Lake Union Time Trip (revised and finished) – D.E.

He couldn’t figure out if being high had anything to do with it or if it was the atmospheric conditions or the time of day or something about that particular kayak. He didn’t know how the whole thing worked. He only knew he that it happened accidently after he had gotten up early on a foggy July morning, filled a small thermos with thick black coffee, twisted up a fatty, and paddled out into the middle of the lake to burn it. Then, just as that first little buzz came on, he started paddling into a fine gray dawn and left his casual familiarity with his surroundings far behind him.

John owned a small, older houseboat on the east side of Lake Union in Seattle. Most people on the lake lived in floating homes which were larger and didn’t move, but his was technically a houseboat because it had an outboard motor on the side. As long as he took it out on the lake once a year, he could keep it tied up in a marina with a nice view.

He’d gotten a pretty good deal on it shortly after his no-kids-marriage ended and it suited him. He’d always enjoyed “messing about in boats.” He half suspected that the old guy he’d bought the place from had given him a good price because he’d shown so much interest in the old wooden kayak tied up alongside. The old guy had built the kayak himself, and John paid him an extra three hundred bucks for it.

He’d loved living by himself for several years. He thought that a house on the water suited him given his nebulous attachment to life on earth. He’d never known his father and his mom had died while he was in college. He had a sister and a nephew down in LA, but they had a Christmas card relationship. He didn’t even know where is ex was now. He did have some friends in town, but they were mostly the “let’s get together sometime” sort of people so common to Seattle. He genuinely liked the handful of folks he worked with, but none of them had ever been to his place on the lake.

The only change he made was to cut a hole in the wall facing the lake where he installed a sliding-glass door, and all that water was company enough for him until he met a woman with nice tits. They got along well enough until she started spending most of her nights at his place. Then they started bickering over tiny little things that didn’t matter at all. He suspected that she mostly liked his houseboat and he knew for sure that he mostly liked her tits. They sure made the place feel more like home.

She’d gone on home on late Saturday night, after they’d had one of those stupid fights. Next morning, he was just trying forget the whole episode when paddled back in time. What he’d done was lose focus as he paddled – absently gazing at the forward tip of the kayak. It reminded him of those 3-D stereograms that were popular for a time back in the nineties. What you had to do was deliberately let your eyes glaze until the image appeared. Double vision occurred and he saw two bow tips in his field of view.

There was no drama to it at all. It was just that he came right up to the broad expanse of a gray wall made up of steel plates held together with lots of round-headed rivets. It came out of the fog so rapidly that he had to back paddle to avoid running right into it.

Obviously, this was the side of fairly large immobile ship yet he felt certain he was still in the middle of the lake. He paddled to his right and came upon an anchor chain. This ship looked old fashioned. The bow was nearly vertical unlike the swept bows common to modern marine architecture. The numerals of the draft markings looked somewhat antique like ones seen on highway signs in old movies.

As he maneuvered past the anchor chain he saw that this ship was tied up to another on its port side. He continued on and counted another seven ships for a total of nine anchored in the middle of the lake. They looked like they’d been there for some time. The portholes on the hull were battened down with round steel plates, and those on the sections above deck were covered with boards. In places, blackberry vines twisted around the ships’ rails. 

As the fog thinned out, he continued paddling north, dodging a tugboat, a barge loaded with a mountain of coal, numerous steam powered launches, and a couple of wooden sailboats until he came within sight of Gasworks Park. Except it wasn’t Gasworks Park. It was just the Gasworks with large storage tanks and unfamiliar brick buildings and smokestacks producing billowing black clouds.

Despite some tall trees here and there, the whole expanse of shoreline had a grittier, more industrial look to it, but he didn’t really start to get it until he realized what was missing. That was the constant, continuous din of traffic on I-5; a sound so omnipresent as to blend into his consciousness, unheard, until it was gone.

He paddled to his right towards Portage Bay. He was approaching the University Bridge before he looked up at the gray sky of early morning and noted the utter absence of the Ship Canal Bridge that had carried I-5 past the University District for the past fifty years.

The few automobiles crossing the University Bridge were antiques. He spotted two Model Ts but had no idea what the others were. There was only one pedestrian crossing the bridge. The guy was wearing a fedora and that was what finally made the figurative light bulb above John’s head click on. He knew he was “back in time.” It was starting to look to him like he was slightly stoned, in a kayak, in the 1920’s. And he needed to get some breakfast.

(To be continued)

Just before he paddled under the bridge a northbound electric streetcar crossed it heading toward the University District. Thinking of University Way, or “The Ave”, as it was known; he figured he might find a place to eat there, so he continued heading east into Portage Bay.

As John began maneuvering around a white wooden-hulled fishing boat heading west a guy standing at the stern hailed him.

“Hey, Nanook! Where’d ya get the eskimo boat?”

“A friend of mine built it.”


On the north side of Portage Bay, not far from the University, there was a boatyard with several Lake Boats tied up to a dock. Two boats were evidently not yet completed and were being worked on, and another was being painted. He came up alongside and asked a man in coveralls if he could leave his own boat here for an hour.

The guy just pointed at a spot near a ladder on the dock that extended down into the oily water. The guy put a forefinger and a thumb in his mouth and whistled loudly twice. The guys on other boats looked up, another guy stuck his head out of the window of a large work shed, and another guy came around a corner. The man in coveralls pointed at John’s boat. By the time John tied up and climbed the ladder there were five young men and two older guys looking down at his kayak. The guy in coveralls now seemed more interested in John’s clothing which consisted of a hoodie sweatshirt, blue jeans and an old pair of sneakers. No one spoke to him, so he walked across the work yard, out the gate, and up the street towards the Ave. He heard church bells.

It was quite disorienting walking a neighborhood he knew fairly well, but, that this morning, lacked familiar landmark buildings such as the University Hospital and the large brick academic buildings that dominated the area in his time. He remembered one that had a big vertical sundial mounted on its side. There were lots of small wooden houses of the type he had seen bulldozed so often over the years. He saw many vegetable gardens and some vacant lots. And some enormous trees.

He was absently staring at a cow in a vacant lot when it occurred to him that he had no money on him, and, even if he did, it wouldn’t look right to anyone he tried to pass it off on. Maybe being high wasn’t helping him so much in his current predicament.

He continued on until he reached The Ave where he walked a couple of blocks uphill not finding any places to eat or anything open at all. He cupped his hands around his eyes and peered into a closed barbershop. On the wall near the door he spied a calendar. July, 1923. He noted that there was a Sunday with a date corresponding to the one he had set out on.

On the way back to the boat yard he stepped into a garden and stole a large yellow tomato which he bit into as he would an apple. It was warm from the sun and delicious.

He rounded a corner onto the street leading back to the boat yard with its large open shed housing a hull propped up on big metal jack stands, and he thought, “Wait a minute, if it’s Sunday morning, and everything is closed, what are all those guys doing at work when this is probably their only day off? Who writes this shit anyway? And why do all his stories seem to revolve around drugs and alcohol?”

Then all the traffic sounds and the huge interstate bridge came back just as, one by one, all the charming single family houses on the street were replaced with crappy-looking five level condominiums with retail on the ground floor.

Then, just like that, with the click of a mouse, John disappeared as well.







About bbcstudiowrites

This blog is me archiving the BBC Studio Writers Workshop.

Posted on March 19, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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