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The travails of travel Monday, July 13, 2009

A bartender mixes drinks July 11 at Brewery City Pizza Co. in Lacey, Wash. The picture has nothing to do with this blog post.

First of all, let me say that I enjoy traveling. That is to say, I like seeing new places and discovering different cities/states/countries, meeting people from NotHere. As far as I'm concerned, last weekend's trip to Lacey, Wash., barely counts as travel as my hotel was a straight shot up I-5, less than 120 miles from home. However, it proved to be more challenging than one might expect.

I was up there to shoot the 30th annual Seattle-to-Portland Bike Ride, in which 10,000 riders make a 204-mile journey from the Emerald City to the Rose City in their choice of one or two days. Two people have completed all 30 rides. Over the weekend, I saw more bikes than I've ever seen in one place before, and just about every conceivable configuration. Well, I didn't see a penny-farthing, but there were racing bikes, mountain bikes, cruisers, tandems, recumbents and more. There was one three-person tandem. One kid rode by on a skate board. One guy did it on a unicycle. But I digress.

In the Portland area there are only two bridges across the Columbia River, and they are notorious choke points during rush hour. I left home around 6:30 on Friday evening, figuring that the afternoon commute would be well finished. After quick stops at the grocery store and gas station, I entered the freeway around 7.

And just about stopped right there. In spite of the late hour, the freeway was still packed with traffic. Seven miles and 45 minutes later, it finally eased up as I crossed the Columbia. Right after the first exit in Vancouver, Wash., there was a sign warning motorists of "event traffic" about 7 miles ahead.

[left] Ken Leon, Scott Campbell and Bhaskar Amancharla toast after a long day of shooting the Seattle-to-Portland Bike Ride June 11 in Lacey, Wash.

I knew immediately that the sign referred to the Clark County Amphitheater. Built in 2003, the 18,000-seat facility is quite nice but perennially loses money, in large part due to the challenge of getting to the venue. (See this recent Oregonian article for more details on that.) It turns out that my trip to Lacey coincided with a sold-out Coldplay concert. Sure enough, after about seven miles of smooth travel I could see traffic backed up again. I hadn't eaten yet, so I pulled off at the next exit for dinner.

Once I resumed my trip things went smoother, and the remaining 100 miles passed by at about the expected pace. I pulled into my hotel in Lacey (on the outskirts of Olympia) just before 10 p.m., anxious to check in to use the facilities and get some rest before my 5:30 wakeup call.

When I entered the lobby, there were two or three uniformed Marines checking into the hotel so I lined up behind them and admired their close-cut hairstyles. A couple more arrived as I waited. When my turn came I gave my name to the harried-looking clerk, who couldn't find my name on her list. Given my non-conforming hairstyle and lack of uniform I never expected to be confused for a Marine, but when I explained that I wasn't with that group she asked me to wait while she checked in the rest of their group. Fair enough. I stepped aside as she continued to deal with the rest of them.

Meanwhile, men (and a couple of women) in uniform kept piling into the lobby. And I'm stuck waiting. I can't go up to my room because I don't have one yet. So I wait. Some of the Marines aren't on the list. Some of the ones that are on the list aren't here yet, but their roommates are. I check my email with the lobby computer. I read the local newspaper. I watch a bit of the too-loud TV in the lobby. I wait.

Finally, all of the Marines except the man in charge have disappeared, and he's trying to sort out something with the desk clerk. He suggests that she check me in because I've been waiting so long. I give her my name again ... I'm not on her list and asks if I'm supposed to be checking in at the hotel on the other side of the parking lot. I'm not. I explain that I'm with the photography group and perhaps I'm listed under my roommate, whom I've never met and has a long, unusual Indian name that I can't remember. And I left those details in the car.

So I run out to the car, grab the information package and return to the desk where she's working with the Marine guy again. Once they finish, I give her the name of my roommate, she looks him up and says that it doesn't have my name there. So she calls him and hands me the phone. Sensibly, he was asleep.

"Uh, hi, I'm Matthew ... I guess I'm supposed to be your roommate this weekend."

"If you say so."

"Well, I guess the desk clerk doesn't have my name, so she phoned you for me."

"Uh, ok."

"Um, yeah."

I handed the receiver back to the clerk who hung it up without speaking to Bhaskar. She gave me a key, and finally my journey was over. First seven miles, 45 minutes. Last seven yards, 35 minutes. Ugh.

Ken Leon lines up a shot at O'Blarney's Irish Pub in Lacey, Wash.