When I do get around, I write about it. If you want to read exclusively about my visits to United States presidential sites, you can do that over here.

Travel: Washington

All my time in Washington was tied to the Seattle Comedy Competition, in which I was thoroughly crushed. I did still salvage the trip by seeing a lot of stuff and also videotaping a proposal on the side of Mt. Saint Helens that eventually resulted in my marriage. Lemons, lemonade, etc.

Tacoma, Aberdeen and Hoquiam

November 12, 2008

Hello from the Seattle Comedy Competition! Two days down, four to go! And if current trends hold, that will be the end of it, because both days I've finished out of the top five (in a group of fifteen). The good news is that my sophisticated and sensual style definitely helps me stand out; the bad news is that the judges so far haven't been favoring my sophisticated and sensual style. But tomorrow is another day, another venue and another set of judges ... after the halfway point, we should definitely have a good idea of if I should be moving around my travel plans.

I am happy to report that my horrendous luck with show placement has held up. The conventional wisdom for this kind of show (15 comics, plus emcee, plus guests at the end) is that you want to be somewhere in the middle -- after the crowd (including the judgegs) has warmed up, but before they get tired. I randomly drew the first slot on Tuesday and the third slot on Wednesday. The rest of the way, I have to go 12th, 13th, 2nd and 3rd. So every show I'm either in the first three slots, or the last four. I am happy to report this, because it is the feeble crutch of denial that I shall lean upon in the event of a first-week exit. Phew.

Tonight's show was in Hoquiam, which astute observers will not is not Seattle. It's actually 120 miles from the city, right near the Pacific Ocean; the nearest town is Aberdeen, the home of Kurt Cobain (the sign going into town says "Aberdeen: Come As You Are," and thankfully not "Aberdeen: Rape Me"). We were advised to leave Seattle super duper early because (surprise) it was raining. Apparently it does that here. Huh.

Since I am cool, I left Seattle noon and stopped in Tacoma to check out the Museum of Glass. I not sure why glass art and its meccas have become an important part of my life in recent years, but I'm OK with it, in a manly and self-confident way. The museum is on the smallish side (especially for $10) but I liked what I saw. There was a kick-butt Dale Chihuly chandelier on display, a functioning glass studio where you could watch artists at work, and a pretty big introductory display of contrasting pieces to walk you through the range of glass art (opaque vs. translucent, smooth vs. not smooth, etc.). But the highlight has to be the Glass Bridge over I-5, which has a wall of Chihuly vases, a tunnel with a Chihuly ceiling, and two giant crystal towers. Check it:

It was easily the most pleasing pedestrian foot bridge that I have ever set foot on. Cheers to you, Tacoma.

From there it was on to Hoquiam, which would probably be a great and beautiful drive outside of monsoon season. I got there FOUR HOURS EARLY, which was a blessing in disguise! To kill time I stopped on a whim at Aberdeen's Popcorn Factory, a coffee shop which also serves gourmet popcorn. It was even more awesome than it sounds. In chatting with the staff, it came up that I was a comedian, and so they talked me into a special 5-minute preview of the show that night. Usually I'm a killjoy in these situations, but I've been trying to be a little more outgoing, and I'm glad I was. Afterwards they gave me a big bag of free caramel corn, and I bought a "Hoquiam Grizzlies" T-shirt to support the local high school charity program. I wore it on stage at Stiffy's, the bar where the competition was held; the shirt might have been the only thing keeping me from a last-place finish. Here's the interior:

See the drawings on the ceiling of various music stars? There were also drawings by that same artist at the Popcorn Factory. Plus the nephew of the owner of Stiffy's was one of the high school students collecting money for charity at the coffee shop. Small town fever: catch it!

Anyhow, thanks to the people of Aberdeen/Hoquiam for your hospitality, even the guy with the Robert E. Lee beard in the front row at the show who never even cracked a smile. You people are alright.

Seattle: The Underground

November 13, 2008

I kicked off my first sunny day in Seattle by driving downtown and spending $15 for the privilege of going underground. The Seattle Underground!

The basic story here is that Seattle was founded by idiots. And not just any idiots -- cheap, money-grubbing idiots! The downtown was built on a tidal mud flat so that half the buildings sank. The constant rain and flooding left enormous potholes in the streets, to the point where they were put on maps and given names and claimed drowning victims (really). Then they built a gravity-reliant sewage system that only worked during low tide; at high tide the sewage dumped into the bay would wash back into the downtown, and pressure in the pipes would make flush toilets explode with geysers of sea water and sewage.

But then the city burned to the ground, so on their do-over ... they built in the same place. But this time, they made the buildings stone, and everything had to be at least two stories, and after a few years, they raised the roadbeds, at which point they ran out of money, so the sidewalks were 10 to 30 feet below the street, until they could get the cash together to put in new sidewalks, which meant the OLD sidewalks were now an "underground" city, where a bunch of rats bred and spread disease, until plague broke out, at which point they finally closed the whole mess for a few decades to think about what they learned.

The tour takes you into about three blocks of the Underground around Pioneer Square. It is a dank, poorly lit basement with concrete floors, rubble and brick walls. There are also crappy ruined things strewn on the floor. There is nothing particularly distinguishing about it. But it's worth the $15, because it's all about showmanship. The tour guide was really, really good; the stories are really informative and they tell a lot of jokes. For example, did you know that after the legalization of prostitution, taxes and fees on whores made 80 percent of the city's operating budget? And that Mayor Yesler would sue the city as a businessman and then, as mayor, settle out of court with himself? And that one of the most prominent founders of Seattle was a polygamist?

Mostly, go for the inspiration. The Seattle story is an tale of man triumphing over stupidity, through more stupidity. And in times like these, that's the message we need.

Seattle: Pike Place Market

November 13, 2008

After the Underground it was on to Pike Place Market, which is a lot like DC's Eastern Market, only much bigger and with hippies. And they have that one fish stand where they throw fish, and every time there's a national broadcast of a Seahawks game they send a camera crew to tape it.

Sorry there's no midair fish shot, but I think I would have had to buy a large fish to guarantee such a spectacle, and I wasn't in the mood for 10 pounds of bass. Plus I don't think the Studio 6 refrigerator could contain the smell. And now, a hippie:

This guy was actually across the street at the "Sanitary Public Market," which seems to imply that some other market is less than sanitary, maybe because they were throwing fish. There were several hippies (or members of the granola tribe, or earth's second cousins twice removed, or whatever they're called these days) operating stalls or concessions. I am not sure exactly how the hippie economy works. I think the money you save on bathing, laundry, haircuts and buying new clothes makes it possible to sell T-shirts or graphic novels and still make rent. It probably doesn't hurt that you're sharing your house with 13 other people, or that your house might be made primarily of canvas or nylon. This paragraph cannot safely hold any more stereotypes, so we're done.

Those are "floaters," if I'm recalling my glass art lessons ... artistic interpretations of a tool used by Japanese fishermen. For the most part, everywhere you go, artsy-craftsy flea market stuff is the same, probably because it is all made in one gigantic warehouse in Pueblo, Colorado. I think these things have a little more Seattle flair. Neat stuff.

Seattle: The Space Needle / EMP

November 14, 2008

My vast material wealth sometimes gets me down, so I decided to do something about it on Friday. I went to the Space Needle, where for only $16 you can get a view that can be topped only by the observation decks of five or six of the local skyscrapers. Eight tops. See for yourself:

Nice, huh? But considering that the Space Needle fees covered construction costs somewhere around 1964, it's not $16 of nice. At those rates I should be able to fire high-powered water cannons at pedestrians from the comfort of the observation deck.

The Space Needle was built in 1962 as the central attraction for the World's Fair, which had a "21st Century" theme. This is why it looks like a studio apartment from "The Jetsons." But it's iconic, so you sort of have to do it if you're in Seattle, the same way that you have to visit the Washington Monument when you go to D.C. or South of the Border when you go to South Carolina. It's the sacred code of tourism.

But I still hadn't spent enough, and they wouldn't let me ball up $20 bills and throw them off the observation deck, so I headed next door to the Experience Music Project ($15). They call it this because it's harder to sell tickets with the name "Paul Allen's Basement Lair." Now, we all know awkward nerds who revere Jimi Hendrix like a god, but most of them do not have billions in Microsoft money. Paul Allen does, and so in place of a shrine in a special closet with a red lightbulb under his stairs, he opted for a Frank Gehry-designed musuem in the middle of town. And then he also had some old action figures, so he added on a science fiction museum next door.

It's neat! Not $15 of neat, but neat. EMP has a room filled with video consoles where you can watch oral histories by a number of sci-fi and music legends, like the guy from Devo, who in his interview is still wearing a flowerpot on his head. I'm thinking he might sleep in it. It also has a lot of guitars and framed magazines which aren't really quite as exciting as, say, listening to music. I didn't really get to use the sound lab where computers teach you to use instrumets, because they were being hogged by selfish kids. And sadly there was no trombone pavillion that I could show off at, despite the huge impact of the trombone on pop and rock music. Sigh.

The Science Fiction museum is like a Planet Hollywood without the Cap'n Cruch Chicken Tenders, in that it's basically lots of movie and TV props and costumes hanging on the walls. Some exhibits are really cool; others you will be embarrassed to admit that you actually know what you're looking at ("a plastic rain coat from 'Blade Runner?' Wow!"). I think the highlight was the temporary robot exhibit. One display case has both Robby the Robot from "Forbidden Planet" and B9 from "Lost in Space," and if you wait around long enough, they have a conversation. After insulting eachother for a minute or so they make up and become friends. It's unexpected and very funny.

It was a fun afternoon and at the end of the day, I'm glad I did these things. Not $31 of glad, but glad.

Mount Saint Helens

November 15, 2008

"The mountain is out." That's what Seattleans (Seattlelites? Seattlers?) say when Mount Rainier is visible on the horizon. From Tuesday through Friday, the mountain wasn't out. On Saturday it was, and I swear to you, it looks fake. Rainier is so big, so dominating, that I can't imagine how something that imposing COULDN'T be visible all the time. I couldn't see it yesterday from the Space Needle, but with blue skies and low haze, it magically appeared. Crazy.

But the mountain I built my day around was a little bit to the south. Take the I-5 about 100 miles, then head 52 miles east down Washington 504 through all the tree farms and valleys to the Johnston Ridge Observatory, and you're on the doorstep of Mount Saint Helens. The drive is fantastic -- it reminded me of driving through parts of Ireland, only the green was mostly from pine trees, and also I was driving on the right, and also there was a volcano there.

All the facilities are closed for the season, but I was still able to walk about two miles down a boundary trail with all kinds of phenomenal views of both the volcano and the desolation below. Twenty eight years later huge swaths are still relatively barren. Have a look!

The whole experience has strengthened my resolve to never, ever, get on the bad side of a volcano. They mean business.

Seattle: Ballard Locks / Golden Gardens

November 16, 2008

Another fine day in Seattle! This morning I had breakfast in the oh-so-trendy Queen Anne district with good college chums Chris and Stacey, and then I spent about four hours digesting that breakfast on their couch. It was a big breakfast, is what I'm getting at.

Then, on their recommendation, I stopped by the Ballard Locks. This a canal that connects Lake Washington and the fine coastal waters of Puget Sound. It has a fish ladder for running salmon, and while it is the very end of spawning season, I was hoping against the odds that at least one inept or drunk fish would make his lonely way up the ladder, desperately trying NOT to be the last guy to the orgy. That's never a good spot to be in, regardless of your species. Sad to say, Mr. Limpet was not bringing up the rear. But it's still fun to look at boats!

Also, while I was in the fish ladder viewing chamber, I got to hear a disturbing audio program in which a woman reads a series of poems written from the point of the view of the fish. I think some of them were mildly erotic, by fish standards. There was another treat for the ears in the visitor center. An automated slideshow on the history of the canal clearly had not been updated since about 1972, and the music was unbelievably awesome. Here's a sample.

From there it was a short hop to Golden Gardens, which is a beach with a marina. I mostly just took pictures and chilled out, but I also learned that whether you're on the East Coast or the West Coast, there will always be people stupid enough to feed seagulls. THEY'RE THE RATS OF THE SKY. THEY DON'T NEED YOUR HELP.

Seattle: Alki Beach

November 17, 2008

The last stop in the Chris White Seattle Tour 2008 was Alki Beach in West Seattle, the original landing spot for the white folks hoping to make the area home. After a season of getting pummeled by the weather, they got the hell out of there and headed to Elliot Bay, leaving only coffeeshops, quaint beach homes and rollerblading paths behind. The way the geography works out, you get maybe the best view of downtown Seattle from Alki:

The yellow truck is the original moving van the settlers used to drive around the bay. I parked somewhere near that view and then jogged around the tip of the peninsula; once you round the bend you're looking out toward Puget Sound and the ferries and islands and seals and that sort of thing. If you're going to check it out, try to do so on a day with blue skies and 60 degree weather. Speaking from experience, I think that makes it more enjoyable.

I don't know what the point is of those steps going down into the water; either there's some kind of beach to walk on when the tide goes out, or the seals in the water (I actually spotted one) need a way to get on land so they can assault townspeople for sustenance (that's how eco-conscious people are up this way). The water is perfectly clear, which I suppose is nice, but it's a far cry from the comforting, turgid brown waters of the South Jersey shore. Squint at the back of that picture with the stairs and you can pick out the Space Needle.

As for the mini-Liberty? Beats me. The plaque said something about the Boy Scouts putting it up. It's not an exact copy as much as an ugly reproduction. But it is a local landmark, and I'm sure midget immigrants entering this fine nation on our West Coast are heartened by this shining beacon of hope as they peer out of the porthole of their freighters, sitting on top of the sea chest holding their wife and four children.


One man's quest to be the humblest person alive
Copyright 2014, Chris White