Everett – Washington

Shoot out at the border.

We spent three nights in Vancouver at a very nice RV Park, but when we got ready to leave yesterday morning, I found out that it was only a couple of miles from the border crossing. “Great,” I told Anne, “We’ll get a late start, I’ll buy gas with the remaining Canadian money, and still be in Seattle by noon.” Since it was early on Wednesday morning, we really didn’t expect much traffic, there was little reason to go eleven miles out of our way to the smaller port of entry on BC15.

Peace Arch
While you’re in line to cross the border at Interstate 5, you get to enjoy this lovely park. Just don’t get out of your car.

As it turns out, BC99 is Interstate 5 after crossing the border, and very few customs stations handle more traffic than this one. It was ten lanes wide with traffic backed up for a quarter of a mile. We were committed now, so I picked a slow lane. It really didn’t matter, because which ever lane we would have chosen, would wind up the slow lane.

After about a half hour, we finally made it to the customs agent (or are they TSA? maybe border patrol . . . whatever), who turned out to be Edwina (Holly Hunter in Raising Arizona). She rattled off the standard questions; Where do you live?, How long were you in Canada, Why did you go to Canada, did you buy anything in Canada, are you carrying any meat or produce with you . . .

“Well, we have some bacon, but we bought that in Montana, and some steaks, which we bought at the Anchorage Costco. We don’t have and citrus.” (I knew that citrus is a very bad thing to have.) “We just have a tomato, a couple of potatoes and an onion.”

Hearing that, Ed’s eyes narrowed and her lips pursed and she filled out an orange slip and slapped it on the windshield. “Follow the yellow arrows to the building over there, then take the form inside along with your passports for further inspection.” We obediently followed the yellow arrows and went inside.

Inside, there was a very long line, which as it turned out, was for the bathrooms. Relieved (in a different kind of way), we entered the main hall and saw a much bigger line snaking its way to a very large counter. Forget what you know about TSA lines, this was worse. There actually were two lines, one said Nexus, Agriculture, Meat. That line was empty, so it couldn’t possibly be the right one. The other line was for everybody else and everybody else was already in that line.

We stood for a moment trying to figure out which line we belonged in, when a sweet young customs woman walked up and asked if she could answer our questions. We explained what Ed had told us and we were just trying to figure out which was the correct line.

“Oh, this is for produce, you’re here to see me, come up to the counter over there.” That was a first, but who was I to argue. We met her at the counter and handed our passports and orange form to her and explained about where we lived, why we went to Canada, how long we were there, where we left the States and did we own the truck and trailer. She slipped a declaration slip across the counter for us to fill out and sign.

“We’ll need to inspect the produce, may I have the keys please?”

“Sure, I show you,” I offered.

“No, you and your wife take a seat on the window sill over there and we’ll call you when we’re ready. Is this the trailer key?”

I explained that it wasn’t and told her where the trailer keys could be found in Fritz. Then we took our place on the window sill, with all the other smugglers.

After what seemed like an hour, but was probably only half that long, she came back in and summoned us to the counter. She showed us a bag of evidence: the remaining beautiful beefsteak tomato and five small Yukon Gold potatoes we bought from Michael in Clinton. “I’ll have to confiscate this produce.”

Anne actually blurted out, “Can I at least have a bite of the tomato?” That didn’t go over very well, and she moved the bag out of reach then bid us a safe trip and handed back our passport and signed orange slip. As we left, she said something curious, “Be sure to check the trailer and lock it.” So, once outside, we did.

It was now noon-thirty; two and a half hours later. We got into Fritz and headed out the exit with our orange get out of jail free card. The gate guard examined it and lifted the barrier. Once again, we were free US Citizens.

We stopped for lunch and then headed for our new camp site. After checking in and parking the trailer, we opened the door. Aah! It looked like two pigs had a cat fight in there. The doors and drawers were all left opened and all of their contents spilled out on the floor. Neither one of us knew how to react. I felt so . . . violated.

We’re spending a couple of days in the Seattle area to restock, regroup and to visit some dear friends living here. After that we’ll be traveling over the Cascades to Yakima, the center of Washington wine country. We could use a bottle or two.


Vancouver – British Columbia

I hate Vancouver, and I love Vancouver.

We’ve been in Vancouver for two consecutive days and at the end of each day, we’ve been caught up in traffic that, in each time lasted over an hour and one half. As I explained in the last post, the jam was due to a freeway construction closure, today there was an accident in the tunnel. As the traffic crawled along (my average miles per hour for the day was 15 mph), Queen Anne found an alternate route on the map.

We took the off ramp and sped away from the caterpillar of cars and within a half mile, caught the end of another caterpillar. The radio announcer updated the traffic report. “Traffic on the 99 is dead slow due to a head on collision in the Massey Tunnel. If you’re in that mess, just stick it out because traffic everywhere else is worse.” Jeez! We were trying to make our way back to camp after having a marvelous day in Vancouver.

It started in the morning when I came back from the camp office and told Anne that the air smells of west coast. It’s a pleasant smell of moist cool air with a hint of ocean. The last couple of days, the mornings are not quite cool enough for a light sweater, and shorts and tee-shirt are perfect in the afternoon.

Trying to figure out a schedule for the day, we came across an online debate comparing the famous Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island, and the gardens at Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver. They’re both stunning rock quarry gardens, but one is open to the public and doesn’t need a ferry ride. So we decided to check it out.

When we got there we found that there was a rather nice restaurant next to the park, and that called for lunch. The restaurant, Seasons at the Park, looked pretty swanky, so when we walked in I asked about a dress code. “We have none.”  Planners built The Seasons on the highest hill in Vancouver and our window table had a view of downtown with the coastal mountains in the distance. Up close, the window overlooked the gardens. It was hard to concentrate on lunch, which by the way, was excellent.

Table Side View From the Seasons
The Seasons is situated on the highest Vancouver hill so the views overlook downtown and the distant coastal range.

Afterwards, we took a leisurely stroll among the flowers and trees. I’ve been to a couple of renown gardens, and I can’t believe this place is free to the public and so immaculate. If you don’t care so much for formal gardens, the Vancouver Botanical Gardens is next door. You could OD on plants in one day, if you had the mind to.

Queen Elizabeth Gardens
The Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver has two quarry gardens for the price of none.

Anne wanted me to see the Gastown District. In 1886, Vancouver, like San Francisco, suffered from a catastrophic fire, which destroyed large sections of the original town. The Gastown was spared of the fire, so  the historic buildings left now hold fashionable stores, sidewalk cafes, boutiques and galleries. All of the things that draw tourists, and they were there in droves. Although the district is about three blocks wide, the good stuff is on Water Street. If you miss it by a block, you’ll find yourself in the mission district, but there’s spill over anyway.

Gastown District of Vancouver
Gastown is Vancouver’s Scottsdale. All the right shops, bars and boutiques . . . and all the tourists.

We walked the sidewalks and came across a crowd hanging around an old brass grandfather-style clock with four faces. I noticed the time was a few minutes before three, so I guessed the crowd was waiting for the clock to chime. While we hung around, I read the clocks plaque. It’s a steam clock! I thought it was a relic of the 1800’s and it’s still working . . . amazing! At the stroke of three, the top whistles began to play the Westminster Quarters. This was way too cool, and to prove it, the crowd applauded as it finished.

Steam Clock
The steam-powered clock in Vancouver’s Gastown.

I’ve learned since then that Raymond Saunders built the clock in 1977 because the city needed to do something about a steam vent on a crowed city sidewalk. The clock is steam-powered, except for an electric motor driving a wheel that controls the chime notes. Wikipedia also mentions that the clock was on Nickelback’s album Here and Now.

After a great day the Queen and I got on the freeway for camp . . .