Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Superb Saturday and Sunday in Seattle

Saturday, we started our day not in All City Coffee, like we usually did, but in downtown Seattle at the Zeitgeist coffeehouse. The Zeitgeist had wifi, like all the independent little coffeeshops (including All City) seem to have-- another reason for going there, rather than a big chain. I was thus able to finish and upload Saturday's dispatch.

We hopped back in the car and drove about 60 miles north to a tulip festival.

I'd like to say that we were doing it strictly to indulge Andreas's wife Lynn, but Andreas and I enjoyed it as well.

And of course, it made my eventual return to cold and snow in Chicago that much more enjoyable. Really.

After the tulip festival, we stopped at a nearby winery, and tasted a few wines and ciders. We purchased a couple of bottles for that evening's consumption.

We chose another route back that would take us over the Deception Pass Bridge. The Deception Pass was so-named because the first explorers thought that they had found a penisula. It was, in fact, an island.

We parked the car and walked over the bridge to the other side and back.

We stopped and talked to the woman manning the little tourist booth, who gave us some good suggestions where to stop for dinner. We took her suggestion and stopped in a little seaside town and had dinner in The Mad Crab.

The food was marvelous, and so was the view.

Our route back took us to the ferry across Puget Sound. It occurred to me that I'd never been on a car ferry before. It was very cool. Washington State has the biggest ferry system in the country.

The ferry was amazing-- lobbies, washrooms-- even wifi. Our ride was only like 10 minutes. If it hadn't been so short, I might have paid the $6.95 for the day pass for it just for the novelty. Some of the ferry rides in the sytem are longer-- much longer. You can take it all the way up to Alaska.

As we headed back to Seattle, Andreas got a phone call from his attorney. As we left, he'd stopped at a FedEx-Kinkos to fax a letter to his attorney formally rejecting a counteroffer on the house he and Lynn had bid on, in anticipation of another offer. It had never arrived at his attorney's office. It turned out that he had the wrong last digit of the fax number. Since he had the paper with him, all we had to do was fax it again. And then it was then that we found out a hard fact of life: that it's damn near impossible to find a fax machine in Seattle at 8:00 at night. The document needed to be to his attorney by 9:00 pm. After frantically running by every print shop they could think of, it occurred to them to try a hotel. Thank god for the Silver Cloud Hotel-- not only did they fax it for him at 8:45, but they wouldn't take any money for it.

We got home, popped open the wine, and since Will Ferrell seemed to be a theme running through the weekend ("More cowbell!"), we popped in the Old School dvd I'd brought along. They'd never seen it before (it's one of my favorites) and they loved it.

Lynn wasn't feeling well, so she went off to bed and Andreas walked over to have a couple of beers the 9 Pound Hammer, which is right near the Fantagraphics store, the All City Coffee, and the Magic Wheels Motorcycle Club....

When we all got up Sunday morning, Andreas asked Lynn and I if we'd heard the gunfire later the night before. I'm notorious for sleeping through anything (I once slept through a pretty good earthquake in California). We hadn't. As we walked over for breakfast at Smarty Pants, which is next door to the 9 Pound Hammer, we literally walked into a crime scene. Seems like there was a shooting-- Andreas hadn't been imagining the gunfire. The CSI crew had cordoned off the area and was going over it with a fine-toothed comb.

Turns out that a 25-year-old guy, who was not a member of the motorcycle club, but had been visiting someone there, and was, as the Seattle cop politely said, "a known bad guy" (i.e. a gangbanger), had been walking out to his car and a couple of guys pulled up in another car and shot him several times. Between the EMT's and emergency room crew, they were able to save his life.

At least until the next time.

It was unusual. The bikers are pretty nice guys-- I'd been in their club and had a drink with them-- it's an all-black club, and they had no problem with me or anyone else. The guy had been unrelated to the club-- someone had waited for him to come out. Part of the recent uptick in violent crime, mostly young black men against other young black men.

We discovered, to our disappointment, that Smarty Pants was not open on Easter, so we went to have coffee at the ubiquitious All City Coffee, and figure out where to go for breakfast. There we ran into their next-door neighbor Mike, one of the many cool people I've met in Seattle.

Mike is a career musician, and also owns a popular music store in Seattle. A couple of days before, he'd shown us a full-page ad he'd put in a local music magazine, decrying the war in Iraq-- that it was started under false pretenses, and that it was time to bring the troops home. His response was overwhelmingly positive-- he actually had a big increase in business. He had had two pieces of hate mail. He'd responded to them, inviting them to come to his store and discuss it. Neither hate-mail author took him up on it.

We finished our conversation and coffee and headed back home. As we approached Andreas and Lynn's house, I saw something I'd hoped to see while there-- I saw a bald headed eagle circling far overhead their neighborhood. I couldn't get a good picture, but I could see the white head flashing. It was a thing of beauty.

We headed downtown in Lynn's car and went to the Fado, a great Irish restaurant/pub. We got the same great waiter we'd gotten the last couple of times we'd been there. I had corned beef, potatoes and cabbage, with the frickin' hottest horseradish I'd ever had. I grabbed the check-- it's my tradition to buy the last meal when I'm visiting, to thank them for their hospitality-- and we headed out to do some touristy Seattle things.

I finally saw the famous Pike Street fish market. It was not busy, so I saw no fish thrown.

We also headed to a museum/souvenir shop, where I saw many things, including a whale schlong bone.

We finally headed back home so that I could pack. As I got ready to leave, I had conflicting feelings. I missed my wife and children, and was looking forward to waking up in my own bed, cooking in my own kitchen. But I knew I would miss Seattle when I left. Andreas pointed out, in a conversation at some point over the long weekend, that Seattle was, in a lot of ways, a place in which a lot of the ideals of the sixties were realized. There's a real joy to life there, and a feeling of warmth toward other people. There's a general feeling of awareness of the big picture there-- politics, the environment, the arts and spiritual growth. It's a place you don't feel you're constantly swimming upstream to pursue those things.

I loved seeing this bumper sticker, which a recent post by Tocatta made me think of:

Seattle is, for the most part, unrepentantly liberal, diverse and friendly. It's not a perfect place, but it is a marvelous place.

On the plane ride home, I wrote in my journal. It was like a dam burst. I had written only a few paragraphs in it since last June, when in a week's time, I lost a teaching job I loved, a job I'd thought I'd work until retirement, and a beloved friend had been murdered. The last time in Seattle, I'd been struggling with those things. This time, I'd been able to put some time in between those events and now. I was able to enjoy being with my friends, and being in such a lovely place.

Writing page after page in my journal, I was finally able to understand and elucidate why the events of nearly a year before had shaken me so much. They had made me realize that there were, in all liklihood, more years behind me than ahead of me, and that whatever it was that was my life's work, I need to either be working on it, or needed to be working on it pretty soon.

As I journaled, listening on my Ipod to the Roy Orbison record I hadn't heard in over 20 years, I figured out that I needed to be terribly honest with myself about what my life's work was.

My most important life's work is to raise the two children I'm raising. My other life's work includes being a good husband to my wife, to take care of the people in my life, and to leave the world better off when I leave it than when I arrived. I realized that I'm doing fine with the first three things, but need to work on the last one.

I may or may not live in Seattle some day, but in my head and heart, I carry a little bit of the place to remind me what the world can be like, if we work at it a little.


Bubs said...

That was a really cool post.

I notice in your photo of the crime scene that the cops in the upper left of the photo are starting to give you the fish eye.

You paint a great picture of Seattle.

kim said...

Jesus, did I marry a travel writer? 15 pictures I think is more than all of Fodor's Seattle 2006 had.


Palette said...

Seattle is fantastic on the outside, and for visits. Living there however for 12 years paints an entirely different picture. The city is rampant with passive aggression and is home to some of the worst legal precedents put down on paper. After a decade plus I had all of the "it's all about me" sanctimony I could take. I think your honest no bones approach would rattle a lot of the folks and their beautiful gardens, if you were there for a longer period of time.

Erik Donald France said...

Yeah, very cool post, indeed. You know, Kim may be right about travel writing in classic style. Very well rendered.

kim said...

Brian darling,

I mean this with all the love in my heart. I just re-read your post. You would really be a fantastic minister. You are able to take a place/event and tie it back to other things and get a lesson out of it. I am thinking we should re-think the pharmacy idea and consider the seminary.

deadspot said...

When we went down to Southern Illinois a few years ago, one of the things we did was take the ferry to Kentucky, just to say we'd done it. Then, we drove until we could turn around and take it back.

If you want to show the kids some eagles, the Rock Island Arsenal has a viewing season when they are in the area. Getting in is a little like entering the Green Zone, but once you are there, they show you into a little museum about the river locks, a ranger shows you a short movie about bald eagle conservation, and then takes you up into the old clock tower to look for eagles. It was pretty cool. Take binoculars.

If you go, you should stop in at Comedy Sports while you're in the Quad Cities. It's a competitive improv thing, it's OK for kids, and they were really funny folks who all hold down day jobs.

Skylers Dad said...

I remember my very first trip to Seattle. My wife is from there and we went back for Christmas, and I was meeting the extended family.

It's Christmas morning, about 30 people there, and I use the phone to call my folks to wish Merry Christmas.

Dad asks how is the weather? I answer it's raining... Bad move.

The entire room turns at once on me, and out of everyones mouth comes a phrase that is some variation of "It's not raining!"

I walk outside and come back in wet, to me that is rain, but they are a little defensive about that! ;^)

Anon. Blogger said...

I love the western states of the US, at least for as much as I know. I've always felt most like 'me' when I have lived further west.

Thanks for inspiring a post for me!

You know, some people go through an entire life without discovering their purpose - until it is too late. Tough times test our basic foundational principles, and often help us discover them. In that way the tough times are gifts. It is certainly difficult to see that unless it is through a rear view mirror, tho!!

A life's work is so much more than about a career or a job. I'm so happy for you. Gook luck figuring out the career thing - it will come. Like you said in your subsequent post, sometimes all you have to do is ask.

Johnny Yen said...


The police actually figured we were locals and were trying to pinpoint chronology, and asked us a couple of questions.

It's a love place, Seattle.

Maybe that can be my next job.

Oh, come on-- you must have just brought it out in people...

I think my approach rattles people wherever I go. Particularly school adminstrators.

Coming from one of my favorite writers, that's high praise.

I'd have to change some core beliefs for that. Thank you, though...

Thanks for the suggestions!

When I was a bartender (right around the time you and Sue got married), the Chicago Comedysportz used to perform in the bar I worked at. I have to say that this particular group was painfully unfunny. Sounds like you had a better experience with the other group.

Skyler's Dad-
I've got to say that it's rained very little-- no more than Chicago while I'm visiting. Maybe I'm just lucky.

Anon. Blogger-
You're welcome!

I think I've got a pretty good idea of what to do. Now it's a matter of getting it all together.

Johnny Yen said...

Meant to say "lovely place." Although I'm sure to some it's a love place...