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Every year, Rich surprises me with a get-away for my birthday. This year, he upped the game, keeping a tight lip until the last possible millisecond.

The weekend started on Friday evening with Rich telling me to pack a light bag for the weekend. We then visited Qdoba, where I had a burrito bowl with flavorful brown rice, tequila chicken, roasted vegetables, and corn salsa. Yum!

Coldstone was our next stop for my favorite: Coffee ice cream, crushed Health bars, almonds, and caramel syrup. It doesn’t get any better!

After arriving in our house in Mount Vernon, our weekend get-away, I took a quick look around the yard, delighting in my emerging peonies, blooming spring bulbs, and other plants, starting to awaken in the warmer weather. I then scurried into the house, plopped on the futon, and l waited for Rich to select that evening “important” TV viewing. We’ve been watching the British series, Happy Valley. Following tradition, Rich and I both snoozed through the program. The older we get, the more Friday nights are for napping with the blaring TV as a lullaby.

Meanwhile, Lolitta (Lynx-point Siamese) and Lila (Angora), who are seasoned car travelers, race down the hallways, excited to be the only cats in the household. Our other four cats, left behind in Kirkland, probably break out the catnip and tuna juice as soon as Lolitta and Lila are loaded in the car. Cats can be catty, and ours are extra bitchy.

Saturday morning, we went to McDonalds’ for our ubiquitous Egg McMuffins and iced coffees. Rich then aimlessly drove around downtown Mount Vernon, while I kidded him that my surprise trip was to camp in our motorhome, parked in the driveway of our Mount Vernon house. Not a word escape from his lips.

He then turned into the Amtrak station, and I screamed, “We’re taking a train. We’re taking a train!!! Are we going north to Canada or south?”

Not a word came from his inscrutable lips.

After a short wait outside the station — because the guard hadn’t shown up that morning to open the stations — we went inside where we struck up a conversation with a man from Canada. The day before he had driven down to attend a Bernie Sanders event. However, his car conked out, and he was trying to get back to Canada since the repairs couldn’t be made on his car until Monday morning.

It should be noted. The Washington caucus coincided with my birthday week. I’d registered to attend, and had looked forward to casting a vote. I made it very clear to Rich that my celebration better be fabulous to miss out on an opportunity to vote for Bernie!

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Riding a train evokes simpler times when people weren’t tethered to electronic devices, and entertainment was watching the passing scenery, reading a book, playing a game of checkers with the person opposite, or busying your hands with knitting or crocheting. Travel took days and not hours. It was a cherished opportunity to get dressed up, sit back, and relax.

Even though most people today start the journey with a smart phone or tablet tucked in their pocket, purse or bag, within a few minutes, stretched out in a wide seat, with plenty of leg room, and no one fussing over the size of their carry-on luggage and where to stash it overhead, they loosen up, talk to the people around them, peek out the window, walk around, or get something to eat from the dining car.

The porters in their perky Pullman caps greet each passenger, collecting tickets, assigning seats, and moving people to make their journey more pleasant. On our way back to Mount Vernon, the porter assigned us two sets of seats. Going to Seattle, we were on the east side of the train, and then switched to the west to watch the sunset as slender-legged herons swooped over the Puget Sound, sea birds bobbed in the water, and an occasional seal popped its head up, perhaps observing the people on the shore, parents with their kids, pet owners with happy dogs frolicking in the water.

Unlike plane travel, people on trains become more amiable as the hours pass. Going to Centralia, we were seated behind a young couple with a young son, and bouncy 2-year girl who kept peered around the seat, stretching out her hand so we could shake or playfully grabbing the sweater off my lap. The family was heading to Kelso, Washington for Easter.

Across from us were two young boys, traveling with their grandmother. Unlike the parents in front of us who pointed out interesting landmarks to their kids, the boys missed the sites, along with the rumbling and swaying of the train. Both were wearing headphones and watching a cartoon on a laptop. When they weren’t tuned-out, they were eating copious amount of store-bought food, dropping the wrappers on the floor.

With numerous stops at cities and towns along the way, it took nearly four hours to reach Centralia, 84 miles south of Seattle.

With a population of less than 17,000, Centralia was founded by George Washington, an African-American free man who was the adopted son of Missourian J. G. Cochran who in 1850 filed a donation land claim on what is now Centralia. Two years later, he sold the town site to Washington who filed a plat for the town of Centerville, offering lots for $10 each.

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The town as officially incorporated as Centralia on February 3, 1886. The largest employer in the area was TransAlta Corporation, which operated the Centralia Coal Mine. In November 2006, they eliminated 600 coal mining jobs. Fortunately, the cuts didn’t impact the town longer-term, and today, has one of the lowest unemployment rates in Washington, bolstered by the opening of a Millard Refrigeration Service facility (temperature-controlled storage, warehousing, and distribution) and Lowe’s Distribution Center, along with the rejuvenation of the downtown area.

Smack dab in the middle of downtown Centralia is the Union Depot, which has undergone extensive restoration and has vintage wooden benches, oak trim, bright white subway tiles, ornate plasterwork, and framed vintage photos. You need a token to use the restrooms, and in my excitement of having arrived, I used my token to enter the men’s room. I quickly realized my mistake, but decided to continue with the matter at hand…

Then I heard a token being deposited into the door. I was relieved when Rich walked in, and not someone else! He guarded the door until I could safely exit, pretending nothing unusual had happened.

Cattycorner to the train station is McMenamin’s Olympic Club. Once considered a “gentleman’s resort” where loggers, miners, gamblers, and miscreants could get a shave, haircut, shoe shine, good meal, Cuban cigar, liquor, game of pool or seat at a poker table. Adding to the allure was opulent mahogany bar and paneling, ceramic-tiled floor, tiffany-style lights, and Belgian crystal glassware. At the adjacent Oxford Hotel, men could partake in the company of working women.

The Club survived prohibition with bootlegger shipping liquor from Canada, and smuggling it in through a tunnel running from the train station to the basement of the club. When the club was renovated by the McMenamin’s, they found a pickle barrel with a hidden compartment.

Today, the Olympic Club consists of a hotel, restaurant, two bars, brewery, movie theater, billiards room, and event venue. For many years, I longed to spend a weekend at the club, and my birthday was the perfect excuse.

Upon arriving, we found a cozy booth in the restaurant for a late lunch. Rich had a McMenamin’s Hammerhead beer with an el diablo sandwich, consisting of grilled chicken, avocado, pepper jack cheese, lettuce, and tomato, on a squish bun with chunky fries. I opted for fresh-pressed apple cider and a scrumptious West African bowl with veggies (squash, onions, peppers), brown rice, and tasty spicy peanut-tomato sauce.

Burp.

We couldn’t check in until 3 p.m. so we wandered the downtown area, darting into the many antique shops, selling everything from fine furniture to 1970’s schlock. I purchased an ornate doily with pink roses for $4 from an Ace Hardware store, which devoted part of its space to selling collectibles!

We also visited the historic library, built in 1912 with a grant from Andrew Carnegie. Between 1883 and 1929, 2,509 libraries were built in the United States with money from Scottish-American businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.

As the afternoon progressed, we returned to the Olympic Club to check into our room. The hotel consists of 27-guestrooms, each with a small sink, bed, night stand, a chair or two, and hooks for hanging clothing. We were in the Lester Weber room, which was conveniently across from one of the communal bathrooms. It was cozy with an extra surprise on the bed, a bottle of sparkling wine, two keepsake champagne flutes, massage oil, and small box of chocolates.

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Also on the bed was plush white robes for trips to the bathroom. Although, it didn’t really matter because it was Easter weekend, and few people were at the hotel.

After dropping off our bags, we trotted back outside for more sightseeing, including watching numerous freight and Amtrak trains zip by, visiting a blown glass studio, and surveying where we wanted to eat dinner.

If you stay at the Olympic Club, admission to the theater is free. We opted to see a 9:40 p.m. showing of Star Wars: Episode VII. To whittle away the time, we returned to the hotel, and popped the cork of the sparkling wine, drinking most of the bottle before we waddled down the street to the O’Blarneys Pub for dinner.

I enjoyed a warm Ruben sandwich, while Rich has pot roast with carrots, garlic mashed potatoes, and dense soda bread. We skipped dessert, and dodged under awnings to avoid the light rain, before dashing across the street to the theater. After settling into two comfortable chairs, Rich ordered cups of coffee to keep us awake during the movie.

McMenamin’s theaters are outfitted with sofas, easy chairs, and small tables so you can enjoy food and libations while watching a flick. Rich’s and my second date was at the McMenamin’s Bagdad Theater and Pub in Portland, OR, after initially meeting at the McMenamin’s Sherwood Pub… following several weeks of corresponding on Matchmaker.com. Our wedding rehearsal dinner was at John Barleycorns, a MeMenamin’s restaurant in Tigard, OR. You can see why McMenamin’s pubs, theaters, and venues hold a special place in our hearts!

We thoroughly enjoyed the Star Wars flicks, and closed our eyes 30 minutes later, with the smells from the restaurant wafting into our room, gently patter of rain, and occasional whistle of a train. Even though ear plugs are provided in the rooms, neither Rich nor I are bothered by the sound of trains. In fact, I told Rich that several trains passed throughout the night, and he didn’t recall hearing any of them!

The next morning was overcast with no rain in sight. We walked two miles to the McDonald’s off Interstate 5. It was an enjoyable jaunt through neighborhoods of older, nicely kept homes, and light industrial. On the way back, after our routine Egg McMuffins and latte’s, we walked through an urban area, which seemed to be shorter.

With it being Easter Sunday, most places were closed; however, after retrieving our bags from the hotel, and checking-out, we meandered to the Station Coffee Bar, one of the coolest coffee houses I’ve ever been in! We’d seen it the day before, and walked in, thinking it was a furniture store.

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Located in a large storefront with two sizable display windows, an expansive area on the lower level, and two second-story spaces, Station Coffee was furnished with gorgeous, black leather sofas, black tables with black-leather upholstered chairs, shorter, stylish coffee tables, and shelves filled with books.

In the display window where we sat – me with a chai, and Rich with a frozen caramel coffee – was a cushy, black sofa with decorative pillows, coffee table, and off to the side was a smallish round table and four high-back stools. Some of the walls were painted deep red, adding to the ambiance.

It was so much fun to sit in one of the display windows and watch the world pass by on the sidewalk outside!

Our tummies made happy with our drinks, we headed back to the Olympic Club Theater to watch an 11:40 showing of Kung Fu Panda III. It was better than expected, but probably more thoroughly enjoyed by the handful of kids in the theater with their parents.

Following the movie, with plenty of time on our hands, and few places open, we wandered through a residential area, watched a coupled of trains pass, and then headed to the grocery store to purchase food for a late lunch, and dinner on the train.

I think our expected appetite was larger than reality because we walked out with two large burritos (we thought they were healthy wraps), cheese sticks, day-old pastries, container of macaroni salad, six hard-boiled eggs, box of Triscuits, oranges, and mango/orange flavored fizzy water.

We definitely had enough food to last us until we arrived at close to 9 p.m. back in Mount Vernon. On the way home, we once again enjoyed the ambiance of the train, ever-changing scenery, and chance to just kick-back and relax.

It was a fabulous, fabulous birthday weekend to remember for a very long time. Thanks Rich and the McMenamin’s Olympic Club!

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