Category Canada

Spotted on the Roadside: The Gastown Steam Clock in Vancouver, BC

Lose track of your steampunk friends somewhere in Vancouver? You’ll probably find them in Gastown, pointing their goggles at the steam clock and talking about zeppelins. This popular tourist landmark was built to cover a steam vent so no one could sleep on it–not all cities have the giant brass balls it must take to turn their anti homeless measures into destinations for tourism. I don’t expect to see flyers directing me to the best spiked sidewalks in London, for instance.  You’ll note they didn’t put their less-savory reasoning for installing the clock on the plaque, and it may disappoint your steampunk friends to find out that the clock was built and installed in 1977 so it’s not exactly ‘victorian’. Buuut there’s a steam-y bar down the street where they can drown their sorrows in some brews and, uh, talk about zeppelins–just, for the love of god, don’t order anything mid-rare.

 

Spotted on Water St in Vancouver, BC

Scenes From the Vancouver Aquarium

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van-city-22-of-41There is nothing I don’t love about this shark’s huge mouth.

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If I had “fuck it” money, I would definitely use some of it to install a huge jellyfish aquarium in my fortress of solitude. Like, an entire wall of jellyfish that I could read alongside, watching them swish and float as I pause and contemplate a phrasing or passage. Obviously, my fuck it money fund would also have to include the care of an aquarist because I didn’t get rich spending all my time cleaning tanks (presumably).  Until then, I’ll just get my relax on by visiting aquariums wearing noise canceling headphones and pumping up my seratonin by watching this smooshy faced baby:

 

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The Richmond Night Market

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It is full on RIDICULOUS how long I have been sitting on this post about the Richmond Night Market. Ridiculous for a number of reasons, considering I’ve gone whole months without posting, but mainly, it’s ridiculous because I think this place is awesome and I’m excited to share it with you.

Night markets are the shiiiiiiiit. They’re mostly outdoor shopping bazaars where you wander around stuffing your face with delicious snacks. When I lived in Taiwan, I would go to night markets pretty frequently–lots of them open nightly in permanent areas in Taipei. They haven’t super caught on outside Asia (Seattle’s night market is one night a year) but Richmond, B.C.’s night market* is a delightful exception. It’s still temporary–only running May-October, because no one wants snacks badly enough to slog through slush at night to get ’em–but it is magnificent. One hundred food vendors. Three hundred or so other booths. Music. Dancing. And something I was particularly eager to experience, the Throne of Rotato.

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That’s right. The Throne of Rotato. Rotatoes are spiralized, deep fried potatoes sprinkled with flavorings and served on a stick. In order to assume my rightful place, seated on the Throne of Rotato, I needed to buy a rotato. Or two, since Jason wasn’t going to pass up this opportunity, either. It’s delicious (being a deep fried sour cream and chive flavored potato on a stick, after all, of course it’s delicious) but if for some reason someone didn’t feel like eating an entire potato prior to all of the other food they were likely to partake of that evening, they had some suggestions for how you could otherwise use your spiralized potato:

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I’m pretty sure anyone with their head screwed on right would say “YES!!” to a rotato proposal. I would, and I’m already married, but the excitement of the rotato might make me forget.

So once rotatoes were purchased, I received a VIP pass for two to the throne of rotato.

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And it was glorious. Side note: Rotatoes, however delicious, are really salty so I would advise you to do as I didn’t and don’t spend your last Canadian currency on the rotato, forcing you to go on a desperate hunt for an ATM so you can buy a beverage.

We spent a long time wandering the food booths. I was chasing nostalgic tastes and was rewarded handsomely with red bean pancakes, tanghulu, and dragon beard candy. I wanted so much more but my stomach was too full of potato to make the attempt. What’s extra incomprehensible is that I haven’t been back since. Their 2017 season has begun and I will remedy that problem soon.

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*There are some street market experiences that you won’t find here, like for instance, the Snake Alley (Huaxi) market in Taipei is on the site of a former legal red light district, and the alley is filled with vendors selling foods with purported aphrodisiacal qualities, such as deer penis wine and snake blood, squeezed out of a snake before your very eyes. There are also a number of vendors selling novelty sex goods. I only went to this one once, and actually, it was one of my Rotary club’s members who took me. I’ve talked about her before, the Taiwanese Martha Stewart. Somewhere, there’s an awkward photo of us together in front of an inflatable penis.

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Salmagundi West

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van-city-3-of-41Super awesome art by Michael deMeng

van-city-9-of-41In case you want to start your own House on the Rock-esque creepy clown collection.

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van-city-11-of-41This hat looks awfully familiar.

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I had a friend tell me that coming to my house is like coming to a museum, that every time she sees something new and unusual. As someone whose aesthetic is undeniably “creepy museum”, I was thrilled to hear that. While I respect those who live simple, minimalist lifestyles, I can’t do it myself. I tried minimalism for about three days and then awoke at 4am on day three to find myself feverishly sleep-browsing craigslist for gothic antiques. I’m not advocating living under a mouldering pile of newspapers, clutching onto every one-use kitchen gadget or instruction manual for shit you don’t even have anymore, or mindlessly consuming trendy stuff you’ll almost immediately discard. And sure, the best things in life aren’t things. However, things are forever. The objects we choose to surround ourselves with can tell a story, set a mood, remind us of happy times, tell us where we’ve been and where we want to go.  I always have an eye out for anything that belongs in my creepy museum, and that’s why no trip to Vancouver is complete without a stop at Salmagundi West, home to oddities, antiques, antique oddities, and odd antiques, plus a smattering of outsider art and occult ephemera. In other words, it’s like stepping into my alternate dimension living room. It’s fun digging through all the drawers of the card catalogs in their “magical basement” for treasures, and it’s even more fun to try to explain what exactly I bought to the border agent without sounding like someone whose trunk they should probably check for body parts or something. And sure, I can’t take it all with me when I go–but my ghost can preside over one hell of an exciting estate sale.

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I’m just a sweet chimney cake…from traditional Transylvania

I’ve done precisely zero research on the matter, but it is my understanding that Transylvania has two main exports: vampires and chimney cakes. I never drink…wine. But I do eat cake. Maybe too much cake, but that’s really neither here nor there. So when I happened across a Vancouver bakery specializing in Romanian pastries, including the aforementioned chimney cake (or kürtőskalács), I knew I definitely wanted to incorporate it into my next visit to British Columbia, as a trip to Romania proper is a bit more involved than taking an afternoon jaunt across the border. A chimney cake is made of yeast dough which is wrapped in a spiral around a wooden dowel and baked, similarly to meat on a spit. As it rotates, it’s basted with butter until the sugary outside caramelizes into thin, golden, crackle-y perfection, which can be further augmented by rolling it in other toppings like chopped nuts. When it’s served hot, steam vents out the top like a little chimney and it’s charming as all get out.

There are two (one, two, ah ha ha ha) bakeries in Vancouver that make chimney cakes: Transylvanian Traditions, and The Kürtősh Cafe. Of course, I had to go to both. First up was Transylvanian Traditions. Transylvanian Traditions makes a variety of pastries including the chimney cake, and the chimney cake is offered in only one flavor.  When I arrived, I got one hot and fresh from the oven, steam merrily venting from the top. The cake is a revelation–soft and chewy toward the center, crisp on the outside, tangy with lemon, and light like a raised doughnut.

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The Kürtősh Cafe is the newer of the two bakeries, and they specialize solely in chimney cakes, offering it in a wide variety of sizes, flavors, and combinations, including savory cakes and cakes smeared with nutella and stuffed with ice cream. Jason got a chimney cake with nutella and almonds, Tristan got a cinnamon sugar chimney cake, and I got a half size coconut matcha chimney cake. The cakes are beautiful and well presented…but just not that good. All three of the cakes were cold, a sign on the cafe’s table proclaims that they use no butter in the cake, and between those two things, you end up with a cake where the outside is chewy rather than crispy, more like the outside of a bagel. None of us were really taken by any of them, which was really a disappointment, because I never want to say anything negative about a cake. I’d be open to trying them again closer to when they open in the morning in the hopes of getting a hot cake for a fair comparison.

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So basically what I’m saying is, like blood, you want it hot and fresh.

claudia

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Capilano Suspension Bridge Park

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Temperate rainforests are located in only a few regions around the world; they’re characterized by high annual rainfall and the ability to generate new growth without relying on fires. The largest area of temperate zone rainforest in the world is in the Pacific Northwest, stretching from northern California to Alaska. Located in north Vancouver, the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park takes you on an ecotour through part of this coastal rainforest, moving you from forest floor to canopy via a series of bridges and treehouses.

We decided to make a daytrip of it rather at the last minute, apparently because we both enjoy visiting Canada underprepared. As AT&T customers, we shut off our cell phones once we hit the border to avoid getting nailed with roaming fees, but as we’re both heavily reliant on phone GPS, we really should have a plan in place or a map in the car in case of necessary detours. Do as I say, not as I do. I printed out directions before we left, and the directions noted that one of the roads we were taking was a toll road. Toll roads are the bane of my existence, because it seems like there’s never any good information about where the stations are, what the rates are, and what form of payment they accept, or I am very poor at my internet search parameters when it comes to toll roads. I tried to look this up before we left, and was informed that there were only two tolls on that road, neither of which were near where we were going. It should therefore surprise you not at all to find out that there was indeed a toll almost immediately after we merged onto Highway 1, and zero information about how one could pay that toll, which left us scrambling for Canadian currency. We ended up at a convenience store on the outskirts of Surrey so we could withdraw cash from an ATM (which, to my delight, is a polymer that’s pleasingly see-through), made our way back to the highway, crossed the toll bridge, and discovered that you pay online. I have no regrets about being able to keep my see-through money, however.

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At the entrance of the park is an area that informs visitors of the history of the land and of the suspension bridge across the Capilano river, which was originally built in the late 1880s to connect the sections of forest George MacKay had purchased. It’s changed hands (and bridges) multiple times since then, and one of the owners also invited First Nations tribes to place their story poles at the park, so it now houses North America’s largest private collection of First Nations totem poles.

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The Capilano Suspension Bridge is a simple suspension footbridge in that it’s anchored at either end with no deck stiffening. The bridge’s main supports are the handrails with the deck suspended underneath, which makes the handrails sturdier but creates a lot more side to side motion on the deck itself. At 450 feet (137m) long, I can say to you with no reservation that each foot is more terrifying than the last. The bridge lurches sickeningly underfoot, rolling and pitching with your movements and those of everyone else crossing at the same time from opposite directions. We visited on a sunny and high-traffic day, and I’m certain this only amplified the effect. I felt as though I were fighting to keep my balance with every step, and after crossing it a second time (as you have no option but to return the way you came), I felt unsteady and nauseated for hours afterward. The handrails and side barriers make it virtually impossible to fall off, but high above the river on a wildly swaying bridge, you are keenly aware of your own mortality.

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Once you’ve crossed the bridge, there are a number of things to see and do. Immediately after you step off the bridge, there’s an outdoor exhibit that teaches visitors about the rainforest and how the park helps to keep it alive and thriving even with tourists moving through it daily. For instance, they stock their pond every year with around 800 rainbow trout, which provides a food source for otters, herons, and osprey.

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On Raptor Ridge, they have several birds of prey, along with two falconers available to answer questions. My first question had to do with the sign cautioning dog owners to keep away: had that been in issue in the past? As it turns out, it had. “People would bring their dogs right up to meet the birds, and some of the birds were…too interested in the dogs. Like Smaug, the female Harris hawk–she has no fear or sense of her size. She would try to take down a bear if given the opportunity.” The sign on the kestrel cage said that kestrels weigh as much as a quarter pounder with cheese, and I remarked that was an oddly specific unit of measurement. “That’s the female, for the male you’d have to subtract the bun and the pickles. But people are so health-conscious these days that we’ve been thinking about changing the sign to something a little less controversial.” I suggested a head of kale, but in retrospect, I think a cheeseburger is a perfect measurement unit for a raptor: meaty, exciting, and dangerous. Something leafy and floppy just doesn’t have the same effect.

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The Capilano Treetops Adventure starts off in a treehouse and continues on seven suspension bridges up into the canopy of old-growth Douglas fir trees. They’ve designed the structures with a compression system so that nothing is driven into the tree itself, which means that no harm comes to the tree and it can continue to grow naturally. In fact, their adjustable collars allow the attraction to grow upward with the trees!

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After we were done walking through the trees, we did the Natures’s Edge walk, which is a long boardwalk along the edge of the rainforest that gives you views of the suspension bridge and the Capilano river. Approximately every ten feet, there was a sign telling people not to graffiti the wood railings. People complied with this order and instead defaced nearly every single sign, indicating that either a lot of smartasses visit, or one smartass was particularly dedicated.

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Back on the other side of the suspension bridge is the new (as of 2012) Cliffwalk attraction, which consists of suspended walkways along the granite cliff faces. They sell this as the EXTREME (in the Mountain Dew sense of the word) part of the park, but honestly, I felt much safer on the Cliffwalk than on the suspension bridge or even the treetop adventure, as the Cliffwalk structures were firm underfoot. The only part that gave me pause was the portion in which you’re standing on glass, but that’s just because I have an inherent mistrust in the ability of glass to hold my fatassery, so your mileage may vary. Plus, I’m extra wary as I know that my role in life is to live as a warning to others, and I would really prefer that my epitaph not read “So fervently enjoyed the cheeseburger that no glass could hold her.”

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After you’ve visited all of the areas of the park and stamped your passport as proof that you braved the bridge, they give you an “I survived!” certificate which is suitable for framing and makes you feel like you really accomplished something other than walking around for a few hours. I’d like more certificates in my day-to-day life as affirmations that I’m awesome. “You haven’t let the house fall into utter disrepair!” or “You got groceries before letting the pantry get to the point that you’re forced to eat macaroni and cheese that’s been expired for a year!” or “You didn’t fake a headache in order to get out of your dentist visit!” But making the certificates and awarding them to myself is a little odd, plus awarding myself a certificate for making the awards certificate could result in an infinite loop where I just photoshop until I die.

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On your way out, you would be remiss if you didn’t give a Mountie that also happens to be a bear a low-five.

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“Oh look what you did! Now I’ll have to go get my cold cream gun.”

In July, Jason and I took a trip to Vancouver for IMATS (the international Makeup Artist Trade Show). We had plans to attend the previous month’s event in Los Angeles as LA is by far the bigger show, but it unfortunately fell on the same weekend that Jason was committed to being in a wedding so it didn’t work out. However, the next LA IMATS is in January, which is right around the time that I start losing my mind in the cold, dark Seattle winter, so it will be an ideal time for a trip to a place where the sun peeks through the smog. Vancouver is essentially a cleaner, friendlier Seattle, with better candy AND Plants vs Zombies scratch off tickets!

I wasn’t interested in the push and shove aspect of the trade show floor–I love makeup, and I love discounts, but it has to be a hell of a discount or a product I cannot purchase otherwise to make me want to deal with crowds of people elbowing one another to get the last item–I’d rather pay full price AND shipping and never have to deal with a human being. What I was interested in was the student creature competition, the makeup talks, and the makeup museum. The student competition was broken up over the course of two days, with beauty on Saturday and creature on Sunday; I only attended on Sunday, and I was impressed by the quality of the work I was seeing. I wish self-taught people like myself could compete, but unfortunately it’s only open to makeup school students.

The makeup museum, though small, was also very cool, featuring mostly work by Toby Lindala (keynote speaker, creator of SFX for X-files, Supernatural, and V, among others) and Todd Masters (featured speaker, creator of MastersFX, SFX on Big Trouble In Little China, Predator, Underworld, True Blood, and more). Questionably, however, they also included submissions from various local schools, some of which were so bad that I was embarrassed for the artist and the school. Everyone has to learn somewhere and everyone works to the best of their personal abilities, and hating on someone for trying is the height of uncool…but showcasing pieces that aren’t ready to be shown do a disservice to both the student and the school. It’s why you don’t see macaroni necklaces in the Louvre.

Taking a photograph of a video camera videotaping a video feed. The only thing that could make this better is if someone behind me took a photograph of me taking a photograph of a video camera videotaping a video feed. Both Todd Masters’ group and Toby Lindala struck me as likeable, humble artists with a genuine love for their craft and fascinating stories to tell, and their speaking time went by far too quickly. If MastersFX still had a Seattle studio, I would beat down their door for an opportunity to work there, to observe, to help, to sweep their floors…but sadly, it is no more. The only thing that stuck in my craw about the event in general was that the floor was full of tons of women (and some men, but predominately women), but nearly all of the speakers were men. Where are the women, and why don’t they rise to the top of this craft? More women learn to use makeup than men, so how is it that the most notable figures in the business are men? Is it the glass escalator effect? Surely there are women who are just as talented…so where are they? Halfway through the day, we decided to take a break and head to a nearby pub for lunch rather than suffer through convention food, and there I learned two important things. One, there are vampires actively prowling Vancouver:

and two, I learned an important lesson about Canadian light and how it interacts with steak fibers. At the time, I was on a restrictive diet and could only eat carbohydrates one day a week, so I’d been eating/preparing/ordering a lot of proteins and veggies. I ordered a medium-rare steak with veggies while Jason ordered some carbtacular dish that I remember being insanely jealous of at the time. What I received was a completely well done steak, and even though I’m the sort of person who haaaaates sending anything back to the kitchen, I flagged down the waiter and told him that it was far too well done while apologizing profusely for bothering him. He disappeared with my plate and came back twenty minutes later with….another well-done steak! He disappeared before I could cut into it, and when he came back around again to ask if this one was better and I responded negatively, he said “Oh, I know what your problem is” and grabbed the fork off my plate and poked at the steak. “Yeah, that’s medium rare, I can tell. It’s just that you’re sitting by the window and the light is what makes it look brown. It’s why steakhouses are so dark inside, so you can’t see that the meat is actually brown when you expect it to be red.” HUH. It’s fascinating to learn that the Canadian visible light spectrum is missing the color red! You’d think that I would have heard about that before, read it somewhere, seen it in a documentary…SOMETHING. I didn’t think to look while I was still in Canada, but does this mean that their national flag is actually a brown leaf and they’ve been too (typically Canadian) polite to inform the rest of the full light-spectrumed world that we have it wrong? Because, and I don’t mean to boast, I have cooked and eaten many a steak within the borders of the United States in both darkness and in light, and they’ve always been a varying shade of red inside. So it must be Canadian light, right? I refuse to believe that an actual Canadian could have lied to me just to get me to shut up and eat an overcooked, shoe-leathery piece of meat.

The next time I burn the hell out of dinner, I’m going to tell Jason that we must have had a Canadian air front sweep through the kitchen, but not to worry…even though it looks and tastes burned, that’s just a factor of the air, and it’s actually the most succulent thing he’s ever had in his mouth. Thank you, Canada!

Victoria. Not the Beckham. Not the Queen. The other one.

Way back when my dad was in town, we took a daytrip to Victoria. This entailed getting up at an ungodly early hour in the morning to take a long ride on the Victoria Clipper to our destination. We were all a little overtired and punchy, and thus took to telling hilarious stories and became THOSE cackling people. The glances we got from other passengers were signs, I’m certain, that they were envious of our free spirits, and not “sweet jesus, please shut up” death glares, though I have been known to be wrong from time to time.

Although none of us had eaten, we decided we’d be sorry if we ate aboard the Clipper, as the inclusion of Craisins with every meal was a sure indicator that everything there was terrible. By the time we arrived in Victoria, we were quite hungry, and we voted that our first task upon arrival at the Butchart Gardens would be to cram some food into our faces. Unfortunately, before the gardens came a bus tour of the area. An incredibly boring bus tour. If you think listening about politics in your country is boring, it’s even more boring listening to a conservative nutbag bus driver go on and on about taxes and public spending in some OTHER country. Every time I would get a pleasant nod going, he’d hit the brakes and I’d smack my face against the seat in front of me–I’m guessing this is a technique he’s developed over the years to ensure people listen to his awful jokes and rambling bullcrap.

By the time we arrived at Butchart, we practically fled off the bus. There were a few different places to eat inside the Butchart Gardens. We immediately decided against the cafe as none of their premade cold sandwiches appealed. We made our way to the next place…and the menu was exactly the same. Apparently, crummy premade cold sandwiches were our destiny that day, though we did manage to avoid Craisins. Seriously, does anyone eat really eat those? They’re like tiny wrinkly balls of tastebud poison! The Butcharts were cement barons, which is not quite as grandiose sounding as oil barons, but at least a half step up from styrofoam baron or balsa wood baron. Upon exhausting a limestone quarry on their property, Jenny Butchart used her gardening hobby to spruce up the place, creating the sunken gardens.

“Jesus Christ, it’s a bear! Get in the car!”

By the time we got to the Asian gardens section, I was feeling more awake and clever, so I began to play tour guide. However, since I didn’t know what I was talking about, I made things up. “Over here, you will see the rare Japanese “luminous blossom”; these are native to the southern regions, and, via the process of photosynthesis, they are able to convert light into clean, usable energy. However, the oil lobbyists have grouped together and convinced Congress to ban their import into the United States.” A few tourists I didn’t know had been listening to my spiel, and when they looked over my shoulder to where I was pointing, they realized they’d been had and laughed when they saw I was indicating a raised electrical plug. I’ve used this “just make something up that sounds halfway believable” method before, especially when I worked retail. I vividly recall working a cash register on a busy day at World Market when a customer asked me what made the candle scent “Mexican Pumpkin” instead of just pumpkin. I told her with an absolutely straight face that pumpkins grown in Mexico tend to have an earthier, spicier scent profile than those grown farther north. She completely bought it, and every once in a while I wonder if she informs people of her worldly pumpkin knowledge. On our way out, we checked out the guestbooks. Most people had written variations on a theme: “Beautiful!” “Very nice!” “Wonderful!” However, I saw one that made me do a double-take: “This is how Jehovah’s New Kingdom will be” …I sincerely hope that if this is the case, Jehovah works a little on his food offerings. This musing was expressed by MY guestbook comment: Then, I fulfilled my urge to ride everything by straddling their foal statue. I’m as surprised as you are that it didn’t crumble under my ass.

We wasted some time in the gift shop, looking at the sort of assorted crap that none of us wanted to buy–none of us except John, who is drawn to gift shops as if by the world’s largest magnet. After rearranging some salt and pepper shakers in a semi-obscene manner and checking out some tiny statues of Mounties and a section of glass angels with what I suppose was intended to look like dark, curly hair but gave the effect of a head full of dog turds, I realized that it was getting quite late and we were almost going to miss our bus back to the city. We hustled back to the bus and arrived on time, only to have to wait for two ladies who had evidently found some excellent deals in the selfsame giftshop and were not about to be hurried away by the time constraints of anyone else. On the way back, the bus driver told us the road we were driving on had been given historical status and could not be fixed or replaced, so we had a rather bumpy ride–thanks, Canada. The bus driver again began to drone on and on about crap even I could not make entertaining, and thus I drifted off to sleep again. By the time I’d really settled into my nap, however, we were back in the city, and I woke up just in time to hear the bus driver ask us for tips. I’ve got a tip for you, buddy: Get a job that doesn’t involve interacting with the public.

We got some more coffee and then wandered to Chinatown, stopping along the way to do a little souvenir shopping. I got a cozy owl tuque, and enough Canadian candy to choke a horse (but not me, even though I did try to cram it all into my face at once). I’m sure the guy working at the 7-11 had a few choice thoughts about what comprises the bulk of my diet when I plunked thirty bucks worth of delicious candy in front of his register.

The bus driver told us the lions are supposed to come to life when an honest politician passes through them, but as you can see, we haven’t found one yet. Oh, ha-ha, bus driver. Ha. Ha.

Fan Tan Alley used to be used for gambling and opium and all sorts of interesting things. Now it’s merely famous for being a narrow thoroughfare, paralleling the career of Kate Moss.

After some more wandering around the city, we found ourselves with just enough time to inhale a street sausage (not THAT kind of sausage, perverts) and some ketchup chips before heading back to the Clipper, where we waited in a waiting room for approximately forever, and then we had to wait standing in line outside in the cold air for another time period approximating forever while they loaded more sandwiches and Craisins no one was going to buy onto the ship. We were among the last on board and had difficulty finding a group of seats together that additionally wasn’t adjacent to a screaming child. We settled in, my dad got ripped off on some duty-free cologne which, as it turns out, he could have purchased more cheaply online, I stuffed my face hole with candy, and sometime between Victoria and home, we got to watch large swaths of water behind the boat glow and shimmer in the night. “Ain’t it just beautiful?” a stranger asked, in between handfuls of Craisins. I had no choice but to agree.

There is such a thing as too much family togetherness.

Last weekend, I drove my grandparents to Vancouver. Since they first started talking about flying out to visit me, going to Vancouver has been high on their list of priorities. They’d excitedly called me when they finally received their passports in the mail. They’d talk about it every single time they called me on the phone. For my part, I’d flat-out told them several times that I don’t know my way around Vancouver; that two of the three times I’d been there, smacksaw had been there to show me around, and the third time, I managed to drive myself and my father into Gastown and then promptly got lost for a few hours, so I am not high on the list in terms of being an excellent tour guide.

Still, they were very excited to go, so I got behind the wheel and drove north. What none of us counted on was the two hour wait at the border to cross customs, at the end of which, all of us were very testy. After we crossed the border, I asked them if they wanted to visit Point Roberts, and my grandma said she did, while my grandpa grunted non-commitally. I had driven approximately 90% of the way there when grandma changed her mind and said she’d rather just see Vancouver. So I sighed, turned around, and headed back toward the city. Vancouver isn’t smack on the border, and you have to drive through a decent bit of suburbia to get there. Twenty minutes later, we had not yet arrived in the city proper when my grandpa piped up and said “You can turn around and start heading home anytime.” I clenched my jaw and kept driving. We finally got into the city, and when we found someplace to park, the grandparents couldn’t believe that the meter wouldn’t take US coins. Why wouldn’t they do this? Oh gee, I don’t know, maybe because we are in another country? And not like Tijuana, where the US dollar is way cooler than the peso by an order of magnitude. We stopped, got some coffee, glared at each other, drove around Granville Island, and left. Pretty much a full day’s driving for approximately twenty minutes of activities.

The very next day, grandma decided she wanted to visit ‘the wine country’ which meant another day trip to Yakima. Unfortunately, she didn’t tell me about this desire until about 1pm, which is a very late start if you intend to drive halfway across the state on a Sunday. Still, we got in the car, and I started driving east. Since Snoqualmie Falls was also on their list of places to visit, I stopped there along the way since it would presumably be too dark to see by the time we got back from Yakima.

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After a few minutes, we got back into the car, and this is when the neverending loop of commentary started. Over and over again, grandma would exclaim “Look at all those trees!” “I can sure see why they call this the Evergreen state” “Looking at this, I can’t imagine how we’d ever run out of trees” over and over and over again. Sometimes, I would tell her a factoid like “most rest stops in Washington provide free coffee” and she would repeat what I’d just said, but more loudly, presumably for my grandpa. Sometimes she would repeat these factoids to me. They say that grandpa is losing his hearing. Frankly, I think he’s just ignoring grandma, which only makes her repeat everything AGAIN, which only serves to make him tune her out MORE, and so on and so forth. That has to be it.

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orchard

We crossed the mountains and into the more deserty area of Washington, and while grandma was going on and on about how this place is supposedly the fruit bowl of the nation, that’s what she read, the fruit bowl of the nation, the grousing started up from the backseat. “Jesus Christ. JESUS CHRIST. I can’t see where they’d grow any goddamn grapes around here.” Every time he saw one of those places where cops sit to trap speeders, he’d suggest we could turn around and go back, and between those points, the ‘Jesus-Christ’ing continued, while upfront, the fruitbowl broken record was still going full-force. In what can only be described as a moment of temporary, parental-like insanity, I whipped around and told my grandpa to shut up, we weren’t going home before we even got to the goddamn place, and if he didn’t like it, that was too damn bad. I am the bad granddaughter. In my defense, you would have done it, too.

We stopped at some fruit stand on the outskirts of Yakima, and I have to admit that part of me was really hoping that both mouths in the car would be too crammed full of fruit to continue motormouthing the rest of the way. When we FINALLY got into Yakima, the handy-dandy tourist pamphlet my grandma had picked up suggested we go to the information center that is open ‘seven days a week’. While it may indeed be open seven days a week, in order to really be useful, they should strive to have it open more than a couple of hours per day, as it was long closed by four pm. I’ve never been to Yakima before. I don’t know where the wineries are. Yet I struck out on the highway again, trying to make my grandma’s wine-country-wishes come true. Grandpa started up again with “Jesus CHRIST we drove all this way to buy some goddamn fruit?”. Clearly we had not bought enough fruit. By the time I found the first winery, it was four thirty. It had closed at four. Grandma started in on ‘Look at all those fruit trees, it IS the fruitbowl of the nation, I wonder if they sell to Dole’ section of the day’s all-repeats-program, and I started looking for a winery AND a happy place to go to in my mind. I found another winery at five. They closed, no shit, at four thirty. The third and final winery I found, at around five thirty, had closed at five. This is a very typical family experience–always a day late and a dollar short.

All of this was nothing compared to yesterday. Yesterday afternoon, my dad called and said the family wanted to go to Leavenworth, which is a Bavarian-style town (keeping with the trend) Far Far Away. We all got into the car, Dad driving this time, and the grandma tree broken record started up again, this time for the benefit of my father. You think that shit gets old on the first day? Try two Sundays in a row, with the same visual cues inspiring the exact same remarks. It’s like some horrible deja vu land where not only do you know what’s coming because it has happened before, but you also sort of wish you were dead. brother

Now THAT is a happy, shining face. After a while on I-90, we all decided we were hungry, and stopped at some roadside diner that billed itself ‘home of the turtle’. This was not just any turtle, but some sort of Super Fireplace Turtle wearing a hat of a type which I was unable to determine. Cowboy hat? Sombrero? Cowboy hat? Sombrero? Cow..brero. turtle

After lunch, it was back on the highway. Soon, green trees and tree comments gave way to desert scrub and the beginnings of the fruit bowl conversation AGAIN. At some point along the way, we were supposed to turn onto I-97 north, and so, when we saw the exit marked ‘I-97’, we took it. The road it led us to didn’t quite feel right. The speed limit was too low, there were roads intersecting with it, there was NO TRAFFIC WHATSOEVER, but like brave Lewis-and-Clark adventurers, only more stupid, we forged ahead, because surely, SURELY, this was the right road. I-97 is supposed to run into 2, and from there it’s a short drive to Leavenworth. We saw a highway intersection up ahead. Yay! This validates we were going the correct direction! Yay! Wait…is that the Columbia River? Is that…I-90 again? No fucking way. Oh yes. We took a frontage road for forty-five minutes, putting us in the crappy little town of Vantage and very, very, VERY far out of our way.

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How would you like to cross the Columbia River? Ford it, caulk your wagon and float across, take a ferry, or hire an Indian guide? By this point in time, my dad was really, really mad that we’d driven so far out of our way, my grandpa was starting up with his ‘Jesus-Christ’ing again, my brother was rolling his eyes and trying to melt through the passenger door, and my grandma needed some water so she could continue to drive us all batshit insane. We now were all treated to an extra hour and a half of the repeated comments, including but not limited to wondering exactly what sort of fruit was in every single orchard we passed, reading every sign we passed aloud and then repeating it in case someone in the car hadn’t heard her the first time, and asking if the orchards all had contracts with Dole. Once, we passed a nursery filled with young trees, and my grandparents started debating what they thought the trees were. Grandma informed us that she calls them ‘silver maples, even though they probably aren’t, because they sort of look like silver maples, even though they probably aren’t’. If you’ve seen the movie ‘Sling Blade’ and have ever been really overtired, you will completely understand why I started giggling hysterically, and between fits of giggles quoted “Some folks call it a sling blade, I call it a kaiser blade, because it’s shaped like a bananer.” My dad, who was also incredibly overtired, started cracking up as well. We are terrible people, but that sort of goes along with being a member of my family. My brother was still ambivalent. Half an hour later, we FINALLY rolled into Leavenworth, where, per family tradition, everything was closed. Everything except for Ye Olde Gas Stattione and Ye Olde Starbucks. gasstatione

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signs

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armor

At the point where we were driving through and I requested my dad stop so I could take this picture, we realized just how overtired Grandma was when she spilled the beans and revealed just how filthy a sweet old lady could be. She suggested we go purchase a large Bavarian sausage and attach it to the knight, hanging out from the bottom of his metal top, with a red apple along either side. I was simultaneously horrified and delighted, and if there has ever been a moment in my life when I felt I might die of laughter, that was it.

clothes

I have nothing to say about this picture except holy HELL that is a lot of crap in that store. Who buys crap like that? I’m pretty sure it’s the same people who collect Precious Moments figurines and pictures on plates.

nutcracker

I find nutcrackers to be terrifying in a combination clown/molestor-uncle sort of way. I’m glad this part of town was closed, because otherwise I am certain my family would have dragged me into it, kicking and screaming. dad

flowers

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masons

As we were sitting and drinking coffee (my brother elected to wait in the car the whole time we were there), I noticed that one of the buildings, although otherwise decorated in a very standard Leavenworth way, had the big Masonic Eye painted near the top. Conspiracy! Conspiracy!

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I don’t know why, but I find this sign to be very, very funny. After we were done drinking our coffee, it was time to turn around and go home–look how excited my dad is to be leaving!

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dusk

dark

On the way home, everyone was loopy enough to the point where I heard that once, my dad took my brother and I out trick or treating while he had the worst hangover of his life, my mom smoked while she was pregnant with me, and my grandpa gave my grandma a dutch oven on their wedding night. Oh yes, I have a special family. What was supposed to be a short afternoon trip turned into a twelve hour ordeal. It was an interesting sort of family vacation. Now let us never speak of it again.