Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Training to Seattle: Best Western Tacoma Dome Hotel -- uh, no thanks.

Today's Amtrak diner is a bit less well-dressed. 
Once you've ridden a train in a third-world (or second world, for that matter) country, you realize that Amtrak could be a lot worse. It's not until one has taken trains in Europe and Japan that one sees how the shabby Amtrak is.

But the Coast Starlight departed from Chemult on time, and Mrs Elliott and I grabbed a table in the observation car so we could watch the scenery as we cruised over the Cascades through some lovely countryside. We had a commentator in the car, a volunteer railfan guy who described the history of the railroad and the area we were passing through. He was exceptionally good at pointing out various geographic and railroad-y features . . . usually right after we passed them.

"On the left will be the longest covered bridge in . . . oh, we just passed it."

The mountains and even the farmland of the valley were pretty, showing early fall colors and that hazy light that I associate with autumn.

We ate meals in the dining car. Those who travel on Amtrak know that the food is so-so though expensive, and tables are shared. I  had your standard burger for lunch, Mrs E had chicken cacciatore, the special. Our two companions at table were Swiss, male, and reserved and expressionless in that way that Swiss men are. They hailed from Zurich, from the Schweizerdeutsch-(Swiss German) speaking part of Switzerland, a city famous worldwide for its banks, its lack of nightlife, and for being really boring.

I've been there, and seeing how this was playing out, I ordered a bottle of red wine for myself.

At dinnertime, I thought to give the baked chicken a try. It was oddly . . . textureless. It was shaped like baked chicken, smelled like baked chicken, looked like baked chicken and had bones like real chicken, but the meat gave no hint that it was originally muscles and sinews; it was instead, a featurelessly even density of meatlike substance wrapped around bones. I ate it, but with a puzzled expression on my face and a vague sense that this bird owed its origins more to the factory than the farm.

I do not recall who we shared a table with that night. Following on the heels of the unsmiling Swiss couple, they would have to have been pretty unremarkable to leave no trace in memory.

The train arrived in Tacoma around 8:30 in the evening, on time.

Mrs Elliott had three appointments in the south sound area over the next two days and so the plan was to get a room in Tacoma for the first night, rent a car in the morning, and visit her clients in Tacoma and Olympia before moving to Seattle, making hotel choices using reviews online. For convenience and price, we picked the Best Western Tacoma Dome for the first night, took a cab there, and found that the hotel was pretty terrible.

The first room we were given was unsuitable. It was noisy, being right next to the elevator, the Coke machine, and the ice machine. The toilet took five minutes to stop running after it was flushed, and the vent in the bathroom emitted a depressing moaning sound. The room felt creepy.

The fellow at the front desk was more irritated than helpful. "Here, try this room, it's the best I can give you." The second room was visually identical to the first, but it was somewhat quieter, being located well away from the noisy hallway machines.

Both rooms had old analog TVs with giant cathode ray picture tubes. It was just like a trip to 1995!

We unpacked then wandered out to do something (I forget what it was now), but when we returned, the cardkey no longer unlocked the door.

I went back to the front desk to get a new card. The same fellow was behind the counter and he didn't look too happy to see me.

"How's your evening going?" I asked while he was programming a new card.

He paused, then smiled sardonically. "I was hoping to study, but I'll never have a chance if I have to keep dealing with this kind of thing."

I could not tell whether "this kind of thing" referred to residents pestering him for new cards, or having to re-program new cards. We heard from someone else that their cards stopped working, too.

In the morning, Mrs Elliott gleefully occupied herself with writing a devastating review of the joint on before we checked out, rented our car, and drove to Olympia and Mrs Elliott met with her client at Evergreen College while I had tea in the student lounge until she finished up.

We drove around the town afterward to get a sense of the area.

Mrs Elliott likes to window shop a lot more than I. Though we have no intention of moving to the area, she wanted to explore the neighborhoods anyway. Downtown Olympia appeared shabby, rough, gritty; the young people were seedy and ratty-looking.

Lodging seemed to be your choice of one very Bates Motel-looking bed and breakfast (the Swantown Inn), a handful of your standard Comfort/Ramada/La Quinta Inns, the Governor Hotel (which receives high marks on places like Tripadvisor,com, but which looks rundown on the outside), and a few other places like a Phoenix sitting all by itself between downtown and the waterfront. We decided to stay at the Red Lion Olympia -- it was in a nice parklike setting with a view of Capitol Lake, but like many conference hotels, it's located nowhere near restaurants that might compete with the establishment's dining room; as a result, the kitchen will be mediocre but the prices high.

Before hotels cheaped out and brought karaoke machines into their lounges, I was in a band in the late '70s that played the PNW motel lounge circuit. We covered pop music hits and played in towns like Yakima, them tri-cities (Pasco, Kennewick, Richland), Corvallis, and others that I have well-forgotten. Five-piece group, guitar, drums, bass, keyboard and the requisite blond chick singer. "Legs Feeny" we were called.

I bring this up because nearly every tune that plays over the ceiling speakers in the Red Lion Olympia's dining room and bar was a tune that we played. Chicago's "Feeling Stronger Every Day," Aretha Franklin's "Until You Come Back To Me,"  lounge essentials like "Car Wash," "Play that Funky Music (White Boy)," your Bee Gees and Fleetwood Mac hits...heck, we had a set list with over 80 popular songs on it. Ballads, dance tunes, the usual pop stuff. We played most of them every night, four or five sets a night, six nights a week. I thought I'd forgotten them, but as late '70s tunes played, one after another, I realized that this hotel apparently had a canonical collection of the era's music, and wasn't afraid to play it. It was a puzzle.

The room was fine, though, large and in the corner so it had one more window than the usual room.

Next: Mrs Elliott finishes with her obligations and we drive to Seattle for touristing. 

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, you wanna stay away from those Worst Westerns.

    When Mrs. Blackdog and I travel we always book hotel rooms in advance rather than taking pot luck when we arrive. But you're more the adventurous type.


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