IF VI WAS IX (an homage to the Jimi Hendrix song “If 6 was 9”) is a sculpture consisting of more than 500 musical instruments and 30 computers conceived by UK exhibit designer Neal Potter and developed by sound sculptor Trimpin on display at the Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame. Photo Credit: Benjamin Mack/GALO Magazine.

IF VI WAS IX (an homage to the Jimi Hendrix song “If 6 was 9”) is a sculpture consisting of more than 500 musical instruments and 30 computers conceived by UK exhibit designer Neal Potter and developed by sound sculptor Trimpin on display at the Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame. Photo Credit: Benjamin Mack/GALO Magazine.

“His voice kind of reminds me of whenever Larry gets flustered on Curb Your Enthusiasm,” I remarked.

Just like that, our conversation had shifted to the HBO television series starring Seinfeld co-creator Larry David. One of our favorite TV shows, recounting our beloved mishaps involving David (one of the show’s main premises) was an activity we could partake in for hours.

We were still talking by the time we drove through Forks, the very place where Twilight heroine Bella Swan and vampire beau Edward Cullen lived. The teen saga may be what some tourists associate Forks with, but the reality is that two of the town’s primary employers are the nearby Clallam Bay Corrections Center and Olympic Corrections Center, both of which house prisoners at up to maximum security. And the Twilight craze seemed to be fading. It had been two years since the last film (Breaking Dawn – Part 2) had been in cinemas, and popularity for the series appeared to have waned; we counted only two Twilight-themed stores as we passed through the city of about 3,700 people downtown. Already dark by the time we drove through, we did not stop in Forks (though not from fear of encountering vampires and werewolves).

It was after midnight when we went by Port Angeles — a port city of over 19,000 that is among the largest in the Olympic Peninsula — and Port Townsend, Sequim and Shelton. Traffic was still conspicuously absent; it was nearly 4 a.m. by the time we reached the glimmering lights of Seattle, also known as the Emerald City.

After our Wizard of Oz-like voyage, the “Emerald City” seemed an exceptionally appropriate nickname for the largest city in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. (though the city gained the moniker in a 1981 contest, in reference to the large number of evergreen trees in the area, not the L. Frank Baum book). The home of companies like Microsoft, Starbucks, Amazon and Boeing, immortalized in films and TV shows such as Sleepless in Seattle and Grey’s Anatomy (no, we did not see McDreamy), and the birthplace of grunge music (and Nirvana), Seattle has played a large role in shaping modern American culture. Also the home of the iconic Space Needle, Seattle had been inhabited by Native Americans at least 4,000 years prior to the first permanent European settlers. Established at its current site in 1853 and named “Seattle” after Chief Si’ahl of the Duwamish and Suquamish tribes, the city first grew as a logging, fishing and shipbuilding center and as the gateway to Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush in the late 1800s. Since then, events such as the emergence of Boeing as a major aircraft manufacturer following World War II, the 1962 World’s Fair (for which the Space Needle was built), and the establishment of technology companies like Microsoft in the 1980s have helped transform the city into a thriving metropolis of over 650,000 (and a metro population of more than 3.5 million).

But we were utterly exhausted, and with the vast majority of the city’s famous coffee shops closed at such an ungodly hour, we checked into a low-price Econo Lodge just off of Interstate 5. By the time we laid our heads on the pillows (after deciding the $89 per night rate, though seeming a tad high, wasn’t worth arguing over given our state of tiredness), the sun was beginning to rise over the eastern horizon, brightening the sky into shades of electric blue.

Given our late arrival, naturally we slept in, finally checking out of the hotel just minutes before the 11 a.m. deadline. Navigating the streets that were much busier than they had been the night before, we parked near the Seattle Center, the 74-acre (30 hectare) park, arts, and entertainment center that is home to the Space Needle, McCaw Hall (home of the Seattle Opera and shared as a performance space with the Pacific Northwest Ballet), KeyArena (where the now-defunct Seattle Supersonics NBA team played) and the Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame (EMP), among other attractions.

It was the EMP that we gravitated to first. Dedicated to contemporary popular culture, the EMP Museum was founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen in 2000, and is housed in a futuristic-looking building designed by Frank O. Gehry. Entering it has the feel of boarding an alien spacecraft, and wandering through the 140,000 square feet (13,000 square meters) of exhibition space certainly felt like we had stepped into another world. With the world’s largest collection of rare artifacts, handwritten lyrics, personal instruments, and original photographs celebrating the music and history of Seattle musicians, such as Nirvana and Jimi Hendrix as well as other Seattle acts like Soundgarden and Mudhoney, the EMP could be renamed by fans as the “First Church of Rock Music.” There was a collection of some of Hendrix’s outfits from his days as a dandy during the Swinging London of the 1960s (a collection full of bright jackets and frilly shirts that made me realize how much Hendrix understood and appreciated fashion. I decided then and there that he was among the most underrated fashion icons of the decade); an exhibit on music videos (much of it was devoted to Seattle artist Macklemore and Iceland’s Bjӧrk); and an interactive “sound lab” that let visitors jam on various instruments, including electric guitars, bass guitars, drums, and even sound mixing equipment.

But perhaps among the most impressive exhibits was IF VI WAS IX (an homage to the Hendrix song “If 6 was 9”), a sculpture consisting of more than 500 musical instruments and 30 computers conceived by UK exhibit designer Neal Potter and developed by sound sculptor Trimpin. The towering musical sculpture, which was three stories tall, was among the most incredible pieces of art I’d ever seen: guitars, trumpets, accordions, banjos and more, all mishmashed together in a single tribute to sound, making the visual chaos beautiful to look at.

The adjacent Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame was equally impressive. Founded by Paul Allen and Jody Patton and opened to the public in June 2004, it is chock-full of artifacts from science fiction and fantasy lore, such as Captain Kirk’s command chair from Star Trek, a Dalek from Doctor Who, Darth Vader’s lightsaber from Star Wars, and even the Wicked Witch of the West’s pointed black hat from The Wizard of Oz. What intrigued me most, however, was the original manuscript from Bram Stoker’s 1897 masterpiece novel Dracula. Written out on a typewriter, the pages on display were filled with handwritten corrections, notes and other annotations in cursive black ink. It was surprising, I thought, that such a great work could have undergone so many revisions. It gave me hope for my own book, a nonfiction account of my adventures in North Korea, which was in the works.

After a few hours, we returned from the future to 21st century America. Although receiving just 71 clear days a year and 2,100 hours of sunshine on average, only a few puffy white clouds floated in the azure sky as we wandered the Seattle streets. The Northwest city may be at roughly the same latitude as Salzburg, Austria — and further north than Canadian cities such as Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal — but temperatures were in the low 70s Fahrenheit (low 20s Celsius). We made our way past the Space Needle and down 5th Avenue, drinking in the sights and sounds of the city. Traffic — both of the vehicular and pedestrian variety — was as heavy as one might find in Manhattan during rush hour (neither of us are fans of traffic), but we didn’t let that dampen our spirits as we turned right on Pine Street. Descending a steep asphalt hill, we suddenly found ourselves at one of the most famous Seattle icons of all: Pike Place Market.

“Let’s see how many 12th Man jerseys are hanging here,” John said, commenting on the plethora of American football jerseys with the number 12 written on them, in reference to the devout fans of the Super Bowl champions Seattle Seahawks, that we’d seen several times already.

“I can imagine quite a few,” I replied.

“There’s one right there,” John said pointing. Sure enough, hanging from a second-floor balcony on a building on Pine Street was a jersey in the Seahawks’ signature navy blue and bright green.

“Oh, great,” I answered. “Just watch out for a screaming Richard Sherman.” The mere mention of the controversial (and popular) Seahawks cornerback had us both reciting his famous Jan. 19 rant (given on live television after a playoff victory) that sparked a national discussion on race and celebrity in America.

Sherman (us in unison): “He knows what he said! [Sherman was referring to Crabtree in an interview with reporter Erin Andrews]. Don’t you open your mouth about the best, or I’ll shut it for you real quick!”