Thursday, August 01, 2013

Blasting Through Washington and Oregon

Oddities on the Seattle Waterfront
Although it isn't news to anyone who knows me, I am a fashion fail.  In part this comes from being both oblivious to many things and colorblind in ways that challenge my clothing selection process...but perhaps my greatest sin is a determined preference to wear socks with my Tevas.  My sense is that this is not completely out of bounds when done with full length jeans, but when wearing my polyblend tan shorts and my red and white hawaiian shirt, they get looks...consistently.  I vacillate in this between complete comfort with the notion that I am a toddering dinosaur in a land of graceful gazelles, and a desire to somehow hide my feet from view.  The idea of fitting in as I travel about has distinct attractions, but there is also a value in being clearly not locally grown.  Of course, folks from back home probably don't appreciate me spreading the notion that my fashion sense is what passes for normal in Minnesota.

Wednesday was a day spent primarily engaging in experiencing the features of the modern world.  I left the hotel in the morning and, after wandering the freeways for a time made my way to the Boeing plant in Everett.  My phone has been failing me since I arrived in Everett.  The rules of the road on I5 and the local streets do not seem to have made it into the map database and I have found myself both at the wrong location and also trying to make turns that were either illegal or physically impossible to execute.  Still, I found myself at the ticket kiosk at the Future of Flight exhibit, coffee in hand, and wandered the gift shop and lobby exhibits while I waited for my tour to begin.  They have quite the process in place for tours, with a pair of tour buses leaving every half hour, each with about fifty people in it.  They buses take you to two separate portions of their production facility, which is an enormous building that houses four separate assembly lines under one roof.  They build the 777, 747, 767 and the new 787 Dreamliner.  It is worth noting that at no time during the tour did they mention or discuss the difficulties they are having with the 787, but they did mention that they are backordered through 2020.

It was a cool tour, and I was particularly interested in the fact that they have arranged to have the 787, which is constructed of composite materials (which means that they fuselage is a series of unified pieces of tubular plastic) which are fabricated overseas.  They make them just like they make a golf club shaft, from strands of composite materials.  They have created a modified 747 called the Dreamlifter whose sole purpose is to transport the fuselage pieces from their manufacturing point to Seattle.  Another notable feature of the tour is that there are glossy colored posters in various places not obviously visible to the tourists which designate the level of appropriate secrecy in each area.  The green areas, which is where we were being taken, were areas that were designated as being off limits for work related discussions.  One final amusement, the bathrooms had assertive signage encouraging visitors to use the air dryers rather than hand towels in an effort to help Boeing be Green.  I found that more than a little ironic.

I left the tour and headed downtown to nose around Seattle a little bit.  I was not interested in spending a lot of time in town, but so many folks are fans of Seattle that I wanted to explore at least a little; so I drove through some neighborhoods just north of downtown and paused to walk around the waterfront area for a bit.  I had a forgettable serving of fried oysters, though the ability of the gal behind the counter to keep track of a gazillion tourists and their orders was entertaining in the extreme, and headed down past the sports stadiums and back to the freeway.  Seattle presents itself, as advertised, as eclectic and earthy.  The neighborhoods that I went through appeared to have a mix of gentrified and ungentrified spaces, and my sense of it was that there was an edge of grunge to the whole thing...which seems appropriate.  It was a very superficial tour, but kept my interest.

The drive down the coast from Seattle, past Portland, and almost to Grant Pass at the south end of Oregon, runs between the range of mountains along the coast, which you can see off to the west, and the range of mountains moving southwest from the east.  By the time you get to Grant Pass they are coming together and the terrain has tightened up into the kind of mountainous winding that characterized most of the trip prior to this.  The drive moved along without much interest, and I passed the time jumping between the various public radio stations that are offered in this area.  I have to correct my remarks about public radio that I made when discussing the CBC in Canada.  Public radio in this part of the US is alive and well.  In fact, I spent a fair amount of time tuned in to Occupy Radio, which probably exists in MN but I haven't encountered it.  The reporting was engaging and sometimes as grassroots as you could want it to be.  I appreciated the politics, though my practical middle class self was sometimes bemused by the hardcore idealism of the station.

After pausing in a small town for a glass of Oregon wine and a few slices of pretty good pizza, I spent the night in a rest area.  It is nice to be back in the states where I understand the boundaries of the interstate enough to be comfortable crashing in a rest area.  Its a super easy and cheap way to get some rest.

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