Moving Out, Not In
From January 2014 until the end of April this year, I lived in a miniscule studio in Long Beach next door to a narcissist with a penchant for ongoing home construction and chicken coop tending. His pasty white children had multiple outside gangster-rap themed gatherings under my window in their backyard, but thankfully those ceased after Chicken Man had a blowout with his daughter. Thankfully, my sister and nephew lived in the front house on the same property. They were the best neighbors, but living and working alone in a small space with constant noise became too much. I didn’t realize how much anxiety the situation was causing me until I was no longer in it.
So, I planned my great escape. I would move out, but I wouldn’t move back in somewhere else. Instead, I would throw my belongings into storage and take an extended road trip to the Pacific Northwest, with the idea I’d move in with my uncle temporarily near Seattle. He owns a four-bedroom house and lives alone; he has the opposite of what I was used to: space. I decided to take advantage of my freedom as a telecommuter who’s worked from home for eight years—and has been with the same company for almost 10; I could work anywhere, so I would. When I told people my plans to hit Napa, Ashland, Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver, they were envious and called me “brave.” I didn’t feel brave. I felt desperate. I was driven more by loneliness than courage. I needed more legroom. I needed a change of scenery. I needed out of the same crazy headspace. There weren’t enough wine bars within walking distance of my studio that could change my mind. (Bonus: there’s a wine bar within walking distance of my uncle’s house too—with a stunning view of Mt. Rainer.)
What I didn’t realize is how difficult it would be to plan a life in flux with next-to-zero belongings. When I rented a 5 x 8 storage unit next to the Long Beach Airport a month before my departure, I had to figure out what I needed to keep and what I could live without for an extended period of time. First, I boxed up my books: eight legal-size boxes full. (I’m not getting a Kindle.) I neatly stacked them against the wall of the unit, along with other items I thought I wouldn’t need for a while. I freed up more space in my cramped apartment every few days. I felt better already.
But when the time came for the movers to take the rest, as I packed my desk and closet, I had to decide, “Do I need this, or can it disappear for six months?” It wasn’t easy. A 2008 Honda Civic LX fills up quickly. I rationalized, “If I need it, I’ll just get it back out of storage when I return from my road trip.”
On moving day, the movers played the world’s ultimate game of Tetris. My apartment was a clown car.
How did I ever fit so many personal effects into that diminutive back house?
When the two movers saw my storage unit and how I’d already filled a third of it, I asked, “Will it all fit?”
“Oh yeah, sure!” one of them said.
They rearranged everything I’d already organized to pack in what was on their truck. They weren’t worried about it fitting until they observed the last of the boxes when my storage unit was almost full. Then it was a serious task, but the movers were methodical. We stood back to admire the floor-to-ceiling puzzle when they were done. I now have no clue where anything is and couldn’t reach it if I tried. My mattress is a wall blocking it all, and I won’t have my own apartment again until at least November.
Once I was “home-free,” and my car was packed, I sighed. I’d accomplished what I’d set out to do: I’d become a road warrior. I was free to explore the world, leave the past behind, experience new sites and people, and all on my own terms!
But first, I had to get gas. At the gas station, I set my iPhone music app to shuffle several hundred songs. What would be the soundtrack for my trip? My newfound freedom needed a theme! The first song that came on was “No Surprises” by Radiohead: the first dance song from my wedding.
I quickly hit the “next” arrow.
Song two: Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up.”
That’s more like it.
I cranked the volume and took off. I was officially free…
…to sit in Los Angeles morning commuter traffic. The smog blanketing downtown was particularly thick that morning too. I couldn’t wait to escape.
It took me two-and-a-half hours to get to Magic Mountain, but I had grander destinations in mind. I hadn’t been to Napa since 2002. I hadn’t been to Seattle for over 17 years, and I’d never been to Oregon or Vancouver.
General goals on my journey: Eat good food, hike pretty mountains, talk to strangers.
The good food would have to wait. I was stuck on the 5 north shelling roasted pistachios as I steered the car with my knee; over the course of that week, my car turned into a nutshell graveyard.
Here are some random thoughts from my drive up the barren 5 on my trek to Napa: Has anyone ever used a runaway truck ramp? Where do the people who work in fast food joints in the middle of nowhere LIVE? There are no houses here! I’m convinced every truck I pass will fall over and crush my car. I drive faster than the cars in the slow lane and slower than the cars in the fast lane. What’s the story behind that one red shoe on the side of the road? The trick to road trips is stretchy pants. Does that black and red hat alongside the highway belong to the same kid as the red shoe I saw several hours ago? Shit, I already have a new zit on my cheek. Did you know hundreds of bats live under every freeway overpass from LA to San Francisco? I didn’t.
After about three hours of living out of my car, the rubber along the passenger window peeled off and began flapping against the roof. This had happened before. Each time I’d pull on the rubber and break it off by hand. The beauty of possessing an old car is you don’t care about it. (I wish I could sell my car and fly home, but I left my pink slip in storage.)
In the background, Elliott Smith sang “Going Nowhere.”
I made it to Buttonwillow by lunchtime. My culinary choices were limited. For a millisecond I pondered the Taste of India. In Buttonwillow. Nope. That left Taco Bell, McDonald’s, or Subway. I chose Subway. Jared’s smarmy face popped into my head as I ate my mediocre corporate Subway Club. The food I would eat in the coming weeks would only get better from there.
On the inside of the bathroom stall, someone had carved “R and A 4ever.”
They already broke up, I thought.
I got back in the car, where My Morning Jacket serenaded me with “I think I’m Going to Hell.”
Along the 5, politically motivated signs bordered dry, yellow farmlands, proclaiming the bleakness of the drought’s effects. The first one read, “Welcome to California. Restricted water,” and then something I couldn’t make out before I drove by.
“No water equals no jobs,” the next one said.
“Congress created a dust bowl,” one read, and on and on, until finally, I saw a sign that said, “Land for sale.”
Who would buy it?
In the meantime, Jesus and Mary Chain’s “I’m Happy When It Rains” played as I ran out of drinking water.
When I got close to Napa, I hit after-work commuter traffic. I’d timed it so I hit traffic on both ends of the drive.
Mad Season’s “I Don’t Know Anything” played next.
Airbnb in Napa
I was a little nervous about my first-time Airbnb experience. I booked private rooms and bathrooms in people’s homes, where they were actually living. I thought about the situation from their points-of-view. From my vantage point, it was cool; it was cheaper and more interesting than a hotel. But if I were them, I wouldn’t want random strangers in my house. I came to terms with the oddness of it when I thought, “I’m paying them,” and “they chose to do this.” So, I went with it and stepped out of my comfort zone. Plus, I did my research and had a gut feeling the people whose homes I chose to invade were my kind of people. I’d even been texting my first Airbnb host. He was witty and joyful. I was looking forward to meeting him. When I got to his house, within walking distance of downtown, no one was there; he was in Hawaii with his dad. His adorable bright blue house had a porch swing, wood floors, a memory foam mattress, a delightful food-based garden in back, an all-around welcoming vibe, and a wifi password. He was very trusting to leave me the key, having never met me before. I guess it helps to have a nice headshot online. (Thanks, Mom!)
Thirty minutes later, the missing Airbnb host sent in reinforcements. His girlfriend came over to take care of me. She was a sweet girl from Iowa with a dainty tattoo on her arm, elegant glasses, and a thin white blouse with tiny wine bottles all over it. She represented the impossible triumvirate: young, beautiful, and as fat-free as skim milk. I really liked her. We hit it off right away. She looked scared when I told her about my essay collection, but she didn’t run. Instead, she offered to schedule appointments for me at the two wineries she worked for the next day.
“Do you like whiskey?” I asked. I had about a third of a bottle of small-batch Few bourbon left in the trunk of my car to share with her.
She said that while “cab is king” around Napa, she did enjoy whiskey. She drank some, even when I didn’t.
I walked downtown by myself that first night to find dinner. I ended up at an Italian restaurant after my usual painstaking Yelp search. Yelp has never let me down.
What the hell did we ever do before the Internet?
In the bar, people were ordering martinis; no one was drinking wine.
“You’re not drinking wine in Napa,” I said.
“I’ve been drinking wine all day,” one guy said. His wife had dragged him along on a business trip, and his job was to find them vino to bring home from the wineries while she was at a conference. Rough life. (The next night after visiting two wineries, I understood why people in Napa are done drinking wine by dinnertime.) The couple and their friends were from Atlanta. I told them I used to live there too, but now I live “nowhere.” It’s fun to tell people you’re “between houses” when they ask you where you’re from. One of them bought my second glass of wine before they left. This “home-free” thing was working out well so far.
After the best night’s sleep I’d had in a long time, I walked a couple miles to get a massage. Every time I get a massage from anyone other than the goddess who works near my parents’ house, I feel like I’m cheating on her. Once you’ve been to Mirinus, you can’t get a massage anywhere else, so I was skeptical. (Mirinus is magic, so much so that she’s been on George Lucas’ yacht twice.) I have to say, though, the Napa massage therapist was a close second. I was butter afterward.
I get a massage when the tension in my neck, back, and shoulders becomes unbearable. After a massage, I’m sore from the massage. By the time I’m not sore anymore, the tension is back, so really, the only time I’m not in pain is while I’m getting the massage and right after, unless you count the good pain of getting the knots out. I really need to go more often.
While I waited for my Lyft back downtown, I stood on the curb next to the therapist’s car, where her mom and children waited for her. From inside the car, her six-year-old daughter cried out, “Are you having a baby?!”
I wasn’t even particularly bloated that day.
“No, I’m not having a baby,” I laughed.
God, kid, if you only knew how wrong you are.
Her mom came outside to apologize. “She thinks everyone is pregnant.”
Napa Valley Wineries
That afternoon, I hit the wineries my interim Airbnb host scheduled for me. She welcomed me for a tasting with a chalkboard that read, “Welcome Chelsey!” in fancy lettering. (Did I mention Airbnb rocks?) As luck would have it, the first winery I visited was also a recommendation from a work-related friend who put it at the top of the list. I could see why. (If you haven’t been to Ehlers Estate, go there.)
The second place I went was less formal, lending itself to more casual conversations. At Goosecross Cellars I shared my road trip pistachios with yet another group of Atlanta residents. When I explained my journey and my lack of a residence, one of them said, “It’s the difference between a snail and a slug.”
So, I’m the slug in this scenario?
“You can get a shell and be a snail again in no time,” he said.
By the end of my tasting at Goosecross, the employees were calling me “puddin’,” and we were old pals. They even gave me tastes of the wine-club-only reserve that wasn’t on the list because I was a “friend” of my Airbnb host’s girlfriend.
Back at the quaint blue house, I envisioned a mellow night indoors watching Game of Thrones, but my gracious host asked if I wanted to go to dinner with her. At this point, 24 hours in, we were already close enough to discuss birth control and all the physical hassles of being female on our walk downtown. She called her boyfriend a “Greek God,” and I told her he was in Maui because she didn’t know which island he was on. I can’t imagine why she wasn’t upset he hadn’t taken her with him.
Leaving Napa was bittersweet, but I was ready to head to Oregon for the first time. The drive in Northern California was lightyears more beautiful than Southern California. I wasn’t used to so much greenery. I hadn’t been to Lake Shasta since I was 12, when we took a week-long houseboat trip. It’s funny how little I’d appreciated how gorgeous and expansive it is there. I was too busy being annoyed with the stifling heat and the younger kids on the trip. The best part was feeding large flour tortillas to the deer that would come out of the woods at night. I don’t remember why we thought tortillas were the ideal snack for deer, but we fed it to them by hand, and they loved it.
I also remember the large bell on the houseboat that adults took turns ringing once an hour for a week, each time yelling, “Cocktails!” The blender was whirring nonstop. I now realize how much drinking was going on.
The day we packed up it was 125 degrees outside. It felt like death. Then my sister cried for 12 hours all the way home (or was it on the way there? Or both?) Either way, sitting next to a screaming toddler in the backseat of a car for the duration it takes to drive from one end of California to the other sucks when you’re 12. The drive through Shasta alone as an adult was much more peaceful.
The drive into Oregon was just as stunning. The drought clearly hadn’t made it this far up. Later, as I walked around the quaint town of Ashland in the rain with an umbrella overhead, an elderly man who walked by asked, “Is it going to rain today?”
“It already is,” I said.
Apparently “light rain” in the Pacific Northwest isn’t rain. To a So. Cal. girl, a gentle mist might as well be a monsoon. (More about rain and the apparent Umbrella Embargo when we get to Washington.)
In Ashland, I attended the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Check another item off the bucket list. Beforehand, I read the synopsis of Twelfth Night on Wikipedia. (Yeah, I know. English major fail.) I’m glad I did. I would have been lost otherwise. The play was well done, but it was long. The minor characters stood out. After three hours, I had a hard time keeping my eyes open, until the end, when the cast did a seemingly impromptu song-and-dance number to close out the show. When one of the minor characters began belting out a song, I was blown away. He was incredible. For about three minutes of the three-hour production, I was wide awake and smiling. I turned to the woman next to me afterward and said, “That was the best part of the whole play!”
“That’s what I was thinking!” she said.
Normally when songs start during a play, I roll my eyes and think oh no, not this shit again. This time I wished it had been a musical all along.
The Thing about Oregon Gas Stations
Prior to my trip, a friend who’d recently moved to Portland from Dallas posted on facebook that in Portland you’re not allowed to pump your own gas, and if you do, that’s a hefty fine.
What? I wrote it off as a “Portland-thing,” and thought that’s weird. I had no idea it was state law. Still, I was a little uncertain when I stopped for gas before leaving Ashland. I didn’t see anyone working at the gas station when I pulled up, so I slowly took out my ATM card and slid it into the machine while I half-waited for someone to talk to me. Out of nowhere, a man swooped in, lunged toward me, and started yelling.
“No, no, no, sorry, I can’t let you pump your own gas! You can’t do that!”
I tensed and played dumb.
“Sorry, I didn’t know. I’m from California.”
He said it wasn’t the first time it had happened, so why was he so rude to me?
In a panic, I hit the “cancel” button on the pump, which also pissed him off. Now I was really confused. What was the protocol? I just wanted some gas. I never thought a trip to the gas station could be so upsetting.
Then he punched in a special number on the pump, took my card from me, and pumped the gas as he blabbed about the law. He said something about creating jobs and how Oregon and New Jersey were the only two states that still had this policy. It seemed like an outdated law to me, but what did I know?
While he talked, I looked to see if I had any cash to tip him, but I didn’t want to do something else to anger the gas station guy, so I asked, “Do you accept tips then?”
“Yes, ma’am, we do.”
I gave him $5 because I was happy he hadn’t fined me for trying to pump my own gas, but I felt unsettled after I left, as if I was an ashamed child and an adult had reprimanded me for stealing cookies.
The second time I needed gas during my Oregon stay was outside of Portland after a day hike. At least this time I knew what I was supposed to do: nothing.
When I pulled up, a young dude strolled out of the building toward me. He looked like the sleazy mechanic in Vacation who strong-armed Clark into handing over all the money he had in his wallet. This guy was just short a wrench and a pair of overalls.
I handed him my card.
“If you had 60 grand, would you buy this place?” he asked.
The place was shoddy and remote, but 60 grand sounded reasonable.
“That seems like a good deal to me,” I said.
Something told me he didn’t already have 60 grand and the gas station wasn’t up for sale. He explained how he’d been into day trading and had dropped out of school.
“School really prepares you for the real world,” he said sarcastically.
Yeah, it looks like you’re doing just fine without it, I thought.
There’s nothing wrong with working at a gas station. My grandfather was a gas station mechanic his whole life and raised three sons without a credit card. But this dude struck me as someone who’d have better luck running a meth lab out of his parents’ basement.
I tipped the guy two bucks and decided I don’t like the Oregon gas station law. I want to peacefully pump my own gas without having to talk to anyone. Fortunately, I wouldn’t need gas again until I was in Washington.
Airbnb Part 2
Since I had such a pleasurable first Airbnb experience, I couldn’t imagine my host in Portland measuring up. When I drove up to her old apartment building in a beautiful neighborhood at the top of a San Francisco-style hill, I had to be buzzed in the door. Then I walked up three flights of stairs because I didn’t notice the tiny elevator. On the third flight, a Danish seamstress opened her door and immediately began giving me the tour of the house before asking any questions. She was all business. “Here’s the hot water for tea; here’s your space on the refrigerator shelf; here’s a space in the bathroom cupboard; here’s how you work the A/C unit in your bedroom; I’ll show you a map of the city later to give you suggestions of what to do.”
I knew right away she and I wouldn’t be discussing birth control and female problems, but while she was less warm than my Napa host, she was welcoming all the same.
After a few minutes, she resumed sewing in her dining room, where she’d set up a business making hospital scrubs, while I unpacked my belongings. Later, when I told her I planned to hike outside of the city, she said, “Don’t leave anything in your car when you go.” Theft is a real problem in the trail parking lots, she explained. I thought about the one-person elevator or three flights of stairs and my packed car with everything I might need for the next six months, including a foldup portable mattress.
Shit. When I unload everything, she’ll think I’m moving in.
After about four trips to the car, everything I owned that wasn’t in storage in Long Beach was in my new Portland bedroom where I apparently now lived with a nice Danish lady. She seemed unfazed. I did wish her Happy Mother’s Day after all.
The Best of Portland
After three nights in Portland, I concluded the city has the best cocktail bar, the best farmers market, and the best hiking. The Multnomah Whiskey Library was the first place I stopped after unpacking. It’s what other classic cocktail bars want to be when they grow up. I love places like The Varnish in downtown Los Angeles, but the Library was next level. It looks like a repository straight out of Harry Potter or Trinity College, with whiskey bottles standing in for books. A host seats you in a cushy leather chair your grandpa might have in his study. Then a server promptly hands you a Bible-thick tome with the Library’s spirits and artisanal food selection. While you look through the never-ending menu wondering how anyone ever decides what to order, your pleasant server returns to see if you have questions and introduces you to your own special bartender who is presumably there just to serve you. He rolls a freestanding bar up to your table to make a fresh drink table-side, while you lounge in Grandpa’s giant chair. For the rest of the evening, your knowledgeable server and bartender each check in with you periodically, exactly when you need them, as if they can read minds and you’re the Queen of Whiskey and the bar isn’t completely full. In the meantime, the host will seat two nice gentlemen next to you, and by the time you leave, you’ll have secured an opportunity for a side freelance editing gig.
Unlike at Seven Grand, a whiskey bar in Los Angeles, you won’t hear a wannabe hipster at her holiday party wearing an ironic ugly Christmas sweater say, “I really wish I liked whiskey. The drinks here look so fancy.” That same girl won’t cut you off when you’ve been standing at the bar trying to get a bartender’s attention for 15 minutes. She won’t look you in the eye absentmindedly and then order a tap beer after she notices you’ve been standing there longer than she has. You won’t then have to wade your way through pool players to reach the outside patio, only to watch 25-year-old douchebags in suits smoke cigars, while you realize the glory days of Seven Grand ended when you weren’t paying attention.
Nope, the Multnomah Whiskey Library fucking rules.
The Portland Farmers Market on campus at Portland State University is equally impressive. I walked down the steep hill from my Airbnb one morning in search of a breakfast burrito I’d either read or heard about. I did a loop around the market to find the burrito stand, and in the meantime drooled over every booth I passed. I bought strawberry jam, a loaf of fresh uncut wheat bread, and an Irish-flavored smoked salmon. Then I found the burritos. The line was long. The guy behind me said, “Wow, there aren’t as many people in line as usual.” I figured it was worth the wait. And it was. Sort of.
The Worst of Portland
The burrito was stuffed with eggs, cheddar cheese, bacon, green chilies, and some sort of secret spicy sauce. It was delectable. I savored every bite as I sat on a bench and people-watched under the trees, enjoying the perfect cool weather. A few hours later, when I ordered ramen at an indoor market across town, I felt a little queasy while I ate lunch, but thought nothing of it since my stomach has been off since birth. When I finished my tasty ramen and headed out of Pine St. Market to walk along the Willamette River, I had that nervous feeling you get when you’re in public and think you might need a restroom but aren’t near one. Fortunately, I’d already gotten the code for the Pine St. Market restroom and peed twice. (It’s 1 3 5 7 9, for anyone who needs it.) My internal dialogue went something like this: Is my stomach rocky because of that spicy burrito this morning, or was that one Lactaid pill not enough to last me through that frothy latte I had a couple hours later? I was worried, but I kept walking farther away from the bathroom because I’d already peed twice, and my brain was inclined to disregard how illogical my body can be.
I passed an elderly homeless man in a wheelchair on the corner at the end of the block who asked me for spare change. I shook my head and walked past. The person behind me gave him a few bucks. He reacted with something like, “Thank you! It’s a beautiful fucking day, isn’t it?”
As I reached the river a couple blocks away, my stomach took a downturn. I calculated how far it was back to the only restroom I knew was available, turned around, and started speed-walking back. I passed the homeless man again, who asked for money as if he’d never seen me before. I flew by him, ran through the bustling market, punched in the bathroom code, and picked a stall. Then nothing happened. I wrote it off as a false alarm, left the building, walked past the homeless man, who again asked me for money, and reached the river, where I hoped to take that leisurely walk. Then it hit me with one gurgle. This time I knew for sure if I didn’t reach the bathroom more quickly than last time, I’d be in big trouble. I ran down the street, past the begging homeless man, who hadn’t quite figured out he’d already seen me three times, back through the market, where I’m certain restaurant employees were now wondering what the hell was wrong with me, punched in the code to the bathroom, and back into a stall. Inside the stall, my insides evacuated. My stomach decided on a whim to reject my breakfast burrito for no discernible reason. I flushed the toilet about 10 times over the next 10 minutes as a courtesy to the several women and children who trailed in and out of that busy restroom during their Saturday lunchtime. I was mortified.
When I felt it was safe to leave and opened the stall door to find a line waiting, I warned, “This stall is out of toilet paper,” which it was because I’d used it all. I washed my hands and wiped my sweaty brow and fled the scene as quickly as possible. I gave up on my river-side stroll and headed for my car instead. I drove back to my Airbnb, turned on the AC, and lay on my comfy bed, wishing I didn’t have to eat out again for a while.
Random Portland Thoughts and Advice
A bartender at Teardrop called Mezcal a “super food.” It’s possible he’s not wrong.
Multnomah Falls is a tourist trap not unlike Disneyland, but without the rides. Go for the photos. Hike somewhere else.
Apologizing to a friendly Iraqi Lyft driver on behalf of the entire United States of America doesn’t go over well.
Never judge a young Lyft driver because he looks, talks, and acts exactly like someone else you know. When he says he attends Oregon State, a “giant community college,” and you ask him what his major is, expecting him to say “dance” or “theater” or “music,” he may reply with “business and economics” and surprise the hell out of you.
Siri doesn’t know her way around Portland either, but don’t worry, you two will make up by the time you reach Washington.
Flat track roller derby isn’t like bank track roller derby. Bank track roller derby is fast, with all players skating around the track at top speed. Flat track roller derby is one woman on each team whizzing around the track, while the rest of her teammates stand in one place and brawl with the opposing team, resulting in a confusing two-hour shoving match.
There are two Laurelwood Brew Pubs. Don’t trust Google Maps to direct you to the correct one for your friend’s birthday dinner.
If you’re waiting to have brunch with your online writing teacher, whom you’ve never met in person, and you text her twenty minutes after you’re supposed to meet and wake her up, wait for her to get to the restaurant anyway. It will be worth it.
Road trips don’t make you exempt from open container laws. If you pack your car and drive around for an hour, not realizing you have open bottles of whiskey and wine in the front passenger seat because that’s where they fit, pull over immediately and put them back in the trunk.
Seattle: Rainy and Umbrella-free
When I finally made it to Seattle, it was sunny, but not for long. My uncle kept saying, “It’s never like this. What is that thing in the sky?” I watched him squint and hold his hand up to block the sun as if he would melt. When we went to the wine bar by his house and the large garage-style glass doors were rolled open to the patio, he was baffled.
“I’ve never seen those doors open,” he said.
Sure enough, after a few days, the permanent overcast sky rolled in.
“This is what it’s like all the time,” my uncle said.
“I like this kind of weather,” I replied.
I said the same thing to the bartender at Bathtub Gin. He was born in Long Beach, where I’d just moved from.
“Wait until it rains for a week,” he said.
“A week?” my uncle asked. “Try months.”
It rained the day my uncle and I went to Pike Place Market. We waited in a long line outside at Piroshky Piroshky for apple cinnamon rolls. It was totally worth it. Then I bought two bottles of wine at Pike and Western Wine Shop. Then my uncle took me down an alley to visit the Gum Wall, where thousands of people have filled a wet wall with hardened, used gum. It was disgusting, yet fascinating. Carrying my bag of wine down the alley below the Gum Wall, I stepped on a slippery manhole cover in my slippery Converse high tops, and before I had time to consider adjusting my footing, I went down hard on the ground, landing square on my right wrist and hip. Thankfully I didn’t break my wrist, but my brown paper sack went down with me, and I heard the distinct pop of broken glass and watched a bottle of red wine seep through the bag and trickle down the cobblestones like purple blood. I was more in shock from being unexpectedly on the ground than I was from pain; the dull muscle ache set in later. Since then, I’ve stepped over or around other manhole covers, grates, and any other wet metal on the ground in Seattle.
I went to dinner one night by myself in the city when it was raining even harder. Yet, I was the only person carrying an umbrella.
“People in Seattle don’t use umbrellas,” my uncle had warned.
Some people wore rain jackets, but most of the locals walked down the street as if they weren’t getting wet at all—and the rain had little effect on their clothes and hair. Even under an umbrella, my hair was limp and damp, but every person who walked past me had feathery dry locks like a Farrah Fawcett poster. I didn’t get it. It was as if they were impervious to water.
I rounded a corner and almost ran into a pedestrian. He regarded my umbrella, winced, threw his head back as if I might stab in the eye with the end of it, and gave me a dirty look.
Amateur, I imagined him thinking.
“Sorry,” I said, apologizing for what? Being dry?
That night I ate the best thin-crust mushroom pizza I’ve ever had. I sat next to a young woman who looked like a seasoned local. I struck up a conversation with her and asked where she lived. She pointed up to the ceiling; she lived above the Italian restaurant.
“How long have you lived here?” I asked.
“A week,” she smiled. She’d moved from Washington, DC, for a job, and her boyfriend wouldn’t follow until July.
“Oh my god,” I said. “I’ve been here longer than you!”
Now I didn’t feel like such a stupid tourist as I walked back to my car proudly holding my umbrella, carrying half my leftover pizza wrapped in foil.
At least I don’t have soggy pizza, Seattle!
I haven’t used an umbrella since.
Back to Work
The thing I’ve noticed since I got here and resumed working again after my week-long road trip: Telecommuting is telecommuting anywhere. I knew that going in but didn’t realize the novelty of working from a new place would wear off so quickly. I’m still on my computer by myself, but now I don’t have construction noise as part of my life’s soundtrack; this is better. The only noises around my uncle’s home in Maple Valley are calming, or at least not maddening like in Long Beach: the synchronicity of frogs croaking in the storm runoff pond next door after dark, the birds chirping, and the kids laughing at the bus stop. Even the woodpecker that slams his beak repeatedly into the back windows in the morning doesn’t bother me. It beats my LBC neighbor’s obnoxious son revving his motorcycle engine at all hours. I still ponder making an anonymous call to the police to inform them about my ex-neighbors’ pot farm.
Meeting John Doe
While emailing a friend who lives in Los Angeles, I said I was sad to miss a literary event she was participating in at Book Soup. She suggested I find readings in Seattle. I hadn’t thought of that. Five minutes later, I found an event I couldn’t miss: John Doe in conversation with music journalist Charles R. Cross at The Elliott Bay Book Company. John Doe is a Los Angeles punk icon. I’ve loved the band X since I was a child. John would be in Seattle promoting his new book Under the Big Black Sun.
At the bookstore, John told funny stories about the LA punk music scene when X was new, a period of time he said only lasted from 1977 to 1980, when I was age four to seven. I missed it. John said the scene was over when Darby Crash from the Germs died but ask any 15-year-old at the Vans Warped Tour this summer, and he’ll say, “Punk’s not dead!” That same kid will also ask, “Who’s Darby Crash?”
X originated when John Doe told Exene Cervenka he loved her poetry and wanted to use it for his music.
“She said, ‘That’s the only thing I have, so no.’”
John then told her she needed to learn to sing so she could sing for his band.
“She said, ‘Okay,’ and the rest is history.”
During the Q&A, John said X charged $5 for shows on the Sunset Strip early on, $7 if there were a lot of bands playing.
“Then Adam Ant came to the Roxy and charged $10 or $15, and we were like, ‘Fuck that guy!’”
Waiting in line for the book signing, I tried to think of something to cool to say to a guy who’s been in a band I like for almost 40 years. I couldn’t think of anything. I decided to wing it. I suck at winging it.
As he signed my book, I said, “I’m from Southern California, so your music was always a big part of my life.”
“Good for you,” he said, with no hint of sarcasm.
“I think I bought my first X album when I was 8 or 9,” I said.
“And your parents let you?”
“Yeah, my parents were cool hippies.”
“Okay…” he said because a) he wasn’t buying it, and b) he doesn’t like hippies. “It seems like it turned out okay. Sometimes someone says, ‘Your music changed my life!’ but they’re totally screwed up.”
I backtracked on the hippie thing. “No, it’s all good. My parents were sort of fake hippies because they were upwardly mobile.”
This was when I decided to shut my mouth.
“It was nice to meet you,” I said.
“It was nice to meet you too,” he said.
It doesn’t matter that I’m turning 43 in less than two weeks; I always feel like such a dork. Some things never change.
Next stop: Canada!