Seattle a decade ago

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.”

Flowers at Pike Place
Flowers at Pike Place

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 It was called Marvin Gardens, after the Monopoly square, and it has since been replaced by high-rise apartments.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.

Space Needle reflection
Space Needle reflection

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.

Very French Bakery
Very French Bakery

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?”

Cashew nut chicken, no stars!
Cashew nut chicken, no stars!

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.

The Space Needle in the winter
The Space Needle in the winter

 

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. 😉

Galta Monkey Temple

The first time I went to India, in 2008, I picked up the paper and read about monkeys that were raiding villages and stealing food and medicine. I’m pretty sure I read that they were stealing human babies, too, although now that I try to find an article online about it I’m having a rough time finding a reliable source. Jet lag was pretty bad that first visit, so maybe I invented that part or I was reading the Indian National Enquirer.

32nd Milestone Hotel
32nd Milestone Hotel

I was staying at the 32nd Milestone Hotel in Gurgaon, a few miles from New Delhi. As I settled into bed, a leopard gecko scurried up the wall. On my way back from breakfast in the morning, two monkeys were blocking the hotel entrance until someone chased them off with a broom. That’s when I knew I would be back to visit often.

Monkey god Hanuman
Monkey god Hanuman

Monkeys are fed and protected at temples dedicated to Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god. One of the most famous of these is Galta Ji in Jaipur, a few hours’ drive southwest of New Delhi. National Geographic has a series called Rebel Monkeys (Monkey Thieves in some countries) about the troop of 60ish rhesus macaques that live at Galta and maraud Jaipur.

We had trouble finding it — there were no tourist signs (which was great because we were the only tourists there) — but our driver asked a guy on a motorcycle who led us there several miles through the rain. Better than GPS.

Monkey oversees camera rules at Galta
Monkey oversees camera rules at Galta

We bought a bag of peanuts at the entrance and paid 200 rupees (about $4) to be able to use our cameras. The buildings were cool and there were a few monkeys wandering around. It was pretty ok, but not amazing.

Then, we heard a bell ring.

Suddenly, dozens of monkeys appeared from the rocks surrounding the area and rushed down the hill. It was feeding time. The priests distributed fresh fruits and vegetables as monkeys lined the steps and chomped away.

They mostly ignored us as our camera shutters clicked furiously. Once the fresh food was gone, some of the monkeys would pull on our pant legs to get peanuts from us.

Monkey grabs pant leg to get more treats
Monkey grabs pant leg to get more treats

It was exhilarating, a highlight of my time there. The monkeys were very accustomed to humans, so I don’t think it was much more dangerous than a petting zoo, but it felt like they could go King Louie on us at any moment, which added to the excitement.

Photo gallery –

Signs that made me smile

I enjoy a good sign. Here are a few that caught my eye.

Saturn BBQ
Saturn BBQ
I think we can all agree that manure has been oppressed for too long
I think we can all agree that manure has been oppressed for too long
I like this better than Yield
I like this better than Yield
Do not dispose of anything specific here.
Do not dispose of anything specific here.
I only made it 'til about 3am
I only made it ’til about 3am
What if I want to please someone else?
What if I want to please someone else?
I think this is cute. I imagine the librarians in their meeting, saying, "We need something edgy, something that speaks to the teens of today!"
I think this is cute. I imagine the librarians in their meeting, saying, “We need something edgy, something that speaks to the teens of today!”
This town needs more of this street.
This town needs more of this street.
The State of California is always bragging about things it knows.
The State of California is always bragging about things it knows.
My kind of graffiti
My kind of graffiti
I want to make this into a t-shirt
I want to make this into a t-shirt
This is just the message I needed today.
This is just the message I needed today.
I think they mean "mouth-watering"
I think they mean “mouth-watering”
If I were seafood I would definitely think twice before accepting this welcome.
If I were seafood I would definitely think twice before accepting this welcome.
I'm impressed by his ability to maintain good diving form even while his head bashes in.
I’m impressed by his ability to maintain good diving form even while his head bashes in.
I appericate it when you eat with your fingers.
I appericate it when you eat with your fingers.
I magically recommend the black fungus
I magically recommend the black fungus
Big Burp Theory
Big Burrp Theory
I wonder if Patrick ever wishes this sign were more portable.
I wonder if Patrick ever wishes this sign were more portable.
Words to live by in a restroom in New Delhi
Words to live by in a restroom in New Delhi
As far as I can tell this means that behind this door there's a toilet and it has bum-washing capabilities and your baby can watch.
As far as I can tell this means that behind this door there’s a toilet and it has bum-washing capabilities and your baby can watch.
Do not make squirrels magically appear. Runner up: Do not play dice with squirrels.
Do not make squirrels magically appear. Runner up: Do not play dice with squirrels.
Still Cursing
Still Cursing
Hipster Crap
Hipster Crap
I just like the artwork here
I just like the artwork here
This sign stresses me out - New Delhi market
This sign stresses me out – New Delhi market
The use of shampoo and gel is prohibited in this area
The use of shampoo and gel is prohibited in this area

A couple of days in Dublin

I have no Irish blood in me. Well, maybe a few drops – about the proportion of insect legs the FDA allows in chocolate.

But for some reason I’ve long felt drawn to the place. Maybe it started with that old Disney movie, Darby O’Gill and the Little People, with the pretty Irish girl. A few years later, Fiona Ritchie’s voice enchanted me on Thistle and Shamrock on Public Radio and I began collecting music by De Dannan, The Chieftains, Planxty, The Dubliners, James Galway, Mary Black, and Maura O’Connell. In a Jackson Hole bookstore I found a cassette tape of Irish Reels, Jigs, Hornpipes & Airs played on the acoustic guitar by Dave Evans, Duck Baker, and others. In high school I discovered Van Morrison and The Pogues, and tried unsuccessfully to convince my band director that we should learn Fiesta for pep band.

Ireland by Frank Delaney burned itself into my mind as I listened to the audiobook on my walk to and from work. How The Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill was another fascinating read (listen).
View from Newgrange

Last week I finally had the chance to visit the country that has intrigued me for years. I had about a day and a half of free time surrounding a business trip to Dublin. I picked up Rick Steves’ Ireland travel book, downloaded a few apps and podcasts, and came up with my tourist agenda on the plane.

At checkin, the Delta agent asked if I knew why baked beans in Ireland have only 239 beans. “Because one more would be 240”. (Try pronouncing it with an Irish accent.) I normally lack appreciation for scatalogical humor, but that one got a laugh.

My hotel room was 533, which I loved to hear pronounced as “Five-Turty-Tree”.

Newgrange

The highlight of the trip was Newgrange, a large tomb built over 5,000 years ago (about 3,200 B.C.) by neolithic people. It’s older than Stonehenge and The Pyramids. There are a series of mounds in the Brú na Bóinne area, many of them designed around the sun. The morning of Winter Solstice, a beam of sunlight illuminates the passageway inside the tomb for 17 minutes. Other tombs are designed for other solstices and/or sunsets instead of sunrises. It was a strange and spiritual experience, more emotional than I expected.

The Book of Kells

The Book of Kells was also amazing. It’s an illuminated manuscript of the four New Testament Gospels, created in about 800 A.D. The monks had a good time with it, decorating letters and paragraphs and margins. They made a few mistakes, accidentally repeating at least one full page, running out of space at the end of some lines (and finishing them off in space above), and making the most beautiful spelling errors ever. The attention to detail and artistry that went into it is incredible.

Musical Pub Crawl

I finished the trip with a Musical Pub Crawl on Friday night with about 50 other tourists. Two musicians took us to 3 pubs and played music and told stories for a couple of hours.

 

If you’re looking to cram a lot into a short stay in Dublin, here’s what I did –

Day 1 (about 8 hours)

Landed at 9:30am, left luggage at the hotel, and got into the city before noon.
– Dublin Castle tour
– Chester Beatty library with very old Bible manuscripts from Egypt
– Trinity College tour, which includes the Book of Kells. The “Turning Darkness Into Light” exhibit is excellent and I recommend taking the time to watch the short videos that show bookbinding and calligraphy methods.
– St. Stephen’s Green – fun people watching here.
– Grafton Street – it was really entertaining the first time I walked it, full of street performers. When I revisited (twice), it was a disappointment, full of only tourists and shoppers

Day 2 (about 3 hours in the evening)

– O’Connell Street – I followed the Rick Steves guided walk and saw historical monuments and buildings, including the General Post Office where Patrick Pearse read the Proclamation of Irish Independence and kicked off the Easter Uprising.
– St. Patrick’s Cathedral – I didn’t pay (6 Euros) to go inside, but the park is nice. Jonathan Swift’s burial place
– Christ Church Cathedral – This was another 6 Euros, and I was out of cash, so I walked around outside. The cathedral choir was the first to perform Handel’s Messiah in 1742.

Day 3 (about 12 hours)

– Newgrange and Hill of Tara tour (10:20am – 4:30pm)
– Quick visit of the Garden of Remembrance while waiting for the bus
– Merrion Square – The Selfish Giant and Oscar Wilde monuments. There was a college group here doing a photo scavenger hunt, which entertained me.
– Wandering, eating
– Temple Bar – very touristy pub area with lots of street musicians
– Musical Pub Crawl, meets at the Oliver St. John Gogarty pub in the Temple Bar area

There were two additional things I wish I could have fit in:

National Museum: Archeology. It closed at 5pm and I made it there just after.
Kilmainham Gaol, the jail where the British held and executed Irish Rebels.

Photo Gallery

Angels Landing

Angels Landing is a tall rock formation in Zion National Park in Southern Utah. It’s an awfully fun hike. It’s about 3 hours roundtrip and the views get progressively more impressive as you go. The last half-mile gives amateurs like me a little taste of the thrill of the mountain climbing I’ll never do. It’s just the right amount of dangerous. There are huge chains to hold on to and there’s only one short section where you can see straight down both sides of the trail.

Adding to the excitement is a sign that informs you of six deaths on the trail since 2004.

6 deaths since 2004

If you’re curious, you can find links to articles on each death at Wikipedia.

My first ascent was in about 1995 when I worked at Jacob Lake Inn at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. I took this photo of my feet dangling over the edge and displayed it in the convenience store as “Photo of the Day” for a couple of months. I miss those shoes.

Still “Photo of the Day”

A couple of years ago, I met up with a couple of old friends to celebrate surviving 40 years on earth by risking our lives on the hike. The most dangerous part ended up being almost missing the last shuttle of the night from the trailhead back to the campground.

In 2011, I went with the young men from our ward and encountered a rattle snake on the trail –

On the last visit (May 2015), I found this guy playing the didgeridoo at the peak –

You should go. Just be careful when you back up for photos.

 

More information:

National Park Service

zionnationalpark.com

utah.com

Flash Floods & Falls: Deaths & Rescues In Zion National Park