June 23, 2005

Rainy Days and Sunny Ways

By Dan Keston © 2005

Every time I travel, I come face to face with one eternal truth: getting away from your friends, family, dog, job, and the address where the post office sends your bills is great, but no matter how far you go, there is no place, however distant, that enables you to get away from yourself.

Or, more importantly, how you view the world. Which is why I am so shocked when, while eating one of the best Club Sandwiches I have ever had, the 60-year-old host of Noodles and More hands me a fly swatter. The old man handed it to me not because I asked for it; he simply noticed a bee circling my head, eyeing my bacon (which was hickory smoked to perfection may I add), and stopped what he was doing to head out to the porch and kindly say, "I just wanted to make sure that bugger wasn’t ruining your lunch."

This would never happen in Los Angeles. Back home, the hostess would probably be staring at her nails contemplating the many ways she could sleep her way into a bit part on Young and the Restless. Certainly, she would not give a damn about me. However, here in Eatonville, Washington, population 890, the host genuinely surprises me not because he moves mountains but rather because he does not think twice about being nice just for the sake of doing so.

This is not an isolated incident. As I continue my trip from Washington down into the heart of Oregon, I am continually amazed at the pure goodness of the people here. In Willamette wine country, my wife and I are eating dinner when the person at the next table overhears us order a glass of a local wine. He proceeds to get up, walk to our table, and tell us that he is the owner of that vineyard, and he profusely thanks us for ordering a bottle of his Pinot Noir. Then he invites to come take a private tour of his winery the following day, and taste some of the vintages he is already planning for next year.

What the hell is going on here? No offense to anyone, but if I overheard someone ordering my wine the only thing I would do is count my $12.50. I certainly would not invite them into my home and spend two hours showing them around.

So who is the crazy one here? The old man who wanted his customer to enjoy his lunch? The vintner who wanted to show me his appreciation? Or me, the cynic, for thinking they are f-ing nuts simply for being kind?

The answer, of course, is me. Going on vacation makes me realize that I am self-absorbed, self-conscious, insincere, sarcastic, and generally not as nice of a person as I like to think. So what am I going to do about it? Am I going to start being nicer to all the people around me? Start enjoying the little things in life, smell the sweet fragrances of the Washington Evergreens, and learn to relax during my few weeks away from fighting the 405 Freeway?

Hell no! I am going to drink endless cups of the strong, delicious coffee that can be found on every corner in the northwest and spend many hours hiding from these overly friendly freaks in the gargantuan bookstores unique to the cities of Portland and Seattle.

The most extreme of these book monoliths is Powell’s City of Books, the only bookstore so large it can be called a city and nobody would ask why. Powell’s welcomes over 6,000 shoppers each day and has 3,500 sections color-coded for its guests’ browsing pleasure. This store is especially great for me on this overcast Thursday morning, because when I am depressed about my view of the world nothing makes me happier than getting lost in a bookstore so large I am guaranteed to find many, many non-fiction volumes that confirm all of my biggest fears about myself and fictional escapades that offer a glimpse into the depths into which I could plunge should I decide to quit my job and write fiction books. Sure, I could visit the self-help section and read something uplifting like Tony Robbins' "Bring out the Real You in 12-Easy Steps," or Martha Stewart’s "How I Beat Five-O and Still Be Selling Tons of Cookies, Bitch" but if I wanted something uplifting I would go see a movie.

Hmmm…how ironic. In Los Angeles, the land of the movies, our entertainment is warm and fuzzy but we ourselves are totally unpleasant, while in the Pacific Northwest they are sweet as pie but their art comes in much darker forms. At least this is the conclusion I have come to while drinking my coffee and reading the Post-Intelligencer at Starbucks.

Yes, the first Starbucks was opened in Seattle, Washington in 1971 just outside of Pike Place Market. And here I sit, at the mothership, enjoying beans handpicked by penny-a-day migrant workers and paying way too much for a grande. Which, as we all know, is really a small.

Are Seattleites wearing macchiato colored glasses? Or are they as cynical as I? My guess is the latter - they know my coffee is really a small, and this is their way of getting the rest of the world to pay $1.50 for a small cup of coffee while they laugh their way to the bank.

It wouldn't be the first time the world has felt the silent wrath of the Pacific Northwest. Every day at work, I can almost hear them laughing at me as I notice yet another glitch in my Windows for Macintosh program. For those of you that don't work on a Mac, Billy G and his buddies made software just good enough to work so companies would continue to buy their programs, but added enough delays in the functionality that every day its employees would be reminded that they should have bought a PC.

Which further leads me to my conclusion that these people are not, indeed, as nice as I thought they were at first glance. They just want to sell me coffee, wine, and computers. These just seem nice. It’s a big cover up, a scam, a ruse, a ploy.

But then again, they put a lot of effort into that Club Sandwich. And it sure was good.

Dan Keston is a Los Angeles based writer. He has written commercials, sports and movie columns, short stories, and too many checks.

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