Nick & Sara’s Tour de West – 09

Sunday, 13 Sep 2009

I’m not a superstitious person. I usually don’t care if I break a mirror, or step on a crack on the sidewalk, or end up with a room on the 13th floor. But Sat, Sept 13, turned out to be a true “Sat-the-13th” I suppose on every trip there has to be one day full of minor annoyances, and this was it for this trip.

It started the night before, when I rolled into Aberdeen, WA, after dark. Aberdeen is a town that is clearly trying hard, but has definitely seen better days.  While I was checking in at a local hotel I inquired about someplace to eat dinner in the area, and was directed to “Billy’s Tavern.” On the map,  Billy’s appeared to be only a 10 or so blocks away, so I figured I’d leave Sara in the parking lot and walk on down.

That’s when I discovered Aberdeen was a town down on its luck.. every other building on the main drag (which also doubled as 101 south) was boarded up and abandoned. It was getting dark, and the cool, gray, evening with occasional spits of rain, did nothing to enhance the mood. To make things even more interesting, some one apparently accomplished a town beautification project at few years ago, that, while they’re intent was probably pretty good – the execution ended up bizarre to me to say the least, and even a bit off-putting. Someone had put life size (well, what I assume to be life-size) “sculptures” of some strange cast of bizarre, mythical creatures, each locked in it’s own cast-iron cage, on every street corner. This strange menagerie culminated in a display where a life size quasi-human head came out of a sewer drain on the street and was hooked by a fishy-looking “fisherman” of equally strange appearance.. the affect was.. disquieting. Especially when it’s getting dark, it’s raining, and you’re wandering hungry in a strange town looking for something to eat.

Anyway, Billy’s Tavern turned out to be a pleasant enough oasis on a grey and dreary evening, and I enjoyed a Yak burger (Yak being the local specialty, apparently) and a microbrew before braving the elements and the semi-deserted main street  to walk back to the hotel again. After falling asleep around 11, I was awakened to what sounded like a party going on next door at around 2 AM – apparently a group of guys on a fishing trip arrived late and were whooping it up next door. After an hour or two of listening to banging doors and “Hey, yo!” calls echoing outside, they finally quieted down and I drifted off to sleep.

After a fitful sleep I awoke around 7:00 to a dreary, grey, day, foggy and with the occasional drizzle of rain.  Taking a shower and dressing for the day I realized I was running out of clean clothes and I  needed to find a laundromat.. since the day wasn’t looking all that good anyway weather-wise, I figured now was as good as anytime, and after a quick breakfast went to look for the local laundromat. It turned out to be right around the corner. Laundromats are always “interesting” places, full of “interesting” characters, and this one was no exception – after doing a couple of quick loads of laundry I headed back with Sara to the hotel to gather up the rest of my belongings and check out. As we’re heading back to the hotel, I notice a self-serve car wash on the way, and since Sara was getting a little grungy inside and out figured this would be a good time to wash her outside and vacuum out the inside. I had my backpack with laptop and camera in the back seat, so before I could vacuum Sara out I put them in the trunk (in the front, in a Porsche), and closed the lid.

With clean clothes and a clean car it’s time to head back to the hotel and check out. Back at the hotel, I repack my bag and pull out my laptop for one more check of the route and what I want to do enroute before checking out.. and when I boot my laptop, I’m greeted with a huge “star” discoloration in the center of the screen – the screen is basically unreadable. Huh? It was fine 20 minutes ago at the laundromat. And it’s definitely a hardware failure – rebooting, changing resolutions, etc, does nothing to make it go away. D*mn. What to do now? I can live without a laptop,  I suppose, but it makes life more difficult. I use it a lot for storing the day’s pictures, as well as looking up places to stay and things to do along the route, as well as keeping budget/expense information up to date.

Hmm.. this is clearly a hardware failure, the laptop is brand-new – less than 2 weeks old. I literally picked it up a day or two before leaving for the trip. I wonder if there’s an Apple Store locally I can bring it in to? If I’m lucky maybe I’ll be able to convince them to swap me for a new one. Checking online (a trick, you kinda have to use the edges of the screen and peer around the big blob in the middle) – I discover there is one, in Portland, OR. Portland is SE of where I am in Aberdeen, so it’s “kind of” on the way.. I can head down 101 for another 50 miles or so, then head inland on Oregon State Highway 26 to the ‘burbs of Portland where the Apple store is located. I make an online appointment for 6:30 that night, and Sara and I are off.

Heading south along the coast, we pass the entrance for Gray’s Harbor Community College – Aberdeen is apparently part of a larger region called Gray’s Harbor. The sign announcing the college proudly proclaims it’s the “home of the Chokers.” Huh? I guess Choker had a different connotation when the team was named.. when I grew up, “choking” was the term used for failing in the face of adversity – i.e. “he choked when the game was on the line.” I can just see the cheers now.. “Choke! Chokers, Choke! Choke!”

A bit further on down the road, the road starts to hug the Pacific Coast in earnest and we come to our first turn off to the beach.. Despite the foreboding weather, I can’t resist a quick peek at the water.. Apparently, I’m not the only one – there’s a number of people beach combing – the beach looks quite nice – a wide, sandy, flat stretch  bordering a decent surf. But it’s hard to see – it’s foggy down here – everyone on the beach is a silhouette – and besides it’s starting to rain in earnest, so I get back in the car and we head on down the road towards Seaside, OR.

Before we get to Seaside, though, we have to cross the wide mouth of the Columbia River and enter Oregon. By the time we get to the Columbia, it’s time for a rest stop and a cup of tea and perhaps a little lunch, as well as time to feed Sara. There’s a town called “Astoria, OR,” right on the Oregon side of the Columbia, so I figure we’ll stop there and feed us both.  As we get on the bridge over to Oregon, however, traffic literally slams to halt. We creep across the bridge at 5-10 MPH, and as we’re approaching the other side, I can look down off the bridge into the main street of Astoria.. The side coming towards the bridge from Astoria is empty – the side coming from the bridge – the side of the road we would be on – is absolutely jam-packed and at a standstill. I don’t know what’s going on, but forget having  lunch in Astoria – luckily, we can turn in the opposite direction and skirt around Astoria, grabbing gas at the next town over.

Route 26 in towards Portland turns out to be a decent, 2 lane highway, going through dense timber and the occasional farm as it winds southeast towards Portland. Of course, it’s Sunday – and apparently, the coast is a popular destination for weekenders from Portland and 26 is one of the key routes back. Traffic gets increasingly busy, and slow, the closer we get to Portland. It’s gets so slow I’m concerned about actually making my 6:30 PM appointment. Luckily, the line of camper vans, winnebagos, and weekend tourists moves just fast enough for me to get to Beaverton, OR mall where the Apple store is about 6 PM.

Checking in at the Apple store, the Apple “Genius” (does anyone else find this term fairly insulting? Come on – this guy’s no genius – he’s a pimply faced 18 year old who probably knows less about computers than I do – but I have to though him nonetheless) takes one look at the laptop screen and informs me “It’s clearly a break in the LCD screen, which doesn’t just happen – I must have dropped something on the screen or physically damaged it in someway, so it’s not covered under warranty. It’ll be $600 to repair it, and it will take a week.

Now, I dropped nothing on the screen – in fact, nothing has touched the screen since I’ve had it. I inform the “genius” of this, but to no avail – “Something must have happened,” he says, “these things doen’t break themselves.”

Indeed.  In the meantime, even if I pony up to repair it, it will take a week, and I’ve have no intention of being Portland in a weeks time. I’m clearly unhappy about the situation, and that is evident enough the store manager walks over to see if she can help. After explaining the situation she offered the following solution – I can buy a new laptop, use it of the rest of my trip, then FedEx back to the Portland store when I’m home. They refund my money, and forego the usual 10% return fee. I can then take my laptop back to the Boulder store where I bought it and see if I can convince them to repair it under warranty.

Well, not the best solution, but at least it gives me an operable laptop for the rest of the trip and I don’t have a lot other choices. So, I’m typing this on a “loaner” laptop I have to FedEx back to the Portland store after I get back to Boulder.

In retrospect, I think I’ve figured out what happened. After doing my laundry, I had stopped at the carwash. When I did, I place my backpack, with closed laptop, a book or two, and my camera in the trunk and closed it. I didn’t have to force the trunk close, and I certainly didn’t close it hard, but my guess is closing the trunk on my backpack had pushed the camera body into the lid of the closed laptop. The lid of the laptop has a plastic “Apple” symbol that lights up when the laptop is in use and opened, and that is actually a cut out in the lid. The break in the screen – the center of the star discoloration on the screen – is clearly directly underneath that plastic Apple symbol Apparently, closing the lid forced the corner of the camera body into that plastic symbol enough to push it into the LCD screen below, and break it.

Grr.. I certainly didn’t do anything I haven’t done with laptops hundreds of times before, and it seems to me that if the screen is so fragile it can be damaged with the laptop closed by carrying it around in a backpack, Apple is going to see a lot of damaged screens.

Ahh well, enough complaining. Tomorrow’s another day, and the sun is forecast to be shining, and the Oregon coastline awaits.