The ARVO Conference this year was held in Seattle and Anna was presenting a poster there, so we decided to make a bit of a holiday out of it. The conference is in Baltimore next year, so we’ll probably give that one a miss for obvious reasons and the Pacific Northwest is an area we probably won’t have a chance to check out again, so why not?
A lot of the music I loved growing up and some I still love to this day comes from Seattle and the state of Washington in general so it has always been a place I wanted to check out. In fact, Melvins were playing the first night we were there. But I had also been hearing a lot of cool things about Portland in recent years, so the plan would be as follows:
- We would fly out from New York on Saturday afternoon, arriving late that night.
- Anna would have work stuff occupying most of our time there, so I would just have to occupy myself.
- On Wednesday we would rent a car and drive down to Portland that night.
- Hang out in Portland until midday Sunday, at which point we would drive back to Seattle airport and fly back to New York.
Would it all go as planned or would the T-Factor take control, as it is known to do? There’s only one way to find out…
Saturday, April 30
Our trip got under way quite smoothly — We arrived at Newark Airport, NJ, on time, hung out in the lounge until it was time to go and boarded our six-hour flight to SEATAC Airport, WA.
I HATE airports and every aspect of flying. Airports are just stressful in general and I hate flying because I can’t fit in the seats or the toilets. Furthermore, we were flying United, an airline that makes you pay to see the inflight map! Not a particularly comfortable or enjoyable time, but somehow this one wasn’t too bad. Why? Because, and I’ll never understand how, Anna and I ended up getting into the crossword in the inflight magazine and, before we even realised, four hours had passed! Seriously.
We landed, made our way to Seattle and checked into our hotel (I had to get a picture of the awesome kitchen, right). It was a nice place, the room was huge, but to say it was a little old would be somewhat of an understatement. The building had an elevator where you had to physically open the door yourself, to which I was proudly told that it was the oldest elevator in Seattle by the doorman. Yup, and I’d bet it’s the slowest, too. To put this hotel into perspective, if you have seen the film The Royal Tenenbaums, our hotel resembled the place Royal was living in at the beginning of the film.
Anyway, we grabbed dinner and a few drinks, but Anna was attending the conference the next day, so we caught a reasonably early night.
Sunday, May 1
May Day isn’t celebrated anywhere I’ve lived before, so I had never given it a lot of thought, I just figured it’s what you say on a submarine in an emergency. In fact, I’m still not even sure what it celebrates, so my pals at Wikipedia have the answers, as usual:
May Day on May 1 is an ancient northern hemisphere spring festival and usually a public holiday; it is also a traditional spring holiday in many cultures. Dances, singing, and cake are usually part of the celebrations that the day includes.
In the late 19th century, May Day was chosen as the date for International Workers’ Day by the Socialists and Communists of the Second International to commemorate the Haymarket affair in Chicago. International Workers’ Day may also be referred to as “May Day”, but it is a different celebration from the traditional May Day.
Yeah, but that’s not really what I saw. I saw a bunch of people, mostly South American, marching and dancing down the street protesting anything and everything (left). Well, most South American countries speak Spanish, how is May Day celebrated in Spain?
May Day is celebrated throughout the country as Los Mayos (lit. “the Mays”) often in a similar way to “Fiesta de las Cruces” in many parts of Hispanic America. By way of example, in Galicia, the festival (os maios, in the local language) consists in different representations around a decorated tree or sculpture. People sing popular songs (also called maios,) making mentions to social and political events during the past year, sometimes under the form of a converse, while they walk around the sculpture with the percussion of two sticks.
Okay, that sounds a little more like what I saw. There were thousands of people marching, that photo is just the beginning, and they were protesting everything from federal medicinal weed to the incarceration of Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Most of my day was spent walking around everywhere, just exploring the town and this is a cool place. There is still quite a bit of poverty and homelessness in Seattle, as is the case with most US cities but most of them are taken care of pretty well, living in tents under the freeway bridges. Sure, it’s not ideal, but it’s better than the situation in most cities here.
A few sights from our neighbourhood:
Initially, I wasn’t aware of how much walking I had done, but, just out of curiosity I had a look at the pedometer on my phone; I had walked 30km and climbed the equivalent of 55 flights of stairs. A few quick calculations and it occurred to me that I had done three-quarters of a marathon in an exceptionally hilly city! I instantly felt exhausted so I went and pulled up a stool in a pub until Anna was finished. It turns out you can shoot monkeys in the latest version of Big Buck Safari. Sweet!
Monday, May 2
This is a simple one — I was in too much pain after my epic urban trek the previous day to really do anything, so I just slowly waddled out and checked out all the record shops near our place, then back to the pub. Beer soothes the burning muscles.
Later, I met up with Anna and some of her colleagues for dinner. We were walking toward our hotel when I noticed that the old bum coming down the street toward us was looking me directly in the eye and had a knife in his hand. He wasn’t moving particularly quickly, so I casually mentioned to Anna that we should cross the road right now, explaining afterward what had happened. He was that stoned and moving so slowly that I didn’t really feel particularly worried as long as we got out of his way immediately. Not trying to sound like a dick or anything, but he was of no real threat to us. It would’ve been a different story if this were Baltimore, though…
Tuesday, May 3
This was going to be a fun day for a few reasons; It was going to be about 30°C (86F°) and I was going to see a guy who I was friends with in primary school, but pretty much hadn’t seen since, Brendan Tress. Brendan’s parents are from Washington and they decided to move back after he changed to another high school, so I was looking forward to seeing him.
My body still hated me when I got up and everything was a struggle, but Brendan was waiting for me in the lobby of the hotel. We slowly made our way outside, Brendan laughing at my awkward gait the entire way and he took me to explore the Downtown area of Seattle:
The first place we headed to was a shop at the Pike Place Market on the pier that sold some of the most truly bizarre stuff I have ever seen. Want a chastity belt, but only have $65.00? Not a problem and there’s no sales tax in Washington, so that 65 bucks is all you’ll need!
A few other gems from that store:
Anna met us for lunch in a diner and then she had to meet up with some colleagues. I hung out with Brendan the rest of the day, just catching up on old times and soon it was time for him to catch the bus back to where he lives, upstate. It was great hanging out with you, Brendan, and cheers for showing me around, it wouldn’t be the last time I’d be downtown.
The Pike Place Fish Market, founded in 1930, is an open air fish market located in Seattle, Washington’s Pike Place Market, at the corner of Pike Street and Pike Place. It is known for their tradition of fishmongers throwing fish that customers have purchased, before they are wrapped.
The store is now a popular tourist destination in Seattle, attracting up to 10,000 daily visitors, and is often billed as world-famous.
Okay, most things in the US are deemed “World-Famous”, but I definitely knew about this one before we went. There isn’t just the market, either, there are quite a few stores, one of which sold a ton of different types of chilli sauce. The one I bought was called Red Rectum.
We were having a blast checking out all of the fish in the market, when a monkfish jumped out of the ice at us, freaking us both right out.
In the market…
Anna had another work dinner that night and I came, too, this time at the Four Seasons, where I had the best oysters I’ve ever eaten and some of those enormous scallops from the market. Then we picked up our rental car and started our two-and-a-half hour drive down to Portland where we would be a little surprised by our accommodation that first night, but you’ll have to wait to read about that one.
Seattle is such a great place! In hindsight it’s absolutely impossible to understand why everyone there was so depressed in the ’90s! And cheers again, Brendan, for taking me around.
Just a few more random photos from around the town:
Now, on to Portland, stay tuned for Part 2!