Saturday, April 08, 2006


I awoke this morning with an amazingly simple realization. Sure, it took me over thirty years, but I've figured out my problem -- why I get struck by the grass is greener syndrome so often: I romanticize everything. Throughout the years, friends of mine have come and gone that would make this statement about me but for some reason it never really clicked. Until now...

This past week-long roadtrip was a good one for me; if for anything it helped me come to this conclusion. The misadventure was one filled with all the makings of a good "Ernie Getaway": Impulsive and unplanned itinerary; long hours of solitude on the beautiful scenic highways to the north, peppered with occassional photo breaks the moment that inspiration hits; healthy conversations with friends over excellent food in a beautiful city; and endless listening enjoyment courtesy of Mr. Roady XT.

The first part of the trip was like most of the bay area days so far this year: wet and rainy. It was pretty much non-stop rain for over 6 hours. But it failed to put nary a damper on my joy of being out there, miles away from home. After over 15 years driving in California, I still am amazed at the diversity of our state's landscape -- from parched deserts filled with thundering silence, to humid fern-laden rainforests to vast soft rolling hills of abundant green pastures to harsh and noisy concrete's all here in this great state of ours.

The drive up found me delighting in the decision to acquire the little beeping box attached to the base of my windshield. Every once-in-a-while it would emit a slight chirp instantly putting my senses on alert. 9 times out of 10, a Ka warning would signify Mr. John Q. Law perched in a black Police Interceptor just around the bend. Well worth the hefty price tag (until the trip home, that is...more on that later)

Just outside Portland, after thirteen hours on the road, I hit my, chewing gum, turkey jerky -- they all failed to inject life into my tired mind and exhausted body. I was nearing the point of delirium and had to stop for the night at ye old Red Lion at Salmon Creek. After a good night's rest (and a late morning getaway), I had The Beast once again hustling down the two lane blacktop -- next stop, Vancouver. But on the way through northern Washington, a sign caught my eye...SALMON BBQ.

Oh, I have to stop here.

I found myself in Skagit, WA.
In a bright red barn.
Eating an amazing bowl of salmon chowder.
And a really not so amazing plate of chicken teriyaki.

It was a nice little break from the constant roar of black radial tires slapping time on concrete expansion joints; there, sitting amongst the red & white checkerboard vinyl tablecloths, with quiet conversation of passers-by filling the room and footsteps echoing on the hollow floor, it was there that I found my freedom. ...Freedom to hop in a car on a rainy day in April, point it that-a-way, and just drive. There's something to be said about going on a trip with no predetermined schedule other than "I'll get there when I get there". And being able to take little detours (like this one). And then strolling out to the front porch of this barn, belly full of big chunks of salmon & fresh vegetables simmered in a rich heavy cream, and stopping by the little booth marked by "Tulip Info Here".


Turns out that I was just outside of the Mt. Vernon Tulip Festival. (I would have never known). The friendly elderly gentleman took out a small pamphlet (printed on recycled paper) and described a fairly short tour through the Skagit valley, highlighting particular fields that I should see -- the Daffodils were in full bloom, but the tulips were not quite there yet.

I stopped by the Roozengaarde garden, taking a stroll through the large arrays of amazingly colorful flower beds. It was quite a diverse display of tulips. (This trip is doing nothing to downplay my deeply ingrained romanticization of the great Northwest solidified by a nice trip to Seattle about six years ago)

Wanting to be able to spend at least some time in Vancouver, I hopped back into the car and hustled back to the interstate. I finally found my way over the border (after a unexpectedly brief 15 minute wait at customs), past Surrey and into the all-too-familiar (and rather crowded) avenue known as Granville St. My timing stunk, and I was caught up in rush hour traffic; although I would hardly call it traffic. Lightly congested, maybe, but nothing like the monster 0mph-20mph-0mph-20mph nightmare that is Los Angeles. Pictures from the drive up are here.

I rolled into my hotel (very nice by the way) in downtown Vancouver and settled in. But before sunset, I made a mad dash out to English Bay to catch a bit of sunshine before dinner with Randy later that night. It was an absolutely fantastically gorgeous day. Not a cloud in the sky, temperature in the mid-sixties, sun shining bright. There were lots of people out...jogging, bicycling, taking an afternoon stroll. It called to mind fond and distant memories of warm spring days in San Diego... Just one of the reasons why the city of Vancouver holds a special place in my heart.

Later that evening I was able to enjoy a wonderful night of food at Raincity Grill. Despite the friendly yet mostly absent attention from our waiter and the strangely coordinated decor, I thoroughly enjoyed the evening. Our tasting menu was quite tasty, especially the broiled trout. It was incredibly good. And the dessert (oddly enough) called to mind flavors of cheese-in-a-can and crackers. It was great! Topping the night was drinks at Cactus Grille and more excellent conversation about life, relationships, friends and crazy volunteer dance companies. It was a memorable evening out. Pictures from day 1 are here.

Day 2 continued the trend, with me visiting the bayfront and then North Vancouver. And all throughout, not a single cloud in the blue sky up above. I couldn't believe my luck. Along the way I managed to locate most of the pasalubongs requested: All Dressed chips, hedgehogs, ketchup chips, chocolate bars... And I paid the most I've ever paid for a tankful of gas: seventy five freakin' dollars. But the prospect of 94 octane is worth it -- too bad I couldn't swap in the Dinan chip right then and there to see what potential it had. I also met up with Rodney for lunch at Guu on Robson. What a great restaurant. Tucked away in a nondescript corner, ever so slightly rough around the edges and not without its charm. The lunch crowd wasn't too rowdy, but it was pretty crowded. I was served yet another amazing dish -- chicken curry with cheese. Holy crap, this thing was DAMNED good. It was chicken, rice and curry covered in a thick layer of cheese...

After a short break back at the hotel room, I treated myself to a light and healthy afternoon snack. Then I treated myself to another incredible sunset on the far western side of Vancouver at the University of British Columbia. I wish every day was like worries, no cares, in a distant city away from home; armed with a camera and the sheer luck of a beautiful day sitting right in front of you; no agenda other than dinner at 8 and the prospect of a wonderful drive down the next day...

Pictures from the second day are here.

The dinner was, in a word, superb. It was such a pleasant surprise to have VJ joined by Michelle, Emily and Jeanette as my dinner companions at this great restaurant. We all had Omakase style (chef's choice) which was essentially a tasting menu. We each told the waiter our likes, dislikes, allergies and they customized our menus to suit our preferences. What's interesting is that they accomodated a variety of budgets with $60, $80, and $100 menus. And for the ultimate experience: "no budget". Something I've added on my agenda for my next trip up. The food kept on coming, with each dish surpassing the previous, finishing off with a platter of sushi. What a wonderful way to top off my extremely short visit.

I revisited this city nearly a full year since my very first visit last June in an effort to add a reality check to the romanticization that time, distance and sentiment have added to my memories of this place. I'm sad to report that I've failed: Vancouver still holds a very special place in my heart for reasons aforementioned and for a few that are better left unsaid...

Total statistics
Miles driven: 2408
Hours spent in car: About 57 hours
Avg MPH: 52.2
Avg MPG: 19.6
Most paid for a tankful of gas: $75
Most distant license plate seen: Arkansas
# of California plates seen: 0
# of speeding tickets: 1

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At 4/20/2006 9:22 AM, Blogger double R said...

What an insightful post Ernie. We were glad to host you, and come back real soon.

At 4/20/2006 4:05 PM, Blogger bev said...

you stopped for Salmon BBQ but had chicken teriyaki? :)

thanks again for getting the Hedgehogs!!

At 4/22/2006 3:04 PM, Anonymous tin said...


At 5/08/2006 9:25 PM, Blogger laragitara said...

nice pics. i love road trips. wish i were still on mine.... sigh...


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