An evergreen state of mind

Notes from a Pacific Northwest Road trip – Washington State 

When I have a proper school holiday off, I am seldom idle when it comes to travel. I guess you can say I *might* be a little a addicted to travel and never staying in one spot for very long. I love scoring a perfect flight for a good price, the hunt for a hotel in the best place in a city, and the wide-eyed-ness of strolling around in a new place.

I was home in Chicago for about two weeks when I set off on my next trip with my mom. We flew to Seattle, Washington, before starting a road trip that would take us through the heart of Washington state, up to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, then back to Seattle – a week and a half of driving, sight-seeing, and general mischief before I returned to Hong Kong for the next school year.

Of all the flight approaches I have been on in the world, I have to say – Seattle’s was one of the best. Our Southwest Airlines pilot dipped us low enough to skim across the magnificent Cascade Mountains, and it was easy to spy the handsome rock face of Mount Rainier in the distance, as the thing is bloody massive. It felt like we might just skate lightly across the snowy caps.

Mt. Rainier is roughly 14,500 feet high and still a dangerous stratovolcano that could blow its top pretty much whenever – just like its nearby cousin Mount St. Helens did in 1980. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen, because Mt. Rainier is only something like 50 miles south of Seattle … Mt. St. Helens is about 100 miles away, and look at the disaster that big mama caused.

After quite some time trying to get a rental car – and ending up with a Nissan Rogue SUV instead of a sedan-sized vehicle – I attempted to get us out of the airport rental lot. Let’s just say that a) I hadn’t driven since the previous Christmas holiday, b) I’ve only driven small cars, not a soccer mom SUV, and c) I’ve always had to use a key to start a car. I sat in the car for a good ten minutes, cursing my brains out with my mom beside me trying to calm me down, about how they could at least give me the damn keys to the car, etc, etc. Now, keep in mind, we’d already had to find someone to fix the front license plate on the car, as it had been hanging off with only a half-screwed-in bolt on one side, and that had taken a good bit of time.

When I finally realized it was push-button start – damn, you technology! – I thought we could finally be out of that dark garage. No. I had no idea how to really operate the push-button start, and I thought the car was a-go, but it started to roll out of its spot toward the concrete girder across from it, and I couldn’t turn the wheel of the car. Swearing ever more furiously now – mom still beside me, probably wondered where my sailor’s language had been acquired in the last year or so – I slammed on the brake, got out of the driver’s seat, walked a round a bit to release the pent-up frustration, and then hopped back in.

So, two hard pushes later, the engine finally sounded like it was fully alive, and I was able to control the SUV. I’m glad we got “upgraded” on the car just so I could spend a half hour chasing down people to make sure I didn’t get charged for the half-assed license plate (how did nobody see that?) or break the car in half trying to get it started. I am okay telling people of my lack of capability when it comes to cars because, well, it’s funny now in retrospect that I couldn’t just sort it out. I really do have two degrees, one an M.A., but at least when it comes to teaching, I’m covered.

We were finally able to get out of the garage, and, using the GPS we’d brought, we found our motel for the night, which was near the airport. My mom went to check in as I waited in the car, sorting out the important skill of connecting my iPhone to the bluetooth system in the car so I didn’t have to listen to the radio. When she returned, her face was less-than-pleased.

“We don’t have a reservation anymore, do we?” I asked.

“How do you know?”

“I have a feeling.”

“Apparently, the rep on the phone cancelled it altogether after charging me twice.”



“Did any other hotels near here have rooms?”


“Well, I’m going to book through Expedia, and we’ll find something.”

This is what I’ve always trained for when traveling – the “oh, shoot, we don’t actually have your reservation” time. I can do this. It’s not a foreign country where so many barriers might exist to being understood in a dilemma. Internet access is easy. No language barriers. No issues getting a second hotel in a big city, right?

*Twenty minutes later*

“It’s in Tacoma. An hour’s drive. Let’s just go and get out of here.”

The traffic at rush hour in Seattle is not ideal, but from the airport to the motel in Tacoma was not terribly difficult to get to. By the time we pulled in, I was exhausted. We’d been traveling since about eight that morning, and it was now close to six o’clock in the evening..

I get to the front desk this time, and she goes, “Ummm … we don’t have a reservation under that name.”


It’s censored because I know my mom will be reading this. But yes, it did slip – under my breath, though.

“Here’s my license. Please look again,” I asked as politely as possible, passing over my driving license. Just in case.

To be fair, I do have a long last name that most people can’t spell or say correctly. I don’t blame them. I live in Asia where my last name has at least three or four Chinese last names all together. My name doesn’t fit on charge slips when I sign them, so I tend to sign a half-assed version of it. Some people I know draw a picture as their signature. No matter how many times I sign my name properly, the HSBC by me never works, because it thinks it’s Fort Knox. I’ve changed my signature three times in a year, as they always say, “sorry, that’s incorrect”, and now it’s been truncated. I may draw an aggravated emoji next time I have to change it.

Anyway, the front desk clerk does two more checks with my license, but it’s the same, “I don’t have a reservation for your name.”

I bring up the reservation email from Expedia saying, with !!, YOU HAVE RESERVED A ROOM AT …. !! like someone was really excited on the other end of this transaction.

“OH! It’s under Ch….., not Ch………..”

Oh, sweet 8 lb, 6 oz, baby Jesus …

“Well, yes, as you can see, it’s the same surname, but on the app, I have registered under my familiar name, not my full given name. Same name, same customer number, so I’m not sure what the issue is.”

“It’s just not the same name, but here’s your room key.”

When I finally got out to the car, Mom was wondering what had taken me so long. I was so involved in telling the story, that I slammed out of the parking space to pull the car around to the back of the motel, where the room was, not bothering to check anything else.

Suddenly, the car started to make a loud “you’re doing something wrong, idiot!” dinging noise.

I pulled into another parking space and started yelling at it, “NOW WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?!?!?!”

With that, Mom and I both turned around to look at the back of the car, and I realized that, oops, I had left the hatchback trunk door open. It must have been from when I pulled out my purse earlier from the backseat.

We had just left it open, with all our luggage and bags exposed to the world, and driven around the hotel parking lot. On the plus side, at least we could find the pieces, should anything be missing.

Needless to say, we found the closest restaurant for dinner, which happened to be a Denny’s, and I tore a new one into those delicious fluffy pancakes.

See? American diner breakfasts can solve a great many problems.

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