Seattle’s Madison Valley is a fine, tall-treed neighborhood, but my too-late suspicions were realized on arrival. This VRBO hideaway with a private patio was reached by steep, wooden outside stairs. The entire neighborhood is built into steep hills. I thought the shower with its bench would be perfect for Phil, but there were three steps to that as well.
After airports and stairs upsets, the Japanese Garden on our first evening was soothing. Now, weeks later, it’s still my favorite Seattle place, where I made peace with my mistake. Traveling involves learning and relearning. It is the reason to do it. Never rent without ascertaining accessibility, no matter what the photos look like.
At Pike Place Market I glimpsed the tossing of fish through the throng, and then we went to the Ballard Locks. I enjoyed the Locks—green park, cool air, not so crowded, boats coming and going, up and down.Tourist attractions mean crowds.Try to remember you don’t like crowds.
Madison Avenue ends in a park and beach, houses hung over water, and a row of shops—bakery, kitchenware, fabric, yoga. We stood on a fishing pier waiting for lines of wake from passing boats to reach us, watched swimmers in wet suits stroke around the bend to shore, Mt. Rainier hovering insubstantially at the horizon. The lines of wake arrive after the boat is long gone. At the bakery for coffee and pastry, we sat in a swirl of cell phones, babies and dogs, just like home.
We approached hysteria finding I-5 north to get out of Seattle. The phone kept advising us to take I-5 south. “Make a U-turn,” it said, when we finally found the north-bound entrance. “Fuck you,” Phil yelled. When we reached Vancouver, we got hysterical again trying to find Granville Island. AAA didn’t update after I called with the hotel address and we didn’t notice, ended up downtown. Trying to get directions on my phone in bright sun, unable to see the screen, while driving in heavy traffic…People who can’t tolerate not being in control should triple-check directions before leaving.
We didn’t know Sunday afternoon on Granville Island meant bumper to bumper crawl for the public market and art galleries. Tired of being on the road and frazzled by our downtown adventure, arriving to mobs made us despair. Once in the room accessed by elevator, an airy place with a bay window, shower stool and hand-held control—Phil’s first easy shower this trip—we began to rally.
Vancouver’s imposing array of pale grey and white and faded aqua skyscrapers appears to rest on water. None of those black Darth Vader towers we have at home. Outside our hotel, Pelican Bay hosts a bounty of boats. Private pleasure craft from kayaks to double-masted sailboats ply its waters, along with commercial ferries, aquabuses and water taxis. I took deep breaths of cool, moist air. Our Monday breakfast was at windows overlooking the docks. Streets jammed on Sunday were empty.
Barbara and Dan met us for lunch at the hotel. “This is bizarre” Barbara commented. Indeed. We graduated from high school together in Vero Beach, Florida in 1962, knew each other but weren’t close, never met again until this moment. Our reconnect was the result of social media miracle-working.
We both adored Mrs. Carlton, our 12th grade English teacher, who influenced our decisions to become teachers ourselves. I hadn’t known that, nor that Barbara’s family was also originally from New York. Via Facebook, we already knew we had similar politics, putting us in the minority of our classmates. But the topper: Barbara also had two early marriages before settling in with the third for the duration. I had enjoyed thinking myself the lone oddball. Meeting Barbara deflated my overblown sense of uniqueness while simultaneously enhancing my sense of community.
While in Vancouver, I walked Mound Park behind the hotel daily, saw students from Emily Carr University, the nearby art school, scattered around the park with their ipads. They had a perspective assignment, and one girl pulled up a sketch for me, of the path winding down to the docks, competently done. Plein-air in the digital age.
Another day we met a young man tossing a ball for his poodle-mix named Penny. “She’s a Mexican rescue,” he said. “From Chihuahua.” All our cabbies were Indian or Middle Eastern: one from Punjab, one from Iran, one Sikh. The Iranian said he moved here for his daughter’s education. She’s still in elementary school, but here, she can go far. My dear reactionaries, our world is already richly international. There’s no going back.
A few days after our return, Mrs. Joyce Carlton died at 93. I unearthed the yearbook to find photos of her and stumbled on Barbara and I sitting together for our Spanish Club photo. I don’t remember being in Spanish Club. I didn’t remember Spanish, had to relearn it years later. I barely remember that girl with curled hair, but a rush of affection for her plaid dress surprised me. My mother helped me make that dress. I don’t remember Barbara, the sophisticated young woman next to me, in her dark suit. But I remember Mrs. Carlton, who left lasting impacts like lines of wake reaching shore on students like us.