Cruise to Alaska: Portland
(Just landed on this page out of nowhere? You’ll want to start with Cruise to Alaska: Before We Begin.)

Not many cruises begin in Portland, but ours did. Why? Because I’m fat.

Unlike a socially acceptable and admired linebacker, though, I can actually squish myself into a regular airline seat without trespassing into my fellow passengers’ space. In fact, I won’t even use my half-strip of the armrest because I literally dislike rubbing elbows with strangers. With Mike on one side of me to lean into, and my arms crossed in front of me, the passenger on the other side need not get that look of panic when they see us coming down the aisle.

However, sitting like that gets uncomfortable. I could take a window seat, but then I wouldn’t be sitting next to Mike, who needs an aisle seat to give those long legs of his a place to go, especially when the inevitable d-bag in front of him starts battering his knees with the recline button. (We’ve actually had people complain to flight attendants that they can’t recline because Mike’s legs are in the way.)

So now you know why we fly MD-80s (or any plane with a two-seat row), or buy out the entire row, or - now - fly Spirit.

OMG. I know Spirit has its detractors, especially people who don’t get that the a la carte business model isn’t for everyone, but for us fatties, Spirit is the proverbial bomb.

Why? The Big Front Seat. For an additional fee (as with everything on Spirit), you can purchase spacious accommodation in what I suppose used to be the Business/First class when the plane belonged to its previous owner. Go for the front row: my stubby legs can barely tap the wall-carpet in front of me. Miz Fluff here can even use the tray table from the armrest without getting belly bumped. Plenty of side room, plenty of space to recline, plus you legitimately get priority boarding. (Unlike most of the line behind you who just queue up anyway.)

Spirit Airlines, Big Front Seat

Row 1, Spirit Airlines

You might try to argue that most airlines have nice seats for an additional fee. Yes, that’s true. For hundreds or (more usually, it seems) thousands of dollars more, you can have a pleasant flight. On Spirit? Sixty-five dollars - and that’s the high end. (LAS<- ->DFW) For our trip to Portland, it was only $13 to relocate from the scrunch of humanity to a Big Front Seat. Thirteen bucks!

Okay, so picture me back in the first days of spring, looking to book our flight to Seattle. The cheapest option was Alaska Air, fine, but we’d have to buy out a row. (This comes with its own anxiety because we have had the stress of surprise seat reassignments in the past, and the extra seat can only follow one person. Okay, so that only happened once and it all worked out, but still! Anxiety!) I lamented that Spirit didn’t fly to Seattle. Hey, maybe they flew somewhere nearby...

Here’s what I realized: for price X, we could book three seats on Alaska Air to Seattle, a good hotel, and taxi transportation. (I know light rail from Seattle's airtport is cheap, but hauling a bunch of bags on public transportation for 45 minutes each way just didn’t appeal to me.)

Or, for the same price X, we could book two Big Front Seats on Spirit to Portland, a good hotel, two business-class Amtrak tickets to Seattle, another good hotel, and taxi transportation.

It would mean an extra night away from the pets (because if we flew in on Saturday it would be too late for an Amtrak connection or, if we then caught a puddle-jumper, we’d arrive too late to explore), but hell, what with our upcoming (and presumably permanent) move to Australia, would we even ever get another chance to see Portland? Notching an extra new city plus a leisurely train ride up the west coast sounded like the better adventure.

And So We Set Off

This cruise to Alaska was a gift from Mike’s father, Phil, and Carol, Mike’s father’s wife. (We don’t say stepmother.) They came (from Australia) to the States to see a bit of Los Angeles then visit us in Las Vegas for the week before the cruise. (My first time to meet any of my in-laws face to face.) So, we were already all comfortable with each other by the time Friday came. They flew out early in the morning for their two nights in Seattle, and we prepared to fly to Portland that afternoon.

By “prepared” I mean that we, heat-avoiding night owls with irregular sleep habits even when it isn’t school holidays, completely failed to flip around our day-sleeping schedule in time for our flight.

Story of our lives, really, and usually - while not ideal - no big deal. But for some reason I got hot (the usual desert scorch will do that) and couldn’t get cool. I was boiling but not sweating. If this was a hot flash, the “flash” part was disappointingly misnamed. From the car, to the parking lot (we tried to splurge on the garage, but even the long-term economy lot was nearly full), to the airport, to the gate... I was just red and hot. Was it the vestiges of my recent re-bout with mono? What was happening? Usually when I get too sleep deprived I get chills, sometimes to where my teeth chatter if I’m really run down, but heat? What?

Mike, tired but otherwise fine, went to get a drink and came back with a cherry slurpee that tasted like melted Jolly Ranchers. Bleh. I wasn’t even thirsty, though. Just hot. I held the cold drink to my face and looked forward to early boarding.

The mysterious overheating hung over me like a scratchy blanket until the next night in Seattle, so if it sounds like we wussed out on our sightseeing, that (and the extreme tiredness the first night) is my excuse. (Although, let’s face it, we’re usually pretty low-key in our tourist meanderings.)

The flight went fine. Mike liked the seats about as much as he liked his disgusting cherry drink, which is to say “a lot.”

Mike After Disgusting Slurpee

Usually our cruise luggage consists of two rolling carry-ons, a camera/electronics bag, and a couple of zippered totes. (We pack them in the carry-ons then use them for souvenirs and whatnot when we leave.) But that’s Mexico, where people don’t chant “Layers! Layers!” on the Cruise Critic forums. Plus, since we’d be traveling with people we knew, it might be more awkward than usual to re-wear clothes. (That’s right. We do that.)

Furthermore, here we were flying to a cruise for the first time, not able to shuck off the day-before’s laundry into the trunk of the car before crossing the street to the ship, and not able to dump souvenir overflow into additional bags that only had to be carried down the length of the gangplank. And because we were flying (not to mention flying Spirit), and because of the “Layers!”, it just made sense to bring a big suitcase in addition to the carry-ons.

Of course it did. But you don’t know me, Woman Who Fears Lost Luggage. I haven’t checked a suitcase in over 10 years. (And no, I’m not one of those people who pushes the limits of “carry-on.” Until this trip, being a light traveler was a strong checkmark in the Pro-Shari Column.) While I would never put anything valuable or irreplaceable in a checked bag (duh), and of course we had travel insurance (duh), if our clothes were lost, replacing them would suck. Oh, we could’ve managed on short notice in Portland or Seattle for everything except swimsuits (plus-size) or Alaska-ready jackets (summer, plus-size), but if it happened on the ship? That little gift shop doesn’t even have T-shirts with a centimetre to give, let alone undies.

(So kids, the lesson here is Don’t Get Fat. It’s dreadfully inconvenient. I know it’s a super-easy way to test people for assholery, but having to carefully eyeball a booth before you sit down in a restaurant gets annoying.)

Therefore, packing so that the least-replaceable things were in the carry-ons that also were holding most of the electronics was like designing a 3D jigsaw meant to stump the next Mensa get-together. And yes, we had to have our electronics. Some people need their shoes, their suntan lotion, their cosmetics, their curling irons... we need our picture-making, word-displaying, life-sharing gadgets. The newer camera with walkaround lens plus another lens fit in the camera bag, but we had to bring the older SLR just in case - my luggage anxiety doesn’t have anything on my camera anxiety - plus the so-so telephoto plus a big rented telephoto which deserves its own post, plus the iPads for backing up pics and possibly sharing them, plus the Kindles for reading because iPads don’t use e-ink and are heavy, plus the brilliant tiny cordless/cruise-friendly power strip that I’ll show off later, plus our smartphones, plus the zillion cords, plus booklights, plus batteries, plus battery chargers.

Because baggage claim checks are the most mysterious pieces of paper in the universe (what are they supposed to do, again?), and because my fear after lost luggage is stolen luggage, our pace to Baggage Claim was brisk. The Portland airport is twee and easily manageable, so that took no time, although of course our bag was one of the last to come out. “One down, two to go!” I thought, referring to the luggage checks on the train and ship yet to come. (You wouldn’t think luggage would be lost on a cruise, especially with only one ship in port, but everyone has read the sob stories. On the other hand, given that everyone’s luggage is left outside their doors while they’re off exploring the ship, I’m surprised more isn’t stolen, security cameras or no.)

As part of my planning I printed out coupons for airport->downtown service from Radio Cab. Of course, once we arrived, I was way too tired (and still so hot) to deal with phoning and making arrangements. Why not just grab a shuttle or cab and go to the hotel? How much more could it be?

Answer: Seven dollars more, but I have no regrets. (Granted, we had to pay in cash or else pay $4 more. Portland ain’t Vegas.)

Our destination was The Nines. Originally is was going to be Hotel Monaco because I’ve always wanted to stay in a Kimpton hotel and be given a loaner goldfish for the night, but the HM in Portland was just too much more expensive than other interesting-looking options in the same area to justify it. (So, did we stay at a Kimpton property in Seattle instead? Wait and see!)

Area was very important. This was our one night in Portland, and I had one non-negotiable objective for it: Powell’s Books. The Nines looked like a great location: light rail stops in every direction on the corners, the heart of the free-fare zone, and plenty of restaurants nearby. Plus, the hotel was in the top half of the historic Meier & Frank Building, the lower floors of which are occupied today by a Macy’s. So downtown!

The rate was also competitive. I won’t say what it was (here’s a clue: smack-dab between Disney’s Grand Californian and a good Priceline deal in Anaheim), but the AAA discount was so nice that my membership has just about paid for itself this year. We reserved a corner room with an outside view (as opposed to overlooking the lobby) and “lots of natural light” in the bathroom, and based on photos online, my expectations were high.

Our SUV shuttle (passenger count: 2) pulled up to the hotel's busy curb at about 5:30 p.m., greeted by friendly doormen and bell services. The joint was jumping, and not just with check-ins; apparently the rooftop bar was the place to be on Friday night. I didn’t feel self conscious about taking up our own luggage (one big piece, two carry-ons, camera bag on my shoulder) until it took a couple of tries to get into a sufficiently empty elevator. (The weight of hipster gazes takes up extra space.) Still, we’d not been to the ATM yet - being used to living in a cashless world - and the cab ride had left us short on bills for tipping bellhops.

Surprisingly, our room wasn’t ready, although the reception clerk (also named Mike, and an ex-Las Vegan) was so friendly and professional that this news was only a little disappointing. (Also, being so tired was somewhat numbing.) He checked us in and, per our request, set us up with the faster internet option ($9.95). You can also order this via the hotel’s iPad app, which is really just their mobile site, but it’s still pretty nifty. You can also use the app/site to order room service, arrange concierge stuff, and so on. I was impressed. We decided to wait in the lobby until our room was ready in “20-30 minutes.”

Mike in The Nines Lobby

The Nines - Lobby Ceiling

Someone on the internet, in their review, said that the ceiling had to be fake but that the builder did a good job of making it look like it was natural light. This is why the internet can be harmful to your health; in the olden days, people didn’t have the stress of such ongoing inanity.

Satellite view of hotel, including skylight.

(And then there’s the wonder of Google Maps, and the balance of the internet is restored.)

Were we underdressed? I don’t know. When I was about 12 years old I was a slave to The Preppy Handbook. I got the joke, but who sent off for catalogues from Miss Porter’s? This girl. The book repeated a well-known bit of advice that was new to me, something to the effect of how, when out in the world, you should treat your old wool coat like a mink and your mink like an old wool coat. Elsewhere in the book it discussed how truly preppy people would wear the same cardigan for thirty years, until it wore out.

While I no longer aspire to prepdom, I do have some of that alleged fashion sensibility. If my clothes are clean, modest, and uneventful, and if the occasion is not officially designated as some degree of formal (and my brain can’t accept that checking into a hotel is ever formal), then I’m good. Still, we were aware of a certain vibe that said this sentiment might not be shared by all of The Nines' guests.

Our rooms were ready within 10 minutes; Mike-the-desk-man came to the lounge to tell us. Ah, the journey would be over at last! Sorry, after a certain point, it really is about the destination, wise sayings be damned. Alas, my first thought was: “Where’s our king bed?!”

The Nines - Room 931

(It wasn’t “Who’s that man flopped out over there wearing your clothes, Mike?” But wouldn’t that have made an interesting Twilight Zone episode?)

We only have a double bed at home (yes, two fatties like ourselves - and kids, if you think geometry skills have no application to everyday life, I can assure you that you are wrong), so we always look forward to a king bed when we travel.

I checked the reservation on my phone, though, and was reminded that I’d sacrificed the king bed so we could have a corner room with a view. Oh yeah. Stupid hot and exhausted brain-brain.

Mike Sprawled on The Nines Bed

Yeah, noooo problems with the beds at all.

Shall I contribute a data point to the internet that not everyone is willing to admit?

Sometimes... when we find ourselves in a hotel room with two beds... we each grab one for ourselves and that’s how it goes.

Yep, I know some of you young romantics are horrified. “Are you getting divorced, Shari and Mike? Is that how it is?”

My marriage advice is usually pretty Mike-specific and therefore not worth much (unless you are planning to be the second Mrs. Mike after I’m dead, as foretold), but I will advise this: suffer no shame in enjoying being a bed hog. Pillow pile then a lie across the diagonal? Sign me up!

Except we couldn’t relax yet, or else next thing we knew, we’d be waking at 2 a.m., restless and having to eat from the room service menu and counting the hours until Powell’s opened and we could make a quick dash inside. Not fun. Had to hang in there.

The Nines - Entryway

Eventually I wheeled in the luggage. Just to the right, out of frame in the photo above, was a refrigerator and mini-bar. The connecting door is also on the right, the entry door down on the left.

The Nines - Love This Sofa

The Tiffany-blue sofas were as lovely as promised and much more comfortable than expected. Not content with two beds, I flopped all over this while Mike consulted Yelp for din-din ideas.

Yes, I’m well aware that the thing to do in Portland is eat from the food pods. There’s even an app for it! And that’s how I know that no pods of interest were open nearby on Friday night. And, by “pods of interest,” you know I mean Indian food. Trying the local curry is what we do.

There’s no graceful way to segue from the topic of Indian food to a photo of the restroom. I promise I only just remembered to show it and am making no deeper statement about causation or correlation:

The Nines - Bathroom

That natural light is fetching, isn’t it? Where exactly does it come from?

The Nines - Toilet

Oh my. That’s a lot of light.

The Nines - View from Bathroom

I forget what the amenities were, other than nice. Of course I have them somewhere - well, not the shampoo because Mike doesn’t like cruise ship shampoo, but we have a whole video on that coming up on the Juneau day. If I stumble upon them later I’ll come back and share.

(Here I stopped typing to do some packing in the hope that it would get me a little closer to the location of stashed hotel toiletries. Alas, all I ended up with was a rather clever fortress at the top of the stairs. Any home invaders with an eye on nabbing my collection of hamster toys - currently categorized into small storage buckets all along the main hallway - will have to do some fancy vaulting first.)

Right, so despite the appeal of a little rest in the room, we didn’t take the dangerous path and instead headed out for one of two possible Indian places on the public transportation route to Powell’s Books, as mapped by Yelp and by me checking and double-checking and triple-checking the light rail and trolley routes.

The weather was warm, in the mid-to-high 80s, so I was glad for featherweight Capri pants and sandals. Before the trip, someone was on CruiseCritic asking about wearing layers in Alaska and whether it was ever warm enough for Capri pants. Among the responses was someone who felt the original poster and anyone else considering wearing Capris ought to know that Capri pants were the most unflattering clothes article on the planet, maybe only to be worn by a young woman with extremely shapely calves, but even then.

I replied with something to the effect of how for some of us the comfort far outweighed possibly not looking our very best in the eyes of others, and was there really anyone over 30 who suffered from that kind of vanity? (Yes, I know there is, but I like to smack people around a bit sometimes.) Then the thread predictably divided into those who feel people should know how ugly Capri pants are and those who felt you should please yourself when it comes to fashion. So, when I wore my Capri pants out to dinner, I did so with a bit of defiant sass, remembering that thread.

(However, despite going in early July, it was never warm enough to need them in Alaska. Luckily these took up almost no room in the luggage.)

(And while I don’t notice how Capris look on others, I know they look terrible on me. I’m not only fat, but thanks to genetics I have meaty calves - the Michigan winters of my childhood were plagued by knee boots that wouldn’t zip! - which descend into cankles. Back when I wore linen Capris and Birkenstock clogs to work - yeah, that woman on the boards only thought she’d seen a moving fashion violation - some of the “less content” students tried calling me Ms. Cankle behind my back... until I owned it, but that’s another story. Even back when my life was nothing but nightly dance class and running my hands over my ribs in satisfaction, those adorable Greek sandals that laced up the shins were not to be mine. You know how there are the “such a pretty face” fatties, like Delta Burke? And then there are the fatties who go nuts for shoes, a la the late Nell Carter? For those fortunate few, be it face or feet, some body part lends itself to dress-up. The rest of us just say “screw it” and enjoy the breeze in our terrible(y comfy) Capris.)

(So - and yes, I’m sorry that we’re still in parentheses like the Bubble Boy - if this trip report were a work of literature, you could use contextual criticism to call the Capris a metaphor for freedom in the external conflict of man vs. society and the internal conflict of man vs. self. However, hopefully you can easily tell that this is not literature. It seems obvious to me, but sometimes people find this site and disagree with what I say, which leads to two standard bits of feedbacks in the comments: 1. You’re fat! and 2. Your writing sucks! All I can say is that they must have paid Google for a different tour of the internet than what they got, and all complaints and refunds should be taken up with that office.)

(Not that the kind of people who write such comments ever bother to read this far - in fact, I’m very impressed if you are even reading this far, where “you” probably equals my poor husband, who is no doubt skimming even though he knows there will be a quiz. ALL ESSAY, sweetie. Better take notes.)

The Nines - Looking Down at Courthouse

The Nines - View of Courthouse and Square

That’s the view if your room at The Nines faces front. Our room didn’t face front. I thought I’d be disappointed, but it was fine and possibly even more interesting (for reasons to be expressed whenever we get to the next morning).

The Nines - Corridor Outside Elevators

I have curtains like this over the mirrored closet doors in our home. It’s probably the most stylish bit of decor I’ve ever done beyond hanging a painting. (I should also mention that we rent - discarding the mirrored doors isn’t an option.) Gauzy things are nice - takes me back to Pier One’s inventory circa 1990. I approve.

Catching the light rail was easy (once we caught an elevator down that wasn’t full with bar patrons): just turn left, cross the street, cross the street again.

Light Rail Outside of The Nines

That’s the rail going the other way, up to the train station. At this point we were tired and thinking of taxis for our trip to the station in the morning, but even the concierge recommended light rail when I asked about booking a taxi. Did we take his advice? Stay tuned and hope for fewer asides on fatdom, the boggling nature of other people, and stream-of-consciousness ramblings based on minor associations with the topic at hand.

(Oh, wait, that’s my entire website. Sucka!)

A few stops later we hopped off. I love cities with free downtown transportation. (Hey, Salt Lake.) The first Indian place was only a short walk to the next corner. It looked okay, kind of crowded with gringos, but Portland’s the kind of city where white people probably know good Indian food. (And in this matter not like Salt Lake.) The other place’s menu online looked a bit more exciting, though (which is my code phrase for “offers shahi paneer or paneer makhani”), so we continued down a few blocks south on 11th. (Is it me or does Portland have small city blocks?) Neither restaurant we’d looked up had brilliant Yelp scores (3-3.5 stars), but our stomachs were growling and we needed to save our little energy for Powell’s.

East India Company (Under Construction)

Aw, the poor place is covered with unsightly construction. We need to do them a favour and eat here. They’ll probably be glad we braved the scaffolding.

Therefore it was a little surprising when they asked if we had a reservation. What, it’s only six-something? And the place is quiet? But no worries, they sat us right away.

Within 20 minutes, we understood why they asked about reservations. The atmosphere didn’t get loud, but the tables certainly starting filling up. So much for our attempt at noblesse oblige.

I thought the napkins were pretty:

East India Co - Napkin and Glass

The food was absolutely dee-lish.

East India Co - Delicious Paneer Makhani

Look at that paneer and all the creamy sauce. I have to get up in a few minutes and cook frozen pierogies; this makes me so sad. A close up of the garlic naan? Of course.

East India Co - Naan

So, for two, maybe three, weeks I’ve had all of the ingredients to make coconut curry chili on the countertop. I’ve cleaned around them, stacked grocery bags around them, and every few days I’ve dared to peek at the yams to see if their stringy little roots were full-on Rastafarian yet. Just looking at these pics and remembering the meal caused me to finally get up and properly cook. (Chopping and measured spices and everything! Well, I did use canned beans.) A double batch, even!

I don’t know if it’s going to be any good. Mike usually makes it, and he was at work/school (student teaching) and couldn’t answer my questions. But hey, at least the kitchen counter (“bench,” in Australian) is finally clear. Oh, and I was able to use the leftover boiling water for the couscous to mix up some hot chocolate in my souvenir Norwegian cup from the day in Glacier Bay.

Er, speaking of cruises, on with the tale.

We both agreed that if East India Company were in Las Vegas, it would be one of our go-tos. (If you’re in Las Vegas and want consistent, nicely prepared Indian, I recommend Mt. Everest for dinner, Mint Indian Bistro for lunch buffet, and India Masala in the Rivieria food court - seriously - if you don’t want to go off-strip or if it’s midnight or if you just want to run it for a sack full of gorgeous carryout. India Masala has a new location over by Gandhi and Mint, but I haven’t been there yet.)

I will point out that there was always a line for the restroom at East India, and the fact that I even needed the restroom for this particular purpose was unusual... if you understand me. (The restroom is pretty, though. Nice basin.) Although we’d eyed the spiced chocolate cake on the menu when entering, I briefly hit a point where I didn’t feel very comfortable and just wanted to leave... but then I got better. Again, if you understand me. Maybe it was the sleeplessness and the problem of feeling hot, but Mike said later he felt the same way but then, much as I did, after waiting in a certain line not far from our table, felt fine. I realize this moment of TMI might keep people from going to the restaurant, but honestly, even if it happened again, it was worth it.

So, there was dessert after all.

East India Co - Spiced Chocolate Cake

The cake was nice - we do like to have multi-course meals when traveling - and now we were sated and ready to explore, which is to say to enjoy walking past the library across the street to catch the streetcar to Powell’s.

Portland Library

Portland Streetcar

Riding the streetcar was pleasant. I could see enough to tell that Portland would be a great place to visit again sometime. But my one goal was Powell’s, and now it sat before us, full of books! books! books.

That’s when I started coughing... which led to kind of choking... and then I threw up a bit in mouth... and then I swallowed it back down immediately because there were people and happy dogs around and nowhere to properly puke and heaven knows if it did come out it was going to end up my ample bosom or worn-once sandals or something - it was all too sudden and preoccupying to trust myself to position myself for the best trajectory. Short version: Niiiiice.

So I took a few photos while recovering. Look, it’s the car I didn’t throw up on:


Maybe it was just the excitement of being at Powell’s. Powell’s! Books! Powell’s!

Even as I type, I have a stack of out-of-print children’s lit ready to be boxed. Where did I get it? Powell’s! The biggest independent bookseller in the world! (And is there a Barnes and Noble anywhere that holds as much as the downtown Portland store? Powell’s!)

This is why I wish people would stop getting hissy-fitty over e-readers. I super-love my Kindle. You know that. I super-love my iPad, which everyone says will replace dedicated e-readers like the Kindle. I hope not, because the lightweight, constantly charged, e-ink experience is heaps better. However, I read magazines on my iPad for their pretty, pretty colours, only to ditch them as soon as I get a compelling Kindle book. It’s just a more ergonomic experience for me. Not everyone agrees. That’s okay. Hopefully the future will contain tablets and e-readers and books just as we can still buy shirts in rayon and cotton and silk.

For I do love booky-books, make no mistake. However, the Global Financial Crisis (and other factors that I’m too ignorant to discuss) has made getting published difficult, which means less selection for readers, and we all saw what happened to pop music (in all its all-Britney flavours), so I’m glad e-books have made it easier for authors to find a reading public. And do we really need to kill trees so that all three parts of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy might live?

But I know I don’t speak for all other Kindle/iPad/Nook/whatever lovers, so I'm shushing up now.

Powell's Bookstore

City of Books, they call it. Why can’t I live in the City of Books? Why?

Powell's City of Books - Birds Have Done Been Put

Birds! Put on signs! So Portland.

Powell's City of Books - Mike at the ATM

Mike solved our cash problem. Funny, finite bits of paper.

Powell's City of Books - A Staircase

Words! Put on steps! So Pinterest.

Powell's City of Books - Doesn't Count Without the Silent E

Does it count if you don’t pronounce the silent-e at the end?

Alas, the Rare Book Room was closed.

Powell's City of Books - Rare Book Room

Powell's City of Books - Rare Book Room (Through the Glass)

I didn’t really know what to do, what to look at. Our luggage space was spoken for. Our apartment space is spoken for. I already have a queue of books to read. Coming here was just cruel, yet beautiful. Like the muddy space between pleasure and pain that the bad men on Hellraiser spoke of. Remember the one with chattering teeth?

(Here I paused to read all of the Hellraiser-related Wikipedia articles. I think I’m scared of boxes now.)

I could lament not spending my days within bikeshot of Powell’s, but so much inspiration might be dangerous. Look - I could learn to speak Cornish!

Powell's City of Books - In Case You Wish to Learn Cornish

That book is $334, used, on Amazon! (Day-um, I ought to’ve bought it, eh?) Oh good, it’s only $14.25 on the Powell’s website. Sigh. Cornish. I could’ve been all earthy and fey like Tori Amos - doesn’t she live in Cornwall now? Or is that the the person from Bananarama and the other guy from Wham who became a couple? Or is it all of them? Oh, would that I had the time and stomach to write fanfic.

Powell's City of Books - I Need All of These

Mine. All mine. Stupid luggage limits! This is why people in the old days had steamer trunks when they cruised.

Powell's City of Books - Exterior

Farewell, bookstore so big that fold-out maps are provided. Farewell. We may have only bought a luggage lock, but it is special, even when Mike accidentally packs it and forgets to put it on the case.

It was so pleasant walking around outside as the sun hung low in the summer sky. Back on the trolley, back to East India, back around the library, back on light rail. We sat in Pioneer Courthouse Square a few minutes, looking at the hotel.

The NinesSignpost, The Nines, Pioneer Courthouse

Back in the room, I was startled to see that we’d had turndown service while we were out. Me not used to fancy pwaces. Me probably wouldn’t have left a bottle of Vicodin and a couple of iPads out like bait if I’d realized.

(The Vicodin was out because it was in the way while I dug for something else. It’s the same Vicodin from my oral surgery, untouched since that time. I swear. I only brought it in case a gallbladder attack happened on a sea day. I haven’t had an attack for over five years, but you never know, plus there’s Mike. I could never have a Vicodin habit - I just don’t eat enough fibre... or Indian food.)

I turned off the soothing New Age music and visuals coming from the television, and we zonked.

I woke up around 5 a.m., I think, because that’s when I was trying to take arty pics like this:

The Nines - Room Corner at Night

Completely forgetting that my stained shirt (hello, I had Indian, it’s a thing) was lying over the back of the chair, post-stainsticking.

We were both famished. The turn-down brownie was quite nice, even though snobbery was inclined to look askance at food wrapped in cellophane, but we were counting the hours until Urban Farmer, the on-site restaurant, opened. There are probably a dozen local-preferred breakfast eateries near the hotel, but the Urban Farmer’s promise of French toast with hazelnut butter and huckleberries was calling me.

We did the 21st century-thing and played on our his-n-her iPads. Mike activated the 4G on his, in anticipation of connecting while in port on the cruise. It probably would’ve been cheaper if we’d both just done this and not paid for faster wireless at the hotel, but at the time I was worried about using up our 4G bandwidth. (I needn’t have been. I barely used 10%, even with photo uploads. Mike probably used about 50% - no idea how. Perhaps he forgot to turn off backups... I know The Nines got to enjoy me accidentally backing up a couple of gigs of photos to the Cloud while I slept.)

I installed the Photoshop app because heaven knows I couldn’t let even my Facebook peeps see our pics without the curves adjusted. The app works quite well, but I still felt the need to re-process everything when I got home, so I’m not sure that’s a Pandora’s Box I suggest opening. What was working a treat, though, was the Apple “Camera Connector” for the iPad when used with the Canon 7D. (I’m being specific for Google purposes.) After reading so many mixed reviews of the CC, I was beginning to think we ought to forget the iPad for backup, but no, it worked just fine. The 7D uses CompactFlash and the CC’s card slot doesn’t, so I had to pack the camera cord to plug into the CC’s USB slot, but it was all easy-peasy. Two thumbs up.

The Nines - Steps Instead of Elevator

Being only one floor up from the restaurant, we took the stairs.

Urban Farmer - Video Art

I dug the video art, although it took me awhile to realize these weren’t live webcams we were looking at (makes sense - how ugly would they be at noon?).

Urban Farmer - Farm Thanks

A large board listed the provenance of the menu’s ingredients. Our food definitely tasted fresh, especially the eggs. (Alas, my French toast was now being served with blueberries, but it was still memorable. Mike had steak, eggs, and a salad. A salad? He never quite craves “breakfast food” the way I do.) Overall, a good meal, despite the indifferent service.

The Nines - Lounge and Urban Farmer

Hotel lounge and restaurant, above.

It was still quite early and we didn’t have to be at the train station until 10:45ish for our 11:30 train. (Curse of the checked luggage again.) If you know Mike, you know what he did. Zzzz. And if you know me, you know I didn’t. Instead, I chose to play Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window.

The Nines - Peeping Across

Guests of the hotel next door, shut your curtains! (Or open them up more? What was happening was kind of inconclusive.)

The Nines - Room Cards

Ah, Nines. You’re so pretty. Your Tiffany-blue sofas are soft and velvety, and your eggs are robust with farm-fresh flavor. But your twee elevators are so inhospitable, even without the luggage. And of course we did have luggage, as did everyone else trying to leave the hotel.

Emboldened by sleep, I said let’s forget the taxi and take the light rail to the station. All we had to do was cross the street to the northbound stop - even easier than the day before. A few dubious but probably harmless types were wandering around, but so was a police officer. (Like a good tourist, I still nagged Mike to turn all zippers and opening flaps towards his body.)

The rail was as easy as hoped. (A guy did fuss at me to move so he could put up his bike. How was I to know that little peg above my head was for bikes? Or that there was even a peg? People!) We got off at the closest stop (the Greyhound station) and walked the short distance to Union Station.

Portland - Union Station

The station’s historic interior made me think of the Texas and Pacific station in downtown Fort Worth where my great-grandfather worked as roadmaster. (That station was being remade into apartments when we visited in 2007.)

Portland - Union Station Baggage Dept Sign

We walked straight to the “Quik-Trak” kiosk (somewhat visible in the above photo) and printed out our tickets. Then we sat down just inside of Baggage Claim to carefully tag everything. (Even our carry-ons, as directed. I’m so obedient. I hope someone is keeping score somewhere.) We dropped off the big bag and rolled our two little ones to one of the long wooden benches, which were all nearly full. At least we didn’t have to queue up at the ticket counter. For our first Amtrak trip, we were doing pretty well.

Portland - Union Station - Ticket Counter

Portland - Union Station - Waiting Room

I sat with the bags and took the odd snap while Mike looked for a beverage. (A trend, it seems.) He came back just in time (another trend) for the call to queue up. Yay, we got to go into the shorter business class line that boarded first. (For $20 more, Amtrak promised roomier and more comfortable seats plus concession vouchers.) I wanted to hurry so we could pick out good seats, even though The Internet had assured me that the business class cars were often empty and we could feel free to move around.

Oh, Internet.

Our line reached the man at the door checking tickets. “Where’s your boarding pass?”

Boarding pass?

”Yes, you should have another piece of paper here with your seat assignments.”

(The Internet had said that seat assignments were only for really busy trains.)

”Um, this is what we got from the ticket kiosk.”

”They should’ve given you a boarding pass.”

”It wasn’t a person; it was a machine. This is what it gave us.”

”You have to go back and get a boarding pass.”

And that, friends, is the truth. You can use the Quik-Trak kiosk to pick up your ticket, but then you still have to queue up at the ticket window to get a boarding pass.

We scurried back inside. Luckily business class tickets get their own line, so we were helped right away. (Now we knew we didn’t have to hurry to pick our seats, but there was still a sense of urgency as the regular ticket holders had almost all emptied out of the station.) Whew, seats together! I would’ve been a crabby crabella if Amtrak’s puny directions had put us with strangers. I had downloaded their app and everything! Such betrayal.

But now we made the mistake of going back to the business class door... which was locked. Our guy was over with the regular ticketholders, who were behind a barricade.

Back inside and to the back of the line (which had re-swelled with last-minute arrivals). Oh well, at least we were sorted out and sitting together.

Once outside we walked across the tracks to the further away train, our Amtrak Cascades. I would’ve preferred the Coast Starlight (if only for the Big Bang Theory cred), but the schedule worked out better for the Cascades, plus people said it was more likely to be on time.

And so we entered the nearly full Car Number One at the back of the train. The overhead luggage space looked a little skinny for our bulging carry-ons, but luckily there was ample room at the front of the car. We sat behind two men that I’d watched taking each other’s photos in the old-fashioned phone alcoves inside the station.

Amtrak - Business Class Vouchers

Amtrak - Business Class

The TVs don’t play movies, much to one passenger’s disappointment. Our conductor (I swore I wouldn’t forget her name, but now... Felicia?) told the person that when the train was overhauled, they decided to spend the money on wifi instead, since so many people could then watch movies on their own devices. Good decision: the wifi was reliable and reasonably fast.

This was very helpful thirty minutes later, when we started looking into flights from Seattle for the trip home, because no way was This Train Thang was happening again if we could help it.

I guess some of it was the bad information and hass, and some of it was the way the seats weren’t really that amazing, and certainly not as comfortable as Spirit’s Big Front Seat (although fine), but what it really was was The Noisy Baby.

Now, I know the noise isn’t something the baby understands how to control. I used to telecommute from a duplex where at one point a family moved in and their baby screamed - not cried, but screamed - day and night. Day and night. It’s not an exaggeration to say Mike could hear it in Australia through the headset. This made it difficult to think and work, but what can you do? It’s a baby. (Later, when the people complained to my landlady/friend that they could hear me moving around at night, when I preferred to work - running the faucets or shower, flushing the toilet - at least she had my back and pointed out that I could hear their baby all the time.)

But on a train, at least on this train, taking the baby into that little alcove between cars (or the not-so-little alcove behind ours, where there were no more passenger cars) would’ve been a relief to the rest of the passengers. This isn’t like a plane where there’s nowhere to go. Alcoves! Plus, baby aside, the passenger car was stone silent, like a casino bingo game (which shocked me the first time we played), so it’s not like he/she was part of the buzz of humanity. No, it was one screaming, crying, squealing, top-volume baby and (more importantly) his/her vocally encouraging mother in an absolutely hushed car.

People astound me.

Just the thought of four hours of this made me tired. Trying to sort out air arrangements (the old “buy three seats or spring for first class because this ain’t Spirit” issue) made me tired. I griped on Facebook and begged Mike to wait until we were in Seattle because I just didn’t want to think about it. (Mike is well-known as Area’s Most Tolerant Man wherever he goes... until a screaming baby shows up. Then I have to start smacking him when he instinctively sotto voces out a “Shhh!” I always hiss “We’re going to get into a fight!” Maybe he doesn’t think people holding a baby can land a punch, but I’ve seen Undercover Blues more times than anyone else on this planet. It’s such an underrated movie that I feel like I have to watch it for everyone.)

To get away from the baby, we decided to move into the dining car.... which was full. One table for four was taken up completely by Felicia (or whomever, the conductor) and her co-worker, who were chatting while ostensibly going through paperwork. (Grrr.)

So, on to the “bistro,” or what I would call the snack bar. I got a sandwich and Mike ordered a hamburger, but then unordered it as soon as he heard the rustle of cellophane and the beep of the microwave. “That’s the only thing I like here,” said one the ladies tending the snack bar, trying to change Mike’s mind.

The sandwich was fine. Kind of a pesto/mozzarella deal. Not anything I’d want twice unless I was in captivity, but fine.

It was a little while later that I remembered our $3-off coupons. D’oh!

And that’s how Mike ended up with a sandwich just like mine. I thought it was nice that they let him use both coupons. And he thought it was weird the way, when he bought the sandwich, the same lady as before said, “That’s the only thing I like here.”


At some point the baby reduced his/her screaming fits to the quarter-hour. We had fun “checking in” on Yelp at every station where we stopped. If you’re in the paired seats (as opposed to the single seats), you get the coastline side for each way, but the view was nice from either side. I know because I’d switched to Mike’s window seat when he got up for food and, hello?, was the window seat more spacious? It definitely felt more comfortable. So, as people in our car got off at various stations, I started Goldilocking around, trying to find a nice window seat. Too sunny on the other side. Obstructing curtains in the seats behind us. I returned to my honey and told him I’d be taking the window seat for the trip back next Sunday. (“Okay,” he said, with the tone of one who expects to have booked plane tickets before then.)

When we hit Tacoma, Mike looked at me and said, “Tacoma? Like the Tacoma Narrows Bridge?” Oh yeah! So we started keeping eyes peeled while confirming with Wikipedia that we were on the lookout for something green. Darn, we’d missed it. (I looked at my photos later and saw a bit of it next to a pic of a sailboat that I took. Ha!) Did we see it on the trip back? And if so, was it by rail or by sky? Time and further typing will tell.

We did get to whizz past the Museum of Glass.

Passing the Museum of Glass

That looked cool.

Amtrak - Us on It

09 December 2012 |


 We built a house. 

 Rabbits tolerate us. 

  We play modern board games.  

 I hunt the dead.