Guy approaching me on the street with a ragged bouquet of flowers: “Hey, buy some flowers for your wife?”
Me: “No, thanks. She’s 3,000 miles away.”
Guy: “That’s cool – I just pulled these out of a dumpster.”
That was 10 years ago in Seattle. I talked to him for a while and he told me he used to be able to make a decent living as a street performer, but no one carries cash anymore, just cards. The florists usually destroy the flowers before dumping them, but sometimes he could salvage a few.
He’s just one of the Seattle characters I remember from my three months there in 2005. I had just left the soon-to-be-bankrupt Delta Air Lines and started work for a little software company in Pioneer Square, Seattle. I was going to be their first remote (non-Sales) employee, so they had me come out for three months of training to play it safe.
I flew home to Atlanta every other weekend to see my family. It’s one of those things we look back on and can’t believe we had the energy for it. But it set me up for an alternating dream-nightmare (usually dream) job for the past 10 years and I now only remember the fun parts of my 90 days in a strange land.
The company put me up in a cheap furnished apartment in Belltown, about a mile from the office. It was called Marvin Gardens, after the Monopoly square, and it has since been replaced by high-rise apartments. It was across the street from what the locals called “Crack Park” due to its history of drug deals. They were trying to turn it into a dog park. I met many of my neighbors when the fire alarm went off at 3am. They were interesting folks, but I guess we all are at that hour.
Buses were free in the downtown area, but I preferred to walk the mile to and from work. I rotated through a different avenue each day and got to the point where I could time my pace to catch nearly every Walk signal at the crosswalks. I got to know some of the regulars on the streets: The Guy Who Yells At Traffic Lights, The Guy Who Yells At Trash Cans (my wife met him when she visited), and The Guy Who Yelled At Me, “Why. . .are you . . . so . . . BAAAAALD?!”
I survived on canned soup and yogurt from Rite Aid and Ralph’s, went to a couple of Seattle Symphony performances, saw Flight of the Conchords in concert, and visited every possible tourist spot at least twice.
I tipped a whole lot of street performers:
The Seattle library was a frequent stop, mostly to get classical music cds from their huge collection.
I hosted a co-worker from India for a weekend in Seattle and took him to Specialty’s Cafe for [seriously the most amazing] cinnamon rolls and hot chocolate, The Daily Dozen for powdered donuts, Grand Central Bakery for pastries, the Seattle Center for beignets, and Le Panier for an authentic pain au chocolat. I didn’t realize the theme until he remarked, “You really like sugar bread, don’t you?”
Mae Phim Thai was a little restaurant not far from the office and we ate there at least 50% of the time for lunch. Their cashew nut chicken is pretty much the best thing ever. The servers got to know me as the guy who always ordered “zero stars” (no hot spice). Even zero stars got my armpits tingling, but it was a good hurt.
I knew it was time to head home when the Christmas decorations started going up on the buildings and I quit being able to see the Space Needle through the rain and fog.
Seattleites are sensitive and defensive about their weather. If you complain about it, they’re likely to express gratitude that it keeps people (implied: people like you) away. I was there as more than a tourist but less than a local. I like the place. Better than Portland, anyway. 😉