Washington

The stadium itself is perfect for minor league baseball. It is purpose-built (no football games or Bryan Adams concerts here, thank you very much), with the added bonus of a great view of Mount Rainier over the top of the grandstand. All very pleasant after a hard day at work! It is also strange that the Portland Beavers are the only team for miles around and draw very small crowds to their aircraft hanger of a stadium, whereas baseball fans in Tacoma have the Seattle Mariners only half an hour up the road but still come out to see their minor league team in a much more intimate environment. It just goes to show that size isn’t important – it’s what you do with it that counts!

Events in the game itself are not surprisingly a bit hazy, but I distinctly remember there being a mascot called ‘Rhubarb’ that looked like a moose that had been hit repeatedly in the face with a frying pan so that its nose was flattened and pointing up. The kids seemed to like him though. And I suppose that his appearance may explain the Christmas antlers on the woman in the beer garden. Pretty unlikely though; far more likely that she is simply a moose!

There were the usual crowd giveaways during the few innings of the game that I left the beer garden to watch, by fat the best being one called ‘Dance for your Dinner’. The local eatery was giving away a meal for two, but rather than just handing out vouchers or firing burgers into the stands, they decided that humiliation would be the best policy. They get a couple of teenagers to stand on top of one of the dugouts, and with encouragement from one of the ‘Fun Squad’ they have to stand there and dance in front of several hundred people, the vast majority of whom have just been wheeled in from the beer garden and find the entire episode hilarious. The teenage girl wasn’t too bad; at least she moved around a bit, but the teenage boy was way too cool for this and shuffled from one foot to the other a few times while staring at his shoes wishing that the ground would open up and swallow him. Of maybe it was the fact that his trousers were ten sizes too big for him and were halfway down his arse that prevented him from moving around. Whatever the reason, he was so bad that he was brilliant. At the end of the ‘competition’ it was left up to the crowd to decide the winner. The ladies chipped in with some polite applause when the girl’s name was read out, and then when the young chaps name was mentioned there was the inevitable huge, raucous, drunken cheer of “Wuuuurrrrggghhhhh” from the male judges, and our boy went home the convincing winner.

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Tacoma, Washington

So what do I know about Tacoma? Well more than I did yesterday, when my only Tacoma fact was that it was somewhere near Seattle and shared an airport with it’s more illustrious neighbour. Now I know that it’s not the maternal parent of Taco Bell. Well, anyone can make a mistake! There is also a dome there, and a HUGE container port, one of the biggest in the country. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see either of these marvels because it took me over two hours to drive thirty miles along the packed freeway to get from Seattle to Tacoma, and by the time I arrived it was almost first pitch down at the local ballpark.

The Tacoma Rainiers experience started off well when I drove up to the car park. With a sickly smile and a flutter of the eyelashes I managed to get the young girl collecting money to only charge me five dollars to park rather than twice that amount that they usually charge for RVs. Ching! Five dollars up on the deal. Things got even better when I bought my ticket, when I handed over my five dollars and received my ticket plus five dollars change by mistake. Ching! Ten dollars up on the deal. It was also a gorgeous evening, not a raindrop in sight and with record temperatures for the time of year.

The train of good fortune continued to rumble in my favour once I got inside, when it turned out that night games on a Thursday are ‘Dollar Nights’. For a dollar you can get hot dogs, popcorn, soda, pretzels and, far more importantly, beer. Inside the stadium is a special beer garden where you can wander along, get a picnic table in the sun, and fill up on the essentials of life. At this point the phrase “easy come, easy go” sprang into my subconscious, so I decided to reinvest the ten dollars I had just gained back into the ball club. The only down side to the beer garden is that you aren’t allowed to take your dollar beer out of it, and you can’t see the game from where you are. I know that this isn’t a huge problem when they’re selling beer for a dollar, and it seemed like the majority of the crowd agreed with me. Of the attendance of around a thousand, at least half of the punters spent the first few innings in the beer garden, blissfully unaware that there was a game going on the other side of the wall. If you could see the game from the beer garden then the stands would be practically deserted. Some players might even try to sneak in a couple of cheeky snorters in-between innings. The only people sitting watching the game were those who had unfortunately brought their children along and were too busy wiping away spilt ice cream and buying gigantic foam hands to even dream of a cold beer. Shame!

Warwick's Roadtrip Photo Washington State
There was also a wildlife sighting in the beer garden. The mountains around the Pacific Northwest are home to herds of moose, but because nobody knows what the plural of ‘moose’ is I’m going to call them ‘reindeer’ instead. Anyway, one of these marauding reindeer had made it into the beer garden, and the pair of burly security guards at the gate seemed reluctant to ask her to remove her foam antlers and leave the humans alone. And how do I know that this was a female reindeer? Well she was wearing a dress, that’s how! Somebody should tell her that wearing Christmas headgear, including Santa hats, baubles on springs and especially antlers, in any month apart from December is completely unacceptable!
Seattle, Washington

As a special tribute to my first official visit to Seattle, this weekend has seen the first ever ‘heat advisory’ issued for the area. It’s very kind of them to alter the weather just for me so that it isn’t cold, wet and miserable like it often is up here. Cheers!

Despite the regularly bad English-style weather, Seattle seems to be a great place to live. And it’s also a great place to visit, especially if you have friends who live in the area and can impose yourself upon them for a few days. So using Kimber & Anand’s million square foot mansion as a base, I acquainted myself with the excellent park-and-ride system and headed for the city.

Similar to the system in Portland, public transportation is free in downtown Seattle. This is great for when you’re tired of walking around, or it starts raining, or you’re carrying a lot of heavy shopping. Of course it also suits me fine because I am simply lazy! The city itself is fairly small, only a couple of miles long, so it’s easy to find your way around, and it’s especially easy to find your way around when your first stop is the Space Needle, which towers 600 feet above the rest of the city.

Warwick's Roadtrip Photo Washington State

Needless to say, the views from the top of the Space Needle are spectacular. The downtown skyscrapers, the new baseball and football stadiums, the surrounding mountains, the ocean, and the sea planes flying underneath you before landing on the lake are all very impressive. And if you look carefully you can see a cloud of marijuana smoke rising from the weirdo-packed area of the city widely recognised as the birthplace of ‘grunge’. There’s also a tour provided where you walk around the outside observation deck and listen to a woman explain what you’re seeing around you, although she did wear her tourist-friendly cheesy grin just a little too much for my liking.

Warwick's Roadtrip Photo Washington State

After spending a couple of hours at the top of the Space Needle to get my twelve dollars worth, taking the time to write some postcards to the peasants back home, I headed back down to get a close-up look of some of the weirdoes that Seattle is famous for. And luckily I wouldn’t have far to walk, because in the park at the bottom of the Space Needle the annual Northwest Folklife Festival was taking place over the weekend. Never before has such a collection of weirdoes, punks, hippies, tie-dye outfits, scraggy beards, frustrated musicians and total stoners been congregated in one place. Well, not since last year’s festival anyway.

Warwick's Roadtrip Photo Washington State

It seems like anyone can wander along with a musical instrument of some kind (ability to play it completely optional!), stick a case in front of them to collect cash, and wail away. One bloke, dressed up as a pirate, didn’t have an instrument, but wasn’t to be denied his moment of glory and proceeded to play a saw, while Captain Pugwash bashed away on his accordion and Master Bates plucked his double bass.

Warwick's Roadtrip Photo Washington State

There are also official stages with the more mainstream artistes performing, such as folk bands, Yugoslavian a-cappella groups, belly dancers, and lots of steel drum troupes, but they all seem to be far too talented and professional compared with the bizarre collection of show-offs scattered around the place.

Warwick's Roadtrip Photo Washington State

And if you’re not musically inclined then you can choose to do something else. Turning a few plastic buckets upside down and hitting them with a couple of sticks seemed to be popular. As did lying on a bed of nails and getting one of your friends to put concrete blocks on top of you before hitting you with a sledgehammer. A couple of girls were mimes, and when I took a picture of them they felt compelled to come over and rub my head for everyone’s amusement. Strange! And one rough-looking bloke was a one-man band, with wings attached to his back that flapped up and down every time he hit his bass drum. He fits perfectly into the ‘non-musical’ section.

Warwick's Roadtrip Photo Washington State

There were also a lot of stalls selling weird and wonderful collections of tat from all over the world. The most amusing was selling ‘authentic’ Nepali merchandise, manned by a chap wearing a Birmingham City footy top. Some people just have no idea!

When you’re finished pointing and laughing at the weirdoes, there are other things to do in Seattle as well. There’s a monorail you can take a short trip on, although they have covered up the windows with advertising so it’s impossible to get a good view of what is going on around you when you’re riding along. There’s also a really cheesy waterfront area where you can beat your way past the other tourists to buy as much overpriced junk as you can carry, and this part of town has a ‘world famous’ fish market. It is apparently ‘world famous’ because when someone buys something, the workers throw the purchase around a bit before packing it away. So you see headless salmon flying around the counters and hear frozen shrimp whistling past your ears. I think that one of the ‘catchers’ was a trainee, because of the three large crabs that were pelted at him he dropped two of them, to a cascade of booing from the assembled gallery.

Political correctness is starting to get out of control. When you’re in a new city, you’re looking for the tourist information place, usually easily identifiable because of the universally recognised ‘i’ logo. But some raving lefty in Seattle has decided that the work ‘information’ might be offensive to, errrrrr, well I can’t think of anything. So Tourist Information is no longer Tourist Information. It is now ‘City Concierge’. What? I walked around the same block at least twice wondering if the office had moved before asking a few people and eventually finding out what was going on. And when you get there and ask them where things are, it doesn’t get any easier. I asked where Chinatown was, and was immediately chastised by Madame Snooty. “We have no Chinatown here, we have the International District”. Me then asking her “Is that where all the Chinese people are then?” didn’t seem to improve her mood at all.

According to the Cheshire Cat who hosted the Space Needle tour, there are rumblings of unrest amongst the billionaires in town. She pointed out where Bill Gates lives and went on to report that his neighbour is complaining to the authorities because a lot of boats are going past his property to get a look at Bill’s palace. Boo hoo. It must be terrible living in a mansion on the lake next to the richest man in the world where a few boats go past occasionally. My heart bleeds for him!

After exhausting all the regular tourist haunts, it was time to wander along to a ballgame. The Seattle Mariners have a brand new stadium downtown, right next to the brand new Seahawks football stadium. It’s good news that the days of building one ‘multi-purpose’ stadium to host all the different sporting events have passed us by; I put it down to 70s bad taste! The stadium itself looks very cool, and appears to have been built by the same company that did the Giants new place in San Francisco – it’s all dark green metal and red brick. But by far the coolest part of the stadium is the roof. Because the weather in Seattle is dodgy to say the least, and also because the team wanted to play in open air whenever possible (without being forced to play in a dome all the time), the only solution was to build a stadium with a retractable roof. Bearing in mind the size of these stadiums, that’s quite a roof! Today was one of the rare dry days in Seattle’s history so we didn’t get to see the roof in action, but apparently it takes around ten minutes to close, and when it is moving it goes so slowly that you can’t see it with the naked eye.

Pre-game you’re sitting in the bleachers either listening to the regular trains blaring their horns behind you or watching the planes landing at the airport over the top of the main stand, and the announcements begin to ensure that everyone has a good time. In most ballparks you have a few standard requests, such as “Don’t run on the field”, “Don’t throw stuff onto the field”, etc., but in Seattle it’s like listening to a lecture. Almost an hour before the game starts, all patrons are advised to return to their seats, making sure they are in the correct seat and in the correct section of the ground, because people in the wrong seat will be redirected to their proper seat. What? The whole idea of going to a baseball game is to buy a cheap ticket and then sit in the expensive seats! And when you’re in your seat you’re restricted as to what you can get up to. “Displays of public affection not appropriate for a public family setting” are outlawed. That could prove difficult; I’m not sure I will be able to leave myself alone for three hours! This announcement went on for ever, stopping just short of severe penalties for walking on the cracks in the pavement.

Warwick's Roadtrip Photo Washington State

Today was also Memorial Day, when the Yankee Doodles celebrate having more guns and bombs than other countries. So the pre-game jingoistic posturing went on much longer than usual. And the Mariners were playing Toronto, so they had to sing the Canadian national anthem as well. And in-between the national anthems there was a minutes silence for those “brave men and women that have given their lives defending this great country”. So I’m standing there respectfully observing these shenanigans while not feeling compelled to actually join in, when I spot a cameraman a few rows below me panning across the crowd. I look up to the big screen and there, fifty feet high being admired by 40,000 people, is my ugly mug. Fortunately for everyone involved it was only there for a few seconds, and at least I wasn’t picking my nose at the time!

Warwick's Roadtrip Photo Washington State

They got an admiral from the local navy fleet to throw out the ceremonial first pitch, and I can only hope that he steers his boat with a stiffer wrist than he throws (like a girl)! I settled down in my seat with my hot dog and beer ($2 at Tacoma, $12.75 here – welcome to the big leagues!) and watched as a baseball game finally broke out amongst all the military celebrations.

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