Sleepless Near Seattle
Copyright 2021 by John C. Hollinger
Photo by the author.
coffee, granola, and grunge. As we hit the outskirts of the Mecca of
all these things, none were on our Seattle to-do list.
visit would be a targeted suburban strike: two goals, three to four
hours. In and out, quick and easy. Or not.
previously lived in Vancouver, Canada, our vagabond family had played
role of Washington tourist many times. Being situated just outside
the northwestern-most point of the conterminous
United States meant our American road trips inevitably started the
same way, southbound on the I-5 towards the region’s largest
metropolis. Pike Place Market, the Space Needle, museums, parks -
thoroughly experienced the city. Washington is beautiful and a great
place to visit. But sometimes it’s also 71,000 square miles
separating us from new adventures.
was day one of our newest foray into the lower 48. We had grandiose
plans to tick the dozen or so remaining unvisited U.S. states and
major cities off our travel bucket list. But well over a thousand
miles lay between us and our first destination, San Diego. This trip
was so fresh that our cat, Tino, had not yet decided on a favorite
spot in the motor home (which changed drastically trip to trip -
under a chair, in the bunk above the cab, on the dashboard…),
nor had our paraplegic dog, Boo, realized this wasn’t just a
detour-extended ride to the park that she had to be awake and alert
for, in case we missed a turn. Even our aging class C was still
winterized, antifreeze instead of water protecting the pipes from
cold weather damage. That means our home on wheels lacked a working
bathroom, which would be fine for a few days thanks to interstate
rest stops and the hospitality of the ever present megastore,
first goal of two brought us to the Whole Foods in Bellevue,
searching for an elusive magical potion: toothpaste. A couple of
another American excursion,
browsing a random small town pharmacy, Heike discovered a special no
dye, no chemical, no SLS, no bad stuff at all toothpaste. The only
drawback was that it was strawberry flavored. Heike bought it anyway.
As it turns out, the fruity taste was actually the best part. It was
so good that Heike's new toothpaste philosophy became "mint is
for suckers". Ever since this epiphany,
been looking for more of this special strawberry wonder-paste.
Although many stores carried the product line (the Honest Company),
nobody seemed to stock their toothpaste. We had already fruitlessly
checked dozens of locations across multiple states and provinces but
we had high hopes here in Bellevue: a giant organic and natural
retailer in a major metropolitan area. As we reached the oral care
shelves, Heike’s heart rose… then sunk. They had
in mint. Given
Heike's newfound feelings about mint, the level of derision in
response to John’s
ridiculous suggestion that she “just buy that one” should
have been no surprise.
Heike's paste quest temporarily unfulfilled, John had his own search
- a place to watch the Canada vs USA World Cup of Hockey game. Heike
on our GPS and we rambled over to the nearby Seattle suburb of
Heritage Park was the perfect place to stash the motor home.
strapped Boo into
her wheelie cart and Tino into the stroller (yes, we’re ‘those’
people) and sauntered several blocks to the bar.
our pleasant surprise, Kirkland is a lovely area with pretty houses
and trendy businesses. Time Out Sports Bar, however, does not fit
into the neighborhood. John popped in to check it out anyway.
interior was a stereotypical dive bar - no windows, dark, dank, and
uninviting. Still, John wanted to watch the game, so he asked the
bartender if they would have it on. His glowing response was a
disgusted sneer followed by, "I guess. There's nothing else to
watch." Feel the love.
John was inside, Heike noticed that across the street was a
restaurant called Wing Dome. The front was glass and inside she could
see sports on the televisions. A quick inquiry was met with
enthusiasm: "Of course! We can put hockey with the sound on any
tv you’d like!" Friendly and wings? Suck it, Time Out! We
walked back and returned the animals to the motor home. The game was
starting so John hoofed it to Wing Dome again. Heike would meet him
there after walking around and exploring Kirkland some more.
John had picked out a seat at the bar and the best tv to watch the
game, he was informed that it was happy hour: all pints were just
four bucks. Life was good. John requested a pint of the Hops Ninja
IPA, a pitcher of water (Heike's orders - it was hot and we hadn't
really ate or drank anything yet), and a menu. The beer was tasty,
the water was refreshing, and the menu had a surprise. We had checked
out the menu displayed in the window the first time we noticed Wing
Dome. What wasn't in the window was touted
front of the menu in John’s hands: the Seven Alarm Hot Wings
Challenge. This was definitely a tantalizing development. The rules
on the menu seemed pretty straight forward - seven wings, seven
minutes. If you finish, it's free and you get a T-shirt; don't finish
and it's $7.77 - cheaper than the ten bucks for a pound of their
regular wings. Normally, given his propensity for capsaicin and spur
of the moment eating challenges, this would be an automatic endeavor,
but John wasn't sure. He hadn't been in the mood for spicy and was
actually planning on trying some of the more unusual milder
He'd have to think about it and wait for Heike before making a
decision. In the mean time, he had an order of cheesy garlic wings
and watched the first period.
Heike arrived, she ordered a salad and a large basket of tater tots
to share. Both were good, but John was still hungry. Wavering on the
challenge, but intrigued by the super hot wings, we asked if it was
possible to get the wings without doing the challenge. No, leisurely
eating was not permitted. If John
the wings, he had seven minutes; what's left is taken away.
Well, hockey's on intermission so I might as well do the challenge."
John ordered it so nonchalantly that the bartender was taken off
guard. Apparently people don't usually request the challenge as
casually as if they were asking for a soda refill.
only concern: did they have the shirts in stock? He was still
badgering the last bar where he conquered a hot wings contest for the
shirt that hadn’t come but had been ‘put in the mail
tomorrow’ three times now.
is the norm, out came the 'waiver', which is really just a bit of
showmanship combined with a way to ensure the customer knows the
rules before they get in too deep.
couple of stipulations on the waiver weren't on the menu. One - no
drinks, no other food, and no napkins while eating or until the seven
minutes are compete; finish in one minute, you still have to wait six
more before cleaning up or washing it down. Two - you have to eat all
the wings, the lettuce they come on, and lick your fingers, hands,
and the pate clean. That second one seemed very thorough, but,
whatever; finish the sauce and have a piece of lettuce at the end to
help cleanse the palette - no big deal, right? John was pretty
confident. His last wing challenge in Minnesota was eight minutes for
a dozen wings. He had done it under five, and those ones came out on
fire. This was just seven wings. Even at 30 seconds apiece, there'd
still be 3 1/2 minutes to eat a leaf of lettuce and lick the sauce.
Piece of cake. Or not.
wings came out. At least we assumed it was the wings. Almost no
chicken was visible under the mass of thick, pasty sauce covering the
plate. If they hadn't rung a bell and yelled 'fire in the hole', we
would have though someone else had ordered chili. A slight chink in
the confidence. Then, a closer inspection revealed
wasn’t a leaf;
a bed of shredded lettuce enveloped by the sauce like ragout. The ol'
confidence took another hit.
bartender placed a large digital timer
on the bar and
seven minutes. Nothing left to it but to do it. He started the clock.
It was go time!
one: John's first realization was how saucy and messy those things
were. The second realization was how hot those things were.
spicier than the Minnesota fire wings. But they were tasty, too. That
was a good thing; delicious spicy challenges were always more
enjoyable. The premier wing was done in a mere 20 seconds. John's
eyes were watering and he had already started sweating.
two: did we mention they were hot? The first tear from his watering
eyes rolled down John's cheek. Done at the 50 second mark.
three: so much sauce!
clean at the end; John had to lick them between each wing just to
gain purchase and pick up the next. Heike the cheerleader was telling
everyone watching the spectacle how John's "got this", how
it's "no problem." She hadn’t tried these wings. Done
four: John's eyes were streaming now, but he couldn’t wipe
them. With so much sauce on his hands, it would be like getting
pepper sprayed. It was hard to see, and his glasses were slipping
down his nose from the sweat. Pit crew-woman Heike
John's spectacles mid-wing. This one was done at 2:00 even. Right on
five. John's hands were starting to shake. His chewing slowed.
he shouldn't have had that other pound of wings, two beers, and a
mountain of tater tots first. Done at 2:40.
six. The sauce was everywhere. It covered John's hands and face. He
looked like a baby the first time it gets to eat spaghetti, and the
area around his mouth was burning. Usually John eats wings so cleanly
that nothing gets on his face at all. But these were so saucy and
messy that he couldn’t keep them from smearing his skin. Done
pace was definitely labored. The final wing takes 45 seconds - more
than double the time of the first. But it went down and the wings
were gone after 4 minutes on the nose.
not yet won, however. Not even close. John looked at the plate, still
covered in sauce-drenched shredded lettuce. So much, and no utensils
allowed. The mound before him seemed
unscalable red mountain. John considered quitting. He could pay the
$7.77 and walk away. No T-shirt. No
pile of fire-laden lettuce, either. But John couldn’t quit. Not
after getting this far. Not with his number one supporter cheering
him on. Slowly, he began scooping up the mixture with his fingers and
shoveling it into his mouth. The tremor in John's hands was obvious
now. But he soldiered
the lettuce disappeared.
John knew he had it. He methodically licked the sauce from each of
his fingers. Then he carefully picked up the plate and licked
clean, too. Completely consumed at
plenty of time to spare, but this was now time spent waiting. It was
interminable one minute and five seconds of sauce, sweat, and tears.
At seven minutes, the timer alarm sounded and Heike
in with napkins. Napkins for John's hands. Napkins for John's face.
Napkins for John's drenched head.
was done! And he had the shirt to prove it. It wasn't easy, but the
tasty flavor meant the experience wasn't horrible (or so John
thought). Heike got an ice cream cone for them to share. John had a
few licks but that was enough. After a few minutes, he wasn't doing
bad at all. If it wasn't for the red irritation that the sauce had
left around his mouth, you wouldn't even know what had just
was back on; the start of the second period. Heike had found a clue
online about a nearby drugstore that carried the Honest Company
products, so she left in search of her magical toothpaste. John
stayed to watch the game. The excitement was over. The Seven Alarm
Wing Dome Challenge now just an anecdote.
was back an hour and a half later, just as team Canada prevailed on
the ice. The drugstore
went to didn't have her paste, but another location to the south did
- we just had to get there before it closed. We hurriedly rejoined
Boo and Tino in the motor home and managed to arrive at our
destination before the doors were locked. Heike
procured their only two tubes of strawberry wonder paste.
had succeeded in Seattle on both fronts. It was time to move on. Not
surprisingly, John's stomach was starting to feel a little unsettled.
from the Dairy Queen across the parking lot to cool things down
Perhaps he should have had more than cursory licks of the last one.
an hour down the interstate we found a welcoming 24-hour Walmart
to park for the night.
John quickly downed some Alka-Seltzer
to address the nagging in his gut, we went inside to use the restroom
and make some purchases to repay our lodging.
There was still a little stomach rumble
we got back, so John chewed a few tums as well. Our quartet went to
bed. It was 10:30pm.
midnight John's insides jolted him awake. Something was not right in
tummy town. As he attempted to get dressed to go use the Walmart
bathroom again, a bomb went off inside his stomach. Excruciating pain
collapsed John to his knees. It felt like the movie Alien - a vicious
extra terrestrial was trying to burst out of his chest from the
inside. Heike woke to find her husband lying on the floor,
dying,” John professed,
my parents I love them. No regrets! Viva la hot wings!"
feels like I'm going explode and throw up."
a precautionary bucket from the cupboard and maneuvered it under
John’s face. No retching, just more moans.
thought you had to throw up."
do, but I can't. I'm worried that if I try to push it out my mouth,
I'm going to have an explosion out the other end!"
Heike to remain compassionate
laughing at the same time.
relief was coming to John doubled over, so Heike helped get him to
his feet. Buuuuurrrrrpp!! Wait, that felt a little better. Belch!
More relief. Belch! Less pain. Was it just gas? To Heike's dismay,
John burped, and burped, and burped... until everything was fine
again. Feeling a little silly, John composed himself, wiped the sweat
off his body, and was finally able to get dressed. After an
uneventful Walmart bathroom trip, and a few more
disgusting-yet-settling belches, it was back to bed.
2:00am, the alien returned! But now John couldn't burp! It was like
he was plugged, and the pressure was building. He tried to stay
standing, but the pain was intense and he was sweating and shaking.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, buuuurrrpp!! Followed by
dozens more. Relief. The pain disappeared, but John was frozen from
the sweating. He got dressed and headed in for another bathroom
visit, just to be safe. The walk into the store stirred up John's
insides, including his bowels. He almost died on a Walmart toilet -
what an obituary that would have made. John felt bad for the employee
in the next stall, who was probably both alarmed and repulsed by the
moaning, burping, and other noises emanating from beside him. The few
late-night customers and employees gave some strange looks to the
flushed, sweaty man walking bow legged out of the bathroom to the
gingerly back to the motor home. Any discomfort was relieved by
stopping and burping. He thought he had figured it out: don't move,
don't lie down. John sat in the motor home's only armchair.
he wouldn't be able to sleep this way, but at least he thought there
wouldn’t be more pain, either.
rest of the night and through the following day, John weathered a
vicious cycle: severe gas pain accompanied by heat, extreme sweating,
and stripping naked; then, once physically able to, minutes of
burping to ease the pain; then near hypothermia,
by covering up with multiple blankets
and several layers of clothing; then a 30 minute reprieve;
was becoming exhausted. The more upright he kept himself, the better
he felt and the longer between episodes. But it's difficult to sleep
while attempting to remain perpendicular to the ground. Sitting
straight required conscious effort, so Heike came up with a solution.
She gathered all the seat cushions and pillows from the motor home
and wedged them in around John’s head and body to prop
had created a soft but strong exoskeleton that held her husband in
place even if he completely relaxed. Around 2:00pm that afternoon,
enveloped by foam and feathers,
fell asleep sitting straight up.
John slept, Heike
attentive and productive.
checked inside John’s
ensure he was stable and still breathing, just in case. She took care
of the animals, who really didn’t know what to make of their
male person’s recent antics but knew their food and walks
waited for no one. She also went for a run around the area, had a
peaceful lunch while reading, and even documented John's ordeal in a
One man’s coma was another woman’s opportunity for a
4:30, John woke from his nap. No gas, no pain, no sweating. All was
good. The bladder-pressing exception being that he hadn't visited
restroom in nearly 15 hours. This is what woke him, and the urge was
antifreeze in the water tanks meant the motor home toilet was out of
he couldn’t make it all the way inside
the Walmart. Just making out of the RV without an accident would be
fifty-fifty at best. The puke bucket became the pee bucket. John was
barely able to stagger into the bathroom and place the bucket in
front of him before the stream came. And when it came, it burned. It
was a burning like John had never felt before. "I think the hot
wings gave me gonorrhea!"
that was it. The ordeal was done. Like it never happened. So what did
theory: the wing sauce was so thick and there was so much of it that
it simply wasn't digesting. Whenever he got prone or moved around, it
coated the exit to his esophagus so no gas could escape.
didn’t buy it. Why all the gas? Wings don't make John gassy.
Her theory: it wasn't just the wings. John's 'preventative' measures
of Alka-Seltzer and Tums placed too much base in John's gut with all
that stomach acid and vinegary sauce.
caused the equivalent of a grade school science project volcano that
just kept erupting.
actually happened, it disappeared as fast as it came. No more agony.
No more discomfort. But maybe there should be no more food
challenges, either. Or not…
day reads "I survived the Seven Alarm Wing Dome Challenge".
Heike is considering embroidering one
between “I” and “survived”: “BARELY”.
Truth be told, there was a point that day where John thought his
grieving widow would have to return to Seattle - and give back the
C. Hollinger is a ‘master-of-none’ who has worked in many
industries throughout his life. Ophthalmology, the postal service,
hotels, radio, television, and bars - to name a handful. John works
to live but he lives to eat and travel. He loves experiencing new
places and new dishes, and then documenting them for his family and
friends. John, his wife Heike, their physically handicapped dog Boo,
and their mercurial cat Tino, have visited every Canadian province,
49 states (only Alaska remains), and several regions of Mexico and
the Caribbean. The Canuck family is perpetually on the move, having
lived in nearly two dozen homes this millennium - not counting the
motor home and hatchback which have carried them across North
America. Food challenges, for spice and for size, are a hobby John
doesn’t seek out but undertakes when accidentally discovered.
And he has the collection of T-shirts to prove it.
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
Another story by John
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