Monday, July 27, 2009

Sunny, Sunny Summertime

I am sitting on the upper deck of the ferry boat on my commute this morning; an oddity in Seattle. I'm relishing the fact that its 70 degrees at 9am, and will be warm when I get off work at 7pm. The sky is blue, the water still. Sometimes I think I'm the only person in Seattle who is
a) not surprised by hot temperatures in the SUMMER b) actually likes hot temperatures.

Every summer, we get a few days in the 90's, which I soak in like a lizard lying on a hot rock. The rest of the year, it's dreary and drizzly, and we complain. In winter, there is ice and snow, and we complain. In spring, it's foggy and gray, and we complain. In summer, it's hot, and we complain. I think that here in Seattle we are spoiled, because sometimes we do get those picture perfect days in the 70's. Once you taste heaven, it's hard to get used to anything else.

I love the hot summer days, because right now, I am picturing the snowstorms and ice last December. I remember my gingerbread house blanketed with snow, driving my newscar 5 miles per hour on city streets, reporting about cars sliding down Seattle hills at 5am while I coughed up a lung and snorted snot. I remember fat snowflakes finding their way between my scarf and my neck. I remember my hands turning to ice inside my gloves. Those are not my ideas of a good time, people.

I love that it's summer, and that I get to use a fan in my house. I love that it still gets cool at night, unlike Texas that is sweltering and muggy. I love the baby robins stashed in thick brush outside my window. No, I don't want to hear stories about how everyone is staying cool, how AC units are flying off store shelves, how people are suffering. It's just a few hot days of summer, and it will all be over soon.
I'd be more impressed if it was over 105.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Gravity of San Miguel: Excerpt + Writer's Conference

I made a rash decision on Monday, and now I am both thrilled, and scared to death. I signed away some of my life savings to attend the Pacific Northwest Writer's Conference from July 30th to August 1st. It was luck of the draw that I'm working the morning reporter shift that Thursday and Friday, so don't have to take any days off. I'll attend sessions, meet with an agent, interact with other writers and editors. I'll see authors speak at dinners and desserts. I hope to be inspired, and learn a little bit more about what it takes to both finish and publish a novel. I really think it will be an amazing experience, if I'm not too tired to soak it all in. I am deathly afraid though. What if they think my ideas suck? What if the world of publishing seems too daunting? I just have to suck it up, and get over it. In honor of my fear, I will post some more of my fiction on this blog for the world to see. Gotta start somewhere.


Earthy cobblestones massaged my feet as I walked down Piedras Chinas toward the center of town. The little road was only wide enough for the taxi that had dropped me off 30 minutes prior, and I sat gaping out the window as we bounced down side streets that overlapped and looped like a maze. The buildings were short and bright colored stucco; walls holding me in.

My apartment was exactly like the pictures, and the owners had left a little book with their favorite things in San Miguel, and tips of the trade. They told me about a woman several streets down who serves fresh juice every morning. They described how to get my water, take out the trash, and use the telephone. The rooftop terrace was stunning; with a wooden table and views of the town’s center far below. The spires of the parroquia dwarfed all the buildings, reaching to scrape the sky with their pink tips. I couldn’t wait to see it up close.

The air was balmy and warm for an October evening, and I wore jeans, a T-shirt and a light coat. I passed lots of foreigners on my way down, all of whom smiled and nodded. An elderly Mexican man with a sombrero flicked a stick at a trail of burros saddled with wares. He smiled at me, and I noticed gaps in his teeth.

Everywhere I looked, doors opened into courtyards with fountains, little shops, restaurants, and bars. Each building was a secret: you never knew what you might find behind each ornate door. At night I suspected they’d lock up tight, leaving no evidence of their daytime lives, leaving passerby to only guess.

I could hear the music before I even rounded the bend: salsa music played entirely with marimbas. The beat drew me closer as the sun threw my shadow onto stucco and wood. The men were playing in a gazebo in the center of a park with trees trimmed like squares. People spun and swayed on a makeshift dance floor and crowded the benches. Children ran freely and whites mingled with Mexicans. I’d never seen the two races look so equal, and I watched with wonder. In California, I always saw Mexican men with low slung jeans, women with heavy eyeliner, and trucks that skimmed the ground. Here Mexicans were well-dressed and smiling, entire families hanging out for a peaceful evening.

It was then I saw the parroquia. My eyes had been so focused on the music and people I didn’t even see it looming into view on my left. It was what Steve called “magic hour”, when the sun was low to the horizon, illuminating colors with its orange glow. Tears once again pricked my eyes in the face of so much beauty. The church was intricate, with carved columns and bell towers. I’m not a religious person, but the sight of the parroquia was enough to make me want to kneel with grace, and pray.

I wandered back to find a place to sit to enjoy the music. Spanish tumbled around me, punctuated with laughter. I saw a young Mexican couple holding hands on a bench, stealing kisses, and suddenly missed Steve. He’d been here before. He’d walked along these narrow cobblestone streets. He’d found love within the walls of this romantic city in the middle of Mexico. I wondered if he was different then, if clothes didn’t matter, if money didn’t matter. I wondered what had made him change, and if I’d ever see him again. Funny how I could miss a person so much, who had driven me totally nuts in Seattle. I guess the familiar can create illusions, lock people in. I tried to push him from my mind, and enjoy the sublime moment I was living. I wanted someone to miss and care for, someone to enjoy this with, but I knew it had to be the right person, not just the “right now” person.

Half an hour later, I walked back to my apartment, feeling a little sad and lonely. The cast iron streetlights glowed yellow, illuminating tiny cobblestone mountains. I felt like I could be wandering the streets of Paris, or Rome, both trips I had done many times before, with and without men. It was hard to believe I was in the middle if a third world country overtaken by drug lords, kidnappings, and be-headings. I breathed in the mountain air and felt at peace for several moments as I walked up the steep hill to my new apartment.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Orcas Island - A piece of Heaven

Disclaimer: Please forgive any typos in this post. Friday night as I was checking the doors of my newscar, the piece of glass on the back door flipped up and slammed my ring finger on my right hand. The tip of my finger is completely purple. This is disrupting my typing, which for all of you who know me well realize this is incredibly frustrating, cuase i can't type 100 words per minute with a bum finger. That glass really took me by surprise. I'll be suing Ford now, j/k.

Orcas Island is incredible. It's probably twice as big as Bainbridge Island, but contains so much variety. There are small towns, open prairies, mountain lakes, a 2500 foot peak, camping, hiking trails, kayaking, horseback riding, and its all within close proximity.
We barely made the ferry to Keystone, then rode the motorcycle up Whidbey Island, through Deception Pass, and made the Anacortes ferry exactly when they started boarding the bikes. We love to cut it close for the adrenaline rush.
The day was perfect. We sat outside and watched the islands go by. I can't believe this magical place is only a few hours drive from my house. People come from all over the world to see the San Juan Islands. We camped at a place called West Beach Resort, which isn't good if you want privacy. They really pack them in, but we were lucky to be near trees and not out in the field across the street where tents were 10 feet apart.

You can rent yurts at the resort, and there is a general store, boat rentals, and a beautiful boardwalk.
We headed to Eastsound to explore, which reminds me of Cannon Beach, Oregon. and found a waterfront restaurant to have crab cakes and appetizers. After our snack we drove up a windy 5 mile road to the top of Mount Constitution. Usually you have to hike for hours to get a view like this.

David's sister and brother in law, Grace and Prasad.
Twin Lakes.

The sun and breeze felt heavenly. This place is truly spectacular, with views of Mount Baker, Canada, and the Islands.

We then went up to the lookout tower, which is even higher.

It was one of the best views I've ever seen. By that time, the day was running out, and we headed back to the campsite to make dinner and hang out. I love this coffee pot we put on the fire the next morning, which is a percolater.
And a bald eagle visited.

We spent Sunday at Mountain Lake in Moran State Park.

We took turns boating and hiking, and it was a blast. The day went by all too quickly, and once again, David and I were on the motorbike home. We stopped at Deception Pass at sunset, which was spectacular.

The Keystone ferry was full until 11pm, so David and I tried to take an alternate route that took 5 hours, but it was an adventure. We took the ferry from Clinto to Mukilteo, drove to Edmonds, took the ferry to Kingston, then drove home. We finally got home at 1am!! It was a freezing, but exciting motorcycle ride, and I can't wait to go to Orcas again. Next time for a week.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Motorbiking the Islands

Thoughts of my upcoming 3-day weekend are making it very difficult for me to work today. The sun is shining, the Bite of Seattle is outside my window, and a live salsa band is playing at Benaroya Hall tonight. I want to run around the International Fountion and celebrate life in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

Early tomorrow morning David and I will leave on the motorcyle to Orcas Island. I found a "back way", which will be much more pleasant than going up I-5 to Anacortes. We'll ride the bike 45 minutes to Port Townsend, take the ferry to Whidbey Island, ride another hour to Anacortes where we'll go over Deception Pass. I've heard the ferry ride to the San Juan Islands is spectactular, and I think I'll die if I see some Orca Whales.

We are camping Saturday night with David's sister and brother-in-law, and may stay in a bed-and-breakfast on Sunday. I want to go hiking, boating, and to the top of Mount Constitution. I've never been to the San Juans before, have you? Do you have any tips for me? I plan on taking plenty of pictures, but I don't know when I'll be near a computer. Wish me luck! I'm the robocopreporter on the motorbike!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Kerk and Spok Forever

The cardboard box sitting on my front porch looks normal from the outside, but on the inside, it's a treasure trove of my past. There are spiral notebooks filled with slanty, uneven writing, T-shirts I wore when I was 6 years old, paintings and drawings I made as a child. I found one journal from 1988, a blue spiral notebook filled with the strange ramblings of a 7 year old. My ramblings at that tender age were about Star Trek. Not Barbies. Not My-little-Ponies. Star Trek.

"Kerk got a new Enter Prize. When they took off the computer said, Worp 1, Worp 2, Worp 3, Worp 4. Jim winked at I don't know who but that was my favorite part because I didn't know he could wink."

"Then there was a red alert and this strang thing came abourd and struck a lady and made a modle of her. Than they went to Vegar and there was a big mechine that was lanched more than 300 years ago. Than one of Jim's crew wanted something as bad as Captine Cerk wanted the enterprize."

Yes, I was writing these things as a 7 year old, and apparently, that was how I comprehended the first major motion Star Trek picture. David and I read my writing and laughed out loud at the crazy spelling, and the fact that I was a Trekkie before I entered 2nd grade. That explains a lot about who I am, and I realized, that I really haven't changed much.

I think the only thing that's really changed is that fact that I've grown up, and sometimes it's hard to pluck imagination out of thin air like I did when I was a child. Now I'm thinking about bills and cooking and exercising and commuting. I stress out about deadlines and stories and interviews. I used to love to make up stories about mouse families that had a raccoon for a daughter and a "bere" for a son. Now I write stories about murders and Chase financial.

In the box I found books on writing and selling your first novel that I'd read back in middle school, and creative writing essays with big blue "A"s. This box of goodies has been a true reminder of who I really am: a writer. I have to keep plugging toward that goal, no matter how hard it becomes, no matter how broke I get. Whatever it takes, I have to stay true to myself.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Scoot Scoot Scootin' Around

David and I have found the holy grail of riding the ferry: a motorcycle (scooter). We are renting a Honda Silverwing from his sister in Bellingham so he can easily get to work at Boeing. Not only does a motorcycle cost less than half of taking a car on the boat, you also get to the front of the line. This morning was frantic, like normal.

"Which helmet should I wear?" I said, putting on a black helmet that looked like half of a ping pong ball. Meanwhile, the clock was ticking. We are used to driving like a bat out of hell to get on the ferry with the car, since the lot fills up so quickly.

"This doesn't fit!!" I shook my head around as the hellmet wobbled loosely.

"Then put on the full face one."

I slammed it over my hair and makeup, stuffing my glasses and greasy breakfast sandwich in my purse. We were off!

The wind buffeted David and I as we sped down the rural highways, me gripping him tightly. I love the way the motorcycle (scooter) leans to the side around the curves. It's exhilirating. I imagined us racing down the coastal highways of the San Juan Islands, which is exactly what we're planning on doing this weekend.

The ferry lot was full, as usual, but we were able to bypass all the cars, "merge" into the traffic, and immediately got on the boat. No waiting involved. This was like a dream come true. We're used to missing the ferry if we get there at the last minute, with the motorcycle, you are always first. It feels like the first class of ferry riding.

David owned a motorcycle for 10 years, so is very good at riding. This motorcycle (scooter) is an automatic, and a piece of cake. David has said many times that it's not for the overly masculine man. It's no Harley, or crotchrocket, but it fits us just fine. I want to learn how to ride it someday.

Friday, July 10, 2009

My favorite place in the world

David first introduced me to Jazz Alley in 2006 when we saw Steve Tyrell. The singer was back again last night, so we bought tickets in a hurry. It's a shame we forgot our camera, since we were both dressed up for once. This is a rare occurence these days, ever since David became unemployed. We had a reason to celebrate last night, though, because David has gotten a 6 to 8-week contract working for Boeing. In Everett. Yes, Everett. From Bainbridge Island. The commute is going to be horrendous, via car, ferry and train, but its okay for a short period of time.

The sun was bright last night as we stepped into the dark abyss of Jazz Alley. It's hidden on a side street near 6th and Lenora, and stairs lead you down into a dark and romantic setting. People sit smiling and chatting around small round tables, or packed into booths. A balcony skims the ceiling. Every seat in the house has a great view of the stage, a very intimate setting for a terrific artist.
For the second time in as many weeks, I felt like I was back in the 1950's. Steve Tyrell is a crooner, with a deep, husky voice. He sang standards, hits from the 70's, and talked affectionally about his FRIEND Rod Stewart. We heard "The Way you Look Tonight," as we sipped a delicious bottle of red wine. I had penne with marinara and sausage, David had lamb curry. Dessert was flourless chocolate cake with berry dressing and vanilla ice cream. Heaven.

Whenever I visit a place like this, I feel nostalgic, as though I remember and miss the 1940's and 1950's. My dream is to open a similar place, with dancing. Imagine a classy venue with a wooden dance floor, a curve of round tables, waiters in tuxedos,red wine and martinis. Even though nowhere like that exists in Seattle, I'm so glad Jazz Alley does.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

On how mosquito bites are proof of beauty

I almost didn't want to go to work on Monday. I was exhausted, and covered with red bumps. They peppered my elbows, stung a couple spots on my legs. But the worst is my face. It looks like I'm having some adolescent breakout, with little bumps all over my forehead, and cheeks. I feel compelled to tell everyone I meet (since I meet a lot in my job) that I got bitten by a horde of mosquitos. But I keep quiet, hoping they won't notice, knowing they will. But I do say, it was all SO WORTH IT.

My Dad and I set out to climb Obervation Peak in the South Cascades, which is a 7 mile hike with a 1600 foot incline. Really, not bad. I last did this hike when I was 10 years old, and remember the cotton candy-topped beargrass reaching my shoulders as it swayed in the mountain breeze. After a couple windy miles through old growth, at our first viewpoint, I saw it growing between lichen covered rocks. Beargrass.
At that moment, I felt intensly happy. The sun warmed my skin, the wind rustled the leaves. The view before me was breathtaking, and this was only the first.

As we walked through the stands of trees, my Dad stopped and said something that sticks with me days later.

"It's so nice to know this is here, when we're sitting in our cubicles at work."

There's something about nature, and being up in high places, that makes me feel closer to God, or the Oneness, or the Great Spirit, whatever you want to call it. The blue sky is an expanse above me, I breath with the trees, the flowers. The babbling creek taps out a rhythm, and I finally feel part of something, something that lacks when I walk on cement ground, and see buildings rise around me like a forest on crack, encased in stone. We hiked ever upwards, through more beargrass, to a summit called Observation Peak.
I took in the panorama with wide eyes. Mount Hood. Mount Jefferson. Mount Adams. Mount Rainier. The craggy peak of Mount St. Helens. I imagined the blast shredding the side of the mountain, the ash gushing upwards in a gigantic plume, the mudslides. The power and force of nature should never be underestimated.That's Mt Rainier in the background behind me and my Dad.
I think we're at about 5,000 feet in these photos, and it's magificent. It's a great spot to eat lunch. The mosquitos agreed as they swarmed and ate me alive. My Dad said he has 6 mosquito bites. I have 30.

I was wondering why I'd been so run down lately. Unmotivated, a little sad, like my energy was slowly leeching away. Being on Bainbridge Island in trees helps a bit, but the unbridled wilderness really replenished my soul.

After this viewpoint we scrambled out to Sisters Rock, on an overgrown trail. I felt like a billy goat as I stood on another craggy peak.
The mosquitos landed on my cheeks, my forehead, and inside my ears. They were starving, having just hatched from puddles beneath the melting snow, which was still visible on the trails.

This week, I've been dreaming about hiking. Picturing the trees, the views, the mountains and flowers. This hike reminded me of how much I need the outdoors, that I should go outside whenever I can. I'm only a 1.5 to 2 hour drive from some beautiful places in the Olympics.

I've learned to embrace my mosquito bites, and I'm no longer embarrassesd. I can't believe I almost called in sick because of vanity, when these marks are only proof that beauty exists. It's always out there, I can see it when I close my eyes.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

"Fort Fisher" aka "The Bunker" aka "Old School Style"

I'm a day late and a dollar short in posting about our amazing experience at Fort Fisher at Queen Anne hill, and feel like this is "old news." I'm fighting the news reporter inside me who would scoff at posting a story a day late, and I'm posting it anyway, because I'm sure many people are curious about my unforgettable experience in the transmitter building.

A fire overnight in an electrical vault fried a bunch of servers in Fisher Plaza, and cut the power supply for a myriad of radio and television stations. KOMO Newsradio and KOMO TV had to get creative to broadcast. For radio, that meant holing up in a World War Two style bunker building, where the anchors used a tiny board reminiscence of my college days, hand-held mics, and paper copy. When I got there KOMO's Charlie Harger and Nancy Barrick were broadcasting to thousands of people, like this:

I had a sudden urge to to find some carts, use a boom box sized marantz, or even start cutting tape. I felt underdressed in jeans and a tank-top as I was transported back to 1957. I should be wearing pumps and a hat, and holding a tumbler of Jack Daniels with clinking ice cubes. Never mind, a woman wouldn't have been a journalist in 1957. But KOMO reporter Jon Repp would have, as he squats elegantly near his laptop. Personally, I think he needs a fedora and a Cuban cigar to finish the look.

My role as a news reporter was quickly changed, as I became the person responsible for coordinating and putting audio on the air. I downloaded ABC updates and reporter wraps on one computer, and tranferred them to another. I spent my entire day several inches from the floor, on a beat-up, dirty footstool. Welcome to the "glamorous job" of being in "the media"!

We worked tirelessly to be on the air. Some would say, "why?" Why not just put the best of Schram and Carlson and forget about it? Star 101.5, the top rated radio station in Seattle, was so lucky. The entire radio broadcast was done by Ipod, and an electrical box sitting on the floor.
I think as journalists, we feel an ownership over the content of KOMO Newsradio. We know our mission is to inform and entertain the thousands of people who are listening to us. So we busted our butts to bring news, traffic, sports and weather, even though the anchors were working without computers. Below is KOMO anchor Herb Weisbaum with the 5pm rundown, which is scrawled on a wrinkled piece of paper.

I can't begin to explain how fun this experience was, and how it brought the team together. We are all professionals, and made do with what we had at hand. It also reminded us that great radio isn't about the fancy electronics, computer programs, breaking news and the AP wire. It's about being human, and doing our best for our listeners.

(KOMO anchors Lisa Brooks and Herb Weisbaum)

Ever member of the team stepped up. KOMO's Travis Mayfield did reports live in the field all day long, editor Jeremy Grater scheduled live interviews on a black phone from the 1980's, Mark Aucutt hand wrote the sports reports, Art Sanders came in hours early to hand-write leads on crinkled, lined paper.

Journalists are unique in a way that we are able to improvise. We laughed, chatted and had a great time. None of us felt overly stressed (most of the time) or got on each other's nerves. I can't begin to describe how much fun I had doing "old school radio" at the Bunker on Queen Anne.

Thanks everyone, for being so great. I'm so proud to be part of this team, wherever the broadcast takes us.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Fun with Troopers

One thing I love about my job is when I get to experience other people's lives. Yesterday, I felt what it was like being a Washington State Trooper on I-5, looking for speeders and other dangerous drivers. I think a lot of people have a certain stereotypes about cops, picturing them as masculine and mean, just in the business for the rush of bossing people around. With Trooper Keith Leary, I learned they were anything but.

We started by parking on an onramp above I-5.

"We don't hide or set traps. I'm here, visible to anyone who cares to look." However, people would have to be staring in their rear-view mirrors to see us. He brought out the big guns, well, laser gun that squealed every time he aimed it at a passing car.
"I think we got one here," he said as he trained the Star Trek like device on a license plate. Beeeeep. Beeeeep. Beeeeeep. "Yup! 74, let's go!" He tossed the laser gun beside me and stepped on it, floored it, I'm talking petal to the metal. I could feel the G-forces as the V-8 engines roared and revved. Cars flew by in a blur as we zipped down the carpool lane.

"110 miles per hour," Leary said leisurely as he kept the car in his sights. I, on the other hand, was gripping the door handle as my knuckles turned white. We were flying, and damned if I wasn't holding on.

"Don't worry, I'm a driving instructor." That's not going to stop another car from cutting us off and sending us flipping into oncoming traffic, I thought.

"I trust you completely," I said, not letting go, "I've just never been this fast on a freeway a good thing."

He sped right behind the blue Prius, flashed his lights, and blipped the siren with a flick of his fingers. The car pulled over. Trooper Leary put on his hat. By the way, Washington State Troopers have been voted best dressed in the country. Their hats rock. I thought it would be weird if I asked for a picture.

"This is our radio that goes directly to dispatch," he showed me, "If anything happens, push that button."
He went and talked to the Beverly Hills, California driver, who admitted he knew he was speeding, but was doing it anyway. Leary told me the driver wasn't very receptive, and he wrote him a ticket well over $150. My thought was, the dude can probably afford it.

We pulled over several more cars, including a SUV towing a trailer that was wobbling like crazy. It looked like it could split off at any second, so Trooper Leary talked to the man, gave him a warning, and told him to pull off the freeway. With every person we stopped, I could tell the Trooper really cared about safety, and wanted people to think before they act.

"79 miles per hour," he said, pointing at a minivan we promptly sped after. "She's going that fast, and I can see children in the car. What are people thinking when they drive like that!"

He talked to everyone with a smile and a relaxed demeanor, and tried his hardest to get his point across that it's dangerous to speed. He told me that over the 4th of July weekend there will be 30 troopers on the road, so they can pull over DUI's and try to prevent fatalities. These guys are doing their jobs, and they are doing it to save lives.

Later, as I was interviewing the Trooper about another topic, he did something that saved my life, or better, my sanity. A gigantic daddy longlegs spider suddenly appeared at the dashboard in front of me, and speechless, I pointed as it crawled across the buttons.

"What is it?" he said.

"A spider. Please. Put it outside. Now."

I almost didn't want to tell him for fear he'd kill the little bugger, but I couldn't pretend to stay calm any more. He grabbed the dangly thing by one leg, and threw it out the window. I relaxed, and we continued the interview.

"If you get startled by a spider that can also cause you to drive aggressively and swerve in and out of traffic." He said this with a completely straight face, as I chuckled in the background.

It's just another reason why Trooper Leary rocks. Next time we're taking the airplane.