Wednesday, December 9, 2015
Hitchhiking our way across west USA - final part
''A big fan of bourbon, bluegrass and bad jokes'', is how our Couchsurfing host Cody described himself on his profile. I could definitely think of things to say about that in a request! So I wrote a considerate message telling him we were looking for a flexible host in Seattle and it turned out he appreciated it a lot, because after only half an hour we received a firm YES and that was our lucky ride at the same time. No hitchhiking from Portland to Seattle, but a comfortable three hour trip in a car filled with dog hairs, Ukrainian music and conversations about Putin.
Cody and his friend dropped us off at the Public Market, where they sold all kinds of fish, jewelry and other shiny things. It was a very touristic place, but since everyone had told us we had to check it out, we did and it was not that bad. They had small vintage stores, record stores (with a view over the sea, so it was easy to get carried away by daydreaming during the quest for cheap but must-have records) and good food. Of course most of the fish was way too expensive for a hitchhiker's budget, but a small crab chowder would do.
We had prepared ourselves for the cold by buying two jackets, a big sweater, gloves, a hat and a scarf – Lavi wore all in one – but it was still damn cold. My feet were freezing and I was happy to be inside, when we entered the futuristic EMP Museum. I had expected it to be some sort of science fiction museum, which it was, but oh, there was so much more to that! The EMP has two fixed exhibitions dedicated to a few of my all-time favorite artists: Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain. I suddenly remembered they both grew up in Washington State, which meant I was standing on their birth ground! Slightly dramatical, but hey, these people changed pop music forever. They deserve to be honored. And that was exactly EMP's approach, because they had done a great job collecting cool artifacts that once belonged to either Jimi or Kurt. However, it was kind of chaotic and I'm not sure if it was worth the 22 dollars, but it was nice to have a cultural afternoon. When it comes to exhibitions, though, American curators still have lots to learn from European ones.
Meanwhile, it had gotten dark and we decided to delight our hosts – there were two of them, the other one was called Cory, so yes, Cody and Cory – with our presence. They lived pretty far from the center, but man, their house was awesome. Cody and Cory were both in the American army, so once every few years they are stationed on different locations. Cody was kind of nostalgic about his home town Atlanta – ''it's so cold in Seattle'' – but had made quite some friends since he'd moved to Washington State. They took us to a Taco Tuesday night organized by Couchsurfing members, so we met more interesting internationals, drank cocktails and played pool. Cody and Cory both had to wake up early, so they didn't go out with us – not that we really did either, we mostly sang Spice Girls songs in the car – but before they went home, they brought us to this magical place.
Outside of a chocolate factory, about five big containers were located and they were filled with chocolate bars. Free chocolate for all! That night, I ate so much chocolate that I had to throw some of it away because I felt too nauseous. At the moment, I'm fine again, so feel free to send those Sinterklaas presents to San Francisco.
Cody and Cory's house was the most comfortable Couchsurfing place I ever slept in, since they had two private rooms, huge beds with soft pillows and a very luxurious bathroom. It almost felt silly to leave all of that behind to hitchhike in the cold, but we were actually pretty excited and after a coffee and a short stroll around Seattle, we headed off to the highway again. Our spot was a pretty good one, we thought, since many roads came together there and everyone that passed, was going in the direction of Vancouver. Please let someone pick us up and bring us all the way!
That turned out to be a naive thought. We started hitchhiking around 12 and 12 hours later, we still hadn't arrived at our destination. So what happened? For one thing, everyone that took us could only bring us around 30 miles up North. The first people that stopped were a mother and her son, who were on their way to celebrate Thanksgiving with the family. Unfortunately we only got to spend a little time with them, because they were very sweet and caring. They dropped us in a smaller town, where it took ages for us to catch a ride. What was up with these Washington State people? Oregon had been so easy!
The only cool thing about hitchhiking in the cold was that people gave us free food, probably because they felt sorry for us. We received one bag with candy and cookies and a sticker saying ''You too are a child of God'' on it, an entire homemade banana bread and some pumpkin cake and four apples. We might be cold this night, we thought at that point, but we definitely won't be hungry.
Finally, a lady in a van picked us up and brought us close to the Canadian border. She was working as an engineer for some airplane company and she had an interesting music taste, from Taylor Swift to some John Mayer kind of country. She took us to Mount Vernon, where we had to wait for ages again. Feeling frozen to death and frustrated by the people that just passed by, we accepted a ride from a sketchy looking truck driver. Lavi was skeptical, but sitting in a truck had been on my to-do list for ages, so I just had to get in. With the three of us, we sat in the front and we definitely weren't cold anymore. ''Tell me if you're too hot'', he told us. This might sound like real bad pulp literature, but it was actually steaming in there. The guy, however, was really nice. Pat was his name and he drove a tow truck. His job was to pick up broken cars. Not the most exciting way to spend your day, so that's why he occasionally picked up hitchhikers. He brought us to Bellingham and this is a place we will never forget.
For 1,5 hours we were standing in Bellingham, when we decided that we might need to catch the train in order to arrive in Canada the same day. Apparently no one wanted to bring hitchhikers over the border – or Canadians are not that friendly as everyone says they are. We even tried showing our passports to prove that we were no illegal refugees, but It. Did. Not. Work. When a young girl stopped, being thrilled to pick us up - “I've always wanted to pick up hitchhikers! I have to tell my friends!'' - we decided to warm up in her car. She wanted to drive us to the station and was very enthusiastic about her good deeds, but she ended up bringing us even farther from the Amtrak station than where we began. Blame it on our slow Internet and the fact that we were a bit overwhelmed by her happiness. As Lavi wrote afterwards: ''Emily leaves us at the wrong bus station and ends our trip. Sadly for us, she enthusiastic''.
Luckily, we were two grown-up women – though you might not always think so while reading this – and we made it to the station ourselves. Extremely tired and pretty pissed off, I sat down on the ground and started reading my book. Meanwhile, my cold had gotten pretty bad and I was close to being sick. Great, after the poison oak there was another health problem! But well, the Amtrak turned out to be comfortable and around midnight, we finally made it to Vancouver.
Vancouver was definitely one of the most unique cities I've ever visited. Such a big downtown area, with all these fancy buildings and business people, and then all those beautiful mountains surrounding it! We stayed with Geert, a guy I know from the student house I used to live in back in Amsterdam, and he gave us many cool tips. So we walked through Stanley Park, went for drinks in Gastown and saw all the hoboes on Hastings Street. Geert has awesome roommates, from all over the world, who joined us for an improvised vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner and a house party on Friday. On Thursday, we went to Guilt & Co, where I randomly ran into a Dutch guy I knew and had a few too many Gin&Tonics. In the taxi back, I shouted ''Bring me to Haight-Ashbury!'' to the driver. ''That's in San Francisco, darling''. ''I don't care, I need to go to Haight-Ashbury!'' Ah, San Francisco, I guess you've become my home, sweet home.
On Saturday, we were sad. Sad, because our hitchhiking trip was over. Sad, because we had to go back to San Francisco and study our asses off. But mostly sad, because we had to spend 26 hours in a Greyhound bus filled with crazy people. In the morning, we spent our last Canadian dollars at the flea market, where I got hold of ''Cheap Trills'', a record by the Big Brother & The Holding Company with Janis Joplin. Afterwards, we got to the Greyhound station and entered the bus, to leave it a couple of times in tiny snow white cities on the road, and to exit it for good 28 hours later in warm San Francisco. Kerouac once wrote ''Live, travel, adventure, bless and don't be sorry'' and I can't think of a better way to end this hitchhiking series. A memory to cherish from here to eternity!