickens, "real life" skeletons, and other random knickknacks. Thinking ahead to this year's Halloween (our 2009 theme: Zombie Apocalypse) I picked up a bloody severed leg from a bin filled with the gory props; we're talking about maybe a couple dozen hacked-off legs piled up high. Part of the pleasure of Archie McPhee's is the guilty pleasure of thinking, "You never know when you'll need a severed body part. You just never know." So thanks to Archie McPhee's, I'm pretty well stocked up on severed legs.

Afterward we drifted around the Fremont neighborhood, known as the "Center of the Universe" and notable for its unabashed lefty-vibe (see the huge Lenin statue above for ample illustration). Apparently the city mothers and fathers of Fremont even "liberated" a rocket from America's 50s-era Cold War scrapheap; it towers above a local store.

We poked around antique shops for an hour or two, me thumbing through old photo albums now for sale, thinking about the stories told by those pictures: proud families standing next to their tiny houses, uniformed soldiers standing at attention with youthful smiles, pricey baby portraits taken almost a hundred years ago. It seemed an odd thing to consider buying one of these albums, but I weighed the choice anyway. None of them seemed to tell a story I'd want to read more carefully, though, so I decided to move on. Dinner brought us to the somewhat disappointing Luau Polynesian Lounge whose "wilted" spinach salad could hardly be called a trick of false advertising. "Ah," I mused, "That's what the spinach I hated as a kid tastes like!" Still, the tiki atmosphere was above par, with the Elvis shrine adding a nice touch.

After a brief visit to our hotel, Vienna and I hit the road, following leads throughout the SeaTac region in search of animated neon signs. Vienna gamely navigated us from site to site as lightning from a gathering storm danced in the clouds above. Despite my occasionally lousy maps, Vienna maneuvered us through congested surface streets and across a large portion of SeaTac interstates. Hours later, we stowed our gear and crashed back at our room.

Sunday's weather was dreary, but we still had a terrific time together. Morning called us back to Seattle's downtown where we visited the Experience Music Project and the Science Fiction Museum (after an unplanned and gut-busting meal at Buca di Beppo). Truthfully, I wasn't too excited about visiting EMP. I was therefore delighted to find the visit so thoroughly enjoyable. An exhibit called "American Letterpress: The Art of Hatch Show Print" introduced me to a commercial artform about which I knew little (and want to learn more), and Vienna discovered a desire to play with the instruments in the crowded Sound Lab.

The lines seemed overwhelming at first, but the two of us worked together to secure spaces so we could practice drums, lead guitar, keyboards, and try our hand at audio mixing. We even spent ten minutes in the "jam room" - Vienna on guitar and I switching from bongos and keyboard. You'd never believe it: we coordinated our senses of rhythm and tone to produce a pretty good song! It's amazing what decent equipment, lots of reverb, and a bit of whimsy inspires when your only expectations are to have fun.

Satisfied that we'd rocked out sufficiently, we began our trip south, staring in amazement at three separate miles-long traffic jams clogging the northbound road. How happy we were to have missed that nightmare, and how frustrated we were as we empathized with the motorists who rounded the curve before coming to a stop, having no idea what was ahead of them. Feeling blessed, we spent the rest of the day making miles toward the Oregon coast; there, we caught Highway 101 in the pouring rain. The slick, curvy roads inspired Vienna to become remarkably contemplative about her mortality, but we somehow survived the trip and found a decent room in Coos Bay.

Monday rewarded us with gathering sunshine and an open itinerary. With no particular plan (aside from taking 101 all the way back to San Jose) Vienna and I kept an eye out for fun roadside attractions to fill our day. Before long, we came across the West Coast Game Park and Walk-Thru Safari. Yep, we stopped at a petting zoo - and it was awesome. Vienna and I got to hold a lion cub, we made friends with a donkey who seemed to follow us around for the entirety of our stay (see above), and I even managed to avoid getting pecked to death by a peacock who sensed that I might compete for the sauntering pea-babe he was romancing.

The picture above illustrates how Vienna didn't fare too well with the llamas (really, who does?). As with all zoos, this one saddened us to consider how the animals are forced into artificial enclosures. Still, we balanced that regret with happy awareness that the chance to see animals up close inspires people to care for them in a more personal way. Such is the paradox of even the most humane zoos.

Soon afterward Vienna and I departed the rain and gloom as the clouds parted to reveal a bright and pleasant day. We'd feared that we missed the stunning Pacific vistas of the Oregon coast during the previous night drive, but we happily found plenty of gorgeous rock formations set amid blue ocean waters. Indeed it wasn't too long after we departed the zoo that we pulled off 101 again to visit Battle Rock in Port Orford.

For a while we simply stared at the awesome scene until noticing that folks were climbing a tree-topped promontory jutting from the water. Channeling Liz Lemon's catchphrase, "I want to go to there" (uttered in a robotic and vaguely wistful way) we soon commenced to scampering on the sand and stone and trails of wildflowers in search of the summit. Some careful balancing and footwork later, we reached the top and surveyed the beach below. Barks from a dog who challenged the ocean waves accompanied our smiles at being here together.

Returning to the visitors center, we chatted with a friendly guy who recommended a great place for lunch nearby, a cramped restaurant called The Crazy Norwegian. I know I risk losing my credibility with an excess of superlatives, but I can attest that their fish and chips, followed by fresh razzleberry pie with perfect crust and plenty of ice cream, resulted in the best meal I've had in a long time (of course, I have been dieting, so my standards have declined a bit).

The rest of the day was spent cruising through small towns along 101 and counting down hundreds of miles to our post-midnight homecoming. No matter, we were happy to pass the hours chatting. I can't imagine more fun: Vienna and I reminiscing, sharing music, discussing philosophy, swapping trivia, and even debating ethical quandaries. Without being too sappy or sentimental, I have no doubt that the chance to share uninterrupted conversation with my daughter meant more to me than the combination of every neon sign and roadside attraction we visited.

The time flew by, even as we stopped briefly at Klamath's Trees of Mystery to photograph Paul Bunyan (who was busy "talking" to assembled children who stared up at amazement). Dinner was at Garberville's passable Waterwheel Restaurant, followed by lovingly-made sundaes (and free wireless) at the nearby Treats ice cream parlor. A quick photo of the Eel River Cafe (once boasting a phenomenal animated neon sign) and we then returned to 101.

The rest of the night offered more conversation, more yawning from a lengthy drive, and more joy at the prospect of returning home to Jenny, Artemis, and Ariadne (the latter two, our cats, seemingly unaware that we ever left). Somewhat before 1 a.m. we were home.

(Photographs by Andrew and Vienna Wood)


FitToSeeJane said...

I hope you had a great trip and got some good pictures. (You always do).
The bit (bits?) about the nude bikers crack me up. (puns are so disruptive to what I want to say). It doesn't seem like a very effective form of protest. I wonder how it would go over at a Tax Tea Party.

Andrew Wood said...

So nice to hear from you - and thanks for your kind affirmation of my attempts at photography. As to your Nude Tax Tea Party notion, as always, it depends on the protesters. In my case, I think I'd do the world a kindness and protest from my computer. :-)

Mari said...


Love the picture of you and the cub. How cute are the two of you! Hope to see Vienna's picture too.

Jenny Wood said...

I so loved reading about your trip! Though I would've liked to have gone, I'm so glad you had this time just the two of you. It warms my heart.

The pictures are all so great! I love seeing you two with the animals and together on the road. What fun you two had!

Andrew Wood said...

Mari, as per your request, I've just uploaded a lovely pic of Vienna and her lion cub friend. The pic is tagged with her name, so it's easy to find. At a minimum it's accessible from my FB page: http://sjsu.facebook.com/omnitopia