Search This Blog

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

An Out of Valley Experience: The Ripple Goes to the Big City…

Five dollar candy barI’m on the twenty-six floor of the Westin Hotel looking out a  panorama window at the Seattle nightscape. The Space Needle,  its annual Christmas tree ablaze, juts skyward. The glass faces of the skyscrapers remind me of crossword puzzles: darkened windows, the dark squares; glowing windows, the white. A huge crane named “Vulcan” is festooned with strands of blue lights. The navigation lights wink red off and on. In the Sound to the west, ferry boats twinkle light across the dark waters. Down below on Fifth Avenue headlights stream by…the evening commute. A glowing worm that is the monorail glides past beneath me. Even from this airy remove I hear Big City bustle: the throaty roar of diesel transit busses, the angry honking of car horns,  the shriek of sirens ( I hear them constantly but the flashing lights are lost in the canyons; I never see the vehicles from which they issue), the whine of jet engines overhead on approach to Sea-Tac.Christmas Seattle

This country boy is accustomed to daily visits to a Valley filled with pastures, cows and cornfields and to look out at the lightshow that is Seattle verges on culture shock. I’m reminded of a movie I saw as a kid: “Aaron Slick from Pumpkin Creek,” the main character in which is a poseur for a city slicker. As I look around our well-appointed hotel room (“suites,” I think they’re called) which is much more suited to a blue chip tycoon than someone who wears barn boots and shovels organic on his garden, I feel like Jed Clampett must have felt after rattling into Beverly Hills in his fender-flapping flivver.

The next two days we were in the thick of it, the ebb and flow of city life (a great deal more “flow” than “ebb), the crush of shoppers, my daily walk a blur of crosswalks, crossing signals, and dodging right hand turn traffic. I have never had so many aggravated assaults on my wallet in a two day period. Everyone and everything wanted a piece of it. By the end of the day the leather was  literally scorched from the friction of removing and restoring it to my back pocket . Street musicians, charity workers, and panhandlers all seemed to have claims on my folding money. (Note: after this country fellow’s visit to the Big City, the Valley might just have its very first panhandler! Look for an old man and a vintage girl’s bicycle standing on the corner by Swiss Hall “flying the sign.” “Folding money appreciated, please. Change is just extra freight…and ‘God Bless!’”)

Escalators. I remember the first one I ever saw frightened me. I was just a kid standing in terror on the brink of a stairs that jumped up out of the floor: “Step on a crack, and get thrown on your back…when to step, where to step…. Jed Clampett to Elly May: “ Elly, they’s these steps that do the up and down walkin’ for yer…saves a body a whole passel of shoe leather, don’t they!” In those days I believe the treads were made of hardwood. I read somewhere about the drunk who kept throwing himself down the escalator each time it returned him to the top: it was his experience that when you tumble down a flight of stairs, you ended up at the bottom and there you stayed. And there was the small trauma, too, at the end of the flight: how to disembark without falling on your face. These days, even a country boy is an old hand at escalators. Just step on a flat surface, grab the ascending handrail, trust to the ascent or descent, and hope the thing doesn’t break mid-trip.

Experience Christmas in the Big City, and you’re a child again. Macy's Christmas windowI stand in front of the Macy’s Christmas window, mouth agape, frozen in glee as the Christmas train makes its circuit across a winter wonderland, chugs through mountain tunnels only to appear again to my amazement. The Christmas tree in Westlake Square: a wonder of lights. Mac Mansions of gingerbread in the lobby of the Sheraton (this year’s theme: “animated movies”). A gigantic star four stories high illuminates one corner of  Macy’s (the old Fredrick and Nelson building), emitting enough lumens to summon all the wise men for miles around. Brothers Grimm G. House

The sense that I’m out of my element never subsides. I can’t help but think I’ve left the turnip truck double parked somewhere. Somewhere…I have a poor sense of direction; if a store has more than one room, I become disoriented (I’ve been turned loose to fend for myself). Time and again it happens. I pass the same shoe display, march through the same “parfume” fragrance, trip past the same manikin (when one is lost, orienteers claim, he wanders in circles). A few particularly anxious minutes are spent in a Victoria’s Secret store. (It takes a certain modicum of courage for a seasoned male like me to enter such a store…a stranger in a strange, strange land. A new definition of a hero, perhaps?). Though my confusion probably lasted no more than five minutes, it seemed like a millennium. I pass the same young saleslady at least three times (nice boots, I can’t help but notice; by the way, ladies’ boots are the rage this season). A friendly smile my first circuit; the second, her smile is quizzical; the third, tentative, more suspicious if anything. “I have to get out of here before she calls the police,” I think in a near panic. Never before has this country boy seen so much lace, so much pink…so much intimacy on display. I feel like I’m adrift in a flamingo nightmare. At last I summon my wits, traipse my entrance backwards in memory, and discover the exit--through which I hastily bolt. Whew…now I know how a rat feels when it’s finally escasped a maze!

The panic returned at the hotel room the second night. In strange situations, I’m sure you’ll agree, it’s human curiosity to explore one’s new surroundings. As soon as we keyed entrance to what would be our new home for the next two days and nights, we set out on a quest of discovery. (“Wow, a flush toilet! This shower head is bigger than TWO breadboxes! One entire wall a flat screen t.v.! And a king-sized bed that would meet the approval of your Royal Highness from any kingdom. Amenities: pens, notepads and a pastel green bar of soap molded in the shape of a leaf, creams, lotions, shampoos. In the coffee bar Starbucks and Tazo teas…). And in corner a special curiosity: “The Refreshment Center.” Wonder what surprises it contains…. I open the cabinet doors and find a mini-fridge on the right, a little pantry on the left. Let’s explore the contents, shall we? In the pantry a large bottle of water, a bag of M & M peanuts, a Snickers bar (family size!), and a half bottle of wine (St. Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon). I pop open the fridge to see what refreshing “amenities” it contains. Cans of soda, regular and diet, a can of Red Bull, a half bottle of wine (St. Michelle again: Chardonnay). Next to it a can of Heineken beer. The door trays are a mini-bar. Miniature bottles of Jack Daniels, some brand of gin, and two dainty frosted bottles of vodka  "(“Why, Jethro! This dang thing’s plumb full of moonshine!”) On the bottom tray two cans of some sort of exotic libation and a Kit Kat bar. The last item—and closest to the door--one lonely Twix bar. Should we need refreshing, there was a variety of items by which we might be refreshed.

Our last night. My wife decides she’ll investigate the refreshment corner for herself. She popped open the fridge door and knelt down for a closer examination of the bottom shelf contents. After she shut the fridge, however, she noticed a small card taped to the front. “What’s the matter?” I asked after I hear a very audible gasp. “Did you read this note?” I hadn’t bothered. She read aloud: “Choose wisely. Anything you remove from the refreshment center will be charged to your hotel room.” This little warning caused us an instant rush of fiscal anxiety. (“Why, Granny, this here thing’s booby-trapped!) Apparently each item rested on some sort of weight sensor. Remove the weight and “wham” an electronic bill hit your charge card. For the next few minutes we wracked our memories in desperation, tried to recall what items we had lifted from the center…me, the bottle of water, the M & Ms (to entice my wife with her favorite candy), both bottles of wine…were all I could recall. My wife…the bottle of vodka, (just couldn’t resist the exotic frosted glass packaging). We stare at each other in disbelief. “Well!” my wife blurted indignantly. “If any of those are charged to our bill, they’re coming home with us!” We both felt we’d been scammed.

Sometime during the early hours of morning our bill was slipped under the door. I was the first to arise and found two neatly folded sheets lying there in the dark. I picked them up nervously--as if I’d just been served a subpoena--went into the bathroom, shut the door, and switched on the light. As if I were opening a letter bomb, I gingerly pried the sheets apart and peeked at their contents: “Room charge; State tax; Seattle Tourism surcharge; Occupancy Tax. Room charge… (we booked two nights)….”

Oh, and one last item: a Twix bar, four dollars and nineteen cents…plus tax, of course.  Well, it couldn’t hurt to have one extra stocking stuffer, now could it?

Print this post

No comments:

Post a Comment