Moving on from bronzed pigs to mad cows

My week of playing tour guide turned out to be a complete delight. Don't tell anyone, but Seattle's most visited sights are still "walk right on" empty when April hasn't yet morphed into the proper touristy months. So all the way from the top of the Space Needle through the depths of the old MOHAI and the soon-to-be filled space wing of The Museum of Flight (those last two are personal faves) - we seemingly had the run of the City. Amidst all that free and/or easy access, I tried to keep my eye on more than a few stories of direct interest to my larger narrative. Such as another case of "mad cow disease" turning up at a truly Orwellian-sounding rendering plant in California. Or how 'bout the U.S. Senate punting on a fix for the Postal Service, leaving the House to possibly play the baddie and shutter vast swaths of this Constitutionally-mandated system? Yup - those both indeed happened. My personal near-term connection to "mad cow" research (its origins and importance) comes from a series of conversations I had at Washington State University while on the road the week before last. Which seems like months ago. Plus the whole U.S. snail mail conundrum fascinates me - how can we rescue and re-purpose a system so essential for an ever shrinking and yet evolving minority? I can think of no other debate on the nation's plate right now that better captures an "urban vs. rural" political dichotomy.

If you share some small measure of the interest in these or other salient issues, check back. I'll surely still be here, from time to time. Not standing near Rachel the Pig @ Pike Place Market - that was last week.

Back to touring, much closer to home

I spent last week scanning the scene throughout parts of Washington and Oregon. Just shy of 1800 miles tallied, which took me from Seattle to northeast WA, along the Columbia River all the way to the OR Coast, on down to the southwestern edge of OR and all the way back home again. I'm being a total tease (just for the time being...I promise) when it comes to the details. The trip helped me mix and strengthen the mental mortar I need for a expansive, not-just-decorative wall o' insights. But this week, I've changed hats and get to play a personal favorite role as tour guide (my parents are visiting from Wisconsin for the first time in a few years). I'm savoring the chance to hit the full Seattle slew of delights - too many of which most local folks don't normally have the time to enjoy. Issues continue to hit my radar. The work goes on. Deadlines are still deadlines. It's worth noting, however, the validation that comes from a straight-up touristy wander when the situation calls for it. You're welcome to join me. Just look for the guy with the big foam finger and Sasquatch costume, pointing up at the Space Needle. Any questions?

Shuffling my roadtrip playlist

For those who might be interested in my Spring Break roadtrip, I cranked through another biggish distance yesterday. I started in Pullman (for those unaware - right up next to the Idaho border) and then drove through the gorgeous undulating hills of that part of Washington on toward Walla Walla. I'll hold my fire when it comes to the DoubleWalla (anyone call it that? I surely want to). Aside from saying the old timey Fort there was the most unintentionally hilarious stop spread over the 900 miles of Washington and Oregon I've thus far covered. It surely goes without saying if you've already seen it, but the Columbia River features jaw dropping sights all along the way. Before darkness fell, the Columbia was my most interesting companion. Aside from Rachel Maddow. The audio version of her clever and well-researched book Drift (which she reads herself) gets my highest recommendation. Along with the atmospheric and multi-faceted new album I kept looping all of Monday - Kill For Love by Chromatics. So as I prep to leave Astoria (my successful targeted location last night and subject of this morning's research), here's hoping I find a suitable accompaniment to today's views along the Oregon Coast. But I'm happy to have batted a big 2 for 2 thus far when it comes to this roadtrip's soundtrack. May we all be so lucky, from time to time.

Sampling a tasty chunk of Washington

I've lived in Washington for long enough to be somewhat sheepish about admitting how many huge swaths of the state I've just never been through. Yesterday gave me the chance to get out there - from west to east with enough north to south to really stir the pot. I beat the snow accumulating at Stevens Pass just as my worries about leaving the chains for the car back in Seattle reached a fever pitch. I saw the fruit trees especially around the vicinity of Wenatchee exploding with blossoms. I took huge visual gulps from the Columbia River, as our paths crossed and crossed again a few times based on my itinerary. I was all alone on the road more often than a car was anywhere within sight. I stopped and asked directions from a dingy convenience store within downstream sight of the Grand Coulee Dam - not really worth the trip, but the locals are fabulous even when you let it slip that you're from Seattle. I actually fueled up and chatted up some of the friendliest people I've met in years all along the way. My northern trajectory peaked well into Stevens County - past the Spokane Indian Reservation, but not yet within spitting distance of British Columbia (not that I would ever do such a thing). Then I backtracked and hit the two-laned glide path through the green fields (alfalfa? jeez, I should know such things...) of eastern Washington all the way down to Pullman. The summary takeaway? A sincerely awestruck double-header - 1. Road trips still connect me with America and I expect to always be romantically yet inexorably tied to that heavy carbon footprinting, and 2. Washington, whether big, hairy and wild or in the smaller town bites, holds its own very ably with any state across the nation in terms of awesomeness. No pollyanna cheese is required to say that. I mean it - drop dead gorgeous and inspired, from the Coast through the mountains to the flattest of flatlands. If you can say that after clocking nearly 500 miles all within the borders of a place, it surely was a good way to kick off a week on the road. There's more of it ahead for me today, but I at least wanted to get that off my chest before I head out to chat up some folks. Rock on.

Pre-road trip nod toward Astoria

As a small part of my upcoming week on the winding roads of the Great Northwest, I'm planning a visit to Astoria, Oregon - the first United States community established on the Pacific Coast. There's tons of history there that's of interest to me. Plus the folks at the Clatsop County Historical Society have been downright folksy and fabulous via email in prep for what I'm expecting will be my too-short visit there. So I'd be remiss if I didn't nod in their general direction today - the 201st Anniversary of Fort Astoria's founding. John Jacob Astor - the town's namesake and original keeper of the checkbook - maybe sounds vaguely familiar. Don't sweat it. Post-Revolutionary War tycoons don't often get the Steve Jobs treatment. Astor was nonetheless fascinating, and a seemingly boundless trove of juicy trivia. Smuggling opium, pushing for exploration throughout vast tracts of North America, buying up tons of what became Manhattan, and so much more on his way to dying in the mid-19th Century with what would be worth of well over $100 Billion in today's money. Even the Astor's footnotes are interesting. Case in point - his great grandson (John Jacob Astor IV) was probably the most famous victim on the Titanic. That's a rather roundabout way to get back to Astoria. Rather fitting, though - given the wacky route I'm planning for next week.

PETA gets shown they're squirrel bait

It would be hard to imagine a more compelling new star than Jennifer Lawrence. I'm not alone in thinking she burst through magnificently during her Oscar-nominated role in "Winter's Bone". She managed to carry an otherwise lethargic "The Hunger Games" (for the record, the pacing is too methodical and Suzanne Collins' trilogy is much better on the page). Lawrence's PR/media circuit appearances are the distinct opposite of dull - David Letterman and "Rolling Stone" got the best of her most recently. So I'm especially surprised that PETA is willing to get rope-a-doped into a cleverness tussle with her. So she skinned a squirrel in "Winter's Bone" and is willing to make a joke about PETA in anticipation of their objection - that's either just smart branding or acting. And I wouldn't put it past her to actually chuckle at all the chuckleheads currently singing her praises on the gun-toting fringe. She's effectively a good Southern gal from Kentucky, no matter how she's spent her time since being discovered at 14-years-old. I suggest that anyone trying to scold her for being brassy remember what sort of persona she's currently toting around like a quiver on her back. To go for the low-hanging joke, she'll surely turn it around and shoot that self-satisfied apple right out of anyone's mouth. And - to run that over-used tagline from "The Hunger Games" even further into the ground - I suspect the odds will always be in her favor on this catfight.

Changing the game

Don't look now, but we've reached the start of another baseball season. At this very moment, the Brewers are getting shelled by the Cards. So some things have carried over from last year, no matter how much has changed in the world otherwise. I've spent the last few weeks focusing on what's just down the road for my book, Pelting Out. Some really good doors have opened, amazing connections within the narrative I'm researching have proven worth the effort to seek them out, and I've scheduled some exciting travel during the next few months. Up next for me is a road trip through parts of the Northwest I've never taken the time to see - expect loads of pictures of those sights (among many other things) to come. Soon thereafter in May and June, I'll be hitting the road again for more than two weeks in both Canada and the northeastern U.S. That's by no means the end of my field research. It merely gets me to where I wanted to be so that I can fill in the bigger pieces of this story. I'm not yet frosting this cake. But I at least have a good idea of what shape it will be. We'll see how it tastes after everything gets mixed in.

I hope it's obvious that I'm extremely excited about lies ahead. It's taken a great deal of will power to hold back some of the compelling stuff that I've found and all the new angles I've learned to use in looking at this very particular slice of life. From here on out, the content on this blog paired with what I offer in other places such as through my Twitter feed might appear to change somewhat. I think you'll see what I mean as it unfolds. Shorter, snappier observations will show up more regularly to start with, followed by more of the grand reveal as we head into the summer and onto fall. Consider yourself forewarned. And thanked - for checking in thus far.