Archive for July 2012

Sights and Sounds from Port Townsend   Leave a comment

Port Townsend Saturday Market

                 

 

 

Some local Wildflower Groupies:

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted July 21, 2012 by whitecrow44 in Uncategorized

Stanley Park, Vancouver … well, almost   1 comment

Believing that Angie and Cliff were to return in the very near future, I decided to explore a few new places in the Pacific northwest area while the opportunity presented itself. I had planned on visiting Bellingham, WA sometime during my house-sitting stay – not only to scout out the town as a potential relocation site – but also to attempt to locate a former Mayo Clinic rehab house acquaintance (Robert B.) that I met  following knee replacement surgery last year. (Residents of the rehab facility are housed together, often up to several weeks on the same floor, and since meals are shared in a common dining hall, many long-lasting friendships are often forged during this time. There’s nothing like the shared agony of joint replacement rehabilitation to form a bond between people!) I had already attempted to contact Robert several times by email and phone but so far, I have yet to receive a response from him!? (and yes, he very willingly gave me his contact info). I mentioned in my last voice mail message to him that I was in the Seattle area and wanted to look him up during an upcoming trip to Bellingham. (My message even stated that if he was unavailable, would he just let me know if his healing was progressing as hoped.)

Since I was planning on being in Bellingham (which is only 2o miles from the Canadian border and about 50 miles from Vancouver), I thought that I might as well continue my journey into British Columbia and visit “world-famous” Stanley Park in Vancouver. Besides the usual touristy attractions, the immense park (1000 “U.S. acres”/400 “Canadian hectares”) contains a fine selection of (replica) totems and an urban forest (containing some massive old growth trees known as monument trees which somehow escaped the loggers’ axes and saws) which I had hoped to explore. Also located in the forest section is a riparian/wetlands feature known as Beaver Lake, which in 2008 was “re-populated” with beaver (one) for the first time in 60 years. It’s amazing how many places (e.g., Bear Creek, Cougar Park, Redwood Cove) are known for the animals/plants that were extirpated from the area.

I had already scouted out (using an internet travel site) a couple of hotels that seemed reasonably affordable and that garnered so-so reviews. (All the hotels with decent reviews were priced upwards of $100 and most were located in downtown Vancouver. I’m not going to shell out that kind of money for a place to sleep for one night! Now if I had a traveling companion, I’d consider forking out $100+ for a room – providing of course, that the tab was split.)

Bellingham & Vancouver bound. The journey to Bellingham from Port Townsend takes about two and a half hours and starts with a 30 minute ferry ride from PT (only ten minutes from “my” house) to Whidbey Island.  The rest of the journey is by car and involves traveling a mostly scenic state highway through the (usually) non-congested roads of Whidbey Island and Fidalgo Island for some 60 miles, and then driving I5 for the rest of the trip. The most notable scenic setting I encountered during my trek was Deception Pass, a strait that separates these two islands and which is surrounded by Deception Pass State Park, the most visited state park in Washington. The Deception Pass bridge spans 1500′ and towers some 180′ over the dark azure waters of Skagit Bay below. These views regularly draw throngs of tourists and rightfully so: they are magnificent to behold. (By journey’s end I wish I would have taken the time to stop and join the tourists and local nature lovers as they gazed in awe of the spectacular views presented by the juxtaposition of rocky cliffs, lush-green coniferous forests and sun-glistened deep blue waters.)

The trip itself was uneventful all the way into Vancouver. I didn’t linger in Bellingham as I planned to spend more time there on the return trip back from Vancouver. Of course, driving to Vancouver meant that I had to stop at the Canadian/U.S. border crossing. Here I encountered only a minor delay of 15 to 20 minutes or so, first waiting in a relatively short line of cars, followed by being interviewed for about 20 seconds as to the purpose of my visit and the length of time I planned to be in Canada. And then, I was on my way. So far, so good.

I then decided to check out the two “economy” hotels (priced at ~$75 each) on the outskirts of town before proceeding into the big city of Vancouver. First on this list was the “Economy Inn” in Surrey, some 15 miles from Vancouver. The hotel appeared to be pretty rundown and was quite unsightly. It was in dire need of renovation – preferably starting with complete demolition. (The outside of the hotel looked so bad that I had absolutely no desire to look at the rooms.)  On to my 2nd (and last) hope for decent affordable night’s lodging. The next hotel on the list was a “Superb 7 Motel”, located near the Vancouver International Airport. (I had stayed at a “Superb 7” in Santa Fe, NM a few years back and was quite impressed with the hotel – of course, it was relatively new and in great condition.) Well … all I can say about the Vancouver airport “Superb 7” is that there’s absolutely nothing superb about it! It was located next door to what looked like a run-down homeless shelter and honestly, I couldn’t tell the two apart. Leaning against the railing on the 2nd floor of the “Superb 7” were two guys that looked like some of the extras from the HBO prison series, “OZ”. Passing on this place was a no-brainer! I gunned the Jetta as I drove by and decided that I would not be spending the night in Vancouver.

Instead of staying overnight in Vancouver, I decided to just visit Stanley Park (SP) and then drive back to Bellingham and spend the night there. Vancouver traffic was quite heavy, even for a Sunday, and I guess I didn’t realize how large and congested this British Columbia city actually is.

After enduring miles and miles of stop and go traffic, I was gradually making my way along Granville St., just about two miles from the park, when I stopped for yet another traffic light. The light changed to green but the car balked and stalled – much to my surprise and alarm. I quickly put the car in park and attempted to restart the engine but nada – the engine wouldn’t turn over. Since I had not previously used the emergency flashers, in a brief state of panic I could not locate them and frantically waved my arm out the window in an effort to warn the stacked-up traffic behind me of my plight. Finally after what seemed like an eternity – but was probably only twenty seconds – I tried the ignition again and the car – much to my relief – started. I then quickly drove to a side street to contemplate my next move.

Being in a strange town and driving somebody else’s car left me feeling uncertain as to my next move (I was also having a little Seattle deja vu). I decided to try driving on some side streets that would hopefully take me close to SP, if not directly to the park. As I resumed my drive towards the park, the car stalled again. What the &%$!!?  Fortunately, it quickly restarted and I was on my way … again.

My journey along the side streets quickly ended as I encountered nothing but dead ends and had to return to the Granville St. path to Stanley Park. Just after resuming my journey on Glanville St., I looked in the general direction of the park and I could see that the traffic ahead was becoming very dense. Not wanting to take a chance on having the Jetta stall in the middle of the congestion, I elected to just park the car and walk the additional mile and a half or so, to SP. Good idea, huh? Unfortunately, it seems that Vancouver is one of those cities that has parking meters blanketing the entire downtown section and – no doubt to the dismay of millions of tourists – the city does not offer free parking on Sundays!

Okay, so they charge for Sunday parking. Surely I could come up with the loot to pay for a few hours of parking! And then I noticed another problem: the parking time limit was two hours! (and you cannot move and “re-park” in another spot). And on top of that, I only had enough change ($1.00) for 40 minutes of parking. Luckily, the meters offered another option: you can use your cell phone to call and charge up to two hours of parking with a credit card. Even if I did this, I didn’t think two hours would be enough time for me to walk the two+ miles (round trip) and also walk though the 1000 acre park. But then I decided that since I had come this far, I would go ahead and pay the ~$3 for two hours of parking, walk briskly to SP, and enjoy as much of the park that I could  in my allotted time.

After calling the designated “parking meter credit-card payment option” number, I was informed that I had to first set up an account which required entering my assigned parking location number, license number, date of birth, draft card number, etc.. Guess I wasn’t really surprised, when about two-thirds of the way through this very cumbersome process, that my cell phone battery died. Indeed! (Although I had experienced some car issues during an earlier trip to Seattle, I was at least able to park the car [Sunday parking in Seattle is free!] and walk to most of the places I wanted to visit.) Yes, I could have gotten more change and tried getting another parking spot closer to Stanley Park, but even if I could have found a parking spot close to the park, I would only have about 90 minutes to spend visiting the park itself, and of course, I would be running the risk of having the Jetta stall again in the more congested downtown area. (Perhaps I’m just too risk averse?) So near … yet so far. Guess Stanley Park will have to wait for another day … and another car. No beaver or totem photos, no monument-tree sightings, nada. After using most of my allotted 40 minutes of parking being reinvigorated at a nearby Starbucks with a slice of banana nut bread and a grande iced tea, I decided it was time to head back to Bellingham.

As I was getting ready to get into my car, I noticed one of Vancouver’s finest – a meter maid, aka as “green hornets” (for the green uniforms they used to wear) – and asked her if she could direct me to a less traveled street, allowing me to bypass most of the congestion I had faced on my way into downtown Vancouver. She paused a bit and then informed me that she had a rough day and that her brain was frazzled from the excessive heat. Excessive heat? It was 73 degrees – yes 73 – in Vancouver. Compared with Charlotte, North Carolina’s, 103 degrees recorded on the same day, Vancouver’s 73 degrees was downright cool. Frazzled? Guess writing out all those parking tickets to unwary tourists can wear a person out.

While I was talking to her, I noticed that she was busy with some kind of electronic hand-held device and for some stupid reason, I thought that perhaps this device displayed a map of the area and that she was looking for alternate routes that I could take. After several seconds passed without her saying anything, I asked her again – assuming that she was silent because she was preoccupied with trying to discover another route. Wrong, wally! She again responded – this time more emphatically than the first – by telling me that her brain was really frazzled and she just couldn’t think straight. Apparently, she had been using this device to check the parking start-time of a car next to mine to determine if they were still within their allotted parking time limit. Unfortunately for the car’s owners, they were about five minutes over their limit. Suddenly, it seemed that the meter maid’s brain became unfrazzled and she was able to start thinking straight again as she quickly wrote up a parking citation and deftly placed it under the over parked car’s wiper blade. (One of the police officers in Duncan [“the city of totems”] had warned me that the meter maids in Vancouver were very aggressive about issuing parking violations … and I might add, they’re not too helpful to tourists.)

Looking forward to a hot shower and a good night’s sleep in a comfortable bug-free bed, I headed south for the border, down Bellingham way (Ay-ay-ay-ay, ay-ay-ay-ay). The Jetta experienced no more stalling spells on the way back and was even able to endure an hour’s wait at the border crossing.

My first order of business upon returning to Bellingham was to locate a decent hotel and it didn’t take long to find just exactly one. I discovered a Quality Inn, located just a few minutes from the interstate in a nice quiet, yet restaurant-accessible spot. Compared with the two “hotels” that I looked at on the outskirts of Vancouver, the QI looked to me like the Taj Majal. Although the cheapest rate I could negotiate was $85 (about $20 more than I would normally pay for lodging), I was not in the mood to try to locate a cheaper hotel and besides, I felt that I deserved to be pampered – at least for a night, anyway.  The room was terrific: the AC worked great, the TV offered HBO and the bed was comfy and bug-free. For dinner, I enjoyed a great meal at an excellent Thai restaurant located close by. The waiter even treated me to a refill of my Thai ice tea! All was well.

What about Bob? After departing QI, I decided to engage in a little detective work and see if I could locate Robert (the guy I met at the Mayo rehab house). Just what I was going to do when I found his address was another story, particularly in light of the fact that he never responded to any of my many attempts to reach him. (It has crossed my mind that perhaps he was “incapable” of returning my messages but if that was the case, I should not have continued to receive his phone voice mail greeting.) Although he only gave me his cell number, I Googled his name and, based on his phone number, I was easily able to determine his address.

Turns out – not surprisingly – that the address I obtained was quite a ways out-of-town. Finally, after about 30 minutes of driving, most of which was spent creeping along about three miles of serpentine back roads, I located his house. Now what? After driving by his house a couple of times, I concluded that somebody had to be home as the front door was open and I could hear sounds coming from inside.  Still not feeling sure that I should be here, I screwed up my courage and pulled the car in front of the house. Just as I was about to reach for the car door handle, a very large dog suddenly appeared and started barking vociferously.

It didn’t take but a millisecond for the dog’s unwelcoming behavior to make up my mind for me. Since Robert had never responded in any way to my attempts to contact him, I really had no business being there and his(?) dog’s unreceptive greeting made that all too clear. At least I knew I had some pretty good private investigator skills. Falling short in my efforts to personally meet Robert, I decided to head to Seattle where I planned to do some apartment investigations.

Aunt Edna’s (“Family Vacation”) most recent resting place. (Coming soon to a garage sale near you.)

Apartment searching in the Emerald City. Although I really love Port Townsend, I still have some reservations about its lack of medical specialists, especially in the GI field and have been considering the possibility of living in Seattle – although not in the downtown section. Besides the extreme congestion, expensive apartments and frequent late-night random drive-by shootings (sometimes I enjoy going out for evening strolls), I need to be close to some wooded walking trails and the only walking to be done in downtown Seattle is on side walks.

I wanted to personally check out a few apartments (that looked promising on the internet) in Bellevue, a suburb of Seattle. (And although I was a bit concerned about driving the car in more congested stop and go traffic, the Jetta has been acting fine since Vancouver.) I was informed by my Port Townsend dentist that Bellevue was a lot like Seattle and even though I knew it was a Seattle suburb, I had hoped that it wasn’t as built up and congested. Assuming that he might be right – at least about the downtown section of Bellevue – I decided to check out a couple of apartments on the outskirts of town. 

Apartment rent in Seattle and its surrounding suburbs is quite high. Rents generally range from $900 for a studio up to $3,000 and more for the more spacious and luxurious apartments – the ones that only people such as Microsoft employees can afford. (From what I understand, Microsoft employs about 41,000 people in the Seattle area and the median starting salary is nearly $87,000. I have also read that about 12,000 current and former Microsoft employees are millionaires. That said, when you also consider the salaries that other companies such as Amazon and Boeing pay, it’s not hard to understand the exorbitant rents that most of these apartment complexes can charge. Being a retired biologist/environmentalist and not being a major (or even minor) Microsoft stockholder, I of course, am looking for rent on the lowest rung of Seattle’s rental rate ladder.

I was able to check out two apartment complexes but was unable to personally inspect any apartments in either one as neither actually had a current vacancy. The cheapest apartment at the first complex I visited was a 238 sq. ft. studio, renting for $950, while the least expensive unit at the second complex was $1000 – but at least this unit was nearly double the size, at 500 sq. ft. Both of these complexes had to be at least thirty years old and were definitely showing some age. I can’t say I was too impressed with either and decided I would check out some other units in a less congested setting at a later time. (As I was leaving the area, I did notice a complex that looked pretty nice but later discovered that the cheapest studio at this place was $1450 a month!)

After my brief fruitless foray into Seattle apartment shopping, I decided that I had enough of city congestion for one day and decided to treat myself to a trip to Mt. Rainier, located approximately 90 minutes (in theory, anyway) south of Seattle. I had hoped to be able to visit Rainier’s aptly named Paradise area [renown for its wildflower displays] and take in the spectacular blooming show that occurs for a very brief time during the mid summer months. Normally, this wildflower spectacle occurs in mid to late July but this year, late snows have resulted in a late spring and consequently, the wildflower blooming peak [according to the park rangers] is not expected until mid to late August. So, even though the flowers wouldn’t be putting on their vivid color display, I still thought it would be great to visit the park and enjoy its magnificent vistas.  Although Mt. Rainier loomed some two hours in the distance, I was looking forward to the visit – if not the trip.

Insanely impenetrable I5: I expected some heavy traffic during the interstate portion of my drive to Mt. Rainier but I wasn’t prepared for what I experienced. (I later discovered that Seattle has the 4th worse [and moving up] traffic in the country!) I’m not sure what was causing the bumper to bumper traffic (although I did notice one post – accident scene inside the emergency lane) but the drive south on I405 was exxxxxxcruciating slow. My new Garmin gps unit warned me of traffic congestion ahead but I was quite aware of that fact well before it was displayed on the gps!  And of course, I was also worrying about how the Jetta would behave in all of this stop and go traffic.

After taking 45 minutes to drive some 10 miles, the journey shifted to a state highway (SR167). Finally, I’m off the interstate! The drive from here on should be much better – or so I thought! Unfortunately, as I turned onto SR167, traffic conditions looked virtually the same as they did while I was on the interstate: absolute gridlock! Certainly this can’t go on much longer, I thought. And sure enough, it did! Checking my trusty Garmin gps for possible detours, I took the 1st recommended available option – only to discover that everyone else apparently had the same idea. After another 30 minutes or so, I was back on SR167. Just after returning to the state highway, my increasingly questionably-acting Garmin indicated that there was a road closure ahead and to take the next exit as a detour.

Off I went again. Only to be sent back on SR167 just a mile or so down the road. I didn’t notice any signs of  a road closure and was really beginning to wonder about the accuracy of the Garmin. After spending nearly two hours on the road and only advancing about 30 miles, I decided that I didn’t want to spend anymore time in bumper-to-bumper gridlock  and elected to call it a day and postpone my trip to Rainier. Had I known that the mountain wildflowers were peaking, I’m sure I would have found a way to get to Mt. Rainier – even if it meant taking an off ramp to the closest brew pub and waiting out the bottleneck over a bottle of Big Lebrewski (named after the movie with a similar name.) Looks like my visit to Paradise will have to wait – probably until next year. I can only hope that when I do return, “they haven’t paved paradise and put in a parking lot”  – from Joni Mitchell’s “Yellow Cab”. (Don’t laugh, many Republicans have vowed to privatize  National Parks!) For now anyway, paradise is a city called Port Townsend.

Posted July 11, 2012 by whitecrow44 in Uncategorized