The next stage of my journey began with a shuttle flight up to Seattle. Passing through Powell to get the BART train to the airport, I shared some humour with one of the "homeless people" near the station. He recognised I was a foreigner, and for some reason interpreted my accent as German; I suppose my vowels do sound a bit Germanic. He wanted to know what I was doing over here so I mentioned the purpose of my trip. He was impressed and wished me well. I gave him some change - he was canny enough to say that quarters would do But he chuckled away in his wheelchair and I parted company with him still echoing his well wishes.
The flight was straightforward and gave me a chance to reflect on my short stay in San Francisco. I had really taken to the city, its friendly people, cleanliness and abundance of things to see and do. I had not taken all the usual sights in, but there was no rush since I would have a couple of weeks at the end of this tour to explore it with my son Dan and on my own. The flight ended with a graceful bank over the Puget Sound and the city of Seattle. The city is surrounded by water North, East and West.
I met up with Don at the airport, and after an exchange of pleasantries we headed off towards the insurance outfit he uses, since it was on this side of the city. He explained the city has one hell of a big traffic headache and he wanted to traverse it as few times as possible. As he drove he explained to me the 'rules of the road' over here, which was a useful exercise and could save me a lot of grief and fines.
The insurance aspect of buying a vehicle over here was one big nightmare when I first started delving into it. First of all you need to have a permanent address. Then I started coming across horror stories of having to take an American driving test, and it got worse and worse. Then you need to get the vehicle registered at a totally different location, then get the licence plates and the tabs that go on them to indicate when they run out etc etc. The title of the vehicle takes about 4 - 5 weeks to come through, and it is sent to the permanent U.S. address, which of course I don't have. It was while I was delving into all this mess that I came across Autotourusa.com, which is run by Don Fernandez. He realises there is a niche market here for obtaining vehicles to a customer's specification, he knows the insurance companies that will take on board aliens, and he uses his address as the permanent address. He will also convert the vehicle so that it can be lived in. Basically a one-stop-shop to get you on the road.
First port of call was the insurance place. This was a fairly painless process. I also signed up to the AAA (American equivalent of the AA). As well as the usual roadside assistance, towing etc services, the membership will get me discounts at certain garages, taxis and hotels. They also gave me a wadge of maps for all the States I will be visiting. This was a good investment, I was soon to use AAA.
We then made our way across to Bellevue via the causeway over Washington Lake. Don explained to me that this is the real rich area of town since it has easy access to most facilities. The lake side section is exclusively for the super rich, one example being Bill Gates. Don related to me how Bill Gates had a lakeside mansion here that was very well protected, especially since there was a threat to kidnap his kids. Don's son-in-law had been involved in the development of the Gates' security ring. Basically there are three tiers of security built around the mansion. The Achilles heel of course would be the lake side. That was resolved by having patrol boats loaded with heavily armed chaps motoring continuously up and down along the Gates' water edge, day and night. Now his neighbours, who are also very influential, didn't appreciate this background noise, and had them stopped. This didn't deter our Bill, with a little petty cash he got round the problem by deploying a fleet of submersibles, complete with armed guards of course. So now there is only the sight and sound of periscopes bobbing along the water's edge. This reminded me of the Garden Eels I saw in the Academy of Sciences at San Francisco.
Don had to call in on a friend in Bellevue to give her a lift to the garage where her car was being repaired. She lived in a very small bungalow, with not much land. Don explained to me afterwards that the dwelling would cost in the order of $800k. The small house next door could command $3M. Gulp!
We wended our way up to Bothell to the car dealer with the van, who was awaiting us. At first sight the van had its fair share on dents, scratches, which Don had already told me about a couple of weeks earlier. I gave it the once over, found a few faults, even had to explain some of the faults to the dealer. Don was not a happy chap since the dealer had obviously not done a good check over. They were instructed to sort out the problems, and Don and the dealer would put me up for the night in a hotel at their shared expense.
The hotel was fairly typical. It contained: two double beds, a fridge, microwave, TV, DVD player. Don reckoned this was run of the mill. Starting to unpack my suitcase, I noticed the padlock was missing. Inside was a note from the airport security authority. My suitcase had been singled out for inspection. By now I was past caring and didn't even check to see if anything was missing.
Tomorrow will be another day.