[Short video and full gallery at bottom. Don't skip ahead though! Please?]

Phew. What a whirlwind week. School began. Books were bought, read. A hasty routine forms an outline somewhere in the smoke.

Man, that smoke. Had a headache all week and woke up with a sore throat nearly every day. I closed the windows to keep it out, but the heat remained in its place. It's been a spiritual journey in this sweat lodge, though I can't say I've discovered much besides how stagnant the routine has become. And that mole on my inner thigh. Really should get that checked out.

My attitude is remarkably similar to the one I had as a senior in high school, but instead of only being jaded about high school, I'm jaded about the world. Growing up. Phew. Rough stuff. Wish that frontal lobe would quit wiggling around so much.

So I shake up routine by going. A friend and I made a last minute, poorly executed decision to go to Bainbridge, Washington, his home town this last memorial weekend. I planned on visiting some friends in town for PAX in Seattle, maybe check out some Bumbershoot bands, but otherwise there was no agenda. I ended up experiencing quite a bit, while doing very little.

The journey began like many do: with a metaphor (ugh).

Smoke west of Missoula. Can't see out of the valley.

Smoke filled the sky even into the flats of Washington. It was as strange sight. Dry, open terrain and the sky split in two: grey and blue.

Sprague was our first stop. We ate at a burger joint there, though it took calling Mike a pussy several times to get him patient enough to sit down for more than ten minutes (luv u baby). Our waiter, a sophomore or so in high school, bolted around the small restaurant, refilling coffee and adamantly checking in with the indecisive elderly couple in the back. He settled on a milkshake. A penetrating voice belonging to a cook, female, maybe fifty, told a ghost story to someone out of sight.

The appropriately named "Viking Burger" lived up to its name: two patties, white-collar buns, American Cheese, a secret sauce, and that hometown grease, each brand unique. I felt close to home; the vague Norwegian haze reminded me of Great Falls, grandparents, and wearing a fez. 

Left a big tip.

Wearing the enemy's colors. This was EWU's domain. #sports

We spotted two Subarus with Missoula license plates. Both turned off towards the Gorge to presumably see Dave Matthews. Mike and I had a good laugh.

What to say about the remaining drive? The North West is a staggering place. Go there.

I had never driven in a city of such a magnitude, and considering how anxious I get in two o'clock Missoula traffic, imagine my hesitance to drive a few blocks in Seattle. Our goal was the docks; we needed to get on a ferry and fast. The next wouldn't be leaving for another hour or so. Mike gave me directions and a retrospective.

Bill Gates lives somewhere over there. LEFT LEFT LEFT LEFT NO RIGHT LEFT. 

FUCK. FUCK FUCK.

My buddy and I did X and Y over there.

FUCK I FUCKING HATE THE CITY AHHHHHH-

We made it on time with a fabricated hassle. Only one person had to get out of their car and tell us to get out of the way.

A surreal trip on the ferry, then Mike takes the wheel. It's black out and the tall, dense trees lean in on the narrow roads. My sense of direction is obliterated. Occasionally we enter an intersection and pass a few cars, but other than the intermittent yellow square in the black, I fail to understand how so many people live here. Forty-thousand, if I recall Mike correctly. A bedroom community. This might be the most bizarre place I've ever been.

His house is the 1960's, multi-tiered, adorned with capricious art and the warm clutter of familail living. Mike's father greets us, shows me to my room, then we're off to visit old friends on the nearby Susquamish Indian reservation. 

More of that pitch black, narrow roads with long curves, a bridge, a massive Casino, ninety-degree turns, then a luscious log-cabin. A meet and greet and conversation about folks I'll never know. An old dog waddles through the door and sniffs my calves. The old friends need their catch up and I'm beat from driving, so I get a ride home and sleep, dreaming about people and places I'd rather not.

What was, essentially, the view outside from my room.

Saturday is a blur. Coffee in the morning and circular banana bread. A long talk with Crystal about trees and the royal FOREIGN EXPERIENCE (TM). I remember a walk on the beach, low tide. Small crabs below big rocks and butt-hole sea anemone comparisons. The ferry, a father's office, and the International District. Chicken, rice, and everything nice. There was a lady eating alone at the table next to us, trading glances. Looked like she was in a hurry to get to the bottom of her plate.

My stomach now compliant, we weaved through purple-clad WSU fans to see if we could get into The International 2012, the -hey, whaddayaknow- international tournament for the video game, DOTA 2. Now, I haven't a clue how to play the game. Players control characters with unique attributes and abilities and attempt to rush and destroy the enemy's base. With this in mind, I was able to at least know to cheer when something explody exploded.

Na'vi and IG ended up being the two teams in the championship. IG won it. One-million big ones.

Though not a part of PAX, The International was a perfect example of why the hell it exists. To not feel alone in one's passion is euphoria. I'm no DOTA 2 fan, but for these people to exist in the same physical space was a poignant reminder of the fact that none of us are alone. When the crowd roared, my grin nearly knocked my ears off. Mother fucking video games, man.

Without actual tickets to PAX, we couldn't see the show floor, so instead, Mike and I tried to satiate my father's thirst for evidence of an actual Furry. We failed miserably, the only highlight of the search being the moment a five-foot, spiky haired individual exited the Benihana's and threatened to fight us. We weren't laughing at him to begin, but then he asked if we were, so we did. Our initial claims that, hey, maybe city living isn't so bad, didn't last much longer.

A few friends were in town from the opposite corner of the US. Apparently Florida is very, very flat. Or so I'm told. We walked to their hotel and chatted about the show for a bit, reminiscing too. I miss the old podcast. Mother. Fucking. Video games.

Fatigue hits us. Antony, a former coworker, gets us some passes and we see Jonathan Coulton sing stuff about cake while a group of equally tired people sway their arms off tempo. Giant stage lights, a dude named Wil Wheaton from the TV making something called "jokes" and my knees filling with imaginary liquid. Mike and I beat it, get a drink, and hit the ferry. Notch's party isn't what we need right now. What we need is sleep.

And, oh, did we sleep.

One o'clock the next afternoon, my eyes open. Shin splints and lukewarm coffee served alongside an endless bacon and pancake breakfast, courtesy Crystal. I eat until I fear I might distend. We won't leave the island today. Rather, Mike shows me around Bainbridge. He shows me the forty-five million dollar elementary school, the liquor section in the local Safeway, his high school and its parking-lot/pool appendices, and again, the shore. At which, after an embarrassing taco gorge (again, thank you, Crystal), we get drunk with a friend of Mike's to the panorama of the "most beautiful bus stop in the world", talking about what most twenty-one to twenty-three are concerned with: being twenty-one to twenty-three.

According to Mike's mom, this is the most beautiful bus stop in the world. So far, I agree.

We wake up late, pack our bags, and hit the road. Now I'm home, and the routine returns. I can't simply wipe clean my responsibility, rather, I face the usual unbearable tragedies of living every day: bills, relationships, academics, etc. Oh, woe is me! The trip is the carrot on the stick, the expectation that someday, everything will fall into place, everything will be new, and interesting. All the old ties will dissipate and you will be able to breath again. America. Freedom. Yeeeeehaw! This is what we work for!

It won't work like that though. The nagging aspects of living stick with a person. I'll be paying bills wherever I go, making mistakes with people I care about, and effectively digging myself the same existential trench I want so desperately out of now. I can't help but think Senioritis is life, welcome to it. 

Then I remember the bus stop, the beer, and the temporary escape. The unity and meaning something as stigmatized as a video game can provide. A small town burger served by a young kid with a good attitude. Holy shit, look at that fucking spider. It's huge.

I feel small and relatively powerless, but at least I can drive.

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