Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A whale of a tale....day one

June 26, 2012
Last year, I told Judy that I would take her up to the San Juan Islands this year so that she could see the Orca whales.  It is something that she has wanted to do for quite some time.  My problem was that I was not sure if I would be able to do it.  I have eluded to the fact that I have PTSD in the past.  I know it roots but do not want to go there but just admitting it is hard enough.  It rears it ugly head usually when I am away from home giving me sometimes extreme anxiety along with a overwhelming need to get back to home....to my safe place (I guess).
Our last adventure away did not work out so well, so this one looming in my future began to eat at me in the past weeks.  I recall back when I did not understand my problem that the weeks just before our vacations were hard and I would usually end up at the doctors sometime during that time.  I kind of thought of myself as a freak of sorts because of it.....knowing my problem does help me now, however.
Many times, I looked online at what were considered the best whale watching tours but I would get nervous thinking of having to go out to one of the islands to catch the tour and then what would happen if I got there and was not able to go out on the boat.....we would lose out on the cost and Judy would have her dreams ripped away right in front of her.
So, I changed my plans just a bit.  I knew that our best chance of getting on a boat at the last minute would be on a weekday so I chose a Monday at the end of June.  We would leave for this adventure on a Saturday thus giving us a couple of days on the road that might help me get acclimated to the change.  I felt that if we drove straight there it might be harder and then if I could not make it, then at least we had the drive and time away for her.
Weather seemed to be another possible problem as rain seemed to be in the forecast for the days that were chosen.  It was hard to change those dates as we need to be in town at certain days of the month (especially days that include payroll preparation) so it was decided that we would just take off on the Saturday and decide where we would go along the way.   That alone seemed to lessen the anxiety knowing that we could always just come home at any time.
The first day, we awoke and casually prepared for just a day drive....but with a bit more luggage than normal.  We grabbed breakfast and headed north.  I had been looking online and the center of Washington seemed to be a good place.  I was drawn to the Grand Coulee dam area for some reason.  I guess I figured that from there we could either go west to the whales or east towards the Baker City area or even Idaho.....all of which kept us within a days drive of home if needed.
We stopped in Biggs Junction for gas and a meal.  Judy went in and grabbed a sandwich and we were off.  We crossed the bridge and were talking away as we ate when I suddenly realized something.  We were still right on the Columbia.  The road should have taken us up the hill and north but we were still skirting the river.  A Hwy 14 sign soon showed me that we had turned wrong somewhere.  Shortly up the road, there was a turn north towards a town called Prosser.
I turned on the road and into a small diner to get directions.  I walked into the deserted diner to find all three of it's workers just sitting at the tables engrossed in conversation.  I stood at the door looking at them wondering if this might be the reason that they had no business.  The cook and dishwasher were arguing on some topic so I said hello to the waitress who was just sitting and listening.  She looked up and asked me if she could help me.......lol.  She seemed to know that I was not there for the food.  I asked her if Prosser was a good place to get back on the freeway towards Yakima and she said, "Yes, just go over the hill and you will see the freeway.".  I thanked her and left (noticing that the other two didn't even seem to realize that I had been there.  I wondered just how long the little diner would last or if any of it's occupants were owners.
Sure enough, over the next hill we found the freeway and stopped at the rest stop there to decide our next move.  We took the route towards Yakima and north and decided that we would make the decision of going towards Seattle or on my original route towards Coulee when we got there.  As the fork in our road approached, the signs were clear.....Seattle or Spokane.....one way or the other.  My tires were turned towards Seattle but at the last second something inside said, "Go your planned route" and I quickly turned east.  Judy said later that the move surprised her a bit.
By George, we turned north and headed towards the Grand Coulee dam.  I really hoped that it was as grand as the name stated.  I also began to worry that it would be too far off of the path for a qualified decision on where to go.
As we headed north, we drove by lakes that almost seemed deserted.  One called Soap lake looked pretty but all of the businesses there seemed closed and boarded up.  I only saw one fisherman on it's banks.  The terrain was interesting, however and we spied caves in the rock formations along the road with people exploring them.  We then came upon a place called Dry falls.  It was an interesting canyon that according to the sign at one time was the largest waterfall in the world.  You could see where once upon a time, given enough water flow there was a place where it probably poured over into the canyon below and we wondered how beautiful that might have looked.  Now, it was just pools in the bottom of the canyon.
As we approached Coulee, it did not look so grand and I began to wonder if I had made the right decision or not.  But as we rounded the dam and pulled into the overlook, all my fears were allayed as the vision in front of us was breathtaking.  "Now this is what this drive was all about!", I explained.  We took a few shots and then looked towards the town below.  I spied a small motel with rooms all pointed towards the dam that had it's water pouring out from across it.  The view from those rooms would be stunning.  I drove right past a small motel to the left closer to the dam because it looked as if trees blocked it's view.
As we drove into the parking lot of the desired motel, I began to wonder if we were making the right decision.  The lot was full of bikes and cars and music was blaring from somewhere in the lot as it seemed to be one big party.  We walked into the lobby and got in line to enquire of a room.  I asked for one with a view and the stressed man said "We only have one left....the view is not great.  You can see the dam from a corner of the deck but mainly just parking lot.  The price is $169....your call.".  Taking into effect our surroundings and the party in the parking lot, I made my decision quickly and we headed back to the first motel.
As we pulled into the lot of this much quieter motel, the sign clearly read "No Vacancy" but I went inside anyway hoping for a cancelation or something.  A man was filling out paperwork so that looked promising.  As he finished up, she looked over and me and said, "We have no rooms if that is why you are here.  This man got the last one.".  Seeing my disappointment, the man said, "Sorry guy".  I asked if there were any other places to stay and they both told me of a couple on the back side of the dam.
We drove back to the main part of town and found a small motel that sat up on the hill.  At least it seemed to have a view of the town.  The manager reminded me of an ex employee of the old truck stop.  His toothless grin enhanced his rambling on as if he was on something.  His conversation seemed to jet from side to side and his attention span was almost non existent.  He told us that the TV was out all over town.  It seemed that a large storm had come in just before us and took out the local cable company.  "Do you have internet?", I asked.  "That's gone too", he said as he began to ramble about since he could not watch TV, he was going to get on the internet but could not do that either.  "Now, I have nothing to do", he complained.  I looked at quite a few jobs that could be accomplished around his place but kept my mouth shut and thanked him for the room.
We settled in and decided to get some food.  A small restaurant down the hill was jammed packed so we drove over to the Safeway for a quick deli sandwich.  We stepped up to the counter and while Judy decided what she wanted, I ordered a standard sandwich from the placard above.  The young man at the counter seemed confused as he studdied his instructions in front of him to make the order.  On his left hand was a dirty glove that looked like one used for stocking supplies.  He slipped a plastic glove on his right hand (using the dirty glove) and then one over the top of the dirty glove.  I was shocked.  I watched him struggle as he finished off making the first part of my sandwich and placed it in the oven.
Judy then ordered her sandwich up and he grabbed her bread and threw it on the cutting board that had just previously had a box laying on it.  His partner came up next to him and whispered something in his ear that seemed to be instructions of sorts.  I noticed this other man having the same glove issues and wondered if that was really there policy or not.  Judy's order really seemed to confuse our man and he kept asking the other for advice.  The other guy was busy making stock sandwiches and I heard him say, "Dude, just look at your instructions", as he pushed Judy's bread over with the side of the weigh machine that he was moving.
"Hey, that is my wife's bread", I complained.  The man who had pushed it over just ignored me while our sandwich maker getting even more flustered apologised and said that he would cut more.  I was standing right in front of a sign that read "We make your sandwiches to order in three minutes or they are free!".  It had been quite a few minutes already and he was now just pulling my sandwich out of the oven and trying to figure out what to put on it to finish it off.  I was more angry about their lack of sanitation, tired from my long drive, and frustrated over the motel situation and it all came to a point right then and there.  "Do you see the sign here?" I asked,  "Does that mean that sandwich of mine is now free?  And what of my wives who has now ordered hers and you have not even started?".  "I am sorry", the flustered man said, "It is my first day here".  "And no one has trained you?", I asked.  He just looked at me with a blank look.  "I am not angry at you.", I said, "I am mad at that guy next to you who could be helping you but seems to be ignoring us both.".  "We all have our job descriptions, sir, and the company will not allow us to cross over.  He has to do his work and me mine."  The other man continued to ignore and get in the first guys way.  Judy and I looked at one another with shocked looks.  He had finally finished making my sandwich.  I looked at his dirty glove.....then over to the uncaring other and his equally dirty glove.....and made a snap decision.  "No thank you!", I said, "Keep your sandwich.  We will go somewhere else.".
We drove back past the dam and found another grocery store there with a huge sign on the window that said, "Shop here because we care!".  And off to the side was another sign that read "Deli".  So we walked into the caring store and over to a ramp that took us up to the deli.  No one was there.  All of the cabinets were cleared out.  And all that was left was a small fridge with premade sandwiches that looked days old.  We waited....hoping that someone would arrive but no one came.  I looked back down at the main part of the store.  One of the cashiers looked up at me and then away.  No one was in her register but I felt as if she was thinking, "I wondered why they are up there".  Now this is only 5 or so on a Saturday night.  We purchased some water and string cheese and drove back to the motel.
Judy made us some peanut butter sandwiches and we ate them along with the string cheese while we relaxed on the deck in front of the room.  The room next to us came out and we chatted with them while we watched the sun go down.   They were from the Seattle area and had ridden their bikes over for a weekend getaway.   The grandfather stated, "I don't ride anymore.  But I am the only one in the family with balls.", he quipped as he pointed towards his VW offroad convertable.  Behind it, hanging from the license plate were what he was alluding to......what looked like large scrotum sacks.
I later went down to get some ice.  The manager was drinking beer with a friend outside and I told him my TV just hissed.  "Yea, it is all still down.", he answered.  "Not the internet.", I told him as we had discovered it was up.  "Yee Haw!", he yelled, "We have internet.", and off he bounded inside.
I had heard of the lazer light show on the dam and Judy and I looked it up on the internet.  I tried turning it on but it just flipped and hissed.  The youtube on the light show did not look that great but I decided to check it out anyway and Judy opted to stay home.
I pulled into the packed parking lot just as the show started.  It was quite nice with the lazer lights shining brightly on the falling water.  They even seemed to have a 3d effect at times which was quite stunning.
Then, it hit me....blindsided me.  My knees buckled as the anxiety swept over my body.  I struggled back into my car and left the lot.  I know that I had a few curses thrown my way as my lights shined on them but I needed to get back to my room.
I arrived to find Judy heading to bed.  I said nothing as I did not want to bother her with it.  I took a full pill and crawled into bed, shaking.  With the fan on loud, Judy did not notice and I laid there waiting for the pill to take effect.....wondering if I was going to be able to do this or not.  My mind wanted to just get in the car and drive home but...I knew that was not really possible and I also knew that sooner or later, the pill would take effect.  I imagined myself in one of my favorite places away from home.  I pretended that I was at the beach and I would awake the next morning to the sound of waves.
I awoke sometime in the night to the sound of birds outside our window.  Now relaxed down, I smiled as they reminded me of the birds at the house at home.......and I felt relaxed and safe......and ready for the next day of our adventure.

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