Monday, September 29, 2008

What to do on Sunday? or, Adventures in Going With the Flow and Following Signs

I tend to spend Sundays and Mondays at my computer as much as possible. It's because Terri gets those days off, and she hangs out downstairs with the kiddos, or takes them shopping, or playing, or whatever she comes up with. Whatever she comes up with usually doesn't involve me. At least not me going with them.

So yesterday, as I hunkered down, opened the stories I'm working on, answered emails, and checked myspace, Terri came up to the office.

She said, "I'm taking the kids to Mt. Rainier today. Wanna come?"

I don't think she expected me to say yes, I rarely go where she's planned to take the kids on those workdays of mine. BUT, we've lived here for two years, and we hadn't been there yet. Mt. Ranier? That snowy, gorgeous, active volcano that lives right next to us? I said hell yes.

I wondered if we might be leaving a bit late in the day, she thought of going at 10:30 in the morning, and we had to get everyone ready. I figured we'd get out of town around 1. We were on our way at 1:22. It's not even a two-hour drive to the Park, so even though we were leaving then, I figured we'd get some good sight-seeing in. And it was Terri's rad, spontaneous idea. We went with the flow.

It was a gorgeous day yesterday. The mountain was OUT.

~If you don't live around here, that might be an odd statement. See, a lot of times there are clouds between us and Mt. Rainier. (It makes its own weather, too.) The mountain's out means it's a clear, gorgeous day and we can see that huge mountain from miles and miles and miles away. The weather dude in Seattle says things like, "It's a beautiful day today, the mountain is out." We also have "sun-breaks", another local weather term that doesn't make sense most places, but that wasn't the case yesterday. It was warm, sunny, and blue, blue sky.~

We've got this new camera. It's a Nikon Coolpix. I'm still learning how to use it to its utmost ability, and I thought that surely taking pictures of our journey would be a great way to figure out long-distance, up-close, portrait, all that jazz. Plus, Mt. Rainier!! The Coolpix takes great photos. I'm really enjoying the camera so far.

I like photography. I've had good cameras since I could use one. I haven't yet had the best camera, but I'm working on that. In fact, I'm working on having several of the best cameras, which I will carry with me everywhere I go.

And I'll carry batteries for them. LOTS and LOTS of batteries for them. Enough batteries to power North America for ten years. Lots of batteries. Oh, the batteries I'll have. Bat. Ter. Ies.

Have you guessed where this is going?

Our Coolpix camera takes flat, recharchable lithium batteries. While we gathered clothes, snacks, showers, and kids, Terri charged its battery.

We let Caspian take our old camera, one that sucks the life out of AA batteries after a couple hours of use. We brought extra batteries for it.

Zane took his Fisher Price digital camera for toddlers. We put new batteries in it before we left.

We were SET for photographing our spontaneous adventure to freakin' Mt. Rainier!

As I said, the mountain was out. Driving down Pacific Ave. on our way out of town, it was huge and happy right smack in front of us. I started taking pics of the trip two blocks from home.

We cruised along, enjoying the autumnal beauty of this great Pacific Northwest. I snapped photo after photo out the car window--Mt. Rainier as we neared it, old barns, weird castle coffee shacks, church steeples with fall leaves fluttering around them, blurry trees, lakes, freaky people, you name it.

I was telling Terri how much I love our new camera, but was frustrated that I didn't have a few of them, one for quick shots of the weird shit beside the road, one with some powerful big lenses that I could keep focused on the distant volcano, and one for my pocket.

If you've been following my posts, and if you've read any of Terri's blogging, you'll know that we're using the Law of Attraction to bring us the life we want. Part of that is putting things positively, feeling the positivity of the situation. For example: Instead of me feeling frustrated that I didn't have three top-of-the-line cameras, I should feel the joy of when I do. So I was working on that.

We tooled along, and I talked about how great it was going to be to have so many useful cameras, and how much I love taking pictures, and how much fun I was having doing it, and how happy I was that we were headed to a place that I could really use the camera.

When we arrived at Mt. Rainier National Park, I'd taken twenty or thirty shots.

So we drive up to the entry gate (and I snap a postcard photo of the entrance) and learn that it's "free day" at the Park. No entry fee. How cool that Terri picked this day to go, right? Our first time there, a total spontaneous trip, and it's free day. How cool.

Terri had printed out a driving guide for the Park. There was a photo-taking bridge, where you get a sweet view of the mountain while standing above a glacial stream. Gorgeous place, the drive-guide says. 3.3 miles into the Park.

I snap a couple of shots on the way to the bridge. One of blurry trees, one of some silt deposits in the low, late-season river.

At the bridge, we crossed the highway to the mountain viewing area, followed a raised boardwalk built by Japanese exchange students, and came to the viewing point. I took two shots of the mountain, gathered Terri and the kids together for a shot of them in front of the mountain, and then took one more of Rainier without the sign standing in the viewing area.

I wanted to get a shot of the boys sitting on a bench. As I raised the camera, it beeped twice and a message came on the viewscreen. "Battery power exceeded." And it shut down.

I'd maybe had the camera on for an hour, all told. I couldn't believe the battery was dead. I tried to refuse to believe it by turning the camera off and back on. But it wouldn't come back on. It didn't all day.

So, here we were, at our very first stop in the Park, the whole afternoon of seeing its gorgeous wonders ahead of us, and now my well-voiced hopes of taking hundreds of pictures have been dashed (and dashed hard, like against rocks in a raging glacial river). At the start of our trip, Terri warned me against taking too many pictures, saying that the memory card could only handle 500--a number she pulled out of the ether, but that I thought was probably right, knowing that I've had 260 shots on it before.

When it died after such a short time, I was seriously crushed.

I tried to get over it. I really tried. But as we drove on, I kept seeing things I wished I could photograph.

Caspian still had a working camera. It's our old one, and it sucks, but we told him he could be the photographer for the day.

(Zane said he'd take pictures, too. We looked at his today. He took seven photos--two of me, two of Terri, one of Caspian's nose, one blurry gray one, one blurry green one, and a shot of his blurry crotch.)

After the camera died, and I was trying not to be bummed about it, back at the car, Zane decides he's hungry. So he eats a bunch of goldfish crackers or something and some craisens. But he's still hungry. Caspian says he's really hungry, too. I'm starving because now that I don't smoke, I eat lunch, and I didn't before we left. I'm sure that was part of me not getting over the loss of my camera. I have a touch of hypoglycemia without regular fooding.

Instead of making the next few stops suggested in our driving guide, we decide to haul-ass to the nearest eatery and save ourselves. We also held out hope that maybe one of the tourist-trap gift shops will have our camera's kind of battery and trade it to us for our car or something equally expensive. They sold candybars for $1.75. They also sold five kinds of lithium battery, but not the kind for our camera.

The dude said, "Yeah, that's a weird one."

Come on. Ashton Kucher is the spokesdude for our camera. I'll bet there are a few people out there with one. Weird one my ass. Try, I work in a gift shop in the mountains. I have no fucking clue what's going outside it.

(Not that there's anything wrong with that. I spent two years living in the mountains having no fucking clue what was going on outside my tiny town. I didn't even know who'd been elected president--Bush senior--until five months after the fact, and only because someone was bitching about it. But if you're some old freak who lives in the Park Service Dormatory Cabins at the base of Mt. Rainier, don't be telling people that their batteries are weird ones, because really, on what could you possibly be basing that?)

So after the unsuccesful battery buying attempt, and the hundred bucks Terri spent on a bottle of water and two big cookies, we made our way to the hotel restaurant.

I was a waiter for many, many years. If I glance into a dining room, I can tell you exactly what's happening in there. Standing at the Please Wait to be Seated sign, I saw what was going on beyond it, and it was not a pretty picture.

There was a party of 15-20 to the right of us in the middle of eating. Four kids.

To our left were three tables for four. Three of them had the remains of lunch on them, plates and all.

In front of us, deep into the dining room's interior, a young waitress sped to and fro, waiting on three tables of customers--a two-top, and two fours. Her hair was frazzled, she had a pen and pad in her hand, and she was doing that dance where half of your body goes to the left, and the other half to the right while your head swings 'round side-to-side trying to figure out which part of your body has it correct. There were seven visible open tables.

While I was observing, I tuned-in to the hotel desk manager's phone conversation going on beside us. It went like this: "Oh, well, she's real busy right now. Yeah, we had a rush. Who is this? Oh, hi! Yeah, it just got really busy. She's still busy."

After she convinced the caller that the waitress was busy (I was already convinced), the desk manager turned to us and said, "Hello. Are you folks on our list?" A list. At three-forty-five in the afternoon. Four occupied tables. One (obviously not so good at her job) waitress. And a wait-list. With one name on it. I asked how long the wait was.

"Oh, about fifteen minutes."

Who's worked in a restaurant? What does that sentence up there mean?

For those of you who don't know, who just say, "Okay, put me on the list." and then sixteen minutes later storm the hostess and demand to know why you've not been seated, and then after she tells you it may be a bit longer, you spend another fifteen mollified minutes staring at the poor girl who truly cannot control when people decide to leave the restaurant and offer up their table for you, and finally freak out and yell at her in forty minutes and are seated in fifty (or even if you sit there patiently and don't do anything lame), let me tell you what, Oh, about fifteen minutes means.

It means, I don't fucking know, dude. As soon as that inept fucking waitress can get a handle on her easy goddamned job and clean a table or two. As soon as the manager gets a fucking clue and comes out to help. As soon as I can get rid of you so that I can become uber-busperson and clean those four tables, reset them, get water for that party right there, grab whatever the inept waitress needs me to grab for her, then cashier for the three tables that are about to leave at once. As soon as I feel like it. Or any variation of such themes.

It does not mean fifteen minutes.

It especially does not mean fifteen minutes if you're an experienced restaurant worker who's just seen what's going on in the dining room and learned that the spastic ballerina with the frazzled hair is the only one running the show. It means forget it.

It means that when Terri said, "It's up to you, dude." I said, "Let's drive the thirty mountainous miles to the next eatery and hope we make it before they close." Because we were on a time-limit. All the visitor centers close at six. It was almost four. I know how long it takes to drive thirty miles in the mountains, especially in a National Park with 35 or 25mph speed limits. Sometimes much longer than two hours.

So, with kids cramping with hunger, and me trying not to be a pissed-off douchebag, but not really succeeding, we limped to the car (which we'd parked very far away from the restaurant, because there were no signs and we drove a circuit around the damned place before we decided to just park and go find food.) and made our way to Paradise, the Park's town at the base of the mountain.

We drove straight past all that stuff I'd wanted to walk around and take photos of. We drove straight to where a sign said that the parking lot was full, and we had to park on the side of the mountain and hike up to the visitor's center. Which we did.

I lugged Zane up there, and had to honestly sit and catch my breath, something I don't think I've had to do since I ran races when I was sixteen. We sent Caspian into the dome-shaped visitor's center to see if that's where the restaurant was. He came out and told us no. He said there was a Park Ranger there at an info desk.

I panted, "Go ask him."

Caspian came back and told us there were twenty people waiting in line to talk to him. I'd caught my breath, so we decided to head over to the Swiss Chalet looking building to the left of us. Upon arrival we learned from a small sign tacked to its wall that it was a private residence.

Terri took control and ushered us all back into the visitor's center.

We immediately saw a sign that said: ---Grill---> So without bitching at Caspian too much, and knowing that this was the grill and not the restaurant, I led us there as quickly as I could weave a trail between the freaky tourists gawking about the dome. Yes, freaky tourists. Lots of just plain weirdos. Even Terri thought there were gobs of freaks, and she's not usually the one to say so. It's usually me going, "These people are fucking weirdos!" and her saying things like, "Shut up, dude."

We get in line at the grill. Terri notices that there aren't many tables available, and urges me and Zane to go grab one. I smell fries and leave my order with Terri--a bacon cheeseburger and LARGE fries. Zane wants a cheeseburger and fries. We find a booth. I clean it with napkins. We sit and talk about fries. Zane is going to need some of mine. But I can have some of his, too. Then Caspian comes over and tells us they just read sign that says there's no fries.

Our burgers are small. There's one piece of bacon on mine. We get little bags of chips. Terri buys two extra because I sent Caspian the bad-news-bearer back to her with the message that since there are no fries, we need lots of chips. She knows I'm on the verge of being Hunger-Maniac, No Camera, Surrounded by Weirdos, Super-Asshole Man, so she gets a lot.

I ate my burger in three bites.

On the first bite, I ask Terri, "Didn't I read that this place was just built? It's totally falling apart. It looks like shit." Seriously, pieces of it were falling apart. It looked like it was thirty years old, retro-ghettoish.

We shrugged about it while we chewed.

On the second bite, an announcement comes over the intercom system that the grill will be closing in fifteen minutes. The announcer goes on to say that the visitor's center will close in half-an-hour, permanently. That's right, folks, after today this building will be closed, and demolished, so take your photos now.

We all gawked at each other.

It was our first time at the park. We came on Free Day. We barely made it to the visitor's center to quell our enormous collective hunger, after quite a weird and tiring journey to get there, and then we learn that we're there in its last moments of life.

It was kinda crazy.

We talked to a grill-worker about it. Turns out we were in the old visitor's center. The new one was past that sign that told us the parking lot was full and that we should park on the side of the mountain and hike all the way up to the old visitor's center. Just built.

So, after finding the bathrooms, and the not carrying our camera's battery gift shop, we made our way up a twisting set of ramps to the viewing deck of the old visitor's center. Yup. We could see the new visitor's center from there. And the hotel and restaurant. My nibble of burger sat like a stone in my sour stomach.

But, I still tried not to be an ass. I asked Caspian if I could use our old camera for a few shots of the mountain, and of the kids in the observation room. We used it for our patented family photo self-photo. I tried not to think about how much better the useless camera in my pocket was. I kept the old one on the way back to the car and took some subpar pics of the family and the volcano.

We started out of the Park as the sun started going down.

It was a gorgeous drive home.

I tried to take a couple shots of Mt. Rainier all purple and pink and huge in the setting sunlight with our old shitty camera. They didn't work out. So I took one of me letting a little of the welling frustration out with a snarl.

We'll go back to the Park in the spring. I'll have three good cameras and a pack of batteries with the combined energy to make any nuclear power plant hide its radioactive face in shame.

For now, this is what we managed to capture of our long, strange trip:

On the way. The mountain is OUT.

Alder Lake, I believe. It's near the Park. I liked the stumps.

This is a metal-works art gallery on the way to the park. It looked cool. I got two shots of it from the car and this is the least blurry of them. Zane loves giraffes.

This dude cracks me up every time I see this pic. He was driving his golf cart along the highway, and I turned the camera backward out the window to take this pic. I had no idea how it turned out (dead camera thing) until we got home last night. I hurt myself laughing at it. The poor freaky dude totally saw me snap his pic. Look at him! Terri named him Travis because we saw a spray-painted ratty square of plywood propped up alongside the road that said, Travis Birthday Party near where we passed him. We figure it's Travis on his way to his party.

The postcard entrance shot through the windshield.

Third to last photo of the day from Coolpix One. (I'm naming it that so as not to confuse it with the other two I'll have by spring.)

Here's a shot Caspian took of Terri on our way to the viewpoint.

Here's the one shot of Terri and the dudes at Mt. Rainier that I managed. Second to last CP1 photo of the day.

Our family portrait inside the observation deck of the dome. Sorry you're making such a strange face, Zane, but I'm lookin' pretty stupid myself, so at least we're together in our not so great part of the family photo.

These are shots I took with the old camera after we left the soon to be demolished visitor's center.

Here I am expressing my love for our old camera and the fact that I couldn't use our new one.

Here's what Caspian took pictures of when I gave him the old camera back after I couldn't stand missing shots of the mountain on the way home because the stupid thing takes forever to process the previous shot, and doesn't really take the photo when you push the shutter button.

We had an okay trip.

It was gorgeous, and Mt. Rainier is simply awesome. We saw the things we'd like to take a closer look at, the kids were cool and good the whole time, Zane didn't puke, we know how long it takes to get to everywhere we can drive, and we know that the gift shops, though they do sell hand-carved bolo-tie clasps for fifty dollars, do not carry our camera's weird lithium batteries. We'll go back in the spring when the rivers are really rockin' and we'll spend the whole day there, with a cooler full of food.

How was your Sunday?


Blogger Terri said...

My Sunday was about the same as yours. Just less ornery.

I bought 1 bottle of water, 2 huge gourmet cookies and a BIG muffin for $6.55. I thought that was a pretty good price, actually.

Just focus on Travis. Everything will be allright.

1:43 PM  
Blogger Terri said...

Oh, and from Longmire to Paradise is about 12 mountainous miles. Nowhere near 30.

It is amazing to me how BAD you thought yesterday was. Yikes. Were we on the same trip? It was not that bad people.

I thought the burgers were pretty big. I was going to offer you some of mine or maybe I did, but I thought you would not take it, so I ended up throwing some out!

You really need to stop watching all those disaster films.

Focus on Travis. It's all allright.

1:50 PM  
Blogger Shameless said...




2:10 PM  
Blogger Shameless said...

And at the time I thought it was thirty miles. And the stuff I saw in the gift shop was outrageously priced. Bolo tie clasps for fifty dollars. T-shirts for thirty.

2:11 PM  
Blogger Gay Degani said...

My favorite is the family portrait. Way cool.

4:03 PM  
Blogger Sarah Hilary said...

You have a beautiful family. That day out sounded wonderful.

10:58 PM  
Anonymous M.Sherlock said...

Lol i jus tspent my free period readining all of you make trips to nice mountains seem stressful lol.

Seriously dude im sitting in a skanky sixth form IT room and the weather is shite outside and OH LOOK....A TREE! well its a man planted tree but ill roll with that.

Wish i had a cool mountain, and a bacon burger for that matter.

2:32 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

This whole adventure cracked me up. Reminds me of our family outings. Usually the husband gets super annoyed while I'm in my own little world enjoying everything that's going on. :-) Thanks for sharing.

P.S. - is it just me or does the old camera take nicer pics than the new one?

9:34 AM  
Blogger Shameless said...

It was crazy, but nice. I'm really glad we went when we did, too. It's going to be cool and rainy for a while now.

The older camera does NOT take better pics. Those two shots of the mountain did turn out quite nicely, though.

M--get famous and move here.

9:22 AM  
Blogger K.C. Ball said...

This cracked me up; seriously, I almost choked on my diet coke while I was reading it, I laughed so hard.

"The mountains are out." is my new favorite expression since moving to Seattle last year (eleven months and counting now). We have to go up and over to the other side of the West Seattle hill to see Rainier and the Cascades, but the Olympics are freaking gorgeous on a "the mountains are out" day.

Anyway, a great, great post, Kevin.

2:07 AM  
Blogger Shameless said...

I warned you about my forced yoga techniques.

Glad you found it humorous. Terri said it was too heavy, but I thought it was funny.

The trip was actually pretty good, now that I've had some distance from disappointment.

11:24 AM  

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