In April of 2005, I went on a business trip to Seattle, Washington. Well, to be precise, I went to Kirkland, out in Seattle's suburbs. It was my first business trip. I saw some interesting things. And then there was a sad ending to the trip that will seem like it came out of nowhere to you, dear reader. You might want to skip that part.
Jim Oakley, ace recruiter, gave me a ride from work to the airport. He was working as a recruiter part-time and was a full-time student. He was studying at a special school which sought to reconcile spiritual with worldly knowledge. Actually, I think I'm messing up that explanation. But it was something like that. And thus when I entered the airport, followed some signs, and found the Peet's coffee up on the mezzanine, I thought of it as sign of favor from on high.
The ride from the Seattle Airport to the La Quinta chain hotel outside Kirkland was pretty interesting, too. One lady was returning home from Johannesburg, which you might think was interesting, but she was too tired to have good anecdotes. But some folks were coming back from the Grand Canyon--they said that it was green with growth right now. I was halfway tempted to ask the van driver to turn back around to the airport so that I could hop a flight to Arizona. But I got over it.
The previous night, I'd been too tired to figure out the window curtains, and this morning the sun streamed in and woke me up. Not too much sun, though--it was raining. I walked up the hill to a big park & ride with a bus shelter. I sat by some damp student-looking types and waited for a bus into downtown Seattle.
Downtown, it was raining harder. I emerged from the underground bus tunnels and let the wind blow some water over me. I wobbled past the (now-defunct) Openwave Seattle office. I walked up a hill to the new library, designed by a fancy-pants architect. Surely the library would let me in out of the rain. Except that it wouldn't. The library was closed, wouldn't open up for a few hours. The new Seattle main library was a very architected building, twisted at funny angles. I looked up at it and thought--it's just like a real building that got left out in the rain and crumpled up. I shook my head. That wasn't like me. It was time to seek shelter before I got any grumpier.
I walked down to Pioneer Square. Larry's nightclub was open, pounding out music. Finally, a nightclub for morning people! No wonder it was named for me. I started to amble over before I figured out--these people thought it was still Friday night. They had stayed up all night for a reason other than a puzzle hunt. What a bunch of weirdoes. I unambled myself back away from Larry's and instead entered Central Station, a cafe open early on a Saturday, where I payed for my croissant and coffee with four sopping wet dollar bills.
It was good to be in out of the rain. But eventually my impatience forced me back outside. I'd been coming to Seattle about once a year for about 12 years, and my guidebook was old enough to learn algebra. This had been cause for remorse in a Seattle road trip a few months earlier: the guide had directed Tom Lester and I to a long-gone Mexican restaurant in Olympia and a defunct maritime history center which had devolved into a patch of weeds behind a Wal-Mart parking lot. So when the Elliott Bay Bookstore opened, I headed over to buy a new travel guide.
Then I went back to the new Seattle public library. Now it wasn't raining; now the library was open; now I liked the library plenty. I helicambulated the stacks. There were wide open spaces in some areas, but I liked the stacks--their awkward slant forced the breaking-up of the space around them into small nooks with extra shelves, study tables, and cart parking spots. I sat for a while to riffle through my new travel guide.
I walked up to the tippy-top of the stack ramp, through the upper reading room, and around the corner of an elevator waiting area to a little balcony where I could look down behind the main librarians' desk. It was like a glimpse into the high priesthood: there they sat and over there they made coffee and over there they walked with a sense of purpose. What reader doesn't dream of running away from home to become a librarian? Here was a chance to observe them from a remove and pretend that their lives were serene.
In addition to shelter and fantasizing, the library also offered free internet access and not-too-costly tourist t-shirts. I availed myself of both.
The rain had stopped and I ventured forth in search of a late lunch. I walked through Pike Place Market and over to the Pink Door where I had some pasta that was just fine. I was sitting back and reading and digesting when my pager buzzed. I looked at the message: my cousin Nancy said that tomorrow would be a good day for a visit. I smiled. My lunch seemed better now.
I caught the bus back to Kirkland, wandered its suburban streets, found a grocery store, and brought back some food to my room.
In the Morning, I caught the bus to Seattle's U District. I headed over to the Fremont district. I went past some public art along the way.
I confirmed the sad closing of the Longshoreman's Daughter. It had been my favorite Seattle breakfast spot. Now it was a breakfast spot--that was closed. Its windows were plastered with posters for some meditation guru. Oh great, a restaurant that closed down whenever the proprietors wanted to work on their breathing. I headed up to Julia's on Wallingford. Their breakfast was good, but not spectacular. OK, so I would need to spend my next several visits to Seattle finding my new favorite breakfast spot. There are worse fates.
I walked over to my cousin's place in Greenlake, seeing sights along the way.
I visited with my cousin Nancy, her husband Cedric, and their toddler Paul. We walked around the neighborhood and chatted. I took some photos of them that turned out poorly. Maybe I should have kept those photos, should have said, "Look, Paul looks all blurry in this picture because he's like this ball of energy bouncing around beew beew beew!" But while that's true, I think a better photographer could have compensated.
I worked pretty hard.
Then in the evening, Matt Armstrong dropped by. Matt and I had worked at Openwave together, but before that, we'd both worked at Geoworks. At the Google office, he had a chance to catch up with Jenn Braithewait, née Jenn Wu, a former Geoworker now working at Google.
Matt and I headed over to Than Brothers, a pho place in Redmond. Matt was recently divorced, and we talked about that, talked about how he was keeping up with the kids. Partway through, he called over to Davina's place to talk with them. I watched as his daughter read to him over the phone.
I was glad to be out of the mobile phone business. At the same time, I was glad that mobile phones made it easy for him to hear his daughter read to him.
I walked to work along the shore today, seeing Kirkland at its best.
I worked. Dinner was take-away from Chutney's. It was OK. My co-worker Vanessa Fox warned me that there was a lot of bad Indian food in Kirkland, and that "OK" was pretty good here.
After I caught a bus back to the hotel, I walked to the Burgermaster drive-in next door. They served a veggie burger, though it wasn't on the menu. A little veggie burger, a little root beer float, and somehow I didn't mind the quality of the Indian food so much.
On the way to work, I stopped off for coffee at Java Java Java. This place was a combination tanning salon/coffee shop. I was tempted to ask if they used the tanning booths to roast coffee, but wasn't sure if I was ready for the answer.
Joon Song gave me a ride over to Ron's house. We caught up a bit. Over at Ron's I hung out with Ron, Sua, and the twins. We danced along to Sesame Street Songs. It was a lot of fun.
We've come to the sad ending. You might want to skip it. If you do, just click on the little "Done" square.
Back at the hotel, my pager buzzed. I read it. It was an email from my parents. My grandfather's heart medication wasn't working. This was nothing new--he'd been on several medications for the last several months. Each time one didn't work, it was time to try the next one.
This time, there was no next one.
My grandfather was dying, would probably be dead in a few days.
Seattle was full of fun people to visit, but now there was no-one I wanted to see more than my grandfather.
I called the airline and arranged to fly back to San Francisco on Saturday.
I went to work. I made arrangements to cut short my trip a week early.
I called up Matt to cancel out of some weekend plans.
Sometimes I worked hard and tried not to think about anything outside of work. Sometimes I sat and thought about nothing at all.
Matt came over after work. We got some pizza. We got some ice cream. I don't think we talked much. We sat down by Kirkland's public shore. There were a lot of kids running around, immortal. It was good to watch them.
Back before everything had fallen apart, I'd told Vanessa that I wanted to find a shop that sold old postcards for a scavenger hunt. She'd told me that the antique shop at Pioneer Square would be good. She was right. It was a good place not to think about much.
Then there was a plane flight, and then a taxi ride to my parents' place, and then we headed over to the hospital where my grandfather rested, still alive, still lucid. It was a good visit.
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