Departures: Seattle: Ice Caves, Edmonds / 1997

The fourth time I'd headed up to Seattle, I was getting a little jaded. For the sake of variety, I was glad to see a bit of the suburbs and surrounding wilderness. Here's some mail I sent about it in November of 1997.

Paul Du Bois, Tom Lester, and I went North to check out Ron's new house at his Housewarming/Hallowe'en party. We flew up to Seattle, drove North for a couple of whiles through the Friday evening rush hour traffic, wandered the tangled streets of the suburb called Edmonds, and arrived at his house.

Loud Party, Louder Breakfast

We parked on the street and stumbled through down the dark walkway to Ron's door. His house was surrounded by trees, a sort of suburban forest. A dark suburban forest. His door was open; we wandered in; he greeted us and showed us around. There were at least four bedrooms. There was a huge kitchen with a breakfast nook. There was a living room, a dining room, a rec room. There were closets, bathrooms, a laundry room, storage space, a garage. He's living there alone. I tried to figure out how short a time it would take me to go insane living by myself in such a huge place so far away from the city. Ron is not much like me; at least I hope he isn't, for the sake of his continuing sanity.

[photo of Ron]
Ron in his new home. (Photo by: Paul Du Bois)

Ron set us to work putting together some of his new furniture. His other houseguest, Mark from L.A., showed up and didn't say much.

Soon the party was in full swing. I had been looking forward to the party as a chance to put faces to the names of some of my Seattle co-workers. In this I was thwarted. Most of the people who came to the party were people that I knew--the sort of outgoing people who had talked with me on previous visits, outgoing people who flew down to company functions in the SF Bay Area. There were only two Geoworkers at Ron's party who I didn't already know. Of these, one was dressed up as a vampire. I still don't have a face to put to his name, unless I'm willing to accept a face buried under a good deal of makeup. One new face. I got to know one new face. I spent most of the party playing pool on Ron's pool table downstairs. Upstairs, people listened to loud music and didn't talk much; upstairs there were occasional flurries of dancing. By the time I drifted upstairs, people were just sitting around and watching TV; eventually they drifted away.

Presented with a choice of sofas, futons, beds, and airmattresses, I decided to sleep on the living room carpet. It was firm enough for me. This preference seemed to distress Ron, but maybe he was just annoyed that none of his guests wanted to sleep on his air mattress after he'd gone to all that trouble to inflate it.

Saturday morning, I, Paul, Tom, Ron, Mark from L.A., Dave Loftesness, and Veronica Boutelle (those last two in town celebrating their eleventh anniversary) headed over to the Longshoreman's Daughter for breakfast. Dave, Veronica, and I had been to this place once before; there I had one of the best breakfasts of my life, thanks to good company, good food, and plenty of coffee. With seven people in the party, it wasn't so great. Background noise, not such a problem for a cozy table of three, wiped out much of the conversation for our large group. I didn't talk much, didn't listen much; I looked at the mural on the wall and realized that the '"K"' was the '"K"' in '"K" Line'. Of course, all of the murals were on the theme of shipping and dockside signs. Why hadn't I realized that the last time I was here? A song from the "Mystery Train" soundtrack played, and I remembered that soundtrack playing as Dave, Veronica, and I drove (lost) around Seattle our last time here. Breakfast was so delicious that I didn't miss the conversation.

Ice Caves

We drove up Highway 5, off the 5, to Granite Falls, beyond Granite Falls, a ways along the Mountain Loop Highway until we came to the Ice Cave trailhead. We walked above the wetlands created by mountain runoff. We walked over moist meadows. We walked through hilly forests. We walked along trails that were running with water. We crossed a rivulet, where I fell into the mud. We crossed a stream, where I kept my balance. We crossed a field of stones and came to the base of a mountain. There was a waterfall down the mountain, and that waterfall landed on a pile of ice. The ice was constantly melting out from underneath, and the water moving along hollowed out crevasses and caves. At the trailhead, there had been signs warning of the dangers of entering the ice caves, so I stuck close to the entrance. Each cave was a hemicylinder of perhaps 6m radius, stretching far back through the ice. Water dripped from above. The sides of the cave looked as if someone had made them with a giant ice cream scoop, then allowed surface ice to melt and re-freeze. They were a sort of random honeycomb of shallow rounded concavities, each perhaps a half meter in diameter. I said "they" couldn't have done a better job of making this cave if they'd worked with real fiberglass. A nearby tourist heard me and watched me with a worried expression .

There were many signs that warned us not to approach the caves due to danger of falling ice. I did not heed them. (Photos: Paul Du Bois)
[Photo: aiyee!] [Photo: that must have hurt]

When the ice hit me, it was something of a shock. It was more of a shock when I heard Paul telling me to stay there so he could take photos. (Hey, mom--I'm kidding. We posed these shots. Really.)

[pretty picture of ice waterfall]
The waterfall [at|,] the origin of the cave.(Photo: Paul Du Bois)

The caves were very dark, and thus I wasn't so happy when Tom Lester told me that he'd wandered to the back of them and seen something beautiful. He suggested that everyone walk back. So I went stumbling into the cold, dark, dripping ice cave. The floor of the cave was covered with large, loose rocks which had been dislodged from the mountain above. The footing was treacherous and invisible. I walked slowly, supporting myself with arms against big rocks were possible, placing feet with care. I finally emerged out into dim light. There was a hole in the ceiling. I was at the base of the mountain, and there was a waterfall coming down from above, simultaneously drilling a hole in the ice and providing water for more ice. The sun filtered through the hole in the ice, providing soft light through the cold mist.

Water glistened on dimly lit stone. Oh my gracious. It was very nice indeed. A small cluster of tourists, mostly my companions, stood huddled silently, listening to the drips of the cave and the quiet rush of the waterfall above. Finally, I picked my way out. Finally, we returned to the car.

On the way back to civilization, we stopped off at the Granite Falls fish ladder. There weren't any fish going through the fish ladder, but I suspect that the Granite Falls fish ladder is next to Granite Falls. At least, it was certainly next to a very scenic waterfall in a beautiful gorge with sheer rocky sides topped with trees. A manmade fish ladder meandered up the hill next to the falls. In itself, it wasn't interesting, but it got us out of the car. What if the sign hadn't said anything about a fish ladder? What if it had just announced the presence of a waterfall? Would we have ventured out?

Passing Time in Suburbia

Back in Edmonds, Dave and Veronica sought their own path towards amusement once more, leaving the remainder of the group to figure out dinner. Ron couldn't think of any restaurants in Seattle worth heading into town for, so we decided to try Edmonds. For reasons that were never exactly clear, instead of heading into the yuppie downtown area of Edmonds, we headed into the strip mall hell which is the commercial axis of Lynnwood, yet another North Seattle suburb. Choices lept out: Chevy's, Black Angus, and various dingy-looking independent concerns. Chevy's had a half-hour wait for tables; Black Angus had an hour-long wait and most of us didn't want to eat there, as man does not live on baked potatoes alone. We were eyeing a place called India Cuisine. Mark didn't want "at anyplace where I don't know what it is I'm eating," as he put it. Ron, through perserverance, convinced his friend that tandoori chicken was quite recognizable as chicken, and we soon entered the Lynnwood establishment appropriately named India Cuisine. There I feasted upon a dahl-like soup, aloo gobi, and onion kulcha. I feasted. Fortunately, this was a strip mall restaurant, so afterwards, it was just a short jog to a 7-11, where I was able to re-stock my Shock Tart supply.

We played Illuminati. I made a mistake with the rules. Striving for victory, I betrayed my principles. Having betrayed my principles, I rolled boxcars and found that I'd gained nothing through my betrayal. Tom Lester, the object of my betrayal, probably wasn't too pleased, either. Mark discovered that the game was too complicated to play while watching television. Paul won, largely due to my mistake with the rules, and felt bad. It was kind of a downer.

Another night of comfortable sleep on the floor. The night before, I'd been disturbed by the flow of air from the heater vent flowing over my face. This night, I slept in a different position, with my head where my toes had been the night before and vice versa. It was thus that I discovered the placement of the other heating vent, which would blow heated air over my face that night. When I lost my voice on Monday, I would remember this night.

I slept in. I heard Tom and Ron talking, something about taking a walk. By the time I woke up, they were gone. I went out for a short walk of my own. I figured out the lay of the little tangle of streets between Ron's house and Main Street Edmonds. I wondered why one isolated street had sidewalks. I said hello to the four Jehovah's Witnesses who were prowling the neighborhood. Back at the house, I played pool for a while. Eventually, the walkers returned, everyone was awake, and we headed into Edmonds to check out the town center.

Edmonds looked like a place that was dragging itself out of the 50s with difficulty. A restaurant advertised a prime rib special; a block away, a modern Mexican restaurant looked out of place. We wandered down to the water, and checked out a popular sheltered spot for SCUBA lessons. We visited the AmTrak station, a stop on the Starlight express. The SF Bay Area-ites talked about a future trip involving bringing bikes up by train and infringing on Ron's hospitality. Occasionally, Mark would mutter something. I'd ask him what he'd said. He'd repeat himself, revealing that he was just reading signs out loud. That was pretty much the extent of his conversation. We wandered over to the sewage treatment plant, where I climbed up on a planter so that I could see over the wall onto the proceedings within. I decided that those ducks couldn't have sensitive noses to keep swimming in that stuff.

The Journey Home

Back at Ron's house, the SF Bay Area-ites packed up and said our goodbyes, leaving Ron and Mark to "do nerd things," as Ron put it. Tom and Paul and I headed down South to pick up some lunch and hop on a plane. I put myself in charge of figuring out where to get lunch. I told Tom to drive down Route 99. I looked at the map of Seattle, scanning for the names of boutiquy retail streets I'd walked on. Surely one of those would be a good place for lunch. Soon I spotted one: Queen Anne street was plenty close to Route 99. We could stop there and pick up some lunch. It was something of a relief to think of getting some food in Seattle proper. I don't go to Seattle for the food, but Edmonds and Lynnwood hadn't exactly been peak culinary experiences, either. So we drove to Queen Anne.

There was a flaw in my plan. I remembered the names of the various boutiquy areas in Seattle I'd visited, but wasn't really so sure which was which. As I was soon reminded, this end of Queen Anne Street was full of sitdowny restaurants whose clientele looked to care more about fashion than palate. Not the best area to pick a random restaurant for some good food to go in a hurry. Not the best area for that, not even a good one. We went to the Elliott Bay Pizza Company, ordered some submarine sandwiches; we stopped by Tully's to get some coffee and gawk at the winsome, well dressed locals; we headed off for the airport.

We returned the car, reached the gate as the plane started boarding. Perhaps because we were running late, we weren't able to get assigned seats close to one another. I was assigned seat 23B, Tom got 22B (so that I could poke him in the back of the head), and Paul was up in row 9 somewhere. Tom sat down in his seat; I looked in the row behind him.

Someone was sitting in my seat. The cluster of three seats was taken up by females of three generations--a grown woman on the aisle, an old woman in the middle seat, and a girl by the window. Of these three, the old woman looked least tractable to reason. Of course, she was sitting in my seat. I said excuse me. I said I thought she might be in my seat. I showed her my boarding pass. She shook her head. The woman on the aisle explained that they were in the right seats. I showed her my boarding pass, pointed out that its number bore a striking resemblance to the number of her neighbor's seat. I waited a bit for the wheels to turn in her head. She'd been traveling a while. She was perhaps tired. Nevertheless, surely certain thoughts would gel. At some point it would occur to her that they should check the old woman's boarding pass to see what its number was. I looked at them. They looked at me. Okay. I could point out their idiocy. I would suggest that the old woman check her own goddamned boarding pass. It was at this point I was pretty close to yelling. I was pretty upset. It is bad enough that these people were acting stupid, but they were acting stupid in my seat. If they had checked her boarding pass, I could have traded seats. I wasn't insisting on sitting in my assigned seat. I just wanted to sit down. I was so tired, so very tired. I decided that I couldn't trust myself to ask these people to look at their boarding passes. This was a job for someone who was still capable of tact. "I'll just call an attendant to get this all sorted out," I said. I pressed the attendant call button over the seat. I felt a little thrill. I'd never used an attendant call button before. Within a couple of minutes, an attendant showed up. She sweetly asked to see my boarding pass. Hmm. She sweetly asked to see the old woman's boarding pass, which the younger woman produced. Surprise, surprise--they were in the wrong row. They got up and moved. I wasn't surprised when they didn't apologize. I'd like to point out that the plane was going on to Orange County after its stop in San Francisco, lest you think that any San Franciscans or Seattlites should be so awful.

Soon I was reading in Ian Shoales' collection Not Wet Yet, thoroughly enjoying myself. As the plane made its bumpy way South, I came to realize that the young girl by the window was bored. She hadn't been with the two seat usurpers, apparently. Unaccompanied by adults, she also appeared to be bereft of books or entertainment. The window wasn't doing it for her. I tried to ignore her. I had a good book. I smiled as I passed her a complimentary beverage and foil-wrapped snacks, but quickly went back to my reading. However, I hadn't counted on the messy nature of the sandwich I'd brought along from Seattle. I was glad to unwrap the sandwich. I was hungry. The guy next to me was wearing cologne, and the spaghetti sauce on the sandwich nicely masked that scent. But this was a large, messy sandwich that commanded my complete attention. I had to put the book down. As I finished the sandwich, a small voice beside me asked, "So where are you from?" Damn.

I looked at her. She was being polite. She was probably a nice little girl. She was bored. She wanted to talk. I was tired. I didn't want to talk. But I'm weak-willed. We talked. Or rather, she talked, I prompted. A couple of times, I tried contributing to the conversation. I talked about my friends. I talked about the ice caves. She would look at me, uncomfortably bored. So I'd ask her about herself, her family, her friends. She talked about her life in Pittsburgh, CA, where she swam and rode horses. Her father wanted the family to move some place less built-up than Pittsburgh, somewhere he could run a bible camp. She had over a hundred stuffed animals. She collected key-chain charms. She liked her electronic pet. I smiled and nodded and tried to think of a tactful way to go back to my book. Her uncle was in jail. She'd stopped going to one horse-riding trainer because that trainer had sworn too often. She'd been in Seattle visiting her friend who she'd met in church, who had since moved away. She and this friend "talked" each night on AOL. I considered asking the old woman if she wanted to sit in this seat again. Eventually the plane touched down. Eventually, enough of the crowd had filtered out such that I could hop up from my seat and make my escape. (The girl had to wait for an attendant to walk her off the plane and deliver her to her parents in the lobby.) It occurred to me that, while that had been pretty awful, it could have been worse. I could have been sitting next to Mark from L.A.

As I got up, a lady in the row ahead of me (next to Tom) turned and addressed me: "Ice caves, eh?" I thought She must have listened in. I thought C'mon motherfucker, you want a piece of me, I'll kick your ass, I will put you in the fucking hospital, I will destroy you. I thought I'm tired. I said, "Yeah, nothing but the finest." She paused to figure out what that meant while I got the hell off of the plane. Later on, Tom told me that she and he had been listening in on my conversation; Tom had told her a bit about the ice caves after the little girl had lost interest. Whatever.

We navigated the airport, and were soon at the BART station. A San Francisco train pulled up, and I said au revoir to Tom and Paul and boarded. The man I sat down next to asked me what game had just got out at the Colliseum--a lot of people were boarding the train. I said I didn't know. I was coming from the airport. He asked me where I was from. I was from around here. He was from Latvia. A little girl was staring at us. She said something in a foreign language, perhaps Latvian. She addressed the man sitting next to me: "Teodor!" She pouted. She said something else. I offered to give up my seat. There were a lot of empty seats on the train. The guy grabbed my arm, insisted that I stay seated. The little girl said Teodor a few more times, pouted some more. After a couple of minutes, the guy wanted to get up, so I got up. He was saying something, I went and sat somewhere else. I read. Soon I was home. I felt like I'd earned it.


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