For the love of travel (for work)

One of the perks of my job at the university is the privilege to travel for professional development. During spring break (for the college students and my elementary school children), I attended the 2018 CASE Editors Forum in Seattle, Washington. Not only had I never attended this conference before, but I’d never been to Seattle.

Due to having to fly across two time zones (I live in Arkansas) and the start time of the conference on Wednesday, March 21, I had to travel the day before. It was interesting, to say the least. For the first time ever, I set off the metal detector at the Little Rock Airport. What parts of my body? My ankles and my right back pants pocket. Weird.

After a public frisking and bomb-residue test (firsts for me), I was on my way. It was also my first experience flying Southwest Airlines. It was odd not being assigned a seat but not unpleasant. The airline boards based on a boarding group number assigned at check-in. The earlier one checks in, the better the number. I was at the beginning, so I was able to choose a nice comfortable window seat near the back of the plane. I wasn’t in a hurry on the way over since I had a three-hour layover at Dallas-Love Field.

A delayed first flight cut into my layover time by 30 minutes, but it was no big deal. I had plenty of time to eat lunch and make a huge dent in the book I was reading on my Kindle app, Of Blood and Sorrow, by Christine Rains. A well-written vampire/demon urban fantasy story. By the time I boarded my second flight, which was much longer, I only had a couple of chapters left.

During the flight from to Dallas to Seattle, I read Broken Tomorrows, by KT Daxon, a book I’d been anticipating for a while. I actually won an autographed copy from the author through a contest on Twitter. I was thrilled to have it but didn’t want to risk losing the novel while traveling, so I bought the Kindle version to read during my trip. I read the entire thing while flying at 36,000 feet. The book was incredible. Check out my review on Goodreads. Luckily, I had brought along another book, The Bookseller, by Cynthia Swanson, which I started during the last leg of my flight and finished while flying home.

Having never been to Seattle, my assumptions were based only on what I’d heard: It rains almost every day. Living there is expensive. Recreational marijuana is legal there (not my thing). There’s tons of seafood. It’s surrounded by water on three sides. It’s the setting (but not main filming location) of one of my favorite television shows, Grey’s Anatomy. It was the birthplace of grunge, and Washington state was the birthplace of Kurt Cobain. 

Knowing these things, I prepared for the 55-degree rainy weather predicted for the days I’d be there by taking warm clothing, boots, and my trusty lightweight umbrella. I spoke with my husband about a budget for fun spending and set out on my way.

Day 1, Tuesday: I traveled all day, finally arriving at my hotel in Seattle around 8:30 pm (10:30 CST). After calling my husband and texting my mother to let them know I was safe, I ordered room service for a very late dinner because I was too exhausted to go anywhere else. I ate and let myself unwind for a while before settling down to sleep. I always take earplugs, which were definitely necessary on this trip due to the proximity of the train to my room.

Day 2, Wednesday: The conference didn’t start until 1 pm, so I allowed myself to sleep in, although I woke up long before my alarm due to the two-hour time difference. I showered and ate breakfast in my room because I wasn’t ready to venture out without a good plan of action for where I wanted to go, keeping in mind that I had to eat lunch before the conference began. I was blessed with a brisk, sunny morning to explore my surroundings.

Adventure 1: Pike Place Market
Pike Place Market is this amazing, eclectic maze of small businesses in Seattle and according to seattle.gov, “Established in 1907, Seattle’s Pike Place Market is the oldest continuously operating and most historically authentic public market in the country.” Visiting this market convinced me that all map apps hate me. It was easy to get turned around because the market is on three levels. You might think you’re in the right place according to an app but be on the wrong level. The staircases to the walkways were beautiful.

I searched through the listings of stores and found what most interested me. Bookstores, of course. Out of five indie bookstores, I only had time to visit one of them that morning: BLMF Literary Saloon. I know the meaning of the name, and it’s hilarious. (I won’t spoil the fun if you want to look it up and be in on the secret.) It was a small store accessible only from inside a second-story corridor, and it was amazing. Books stacked everywhere in organized piles and shelves. The owner was a kind man who happily directed me to the stacks I sought. I found two books for me, and one for my husband, though unfortunately, not the one I was looking for. Anyone who knows me well knows that I have a book addiction. Limiting myself to only three was difficult, as I could have spent all day in the store because I find the scent of old books intoxicating.

Adventure 2: Seattle Aquarium

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I knew I wanted to see the Aquarium while in Seattle. Ocean creatures fascinate me, and I appreciate groups that support and preserve marine life. The facility was a short walk from my hotel, so it made sense for it to be my last stop and to eat lunch in their cafe. I enjoyed the exhibits. There were fish, birds, and mammals to observe. My favorites were the seals and otters. I bonded with one seal, who made silly faces at me, and people who don’t think otters are adorable as they float on the water’s surface holding hands while they sleep must lack something in their lives. The kid’s meal at the on-site cafe was just what I needed to boost my energy for the conference, and the gift shop shark and dolphin plushes were perfect souvenirs for my kids.

Conference Highlights, Wednesday:

Adventure 3: A walk along the Pier.

I wandered along the Pier on Wednesday evening to get out of the hotel and have dinner. I passed the Aquarium while looking for a good place to eat, people-watching as I walked at a leisurely pace.

Observations:

  • The homeless population was apparent in Seattle. Several tents lined the areas beneath the Interstate overpasses. My heart broke for the people who’d found themselves in that situation.
  • Natives and tourists appeared to handle the rain differently. Natives didn’t seem to notice the mist and/or drizzle in the air while wearing regular clothing or lightweight rain jackets. Tourists had umbrellas.

Day 3, Thursday, Conference Highlights:

  • Attended four sessions tailored to my needs, including a storycatcher session dedicated to the late Brian Doyle, former editor of Portland Magazine.
  • Lunch and good conversation with a woman from Washington at the hotel restaurant.

Adventure 4: Hardrock Cafe/Target

After a Google Maps search of nearby restaurants, I discovered a Hard Rock Cafe for dinner and walked there in rainy and drastically dropped temps. I took my umbrella and wore my heavy corduroy blazer but still froze on the way to dinner. As I arrived at Hard Rock, I spotted a city Target store across the street, so I decided I would buy a jacket or sweatshirt for the walk back.

Eating at Hard Rock was amazing because I got to eat in the presence of Kurt Cobain’s guitar. I had to get a photo of it before I left, not caring that I looked like a dork. After purchasing a tiny pin from the gift shop, I set out for Target and was relieved to find the perfect rain jacket in olive green—my favorite color. I would have probably bought just about anything to keep me warm. That night was the only night I walked back to the hotel in the dark. At least I didn’t get lost on the way back since I could walk toward the illuminated Ferris wheel in the distance.

Day 4, Friday, Conference highlight:

  • Breakfast round-table discussion about editorial boards.

The conference dismissed at noon, but I had to wait to fly out Saturday morning due to the lack of flight availability on Friday afternoon that would get me back home before 2 am.

Adventure 5: Venture to Seattle City Center
For my free afternoon in Seattle, I had already purchased a ticket online for admission to the Museum of Pop Culture. I discovered it while researching things to do in Seattle since I knew I would have brief openings on Wednesday morning and Friday afternoon. The museum had just opened a Nirvana Exhibit, which was the main attraction for me. To be honest, I didn’t even look to see what the other exhibits were.

Originally, I had planned to use public transportation to reach my destination. After arriving in Seattle and walking around so much, I realized it was only a few blocks farther than I’d already walked the evening before. Equipped with my lightweight umbrella and my new rain jacket, I walked the entire distance to the museum, stopping for lunch along the way.

5 Point Cafe: I sought out this restaurant because I wanted to eat somewhere that wasn’t a chain. This cafe/tavern was just what I needed. It was a cross between a 50s diner and a biker bar. The place was crazy crowded. I managed to slip into the only available booth in the place. A lot of reviews praised the food but shredded the customer service. While the service was not fast, I was taken care of. I received water, an apology for the long wait (they were covered up), and an order that was correct (no condiments on the cheeseburger). While I would have liked to have ketchup for my fries, not having it or a real opportunity to ask wasn’t a deal-breaker. It was also the best burger I’ve had in my life in the most eclectic atmosphere (tons of stickers on the walls).

When the jukebox wasn’t blaring Ozzy music, I overheard a relationship end in the booth behind me. I don’t know exactly how old the couple was, but I was inundated with the subject of their conversation, which was basically the guy talking graphically about a performer, GG Allin, while his girlfriend uttered one-word responses at appropriate places.  Now, I had never heard of this performer, and I wish I still had no idea who he was. You can look up his name if you wish to learn more about him. The subject matter was disgusting, and I am not easily offended because I understand that people have their unique talents. Unfortunately, for some, that talent gets mixed up with stupidity.

When the guy finally finished his rant on the “musician,” the girl managed to get his attention long enough to tell him that she didn’t want to see him anymore. When he protested and wanted an explanation, she told him he didn’t seem to care about her. Some other words were exchanged, at which point I was finished with my meal and left.

Museum of Pop Culture:

Museum of Pop Culture
Nirvana street pole banner

Wow. Just wow. It was easily the most interestingly shaped building I’d ever seen. The whole thing is asymmetrical with different colors and materials used in the construction. I made a beeline for the Nirvana Exhibit and took photos of everything to show my younger sister. I’ll spare you with all the details because I could go on and on about Nirvana.

Other exhibits I saw included:

  • Star Trek (viewed and photographed for my husband)
  • Fantasy: Highlight was seeing the costumes from The Princess Bride.
  • Scared to Death: Horror movies, which I loved.
  • Jimi Hendrix Abroad: Travel souvenirs and accessories from ’66-’70.
  • SciFi/Fantasy Hall of Fame: Assorted memorabilia.
  • Science Fiction: Infinite Worlds exhibit.

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Chihuly Museum: I skipped the Space Needle due to major construction around it and also because I had a set budget for fun which could only afford one more attraction entrance fee. I chose the Chihuly Museum. What this artist can do with blown glass is amazing. I had seen some of his work at a temporary exhibit at Crystal Bridges Museum in Northwest Arkansas during the fall. Seeing his various forms of artwork in an entire facility dedicated to his work was incredible.

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Shopping at Pike Place, Part 2:

Left Bank Books: According to their website, “Left Bank Books has been a fixture of Seattle’s radical community since 1973 when a group of people split off from the University District’s Red and Black Books to form their own collective bookstore in the Pike Place Market.” I got turned around looking for this bookstore, even though I had passed it the night before during my walk to Hard Rock. When I finally found it, I was not disappointed. They also publish books, so I picked up a book of poetry they published Love is not Enough by Frances Gregory and a used book that seemed interesting, but again, not the one I was seeking.

Lamplight Books: My last shopping stop was another hole-in-the-wall used bookstore with that same intoxicating aroma of books. This one claimed to have a lot of titles for children and young adults, so I hoped it would have what I sought, Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. Well, a copy with the original Walt Disney movie cover was there waiting for me. I’d heard of the title before, but hadn’t read it or watched the movie. Now I plan to do both.

I ended my evening with a relaxing walk in the rain back toward my hotel. I didn’t want to eat at the hotel restaurant again because I was determined to eat somewhere different for each meal. There was a nice seafood restaurant across the street, Anthony’s Bell Street Diner. There, I had cod and a nice glass of wine before I retired to my room for the night. Back in my room, I checked my health stats on my phone and discovered that I’d walked the most that afternoon than any other day. My other Seattle days were 2.8 and 3.8. Airport days were about 2 miles each.

Day 5: My journey home. I woke up at 3:30 am (5:30 CST) and set out via taxi by 4 to catch my 5:30 am flight. I should have gotten to the airport at least 30 minutes earlier due to the long line I encountered at security. Plus, I had to get my ankles frisked again! It must have had something to do with the pants I was wearing, the same ones both travel days. After quickly purchasing a soda and pretzels (breakfast) at a newsstand near my gate, I arrived just in time to line up for boarding.

My flight from Seattle to Denver was uneventful. I read more of The Bookseller and hoped I’d be able to make my connection to Little Rock with only a 40-minute layover so I could get home at a decent hour. Thanks to my smartphone, I was able to find out the gate number for my flight and took off running, getting there five minutes before boarding would begin. People were already lined up. Because seats were assigned and the restroom was near the gate, I took advantage of my seat guarantee and was able to avoid having to use the restroom on the plane (those things make me claustrophobic).

I arrived in Little Rock on time, collected my luggage, bought a 3 Musketeers bar for the road, and started my almost two-hour drive home. While I love traveling, I also love the journey home to see my family.

My rating for Seattle: 4.5/5 stars. I would love to go back there sometime now that I figured out how to get around. Where have you traveled?

-Brandi Easterling Collins

 

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