read various chapters of this autobiography by going to the Individual Stories menu to the right.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Family Vacation in Wallace Idaho

On November 23, 2008 our family embarked on a vacation. It was a unique time -ten months after the birth of our first child, and in the middle of the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression. Some might have chosen to skip a vacation altogether, but we chose to have fun while being mindful of what we spent. We chose to make a trek to Wallace Idaho.

We live in Seattle, and do not own an automobile. We walk to work, to the store, and only use a car occasionally. When we do, we rent a Zipcar. What the heck is a Zipcar? Answer: Usually a Honda, Subaru, or Toyota; parked in our neighborhood, which we can rent anytime, paying per hour or per day. For example, we rent for one hour to make a run for a large load of groceries. For this trip we needed an all-wheel drive car for the winter conditions on the mountain passes, so we chose the Subaru Forrester just two blocks from our home. Our trip was for five days, so we had to contact customer support and make a request for keeping the car that long. They were fast and courteous with a response of yes, and the little wagon was ours for those dates. (booking a car for the more usual few hours of use is much less trouble, just login the site and select a car that is not booked.)

November 23 I got the car packed and the family loaded and we were on the Interstate 90 at 6AM. The first light of dawn came when we ascended Snoqualmie Pass. It was my first interstate road trip driving a car since 1995. I have travelled across the country a few times by train or bus since '95, and thousands of miles by air around the world, but driving has an appeal and beauty all its own, and Interstate 90 is a great highway for it.
Interstate 90 at the Columbia Gorge.

The scene as we approached the Columbia River was surreal. There was a thick fog filling the river valley, which is more like a canyon than valley. Driving past this we proceeded through a geological region known as the Columbia River Plateau, a lava plain known by most as Washington State's only desert landscape. The air was dryer and colder, and I kept commenting to my wife how great it felt. She just grinned warily, knowing I prefer cold, dry, tree-less climates.

We got to Moses Lake before 10AM, and took an exit to have breakfast. Out in a vast desert plain, Moses Lake is one of the largest towns for a stop along the Interstate in this region. In Seattle, we have an almost endless number of nice restaurants. What I am about to say may sound, um, like I don't know much about good restaurants. I think I do know something about good food, and with that proclaim: I love the Moses Lake Denny's. We ordered omelettes served on a hot griddle. I'm not a paid spokesman, I promise, but the hot plate breakfast dish I had ( it was the more spicy of the selections ) totally rocked.

Our experience at this Denny's made me think up a motto: Being on a budget makes you go to average places, and have average things. Its great when this average stuff is great. Enjoy it.

After Moses Lake we did our best re-enactment of Dukes of Hazard, and sped (70MPH) towards Wallace. Our baby's only crying was somewhere between Moses Lake and Ritzville, then slept, like a baby, till our next stop.

Within a few miles of Wallace I began to question whether we had made the right choice. A few of the towns before Wallace seemed really cute, from what I could see driving on the Interstate. Then Wallace appeared. Clouds clinging to the edge of town, mountains rising right from behind the town buildings, and dozens of ornate "story book" brick buildings. I remembered why we came: it stands out as the prettiest small town on I-90.

Our reservation was for five nights at The Ryan Hotel, a circa 1903 miner's residential hotel. Our room was an especially large suite, with a wrap-around couch the size of a 747 airliner. A microwave, refrigerator, and space larger than our apartment in Seattle -all for $38 per night. Note that $38 is the price of the smaller suites, they simply gave us the master suite because it was vacant and we had a baby. The hotel was clean, everything worked, and looked like a movie scene about a ritzy hotel in the Old West. The hotel manager, John, was more like a nice cousin looking after us while visiting his house. He made sure we had everything we needed.

Once we were settled we walked around town. Any point in town was within a ten minute walk, or maybe five minutes. A three floor store, Tabor's Drug, is on the first corner next to The Ryan. We shopped there looking at all the toys. baby clothes, and sourveniors. The ladies at the counter were fun to talk to, interested in us and why we chose Wallace for our trip. We had that same conversation several times around town. Wallace is a "destination", for skiers and mountain bikers because of the ski slopes and huge trail system in the area. But a family simply staying there to see the town, particularly in the tourist offseason of Thanksgiving, was a little unusual.

We may have been some of the first customers ever at the newly revamped "Vintage Games". It is more like a tourist trap than any place in town, but wow, what a cool tourist trap. It has a wireless cafe ( maybe the only one in this region of I-90 ), bookstore, upscale sci-fi and toys store, all kinds of oddities store, and retro game arcade with old pinball machines. They even had a LIFE SIZE TYRANNOSAURUS HEAD for sale. $5000. Briefly, I wanted to stray from our budget constraints to buy this obvious bargain. A once in a lifetime chance to grace our living room with a VW sized dinosaur head.

My wife did not want a dinosaur head for $5000. ( She is a conservative New Englander. )

Later at the hotel we made sandwiches. Being on a budget, wary of spending money during a world financial crisis, we planned to fix our own food for lunch and dinner during the vacation ( when not on the road ). We had stocked up on cold cuts, fruits and milk; even packed our coffee maker. This is not as romantic looking as the marketing photos promoting most vacations, but as Sting sang in the old Police song : When The World Is Running Down, You Make The Best Of What's Still Around. We watched a lot of cable TV while at the hotel, this was a treat for people with no TV or cable at home. I was glued to the 24 hour news when in the hotel room.

We planned to eat out for breakfasts. We ventured out around 9AM and quickly settled on the Brooks Motel Restaurant, which had a sizable crowd already being served. I had eggs, bacon and toast; and our son liked looking at all the new people. He got to crawl around on the floor playing with year old girl. Her family lived in town, the father's home state was the same as mine: Arkansas. We both went on about how we liked the Northwest. There was an elderly man that stopped and talk to us and entertained our baby. He looked every bit the part of old miner -an old tough but jovial man who had lost his wife, telling us stories of his old heirlooms he had stashed in his house, and his kids taking and wearing some of the old jewelry without his permission.

Wallace is not a resort, it is full real people like this. What is nice is it is not a typical working class town either. There is no McDonald's/KFC/Pizza Hut/Wendy's or Burger King, no mall, and no Wal-Mart. There is a Harvest Food (full size grocery store), TrueValue Hardware, and Tabor's Drugstore. The town is thriving with nice restaurants and bars. It is the Silver Mining capital of the world, with businesses and people that really serve that way of life. Think of a thriving Old West mining town in 1920, that is what Wallace does, without any fakery or mock up. It is the real thing.

The Brooks was advertising a Thanksgiving buffet from Noon to 4PM. We decided to go for it. It was our first Thanksgiving as parents, as a real family. A lady I assume is the owner offered to hold and entertain our baby while we ate. When we came back the next day she remembered our son's name.

On our third day in town we toured the Wallace District Mining Museum. They have the semi-famous last traffic light on Interstate 90. Wallace was featured on 20/20 as the town that stood up against the building of an Interstate through it. I-90 had a detour in Wallace, traffic had to exit the interstate and travel through a few city streets and then re-enter I-90 on the other side of town. The museum has that traffic light. Historical note: the Interstate was eventually fully built by building a bridge outside the town, leaving the town untouched by the construction.

I got to jaw with the Museum proprietor about Wallace and how it reminds me of towns in southeast Alaska, along the Inside Passage. Like in SE Alaska, Wallace is hemmed in by topography, not able to sprawl out indefinitely. The mountainsides are right in town, with a few houses built right on the hillsides. The proprietor opined that the land had made a people that are tough, independent, and hard to categorize.

On Friday night I got an early birthday gift -I got to go out to the bars. I started my bar hopping at the 1313 Club. There I was able to test an early run of "Orehouse Amber" from the totally new Wallace Brewing Company. I even got to meet one of the brewery's owners, Chase Sanborn. My taste test put the beer somewhere close to Seattle cult favorite Mack & Jack's African Amber. I stressed to Chase this was a compliment. Beyond the good beer, I got in a really long and indepth chat with locals, including one guy back home for the weekend from Portland, talking about crime on my side of the mountains and how unfortunate that is, and how fortunate the people in Wallace are.
1313 Club. Wallace Idaho

I closed down the 1313, and went on to the slightly rougher Silver Corner Bar and Grille. It was packed. Within minutes a crazy drunk woman knocked a beer bottle over and onto me. Now this was a bar! I eventually got in a conversation with a group that included a Navy man on leave back home, with his wife who had moved here from Dallas Texas. Later I met a brilliant electrical engineer and we talked tech stuff till I finally called it a night.

The next day was more of the same. I visited the little computer store and got to geek out talking about my favorite subject with the owner, then had a huckleberry milkshake at the Red Light Garage. They were closed for a little renovation, but let me in for a milkshake, even pressing me to taste test their micro-brew ( which was good, tasted like Killian's Red ).

That afternoon we decided to pack up and hit the road to beat the Sunday after Thanksgiving traffic. I drove to the entrance ramp on the east side of town, so as to get one more look at Wallace.

For anyone in the Northwest, Wallace is worth a look.

New York Times Photo Essay: Wallace Idaho

The author of this blog also has two books available on Amazon. Athena Techne uses some of the autobiographical content of this blog and adds a philosophical perspective utilizing the ancient Greek god Athena.

Athena Techne :: Page

Autistic Crow Computer is a fiction set in Seattle, about an autistic boy and two crows. The book was written for young autistic readers, although reviews by non-autistics have been positive.

Autistic Crow Computer :: Page

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The birth of North

Below is the entire first chapter of my book Athena Techne

On January 24, 2008 my wife began her first day on leave from work. She was nine months pregnant, and wanted the last days or weeks of pregnancy to be at home, gathering up her strength and thoughts before the big moment of labor began. A bookish, geeky introvert -she was looking forward to a few days alone reading, journaling, knitting and napping.

This loner's paradise was interrupted around 2 PM that day, when she called me and said her water had broke. We were employees at Streambox -a tech company with less than twenty employees, unknown locally, but an Emmy winning technology used by news organizations worldwide. I came downstairs from my hot, loud R&D laboratory and told the CEO and CTO the news. They told me to go, immediately, and someone offered to rush me home.

We live in the inner city, half hour walk from work, and don't need a car. So our drama of the going-into-labor car race to the hospital was different from Hollywood's standard script. We called a taxi. Actually, we packed up our supplies (snacks, clothes, more snacks, and the kitchen sink), went outside, dialed for a taxi from our cell phone, and waited. Patiently.

The stories of a rushed affair during this phase of giving birth are pure fiction, statistically. I enjoyed seeing our neighborhood environs in a new light of meaning; standing there waiting with my life partner and knowing we would return with a new life partner.

The taxicab driver was surprised he was driving a woman in early stages of labor to the hospital. He was supportive in every way. He drove at the legal speed limit, and told his stories about childbirth. It was a great way to get to the hospital in this situation.
Swedish Medical Center. Main Campus. Seattle. 

Upon arrival at the hospital, we were first sent to maternity triage, where they determine whether or not it was a false start, and whether or not to send you home or to a birthing suite. They found there was a rupture of the protective sack around the baby, meaning germs could now travel from the outside world to him. He had to be born before the bad germs caused infection.

Natural processes don't receive orders to do something at a specific point in time, but they can be encouraged to move along. We didn't get sent to a room where a doctor induced labor and out popped a baby. We were instructed our best option was to walk the hallways of the hospital, for about an hour and half, to enlist gravity and working torso muscles to push the baby into a better position for birth.
Us walking the halls of Swedish 

For me, this was another one of those great moments in our lives together. It was kind of surreal romantic -the quiet, sterilized, well decorated hallways with a view of the city; us holding hands and being very much a couple. We walked around an area of the hospital full of offices and seminar rooms, and it was after 5PM, so almost no one was there. At this stage there was little discomfort for my wife, so the walk was truly enjoyable; a walk that had an added dimension to "recreational". We have photos of us on those walks, and it looks like the most romantic date, the kind of date where the couple only knows about each other.

2 PM, January 25th. My wife had been in labor seventeen hours. The doctors have figured out there is an urgent problem: the umbilical cord is wrapped around our son's neck, and he is slowly choking. Another complication: he is very large and not fitting through the passageway. My wife and son were both in dire trouble.

At this point I remember a room full of mostly women. Maybe this was a continuum of an ancient pattern, a pattern repeated across the full spectrum of races and cultures. Women clustered around and in charge of baby having. Maybe so, but these women had something more they bought to the room -professional and intellectual empowerment. They had years of hard science and practical, physical experience delivering babies to inform this moment.

We were at the top hospital for having babies in the Northwest section of the United States. Seven hundred babies a month. World-renowned physicians, teams and programs. I'm not writing a promotional brochure, these things matter in the speeding calculus of the moment when your wife and son might live or die. So it mattered, it registered as important, when they said a doctor renowned for her special ability at surgically altering the birth passageway was on her way to the room. When she entered, the entire room gave her a privileged deference. In hindsight I'd say it was because she's smarter than most and gets it done.

The doctors did the surgical work, and told us we only had the next wave of contractions to get the baby out, and if that didn't work we'd have no choice but try a C-section. The waves came in three pushes. My wife pushed so hard on the first push, then the second, when that failed I felt we were up against a wall of last chance. She began the third push. I looked down and saw the baby's head totally outside her body. He was out and on the clean up table shortly. I still recall almost every second of the next fifteen minutes, especially the first time he ever opened an eye, and looked at his mom. Months after all this my wife and I talked a lot about what happened during North's birth. I came to a realization, and my wife agrees, that if we had done this birth at home, or even been at a less advanced hospital, North would not be alive. Maybe even my wife wouldn't be alive.

At the hospital we had two friends lending their presence and support through a lot of that eighteen hours. They are women with a strong identification with natural childbirth, and "nature is best" in general. I appreciate their friendship, care and support towards my wife. Blunt statement: I am so thankful their values were not in control, I'm so glad our (female) medical science doctors were in control. That childbirth suite had a hierarchy of values, knowledge, wisdom, and practical application far superior, in any respect, to the folkways world of natural childbirth. How can I make such a grand and sweeping assessment of such a complex cross-cultural domain that involves women more than it involves men?

Because my son, and maybe my wife, would be dead -if natural childbirth had been our choice. And in places where natural childbirth is the only choice, there are a lot of men who do not hold their child or wife, because they are dead.

Across a lot of time and cultures (from the white Protestant American Old West, to Muslim Turkey, to Confucian China) there are large swaths of family mores where the men are aloof -taking themselves seriously as businessmen, political leaders or warriors; and offering no deep peer connection with their wives and children. We may never figure out all the causes for this kind of society. But I do think I've figured out one cause for men's aloofness and detachment from their mates: the high death rate for mothers and their babies during childbirth. I am not putting up a stopgap to Feminist's perennial critique of these male-dominant societies; I think Feminists are right in their negative appraisal of many societies. But it makes sense on a certain level: to not become too attached to someone very likely to die through the course of what you both will be doing a lot of; having sex and having kids. Lots of wives and lots of attempts at childbirth are a way to leap over the statistical wall of death that faces those without the aid of medical science.

I'm glad I don't face that stark and cruel world without science, where my deepest and most meaningful bonds to my wife and son would not be encouraged. I like being in love with them.

Love -it's what our modern civilized life affords.
Jenni's first time holding and seeing North

North's first night with us. 

The author of this blog also has two books available on Amazon. Athena Techne uses some of the autobiographical content of this blog and adds a philosophical perspective utilizing the ancient Greek god Athena.

Athena Techne :: Page

Autistic Crow Computer is a fiction set in Seattle, about an autistic boy and two crows. The book was written for young autistic readers, although reviews by non-autistics have been positive.

Autistic Crow Computer :: Page