The Craig Clan crest is of a knight in full armor charging into battle with a broken lance. They said of the Craigs, 'Well, they're not very smart, but they're optimistic!'
I played on this when I became a duck captain. I wore a Craig tartan tie and had a whole thing about shouting FREEDOM! to people on the side walk who had funny haircuts (Scottish people are cheap and not so willing to pay $10 for a haircut).
And then in the off-season, the ducks had a Holiday Tour. I hate Christmas but I volunteered to run tours. I decided I would be Frank, laying Christmas on the line. I bought a full Santa suit and once the passengers were seated I bounded up like I was Santa Claus. After a few Ho Ho Ho's and an Oh What Fun!!, I confessed that I wasn't the real Santa, just a department store Santa who just got off work.
Turns out Frank hates Christmas and kids and religion and The Man. Frank was a Scottish Buddhist who detests materialism and all the major world religions. He was also a strong member of the local Santa union- BFD (Bearded Fat Dudes #86), United We Santa!
My holiday tour was full of bagpipes and inappropriate music and jokes. I had a blast with it and, to my knowledge, only got one serious complaint.
Now I'm back with the ducks as a driver. I had no intention of being a tour guide, but after driving the guides around for the past few months, I'm thinking… maybe I could have some fun as a guide, too… Driving a duck downtown and into the water is a blast, but maybe it would be fun to hear from Frank Braveliver again.
At least for me.
Not sure if the bar at the Red Lion Hotel has pina coladas in pineapples so I will be bringing my own.
This vacation is really coming together. Can't wait til the next one!
In my whole adult life, you could count how many vacations I've taken on one hand and still have a couple fingers left over. I'm really bad at recreating. I've never been camping, I've never been to Europe, and even the idea of sitting on a beach bores the hell out of me.
But I was talking to Mom and Dad today and we all agreed that I need to go somewhere and do something.
So I'm going to Kelso! Gonna take the train down there on a Friday, go hike around Mt St Helens the next day, and then on Sunday I'll watch the Seahawks opener in a bar and then hang out with the Wicked Tinkers at the Scottish Games. On Monday I will take the train back to Seattle.
I'm not bringing my computer so I won't be able to work on anything. I'm gonna chill out and not do a fucking thing. There's even a pool and I just might go in and swim around a little. Can't even remember the last time I went swimming.
I'm very excited.
Salmon have about the shittiest life of any creatures on earth. They are born in streams up in the mountains and get thrust out into the salt water. Then, they live a couple nice years in the open ocean. But something draws them back and they have to lay their eggs (ladies) or spew all over them (dudes).
They will travel over a thousand miles to get back to the exact spot where they were born. Which is pretty amazing when you realize that they are in a totally toxic environment. Once they are in fresh water, they can't eat and they can barely breathe. You see them jumping in Lake Union, but they're not going for fish, they're gasping for air.
Salmon will swim past sea lions, up through the fish ladder, miles upstream while dying, past the bears and eagles, to lay and fertilize their eggs.
I'm not a big fish eater, but I respect the salmon.
…but there's something kind of… historic?… about waking up at six am and going for a row on the Ship Canal. I don't have a fancy shell like in the picture, but I do have a 10' Livingston that doesn't leak too much.
When I'm out among the halibut schooners and the trawlers and the tug boats I feel like this is a special time in my life. If I live to be 85, I'm pretty sure I will look back and brag to some care giver that I used to live among all those boats that caught more than half of all the domestic seafood consumed in the United States. I lived in a really cool neighborhood of what is now Cascadia that used to be inhabited by Scots. I'll tell her that Ballard used to be called Little Scotland.
I'll say that we had more Scottish people here than anywhere else in the world (other than Scotland). I'll tell her that there was a time when you could live in a major city even though you made about 40k a year.
For all of the deep depression I've gone through in my stupid existence, there has been one thing that has kept me from taking my own life- the thrill of riding a motorcycle as fast as I can with the knowledge that it might be somebody else who pulls out in front of me and ends it all.
I don't want to die, not at all. But I feel a rush when I'm speeding up and down Shilshole Ave. I feel full of life. I feel like I can't possibly go any faster, and it's sometimes scary as hell, but I ride that bike as fast as it will go.
But the funny thing is that I don't feel reckless at all. I feel like I'm embracing life, right? What better way to embrace life than to hop on a bike and drive as fast as you can?
I work two very different jobs. In one job, I generally see one person a day, for about five minutes- either the person I'm relieving or the person that's relieving me. Maybe I'll talk to a tug boat on the radio ("… Okay, roger that. Have a nice day! Be careful out there. Talk to you tomorrow?") but that's about it.
But my other job is the complete opposite. I get to meet people from all over the country and all over the world who are on vacation in a beautiful and fun city, and are about to experience it in a WWII amphibious vehicle.
Today I got to meet Bob, a 94 year-old veteran. I know I'll never have to live that long, but if I did, I could never be as cool as Bob. He and his hot young 75 year-old trophy wife were on their way to an Alaskan cruise and had time for a duck tour.
We spent a whole half hour going over everything from German U-boats off the Atlantic coast to Operation Fortitude-
And this guy was THERE! He saw first hand all the propaganda (Loose Lips Sink Ships was a campaign to make civilians keep their mouths shut if they knew about all the U-boats totally controlling our Eastern seaboard) and he saw first-hand the fake invasion force that completely faked out Hitler and won the war. I could have talked to him for days. There is nothing better about this job than meeting people like Bob.
You know all those Keep Calm and Carry On posters you see? That was part of a British campaign that never happened. The idea was that if the Nazis actually occupied England, everybody was to be cool and not get themselves killed. Just wait it out. It never happened, of course, so the hundreds of thousands of posters never got used and were only discovered many years later.
They're called the Greatest Generation for a reason. If not for them and what they did, we simply would not be here right now. All of them- the young boys on the front lines, the women in the factories, the businessmen who retooled and produced hundreds of thousands of vehicles, the people on the Homefront who sacrificed so our soldiers could eat, and the countless people who did whatever they could to support the young men who were thrust into a whole new Hell.
Whenever I get to meet somebody in their nineties they know full well how much I appreciate them. I've had a great life and have been able to pretty much do whatever I've wanted to do. Because of them.
One of the most annoying things about being bipolar are the occasional Delusions of Grandeur. You don't really notice it when it's happening, of course, but looking back on it you sure do feel like an idiot.
Mental hospitals are chock full of people who will tell you they are Chosen By God to do something Big. It's a physical feeling that you can't deny. You really believe that you are Blessed. It's like cocaine times ten.
But what about people like me who feel the same feelings but don't believe in some Supreme Being? It's easy when whatever you're feeling is just some kind of dictate from God Himself, but what happens when you have to figure it all out on your own?
I didn't make it down to the Highland Games today, which was kind of a shame 'cause I had a couple new bagpipes to show Aaron, of the Wicked Tinkers. One was made from PVC pipe and nylon tube, as detailed in the new book. The other was the Pictish War Pipes, which may very well never be seen by anybody.
It's been four or five years since I've been down there and I wasn't sure if I was ready to check in with the Craig Clan yet, anyway.
About four or five years ago, I had a bit of a manic episode and decided that the president of the local Clan Craig chapter had to go. He was a nice enough guy, but Clan Craig was a joke. I did a little research and found that the Craig Clan as a whole hasn't had a proper Chieftain in, like, two hundred years! So I found the body that was in charge of all the Scottish Clans and made my pitch. I contacted every person named Craig I could find on the internet and tried to convince them that it was high time the Craigs were taken seriously and that I would be proud to lead that effort.
I was sure that I was about to be on the same level as the Pope, but without all that stupid Christianity. I had big plans. And then I got with my current psychiatrist, Katie, who got me on lithium.
But what of all the other mentally ill people who have the same feelings but don't believe in a god?
That's pure crazy.
I went to my first Pacific Northwest Highland Games almost twenty years ago with my buddy Dave. We each found our clans, caught some caber tossing, and got a full dose of bagpipes and drums. When we got some food, he bought me some haggis because he knew I’d never had it.
All I knew about haggis is that it’s disgusting. You stuff a sheep’s bladder with all the parts you would otherwise throw out (including the lungs), bury it in the backyard for six months and then boil it.
I tried a little bit and it was so bad I wanted to wretch. I expected him to finish it off and call me a pussy, but when I offered him the rest he said he was full on onion rings. That’s when I learned the Secret of the Haggis- you talk it up like it’s a national treasure and if somebody demurs when you offer it to them, you get offended. When they take a bite and wonder why you’re not eating some you tell them you’re not hungry.
Dave died a couple years later. I hired a bagpiper to play at the memorial we had at his shop. I didn’t tell anybody it was gonna happen so when people started to hear the piper approaching, somebody opened the big shop door to see a piper walking toward us playing a somber piece. Then he played Amazing Grace and the dozens of us tried to keep it in. But then the piper burst out a jig, turned around and faded off behind the block.
That’s when I decided to make bagpipes. Crazy, funky bagpipes that would have made Dave proud.
It took a few years before I figured out how to do it. The first one was the Guinness Pipes. They came out great. They were beautiful and they sounded as good as a tradition Great Highland bagpipe made of wood. I was so sure this was a winner I closed down my boat business and set up a bagpipe shop in the Fenpro building in Ballard.
I took the Guinness Pipes down to the Highland Games to show them off and get some orders for more. I made an order form and contact list and guessed, based on how many pipers would be present, to get orders for between 20-30 custom-made bagpipes.
I walked them around and made sure every piper got to see and hear them. I ended up in the beer garden and while nobody ordered a single set of pipes, I drank free all day.
I had lots of help from a couple pipers, first Tyrone and then Don. Without them I probably never would have figured it out. I also met Aaron, of the Wicked Tinkers who seemed to get a kick out of them and enthusiastically encouraged me to keep going. I made him a set of blue and white pipes that looked like they were swept back (based on a drawing their drummer Warren made) and a set of Percussion Pipes, which was basically a two man bagpipe.
The last year I was there I had six or seven sets of wild looking pipes, all fully functional. Instead of just laying them out on the picnic table for display, I thought it would be cool to have them sitting on a stand. That was one thing that surprised me about going to these games- pipers would be walking around with their pipes and when they’d stop for a beer or a to take a piss they would just lay their $3,000 pipes on the ground!
So I made a few bagpipes stands. They were really cool and not easy at all to figure out. They displayed a full set of pipes beautifully.
When I set up shop in the beer garden people kept coming over to check out my pipes but kept asking how much I wanted for the stands. I’d tell them buy a set of pipes and you can have the fucking stand for free.
I came home from those games with orders for about thirty bagpipe stands and still not a single order for a custom-made bagpipe.
I filled the orders for the stands but was so put off I stopped making pipes and have since given them all away. Except the Green Marble bagpipes, those should be in a museum or something. And the Pictish War Pipes, which I plan to spring on Aaron in two weeks at the first Highland Games that I’ll have been to in four years.
It’s been too long.