"Did you have long hair?!"
"And you cut it all off?!"
"Why?! Did you break up with your boyfriend???"
It turns out that in Japan, a kinda casual and quirky societal thing is if a girl and her boyfriend broke up, the girl will typically cut her hair short to signify the change in her life and the start of a "new" her. I’m not too sure about what happens when boyfriends break up with boyfriends, but maybe extensions are involved.
I was chatting with my new friend (hi, Minori! Hopefully I explained the hair cutting thing correctly!) who I'd met that morning on a walking tour of Fremont and we had just added each other on Facebook. Fremont is a neighbourhood north of Downtown Seattle that is valiantly resisting the clutches of gentrification but unfortunately gentrification has already clutched it like your fist grabbing a fifty dollar note you found falling from the sky. Certified as the Centre of the Universe in 1991, it is also known as the Artists' Republic of Fremont, and is basically Quirk Central of Seattle.
Seattle (Grey’s Anatomy land!) was a last minute addition to my trip itinerary, which I decided to tack on after my accommodation for the second half of Winnipeg fell through. It was a great decision; Seattle is a beautiful city, with so much to walk through and see, and was a nice change of pace from the relative inertness of Edmonton and Winnipeg. I had a quick three days, but took it easy in choosing what I wanted to do. I think I made good coverage.
On Saturday evening I went up the Space Needle. I went at 6pm thinking that I could just rock up and get a ticket and come down in time for dinner. Somehow I had forgotten that the Space Needle is a tourist attraction and, as such, attracts tourists (I think I had also forgotten that I myself was a tourist), especially on a weekend, so I could only get a ticket for a 9:30pm trip up to the viewing level.
Going up at that time worked out great because that was just about sunset time in Seattle. It is one of my favourite times of day, better than sunrise because you’re already awake, and watching the sun go down over the water and lights of Seattle was pretty stunning. Being up on the Space Needle also struck me how sprawling and large Seattle is. It is the largest city in Washington and also in the whole of the Pacific Northwest. Looking at how the planners of Seattle have seemed to utilise every available pocket of space to create their city just made it really sink in.
The ferry across Puget Sound from Seattle to Bainbridge Island is touted as a must-do, so on Sunday I wandered my way down towards the water and then picked up my pace to the ticket counter as the ferry was loading RIGHT THEN!! I stood in line behind one other person and was served by a middle-aged Chinese woman who looked a little drowsy. Couldn't blame her. The temperature was pretty warm indoors and it was close to 4pm. Three-thirtyitis is a universal thing.
I walked up to the counter. "Hi, could I have a ticket to Bainbridge Island, please?"
She gave me the barest of glances. "How old are you?"
"Er..." Not entirely understanding why she needed to know how old I was, I fumbled for the answer. I always fumble the answer when I'm not ready for the question. They say never ask a lady her age; well, I must not be a lady or something, then. But, trained by years of customer service and retail to be polite even in the face of bewilderment, I told her, "27?"
Sometimes saying my age aloud is enough to throw me. 27! When did that happen? as if I didn't know exactly when my birthday was.
"Oh my god."
The pause that followed was so pregnant that I momentarily doubted my status as an adult. In those suspended milliseconds that felt more like the infinity between going to your boarding gate at the time it states on your ticket to the time you actually board your aircraft, I felt like I was experiencing an acute existential crisis. Was 27 an okay age to be? Was 27 too old? Had the North American air really aged me so much that I looked that decrepit on the outside?
"I thought you were just a little child," she finally continued, peering at her monitor and completely in disregard of the minor panic attack I was on the brink of experiencing.
I glanced at the ticket window where fares were listed.
ADULT 19-64: $8.
YOUTH 6-18: $4.
Then it clicked. I don't know why it still takes me so long to understand why people check my age. The woman obviously thought I was still in high school. High school students must look bloody old in North America, because it was not the first time that someone assumed I was a student here. If I had gotten a quarter for every time I was asked whether I was here studying, I would never have had to worry about having the exact cash fare for the bus for the duration of my stay in Seattle.
ANYWAY. Bainbridge Island. The ferry ride was a nice change of pace from all the walking I’d been doing for the past week and a bit. In general I really enjoy water-related activities, the relaxing kind that doesn’t risk injury e.g. sitting in a ferry for half a hour. I spent the first leg just standing on the deck watching us sail away from the Seattle skyline, enjoying the wind in my hair and the pending burn from the sun beating down on my face.
Pulling into the Bainbridge Island ferry terminal. I don't normally like photos that show the reflection off the glass, but I like this one because you can see the Seattle skyline on the right.
I didn’t spend very long on Bainbridge but the ABSOLUTE HIGHLIGHT of the two hours I spent there happened in the first ten minutes of my arrival. I was walking up the hill towards the centre of town from the ferry terminal, trying to get my bearings, when I saw a couple of policemen directing traffic, and directly in front of me was a pedestrian crossing with a deer cantering across the road!
IT WAS MY FIRST WILDLIFE SIGHTING IN AN URBAN SETTING AND IT WAS THE MOST AMAZING THING EVER. (I do not count sheep crossings back home as a wildlife sighting in an urban setting.)
I stared after it in amazement as it so casually pranced across the street as if it knew exactly where the crosswalk was painted onto the tar. Well, maybe it did. Or maybe it was just like, “To avoid life-killing cars, go straight!” They say that you learn about yourself when you go on holiday. Well, in that moment I learnt that I am in awe of how deer run/walk/otherwise conduct themselves. It is such a graceful, confident trot with zero doubt of its place in the world. Go forth, self-assured deer!
I would’ve loved to have taken a photo or video to show you my memory of Bambi but unfortunately I stared and stared as it loped up the grass bank, hopped a low fence, and disappeared back into its natural habitat, safe for the moment from becoming a venison meal.
On my last day in Seattle I went to Pike Place Market, which is home to Pike Place Chowder. PPC is an award-winning and highly recommended chowder eatery where there are always two lines: one line immediately outside the shop from the entrance to around the corner, and then a second line across the street continuing on from the end of that first line. So… it was a long line. Not having anywhere else to be, I waited about 20 minutes and it was just about worth it. Would I recommend Pike Place Chowder? Well, if you are a really big fan of chowder or if you have some mission to eat at all the chowder places in Seattle, then yes. If you are not, then I think it is worth waiting 15 minutes or so, but maybe not half an hour. Welcome to my new ratings system… just kidding.
I took the bus up to Vancouver in the evening. This would have been a complete non-event if not for the old man who decided to sit next to me near the back of the bus, later during the boarding process. I had been enjoying almost having two seats to myself when he bundled up and sank heavily into the aisle seat, jostling my leg in the process.
Has anyone noticed that some people like to sit with their legs splayed open, with no regard for the person occupying the seat next to them? Just take up as much space as they like even if it extends into the next chair. RUDE.
“Hello,” he said. He had a thick, foreign accent. I could hardly understand him but for years of retail training. Retail actually gives you a lot of life skills, an exceptional tolerance for bullshit included. More’s the pity.
“Hi,” I replied, mostly out of courtesy. No need to be rude.
He leaned closer, as if we were aisles apart rather than uncomfortably close due to his helping himself to my personal space, and mumbled something.
“What was that?” I asked. He repeated himself, but his accent was too thick even for my retail trained ears. “I’m sorry. I didn’t understand a word of that.”
He laughed. The girls behind us giggled. “Sorry my English is not good. I speak Swedish. I am from Finland!”
I gave him an “Oh, cool,” uncommital nod. I desperately wanted the conversation to end and for him to return to his seat. But the bus driver was walking down the aisle collecting tickets, tied up with a Chinese woman who didn’t speak English and also didn’t have a ticket. We weren’t about to leave any time soon.
“Are you going to Vancouver?”
I was tired. I had been on the go since morning, lugging all my bags with me as I’d checked out already and the hostel was in the opposite direction to the train station. I just wanted to get to Vancouver. When I am at this stage, unfed and inadequately watered, my tolerance for small talk is pretty much near zero.
“I hope so,” I said. I mean, hopefully everyone on this bus was going to Vancouver or they would have a problem when they got to the border.
The girls behind me giggled again. There were four of them, around my age, dressed in USA football jerseys — the USWNT was playing a game in Vancouver the next day. They were clearly hearing everything this man was asking me… and thanking the great American eagle that they were not sitting next to him.
“I am going to Vancouver also,” he supplied uselessly, finding a deeper need in himself to lean even closer, so much so that I had to shrink away against the comfort of the bus window. Something inside me began to snap as I struggled with figuring out a polite way to tell him to either shut up or move away, or both, or not say anything at all and hope the ordeal would be over soon. “These are my sons.” He indicated to the two men sitting in the row in front of us. They turned around and waved. One of them had eyes that felt sorry for me.
“Where do you live? Seattle or Vancouver?” he continued, and for a moment I experienced the same out of body confusion as when the ferry terminal lady had asked for my age. I didn’t live in Seattle, and didn’t live in Vancouver, either. So I answered as honestly as possible.
“Right now, on this bus, I guess.”
The girls behind me smothered their laughter. The man laughed, as did his two sons. “You are traveling alone?” he asked.
“No boyfriend? You are very pretty.”
I didn’t grace him with an answer to that. FIRST OF ALL. Heteronormative. SECOND OF ALL. Not his business. THIRDLY, thanks for pretty much insinuating that people don’t think I’m pretty because I’m not travelling with a man????
But, it got even better (or worse, depending on your perspective).
“I will be your boyfriend,” he continued without pause, as if he was doing me a great favour and protecting me from predators on the bus. HOLA SENOR, you are the only predator on this bus right now, thank you!!
The girls behind me sounded like they were crying at this stage, out of horror or hilarity I couldn’t be sure. I decided we were friends now. I turned around and said something to the girl behind me. I can’t remember what I said now, but our tiny exchange of words and mortified laughter in female solidarity made the man think that I was the fifth wheel of the back row.
“Ah, they are your friends?” he said. His tone and demeanour was almost as though he finally understood how he was coming across. “Okay. Don’t worry. I am seventy nine years old. Old man.”
And you know what? That made me even more irritated. I think I was so annoyed by the entire exchange because it was typical of what women around the world have to go through every day, entertaining men who help themselves to our company and think they are doing us a favour by paying us attention. Some people reading this will dismiss my encounter as an old man merely attempting to be nice or make me feel safer travelling alone or something of the sort. Well, let me tell you that it had the complete opposite effect, and that I dispense and sell enough Viagra to know that men that age know EXACTLY what is going on and what they are doing. No thank you!
Finally the bus driver took our tickets and we eventually set off for sunny British Columbia. The rest of the bus trip was thankfully uneventful, with the man sleeping for most of it. Fast forward to the end of the night where I got to sleep in a huge and comfortable queen sized bed ALL BY MYSELF and with my personal bubble intact.
Next up, my ten-day TrekAmerica tour of the Rockies! It was SUCH FUN. I can’t wait to share it with you all.
Until next time!