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Thursday, 5 December 2013

Seattle and Northwestern Washington State

For those who are reading this from other countries than Canada…a few notes on Canada’s relations with the US. Most of us Canadians live within 100 miles of the American border. In 2011 (the last year I could find stats) Canadians made close to 19 million visits to the US. We are each other’s biggest trading partners with Corporate America being heavily invested in Canada with stores like Costco, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Target, 7-11, MacDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Burger King, Subway, Starbuck’s, just to name a few. We drive the same cars as our neighbours to the south. We have grown up watching the same TV shows and movies.
So what makes Canadians different than Americans aside from our often deep appreciation for the game of hockey? Well yes we have our Mounties but we don’t often see them in their red topped (serge) uniforms. Our universal healthcare system certainly makes us different. Our CBC nationally owned radio and TV network is kind of similar to National Public Radio in the US. We don’t seem to be as big on religion as our southern cousins and we aren’t that big on starting wars. Flag waving is not usually our cup of tea. Perhaps the most notable difference between Canadians and Americans is that most Canadians know a lot more about the US than Americans know about Canada.
Most Canadians can recall those road trips across “the line” with our parents when we were kids. If you lived in Montreal you probably went to Plattsburg, New York, in Toronto you probably went to Buffalo, New York, in Vancouver you probably went to Seattle, Washington. Canada borders US states Maine, Vermont, New York, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, and Washington.
Americans who come in contact with Canadian tourists visiting the US often say they that we are by and large very polite. This of course doesn’t include those Americans who live in or near border towns where Canadians sometimes cause line-ups at gas stations or over run shopping malls looking for cheap prices. Sometimes we are called “Cheeseheads” because of our insatiable desire to purchase comparatively inexpensive US cheese products.
Canadians like their “bargoons" (bargains). We know we are getting hosed by American companies with stores in Canada and we are paying as much as 30% more for the same products sold in the US. If we can save a few bucks and get to visit a foreign country for the day why not? Buying Canadian doesn’t seem to be very important to most Canadians.
Northwest Washington State
As a transplanted easterner originally from Montreal; over the past 45 years I have probably averaged a visit from British Columbia to Washington State about once a year. Usually my destination was Seattle but not always. There are some interesting smaller towns in North Western Washington State.
Point Roberts, Washington is a bit of an oddity as far as geography goes. The only way in or out of this small town by road is through Canada. It is just south of Delta, BC. Back in the 1960s and 1970s Point Roberts was known by many younger Vancouverites as a place to get drunk on the weekend. The two main bars back then were The Reef and The Breakers and there were often long line-ups to get into these places. The heyday for these bars ended in 1986 when BC introduced more open Sunday drinking laws because of Vancouver hosting Expo 86. On top of that MADD had a strong influence in making it a much more serious offense to be caught drinking and driving. When Point Roberts was a going concern rock groups like Loverboy, April Wine, BTO, Doug and the Slugs, Steppenwolf, The Kingsmen (Louie, Louie is Washington’s state song), and Trooper appeared at The Breakers. The place burned down in 1983.
I’ve only been to Point Roberts about 3 times, all in the late 80s or early 90s. One afternoon I decided to check out The Reef. At the time former Canadian wrestler Gene Kiniski (born in Edmonton, Alberta) was running the place. Back in the 50s and 60s Kiniski was a big deal in the sport of wrestling (if you want to call it a sport) and held a number of titles. The place was pretty well empty that afternoon as I sat at the bar having a few brews. Kiniski himself was the bartender. You could see the many scars on his face quite clearly from his years of battling people like Whipper Billy Watson and Bobo Brazil. I knew I wasn’t in the most sophisticated place around when I saw Kiniski spit on the floor behind the bar. I was tempted to ask him about his career but thought that anything I would ask him he had probably heard a 1000 times. Kiniski died in 2011 at the age of 81 and is buried in Blaine, Washington just over the border from Canada.
Gene Kiniski
The I-5 is the express route from Vancouver to Seattle but there are a number of interesting smaller towns that can be seen along the way to Seattle if you take some of the secondary highways. You can get a good picture of small town America by cutting west just after crossing the border at Blaine, Washington. Birch Bay is one of those places and it is by the ocean. A number of people from Vancouver, BC have summer homes there.
Bellingham, Washington is about 20 miles south of the Canadian border. Before Whistler was developed many Vancouverites would spend the day or weekend skiing at nearby Mount Baker. The mountain can be seen from Vancouver and Vancouver Island on a clear day. Bellingham has a population of about 80,000 people. It has a section with older buildings by the ocean and has a number of trendy restaurants and coffee shops. Up on the other side of the I-5 is Bellis Fair Mall where thousands of Canadians from BC spend a weekend day shopping until they drop. Comedian Ryan Stiles is from Bellingham.
If you follow the road out of the older section of Bellingham you will find a cut off to Route 11 that is also known as Chuckanut Drive. It is beautiful winding two lane highway about 25 miles long with ocean glimpses of the nearby San Juan Islands. Some of the concrete bridges are very old and there are hairpins along the way. You can see the occasional steam or waterfall. It is well worth the drive.
At the end of Chuckanut drive it is just a few miles to the pretty little town of La Conner. The area near the town is farm country and they are famous for their tulip and daffodil fields that bloom in April. The town of La Conner is a bit of a tourist trap but in the best way. The main drag runs right next to a river with many of the two story buildings that house shops and restaurants dating back over 100 years. A number of local artisans sell their wares in these stores.
La Conner
La Conner
La Conner
I have my own little story about La Conner and I will try and keep it as clean and tidy as possible. About a 15 years ago I was out on date with a gal I met on-line. We decided to drive down to Washington State for the day and stopped for lunch at a place called Oyster Creek Inn on Chuckanut Drive. I am pretty sure that it was during lunch that the gal told me that she was a part time pastor. The thought of any action with her happening later was quickly dulled. What are the chances of a pastor and an atheist hooking up?
We decided to head on to La Conner after lunch and found ourselves on a 4 lane highway. We were a hundred yards or so behind a big black SUV. All of a sudden a car came onto the highway from a side road and clipped the SUV in front of us. It rolled over on its roof with the tires still spinning. I stopped our car and pulled 6 people out of the vehicle, two small kids and their parents and two grandparents. Nobody was seriously hurt but they certainly were stunned. The grandfather had a bit of a cut on his forehead. While we were waiting for the cops and an ambulance I turned the engine off and helped get their belongings out of the wrecked truck.
The grandfather took me aside and gave me his phone number. He said to give him a call the next time we were coming down that way and he would take us out on a big boat that he owned. I stuck the piece of paper in my pocket. We just did what anyone should do when people are in difficulty.
We drove on to La Conner and both of us agreed that a good stiff drink was in order. We found a bar where the locals hung out and ordered drinks. The pastor gal started to make plans about us coming back to La Conner and going out on the old guy’s boat. This could be awkward I thought because I didn’t plan on seeing her a second time and I also didn’t want a reward for being a good Samaritan. I can still remember the shock on her face when I took the phone number note out of my pocket and ripped it up.
I was kind of thinking that we should probably head back to Canada but then we got into drinking shooters. After 5 or 6 of those we were pretty drunk. I got it into my head that I wanted to go the fishing port of Anacortes that wasn’t too far away. Out in the parking lot I bought a joint from a stranger who was toking up. In no time the pastor gal and I were totally wasted. Somehow I managed to drive us to Anacortes and we found a small nightclub with a live band. The place was rocking. The clientele seemed to be a mix of young adults who had escaped from their parents’ summer cottages and street people. It turned out that the pastor gal was a lot more liberal than I would have imagined.
It was going to be a long drive back to Canada and it was now about 2:00 a.m. This was one frisky pastor it turned out. I think it was about 3:00 a.m. when we rolled into the border town of Blaine. We were starving and went to an all- night Denny’s. As luck would have it the cook hadn’t turned up and the hostess was trying her best to do his job in the kitchen. By the time we finished eating it was about 4:30 a.m.
We still had to get across the border and my head was spinning. As I drove up to the crossing the place looked abandoned. In the distance I could see one border guy sitting on a chair outside. (Times have changed since 9/11.)  He asked the usual questions and gave us the green light to go. Whew!! A few minutes later I noticed that there was a roach in my coffee holder by the dash. Man, were we lucky! I only saw the pastor once more after that.
Years ago I drove down to Anacortes to see rock legend Leon Russell who was appearing there for one night. The venue was a bit different in that an area between old fishing sheds was cordoned off and Leon was up on a tiny stage with his piano. He didn’t have a back-up band with him but I think he had some kind of synthesizer with a monitor on top of his piano.
We live on Vancouver Island and the quickest way for us to get to Washington State is by catching the Blackball ferry that runs from Victoria, BC to Port Angeles, Washington. We took this ferry a few years ago on our way to Oregon. Instead of taking the highway to the I-5 which would get us to Oregon faster, we chose to drive south along secondary highways. We certainly saw a lot of trees by taking that route. We also saw the evidence, particularly in smaller towns with boarded up shops, that the forestry industry in Washington State isn’t what it once was. We saw a number of abandoned saw mills.
On clear nights you can see the lights of Port Angeles from Victoria, BC and the West Coast Trail.
I am hardly an expert about getting around Seattle. I don’t think there as ever been a time that I visited the city that I wasn’t confused at some point by the roads or expressways. Yes I know where to cut off the I-5 to get to the downtown area but I’ve (we’ve) often stayed out in the Bellevue area and I have been disoriented more than a few times trying to get downtown. Maybe it is because there are so many bodies of water around the city.

Bridge over Lake Washington

About 30 years ago I was down in Seattle with my ex and her parents to attend a wedding of one of their relatives who lived in Alaska. I kind of lost it a bit when I was getting driving directions from everyone in the car and I had to cross over several lanes to get to an exit while everyone was going about 70 miles an hour. I went out and bought some roses for my ex mother-in-law to kind of soothe any hard feelings. The wedding was in an old mansion in the Queen Anne area of Seattle and the caterers were all gay.
Before I was married I did a tour of the local bars and nightclubs in Seattle, some of them were down on the docks. I remember spending a night at a gal’s place in Kent south of Seattle and her two big black dogs that insisted on coming up on the bed. One night in Vancouver, a friend of mine and I convinced a Hungarian girlfriend of mine to come with us to Seattle. It was about 6:00 p.m. and she was just starting her shift as a hostess at a Hungarian restaurant on Davie Street. They must have been pissed at her when she walked off the job. How she ever got through customs is beyond me.
When I was married we usually went to Seattle to shop. Back then, the big department stores in Seattle were the Bon Marche, Frederick’s and Nelson’s, and Nordstroms. I think “The Bon” was bought out by Macy’s. Frederick and Nelson’s no longer exists. Nordstrom’s is an upscale store with a strange way of doing business. The floor staff are very stylish in their business suits and often seem better dressed than their customers. I guess their being well dressed qualifies them to “help” you better define the fabulous creature that you are. 800 bucks for a pair of running shoes seems to be a lot to me.
Department store
We used to go to a bar in the Queen Anne area called Jake O’Shauhnessy’s. They claimed to have one of the largest selections of booze in the world. They even had a ladder behind the bar. I remember one time asking for a Ne Plus Ultra Scotch and they didn’t have a clue what it was. I tried to find old Jake’s place a few times in our most recent visits and then discovered on the net that they had shut it down years ago because of real estate values more than a lack of business.
One day about 16 years ago, a friend of mine who was one of my suppliers, phoned me up and asked me if I would be interested in going to see the Vancouver Grizzlies basketball team play the Seattle Supersonics. After I said “sure” he said there was one problem. The game was in Seattle. One of his associates picked me up in his dad’s big car and we drove down to Seattle after work. The company wasn’t great, the associate was brown nosing the other two guests most of the time, but I had a great free meal at a seafood restaurant in Elliott Bay and the basketball seats were right on the floor.  Right on the floor! Wow! This wasn’t going to happen to me again. I remember hearing the squeaking of the running shoes as the teams ran up and down the floor and that Big Country guy was one tall son of a bitch.
It was at a motel in Bellevue, Washington that I first discovered Turner Classic Movies. I found it hard to believe that there were no commercials and hoped that that station would perhaps someday be part of a Canadian cable package. Several years ago the National Hockey League shut itself down and I was really pissed off about it. On the bright side TCM was added to my cable package around the same time and it eased the pain of not being able to watch hockey on the tube.
I have to confess that I have never been up the Seattle Space Needle. It just never interested me much. I have however been to Pike Place Market a number of times. In a number of ways Seattle seems to have a better sense of being an ocean seaport than Vancouver. You won’t find anyone tossing salmon at the Granville Island market in Vancouver. Seattle also has fairly close ties to Alaska that goes a long way back historically and maybe that is why there are so many seafood restaurants in Seattle serving halibut, salmon, and Alaska King Crab.

If you lived in Vancouver, BC during the 70s and 80s and watched TV you probably remember the Seattle ads for Ivar’s House of Clams. Ivar was an old guy who appeared in a number of his ads. “Keep clam.” was one of his mottos. He was kind of an institution in Seattle for many years.
Statue of Ivar
Pike Place Market is well worth the visit but not if you get claustrophobic easily. The building is long and narrow and on a weekend you kind of have to inch your way through the crowds. I haven’t found the market to be a particularly friendly place as it is obvious that the vendors concentrate on getting quick sales. Still there is a lot to see both in what is being sold and the people wandering along the corridor. If you want to see a lot of eye popping colour you will find it at this market.
Across the street from Pike Place Market is the original Starbuck’s coffee store. There are often people playing music outside the front door. These entertainers seem to be of a bit better quality than some of the other buskers you see around town. There is pretty well any kind of restaurant you could imagine in the area including one that specializes in cheese dishes like macaroni.
Original Starbucks
Original Starbucks
Trendy restaurant
1 man band
Just down the hill from the Pike Place area are the docks. Some of the old warehouses have restaurants and shops and there is a boardwalk. This is a class “A” tourist trap area. The Seattle Aquarium is in this area and worth a look see. There is also a ferry terminal that goes to Bainbridge Island. There are all kinds of islands around Seattle including Mercer Island on Lake Washington which is the most populated island on a lake in the US. Camano Island near Seatttle was home to the infamous “Barefoot Bandit”, a 6’5” kid who started out robbing cottages before graduating to small planes. He was finally arrested in the Bahamas.

Incoming ferry
I spent most of my life in the Vancouver, BC area and I’m well aware of comparisons between Seattle and Vancouver. My guess is depending on which of these two cities we live in we find the other exotic.
We pretty well have similar weather with lots of rain particularly in the winter months. Both cities have high real estate values. Vancouver is a naturally prettier city with more sandy beaches and the mountain backdrop on the north shore. Vancouver has a large Asian community and you see more Blacks and Hispanics in Seattle. Seattle was where Jimi Hendrix was born. Michael Buble was born in the Vancouver area. Ray Charles had his first TV gig in Seattle and Quincy Jones got his start in the city. Back in the day The Brothers Four folk singing group all went to the University of Washington in Seattle. Other groups around the same time that made Seattle their home were The Fleetwoods, The Kingsmen, and The Ventures. More than any other music Seattle is probably known for its “grunge” and the bands that played in this style including Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Sound Garden. Underground Hip Hop seems to be the latest wave in the Seattle music scene.
Jimi Hendrix
Kurt Cobain, Nirvana
Perhaps one of more significant differences between the two cities is the entrepreneurial aspect of business in Seattle compared to Vancouver. I think the biggest employer in Vancouver is BC Hydro and there just aren’t a lot of head offices in the city. On the other hand the general Seattle area is home to Costco, Amazon, Starbucks, Microsoft. Although Boeing moved its head office to Chicago it still employs thousands in the Seattle area.
Downtown Seattle
Downtown Seattle
Downtown Seattle
Downtown Seattle
Although I like Vancouver a lot I would have to say Seattle is the funkier and cooler of the two cities. On our last trip to Seattle we had dinner and a beer at a pizza joint. Many of the waiting staff had tattoos and piercings. They also talked on their cell phones a lot and I’m pretty sure they weren’t placing orders to the kitchen. I asked our waitress how she liked her job and she told us that she was really an artist and just making some needed cash. I asked her what kind of art she was involved in and she told us “I just like gluing shit together.”
Woodland Park Zoo
Seattle doesn’t have the best road signs. You can get on a freeway and quite easily miss your exit. The Woodland Park Zoo is west of the I-5 and just north of downtown Seattle. If you haven’t been there before you might need a map because there are almost no road signs showing you how to get there. Once you do find the zoo you will be amazed. It is one of the better zoos anywhere and on a clear sunny day you might think you were in Africa or in a rain forest. On our last trip to Seattle we made the mistake of putting off our visit to the zoo for a few days and got caught in a rainstorm. We were huddled under cover with some goats for a period of time. Next time we will go when it isn’t raining.

White wolf
Black bear
Seattle is always interesting. Hey you can buy a 40 ounce bottle of a Bailey’s knock off for just a little over 13 bucks at Costco in Seattle!

Go Seahawks!

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