greetings from victoria, last post of the trip (days 13-15), plus the ethics of travel

Bluefin Tuna
Yesterday morning we packed up, drove to one of the big drugstore chains, and bought a soft cooler case and ice. The leftovers from Asadero were just too good and too plentiful to leave behind! We'll get good use out of the cold pack.

I also bought a Pyrex (glass food storage) container for our leftover milk. I'd rather add to my vast collection of Pyrex than throw away milk. No matter how many Pyrex containers I have, sometimes they are all in use.

After that, we hit the road and had an easy drive to Port Angeles. We stopped at Joshua's for food. Pro tip: don't plan on eating on the Black Ball Ferry. The offerings there barely qualify as food. BC Ferries, on the other hand, has a White Spot onboard, so you're safe, especially for breakfast.

Traveling by ferry involves a lot of waiting -- boarding, disembarking, clearing customs -- but eventually we made our way, first to BC Liquors for wine, then to the Airbnb in Esquimalt, just outside the Victoria downtown. 

We've been drinking wine on this trip, which has been a nice change. When we get home, we'll go back to hardly drinking or not drinking at all. This has been one of the biggest changes of our lives -- on par with moving west or buying a house! Even more amazing, it started with Allan. He stopped drinking completely a few years ago, and now will sometimes have a glass of wine or a beer when we go out, but not all the time, and very rarely more than one.

Today is Monday. We normally would spend one night in Victoria, then drive home the following day (today). However, on Tuesday morning I have an appointment for a fitting at Victoria Classic Lingerie. Getting to Victoria from Port Hardy is time-consuming and expensive, so it makes sense to take care of things while we're here. The store is closed on Mondays, so we get a free vacation day! (Funny, I believe our first-ever trip to Victoria was timed around a bra-fitting appointment!)

There is a downside to having an extra day of vacation: waiting another day to see Cookie and Kai! We miss them so much. I also wanted an extra day between travel and work, but we'll be home Tuesday night, and I do have Wednesday off before returning to work on Thursday.

Today we are doing "nothing" -- reading, maybe a walk. Tomorrow morning is breakfast at Jam Cafe, then bras, then we drive home, stopping in Campbell River for food shopping.

* * * *

The ethics of travel and eating

I know that many people oppose the use of VRBOs and Airbnbs. There are housing shortages everywhere, especially in large cities, and theoretically, many of the suites used as Airbnbs and VRBOs would be rented or sold. 

I've thought a lot about this. I believe that, like most problems, the housing shortage cannot be meaningfully addressed on the consumer level. Just like boycotting Walmart or Amazon will not change those stores' labour practices, not staying in an Airbnb will not change the housing situation. We live in a society that takes the most basic need, having a roof over one's head, and subjects it to "the market". The housing crisis is capitalism at its worst. 

I'm not suggesting that people should stay at Airbnbs or VRBOs if it troubles them to do so! Nor am I saying their actions are useless. I just don't believe one could ever induce enough people to make the same choice that it would make a significant difference. If we don't want Airbnbs or VRBOs in our communities, we have to join with others who agree, and collectively try to change the laws and regulations on the community level. That is a daunting and possibly fruitless tasks, but it's the only avenue that could make a difference. 

I wonder how many people who claim to never stay in Airbnbs actually travel. It's easy to boycott something when you have no occasion to use it. On this trip, we spent three nights in a comfortable mini apartment for less than the cost of one night in a downtown Seattle hotel. In Victoria, our former go-to hotel has raised its rates by 40-60%. In addition, most hotels have drastically cut back on labour costs, by eliminating services. I don't know many people who would willingly choose the more expensive option based solely on ethical considerations. Choosing hotels over Airbnbs also overlooks the grim state of hotel labour, which is notoriously exploitive.

As I write this, I know that many people will tell me that they do, in fact, eschew Airbnbs when they travel. Others will tell me they don't travel because travel is environmentally unsustainable. If you think something is making a difference and it fits into your life, then you go for it. I question how many people actually do this, and whether it makes any difference.

At least one person will also tell me that I'm a hypocrite and rationalizer. Well... whatever.

The other ethical question -- or questionable ethics -- that came up was at the sushi bar, when I heard the words bluefin tuna. I have learned enough to know there should be a worldwide moratorium on the bluefin. There are more than 25 different species of tuna, and many of them have healthy, sustainable stock. The bluefin is akin to a dolphin or a whale: humans should stop killing them.

Most of us never eat bluefin tuna. The worldwide appetite for high-end sushi, along with high-tech hunting and killing techniques, has tipped the balance. When the chef at Sushi Kashiba said bluefin, I balked. I muttered to Allan, "Bluefin tuna. We're not supposed to eat bluefin." I ate the sushi, then felt sad, and defeated. Today I still feel bad about it, but my feelings don't help the bluefin.

Obviously I could have passed on the two or three pieces that were bluefin, but I didn't -- mostly because I didn't want to learn what else I might have eaten that is similarly endangered. 

I'm not suggesting this is right. I'm just being honest. 

Much is being written about the ethics of travel, sustainable travel, decolonizing travel. It's important to be mindful, especially of how we treat the people and lands we visit. But if we want to change the world, only collective action can create a meaningful difference. 


steak, art, and tech failure in seattle (day 12)

On our last full day in Seattle, we set out in the morning with a plan for spending the day apart, then meeting up for dinner at the second place our friends (nephew and niece-in-law) recommended. A big part of the plan was arranging things so Allan could navigate to several different used bookstores in various Seattle neighbourhoods, while I was at the Seattle Art Museum. This isn't something he usually needs, so we wanted to check his phone data, use of maps app with the sound on, and so on.

Before any of that, we went to Seattle Public Library's central branch, which I saw to wild acclaim last year, and I wanted Allan to see. I knew he'd be impressed with the research resources. I think it made him a little sad that he doesn't have anything like that anymore.

In the downtown area near the library and museum, there were huge groups of Blue Jays' fan, in town to see the Mariners play the Jays. 

Art is for rich people should be for everyone

I wanted to visit Olympic Sculpture Park, a nine-acre site on the waterfront, and part of the Seattle Art Museum. I love sculpture parks, and always try to spend time in them when my path crosses one. But a bright, sunny, July day is not the time. There would be no shade, and hiking around in the baking sun is very unappealing to me, so I went to the Seattle Art Museum itself. 

Repeating myself here, I want to note how terrible it is that museums have become so expensive. I can spend the money, and I did -- but it's a Big Thing to drop $30 for the morning. It's a commitment. Forget about bringing a friend who is curious but could take it or leave it, as Allan might be. More importantly, forget about an average family just looking for something to do.

I grew up visiting museums. I was exposed to art: the idea of looking at visual art was normalized for me. When this is your experience, you develop interests, tastes, ideas. Whether or not this stays with you as you become an adult, the experience is enriching. Now this is the exclusive domain of the well-off. When you consider that art and music have been largely eliminated from public education, the picture is even more dismal.

This is particularly discouraging at a time when museums everywhere are diversifying their collections, showcasing work more reflective of a wider cultural lens. In other words, it's no longer all dead, white, European men. Wouldn't it make sense to appeal to diverse communities? 

At dinner, Allan and I talked about how a museum could buck this trend, fundraising specifically for "Art Is For Everyone". Wouldn't they make up in volume what they "lost" in admission fees? 

He also noted that Major League Baseball has the same problem: an exclusive domain for people with money -- whether watching at home or in person. We thought about seeing the Mariners while we were in town, but good seats are prohibitively expensive, considering our team wouldn't be playing, and we've already been to this park.

Calder, Jacob Lawrence, Masks, "Poke in the Eye"

The Seattle Art Museum currently has an exhibit of work by Alexander Calder. Sculpture is always my favourite visual art, and I love Calder, so I was very interested. This introduced me to a wider range of his work than I had seen before. 

Mobiles were displayed so that the piece's shadow could be seen on the wall behind it. There were also photographs of Calder working -- many made by the photographer Gordon Parks -- that I had never seen before. A fantastic exhibit, I really enjoyed it.

After this, I was surprised to see several messages from Allan on my phone: he experienced a complete tech failure -- not his fault at all, just very frustrating and annoying. Somehow he managed to find his way to this first stop, but now he was stranded there. This would have been a great time to have an old-fashioned paper map. 

We spoke a few times, and I tried everything I could, then I came up with a plan. First I had lunch in the museum's cafe, a Thing I Enjoy. For some reason, I am very partial to having lunch in museums and department stores. As a child and teenager, I used to do this with my mother, and it's something I always enjoyed. 

"The Library," Jacob Lawrence, 1960
from The Smithsonian American Art Museum
After lunch, I saw a small exhibit of Jacob Lawrence, the great Harlem Renaissance painter, who I really like. I had no idea he lived much of his life in Washington State, and that his work is represented throughout the state, including in several public schools and libraries. Wouldn't that make an amazing road trip -- driving around the Pacific Northwest looking for Jacob Lawrence paintings? 

There was a big exhibit called "A Poke in the Eye", about counterculture visual art from the western US states. I tried it a bit, but it wasn't for me. 

I also stumbled on a collection of masks that is part of the museum's permanent collection. The masks were from West Africa, and it was interesting to compare (in my mind, anyway) these masks with the regalia used by the Indigenous peoples where we live. Some of the accompanying info mentioned that Belgium prohibited the people of Congo to use certain masks. Hmmm, where have I heard that before?

A rescue, a drive, more bookstores, more tech issues

When I was done, I rescued Allan: I ordered an Uber, met him at his first bookstore stop, and we used my phone to navigate. 

He had six bookstores picked out in the Seattle area. Two were in Pike Place Market, so he eliminated those -- crowds, parking, etc. The other four were scattered through various Seattle neighbourhoods. I navigated to each, and waited in the car, quite content to play word games and read while Allan hunted.  It was fun to see different neighbourhoods outside of the downtown. 

Then we ran into our second tech problem of the day. Using the maps app all day, my phone battery was rapidly running down, and the USB cable (to connect to the car charger) was back in our Airbnb. At a gas station, I bought a cable... then got the annoying Samsung "your charging port has moisture" message. This is a crazy Android/Samsung problem-that-is-not-a-problem. The message is meaningless, but while it's on, you cannot charge your phone.

Allan's phone was out of data (even though it shouldn't have been), and now my phone wouldn't make it to the restaurant and then home. And we were deep in some Seattle hinterland, without a map of any kind. 

I plugged in our last few trips, and we were going to write down all the directions -- until Allan had the brilliant idea of my reading the instructions from my phone, using his phone to record them. I did that, and it turned out to literally save the day.

Another amazing dinner

We had dinner at Asadero, a Mexican steakhouse in the Ballard neighbourhood. The menu was really interesting, the service was fantastic, and the food was incredible. We ordered several dishes to share, and way over-ordered. We are looking forward to eating all the leftovers for our next dinner.

By the time we reached the restaurant, my phone was completely dead. We navigated back to Bellevue using the directions we read and recorded earlier! Once back, we sat on the patio with a glass of wine. It was a crazy day, but a really fun one. Tomorrow we take the ferry to Victoria.


history and sushi in seattle (day 11)

I'm writing this in the middle of the night, having crashed as soon as we got back to the cottage, then waking up a few hours later, wide awake. This is likely from drinking -- very rare these days, and worth it.

After breakfast and a lot of coffee, we headed to downtown Seattle, meeting our friend J at Cherry Street Coffee, then for Bill Spiedel's Underground Tour. This was the one tourist attraction in town that interested us. It was a very entertaining and enlightening view of Seattle in the early days of European settlement.  

The tour (which is not at all accessible if you have mobility issues) brings you under the sidewalks of the Pioneer Square area, the oldest part of the city. The tour guide acknowledged the original inhabitants of this region, the Salish people of the Duwamish and Suquamish nations. Referencing the US inviting settlers to stake claims to the area, the guide said, "Hey, it's not our land, but we're giving it away!". He also made a few jokes obliquely referencing Trump. There were several Canadians on the tour, in Seattle for a Blue Jays game.

After saying goodbye to J, we headed to the area near the Pike Place Market, not to go to the Market (we've been there in the past), but to find a line-up for a very special dinner. Traffic, parking, heat, and the crowds were a minor nightmare, but when we found the queue, and realized we would definitely be seated, it was instantly worth it.

While in Seattle, we're eating in two restaurants recommended by a nephew and his partner on a recent trip to the city. The first was Sushi Kashiba, home to Shiro, one of the premiere sushi chefs in the country. He trained under Jiro, of the "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" documentary. We couldn't get a reservation, but there is an omakase counter seating, every day at 5:00 and 7:00. They don't take reservations for this, and I read online that people line up as early as 3:00 to secure a place. When we arrived around 3:20, there were three couples already there.

Shortly before 5:00, a host walked through the line, welcoming each person, taking our names, explaining how the dinner would work (and which seating you would get), and handing out the beverage menu. (If you don't make the 5:00 seating, but get in the 7:00, you can leave and come back at 7.) Next the sommelier went through the line, taking beverage orders, helping us choose a bottle of sake. I was surprised, but very pleased, that Allan wanted to include that, as he's usually more concerned with costs than I am. 

From the moment we walked in, it was obvious that the service would be absolutely perfect. There was a lot of staff, and they were warm, friendly, and incredibly meticulous. The menu not only informed of a 20% gratuity, but specified that 100% of that goes to staff (chefs, servers, and support) in the form of wages. A nice touch (and I ended up tipping extra anyway).

The sushi was indescribable, every piece an explosion of texture and taste. I don't know if it was better than Sushi Kaji, our go-to place for special celebrations in Toronto. The menus and styles of the meal were very different, so it's impossible to compare them. Both are the best sushi I've ever eaten, and among the best food of any kind that we've ever had.

There were six chefs preparing the omakase menu; ours was very friendly and talkative. We also chatted with the couple sitting next to me, who were from Kansas City. Their trip started out on Vancouver Island, and we may end up in Kansas City next year, a funny coincidence. 

We drank a bottle of sake, which is a lot for us these days. And there was actually more sushi than I could eat -- I gave up my final pieces to Allan. Between food and drink, I was totally zonked, and totally enjoyed being so.

This was, of course, a wildly expensive meal. We spend next to nothing on entertainment at home, and normally when we travel, we eat well, but still within a middle or average price range. On this trip, we decided to splurge -- one night for this special sushi dinner, and one night its seeming opposite. 

Today, we're going to the Seattle Public Library -- I saw it last year, and want Allan to see it, too -- then Allan has a bookstore crawl planned, and I'm visiting the Seattle Art Museum. After that, steak!


portland and on to seattle (days 9 and 10)

A man walks into a bookstore...

Powell's, and this time we mean it

On Wednesday, we felt well enough to spend quality time in Powell's. Not that anything could have kept Allan away. As on previous visits, I enjoyed myself for a few hours, where he can go all day and then some. After many hours of shopping, we met up in the store, went out for a quick lunch; there's now a Shake Shack across the street. Then I dropped off my loot at the car, and walked back to the hotel, while Allan kept searching.

I bought many books, all nonfiction from deep in my list -- that's what I use our Powell's expeditions for. Earlier, I said that I love Powell's because it's so well organized. This is true, but incomplete. Powell's is vast. Enormous. Floor upon floor, room upon room. Everyone who works there is friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful. And they go well out of their way to help customers find books.

Here's an example. I search titles on the computers available for customer use. If Powell's has the book, it shows its location: the room (organized by colours) and the aisle number. When I get to the room and aisle, sometimes I find the book I'm seeking, but not always. 

While I was paying, I asked the cashier why that happens and what to do about it. They told me there are many reasons that could happen, named a few, and said to ask at the info desk on that floor.

So after Allan and I had lunch, I decided to do this. Allan came with me to the section, and looked on the shelf to see if I had overlooked the title. I had not. Then I asked at the desk. The info person looked on her computer (a separate system, internal for staff, like in a library) and said, "I see we got that book on June 29th, and we are only up to --" she checked a cart waiting to be shelved -- "June 26. If you have time, I will ask someone to grab that for you."

I was happy to wait! It took about 10 minutes, and the person apologized several times for the wait. And then: the book! A book that has been on my list since 2005, now in my hands. Amazing. This is a function of great organization and friendly, helpful staff.

The only bookstore I've been in of comparable size is The Strand in New York City. (Although there is some debate online, I think Powell's is clearly larger.) But the Strand -- unless it's changed since I was there last -- is a giant heap of books, only vaguely organized. Searching there is haphazard and random. Many people love that serendipity, but I do not. I used to use The Strand for review-copy hardcovers, organized by author. Other than that, the only thing I did there was lose track of Allan and wander around trying to find him.

Unloading books in the Alberta Arts District

After Allan was finished (for the day, at least), we loaded the boxes of books from my mom's place back into the car, and headed to Melville Books. Located in the Alberta Arts District, the only place in Portland we know other than Powell's, Melville's is a tiny shop tucked behind a lovely old house.

The owner looked at every book in every box. He was very apologetic that he couldn't offer much cash, mostly store credit. He also suggested we could get more credit at Powell's. Ha! I explained how that hadn't worked. He said Powell's would be very interested, and would likely buy them all, if we brought the books in person, where they offer store credit -- as opposed to online, where they offer only cash.

That totally makes sense, but because Powell's only buys books on certain days, that was simply not possible. (I did not want to take these books home and bring them to Powell's next year!)

I was honest with the Melville's owner: these books were my Mom's, and we just want to get rid of them, and put them in the hands of readers (as opposed to landfill). Still apologizing, the Melville owner offered us $20 cash and $100 in store credit for three boxes. The remaining boxes, we left at the curb with a big FREE sign. And of course we used part of our store credit immediately!

I was really happy to be rid of these books! We some lamb shawarma from a nearby food truck, then headed back to the hotel to collapse. We both still have lingering effects of the flu, and by this time I was really pushing it.

Foiled by the Fourth

The following day, I planned to do a few cultural things in Portland while Allan had another go at Powell's. I completely forgot that it was the Fourth of July and most things would be closed. (Note to Canadians: Americans call the holiday "Fourth of July," or "the Fourth". It is rarely referred to as Independence Day.) (Cue a random reader telling me they grew up calling it Independence Day.) 

The Portland Art Museum is undergoing a big renovation, but there is currently access to paintings from the private collection owned by the Kirkland family. There are 14 paintings, including two Picassos and a Pissarro, normally not accessible to the public, and a manageable visit for one morning. And... it was closed for the Fourth.

The other Portland cultural attraction I wanted to see is the Japanese Gardens. I'm not much for gardens in general (we have never been to The Butchart Gardens in Victoria), but I love Japanese gardens. 

I was imagining a publicly accessible space, similar to the Japanese garden in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Turns out these gardens are a paid attraction, and an expensive one. I didn't have enough time to explore it well, and I didn't want to spend $25 (plus travel time) for a quick peek, so I didn't go.

So instead of visiting paintings or gardens, I took one of my new books to the Guilder Cafe at Powell's, and drank iced coffee and read. I was very happy!

Art as privilege

I am horrified by how expensive museums have become. This story is about the cost of museums in the US, but Toronto and Vancouver are just as bad. (The article also mentions "a newly unionized workforce" as one of the culprits. I call bullshit.)

Most museums have a free night, sponsored by corporate donations, or one free day each month, for those who are motivated enough. And there are a few that maintain free admission. But in general, museums are now recreation for the privileged. 

I grew up going to "the Met" -- the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City -- which had admission by suggested donation. We visited regularly, seeing world-class exhibits, and learning how to look at art, and this was accessible to a working-class family. Now the by-donation admission is only available to residents of New York and New Jersey. 

This is yet one more way our society has become more stratified by income -- a terrible and dangerous trend. Especially when one considers the abysmal public education in the US. We see the effects of this sorting all the time. We'll see it big-time in November.

Off to Seattle -- or at least Bellevue

After Powell's, we hit the road to Seattle, a dismally ugly drive -- three hours of the backs of outlet malls, car dealerships, and fast-food joints. We always have fun on road-trips, talking and listening to music, but this is as far from a beautiful drive as one can get. 

We had some good laughs at the billboards with rotating digital displays: Jesus Loves You, Michelob Ultra, Buy a Kia, Jesus Loves You, Michelob Ultra. And of course there's the Uncle Sam billboard; always a treat to see what the wingnuts are complaining about (those particular wingnuts, anyway). Right now it's about Ukraine. All of a sudden, right-wingers care about other countries. Until recently, they didn't even know there were other countries.

We're not staying in Seattle proper; we have an Airbnb in Bellevue. Seattle hotels are incredibly expensive, comparable to New York City -- but unlike New York City, I couldn't find any hidden gems at better prices. (Pro tip: Upper West Side.) I found an Airbnb, a tiny studio in back of a private home, three nights coming to less than one night downtown. It means a half-hour drive to downtown each day, but it's well worth it.

Now hotels are offering fewer amenities, and have cut back on the basics. This seems like a very poor business model at a time when there are multitudes of options available.

It was a bit of a schlep, but we eventually found the little Bellevue subdivision, then went to a local supermarket to get something for dinner, and supplies for breakfasts. We enjoyed a glass of wine on the deck, facing a large backyard surrounded by beautiful mature trees. Not too long ago, this must have been dense forest.


fun with flu in portland (day 8)

Portland is Food Truck City
On Monday, while we were driving to Portland, Allan was already sick, and by the time we were settled in our room, I was sick, too. We both slept an insane number of hours, double the sleep I normally get, and felt like crap when we woke up. 

It seems like textbook flu -- body aches, dry cough, low-grade fever. I was also nauseated and vomiting, which I thought was the result of In-N-Out, but... no.

Allan went out to get us breakfast, which seemed like a heroic feat to me. I would have eaten some of our healthy snacks that I always have for the road, but he was hungry and wanted real food. And he didn't trust himself to drive, so he walked. Yikes! It's about 10 minutes each way: a diner we discovered the last time we were hear, The Daily Feast. I don't know how he did it, but I was grateful he did!

We ate a toasted bagel and smoked salmon plate, then collapsed again. After more sleep, and Tylenol, and a lot of water, we felt better, although still sick. I suggested we go out at least for a little while -- a brief time in Powell's, then pick up dinner at a food truck, and back to the room, no more than an hour total. 

Once in Powell's, we agreed on a meeting time, and split up with our lists. I have my complete "book universe" (formerly "master list") on the cloud, so I looked up titles on their customer search computers, and scribbled titles, rooms (colours), and aisles in my notebook, and went off to search. This is why I love Powell's, as opposed to almost any other used bookstores (besides that most used bookstores are loaded with dust, and will trigger a coughing fit and possible asthma attack): it is so well organized. 

This is our third pilgrimage to Powell's, and I always use it for the same thing: older nonfiction titles that have been on my list for many years. They are mostly out of print and not available in libraries -- titles I want to read one day, but not in the brief time I'd get with an interlibrary loan. 

My list is ridiculously long; it's not a reading list, it's a list of books that interest me. I also read books that are not on this list, and I don't track those titles, and that bothers me. And even though it bothers me, I still don't track the off-list titles, because I haven't been doing it forever, so the list would be too incomplete, so I can't start now. Welcome to my brand of OCD. My compulsivity is getting worse as I get older. And although I resist it and fight it, this one is old and seemingly permanent.

I found a few books, then waited for Allan. I was apparently in the wrong place, but we found each other eventually, bought our books, put them in the car, then walked down to the food truck pod (the Portland word for a group of food trucks). For months, I have been saying that good Chinese food is a priority on this trip. There actually is a Chinese restaurant in Port Hardy, but the menu is very limited. Worse, it recently changed hands, and the quality went sharply downhill. We already know that the pod near Powell's has good Chinese food, so... no-brainer. 

We ordered from two different trucks, then saw a new option: Cookie McCakeFace. Dessert! Check out their website. We chose one item -- pretty sure Allan would have chosen three -- while we waited for our Chinese food. Then back to the car, back to the hotel, nom nom nom.

The food was fantastic, and there was so much of it. The standard food-truck portion here is enormous. I'm eating leftovers for breakfast as I write this. (Yes, I eat cold Chinese food for breakfast. Any leftover dinner is the perfect breakfast for me.) 

While we ate dinner, we sketched out the rest of our trip, assuming we're up to it. Right now, Wednesday morning, I'm feeling much better, but it would be wise to take it easy. 


random notes from portland (day 7)

Allan and I are both sick, apparently with a flu or some other virus. I rarely get sick -- it's been more than four years -- and this has hit us with both barrels. I'm concerned that I may have passed something along to my mother.

The world's smallest hamster wheel

We took my mom out for breakfast at my favourite Ashland restaurant, Brothers'. She was very chipper and talkative, saying the same things over and over and over. She has a small repetoire of chatter, and after speaking, she clearly has no memory of what she said.

I asked questions that would prompt her standard soundbites, and showed great interest as if I hadn't heard it all before.

Her breakfast. The menu. The "verandah" (her current word for the tiny patio outside her room). The exercise class. The baby's hair. They show movies. Her breakfast. The menu. The verandah. The exercise class...

After taking her back to the home and settling her in her room, there was much hugging and many I love yous, but I needed to leave quickly. I barely made it into the hallway before breaking down, sobbing. It is really hard to say goodbye.

Crappy customer service at Brothers'

Brothers' has a few tables downstairs, and more seating up a steep staircase. I asked for a table downstairs, and was told, "There's more room upstairs." 

Really? You don't see I'm standing there with an elderly woman? I said, "We can't sit upstairs. How about that table?" There was a large table for four, which the servers were using for staging.

"That table is not available." 

"It appears to be available." 

Long pause. She clearly expected me to apologize and withdraw. I waited.

"We'll just clear that for you." 

"Thank you." 

Then the server was curt and annoyed through the entire meal. I guess she didn't get the memo about Pacific Northwest friendliness.


We had been planning on taking the coastal route up to Portland. The Oregon coast is magnificent and we haven't seen it since a 2003 baseball road trip. But Allan was already sick and I was feeling strange, and five hours on the highway was enough. 

We picked up In-N-Out at the last available opportunity in Oregon. Later, in the hotel room, I regretted this decision.

Powell's lets us down

We have four large boxes of books from my mother's apartment, which we wanted to take to Powell's for store credit. They are mostly art books, a few novels and some nonfiction, all hardcover, all in perfect condition. (There were many other books; these are the ones Allan chose for possible sale.)

Unfortunately, Powells' only buys books on certain days of the week, and we wouldn't be there on those days. We took the books with us anyway.

On the road to Portland, I learned that Powell's buys books online. You enter the ISBN number, and ship the books via UPS at their cost. This seemed like a great idea. Allan schlepped the boxes up to the hotel room, and we entered an ISBN.

"Sorry, we are unable to purchase this book." 

We tried another, and another, and another. 

"Sorry, we are unable to purchase this book."

This was the outcome:

Of 83 books, only three would be purchased, and for pennies! We're not going to bother shipping three books to "earn" less than five dollars!

So now we have boxes of books with us, and I really don't want to go home with them. We have a few ideas. We'll see.

At the moment, I can't imagine doing anything but lying in bed. 

Hotel greenwashing at the expense of workers and customers

While I'm complaining, I'll throw in this gripe about hotel amenities. Our hotel in Portland is nice -- a bit upscale, and not cheap. Yet housekeeping is offered only on request, and a maximum of every third day. Linens are not changed unless your stay is more than a full week.

This is supposedly for water and energy conservation, but given the disposable coffee service, the bottled water, and the tiny soaps and shampoos, it seems a rather transparent ploy to save on labour costs. 

I think if you're spending money on a nice hotel, having your room serviced daily is not too much to ask. Who doesn't like coming back to a neat and tidy room, with clean towels and a freshly-made bed? And if housekeeping is only upon request, and never during a one- or two-night stay, the housekeeping staff is not seeing many tips. Of course I will give the hotel this feedback, even though I'm sure they don't care.


last full day in southern oregon (day 6)

The StoryCorps booth, New York City, 2004
Many readers have reached out here or on Facebook with thoughts and comfort about my mother. I appreciate it very much. I know you have experienced your family's own version of this. 

My mother has been disappearing, bit by bit. My mom and I used to talk about everything -- books, art, travel, food, politics, and of course the minutiae of daily life. Gradually, over time, that has disappeared. Our phone calls now are not conversations at all. They are opportunities to hear each other's voices, speak some pre-programmed responses, and to say "I love you".

Which is no small thing. She is still here. We can still do that. That won't always be true, but it right here, in the present, it is. And we're savouring it.

I often miss my mom. Later today, it will be painful to say goodbye. I know that. However... this trip has not been sad. It has been joyous. 

My mother is happy. She is surrounded by people she loves. She is still her. Still herself. A tiny, diminished version of herself, but still very much herself. Seeing her enjoying life has been wonderful, incredible.

Many, many times, I have wondered, how bad will it get before she dies? And to be very honest, I hope she passes on peacefully before the dementia reaches the final and worst stages. But for now, in this present moment, she is alive, she is not in pain, she is happy, and we are all holding on to that.

More eating, more laughing, more hugging

Yesterday the rest of the California family -- nephew, niece-in-law, toddler -- packed up and left. My SIL cleaned and put the house back together, I did some laundry, and we enjoyed the lovely quiet. Eventually we got ourselves together and went back to the old apartment -- more sorting and trashing -- before picking up mom for dinner.

We had another family dinner, the last of this trip, with Oregon nephew, niece-in-law, and the darling tween girl. I wish I saw her more often! She is very special to me, and I'm working on ways for us to be more connected.

Connie and Laura, the interview

Also yesterday: the StoryCorps interview! While going through my mother's things, my brother and SIL found the CD of my interview of our mother for StoryCorps

The project had just been rolled out on NPR. There was a booth in New York's Grand Central Terminal, where you could interview someone and get a recording of it. Allan has the audio file, but we didn't know where the CD was, and we haven't listened to it in 20 years. In fact, it was almost exactly 20 years: June 10, 2004. 

Allan and I were still living in New York. We had already applied to emigrate to Canada and were waiting for news. My mother and I were celebrating our birthdays (June and July) as we did for many, many years: the annual Herring Fest at Grand Central Oyster Bar. That year, it was timed to coincide with StoryCorps.

And here we were, 20 years later, listening to 73-year-old Connie being interviewed by 43-year-old Laura. It was beautiful, a treasure. (Also, I did a really good interview. It helps to have professional experience!)

At the time, in 2004, my mother also interviewed me. It was weird, and I didn't enjoy it. That part of the experience left me with some unpleasant feels, so I went again, with a friend, and we interviewed each other. We were co-coordinators of the Haven Coalition abortion access organization. Hopefully that audio exists somewhere, too.

Today we are heading to Portland. As in, Powell's.