October 23-28, 2002

     I had an amazing vacation in Spokane, WA to attend Skate America, the first of 6 figure skating Grand Prix events all over the world in the next few weeks. My sister, Elizabeth, and I got to see 4 days of skating and talk with parents and skaters and ABC TV folks, and even got quoted in the local paper, so it was quite a trip!
     Here is a brief synopsis of our whirlwind 6 days:

  WEDNESDAY, 10/23   Flew to Seattle, met Elizabeth, flew to Spokane, had a lovely steak dinner.
  THURSDAY, 10/24   At the arena watching skating at 7 am, side trip to feed big cats, back to the arena until 10 pm.
  FRIDAY, 10/25   At the arena from 8 am to 10 pm, except for a lovely pizza party with the online skating gang and a trip to the Fanfest.
  SATURDAY, 10/26   Drove to Montana and Idaho, lovely lunch in Coeur d'Alene Idaho, arena for finals until 9:30 pm.
  SUNDAY, 10/27   Fabulous brunch with online gang, arena for skating exhibitions, shopping, flew to Seattle, stayed with E's in-laws.
  MONDAY, 10/28   Lovely breakfast with E's mother-in-law, then flew home.

WEDNESDAY:  I had screwed up setting my alarm, so I woke up at 7 am (when I was supposed to be leaving). So I dashed around and left the house in record time headed to the airport in a cab. I checked my luggage at the curb with no line, and made it through security easily, so I was eating breakfast at Burger King half an hour after I left home! I bought a good book and read all the way to Seattle. American's new extra room in coach is fabulous, so it was an easy flight.
     Elizabeth and her mother-in-law, Trish, met me in the baggage claim area, and we checked our luggage through to Spokane then had a nice lunch with Trish. We went through security quickly, then discovered our flight was delayed 30 minutes, so we each had a lovely chair massage!
     It was a gorgeous, clear day for our hour flight to Spokane with the Cascades and Mt. Ranier out the window. We got our rental car and were impressed that the clerk knew all about Skate America. We headed downtown to our hotel, the WestCoast Grand River Inn, and checked into a lovely room overlooking the river. We walked over to the arena to see how far it was (not far) and had a wonderful steak dinner at the Clinkerdagger restaurant across the street. I had an amazing snap pea salad with bacon and ranch dressing! We strolled back to the hotel and crashed, catching up on the developments in the sniper case on CNN.

THURSDAY:  I got up at 6 am, went down for a free breakfast of yogurt and granola and banana, then headed over to the arena to watch practices.  The arena staff was friendly, if a bit puzzled as to why so many people were there to see practice. That is when the skaters are more relaxed and actually make the jumps they fall on during the competition, and the fans all sit together in one section and gab about the various things going on. At 7 am, it is only the real die-hards, so it was quite an experienced crowd. We met up with folks we know from the online skating newsgroup and had a grand time. The concession stands were actually open early (unlike previous years in Co. Springs) so we were able to get water and snacks. I had a great chat with the father of one of the pairs skaters, Garrett Lucash from CT. It was the pairs' first Grand Prix senior competition, so the father was so nervous he had hives! He told me about their change of coaches and a summer in Russia training with the Kirov and how ambitious their program was...
     We'd had it by about 12:30 pm, so we took a break for lunch and drove out to the Jack-in-the-box so E could sate her urge for curly fries. We went to Cat Tales Zoological Park, the big cat sanctuary about 15 miles North of town. We got to see lions and tigers and jaguars and cougars...and I got to hand feed a tiger! E hand fed a lion! It was incredible! Nothing like a big cat snagging a chicken neck out of your hand with their teeth! (Photos 001-025). We went back to the arena area, but walked along the river and tried out the 1906 carousel in the Riverside Park (Photos 026-036). We ran into a local newspaper reporter looking for people to say nice things about the Spokane area, so we obliged. I figured either we said nothing worth printing, or he'd mangle it all up, so I wasn't too excited, but he was very nice and told us some nice places to visit.
     We headed back to the arena for the start of competition - compulsory dance (Austrian Waltz), then the pairs short and the ladies short programs. We had a quick dinner at the bar across the street and watched the World Series. It turns out that our seats were right behind the judges, and more importantly, in the section where many of the parents and skater sat! So we got to talk with a lot of exciting people! Elizabeth talked with the dancer Ben Agosto, who we'd seen at Harvard two weeks ago, about his Elvis routine and amazed him guessing that he'd changed his costume to a white jumpsuit! Michelle Kwan skated a lovely new short program.

FRIDAY:  We got up for 8 am practice and ate breakfast at the arena. One of the skate fans chatted me up and when I mentioned I was from Boston, she got a funny look on her face and said "Are you here with your sister? Is your name Beckie or Elizabeth?"  When I nodded, she said, "You were quoted in the local paper today!"  So I ran outside to get a paper from the box and sure enough, we made it into the article for the day on how Skate America fans were liking Spokane! Heh. The lady told everyone who sat down around us, so we had our 15 seconds of fame in Spokane. Another member of our online gang brought a sign that said "No secret judging" and caused a sensation in the press room. Reporters from AP and the Canadian papers came to chat with her, and she got her picture on the international Yahoo news site! This was the first test of the "reformed" judging system, and was a bit of a joke but we felt the results came out about right, if you count the automatic extra points for "SWR" (skating while Russian).
     We headed out at 12:15 pm to the Oxford Suites for pizza party with the folks we know from the online skating group. We snarfed snacks and pizza and gabbed about skating for a couple of hours, then drove downtown to the restored Davenport Hotel for the FanFest. They had local vendors of wines and apples and mattresses, and various skaters stopped by. E took my picture with Todd Eldredge! (Photos 048-055)
     We went back to the arena for the original dances (waltz and polka), the pairs final and the men's short programs. Alexei Yagudin, the Olympic gold medalist, did an incredible short program miming driving a car. There was a new star born in the form of Brian Joubert, a French skater trying to mimic Yagudin, who came from nowhere to place 2nd! Less than 30 minutes between events meant a hot dog dinner at the arena for us.

SATURDAY:  We took a break and drove over across state lines into Idaho and Montana! That crossed two more states off my list, so that means I only have 7 more states to visit! We took goofy pictures at the state line signs, then strolled around downtown Couer d'laine checking out the star garnets at the local jewelry store that looked a lot like the one we grew up next door to, and had a nice Chinese lunch. (Photos 063-081)
     We headed back to the hotel for a nap for E and read the paper for me, then went back to the arena for the final competitions. We saw the free dance with the amazing Elvis routine that landed the American dancers Belbin and Agosto a 3rd place over the Olympic bronze medalists! Their parents were all sitting right ahead of us, so the section was buzzing. Then came the ladies, with two triple axels in the first group (first time in 10 years for that jump and 1st time ever for 2 in one competition) and Michelle Kwan's shaky but lyrical long program. She'd only found out a week ago that she was coming, so it was quite amazing with very little practice. Ann-Patrice McDonough, another American lady, had a great skate to Madame Butterfly, and ended up 2nd! Her mom and coach and eventully she came to sit right ahead of us, so that was very exciting. Rocky Marvel, who hires people for Tom Collins' "Champions on Ice" tour, came to sit with them and try to sell them on the idea of A-P skating with them next year.
     The big news was the withdrawal of Alexei Yagudin. His hip was bothering him, and it seems likely he will never skate competively again, and we saw his final skate...he tried to warm up but then came out to center ice and bowed and they announced he had withdrawn! We gave him a standing O and cried with the Yagudin fan club sitting behind us. That left things wide open for Brian Joubert to win with a clean long program. American Matt Savoie ended up 3rd and we were happy.
     But the best was yet to come. We had been watching the ABC team of Dick, Peggy and Terry Gannon and saying how you could talk to most of the skaters, but would never get those 3 alone to chat. So E and I left the arena and found Terry Gannon alone in his shirt sleeves smoking!   I had to hang up on my husband on the cell phone, but had a great 5 minute chat with Terry about Yagudin's withdrawal and the history of the evening and how we looked forward to hearing his comments on TV.
     The amazing thing was his speaking voice. He "ramps up" to speak on TV, and has a very normal voice in person. I called Neil back and gushed like a school girl. Heh.

SUNDAY:  We packed up and went out for a wonderful brunch at Luna, a trendy local place up the hill, with Ruth and Roxane, a couple of skating pals from California. The food was good, fast and cheap. I enjoyed their warm cinnamon bread, ham scrambled eggs with red bliss home fries, and then a 3 berry crumble! All for $16! Whew! (Photos 087 & 088)
     We headed back to the arena for the exhibitions and enjoyed 2 hours of fun skates from the top 4 finishers in each division, as well as a great program by the local figure skaters!
     We went out to Nordstrom Rack in the mall and found some great stuff to buy on sale. I got a new nightgown and a E found a great hat! We ate Asian food at the Mustard Seed in the mall - chicken fried rice, gyoza, egg rolls...and then headed off to the airport. We had an easy time and quick flight, found another skate fan to chat with.
     E's husband Jason and his parents us at the airport. He was off to NC for business meeting, so we had an hour with him, then went home with the Merrills to their lovely home on Queen Anne hill in Seattle. It is very 20's, Frank Lloyd Wright mission style, with lovely gardens and stained glass windows. We got in at 11:30 pm, so I collapsed. (Photos 090-103)

MONDAY:  We got up and had a leisurely breakfast at the Queen Anne cafe with Trish, then she took us to the airport. Our luck with security ran out, as our luggage got searched going in and E got searched boarding. But no biggie. We each had another chair massage and found a good book to read. We had an easy flight and landed early. I must say that the airlines and security people did well by us this trip.
     We took a cab to my place, then E headed off in her new car to the friends' house in Harvard Square where they are camping out until their house is finished.
     I read all my emails (almost 600 messages!) and then went to bed too late.

To Beckie's Spokane Vacation Photos