Thursday, June 20, 2013

Fleeing the Southwest Heat for the Beautiful (damp, cold) Northwest

Our decision to escape southern Arizona for the summer was a no-brainer. The temperature hit triple digits on June 1st and there’s no looking back until sometime in September. Waiting for the cooling monsoons is always a frustrating business. Often, you can see the rain over there and over there and over there, but it won’t come over here. Meanwhile the humidity cranks the heat up until you’d swear you were in southern Louisiana. The bugs love the hot weather--the gnats, mosquitoes and cockroaches. A few nights before we left, a spider the size of a compact car decided to spin his web across my closet. I got the broom and unceremoniously sent him to spider heaven. When the rains do come to our area, it is wonderful and refreshing, but then they are gone and the waiting and the sweating begin all over again. So on June 14th, we headed for the northwest and the cool moist air. The drive up to Washington was uneventful. We spent the first night in a cheap little motel in Las Vegas. It was on a street filled with small wedding chapels and various kinds of adult merchandise shops. Did I mention it was cheap. The chapel right next to it did a brisk business. As we pulled into the motel parking lot, a lesbian couple excitedly exited the chapel door and locked lips for what seemed like an eternity. This chapel had a steady stream of couples tying the knot Vegas style and then being whisked away in cabs or stretch limos. We located the Chinatown of Las Vegas, which was within walking distance of our motel. It wasn’t like Chinatowns of other cities, but was a bunch of restaurants and Asian stores in several adjacent strip malls. We entered a small crowded noodle house, where we stood by the door, while a young Chinese woman cleared the dishes and cleaned off the only available table. She put away her cleaning rag, led us to the table and then promptly forgot we were there. We sat waiting to order and watched as several tables of people who came in after us, were served their food. In my hungry, tired and grumpy state, I stood up and told Katie we were leaving. But then the waitress spotted me standing and realized her mistake. She came over and apologized and asked to take our order. I was still locked into my angry “let’s get the hell out of here” mode, intent on leaving. But Katie told me to sit down and we ordered. The noodle soup was delicious and I forgot all about being angry at the waitress. She didn’t get much of a tip though. The Las Vegas temperature was actually cooler than Green Valley by a few degrees, still hot as a sauna though. I always feel a little sad when I pass by people wandering the streets of Las Vegas. Many of them have this look as if life didn’t quite work out the way they’d planned. And the ones around our motel never learned that in the middle of the night you need to use your after hours quiet voices, because there are some older folks in the rooms right above you who are very tired and trying to get some needed and precious sleep before the next day’s grueling drive. Somewhere in northern Nevada, while filling the car with gas, I noticed the Southwest heat was gone, replaced by cool mountain air filled with the scent of pine trees. The motel in Twin Falls, Idaho was much nicer and quieter and had a huge comfortable bed. On our way from Twin Falls to Yakima, we listened to a story on the radio about a 7-11 in Kennewick, Washington that held the record for selling more Slurpees than anywhere else in the world. The radio announcer said that one whole side of the store was devoted to nothing but machines dispensing Slurpees of all flavors. They called it “the wall of Slurpee”. I really wanted see this famous wall and sample some of the unusual flavors, but by the time we got close to Kennewick, we were so tired of riding and it was just enough miles out of our way, that we decided that Slurpee Heaven would have to wait for another day. We pushed on to Yakima. When we arrived and got out of the air-conditioned car, we felt as if we had reentered the southwest. The temperature might not have been as high, but the oppressive humidity made up the difference. Western Washington is like a slice of Alaska in the lower 48. It is the exact opposite of the southern Arizona desert. The trees are thick, tall and green and the air cool and moist. There was still snow on the tops of Cascade Mountains. As we descended Snoqualmie Pass, the sun shone brightly and big friendly clouds drifted in the sky. Katie and I both felt like we were heading home. We’ve been here only a few days, but already I’m reminded of why we moved to the desert. The damp cold seeps right into the old bones. June in Seattle can sometimes feel more like November, especially to someone who just came out of the dry, hot desert. I’m hoping to get used to it in week or two. People around here don’t seem to notice it, but I’m wondering if they notice this odd fellow wandering around in several layers of clothing, while they’re all in T-shirts and shorts.