… or the time I thought it would be amusing to visit Aberdeen, Washington.
The Scottish Aberdeen has merely two tame nicknames: The Granite City and the Silver City. Its progeny Aberdeen, Washington, is way ahead. For a town of only 16,000, it has a bristle of aliases. There’s The Gateway to the Olympic Peninsula, The Birthplace of Grunge, old nickname The Port of Missing Men, and, my personal favourite, The Hellhole of the Pacific.
I survey public transport to Aberdeen. It involves catching practically an entire fleet’s worth of buses, including, shudder, two Greyhounds. I quail at the thought, but remind myself how amusing a trip to the Hellhole of the Pacific is sure to be. Fighting back memories of the tripped-out hippy sprite who danced up and down the aisle, singing and spouting poetry, during the entirety of my last Greyhound bus trip, and the hefty, odorous gentleman with what seemed to be his life’s possessions in a bin bag in the next seat, I wince and snap up the necessary array of tickets.
Early the next morning I am standing shivering at the Greyhound Station in Bellingham, Washington, when I hear a bus driver protest, with weary heard-this-one-before tones, to an indignant bus passenger,
“Just because a person smells, that’s not a reason to not let them ride.”
A small, smiling woman approaches me and asks if I’m going to Seattle. She is a Quechua Indian from Machu Picchu. She has never heard of Scotland, although asks if it’s near England, so she either has some suspicions of my homeland’s whereabouts or is definitely the kind of woman you’d want on your team when playing high stakes Pin the Tail on the Donkey.
“Is Scotland a Cat Lick country?” she asks. I tell her it’s about half and half, and that we have significant numbers of Muslims, Sikhs and…
“But you are Cat Lick?” she queries, looking at me piercingly. I hesitate.
With her professing ignorance of Scotland’s existence mere minutes ago, I have to assume that she is unaware that people from Glasgow are frequently assailed with the religion question. Even over here, on the hem of the Pacific, the Celtic or Rangers question occasionally rears its ugly head. Usually from the kind of people who happily guzzle drinks called things like Black and Tan and Belfast Car Bomb, with no comprehension of the politics behind their 40% proof.
“Cat Lick?” she insists. “Cat Lick?” I admit that yes, I was brought up Cat Lick. This is obviously the right answer. She gives me a beatific smile, tells me, “I will bless you,” steals my place in the queue and clambers on board.
The driver scowls at everybody, firmly locks the heavy-duty plastic protector between his cab and us, his assumed-to-be-unruly until proven otherwise cargo, and we slide away from the bus bay. I am enormously relieved to have no one particularly pungent adjacent to me. Perhaps the odoriferous would-be passenger was headed north or the potential passenger censor had an especially sensitive snout. I am awash with gratitude at my fellow passengers’ attention to their personal hygiene.
“This is a friendly warning,” announces our driver, Bob, sternly. “No smoking. No alcohol.” The mic sputters off. Bob fumbles it back on. “I said, NO alcohol,” he growls. You can hear the capital letters. It’s 10.36am.
Perhaps after years of taking Greyhound the woman in the seat behind me is immune to offense or perhaps she is hard of hearing. She doesn’t appear to register that the man across the aisle to our right is taking catcalling to a new extreme, staring at her, desperately attempting to attract her attention by beseeching “Psh-shw-shw-shw.” He sounds as if he is trying to lure a willful feline to its doom. We pull out of Bellingham, The Gateway to Alaska. Catwoman digs what feels like her knees, elbows and possibly a pickaxe into the back of my seat and sighs with content. Her admirer gives up, glares out the window and starts humming aggressively.
We chug down the I5 toward Seattle. It’s 10.46. I could really do with a drink.
Clouds wisp through the trees in the pass in a picturesque Cold Mountain kind of way. The rain has finally relented and we lumber through Whatcom County, past Lake Samish. Misty hills are reflected in the water in hopeful morning light. No one’s dancing. No one’s overly pungent. No one’s catcalling. I’m well on my way. I begin to have hope for my trip. I begin to allow myself to think that it might not be pouring in Aberdeen. I’m about to sigh with a soupcon of hopeful content when I am jolted back to my senses. Catwoman has settled her knees even more comfortably into the back of my shoddy bus seat, applying an enthusiastic Heimlich manoeuvre to my lower spine. We turn a corner. The skies frown ahead. Torrential rain and grey murk swallow us once again.