Seattle: The First 72 Hours

SEATTLE, Aug. 21 – A PRICKLY CARPET OF GREEN unfurled as we dipped beneath the clouds towards Sea-Tac Airport. The sky was a familiar watercolor of greys and blues, and as we whirred over Downtown waves of excitement and nostalgia shivered out from my core.

Eight long months ago I had been pulling off from the very runway on which I was now touching down. But as we deplaned and made our way curbside, it seemed like I had wandered into a time warp. Everything felt strangely similar – the air, the billboards, peoples’ faces, streets, buildings, the atmosphere. The feeling was both comforting and disconcerting; as I have shifted and changed, I somewhat expected my home to do similarly.

My parents (who joined us in Ladera Ranch), Janice and I piled into our dog-scented Subaru and cruised towards Federal Way, the sorry suburban boomtown where I was raised. Having fasted since the mini-bagels and sausage we ate at 9 that morning – it was now 5 p.m. – both Jan and I yearned for the Chinese food we had been promised. But we’d arranged to meet family friends not until 6:30, and so we begrudgingly eased our hunger pains with cereal and out-of-date milk.

In all my travels – excepting Beijing – I’ve yet to come across a more solid Chinese joint than Grand Peking. Having dined there semi-regularly for more than 15 years, I can say that the food has always been consistently delicious; the wontons are always crispy, the mu shu is spot-on, and it takes serious restraint not to fend off dining partners with chopsticks when deciding who gets the last piece of dry-roast chicken. And so that night we ordered plenty of dishes, and over conversation and swigs of Tsingtao, left barely a scrap.

After dinner, feeling tired from the reunion and traveling, Janice and I decided to lay low and go catch Superbad. The movie was absolutely hilarious, unexpectedly vulgar and felt more like a real film than just an entertaining summer blockbuster – which is to say, it had some merit. A well-done flick well worth your time, and a great way to end our night.

***

The next morning, Janice and I took our time waking up before driving to Seattle for breakfast at The Crumpet Shop. Despite its proximity to Pike Place Market, the shop is not touristy and feels cozy, and it’s one of my favorite breakfast places in the city. The crumpets are fresh and marshmellow-soft, and nothing beats a honey-oozing crumpet with some tea on a crisp Seattle morning. Janice had one with ham, English cheddar and tomato, while I opted for ricotta cheese with marmalade. We soaked in a moment of togetherness and relaxation, calm amid the bustle of downtown.

Behind us, a tourist who had accidentally dropped her travelers checks in line had them unexpectedly returned by the shop owner; a customer had picked them up and turned them in, and I could tell the woman and her family would leave with a lasting impression of the kindness of Seattle’s people.

We spent a good chunk of the morning wandering around the market, checking out the fresh produce, buying some Chukar cherries and enjoying the sights. Around noon, we met up with my friend Nick (my Tour de Cascadia companion) and strolled down to Pioneer Square. We stopped in Elliot Bay Books – an immense, beautiful wooden bookstore, where I picked up the 1970s bike-geek novel The Rider – before making our way to Salumi, the famous Italian sandwich shop. Even on a Wednesday the wait to order was 30 minutes, but the fresh mozzarella and Sopresatta was well worth it.

We ate our lunch up at Steinbrueck Park, taking in the view of the Sound and the strummings of a street-performer. Sunlight shone down beautifully, pushing away the clouds and creating the perfect Northwest summer day: a cool sea breeze and the smell of grass and pines.

After taking a walk down to the new Olympic sculpture park, Janice and I drove up to the U-District, my old stomping grounds. We walked the Ave, poked into shops (I picked up the latest Blue Scholars album) and meandered around campus. Upon realizing that, like myself, most of my old friends from the University of Washington had likely graduated and left, I felt a twinge of sadness and nostalgia. Sitting in front of the Union Building memories hovered like ghosts, the sunlight permeating their hollowness a glaring reminder that time is irreversible.

That night we dined at Blue C Sushi, an awesome train-sushi spot in the very yuppie University Village. Everything there was fanstastic except the spicy-tuna rolls – the chef had minced the tuna down to a goo.

Over the next couple days Janice and I explored the International District and Capitol Hill, and I took her to Seattle staples like Uwajimaya and Dick’s Burgers; she loved the former, not so impressed with the latter – and I can’t blame her, compared to NYC’s Shake Shack or Cali’s In-N-Out, Dick’s is definitely low on the chain, and the employees hardly serve with a smile.

It’s funny how showing someone around your hometown brings to the fore all the things you love about it – in the process of exploring and pointing out old haunts we are reminded of how special those places remain to us. Everything seems more vivid when you have the right person with whom to share it.

On Friday, Janice’s last night in town, we ate at Anthony’s sea food restaurant in Des Moines, a nice spot cuddled up to the marina serving some great seasonal peach froo-froo cocktails, which we both indulged in. The Sound glittered fantastically in the evening sun, and watching Janice smile as she dug into her prawns I knew I would miss her over this next month. I sighed, trying to stretch out the seconds.

Next: Vancouver Jazz Fest & Portland

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