“Recalculating,” the Garmin said, with its lyrical mechanical voice, “turn right onto 23rd Street in twenty feet.”
“I don’t want to turn right, Mrs. C., I want to go to the gas station and get gas and a soda,” Richard said, to the Garmin on his dashboard as he passed 23rd Street.
“Richard, two questions. Why’re you arguing with the Garmin and who is Mrs. C.?” I asked, looking from the Garmin to my husband.
“Because I can. And I named her Mrs. C. in honor of our family members who need to give us directions even when they don’t know where they’re going.”
Laughing, I said, “I guess that covers just about everybody doesn’t it.”
“Recalculating,” the other Mrs. C. said, in agreement.
“Why don’t we turn that thing off until we’re ready to get back on the road?” I asked.
“Sorry Mrs. C. you have to go to sleep now,” Richard said, turning off the Garmin, patting it on top of the screen.
“Do you remember the first time my parents decided to take us on a tour of Seattle’s lesser known tourist attractions?” I asked, laughing.
“You mean the time your mother kept calling her finger Claude and pointing the direction your father was meant to turn?” Richard asked, his large lean frame shaking from suppressed laughter.
* * *
The olive-green Mobile Land Yacht drove north on Interstate 5 toward Seattle. Leaving the freeway it cruised the West Seattle Bridge until it reached Fauntleroy Way, rolling towards Lincoln Park. Turning right on Othello it headed for the Pink Apartments then right onto Lincoln Parkway. It maneuvered to a stop in an open parking space on Murray Avenue.
Three minutes later we heard the knock. Richard opened the door.
“Conrad, Velverlorn, you made great time getting up here,” Richard said, stepping back to let them in. “How was the traffic?”
“Non-existent,” Conrad said, closing the door behind him.
“Where’s Fannie?” Velverlorn asked.
“I’m in the bedroom Mom,” I said, “getting my shoes on.”
My mom walked into the bedroom wearing a gold lamé pant suit with matching sandals and a giant white beaded necklace from the 60’s. She spun around in the doorway like a ballerina.
“So what do you think of my new travel outfit?”
“Wow Mom, that is so you,” I said, with a huge smile, “great outfit.”
“Thank you,” she said, bowing.
“How do you like my hair? Suzy did this special for today’s trip. She sends her hellos by the way.”
“It’s fabulous, it makes you look like a blond Carol Burnett,” I said, smiling.
“You look very, Seattle-ee in your shorts and sandals,” she said, looking a little disappointed.
“Thanks Mom for not saying granola,” I said, laughing.
“Your father and I have a great adventure planned for today, we are going to play tourist in your city. We thought we’d take you and Richard to see the Gum Wall, the Fremont Troll and have lunch near the Ballard Locks since we’re certain you’ve never been there before.”
“I didn’t know you’d been to any of those places,” I said.
“We haven’t,” she said, waving her hand at me, “think of it as an adventure.”
“Sounds great,” I said.
We joined Richard and my father in the living room.
“Dad, I see you have a new outfit as well,” I said, looking from the white patent leather loafers to the sky blue slacks, white belt and blue, and white stripped polo shirt.
Patting the pockets of his pants and nodding his head, my father said, “your mother and I went shopping yesterday just for this occasion.”
“Very snappy,” I said.
I wondered how many white lies do I get to tell in one lifetime before I burn in hell?
“I’ll grab the camera,” Richard said, walking into the bedroom smiling.
The Mobile Land Yacht maneuvered onto the street. Pulling up to the stop sign, the left turn blinker flashing. My mother poked my father.
“Claude,” she said, pointing to the right.
My father’s skill at stifling looks is legendary. He nodded and changed the signal. Turning the Mobile Land Yacht right onto Lincoln Parkway heading to Beach Drive.
Richard and I looked at each other. I shrugged, he nodded, his eyes straying from me to the back of my mother’s head. Rolling my eyes, I leaned forward.
“Mom what just happened?” I asked.
“What do you mean?” she asked, commandeering the rear view mirror to look at me.
“Ah, what was the Claude thing?”
“Oh that,” she said, shaking her head. “Your father and I devised a plan for navigating the city since he always gets lost. Each time he makes a wrong turn, I will point the right way and say ‘Claude’ so he doesn’t mistake my meaning.”
“I see,” I said, leaning back into the seat.
The Mobile Land Yacht cruised around Alki Beach. The morning sun rose behind a large white cloud. Seagulls played tag in the light breeze from the Sound. A group of people set up volley ball nets as we drove passed. Five teenaged boys road skateboards on the bike path heading toward the beach.
Rounding the corner, the West Seattle Bridge came into view. The Mobile Land Yacht turned onto Spokane Street, staying in the left lane heading for the lower bridge.
My mother said, “Claude,” and pointed to the upper bridge.
The Mobile Land Yacht obeyed. Merging onto northbound Highway 99 it joined hundreds of nameless cars. Turning onto Seneca it pulled into the left lane and signaled.
My father said, “Okay everybody, we need to start looking for street parking, keep your eyes open.”
Richard cleared his throat. “Conrad, there’s a paid parking lot we like to use across the street from the Market, why don’t we park there.”
A collective gasp issued from the front seat.
“That’s too expensive,” my mother said.
“It would be our treat,” Richard said, “I insist.”
“Well, if you insist,” my father said, his eyes relaxing a little.
The Mobile Land Yacht nestled in between a Honda and a Toyota. My father patted it on the hood. He said, “made in America”.
“According to my directions, we are looking for Post Alley,” my mother said. “Follow me this way.”
She marched diagonally across the street. We followed.
“Excuse me, can you tell me how to get to Post Alley?” she asked, of the first person she saw.
“Sure, go two blocks that way, turn right and it will be half a block up.”
“Thank you,” she said. Turning to face us she said, “Follow me.”
Richard nudged me, “Should we tell her?”
“Where’s the adventure in that?” I asked, winking at him.
A delivery truck blocked the entrance to Post Alley. Squeezing single file passed the truck we walked four more block up hill. Upscale shops and restaurants dotted the path. Clean walls greeted us on both sides. A lone piece of blackened gum ground into the sidewalk.
“Now that’s funny. According to these directions, its supposed to be on Post Alley,” my mother said. “Conrad, why don’t you ask the shop keeper in there for directions,” she said, pointing.
My father walked up to the store clerk. “Excuse me but can you tell me how to get to the gum wall from here?”
“Gum wall?” the clerk asked looking blank, “I’ve only been in Seattle two weeks and I’ve never heard of it before.”
“Pardon me,” a large middle aged woman with a thick German accent said. “I can help you. Ve just came from ze gum vall. Go back ze way you came. Do you know var Rachel ze Pig ist?”
“I do,” I said, stepping forward.
“Good. Take ze stairs behind ze pig. Go down two levels, cross ze plaza and go down one more set of stairs. You can’t miss it.”
“Got it,” I said, “thank you for your help.”
My mother in the lead, we walked back down the hill, and shimmied passed the truck. Crossing the street we walked into the main market. Joining the single file cue we shuffled the length of the market passing fruit stands, flower vendors and hawkers of crafts ending in front of the fish throwers at Rachel the Pig.
Richard and I veered toward the stair case when we heard, “Claude” above the performance of the fish throwers. We turned in unison. My mother pointed to the stairs to the Sanitary Market. Sharing a quick glance, we followed.
Walking down two flights of stairs my mother stopped at the mezzanine looking for another stair case.
Holding onto the rail she asked a woman walking out of a shop, “Do you know where the gum wall is?”
“Oh sure, the easiest way to get there is to climb up these stairs back into the Public Market and take the stairs behind Rachel the Pig. Go down two flights, go across the mezzanine to the next staircase and it dumps you into Lower Post Alley. You can’t miss it.”
Looking up the stair case my mother shoulders sagged. She said, “thank you.”
When we reached the top of the stair, both of my parents looked a little pink.
Looking at my mother, my father said, “I think we should rest for a few minutes before we tackle the next set of stairs.”
Following the crowd back to the pig we merged into the cue for the staircase. At the bottom of the second flight we walked through a door. On the far side of the plaza a modest stair case nestled into the wall.
The staircase opened to a darkened alley covered in graffiti.
My mother looked uncertain.
“It’s okay mom, the alley opens up in a few feet and there will be plenty of sunlight,” I said.
My mother shot me a look.
“You can tell from all the pictures,” I said, crossing my fingers behind my back.
The loud squeal of brakes broke the silence of the alley. The voices of dozens of children filled the narrow space.
Following the voices, we walked into daylight. Three school buses lined the alley. Several adults doled out gum to outstretched hands.
Laughter, squeals and shrieks echoed down the walls. A few small boys ran by the wall throwing their gum. One piece fell. A girl in a red jumper picked it up and smashed her gum into it. Attaching it to a brick window ledge, she stretched it out to dangle in the breeze.
My mother stood there with her mouth open.
My father reached into his pocket. Slipping Richard and me each a stick of Juicy Fruit, all three of us chewing fast. With my mother still distracted, we snuck up to the wall and left our mark below the window.
After the children filed back onto the buses, Richard snapped a picture of the window.
“Well that was not what I expected,” my mother said, looking pale.
“Velverlorn, why don’t we find a restaurant up top,” my father said, “we can recover from the experience before we move on.”
“That’s probably a good idea,” she said, walking toward the stair case.
* * *
Richard reached across the dashboard and activated the Garmin. “You won’t steer me in the wrong direction now will you Mrs. C.”
“Richard if the Garmin gives out, I’d be happy to resurrect Claude for you,” I said, laughing.
Richard flashed me a look, which virtually propelled nine-inch daggers towards me.
“Recalculating,” Mrs. C. said.