“Throw strikes, you ape!” Vacationing in Seattle, Washington, relatively close to forty years ago, this is what my brother and I remember hearing when watching a Mariner baseball game in the, now deceased, Kingdome. The inebriated stranger next to us was screaming at the rather large, white, semi talented pitcher, and the drunkard was more entertaining than the game itself. Back then, Mariner baseball was even more abysmal than it can be these days.
Currently residing in Seattle, I often think about vacationing here as a youth. Traveling first class in a car is much different than a plane. Even though you are directly behind the pilot of the car, you don’t get free drinks or hot towels. You do get complimentary second hand smoke and a “shut the hell up” lecture once you hit Seattle’s city limits. With three brothers sitting next to one another, it would get a little cramped, but on the positive side, as the youngest, I wasn’t subject to ridicule as much being so close to the captain’s seat. I’d still get picked on, yet it was quite subtle and delivered with far less profanity. Whispering, my brother Greg might warn, “Wait’ll we get on that ferry, you little snot nosed towhead. Don’t get too close to the railing.” Those threats were futile. According to our itinerary, I’d get to see a major league baseball game before being tossed off a ferry deck into the Puget Sound.
One of our older sisters was also on the trip, but she was allowed a friend as a carry on, so, for the most part, they stayed clear of us brothers. This was fortunate for us, because she’d always keep an annoyingly watchful eye on our rascally asses. Not because she was worried about us being injured or killed, but rather, she loved to rat us out for anything that was even remotely mischievous. She actually received a tremendous thrill out of us getting a masterful tongue thrashing from our father, the head chief of scolding. To her benefit, it must have been difficult constantly dealing with three irritating younger brothers. To my benefit, I wasn’t usually the one on the receiving end of our father’s sharp tongue.
All the seats in the car were accessible to windows so there was plenty to witness on the five hour journey. You could look through the rear window of the car and say goodbye to the city you never wish to see again. I could envision it vanishing like Atlantis. (Sadly, that wish didn’t come true until my mid thirties.) You also have a first class view of the Snoqualmie Pass and the Cascade Mountain Range before dropping you off at Downtown Seattle, home of the Space Needle and a seemingly endless supply of elevators.
It was our annual vacation to the Emerald City, because my father’s best friend lived in Seattle. We loved heading west from Spokane, because we knew we’d be staying at a hotel, eating at some of the finest burger joints, watching a Major League baseball game and even perhaps taking a short trip on a ferry. But, for me, and my brothers, we loved those up and down roller coasters, also known as “elevators”. For grown ups, it seemed their pleasures were eating, drinking and smoking. For us, it was eating, sports, and best of all, elevators.
After arriving in our hotel in Seattle, we had some time to kill before everyone was ready for our first destination. With my sister out of the way, mom and dad gave us permission to roam around the hotel before we were to head to the Seattle Center, just blocks away. Mom needed to get ready, and dad needed to knock back a smokey pack. We were given one hour before we were to return to the lobby to meet them. My two brothers, Tom and Greg and I headed to the elevator where I assumed we were going to drop to the main level and take a look around outside. Greg, however, wanted first to head to the highest floor, exit the elevator, and find a window with a better view of Seattle. He could have been doing this because he knew I was afraid of heights, or perhaps he did want a proper view of this magnificent city. Either way, we managed to find a window, and peer out of it for five or six seconds before returning to the elevator where we could have more fun. We had all ridden an elevator before, but not one with this caliber of speed intriguing us all. This elevator was turbo charged. You didn’t even have time to listen to its classical music before any landing.
Prior to descending to the main level, Greg wanted to hit a few more floors. We’d shoot down to the second floor, get out and find the next elevator going up, and take it all the way to the top. Of course, since there were other people staying at the hotel, we had to stop at other floors for them. This became somewhat entertaining. Greg, the oldest, and best actor amongst the three of us, when others would enter, he’d say in his best twelve year old stuffy butler accent, “What floor, madame?” Or, “To which floor today, Sir?” They’d provide a number and Greg would turn to me, just tall enough where my head would be covering the panel of buttons and give an approving nod, and I would proudly press the proper button as if I was a V.I.E.O. (Very important elevator operator). Tom would stand next to me, eyes peering at the person or people on “our” elevator looking at them as though we just earned some form of tip. All I remember were some friendly smiles, and even some chuckles. Upon exiting the elevator, I would hear Tom mumble, “Cheap bastards”. Greg would also strike up conversations with the people on board. “Might you be heading to the ball game this evening, sir?” Awkwardly, the person may respond with more than a “yes” or “no”. “Actually, I’m just heading to the lobby to find out where we should go for dinner tonight.” Greg would reply with such grace, “Oh, excellent choice, sir.” What a goof.
Of course, we’d end up on the main level on numerous occasions, but we’d just stay on the elevator and perform our duties. Up and down, up and down. I owned that panel, and for once, played a critical role within this threesome. I couldn’t have been happier even if I were to catch a fly ball at the game later that night. This must have gone on for more than an hour, because on our last descent to the main level, after our passengers had exited, our diabolical sister, Maggie, was glaring at us. “What the hell are you guys doing? We’ve been waiting for you, and dad is beginning to get pissed. Dad, they’re right here! They’ve been riding this stupid elevator for the last hour and a half. (It couldn’t have been more than an hour fifteen.) He’s going to send you back to the room and not let you go to the Seattle Center or the game tonight. Ha!”
Dad only put out his cigarette, (glad he wasn’t trying to give those up at the time) rolled his eyes and told us if we did that anymore, he’d kick our asses up between our shoulder blades. He added, “Don’t mess around too much at the Seattle Center.”
When entering the food court to meet my father’s friend, the first thing we noticed was the glass elevator smack dab in the middle of the center. “The Bubbleator”. You must be joking! Where were we? Maggie just shook her head, and while my dad, mom and their friend went to have a beer before lunch, we hopped on “The Bubbleator” like bums on a billfold the second they turned their backs. Ten minutes later, pointing to the stairs,we were asked by staff to get off and not return.
I can just imagine my first grade teacher asking me what I wished to be when I grow up. Fireman? No. Baseball player? No. Elevator Operator? Bingo.