Monday, 6 October 2008

Tacoma, Olympica and a Spanaway in the works

FADE IN

It's dark and pissing it down with rain. I'm on my hands and knees crawling around on the ground in the car park of a fast food restaurant in Spanaway, Washington, illuminated by the headlights of a nearby car. I'm looking for something. I can't find it.

JUMP CUT

Two days later. I'm in the passenger seat of a 1959 Volvo. We are driving up the freeway from Tacoma to Seattle. The rhythm of the windscreen wipers punctures the comfortable silence inside the vehicle. One other detail is obvious to the viewer as the camera pans around the car, focusing on the dated dashboard and gearstick - the driver is wearing pajamas.

FADE OUT - OPENING CREDITS - SONG: TOUCH ME I'M SICK BY MUDHONEY

A lot happened this weekend in between these two moments. I'll tell you about some of it.

I flew from San Francisco to Seattle/Tacoma airport on Friday. When the plane touched down, I saw something that I hadn't seen for six and a half weeks. Rain. And lots of it. The flight on Virgin America was great. It cost just $60 and the in flight entertainment system had an extensive New Order, Nine Inch Nails and REM back catalogue.

Over the weekend I was back in the world of couch surfing. I was staying with Euphoria in Tacoma. Her daughter was away for the weekend so I slept in her room. She had perhaps the most comfortable bed I've ever slept in. Or perhaps it just seemed that way after spending a couple of weeks staying in hostel bunk beds.

Euphoria has lots of great stories and she was a great host. As well as designing top secret things for the government, she is an artist and has many of her paintings in various states of completion hanging around in her lounge. A stray cat and two very cute kittens had latched on to her and returned throughout the weekend for some food and affection. Sadly her own cat was not seen all weekend. I hope he's ok and he's just gone a little adventure, much like myself.

Friday night in Tacoma and there was only one place to go - Bob's Java Jive. The Java Jive was built in the 1920s and it built like a giant teapot. In the 50's it was a speakeasy and in the 80's it provided a hang out for a young Kurt Cobain in his pre-Nirvana days. Now it plays host to a cast of balding former grunge rockers and passing truckers.

Sadly, I was informed by Euphoria that the karaoke equipment had been stolen a few months before, so Tacoma was unable to hear my legendary version of The Clash's Should I Stay Or Should I Go? However, two stoner rock bands were on hand to provide the music for the evening. Work by local artist Teddy Haggerty is around the bar - He also took the photo of us outside. In the pic is Euphoria, her cool friend Joe and his Greek girlfriend Lily, and a guy called Andy who drove me to Seattle.

I loved in there and I even managed to persuade the barman to serve me, though I didn't have any ID.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention... I lost my passport.

Spanaway ballet

I'd never even heard of Spanaway (a suburb of Tacoma) before this weekend, but I was to spend several hours combing its streets for my passport, which may or may not have dropped out of my pocket and out of the door of the car. I came more familiar with the layout and gradients of the car park of a Jack in the Box fast foot restaurant than I ever thought was possible. Legend has it that your brain goes funny if you drink too much of the Spanaway water. I didn't really want to stick around to find out.

After travelling hundreds of miles, I couldn't understand how I could lose my passport inside a car, but that seemed to be what had happened.

My thoughts turned to embassies, consulates and jail. I remembered the man I'd met in Mexico (who I've yet to write about), who was deported, despite being in the army for three years. As someone who regularly gets mistaken for a drug dealer as I do (it's true), it was a sobering thought.

But more pressingly, when 50 year olds are routinely ID'd at bars, how was I going to get a beer?

You may have guessed by the somewhat blazé nature of this post, I managed to find my passport the next day, wedged down a tiny crack in the car. Needless to say I was mighty relieved.

Well I went to School in Olympia...

Olympia is about half an hour from Tacoma by car and all Riot Grrl fans will be pleased to know that to get there you have to go past Sleater-Kinney Boulevard. On Saturday night, the main street hosted lots of little bars with bands playing and stuff going on. Olympia also has it's own beer, which tastes a little like urine, but is about half the price of other ales on offer. And I ate a hot dog with cream cheese, which was surprisingly good.

First stop was Jakes, a gay bar where a person of indiscriminate gender performed a complicated fan dance on the floor and astrology was hotly debated in the smoking area.

And then a couple of bars, my favourite of which being Le Voyeur, a dive bar with a tiny gig room at the back. The first band who played were great. Sadly I have no idea what they were called. A three-piece who would have seemed more at home in South London than Olympia, their raw energy, rasped vocals and ramshackle aggression reminded me of early Libertines. I need to find out their name. The second band featured a man in a red wig, but it was the third act where things got interesting.

Firstly, they were awful. Out of tune and out of time, but with a swagger and an attitude that failed to tally with their musical ineptitude. The singer, who looked about 14, repeatedly wandered into the crowd barging into people and pushing them. Then after about four songs, both the bass and vocals cut out in the space of thirty seconds.

After trying to fix things for a few minutes, the bassist gave up and smashed his instrument to pieces on the stage. He then canvassed the room to see if he could borrow another. Unsurprisingly, as the shards of his bass guitar lay scattered across the stage, he drew a blank.

Then suddenly, A FIGHT! The singer began throwing punches and about eight people piled on for a bundle, directly in front of the drummer who was still sat behind his kit. As fights go, it was one of those which had few punches and lots of rolling around, a bit like in an episode of Bergerac.

A Napoleon Dynamite moment

It was time to leave and there were rumours of two parties in town. A homecoming party and a fancy dress party with a nature theme.

I still don't understand what a homecoming is, or what a homecoming party is all about, but I'm very glad I went, as it was one of the funniest things I'd ever seen.

On the way there we tried to concoct all kinds of stories to get past the door. One unlikely tale involved me posing as a record company scout who was interesting in signing the band. As it was we just walked straight though the door and in. Undetected, but at least ten years older than everyone else in the building.

As it was, the band was just about finishing and a sedate atmosphere prevailed. But then, as the group packed away, disco music filled the room and I witnessed some of the most uncoordinated, spasmodic, unorthodox and energetic dancing I've ever seen in my life.

For some reason this homecoming was filled with geeks. They were wound up and ready to go. And when geeks dance, boy do they DANCE!

The aroma in the air was a heady mix of sweat and acne cream, as skinny boys in glasses, ill advised early attempts at facial hair and tight polyester outfits, gyrated suggestively across the dance floor. The aim was to entice shy looking girls, also of course mainly with glasses, to join them in some Napoleon Dynamite style dancing. The dancefloor became a collage of flailing limbs and light, as the discoballs bounced off the multitude of eyewear that was on the move. It was truly something beautiful.

After stocking up on Olympia beer, we hopped over town to the party. It was held in some kind of student house and it was clear it was in full swing. In the kitchen, I again felt at least ten years older than everyone there. Guys with painted faces and foliage attached to their body sipped poor quality lager and smoked weed, or maybe even smoked their own outfits. My last memory of the evening involves a room full of people dressed as trees dancing to LCD Soundsystem.

It was quite a weekend.

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