The Tour Guide on a Million Dollars Commission

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August 20th 2018
Published: August 21st 2018
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Seattle SkylineSeattle SkylineSeattle Skyline

Sadly it was very overcast.
We are still on UK time, so when I woke up it was 3.30am in Seattle. I decided to do the usual sad photographer thing and make use of the time to get some early morning photos. I headed for Kerry Park, which is where all the pictures of the Seattle skyline seem to be taken from.

The walk there did not take as long as I had expected. I had about an hour to wait before the sky started to lighten, so I watched all the cruise ships coming and going, presumably to and from Alaska.

Sadly the conditions were not that good and any photographs just seemed dull and overcast. Some other photographers arrived and explained that this was all due to the smoke from the multitude of fires around this side of the country. That explains the rather strange looking sun last night - which looked like a sunset despite it still being high in the sky.

My son and I had booked to go on a tour of the Boeing Factory in Everett, which is about 30 miles north of Seattle. Despite the countless hours of therapy, I am still traumatised from the experience
Not SunsetNot SunsetNot Sunset

The smog of all the weed smoking.
of driving in Manhattan last year (see Brotherly Love Is Temporarily French) and the memories came flooding back whilst I was trying to negotiate the one way grid system in central Seattle. I am sure we would have been destined to criss-cross around Seattle for the rest of our lives had it not been for the miracle that is satnav.

Despite that we arrived early and had a look around the “Future of Flight” exhibit whilst we were waiting for the tour. Whilst it was worth seeing all the plane related exhibits, there was nothing that could be considered to be anything to do with the future of flight.

It is impossible to describe just how big this building is. It is the largest building in the world (by volume) and is apparently big enough to fit the whole of the Los Angeles Disneyland inside and sill have 12 acres left over. It was completely forbidden to take any cameras or mobile phones inside (for safety rather than confidentiality reasons apparently), so, sadly, no photos.

The building was originally built for the production of the 747, but then was gradually extended to accommodate new models as they were launched - the
Boeing FactoryBoeing FactoryBoeing Factory

The largest building in the world by volume.
most recent being the 787. The tour took us to different areas (you needed a bus to get from one end of the building to the other) where you could see the production of the different models. The 787 is now by far the most popular with one leaving the building every three days. It is a closely guarded secret how long it takes to build a plane from start to finish as they don’t want competitors (i.e. Airbus) finding out.

They still build 747s there, but there are now no orders for any passenger versions as the smaller, lighter, more fuel efficient plans are more in favour at the moment. There was a cargo version being built (one of several for UPS). In this building it looked tiny.

A brand new 747 will set you back $406 million and that is without the engines, which the customers buy separately from General Electric (or Rolls Royce?) and Boeing attach to the plane. They cost $50 million each and a 747 will need four of them. The customers also provide all the internal décor, although Boeing will, again, install it all.

The 787s are even more expensive at $450 million (although they only need two engines). Our guide said he was on commission and was expected to get at least one sale from each tour group. Whilst I’d love a shiny new 787, I think he was joking.

There were also a number to top secret military planes being built. These are basically variations of the standard 7x7 designs, but adapted for various other purposes, with the majority of those that are currently being built being for in-air refuelling.

As the bus took us back to the so called “Future of Flight”, we went across a bridge over a freeway. This bridge is just wide enough for the wheels of a 747 and all the planes are taken across it once they are finished. Apparently they now only move the planes at night as people on the freeway were, understandably, distracted by the planes and would often even stop for photographs.

On the other side of the bridge are some separate buildings where the planes are painted in the designs required by the customers. Beside that was a line of planes all undergoing their final testing before being picked-up by the customers. There was a shiny new 787 in the British Airways colours, along with various other countries and several plain looking military ones.

A nice touch, when the customers take their planes, is that each plane will do a little ‘wave’ in the sky by tilting to the left and right. It is a “goodbye” and a “thank you” to all the people who helped to build it.

Once the tour was over, we drove to Redmond to go to the Visitors’ Centre at the Microsoft Campus. It was hard to believe that this was a company head quarters as driving around it was more like a university campus or small town. It needed shuttle buses to help people get around.

The Visitors’ Centre was ok, but not amazing, particularly as half of it was screened off and was being rebuilt. It was basically a short history of Microsoft and lots of kids playing xBox games (that might be a little unfair though). I didn’t know that the first versions of Excel and of Microsoft Office were for the Mac, not for Windows. It explained the out-of-place looking first-generation Mac in an exhibit about the history of Microsoft.

Sadly we missed out on the opportunity to get a professional LinkedIn photo taken (LinkedIn is now owned by Microsoft), but that was not something that we would lose any sleep over. There was also a massive shop, which was bigger than the Visitors’ Centre. As well as all the electronics, laptops and software, there was a lot a massively over-priced Microsoft merchandise. Now I do like Microsoft software, but I really couldn’t see myself wearing a Microsoft branded shirt or Microsoft Branded socks.

The only way back to Seattle was via a toll bridge over Lake Washington. Great, now I’ve got the worry of trying to workout how to pay the toll. Again, there are no humans around anymore.

Seattle was still overcast and hazy. We headed out to meet my wife and daughter and the real reason for the haze became apparent. Every where you go in Seattle, there is the constant, ever present smell of weed.

We had said that Seattle reminded us of San Francisco, with the Fisherman’s Wharf like front, seagulls and the weather, but even San Francisco would be embarrassed about this much weed smoking.


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