Thursday, Sept. 15

We are not off to a good start! Despite waking up at 4:45 am we missed our flight by something like 2 minutes. OK, make it 7. But still!

We arrived at the airport at 7:02 for our 7:25 flight. Unbeknownst to us they stop checking people in 30 minutes before the flight. SAY WHAT??? If we hadn’t stopped for a potty break en route we’d have made it. Even though the plane was at the airport and people were boarding, they would not allow us to get onto the plane! It was early morning torture!!!!

“You should have come 2 hours prior to departure,” the airline personnel told us. Now really. They want us there at 5:25 in the morning? I’ve BEEN to the Wichita airport at 5:25 in the morning. Trust me, it’s dead. We’ve been the only ones other than an occasional security officer waiting for the ticket counters to open. They don’t open 2 hours ahead of time!!! I admit that 23 minutes before a flight is cutting it close, but I also will say that there is NO reason they couldn’t have gotten us on the flight.

The airport was empty of passengers, save for the ones at the gate boarding our flight and the man next to us, who was also refused service. As we waited two hours for a standby flight, we only saw 1 other passenger the entire time. There were no flights arriving or taking off from 7:02 to the time that we went to the gate at 9:00. At the gate where we were hoping to catch a stand-by flight at 9:55, there was one other woman strolling the corridor along the entire wing. Incidentally, there were about 10 security officers standing around at the security checkpoint doing absolutely nothing. Although they have relaxed rules about taking off shoes, they made me take off my sandals. SANDALS! My shoes are nothing but leather flip flops! Whatever! I’d rather take them off and be safe than have them not scanned and find out someone has managed a way to hide bad things in a flip flop (come on…!) but you’ve got to wonder about the security IQ of the people working there. One officer walked past us, yawned, and told another airport employee that he’d only been on the job and hour and was already bored out of his mind.

They pulled our toiletry bag to the side to check it for explosives. It passed the test; clean as a whistle. No surprise there, but at least it gave them something to do.

We, on the other hand, were bored out of our mind! With the gate area to ourselves, we let Dave out of the camera bag where he proceeded to run amuck. He jumped into the massaging chair for a massage, into the water fountain for a drink (or a drowning, one or the other), and he read the USA Today newspaper that someone had left behind.

As frustrated as we were with United, they did manage to get us onto the stand-by flight at 9:55. The other passenger who was denied boarding on the original flight wasn’t so lucky. I felt bad for him.

When people did start to show up for the stand-by flight, I checked the clock carefully. They did not start trickling in until about 40 minutes prior to the flight.

And what makes businessmen think that we want to hear their conversations? A man with a foreign accent (British?) was screaming into his cell phone, arguing with his secretary about whether or not someone was paying his account. Another man called his IT people when he couldn’t get past the password part of turning his computer on! I was surprised at the number of my-age women who were flying solo. They’re easy to spot as they sit next to another my-age woman with one empty seat between them! We are funny people!

Ashley downloaded Lemonade Tycoon on her cell phone, so she was perfectly happy whiling away the hours playing the video game! I read quite a bit of my David McCullough book, John Adams.

When the ticketed passengers were boarded, our name was called. The airline attendant at the counter was unable to get the computer to work properly as she was “trying to load the Selms” (it sounded like we were cargo rather than paying passengers!), so she let us onto the flight without a boarding pass! We had no tickets in our hands; she simply told us to take our seats in 1A and 1C. The plane, a Canadair, was on the tarmack some distance from the gate. We went down the back stairs, across the runway, and up the steep steps into the plane. A very nice man (who is reading McCullough’s 1776!) offered to swap seats with us so that Ashley and I could sit together! How kind of him. And best of all, we were off!

Incidentally, had we not been able to catch the stand-by flight, we’d have been guaranteed a seat on the next flight at 3:30 – EIGHT HOURS after our original flight had been scheduled! Aaaauuuggghhh! J

The flight to Denver was wonderfully uneventful. The time passed quickly and the snack of two Plane Airline Cookies (gingersnaps) tasted heavenly. We were a bit hungry by then.

We landed at DIA and took the moving sidewalks from one end of the B wing to the next – Denver’s airport is HUGE! We checked in at the desk moments before boarding (didn’t make the 30 minute cut-off again, but Denver didn’t mind!) only to discover that they had more passengers booked than the plane could hold. By now it was nearly noon and we were hungry but I wasn’t leaving our post until they closed the doors to the flight. It didn’t look likely that we’d make the flight but the airline attendance told me “We’re going to try to get everyone on.” I took her word for it. This plane was ENORMOUS – 2/3 seats across but very long. They boarded for 30 minutes and finally called our name. While other standby passengers were able to get tickets easily, ours didn’t work in the computer again. They didn’t show us boarding the plane in Wichita! IMAGINE THAT! I told them we didn’t have tickets – they said, rather unamused, “Yes, we can see that!” The fact that we were standing in front of them was apparently proof enough, though this is obviously a hiccup in the security system! So much for Wichita’s handy dandy security that doesn’t allow passengers to board their flights even when they get there before the plane takes off! (No, I’m not bitter. Not at all!!!)

We were 2 of the last 3 standbys they allowed on the flight! We lucked out again!! That left us with the problem of empty stomachs (I was just sure we’d be stranded in Denver where we could have a nice, leisurely lunch…) but at least we were on our way to Seattle!

The pretzels they gave us were like manna, we were SO hungry! The flight to Seattle was long but again, wonderfully uneventful. We landed and walked for miles (the Seattle airport is huge, too!) to see if our bags had made the transfer! They weren’t on the flight they were supposed to be on but they’d made it on another flight! HOORAY! Some passengers had one bag on one flight and another bag on the other flight! How weird! No complaints though – we were in the Emerald City!

I’ve never taken the Gray Lines Shuttle to the hotel before, and it’s certainly not my favorite mode of transportation. The driver had a nice accent, French perhaps, but an arrogant demeanor. To me he seemed to be bothered by the fact that we wanted on his bus. The traffic getting out of the airport was horrendous and we spent a great deal of time in stoplights. I had a lot of respect for the driver when we arrived in downtown Seattle 30 minutes later, however. I have no idea how he maneuvered the bus through the crowded streets. What a driver! Ours was the last hotel on his route. We checked into The Warwick quickly and efficiently. We were delighted with our view of the Space Needle from the balcony, and I spent plenty of time dreaming of living in Seattle while looking at the cityscape. The hotel is lovely, although I’m still surprised by the lack of coffeemaker or microwave, though the mini refrigerator was a nice touch. The hotel comes with ambiance lighting – whether you want it or not! The lights take a minute or so to turn on to full brightness, but even then you’re sitting in a soft glow rather than a bright light. Maybe that’s why I always thought I looked so good in the morning and then got a big ugly shock later in the day when I looked in a mirror in full light!

Ashley was a walking zombie by the time we’d checked in. When she’s hungry, she runs out of energy fast. I made the mistake of taking her to the market, which is overwhelming for someone who has never been to Seattle before. It’s a bit much – all the sights and sounds and activity buzzing. We found a restaurant in the market that overlooks Puget Sound, and had window seats to the beauty of Seattle’s waterways. We watched ships, sailboats, and ferries come in and out as we ate, reminding Ashley of London.

I wanted to order the Philippino specialty of the day, which was a pork dish with onions served over rice, but apparently that dish had sold out. Of course that made me want it all the more! I settled for a Reuben sandwich instead, my second only, and it was DIVINE! I’d go back again tomorrow to have another one. YUM! Ashley ordered fettucini alfredo, which she devoured happily. The menu said it was supposed to come with an antipasto salad, but when it didn’t we asked the waitress about it. “Oh, the menus are old.” Oh. Can you do that? Can you change the item without telling anyone, omitting part of the meal you’re paying for, with the non-chalant excuse that the menu is old?!?! She offered to get Ashley a salad instead, and brought out a tossed salad with Ranch dressing. Ashley thought it was PERFECT, so we were very pleased with the little hole in the wall overlooking the waterway. Very, very nice.

After lunch we strolled the market, (one lady told us not to wander off the curb in front of her stand, the street was molten lava!) watching the fish fly in the market while Ashley was about to gag on the odor of raw fish! We picked out flowers – she got a $3.00 bunch and I got a $5.00 bunch. We have about 3 dozen flowers for $8!!!!! As we were walking by a fruit vendor he asked if we wanted a sample of peaches. Oh yes! It was WONDERFUL! Ashley wouldn’t try a bite of the Oh My God Peaches and he started yelling at her! (“What the hell is WRONG with you child?!”) Believe me, she tried a bite after that and agreed that it was wonderful. We bought two peaches (as big as bowling balls, and that’s only a minor exaggeration!) and headed to Beecher’s Cheese for their famous macaroni and cheese. Ashley found a Macaroni and Cheese Cookbook that she really wanted so we bought that. We sampled some of their specialty cheese and bought a hunk as well as a bit of cheddar. We bought some crackers as well, and planned to go back to our room to snack for dinner.

Ashley is having NO problem climbing the steep hills, while I’m VERY glad that I got the exercise at Indian Rock before the trip! The hills are even steeper than I remember!

When we got back to our room, we picked up the Internet access kit. It’s called EZAir by StayOnline, and it makes your non-hi-fi laptop a wireless computer. Very cool and works well even with a Win98 computer. Ashley was happy to IM Andy last night and I took care of some work-related e-mail.

We went down to the pool and hot tub for about 45 minutes. It’s a VERY nice facility. I hope we can get there every day we’re here.

We ordered room service for dinner, after having appetizers of cheese and crackers. Ashley got a burger and a Caesar salad; I had a club sandwich. All the food was heavenly! The restaurant in this hotel is a fancy French restaurant (with prices to match) but it shows in the care they take when preparing food. Definitely great stuff – even the iced tea was remarkable! We watched The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy while trying desperately not to fall asleep, then called it a night. What a wonderful day it had been!

Friday, September 17, 2005

I awoke at 6:30, allowing Ashley to continue to sleep. I watched the city come to life on this cold and rainy day from the balcony in our room. The steady stream of headlights on the bridge crossing a waterway was amazing. The rain starts and stops, but I’ve yet to actually see it. It’s more of an invisible mist, and I only know it exists because the streets are wet and the people are wearing raincoats or carrying umbrellas. As I took out across the water to the distant land, I see everything covered in a foggy haze. The sounds are amplified in the wetness, or so it seems, and I love this city even in the rain.

The “plan” was to head to the aquarium this morning. Luckily for us, Ashley checked the website prior to wandering down to the pier and we learned that it was closed for renovations. It re-opens tomorrow. With no set plans, we headed downhill where we ran into Nordstrom’s Rack, the store’s discounted department. Ashley bought a couple of shirts; we got very pretty watches for Ashley and Mika; and Ashley got some earrings. Getting hungry, we headed for the market where we had the most wonderful French pastries from Le Panier for breakfast. We had small, flaky tarts, mine filled with sausage, onions and cheese; Ashley’s filled with eggs, potatoes and sausage. Both were heavenly. The small restaurant was packed on this rainy day, so we walked to Post Alley and found a dry concrete slab under an overhang just across from Three Sisters to eat our breakfast. I can’t really think of any place more enjoyable than that place at that moment. From there we headed south and popped into any shops that caught our eye.

I found a wonderful Italian grocery that I would love to take home with me! Ashley found a wonderful game store where we spent a wad of money. Ashley loved the Down Under part of the market with their somewhat eclectic shops – that may have been her favorite part of the day. We walked and walked and walked and eventually ended up in Pioneer Square. I didn’t intend to make us walk up the really steep hills when we didn’t need to, but nothing was looking familiar and I was sure we had to go a few blocks east. I was wrong and we walked four blocks of incredibly steep hills for naught (while some loser jogged up them!) and in doing so, I completely wore out Ashley!

We sat down in Pioneer Square to talk with Mika on the phone for a bit, to listen to an incredible street performer play “drums” made out of buckets and empty bottles. He was very talented and enjoyable – a lot of people stopped to watch him. (We paid him because he was so awesome. I love it when beggars earn their money, it’s neat.) We booked the 2pm Underground Tour and then went looking for a place to eat. We chose a Gyro place – took a couple of bites and decided, uh, no. I’m not sure what the paste stuff was they spread on the bread, and whatever they used for dressing wasn’t to our liking either. We wrapped it up to go, left the restaurant and headed for a trash can around the corner.

By then it was time for the tour, which was quite enjoyable. The 20 minute presentation was lively and fun, told by a skilled storyteller with a sense of humor. She introduced the three founders of Seattle (the idiot from Ohio, the drunken womanizer, and the corrupt politician!) and told the stories of how they chose to develop a major city that they mapped out during LOW tide. (Seattle’s tide can be as high as 25’!) She told the story of how they introduced “crappers” to Seattle before they had plumbing, and how they thought it was a good idea to build the sewer system out of lumber. And then the tide came in, and people told stories of having geysers 6’ high in their bathrooms! Luckily (?) the great fire came and destroyed the city, and when they rebuilt, they raised the street level to awning level. The first floors of buildings were abandoned; the second stories became ground level. After her presentation, they took us into the basements of 3 buildings to see the original first floors. It was interesting, although after you’ve seen one building, that’s pretty much enough for me. The skylights built into the existing sidewalks let light into the underground area during the construction period of rebuilding Seattle, which was way cool. Some skylights (colored tile inlaid into the sidewalk) still exist. Oddly enough the structural integrity of the buildings are still mostly intact. Earthquakes apparently don’t affect below ground; it’s the upper stories that suffer the most damage.

After the tour we were famished. We headed back to Pike’s Market, Ashley getting weak with fatigue again! When she fades, she’s like a wind up toy that runs out of wind. I’m learning to keep her well fed! We went into a little pasta restaurant in the market where she had fettucini (her 3rd time in Seattle!) and I had some wonderful ravioli. We hit the cheese shop and headed back to our hotel, exhausted from 7 hours of walking!

We had just enough time to clean up before Jan and Dena arrived. Jan brought wine, cheese, crackers and apples. We added more cheese and a peach. The cheese was absolutely wonderful, as was the fruit, and we could have made a meal of it right there. Jan wanted to go to Wild Ginger but the earliest we could get in was 9:30pm, so we took off walking instead. We ended up at PF Changs in the Westlake Mall – a huge and very nice Oriental restaurant. We had a great meal, terrific conversation and a lovely, lovely time. The man who danced for us outside the restaurant was an added touch that we all enjoyed. It was SO nice to see Jan again, and to see how what a lovely lady Dena has grown into. What a nice, happy time spent with friends. I liked it a lot.

After Jan and Dena headed back home, Ashley and I headed to the hot tub, then to bed after a long and happy day.

Saturday, September 18, 2005

We slept in until about 8:30, then hit the pavement headed west to the Market for some more breakfast pastries from Le Panier. We decided that two meat pastries were better than one meat pastry and one fruit croissant so we each picked out two then headed to our little slab of concrete across from Three Sisters. We were wrong about the two pastries – one is truly sufficient – but I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather have been while we were sitting there eating them. We know now to throw a bit of pastry away from us as an offering to the pigeons (actually to appease them so they don’t attack us for wonderful French pastry!) and I’m getting so comfortable with the market that I’m feeling more like a local than a tourist there. I like that feeling!

From the bakery we headed south in search of the Seattle Aquarium. We thought we had to find a special street to cross to get under the freeway and across many lanes of Seattle traffic, thus as usual we walked a lot further than necessary. (For future reference, it appears that any street branching off 1st Street goes down to the pier, and again for future reference, Elliott’s Books is at 1st and Main; Pioneer Square is on 1st as well.) We stopped into Ye Old Curiosity Shop, which Ashley loved. She bought a bracelet, I bought some earrings and a painting of a Seahawkish-looking bird. When we got to the aquarium we discovered the area fenced in with quite a bit of debris and rubble, a small loader, a huge mess. They had been redoing the aquarium and Saturday was supposed to be the opening day. We stood at the locked fence, pouting a bit, when another tourist suggested that we head to the entrance, that perhaps we’d find something different when we arrived. Good plan! The aquarium was indeed open. The first exhibit we saw was the otter exhibit, and if I didn’t see anything else, I’d have been satisfied with the admission price! Otters have such a sense of amusement! I can’t recall any animal playing with such abandon! They were terrific to watch as they darted in and out of water, rolling around, spinning, gliding, tumbling happily. It must be great fun to do that all day!

The rest of the aquarium was pretty exciting as well, even though much of it showcased local fish rather than exotic ocean fish. People from the area aren’t especially impressed with the aquarium but we absolutely loved it! We got to watch the keeper feed the puffers and that was great fun as the birds “flew” underwater. They closely resemble penguins in body build and function. It was very cool.

Ashley made a rubbing of bird feet and I had my photo taken on some carved otters. We touched a starfish in the touch tank, and enjoyed the exhibit of jellyfish in a tank with colored lights. The baby stingrays (I can’t remember their real name) were amazing in that they have faces. Little smiley faces. And the artwork in the final exhibit hall is bright and colorful and very, very nice. I liked it a lot!

Karyn and Craig were running a little late to meet with us, so we went walking along the Pier. Ashley bought a couple of things in a pirate store, and we looked around the Sports Den (which has a disappointingly small selection of Seahawks stuff.) We bought a few souvenirs in the Simply Seattle store, then waited on the street for Karyn and Craig to appear. They pulled right up, we jumped in and off we went to the University district. There was a football game being played at Husky Stadium so the uni was full of people. We ate at a little restaurant in the University district after stopping to have a photo op with a statue of Jimi Hendrix. We also drove around Capital Hill trying to find a music shop for Ashley (to no avail.) We ended up in Fremont, the Centre of the Universe, where we took in the tourist sights of the rocket ship, the statue of Lenin the dictator, and of course, the troll. Ashley climbed on the troll and found a mattress behind the troll. Eeeuuwww. We saw a lot of bear snatch graffiti, which was … interesting. The bus stop people were decked in Seahawks gear for the game, and I wanted their green shirts really, really, really, really bad! We found a music store for Ashley, and she was in heaven as she bought some sheet music for guitar.

After Fremont we went to Ballard to ??? McPhees – a novelty shop that sells nothing but junk. Yes, they really do make Jesus action figures and Jesus bobbleheads! I’d have bought some for the novelty factor but $12 was more than I wanted to pay for a laugh! I did buy a smoking monkey though, remember how silly and fun they were from my youth. What a bizarre toy that was/is. The whole store is strange, with stuff that should be thrown away rather than mass manufactured and sold! J

Heading back to Seattle, we drove through the Pacific Science Center, past the Space Needle and back to the downtown area. We arrived at the music store as they were locking their door. We arrived at the Seahawks store only to find a college game in progress and absolutely no parking.

We went back to the hotel to decide what to do for dinner. It was hard to coordinate plans with Dever, who was at a soccer game. It looked like we’d eat around 8pm, which sounded like torture to Ashley and I who were SO tired at that point. We opted out of dinner, which turned out to be a fine idea since Karyn and Craig didn’t get finished up until 10pm! Instead, Ashley and I went to the pool and hot tub for a relaxing soak and float. We met a nice lady from San Francisco who has decided her heart is in Seattle. She’s planning to move back home after 7 years in San Francisco. It was interesting talking with her. As we were getting out, we met a couple returning from an Alaskan cruise. They were telling stories of seeing the orca whales. We watched Bewitched in our room, had room service fix Ashley’s macaroni and cheese, I ordered a steak, and we went to bed. Another great day in this city I love.

Sunday, September 19, 2005

GAME DAY!!!!! We were up fairly early, buzzing around the room to get ready for the big game! Ashley was embarrassed to put on her Seahawks gear – a requirement if you’re going to game with ME! J No amount of embarrassment will get you out of dressing for the game! People were staring at us as we got onto and off of the elevator, and we were asked more than once if there was a game today. WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE AND WHY AREN’T THEY SEAHAWKS FANS?!?!? It’s amazing how little interest there is in Seahawk football in Seattle. Then again, by the time we got off the complimentary hotel shuttle in the stadium area, the support of the ‘hawks was readily apparent. People were lined up outside of the bars waiting to get in. As soon as King Street opened, we went in with Moses. Kiltman came across from Tiki and was soon joined by his normal cohorts. It was lively and fun as usual. Moses and I had breakfast (I had biscuits and gravy; he had eggs and bacon) while Ashley watched in shock and disbelief. She was happy when it was time to leave the crowded and noisy bar. We went to the Seahawks store where we bought her a jersey of her own and a blanket with which to cover up. We bought two license plates for the front of our vehicles, and a Seahawks breast cancer pin for a $3.00 donation. I picked up a media guide as well. Then we walked around Exhibition Hall and into the game. We sat with Moses in Kiltman’s seats for the pre-game period. When we saw Kiltman coming we went ahead and took our own seats in the corner of the end zone. I have NO complaints with our seating. We had a great view of the field and we sat with a good crowd of people.

We jumped ahead early and held on to the lead through the final quarter, though it was a nail-biter at the end. That feeling of dread was coming back as it’s done through so many years of Seahawks football, and fans around us started berating Holmgren for being too conservative. Michael Vick was incredible as usual, so dangerous on the run, but we were able to contain him and his Falcon teammates! It was a sensational victory that can be handed to the fans as well, as we were LOUD in the final plays of the game, disrupting the Falcon offense. When the players motioned to fans to be loud, WE RESPONDED! It was exciting and fun and just an awesome time!

After the game, we went around collecting souvenir cups that had been abandoned. I have no pride; I know no shame! We went back to the Seahawk store across the street from the stadium (the stadium store had lines like you’d never believe) and picked up a windbreaker and a sweatshirt.

Karyn and Craig took Moses, Ashley and me back to our hotel where we had another little party with wine, cheese, pepperoni and crackers. It was nice to sit and relax with them, talking about the game, wrapping up the whole weekend. When they left, Ashley and I headed to the hot tub. 4 days, 4 hot tub soaks. How are we going to survive back home?! When we got back to our room we ordered room service again. She had them heat up her macaroni and cheese; I had a pork loin chop. The French restaurant in this hotel is divine. They have the most awesome food. Ashley spent the evening on-line with her friends; I spent the evening lying in bed thinking about reading my book but never mustering up the will to open the book!

What a GREAT trip this has been to a wonderful city to be with very fun friends. What a sensational market with French pastries that melt in your mouth, a lively aquarium with playful sea otters, eclectic neighborhoods and stores, and of course – THE SEAHAWKS who never send us home with an easy win!!! J

It’s been tons of fun, the weather’s been cooperative, and it’s with a twinge of sadness that I’m packing my bags for our trip home tomorrow.