Chapter 17: From Tacoma

August 3, 2011


Beeps at short intervals. A voice message or two. This is how I am stirred from slumber on Sunday morning. It’s not as lilting and pretty as the Velvet Underground & Nico tune of same name. It’s an abrasive, too loud siren that bores its way into your skull like a drill commanding you to start a new day. And for what, to inform me that Ian is sitting outside my house in New Jersey and no one is answering the door? Thanks for the wake up call, asshole.

It has been four weeks since I left home. If I had a little sequined cap and a cupcake with one candle I would celebrate. Alas, cash is tight and Eugene, Oregon, that bastion of progressivism must be in my rearview mirror soon. Greet the great state of Washington, Evan.

Along the path from Eugene to Seattle/Tacoma, you’re given two options. You can stick to I-5 for the duration, or wander off onto I-205 for 30 miles and head in the direction of The Dalles. As a long-time fan of that classic Apple IIgs video game Oregon Trail, I headed for the Dalles. My first stop came at the Wilmette River. I chose to caulk my Volvo and float it across. Actually, that’s a lie. I crossed via bridge. If those westward-bound settlers of the 19th century had access to 20th century civil engineering materials, who knows how many fewer folks would have perished from cholera and drowning along the trail…

The Wilmette was a sight to behold with its waterfalls and locks. I walked along the ledge overhanging the river for a few minutes, peering across to the houses along its banks and watching water flow over the locks. Couples canoodled and fat people from Idaho spit and tossed their refuse on the ground. I just stood and watched.

[Unwound – “Corpse Pose” MP3]

The lone disappointment of today’s drive was that by circumventing I-5 I couldn’t visit Portland. The asshole inside me does not feel bad about it, because none of the Rose City artists I asked to take part in my story bothered to return my interview requests. I wish I could be that callow. I would have loved to explore some of the sights I read about in Chuck Palahniuk’s travelogue “Fugitives And Refugees,” or search for landmarks from old Elliott Smith songs.

I rolled into Washington confident (why, I don’t know) and making great time. Traffic slowed as I approached Olympia, and I decided to take a few minutes to explore the city instead of sitting behind a row of classic cars driving 30mph on the freeway. If I thought Eugene was a laid back city, Olympia was, by comparison, horizontal. I walked around for an hour and bought a case of locally brewed beer to take home. I stopped in various stores, including a record store, a thrift store, a store for witches and the occult, and a bookstore. It being Sunday, the streets were relatively empty save for packs of street kids. One older gentleman sitting on the corner of what would typically be a busy intersection, stopped me for a moment. His clothes were tattered, his beard was discolored and ratty, an walked with a long wooden walking stick.

“Are you from Vermont?” he asked, motioning to my t-shirt from my first year of college.
“No, I’m from New Jersey.”
“You’ve come a long way.”
“I sure have,” I nodded.
“It’s nice here.”
“Yeah, I can see that,” I said. “I’m enjoying my afternoon here.”
“I really love cows.”

This statement threw me for a loop.

“Yeah…I do too.”
“No, I mean. I really love cows.”
“Okay. That’s cool.”
“A lot of people can’t see the beauty in a creature like that but I do,” he confessed.
“They’re stunning animals.”
“Can I have some change?”
“You sure can.”

I gave him whatever was in my pocket and took off in search of my car. I’d seen enough of Olympia.

[Earth – “High Command” MP3]

There was an accident on the freeway so I sat in traffic for almost an hour before I reached the Tacoma exit. I called Adrienne for directions to the house she was subletting for the summer and she provided me with a perfect course. When I arrived and unpacked my things, we hopped in her car and she gave me a driving tour of the area. We stopped for a copy of the local paper to see if there were any good shows tonight, but no one we knew or cared about was playing. We decided instead to grab some dinner and catch a movie. It was nice to have dinner company again. I’ve learned to appreciate friendship and companionship as I travel. In Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Nebraska I will be completely alone. Adrienne and I ate at a restaurant and brewery called Ram. I tried a pint of their hefeweizen and it was decent. The service was awful so Adrienne left a tip of roughly 3%. She even left a note for the server itemizing with bullet points why we were so displeased. What a great, ballsy move. Adrienne thinks that the string of bad service in restaurants I’ve experienced on this trip is solely my fault. Aside from my immature palate, she thinks I attract negative attention from servers. I intend to prove this theory wrong over the course of the next few weeks.

We returned to her house and watched several episodes of Aqua Teen Hunger Force before venturing into Lakewood (which is aptly named because we saw neither a lake nor woods) and caught a late screening of Hustle and Flow. I don’t like movies with happy endings so I left disappointed, but I managed to whisper some very timely Mystery Science Theater 3000-style remarks to Adrienne throughout the film. Upon leaving the theater she referred to the film a “cultural experience,” which I think was her way of saying she thought were lots of black people in it.

I received two very nice e-mails from Jim and Jefre of Tarentel describing how much fun they had meeting me the other day. Both men said not to hesitate asking if I required further information. Plus, they included contact information for more folks, which was a huge bonus. They are good guys.

Tomorrow is Montana. It’s just me and the Volvo from here to Illinois.

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