We woke up just late enough to get a full night's sleep, and early enough to meet the hostel's strangely rigid checkout policy. We stowed our bags at a temporary locker space next door to the hostel and hit the street. Our first priority was a big, greasy meal, and as such, we chose Lori's Diner, just off Union Square on Powell Street. While Erp ordered disgustingly huge and greasy brunches for each of us, I ran across the street to the drug store to get some aspirin. When I walked back in, our meals had already been ordered, and I availed myself of the aspirin immediately, as my tailbone was not feeling the greatest.
After we settled up at Lori's, we walked in no particular direction, with me snapping photos all along the way. By luck, we followed Grant Street right through Chinatown, glimpsing the "legal" ivory displays porminently featured in many of the shops, alongside small personalized California license plates, wooden back-scratchers, and other stupid tourist crap.
We emerged on the other end of Chinatown at Columbus Avenue, and I directed us to the northwest, the direction in which I was confident lay the San Francisco Brewing Company. Instead we walked along the street through a decidedly Italian neighborhood, coming into the open at Cathedral Square. Almost immediately, we noticed the new(to us) San Francisco location of the Rogue Ales Public House.
We stepped inside, had a couple drinks, and it turned out, an altogether lovely time. Phillip behind the bar was more than happy to push his wares upon us, and dropped off small one-ounce tastes of any of the 40+ taps that he thought we would enjoy. When we received our check, we noticed that the second round had been stricken from our tab, so we thanked Phillip voraciously. He also informed us that we had walked in the wrong direction to get to the SF Brewery. He steered us in the right direction, and we were soon there.
We enjoyed the Brewery quite a lot, but nothing of particular record happened there. We stepped outside and caught the next #12 bus, and transferred to the next southbound #22 bus. Soon after, we found ourselves in the middle of "The Haight," and within sight of the first thing I always have in mind when thinking of San Francisco: Toronado.
Toronado is pretty generally regarded as the best beer bar west of the Appalachian Mountains, and is well worth the transcontinental trip. If you ever find yourself in San Francisco, make Toronado a priority, or I'll never speak to you again. We walked in and loaded up on draught beers that are basically impossible to find anywhere else. I won't bore you with their names.
We caught the #7 back into the downtown area, and rounded off our visit with dinner at some Indian restaurant of which nobody has ever heard, and enjoyed an unfairly excellent vegetarian meal, along with beers in accoutrement. We walked from there to the stowage place and got our bags which, to our collective delight, were intact and unmolested. We then got back on the BART, waving goodbye to America's greatest city.
We got off in downtown Oakland, walking this time to the station, but making one last pitstop at some barbecue place where I confirmed that yes, my tailbone is indeed bleeding. I will inquire about a doctor in Chico. For now, the bumps and curves of the train are torturing me as we make the five-hour trip to Chico from Oakland.
When the train left Scaramento at about 1:15am, it became quickly apparent that traveling north from Sacramento is a lot like falling off the face of the Earth. Very quickly, the darkness was complete. Even when pressing our faces against the blackened windows, we were still unable to make anything out except our own reflections in the glass.
I couldn't tell you what the country between California's capital city and its northern neighbor looks like. It was just too dark. The unbelievable blackness was only interrupted by the two or three times we passed through a dusty, blink-and-you'll-miss-it town. There weren't even farmhouses or streetlights to mark the passage of distance.
The boredom was terrible, especially for me. I was almost completely unable to sleep, such was the acuteness of the pain in my tailbone. I had only pain with which to pass the time. I don't think I can remember a more unpleasant three hours in my life.
We finally arrived in Chico at about 3:30am, and took a cab for the meager distance to the motel where we had arranged accomodations. We fell in, and went immediately to sleep.
This morning, we got up, cleaned up, repacked everything, and headed out the door toward Chico's Enloe Medical Center. On the way we passed through Chico's bustling central business district, and through some beautiful residential neighborhoods, silly with hundred-year-old Frank Lloyd Wright-facsimile homes and mature sycamore, eucalyptus, palm, maple, and redwood trees, all nestled around Bidwell Park, a park of massive dimensions, surpassed in size only by New York's Central Park.
Hyperbole seems to be a common affliction in marketing your city to outsiders, regardless of where you are. Our cab driver the night before, on teh way from the train station to the hotel described it as "the largest national park in the world," with an area of 356,000 acres. I doubted this, as that's an area roughly equivalent in size to the state of Connecticut, or 556 square miles. Also, it's a city park, not a national park.
In any case, the park was lovely; alive with trees, lawns, and museum-like attractions. Before turning in last night, we both emphatically agreed that I'd see a doctor today. We therefore walked the two miles or so to Enloe Medical Center, as the day's first official business. We sat in the Emergency Room's waiting room, waiting to be seen about my aching tailbone, which incidentally left blood stains on the hotel sheets, the previous night.
Eventually I was shown to another room, where I answered a lot of embarrassing but necessary questions. The doctor entered the room soon afterward, and proceeded to slide down my boxer shorts and examine my shame. Then, just as abruptly, he exited the room, with my exposed buttocks in plain view to everyone in the office area of the emergency room. He came back shortly after that, and announced that I have a pilonidal cyst. The good news was that it had already ruptured and had been steadily draining its contents into my underpants, rather than painfully swelling, and making me think that a small troll had settled in my upper ass.
The bad news is that it'll require surgery to remove it. Since surgery would require a relatively extended stay, and because surgery wasn't an urgent need, the doctor prescribed a couple of antibiotics and painkillers. For the whole day, we never saw a pharmacy, but that was okay, because the cyst itself was expertly bandaged up, and gave me no more real problems after that. Even the pain began to subside. So after we couldn't find a Walgreens or a Rite-Aid through an active search, we just gave up searching altogether, and got to the business of visiting the far city of Chico, population 71,000.
We took a Butte County Transit bus back to the downtown area, keen to fill our stomachs before whetting our whistles. We found what is perhaps the greatest sandwich shop in the California Republic, Mister Pickles. My sandwich, which bore the same name as the shop, consisted of chicken, pepper jack cheese, lettuce, tomato, garlic sauce, red onions, mayo, fresh avocado, and some sort of magic.
Quite satisfied from our delicious lunch, we went and got officially started with a walk around the campus of Chico State University, regarding with admiration the prevalence of bicycle use in Chico, especially by college students. I also couldn't help myself gawking at the unfairly beautiful women trotting around campus, and making a concerted effort not to stare, seeing as they were, on average, born in 1987.
After our walk around the gorgeous, park-like campus, we followed the advice of one of the counter girls at Mister Pickles, and went for a drink at Madison Bear Garden, affectionately known to locals as, "the bear." We found, upon entering The Bear, that Chico loves its native-son brewery.
The largest non-grey brewery in the Western United States, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, is located in Chico, and it shows in the draught selections at every bar around town. Some bars even had multiple taps for the brewery's Pale Ale. The brewery's presence had more than a little bit to do with our visit here, as the Pale Ale is Erp's "all-time favorite," beer.
We enjoyed some local beers at, "The Bear," and some repeats of the classic rock that had been playing at Mister Pickles before. To our amazement and intense delight, Sierra Nevada beers were all $1.99 a pour. The bartender told us that the also-delicious Butte Creek Brewery was within a reasonable walking distance, so we paid our tabs, and went on our way.
When we arrived at the indeed proximate brewery, we were disappointed to learn that it's just a plain old place of business. There was no pub, and no chance to get a tour. They were very friendly as they broke the news to us, but we were still to leave empty-handed the way we came.
After wandering around for a bit longer, Erp got the idea to visit the Yo-Yo Museum, conventiently located in downtown Chico, tucked into the back of a shop that specializes in insipid crap that most likely appeals to middle-aged, small-voiced, married women. Despite its unlikely setting, the yo-yo diplays were fascinating. The world's largest wooden yo-yo was on display there, and we liked this very much. Imagine a town so free of the cares of the outside the world that they can boast the largest unusable toy in the world.
As we ogled the cases full of novelty yo-yos and other yo-related paraphernalia, an employee approached us and started talking with us about yo-yos, and the annual championship that is held in Chico every October, all the while chucking a yo-yo around, doing tricks that would make a physics professor angry. He seemed a bit put off by the fact that we had no more than a passing interest in yo-yos, and that we were more interested in the novelty of a museum and hall of fame for yo-yos should exist at all.
Nonetheless, he was happy to give us directions to our next stop, and the main reason for our visit: Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. For this part, we needed to call a cab to cover the distance, as the self-guided tours would be over by 6pm, about an hour away. We walked over to the motel where we stayed the night before, and asked them to call us a cab. They did so cheerfully, while I helped myself to an orange juice.
About seventeen seconds after the call was made, however, the cab pulled up. Chico is not a large town, and it apparently doesn't take long to get a cab to a requested location. We climbed in, and emerged a short time later at the beautiful front entrance of the brewery. We went over to the self-guided tour area, and watched a couple of films about the brewery, the beer, and the equipment we were looking at, at conveniently explained intervals.
After wandering around the "please buy a shirt" area, we went over to the brewery's pub/restaurant area, and grabbed a couple of seats at a long, high-topped marble table outside. We enjoyed our second and third beers of the day at this point, for a total of $4.75 apiece, over a delicious dinner of steak and portobello mushrooms. Erp and I decided at this point that Chico must have the cheapest drinks of any pleasant place in California, and perhaps in the whole of the West Coast.
We called the same cab to take us back downtown, and on his recommendation, checked out a large college bar called LaSalle's. When we walked in, at about 9pm, Daft Punk was playing on the system, and besides the staff, there were about three people there. Here's I paid a whopping three dollars for a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and two for a Sierra Nevada Summerfest. Steadily, however, the bar degenerated into a country bar, and began charging cover to new customers. The country music didn't let us, so we took our leave after I finished my second beer.
We had to find a place to pass the time before our train arrived at 2:30am. We found this in a small bar called Riley's, that was reminiscent of the Brooksider back in KC, except without a downstairs bootie-grabbing dancefloor. It was very much a college bar, but that didn't particularly bother Erp or me. We found a table, and discovered that there was a two-for-one special on everything. We discovered this only after we each seperately puchased beers and convened at the table with six Sierra Nevada beers for a total of $8.25. Beyond that, we each had two or three more before closing at about 1:30am.
With some extra time on our hands, I decided it was time to break the law. Chico is resplendent with available shady spots for hidden activities. I availed myself of one of these, and emptied my bladder in a long satisfying manner. After that, we spotted another bar that appeared to still be unapologetically open. We walked in, and nobody waved us off, so I approached the bar. There was a three-inch layer of sawdust on every bit of the floor, which lent the place the odor of a woodshop. We were sorry we hadn't come earlier. I caught the bartender's eye, and he informed me that since it was so late, all they were serving was shots, in attempt to clear the place out.
We walked the remaining hundred yards to the train station, and drunkenly goofed off until the train eventually made its appearance, and we took our premium sleeper compartment spot. Sleep came almost immediately.
I awoke on the train in what I thought was Oregon, but have since learned was still squarely within the boundaries of California, in the vicinity of the behemoth Mount Shasta, towering icily above anything withing 500 miles. I rolled over and went back to sleep until I detected Craig stirring. The train was stopped, and it was about 10:30am.
In the tiny space we were alotted, I gathered enough things to get ready for the day. Erp told me as he walked off that the power was off in the train, so the toilets wouldn't flush, and that the train would be stopped where it was until at least noon, as track construction farther downrange delayed us until then, and the Amtrak folks hoped to catch them on their lunch break.
The plan more or less did work, when the time came. I stepped outside into an eye-popping combination of 15mph wind and a temperature of well below 55 degrees, especially in a tshirt and shorts. I was in Klamath Falls, Oregon. Most of the people on the train were staying snugly inside, but a few brave souls were milling around the station, getting some brisk Oregon air, and others were getting some stinky North Carolina air, as smoking isn't allowed on the train.
Like clockwork, however, the train started rolling again at the stroke of noon. As we slowly progressed north through the extensive track construction, we passed a lot of rural farmsteads and town neighborhoods. Something became apparent, and I took note of it. Southern Oregon likes debris. There was scarcely a yard without some piece of junky clutter, whether it was a tire, a car engine, an old bus with no wheels, children's toys from 1981, or whatever shattered remnants there may have been of any of the eight previous tenants of any of the homes we were passing.
This was not what comes to mind when I think of Oregon, even after visiting twice before. This was more like Wisconsin with mountains and no rain. We proceeded north past the enormous Upper Klamath Lake, naturally stocked with waterfowl in numbers and variety such as I had never imagined could all be in one place. The most interesting one was the freshwater-dwelling Black-winged White Pelican. Freshwater pelicans! I had no idea.
We were called to lunch for a 1pm reservation, where we met a couple of later-middle years that were riding the rails all the way from LA to Seattle in one push, to see their daughter and eighteen-month old granddaughter(their first). Meals on a train are great for peering into the lives of others, and for others to peer into yours. I may make it sound weird or creepy, but it's not at all. It's as if you have an instant friend across the table with whom you can speak with ease of anything, in any amount of detail or personality.
People on a train are a different breed, it seems, but with rising fuel costs and the increased hassle of dealing with air travel, the breed seems to be increasing. Riding a train is a romantic, relaxed experience. At first it's exciting, and then boredom settles in. You feel as if there's somewhere you should be, something for which you're late. But then, it just doesn't matter anymore, and you settle into a contented zen, in which nothing really matters except what's going on within the confines of the train.
Then, once you've entered this state of mind, as I have now, on my third long ride since this trip began, and the first painless one, you'll be sitting contentedly reading, daydreaming, napping, or anything else to pass your completely unoccupied time, and the trees will part like a curtain unveiling a stage, and you'll see with your jaw on the floor and your eyes agape that the view is like nothing you've ever seen, a broad vista of rolling green hills, piling into gigantic unnamed mountains full of bears, wolves, bobcats, skunks, deer, sasquatches, and endless ranks of trees marching to the very summit, as if they know how pretty they're supposed to be, and flaunt it by striving to rise higher up that their neighbors.
This is the view outside the window of the train as it hulks its way through the switchbacks between Chemult and Springfield, Oregon. In the California segments of the ride, at least when the sun it out, the mountains are distant, remote, or, more commonly, absent. In Southern Oregon, they're everywhere. They're immanent. They're inescapable. So of course, they're awesome.
Erp and I went to the wine tasting in the club car, offered to first-class passengers such as ourselves and greatly appreciated the moment and the luxury of it, but felt sort of out of place. Also, we only made it for white wines, which neither of us really prefer. I can't speak for Erp, but my personal rule is that the drier a red wine is, the more I will like it.
We rolled into Portland at about 9:15pm which, all things considered, wasn't a very bad deal. I caught the #14 right outside the front door of the station, listening to cabs popping their trunks as we passed them, in the hopes of us giving them a little business. The bus was crowded, even at 9:30pm. The driver never announced the stops, and the streets aren't very discernible by the dark of night, so on something of a whim, I directed the two of us to jump off the bus at an arbitrary point, which turned out to be basically right in front of the hostel.
We checked in, stowed our packs, and walked down to some pub on Hawthorne called Mulligan's, where I drank a pint of Lompoc Centennial IPA, and another of Big Sky Moose Drool. Now we're back, with a collective mind to get to bed the earliest of the trip so far.
I'm done checking email and updating you with my status, so it's bedtime for me, for real. Rachel arrives sometime tomorrow.
Erp woke me up this morning, and informed me that we had slept all the way until about 11:45am. This proved to be untrue, as I was doing my laundry later, and found that it still wasn't that time yet. We took care of morning businesses, and hopped aboard the #14 bus at about 12:30pm. This was a good deal later than I had hoped to get out a lot earlier, but our sleepy heads and my need for clean clothes trumped that deal.
We hoped to get downtown and into a place to eat well before my wandering sister arrived in town on the next train from Chicago, but we wound us going to the station and waiting around for about a half an hour. Rachel finally arrived, exhausted from a 2000-mile trip riding coach. She had no idea what she was doing. She wanted to haul all of her stuff all the way down to a neighborhood about five miles away, to see if some dude that she'd never met would let her live there without paying anything.
Needless to say, he wasn't interested in giving my sister a free room, but welcomed us to hang out with him and even gave us beers to drink(Bridgeport ESB). He was exceedingly hospitable, and was a total hippie. The whole place reeked of weed. After Rachel got some idea of where she wanted to try next, she announced the address, and the dude was unable to find it in the phone book, but offered nonetheless to drive us to 39th Avenue, so we could catch the #75 to the Kennedy School. My the time we dragged Rachel's heavy shit into the novelty restored elementary school-turned brewery, it was already after 3pm.
We had "lunch," and as we sat there, Rachel finally got ahold of someone that lives in Portland that was willing to take her in, at least on a temporary basis. I was very annoyed by the time. We settled our tab, and hauled Rachel's heavy life over to the bus stop, and waited with her for the next bus to arrive. The next bus came shortly, and we exchanged good-byes. Then, Erp and I got back to the business of discovering Portland.
Unfortunately, the sun was already setting. With this in mind, I insisted that we visit the Portland City Grill, on the 30th floor of the USBank Tower, the tallest building in town, so the view could still be discerned. We had a couple of beers there, and moved on from there to the Tugboat Brewery, for the city's best atmosphere. Some three-piece was playing some kind of tune direct from Medeski, Martin, and Wood. The beer and scenery were excellent.
After that, we walked over to Henry's Tavern on 12th Ave and Burnside, where I had my first ever dinner featuring tofu. A pa nang curry piece, it was out-of-this-world delicious. On top of that, I finally got a pint of Arrogant Bastard Ale, and relished it happily. It was late by this time, so we took a cab back to the neighborhood where our hostel is. We both got some cash(we finally found a Bank of America), and walked over to a place called the Bagdad Theater and Pub. It turned out it was another McMenamin's joint, so we grabbed some more locally-produced beer before calling it a night.
We woke up at the filthy hostel at about 10am. The bus was predictably waiting outside the filthy hostel when we emerged from said filthy hostel. Once we got downtown, we determined that we had about forty five minutes to eat and walk to the train station. We found some small Italian place for lunch, and walked heavily up to the train station. It turned out that we'd have to wait for a little longer in line, as we waited for seat assignments on the train that was already waiting on the platform.
An on-time departure made us feel great though. In the four hour trip(by far the shortest yet), the movie Akeelah and the Bee was played. I thought it was excellent, and by the time it was over, the train was trundling along Puget Sound past Fort Lewis and Tacoma. Through a series of in-seat naps, we arrived more or less instantaneously in Seattle after that.
Back in San Francisco, Alicia told us that we'd probably need sweaters or jackets for Seattle, and that it's usually liable to rain in some measure there. You can imagine our surprise when we saw that the sun was shining brightly, and not a hint of clouds was visible. What we didn't expect was the temperature. The wall of heat that rushed over us as we stepped off the train was shocking. It was sunny and 93 degrees.
We lugged our packs through completely unfamiliar downtown streets, listening to distant seagulls, and looking around for signs for the #4 bus, which would take us to Queen Anne Hill, where we were staying. After a bit of wandering, we were drawn inexplicably to 3rd Ave, where about fifteen or twenty bus lines all converge for about ten blocks, and soon found a stop for the 4.
Not long before, I had arranged for a place to stay, with Peggy, an old friend from the Duhawk days. She lives in a great apartment in Queen Anne Hill in Seattle, and very generously offered us a place to stay, and to be a tourguide around the city for us. I happily accepted, thanked providence for the stroke of great luck, and cancelled the reservation I had made at the Red Lion for $179 a night.
Then, bad things happened. Peggy was called by her employer to leave for an annoyingly long time that included the entirety of our visit. She arranged for us to be able to still stay at her place, but completely without her there. So, we have a fantastic place to stay, for free, which is a great thing, but I was looking forward to seeing and hanging out with Peggy. Now we're pretty much on our own to find things to do in Seattle.
Seattle is weird. On their buses, you pay when you get off, not when you get on. Everybody backs into angled street parking stalls, so their headlights face the street. Not only can you not smoke in bars and restaurants, but you can't even smoke within 25 feet of them. Also, the people are friendly, helpful, and excited to tell you about their city.
After Erp and I had been out for a little while, we stopped at a diner that had a tap selection better than most in KC. The waitress/bartender, named Renee, was infinitely helpful. She had the "kiss my grits" attitude down, but she was also very attractive. We started talking beer with her, and she became a wealth of information about local breweries and pubs. I told her that if she was ever in Kansas City that she should give me a call so we could get married.
We came back to the apartment and went happily and dizzily to sleep.
Erp and I enjoyed our first night of full sleep, on comfortable, non-transient surfaces, and with no impending checkout. So we took our time getting ready to go. We got out the door at about 11:45am, and got downtown on the #4 at about 12:05pm. Our first order of business, that day, was to visit the most touristic place in Seattle: Pike Place Market.
I had never seen it before, in film or photograph, so I had quite a treat in store. The market is arrayed between First Avenue and an indeterminate point close to the waterfront, and is about a quarter of a mile long. Inside, visitors can find shops of almost anything they want: touristic souvenir crap, Laosian food, spicy jelly(I liked this very much!), row after row of exotic flower arrangements, priced at a fraction of what they'd cost anywhere else, and of course, fish markets.
The most famous of these fish markets(I'd had no idea) is one where the aproned employees all shout out orders at the same time, which are almost always some variety of salmon, and chuck the ordered fish forty feet into waiting hands. It was very entertaining.
We got some delicious Greek food for lunch, and hit the market. The whole thing is gorgeous. In addition to all the folks milling about, and all the shops and stands, there are also a lot of rogue street entertainers, making the whole thing a very impressive sensory experience.
The previous night, Renee at the 5-Spot ardently recommended that we visit the Jolly Roger taproom, a peasant-level interface to the Maritime Pacific Brewery, and gave us cryptic directions to get there on transit. The next day, the directions were absolutely unreadable. As we recalled, Renee had a new idea every four seconds, and would start writing anew in another direction on the back of the already tiny business card she was using. Eventually, I just called information to get their number, and it turned out it was closed on Sundays anyway.
We decided to head up to the Seattle Center and check out the Space Needle and Bumbershoot. Bumbershoot is a festival held in Seattle every Labor Day weekend, with carnival rides, live music, political activists handing out pamphlets, and hippies selling weed-smoking paraphernalia.
One of my favorite bands, the New Pornographers, was playing that night. The downshot was that it would cost us over $30 to get in, plus whatever we'd spend on overpriced event beers. Slightly depressed, we headed over to the Space Needle, with a mind to go up and get a World's Fair-eye view of the Emerald City. On the way, I spotted a tent with familiar logos all over it. We stepped inside, and saw that a Quake 4 deathmatch tournament was going on. We watched for a little bit, and soon Erp was a bit exasperated at how interested people could be in something like that. Different strokes, I guess.
The Space Needle costs $14, just to ride an elevator up and look around. e passed on that too, and opted instead, on Geoff's recommendation, for the Experience Music Project, a music museum ambitiously priced at $20 for admission. It was interesting, make no mistake, but I don't think it was worth what we paid. I would have loved to go to the adjacent Science Fiction Museum and seen Captain Kirk's command chair, but I think I geeked out a little too much watching the Quake tournament, and I think Erp was starting to think I was uncool.
After an hour or two more on our feet, we left the Experience Music Project footsore and ready for a bite and a nip. We found a pizza place nearby called Zeek's, got a slice and a pint, and were energized. We had no idea where we wanted to go, so we just picked a bus and got on. Turns out that bus(the #16) went to a northeast neighborhood called Wallingford. Erp spotted a sign near a turn in the route for a taproom for the Elysian Brewery, which enjoys the best name of any brewery. We pulled the stop cable, went inside, and had a couple pints. Among these was the delectable Avatar Jasmine IPA, which actually tasted like flowers.
We asked the bartenders what was a good place to go, in the neighborhood, and they recommended Die Bierstube, over at 61st and Roosevelt, about a twenty five minute walk away. We settled our tab, and went on our way. Die Bierstube was lovely, but wasn't really what we were looking for. We each had one beer, and walked back up the street to a hole in the wall called the Atlantic Point, which I kept calling the Atlantic Starr. I love the 80s.
From there, we stepped around the corner to a bar called Teddy's which is not repeat not, a lesbian bar. Erp annihilated me in darts, and we both decided that we were famished. We asked the bartender for a tip-off on 24-hour cuisine, and got an unequivocal order to go to Beth's Cafe on Aurora, in another part of town. Luckily, the cabbie knew where it was, and dropped us off there about eight dollars later.
Beth's is awesome. Almost all of their breakfast-any-time plates include all-you-can-eat hash browns. I was expecially intrigued by this while I was still hungry, but after polishing off my plate, I found that I couldn't eat another bite. We hailed another cab, and went to bed. In the cab on the way back, we learned from the radio that Steve Irwin, the Australian madman that bills himself as the Crocodile Hunter, had died. We spent the rest of the ride in silence.
Erp caught the bus to the airport at 10am, leaving me with Seattle all to myself for a full day. I went over into the Queen Anne district to pick up a thank-you for Peggy's hospitality, came back, and hooked into my eternal traveling/walking partner: my mp3 player. I caught the #13 down the hill, transferred to the #8, which I had noticed the previous day went to Capitol Hill.
Before leaving the apartment that day, I did a search online for two things: a great beer bar and a great burrito. The burrito came first, and I was just about to give up looking when I spotted it, while on the phone with Carl to get directions. Bimbo's Bitchin' Burrito Kitchen sticks out like a sore thumb in its slightly distressed surroundings, with its bright colors and always moving front door.
Online, people had reviewed the place with lukewarm to glorious praise, but they all agreed that the service was terrible, snotty, and unpleasant. Some had even said that the uppity service was, "part of the experience." I didn't find this to be true at all. Everyone I talked to was really gracious and friendly. They even dropped what they were doing to thank me as I left. The burrito was so-so, but that was because it needed sour cream, more cheese, lettuce, and guacamole. They used shredded chicken, though, which I always see as a mistake.
From Bimbo's, I started walking, listening to music, and taking pictures. I let gravity guide me, and rolled downhill into Downtown, and more familiar surroundings. The next place I wanted to go, called Beveridge Place Pub, is located really far away, in West Seattle, but came highly recommended on Beerfly as a great place to get a pint. Their website instructed me to take the #54 right to their front door. I reached a stop for the #54, and found that it wouldn't be along for another 25 minutes. So I did what I do in Kansas City when the bus is going to be a while. I walked. I kept walking for perhaps two hours until I realized that I was not only lost(which is fine, really. What difference does it make?), but I was well off the bus line.
After about five or six miles of walking, I came upon a stop for a bus that would drop me about a mile away from my destination, and that was a good enough stop for me. I got on the #21, and after a short while, I realized that if I had walked myself the whole way to the bar, it'd have been well after dark by the time I got there. Seattle is big. It has a very attractive tall downtown, and a smattering of dense neighborhoods, but for the most part, it's just miles and miles of houses. The overall density didn't appear to be that much greater than KC.
Anyway, I walked in the bar, and it turned out that I was the first customer of the day.
The Beveridge Place Pub is an excellent bar. Their tap selection, while not vast or numerous, is still outstanding. No "Big Three" beers, or even PBR were present. The customers slowly filtered in, and it was apparent that they are all beer-lovers, and know their stuff. Dennis behind the bar was able to make recommendations and excellent conversation in an enthusiastic manner the whole time. Kelly sat beside me, and started talking about Seattle, the bar, the owners Gary and Terri, and various beer-powered topics.
Word got out among the regulars that someone from Kansas City had made a special trip just to try out their bar, and I had no trouble starting up conversations for the rest of the time I was there. I missed the bus as I was tabbing out, so Dennis poured me another beer on the house. Gary, the owner, came over and talked with me for about a half an hour, despite the fact that he was off the clock, and there with his friends. Excellent, wonderful bar. You should visit, whoever you are.
I got on the bus after about four hours at the Beveridge Place Pub, and took it back downtown, where I tried out the Pike Brewery. I sat at the bar, next to an eighty-something who couldn't wait to tell me about his exploits in the Army Air Corps. We talked about World War II for perhaps an hour, before I paid my tab and left. I went back up the hill on the #13, and had some dinner at the 5 Spot, talking with locals about the Mariners.
From there, I walked back to the apartment. It was only 9:30pm, but I was bushed, and too dizzy to keep drinking by myself in a strange city. I was asleep by 11pm.
Since the unfortunate Schlafly episiode, Jeff and I have been pretty bummed, regarding draught beer at home. Bummed because we have been unable to find the beers we really want among the many scales of Kansas City's seamy beer distribution underbelly, and also from indecision. We don't really know what we want, so we keep saying, "you choose."
As we procrastinated the choice away, the first speckles of autumn descended upon us. We regarded with joy the lower temperatures, the harbinger of beer season. We procrastinated right into beer season. With this in mind, we decided that what we really wanted was a heaping keg of Kansas City's hometown fall seasonal from Boulevard Brewing Company: Bob's 47. The daytime temperatures have calmed down to the 70s and 80s, bringing a decidedly pleasant crispness to the air, compared to the offensive sweat-through-your-clothes-sitting-still heat of July.
Oktoberfest is in the air. Geoff and company are headed to Munich in a couple weeks, and since I blew my traveling wad on a crappy trip all the way up the American West Coast, the best I can do is secure a keg of a Munich-style lager. Jeff and I were trying to get a hold of a keg of this delicious seasonal beer for some weeks, as August signals the beginning of beer season. Gomer's, our customary keg supplier in midtown, did just a little better than stonewalling us, regarding the procurement of the kraut-inspired ferment.
"Call Boulevard, and ask them where you can get it on tap," they told Jeff on the phone. Flabbergasted, Jeff decided(and I agreed) that if Gomer's wasn't going to help us out, then we'd find a liquor store that would. Jeff had to go to Kansas, to a place called Lukas Liquors, to roll a keg of the Fall's finest into the back of his PT Cruiser. I received this text from him when I was in Seattle, last week:
"There is a keg of bobs 47 in the 'rator"
I hurried up and finished my vacation, came home, and tapped the mutha. It's delicious.
I got back into KC at about midnight on Tuesday night. It was lovely to be home, and the cab ride was as swift as the speed-deficient cab driver could make it. Two times he almost reached the speed limit. He tried to give me some crap about paying with a card("I want cash!"), but I silenced him, and made him take a rubbing of my card.
The last two days have proceeded without incident, including an absolute demolition of our kickball team by the enemy, and a half-hearted attempt to go out last night, with Chris and Noug.
I have reacclimated myself to central time, I think, and I should be ready to go back into the office on Monday morning.
I have about 450 pictures to sort through before posting them here, but I'll have some time this weekend, amid bottling the latest batch of beer, going to the Chiefs' season opener, and being rude to people on online forums.
Years ago, when i first started listening to mp3s and other kinds of digital music on my computer, I used the capable but clumsy winamp for all my audio needs. Then, slowly, as my music collection got larger, and additional format support was required for me, I found the immensely popular winamp to be even more clunky. They then came out with version 3, and then went straight on to version 5, giving version four a miss, and offered lots of new features that modern users wanted, largely because of the popular, but unforgivably slow, heavy, and clumsy iTunes.
Even so, I found winamp to be less and less useful, clunky, and slow. The new focus among audio players to want to scan your music collection(aka: the "Music Library"), instead of taking a prompt from the user on what files they want played, was against the way I wanted to listen to music. Eventually, I found a "good enough" solution with the heavy, but feature-rich Quintessential Player, but still went wanting for that extra power and speed afforded in the pre-2000 days of smaller collections and winamp version 2.
I accepted for years that speed and snappiness weren't a feature of players that didn't employ the "music library" approach. I was distraught, because the world had accepted a standard in audio players that I very much disliked. That was until today, when on a whim, I took a look at the current list of ogg-capable players at the xiph wiki, and came across one called VUPlayer.
To my intense delight, VUPlayer plays files on demand, rather than spending time scanning my drives for files. In addition to the standard set of file formats, it plays ogg files, FLAC files, m4a(itunes) files, and almost anything else I could wish to play, with the notable exception of shn files. That's fine though, as I don't have any shn files. It displays files in a simple on-the-fly playlist, which allows dynamic and customizable sorting, multi-mode repeat, random play, customizable system-wide hotkeys, and unlike quintessential player, ogg audio streams.
I have a new audio player. VUPlayer is highly recommended.
I have accepted a job offer from a local company for a position working in Unix system administration, getting experience with all those things with which I need experience, making more money, and returning to the 9-5 lifestyle.
My current employer is great and all, but I feel like I'm wasting away, working for them. The crazy amounts of time off, and "working offline," that goes on is turning me into a genuinely lazy person. I feel like I'd be doing myself a disservice if I don't work in a place that challenges me.
That said, I'll be starting my new job in early October, and I'm thrilled to death about it.
Sorry for the crazy lapse in updating. Whatever. I'll wax poetic about the wedding I attended this weekend later. For now, I have something to tell you.
I love Kentucky. I write this from the business center at the Hampton Inn in downtown Louisville, which I have even decided to start pronouncing like the locals do: "loo-ah-vull." I like Kentucky that much. It's extravagantly pretty. Where the landscape isn't heavily forested with deciduous bounty and pitted and scarred with hills and cliffs, it's carpeted as far as the eye can see with lush green grass pastures trodden by healthy young thoroughbreds and enclosed with brown split fences.
Kentucky is gorgeous. In late September, the temperature is about as close to perfect as it can get, with a light southerly breeze to bring the scent of still-blooming flowers to your nostrils. Kentucky is lovely.
Everyone here knows more about bourbon than anyone in St. Louis or Milwaukee knows about beer. I'm not a liquor person, but I have been completely obliged to taste the fruit of the Kentucky hills. Bourbon has a depth of flavor that is unrivalled in the world of liquor, and it all comes from within 150 miles of where I'm sitting.
From my short experience here, Kentuckians are startlingly friendly people. For example, I dropped off James and Adriana at the airport about an hour ago, and made a beeline for downtown. My plan, in case I haven't alerted you personally, is to stay in Louisville one extra night to take in the sights. It's a bit of a vacation for myself, as I am unemployed from this past Wednesday until next Monday, the second.
Anyway, I came into Louisville's beautiful downtown, and decided to take a lap before finding a hotel room. It's a Sunday afternoon, so I didn't expect to have any trouble finding a room anywhere, and I was right. After an eyefull of downtown, I pulled into the parking lot of the Hampton Inn, walked inside and inquired about a room. On my little circuit, I saw that downtown was bustling - alive with foot traffic - so I figured there was probably something going on.
To my relief, Dewey at the front desk was happy to tell me that the hotel had rooms available, but that they started at $145 a night. When he saw me shift my feet, he said, "for a ten dollar tip, I'll knock your room rate down to the UPS corporate rate of $69." I eagerly paid up, parked my rental for free, and hurried upstairs to deposit my bag.
Dewey is a fine representative of Hilton Hotels, Louisville, and Kentucky. I'm hoping that more people I meet today are like him.
I arrived in Louisville on time on Thursday, rented my car, and walked back to the baggage claim to watch my suitcase roll out of the carousel first. When I stepped outside the air was perfect, and the sun was shining. I made it maybe five steps from the sliding doors when a shouted "Johnny!" broke through the noise in my headphones. Startled, I looked to my right and saw Uncle Jim and my cousin Dan standing next to their car. I hung out with them for a bit, and got moving for Lexington, 70 miles away.
The countryside between Louisville and Lexington is sublime. I assert that it's one of the examples of the human hand actually enhancing the aesthetics of a natural landscape. The rolling green hills quartered off with uniform black/brown wooden fences continues to make the visitor gape in awe. Unfortunately though, the traffic causes such gapings to be short-lived, as the very crowded dangerous highway that connects the two cities in Kentucky's populous heartland is almost always achurn with jockeying vehicles. I was happy to get off the road when I got to Lexington, and loosen my grip on the steering wheel.
The wedding rehearsal was at 6pm, and I had about an hour and a half to get dressed and get to the church. I was an usher, and since the rehearsal was on Thursday, I wasn't expected to be there. But, since I was happily unemployed at the time, I had no problem at all with ariving a day early to attend the rehearsal and enjoy some quality time with my cousins. I took about twenty minutes before the rehearsal began to look around downtown a bit. Lexington has a very pretty downtown. It's unmarred by modern highways, leaving it almost completely intact.
The rehearsal went without a hitch, and the whole group ran over to the Lexington Country Club for dinner and drinks, followed by a nice relaxing sit on the outdoor furniture at the Campbell House, where we were staying. I slept a long, comfortable sleep with many pillows, and dreamed pleasant dreams.
In the morning, I received a knock on my door at about 11am, asking me to come and help set up the reception location with the rest of the wedding party. I still had to wrap my present, but when I had done that, I hurried over to a nearby horse farm and helped string lights and set up the worst damned tent in the history of pain. Nobody knew how to set it up, and the weather had taken a nasty turn for the wet.
It began raining on Friday morning, and it didn't wholly stop until Saturday evening, well into the reception. Apparently, Louisville and Lexington got national news coverage because of the peculiarity and amount of rain they received. I must have watched five or six inches fall on Friday alone. I muddied up every piece of clothing I had on Friday, including the only jeans and normal shoes I had with me. Later that night, as if to laugh at the four or five hours we spent erecting that damned big-topped reception tent, the storm unleached its full fury on it, reducing it to tatters, and pulling the three-foot rebar stakes we had driven.
So, the reception was held in the barn, which actually worked out very well. Bart and Catherine arranged for a zydeco band to play, and a local Cajun restaurant to cater the event. They had kegs of locally-produced Kentucky Ale, Kentucky Light, and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. The reception, despite the driving rain, was a huge success. The rain subsided entirely by about 9pm, and the temperature settled to about 68 degrees.
After the reception, we rode back to the hotel in rented vans(another great idea), and people passed around bottles of Bourbon. We closed the hotel bar, and I almost lost my dinner on a shot of Woodford Reserve. In Kelly style, we all stayed up way too late singing and talking in the hotel rooms.
The next morning, everyone cleared out, amazed that the sun could shine in Lexington, after all. Julia's flight didn't leave until after 4pm, so she arranged for a ride on the hotel's airport shuttle and cooled her jets for a while. I drove James and Adriana to the airport in Louisville, and checked into my hotel downtown. I had a great trip, and capped it off with an evenig enjoying Louisville's excellent downtown, and another long night's sleep with many pillows.