Back from the West Coast

Oliver and I finished up our March school break trip to the west coast last night, arriving home just before midnight on the flight from Montreal.

While I posted some updates from the road, here I’ll sum up some of the highlights, longitudinally rather than chronologically. Think of it as a sort of “best of” listing.

Coffee

Deadstock in Portland was my favourite. Close in spirit and topography to the old ROW 142, the coffee was excellent and the vibe true to its “snob-free” tag line.

I also liked 49th Parallel in Vancouver, Victrola in Seattle, and Blackbird Bakery on Bainbridge Island.

Art

Hands down favourite was Le Montréaler, un homage au New Yorker, mounted in the underground walkway at Trudeau Airport that connects the main terminal to the satellite one. It was lovely to see the ubiquitous HSBC airport ads removed (at least mostly) in favour of a whimsical series of covers for an imagined magazine. Who ever thought that the transit to the barren wasteland of the Trudeau remote terminal could be so pleasant.

Runner up was the collection of art on the walls of Oregon Health Sciences University, a collection described as being “intended to enhance the healing experience for our patients and their families.”

Hotels

I’ve become a fan of Tablet Hotels, a curated hotel booking engine that maps to my aesthetic. We booked our stays at The Burrard in Vancouver and Palihotel in Seattle through Tablet, and the descriptions there matched what was inside the tin.

My favourite hotel, however, was The Society Hotel in Portland, which I booked directly. Located in Old Town, the hotel had a simple, well-designed room with a king bed and a fold-down IKEA sofa and a set of simple plywood and metal accessories. The lobby sported a solid café, and the beautiful, sunny, warm weather meant that we got to enjoy their rooftop deck in a way that a trip a month earlier wouldn’t have allowed. The hotel was convenient to a waterfront park (for walking Ethan), and handy to public transit. I would certainly stay there again.

Honourable mention goes to the Fairmont Vancouver Airport, which will likely be the most per hour I ever spend on a hotel room. But it was worth it to stay at the airport and thus avoid the stress of an earlier wake-up and morning commute (we do everything we can to reduce airport stress). The room was suitably ostentatious, with louvered doors between the bedroom and the bathroom, futuristic controls for the lights, very, very comfortable beds and a stunning view of the runway and Vancouver Island beyond.

Transportation

Awards must go to the Air Canada Special Services Desk at Vancouver Airport, and especially to agent Monica, for getting us checked in and accompanying us to security, clearing a path for us through the chaos. Truly exceptional service (that I’ve been sure to let Air Canada know about). Behind the scenes, Martine at the Air Canada Medical Desk performed miracles in helping rebook us around the Boeing 737 MAX groundings, which was also much-appreciated.

We traveled Amtrak four times: Vancouver-Seattle, Seattle-Portland, Portland-Seattle and Seattle-Vancouver. I love travel by rail, and this was no exception. The highlight was the business class segment we took from Portland to Seattle (business class only because the fare difference was negligible); this afforded us access to the lounge in Portland and slightly more room on the train. Amtrak staff on all segments were universally helpful in getting us set up with seats that would best accommodate Ethan the Dog.

Special Amtrak Award must go to Marty in the Lost & Found office at King Street Station in Seattle who located Oliver’s lost wallet, and tracked him down via his Dog Guides ID card.

The vegan burger sold in the on-board snack bar also deserves a thumbs up; it’s unusual to find non-meat options on trains, and it was a pretty good burger to boot.

Public Transit

We took public transit in all three cities we visited.

The easiest to manage was Portland, mostly because the HOP card was easy to purchase, easy to use, and had a simple $5/day maximum fare. Portland also supported payment with Google Pay via NFC, but this didn’t appear to support multiple passengers, so we didn’t get a chance to try it out.

Seattle’s ORCA card was similarly easy to use, but had a $5 up-front cost, and a more complicated fare structure.

Our experience in Vancouver was limited to the Canada Line, which runs from Vancouver Airport into the city. This was the only system of the three that used fare gates (Portland and Seattle are both honour-based systems), which made it more challenging to navigate with son and dog. But it got us downtown in short order.

Portland and Seattle were both blanketed with Lime and Jump dockless electric bicycles. There was no evidence of any allowance toward accessible bicycles, however, and so we were unable to try these out (this is what happens when active transportation infrastructure is left to an under-regulated free market).

Ethan the Dog

We had no troubles at all taking Ethan the Service Dog everywhere we went; only one person asked if he was a service dog, and nobody ever asked for proof.

The only odd occurrence was a security guard at the OSMI museum in Portland who asked us his breed and then put this out over the radio (for reasons unknown).

Ethan himself was a trooper, putting up with our different schedule, our different time zone, and different times for eating and peeing, with aplomb.

Mental Health

Oliver did exceedingly well at navigating the stressful maze of airport security which, due careful planning, we encountered only in Charlottetown and Vancouver.

As has often happened with similar breakthroughs, leveling up brought some new challenges into focus: without the chaotic aftermath of a complete meltdown to obscure things, we didn’t pay enough attention to the aftershocks of that stressful process, and so Oliver got stressed out during the boarding process more than expected. But we’ve talked about ways of mitigating this in future, and I’m hopeful we can keep traveling without this standing in our way.

When we were passing through the airport in Amsterdam last summer, Oliver used a robotic massage chair to help him calm down after security, and passing through Trudeau airport yesterday he spotted a real live human massager in the international terminal, so, with time to spare, we stopped so that he could have a 10 minute massage, which he really enjoyed. So there’s one strategy right there.

Oliver’s working on a list of things that he finds helpful in airports that he can send out to airports to help make them more accessible to more travelers.

I’ve become better at managing my mental health as a carer, and realizing that it’s stressful to support someone who’s anxious, and that my stress can have the unintended consequence of making things worse, not better. That’s one reason why the Strongest Families program, which we all three went through in 2017, was so helpful: it reinforced that we’re all in this life together, and that we all need strategies for coping.