Tag Archives: Tacoma

Sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Four-wheeled farewell

If you’ve been reading here for awhile, you’ve seen this picture before—and others like it. My car, Wild Blue, has made many appearances here over the years, because she’s as much a character in my stories as any place I’ve visited.

Sketch by Chandler O'Leary

In fact, she’s sometimes the star—though even when she isn’t, she’s never far from my mind.

Mt. Rainier letterpress print by Chandler O'Leary

She’s even made some cameos in my studio work.

Map sketch by Chandler O'Leary

She was the first and only car I’ve ever owned (thanks to years of living in dense cities, I didn’t need to buy one until my mid-twenties), and she took me nearly everywhere. I always thought I’d drive her to the moon, but it doesn’t matter that we fell a little short. She was the beating heart of my adventures, each highway another artery feeding our little love story.

Yet all stories have to end. Back in February I was gearing up for another big solo trip—a doozy this time, with 6500 miles of mostly remote mountain and desert roads. Blue already had many costly age-related repairs coming due, and I didn’t think she had another trip like that in her. So we took one last winding local drive together, and then I put her out to pasture.

Goodbye, Blue. Hello, Silver.

Car sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This new gal and I have had plenty of time to get acquainted—after all, she got well and truly broken in this spring with that big trip (more on that next time). And she’s the first car the Tailor and I have bought together, as we want to remain a one-car household. We had to make little compromises over what we each wanted, of course, but the biggest one was the compromise I had to make with the auto industry: I had to give up my stick shift. We really wanted this model, and a manual transmission simply isn’t an option anymore for this one.

For all I had to give up, and for all the frills and furbelows that seem to accompany all new cars (though I’ll admit I love having USB ports at last)—this car has plenty of qualities that fit my personality. No GPS, for one thing—you all know how I feel about that (the Tailor and I agreed that if that had come standard, we would have paid to have it removed!). And plenty of nooks and crannies for holding all my paints and things while I sketch.

Yet while Silver is pretty and sleek and reliable and powerful, she’s not my Blue. I’ve already put close to 10,000 miles on her, but I’m still finding it hard to make the transition. Driving an automatic feels so different to me, so less engaged. And I have a lot of trouble finding her in crowded parking lots—I’m usually great at remembering where the heck I parked, but finding a silver Subaru in a sea of other silver Subarus (welcome to the Northwest) is hilariously difficult. Still, I’m sure we’ll grow to know and trust each other over time. It’s just hard to give up your first love.

Astoria sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Thank you, Wild Blue, for taking me here, there and back again—and for always keeping me safe along the way.

Astoria sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Here’s to the next quarter of a million miles, and my shiny new steed. Hi ho, Silver.

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Food storage sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Like peas n’ carrots

The air has gone from crisp to cold. The leaves are thinning on the trees. And apparently half the vegetables in Washington are currently in our root cellar. I think that means it’s November.

We’ve already dipped into the pumpkins for tomorrow’s festivities—and if you find yourself in the States at the moment, here’s wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving.

Tacoma Narrows Bridge sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Sturdy Gertie

Seventy-five years ago today, the original Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapsed in a spectacular tangle of twisted cables and swaying concrete. You can actually watch “Galloping Gertie” meet her doom on film (complete with cheeseball movie reel narration, sped-up footage and sound effects), readily accessible thanks to the magic of the internet.

The only casualty was a dog. But the collapse was an incredibly high-profile event—and not just because at the time, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge was the third-longest suspension bridge in the world. You see, it had been designed by famous engineers, including lead designer Leon Moisseiff (co-designer of the Manhattan Bridge) and consulting engineer Joseph B. Strauss (chief engineer of the Golden Gate Bridge). These guys were leading scientists who applied cutting-edge theories in physics to their work—but even they had never encountered what would come to be known as “aeroelastic flutter.” The conditions were just right, and that was it. (Though I’m sure I’m not the first to add that people should listen when we say it gets windy here in November.)

Thanks to the interruption of World War II, it took a decade for the bridge to be redesigned and rebuilt. “Sturdy Gertie” opened in 1950, and westbound traffic still travels over that span today. Luckily for us (and knock on wood), Gertie’s plenty solid this time around. No galloping from this baby, please and thank you.

Fourth of July sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Fire up the grill

We have a tradition of spending the Fourth with some friends who live down the street from us. We bring the old-fashioned hand-crank ice cream crock and the croquet set—they fire up the grill.

Fourth of July sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The best part, though, is watching the fireworks over the bay.

To everybody reading in the United States, have a happy and safe Fourth of July!

Chambers Bay golf course sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Hole in one

Since I was thinking about examples of American ruins at the time, my plan was to head across town to sketch the remains of the old sand and gravel quarry at the site of the Chambers Bay golf course. But when I got there, the trail that leads to the ruins was closed while they set up for this year’s U.S. Open golf tournament.

I’m no expert on golf, but it’s been fun to learn more about the Chambers Bay course in the run-up to the event. The course is both public and brand new—just eight years old—which makes it an unusual choice for the U.S. Open. But it’s an absolute marvel of design and difficulty. Chambers Bay is many times larger than a traditional Scottish links-style course; the combination of sheer size, rugged terrain, tricky fescue-and-heather landscaping, and the strong winds that sweep through the Tacoma Narrows make this course one of the most challenging and unpredictable in the entire world. Add to that the stunning panoramic views of Puget Sound and the islands, and it’s no wonder the USGA thought the world would want to feast their eyes on Chambers Bay.

The tournament opens on Monday, and thanks to the expensive tickets and the maelstrom of golfers, spectators, media and security descending upon my town, the likes of me won’t be able to get anywhere near Chambers Bay. But that’s okay—I got to have a front row seat for the transformation. When it’s all over, there won’t be any ruins left behind to commemorate the event—there won’t be any trace left at all. All the more reason to have the evidence recorded in my sketchbook.

Library doors sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Under the archway

Unlike Monday’s mystery door, this is a door through which I pass so often, it’s become routine. I know this place so well that I took it for granted, barely noticing the beautiful detailing around the entryway.

Well, a sketchbook is a good cure for that—there’s no better way to appreciate something than to spend an hour peering closely at it.

Port of Tacoma sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Morning mist

On this morning, my city felt like a stage set of paper cut-outs. I just about killed this sketchbook dead by working and reworking the flimsy paper for this drawing—but even as the paper threatened to give out on me, I found myself wanting to add more and more layers. Capturing reality accurately proved elusive that day, but when I look at this page now, I remember the moment with perfect clarity.

Which, I suppose, is the reason I do this stuff in the first place…

Kalakala sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The swan song of the Kalakala

There are restoration success stories like Lucy…and then there are others without the happy ending. In my part of the world right now, a floating rust bucket is the talk of the town. That’s because at long last, an odyssey spanning nearly 90 years, thousands of miles and a whole lot of folly is about to come to an end.

From the 1930s through the 60s, the M.V. Kalakala was a swingin’ Art Deco ferry in Seattle’s Black Ball fleet. Her unusual (and flawed) design made her either a shining star or a laughing stock, depending on whom you asked—but either way, she enjoyed a fair amount of fame. She was the recipient of the first-ever commercial on-board radar system (FCC license #001!), and even made a cameo in the popular “Black Ball Ferry Line” song by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters.

Once she was retired from ferry service, though, she went into a long, slow decline—beached and converted into a cannery in Alaska, then later towed back to Washington as the unfortunate victim of restoration projects that never made it off the ground. I’ll spare you all the twists and turns of the Kalakala story—a quick Google search will give you a whole host of written words, photographs, and even sketches by other folks who can tell the tale better.

Kalakala sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Normally this is just the sort of story that would get me up in arms, ready to send a donation to the save-it fund and spread the word far and wide. But this time, I think I’d prefer to see the Kalakala sail off into the proverbial sunset. She deserves a better end than rusting through and sinking in a swirl of toxic chemicals, in a town that bears no real connection to her history.

Still, I’m glad I’ve had a chance to catch glimpses of her over the years. And I didn’t want to miss the chance to sketch her, even if only from a distance. She’s slated for demolition at the end of this month—I’m glad the weather held out long enough to give me a couple of good views of her.

Wishing you fair winds and following seas, Kalakala.

Mantel sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Decking the halls

When we head to the mountains on Sunday to get our tree, the holiday decorating will officially begin. At our old house, most of our decorating focused on the mantel—since we don’t tend to go overboard with that sort of thing anyway, sometimes it was the only place that hinted at anything festive. At our new house, the fireplace is even more central to our lives and the rhythm of our home. I’m excited to see what the season brings, and how the mantel will rise to the occasion.