Playing tourist in Seattle, with musical accompaniment

The Great Wheel, on the Seattle waterfront. We didn't ride. We just looked

The Great Wheel, on the Seattle waterfront, as seen from our tour boat. We didn’t ride. We just looked

A year ago we were in the middle of our trip to China. This year, with the house under construction, we are staying closer to home, but last week we did venture into Seattle for four days.

Our trip was bookended by two concerts. Wednesday night we saw the Western swing band Asleep at the Wheel at the Triple Door, which our D.C. friends might consider Seattle’s equivalent of the Birchmere, but with better food and better seating. It’s a converted movie theater, so it has a sloped floor, which means all the seats have a good view of the stage. In addition, it has half-moon tables and counters all facing the stage, so no one has to pivot to see. The food is Asian, produced by the Wild Ginger restaurant upstairs, and damn good.

The opening act was a local duo called the Gumbo Twins, which comprised a blind accordion player (“The Sultan of Squeeze”) and a guy who played the guitar and the washboard. They are part of a Seattle Cajun band called File Gumbo. They were several cuts above the usual opening act. It’s not every day you get to hear a washboard solo.

Smith Tower, once the tallest building on the West Coast. Robin's mother worked here just a few years after it opened.

Smith Tower, where Robin’s mother worked when it was the tallest building on the West Coast

once the tallest building on the West Coast

Asleep at the Wheel put on a great show, as they always do. In addition to their usual mix of Bob Wills songs and other standards like “Route 66,” they played a set of three songs by the late Merle Haggard. The personnel has changed some since the last time we saw them, at the Birchmere, but the 6-foot-7 frontman Ray Benson is still a force of nature.

Thursday we became tourists, heading down to the waterfront to take a cruise of the harbor. The day was unusually nice for April in Seattle, so the views were spectacular, though the mountains were not fully visible. Along with all the well-known sights, like the Space Needle and the Great Wheel, we saw a ferry under construction on one of the docks. The ferry’s superstructure was built on Whidbey and recently hauled by barge to Seattle to be joined with the hull. We also saw the Smith Tower, where Robin’s mother worked when it was the tallest building on the West Coast.

A ferry under construction on the Seattle docks. The superstructure was built on Whidbey.

A ferry under construction on the Seattle docks. The superstructure was built on Whidbey.

That evening we had dinner on the waterfront at Elliot’s Oyster House, a Seattle institution. I indulged in oysters on the half shell, and the non-oyster food was also tasty.

Friday we continued to check off our Seattle tourist boxes by hopping on the Monorail for the brief ride to Seattle Center, site of the 1962 World’s Fair. Robin actually attended the fair, but she hadn’t been there since. The Monorail is a deal for us oldsters. The regular round trip fare is $4.50, but we rode for a dollar each way.

Our first stop was Chihuly Garden and Glass, devoted to the work of the Tacoma-born artist Dale Chihuly. Opened in 2012, it contains scores of his works, some displayed indoors and some outdoors in, yes, a garden. They are marvels of construction and the glass-blowing art. You find yourself staring at pieces wondering how he did that or how he even thought of it. Some of the sculptures in the garden almost looked like real plants.

One of Chihuly's glass sculptures that almost looks like a real plant

One of Chihuly’s glass sculptures that almost looks like a real plant

Then it was time for the quintessential Seattle tourist experience, the ride to the top of Space Needle. Robin was not fond of the elevators, which are on the outside. It was another beautiful day, so the views were again spectacular.

Friday night we ate at Wild Ginger, the restaurant that supplies the food for the Triple Door. It’s arguably the best Asian restaurant in Seattle, and it was certainly worth eating their food twice. And of course the restaurant’s menu was more extensive. Delicious food, attentive service, first rate all around. And not high-end expensive.

Saturday we hit Seattle’s biggest tourist mecca: Pike Place Market. It was crowded, of course, but it’s always fun to cruise. Robin got T-shirts for the girls, honey, and morels.

That night was our second concert: Arlo Guthrie’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of “Alice’s Restaurant,” at the 109-year-old Moore Theater. Arlo’s opening act was his daughter, Sarah Lee, who was delightful.

Chihuly glass with the Space Needle looming in the background

Chihuly glass with the Space Needle looming in the background

Arlo’s set started with an animated film of “The Motorcycle Song” featuring the famous pickle. Arlo later said that the film was made years ago but only found recently. He sang many well-known songs, including “Coming Into Los Angeles,” Steve Goodman’s “City of New Orleans,” and the classic “St. James Infirmary Blues.” He also sang a children’s song, “Me and My Goose,” about a pet who ends up on the dinner table. It’s available as a children’s book, which Arlo said he had some difficulty getting published.

When it came time for “Alice’s Restaurant,” they showed scenes from the 1969 movie (which starred Arlo and the real Officer Obie) behind Arlo as he sang. He updated the lyrics a bit because much of the song is about the draft, which no longer exists. After it was over, he quipped, “If I’d known that song was going to be so popular, I would have made it shorter.” He closed the show with a few verses of his father’s “This Land Is Your Land.” It was a terrific evening.

Sunday we headed back to the island. We had a good time in Seattle but were glad to be back where there was little traffic, not so many people, and few sirens.



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