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Spokane Thru Seattle, a Pensioner's Snowy Misadventures

Brian retired from bookselling in 2004. Since his wife and he parted in 2018, he's rented a bedroom in a niece's house on Bainbridge Island.

Snow, ice, and shortsightedness got me into dire predicaments, and kind strangers helped me—showing that Good Samaritans keep us humans going on the road of life.

A Seattle - Bainbridge Island ferry crossing Puget Sound at sunset

A Seattle - Bainbridge Island ferry crossing Puget Sound at sunset

Last year, I spent a week, December 22 to 28, at the Spokane Valley home of a longtime friend, Natasha, her two teenage sons, and her second husband, Albert¹. Aside from being hours late departing and consequentially being delayed in bumper-to-bumper traffic by the start of a snow storm as we crossed Snoqualmie Pass on Interstate 90 in the Cascade Mountains, the 279-mile Seattle to Spokane Greyhound bus trip was pleasant and uneventful. My Christmastime visit was low-key, the most exciting activity being playing Scrabble.

A Surprising Change of Plans

I had a return ticket to take a December 28, 11:05 AM Spokane to Seattle bus. Al put my packed suitcase and knapsack in their car when it was close to time to drive me to the bus station. (I didn't do that task myself because on my way back from a week-long stay at an AirBnb in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in October to see my ex wife and other Kalamazoo friends, an incident when I tossed my knapsack up the steps of a South Shore Line commuter train to Chicago wrenched my right shoulder. I learned eventually that that tore the two back muscles of my rotator cuff. My injured shoulder ached but not too badly. I was getting by with mostly just my left hand and arm.) I had my coat on and was saying my good-byes when I received a voicemail from a Greyhound clerk informing me that the 11:05 AM trip had been canceled because Interstate 90 at Snoqualmie Pass was closed because of hazardous wintry driving conditions. If by then the pass was open to I-90 traffic, a substitute bus would depart from Spokane at 6 PM, and I could take it using my 11:05 AM ticket if I wished.

I realized and expressed to Al and Natasha that a bus leaving Spokane for Seattle at 6 PM might not arrive in time for me to catch the last ferry of the day to Bainbridge Island—and for sure it would arrive too late if anything delayed it even a little.

Natasha researched alternative options and learned that there were no seats available that day and for several days on any bus, train, or plane from Spokane to Seattle. A lot of Americans had cabin fever from the COVID-19 pandemic and were traveling. The Omicron variant was just starting to spread in Washington state.

The family was starting to get back into the routines of home life without a guest in the house, and my continued presence was a problem. The anxiety in Natasha's and Albert's voices told me that the possibility of my being stuck in their house for additional days was disconcerting. We all agreed to do our best to get me on that 6 PM bus. We hoped it didn't also get canceled.

Natasha went online to reserve me a downtown Seattle hotel room. They wouldn't take my credit card information from Natasha. She ran out of time to work on that problem right then, and she assured me that she would reserve me a hotel room before I arrived in Seattle.

We each fixed and ate lunch, and we did more chatting, and soon it was time for Al and Natasha to give me a ride to the Spokane Greyhound bus station. Before we got in the car, Al went online and confirmed that I-90 at Snoqualmie Pass had been reopened to traffic.

Outside of the bus station, Al and Natasha hugged me goodbye, and I went in and waited, anti-virus mask on, with a roomful of other travelers. The Greyhound bus substituting for the canceled 11:05 AM bus left Spokane a little after 7 PM instead of at 6 PM. The bus ride to Seattle was comfortable and uneventful. I felt relieved and grateful when, sometime during the trip, I got a phone text from Natasha that she had reserved a room for me (at her expense) for that night in downtown Seattle in the Renaissance Hotel.

When we were crossing the Cascade Mountains in the dark of night, the snow-covered evergreen trees that I could see were beautiful as the bus passed them.

I-90 in the Wenatchee National Forest in the Cascade Mountains of Washington

I-90 in the Wenatchee National Forest in the Cascade Mountains of Washington

Stranded on an Icy Sidewalk on a Steep Seattle Hill

The bus got to Seattle close to 1 AM on 12-29-2021. The bus station was closed. My cell phone told me the outside temperature was 16℉ (-9℃). A bunch of us stood in the island of light in the darkness in front of the bus station by the tiny 8-car parking lot, waiting for a ride from a relation, friend, or Uber or Lyft driver. I used the Lyft app on my cell phone to get a 2-miles ride to the Renaissance Hotel. Check-in there was fast and easy. I was too keyed-up to go to bed right away, so I lazed around awhile and went to bed after 3 AM, thankful to be out of the freezing outdoors, under cozy warm blankets.

I slept till after 8 AM. After I meditated, dressed, and packed, I checked out at the front desk. Then for breakfast in the hotel restaurant, I ate with pleasure a bowl of oatmeal that had syrup mixed through it and strawberries and blueberries on top.

Google Maps on my cell phone showed that it was a half-mile walk to the ferry terminal. From past experiences of downtown Seattle, I knew that the walk would be mostly down a steep hill. Before I left the hotel, I used divinatory muscle testing to ask my subconscious, intuition, innate inner wisdom, spirit guide, or whatever source whether I should a) walk or b) take a taxicab. The answer was a) walk.

I've noticed that sometimes my inner wisdom wants me to learn the hard way.

When I walked out through the hotel's front entrance, the doorman warned me that the sidewalks were icy and asked if I wanted a taxi. I said, "No, thanks." I foolishly thought I could walk the half-mile as though it wasn't mostly downhill on an icy sidewalk; that I wasn't 79 going on 80 with my sense of balance getting iffy; that I didn't have a sore and weakened right shoulder because of rotator cuff tears, and that I wouldn't be rolling on its universal-swivel wheels my packed full suitcase with my packed full knapsack set on it.

I walked with cautious baby steps around the corner of 6th Avenue onto Madison Street and got about 10 feet down the hill. Luckily, I was able to use a lamppost to stop myself and my luggage. Gazing down the hill, I foresaw that I wouldn't be able for long to keep my suitcase from careening down the hill and that the chances were slim to zero that I would get far before I slipped and fell. I was stuck because getting 10 feet down the hill with my luggage to the lamppost on the somewhat slippery sidewalk was much easier to accomplish, with the help of gravity, than getting back up the hill to 6th street.

The hotel doorman came to my rescue. Taking a look around the corner and seeing my predicament, he helped get me with one hand and my suitcase and knapsack with his other hand back up the hill, hailed a nearby taxi, and helped the driver get my luggage and me into it as I expressed my gratitude.

I suspected that it was customary to tip the doorman who had gone out of his way to assist me, but I had only $7 cash left in my wallet, and I worried that I might need it before getting home. He seemed pleased to have accomplished getting me safely on my way.

The taker of this 2008 Seattle photo stood at 4th and Madison, less than half way down the hill from where I would stand against the lamppost near 6th.

The taker of this 2008 Seattle photo stood at 4th and Madison, less than half way down the hill from where I would stand against the lamppost near 6th.

Signs to a Nonexistent Elevator

I paid $5 cash, at the taxi driver's request, for the short ride when he let me out on Alaskan Way across the street from the temporary pedestrian entrance to the ferry terminal. That whole area is under construction, with a new dock and a new ferry terminal being built and neighborhood roadwork being done. The temporary pedestrian entrance to the ferry terminal keeps getting changed and relocated. It had changed during the week I was on the east side of Washington state.

I had to somehow get one story up to a pedestrian walkway. I kept seeing signs pointing to an elevator nearby, but I couldn't find it because it no longer existed. I wandered up and down and about, perplexed. I found outdoor stairs going up to the walkway, but they looked too dangerous for me to carry up my suitcase and knapsack with my left hand one by one. With my weakened right shoulder, my right hand wouldn't have been of much help if I had slipped on a step. I continued to wander up and down the sidewalk and amongst the construction fences, looking for that mythical elevator.

Then I encountered a couple I guessed were in their 30s or 40s also looking for the pedestrian entrance to the ferry terminal. I guided them to the outdoor stairs. They gladly carried my luggage up the stairs as I cautiously followed. At the top we thanked each other and parted. It was easygoing, wheeling my suitcase with my knapsack on top, to follow the long walkway into the ferry terminal.

Seattle and the Cascades viewed from Bainbridge Island

Seattle and the Cascades viewed from Bainbridge Island

Rescued Again When Nearly Home

I and many others waited for what seemed an unusually long time for the next ferry to Bainbridge Island. I'd read in the local newspaper that the ferries were short-staffed, so Washington State Ferries had reduced the schedule of crossings.

As usual, the ferry ride was a pleasure. The indoor passenger deck had windows all around for enjoying the scenery and plenty of comfortable seats.

When I walked off the ferry, through the Bainbridge Island ferry terminal, and outdoors to where Kitsap County Transit buses wait for passengers, I was surprised that no buses were in sight. Usually, at ferry arrival and departure times, more or less a half dozen buses at a time are coming and going. I was relieved and reassured that another man was also waiting for a bus and expressed confidence that one would come. The other walk-on passengers evidently had had rides awaiting them.

After a long wait—long enough for the ferry to finish unloading, load, and depart and for cars to begin lining up to wait for the next ferry—a bus finally arrived. Luckily for me, it was #390, the bus I wanted. As required by federal law during the COVID-19 pandemic, I covered my nose and mouth with a face mask before I got on the bus with my luggage—as I did on Greyhound buses and on ferries. I paid $1 with my senior public transit card and sat in a sideways seat at the front, resting my knapsack on my lap and keeping hold of my suitcase on the floor to keep it from rolling up and down the aisle. The bus was nearly empty.

When, in about two miles, certain highway signs and landmarks cued me, I pulled the "stop requested" cord. As is customary on the island, I thanked the driver, a middle-aged woman, as I was getting off at my stop, taking my suitcase and knapsack one by one down the bus steps to the roadside.

As the bus pulled back into traffic and proceeded northbound, I looked about me. Snow blanketed everything. The forest mainly of evergreen trees that covers the island surrounded me. A short walk south from the bus-stop sign was the start (or end) of North Madison Avenue Northeast.² Across the Highway 305 stop-and-go-light intersection was the start (or end) of Sportsman Club Road. I put my knapsack on my suitcase, rolled them on the highway shoulder to the junction, and turned left, east, onto the shoulder of Madison. At that corner, just off of the road, was the blackberry brambles patch from which I pick and eat blackberries when I'm out for a walk in mid-summer. From past uses of Google Earth, I knew that N Madison NE at WA-305 is roughly 1000 feet or slightly less than a fifth of a mile (or than a third of a kilometer) from home.

After it goes around in a curve, N Madison Ave NE runs straight north for miles, parallel to Highway 305. Right by the Route 305 junction, a frontage road, Moran Road, runs south from Madison parallel to the highway. Halfway around the curve, Manitou Beach Drive forks to the right as Madison curves to the left. The house where I live is on Madison just after it straightens out.

I have walked from that bus stop to home quite a few times, sometimes after dark. Along the right shoulder of the road is a paved bicycle lane. When walking home from the bus stop, my habit is to walk on the left side of the road, facing the traffic, because where I live is on that side. Whether the traffic is heavy or light depends on the ferry schedule.

When I was walking home Wednesday, December 29, traffic was moderately heavy. The weather was cold and fair. It was still daylight in the late afternoon. I was wearing shoes, not boots, and on the road shoulder on which I was walking were patches of snow of varying lengths, each too deep for me to walk through. I had to wait for a lull in traffic and then walk on the snow-plowed road past each encountered snow patch.

I had walked about halfway to the Manitou Beach Drive fork in the road when a car turned off of Madison at the fork, swung around, and stopped. When it just sat there as seconds went by, I wondered if it had stalled. I kept trudging. Then the driver—who looked to be a Japanese American woman in her 30s or 40s—got out of her car and walked toward me, yelling concern about my safety and asking if I wanted a ride. I gladly and thankfully shouted my acceptance of her offer.

(I knew that up ahead of me, where the curve was sharpest and oncoming drivers couldn't see me until a moment before passing me, the road shoulder ended, replaced by an embankment one to two feet high. On the embankment was a footpath, but it was doubtless snow-covered, plus, at first, it wasn't level, so I wouldn't be able to roll my suitcase on it or keep my balance. If I had continued walking home, I would have had to walk all or much of the rest of the way on Madison, with little room on the road for cars going by in both directions plus me. You may ask, why didn't I anticipate those conditions when I was at the ferry terminal and have the sense to call a taxi or use my Lyft app? Because the very few cab drivers and Lyft and Uber drivers on the island were doubtless very busy in that snowy, cold weather, meaning a long and uncertain wait for me. I knew no one at home was available to fetch me from the island ferry terminal. So, there I was walking home from the bus stop in precarious conditions. A stranger offering me a ride was a stroke of good luck.)

During a lull in traffic, the woman strode to me, as she was voicing her concern for my safety, apologizing for her intrusion, and requesting permission to help me, and as I was voicing my relief, gratitude, and agreement. She pulled my suitcase with my knapsack on top with one hand and, holding my arm with the other to protect me from slipping and falling, guided me to her car and got me and my luggage into it. The drive of about 500 feet the rest of the way home doubtless took less than a minute. The half-circle driveway was covered with snow, so the woman parked at the side of Madison, with her car about as much on the road as on the bike path shoulder. I got out of the car while she got out my suitcase and knapsack. One hand pulling my luggage and her other hand holding me, she walked me across the front yard and up the porch steps to the front door. I asked if she lives on the island, and she said yes, near Fletcher Bay. I again expressed my gratitude, and she again expressed her gladness and relief that I was home safe. Then she rushed back to her car and drove away as I rolled my luggage around the corner of the porch to the kitchen door and went in. I was home! Journey accomplished! I savored the moment.

Front yard of Brian's Bainbridge Island abode The object at the lower left is an arm of an Adirondack chair on the porch.

Front yard of Brian's Bainbridge Island abode The object at the lower left is an arm of an Adirondack chair on the porch.

Life Lesson

I have many more anecdotes to tell, from childhood to recent years, about receiving freely and gladly given help when I'm traveling and getting myself in predicaments.

Experience has repeatedly taught me that, wherever I go, "good Samaritans" help me when I'm in need. I do my best to pay such favors forward, though too often I let shyness or lack of initiative get in the way of being helpful to someone in need.

Likewise, relations, friends, colleagues, and strangers have wholeheartedly given me help to meet a need innumerable times in the course of daily life. Those whose wage-earning job description—explicitly stated or evident—includes being helpful are more often than not helpful to a greater extent and with greater enthusiasm than required by their bosses.

To review:

• A hotel doorman in Seattle went out of his way to rescue me from where I had entrapped myself partway down the icy sidewalk of a steep hill and to hail me a taxi.

• I showed a couple the outdoor stairs to the pedestrian walkway into the Seattle ferry terminal, and they carried my suitcase and knapsack up the stairs for me.

• When I had begun to walk in subfreezing, snowy, icy weather the 1000 feet (305 meters) from the nearest bus stop to home while dodging snow patches and traffic, a woman walked me and my luggage to her car, drove me the rest of the way home, and walked me and my luggage to the front door.

• All the drivers, clerks, waitstaff, and others who helped get me from place to place and through a night in safety and comfort took pride in their work of pleasing and satisfying me and other customers.

Those experiences illustrate the life-guiding principle that glad, no-strings giving of help to a person in need and gratefully, graciously receiving requested or offered gladly given help makes life more satisfying and joyous for both. Giving and receiving from the heart, free of guilt, shame, fear, judgment, criticism, obligation, punishment, or reward, is the basis of a well-functioning society. Such interactions can't be required by law or by a boss, official, officer, teacher, parent, or other authority. If they weren't a frequently experienced and integral part of daily experience, life would be a lot more difficult and less pleasant. Living by that compassionate giving and receiving from the heart principle is learned by practice and taught by example.³


1. I gave my Spokane Valley friends made-up names to guard their privacy.

2. The City of Bainbridge Island has two separate streets named Madison Avenue—an unresolved problematic consequence of the 1991 switch from the island's being a smattering a little commercial centers in the forest to the whole island's having a city government. To avoid confusion, I've learned to call the two Madison Avenues by their full names—N Madison Ave NE and Madison Ave N. I don't know why the city government doesn't change one of the names.

3. For more about that compassionate giving way of life, read Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall Rosenberg. Find a library copy at WorldCat. Buy it at a bookstore or from an online bookseller or from The Center for Nonviolent Communication. See also YouTube videos of Marshall Rosenberg's nonviolent communication workshops. Then observe persons in your life who are inclined to behave that way.

For your entertainment, here is a video of someone driving Interstate 90 in the Cascade Mountains of Washington to Snoqualmie Pass and then on local roads.

And here is a video about the Seattle to Bainbridge Island and back ferry. During the COVID-19 pandemic, passengers had to wear medical masks; seating was limited to keep people apart, and the food service was closed. The last minute or so of the video is misleading. It promotes the town Poulsbo, which is across the Agate Passage bridge on Kitsap Peninsula, not on Bainbridge Island, which has its own attractions.

Location of Bainbridge Island in Washington state in the United States of America

© 2022 Brian Leekley