SEATTLE, Aug. 30 – FIRST AVENUE WAS A MESS of traffic…if you were in a car. But for us it looked as if someone had just set up a slowly-moving obstacle course; we wove between bumpers and brake lights, brushing side mirrors and trying to avoid contact with frustrated drivers.
Nick and I had spent the better part of the day cruising around downtown on our bicycles. We left from his home in South Park around noon, and made our way all the way up to Magnolia via downtown streets and a bike path running from the Olympic Sculpture Park to Elliot Bay. We stared at the seawall of the marina while being harassed by some country-club lackey for riding on the footpath – no matter. We shoved off back to downtown and, after a couple hours of riding in the sun, felt desperate for a meal that was hearty but not heavy; nothing’s worse than a rock in your gut when you’re navigating traffic.
We found our answer at Noodle Ranch, a small Belltown joint on 2nd Avenue with plenty of outdoor seating. As I perused the menu I was salivating over the idea of some pan-fried noodles with curry sauce, but knew I’d regret it given the day’s heat. Both Nick and I settled on the “Mekong Grill,” (he got beef, I got pork) a dish of grilled meat layered over Vietnamese-style rice vermicelli and a bed of lettuce topped with a lightly sweet peanut sauce – I tore it apart. My belly sufficiently full, I sat back, exhaled and took in the scenery – bike messengers hauling by, a couple guys wearing thick-rimmed glasses having afternoon whisky shots, big brick buildings cutting into the azure sky, and homeless men dragging their belongings. I realized how much I really love Seattle, how much I’d missed it.
The couple previous days had been similarly filled with easy summer atmosphere. I spent half of Tuesday cycling around my hometown, fighting for a slice of the road in a car-oriented suburb unwilling to share, and the other half riding around the University District and Ballard. A friend of mine recently got a job at a wine shop and bar called Portalis in a beautiful, brick-layered Ballard neighborhood – I stopped by, enjoyed a beer, and had a great chat with the head chef about her plans to travel in Argentina.
As for Wednesday, well, it was essentially 14 hours of drinking and watching the Mariners get absolutely spanked by the Angels. I had a nice sunburn and headache to show for it the following day.
After Nick and I had finished our noodles, we stopped for coffee a couple blocks away, taking some relaxing breaths before making our way through the rush hour fray. The volume of cars as we headed back was augmented by the afternoon’s Seahawks game, but it was all part of the fun – the thing I love about riding in traffic is that it requires being ultimately aware. It’s a kind of meditation for me, where the mind can’t wander or worry without risking a physical reminder of the immediate reality.
We trucked back to South Seattle and hammered up a final hill to Nick’s house before setting our bikes up against his fence and sitting in the driveway sucking air. I remembered the days when these kinds of bicycle adventures were daily things, when we scurried around the neighborhood until the blanket of dusk had fallen and our moms called us home. Downtown sat off in the distance. The veneer of a familiar home peeled away to expose that we’d all changed, and the city pulsed in the late-August sunlight.