Visit to Seattle

This article is ridiculously long — sorry about that — so I've broken it into three parts. For those who'd rather avoid the quagmire, here's a TL/DR: 

I vomited on the sidewalk, took Mom to breakfast, hugged my sister, and found my family.


When my wife died in 2018, she took with her my heart, my happiness, and my best excuse for not visiting Mom and my family in Seattle. Stephanie's poor health and dialysis had made travel impossible, but without her I couldn't say no, when my family invited me. So for two weeks of vacation, I came to Seattle, in July of 2019.

My brother Clay had offered to put me up, so I didn’t need to worry about food or lodging. And I should say, thank you, Clay. Gotta say it now, because it was a problem, so later I might forget to say ‘thanks’.

♦ ♦ ♦

Air travel is dehumanizing, and airplanes and airports are almost indistinguishable from a police state. Screw that. I came by train.

I figured the two-day Empire Builder from Milwaukee to Seattle might lift my spirits before spending all that time with the family. And the train home would provide relaxing chill-time for decompression afterwards.

And it did. America’s Amtrak system is dilapidated and poorly run, but the train remains magnificent and recommended by me. I’ll write about the ride one day, but not today.

♦ ♦ ♦

As mentioned once or twice in the past, me and the family have not been terribly close. I was apprehensive about the visit, so to steel myself, I stole a day — I told the family I'd be arriving on the Thursday train, but actually arrived on Wednesday's train, for a day in Seattle on my terms.

I’d reserved a bunk at the International Hostel, and after checking in, I darted all over the city, as far and fast as the buses and light-rail could take me. And that was a great day in my old home town.

I walked and wandered the north part of downtown, where I’d lived in what seems like another life, and the seedier south part of downtown, where I'd lived as I started becoming me. The city has changed so much, though. A great sandwich shop had became another skyscraper. A marvelous video store became a parking lot. There's a new library, where they wouldn't let me borrow books with my card from 1991. Forty years ago, April and I bought a Christmas tree at that store down the street, but now it's a fitness center. Sigh.

Almost nothing was as I remembered it, except Pioneer Square — it was full of drunks and winos and smelled of pee, same as always. That's because, like most American cities, there are no public restrooms when or where you need one, which is also why I splattered the wall of a Starbucks on Yesler Way. Auld lang syne, though — I’d peed at that same corner once or twice in the 1980s, long before Starbucks.

I went to Capitol Hill, where again, like downtown, everything had changed. There's light-rail under the street now, which is marvelous and makes getting there so quick and simple. There's a new scoreboard at the ratty ball park where I used to umpire softball games. My all-time favorite movie theater is still there, where I took Cathy to see Harold & Maude ... but it's not a theater any more.

I light-railed back toward downtown and my hostel, and then walked the waterfront, and what a disaster it was. In 2019, the city was in the process of tearing down the horrendously ugly and structurally unsound freeway that had blighted the area since before I was born. The only thing more ugly than a double-deck concrete freeway is a double-deck concrete freeway being dismantled.

Still, it was nice to be at the docks, where the seagulls sang. I visited Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe, which remains cheesy and overpriced but fun. Maggie and I once danced there, in front of Ye Olde, until a skeptical cop started asking why we danced. "Why does anyone dance, officer?"

Ate fish'n'chips at Ivar's at Pier 54 — glorious deep-fried breaded fish, with greasy fries and ample tartar. Oh yeah, baby. The concept of fast-food fish'n'chips simply doesn’t exist anywhere else I’ve lived. Deprived for decades, I ordered two large fish'n'chips, plus extra fish, and ate it all. Then I barfed my belly-overflow onto the sidewalk, but ain't that America?

Slept eight straight hours at the hostel, and the next morning I bused to the city’s north side, for breakfast alone at Beth’s Cafe, home of the legendary 12-egg omelet and endless plate of hash browns. It’s the world’s greatest greasy spoon diner, and it hadn’t changed at all — still brusque service, still amazing food, still too expensive, still worth it.

Across the street was Green Lake, where dogs roam free and want to play fetch, where roller-skaters zip past at preposterous speeds, where I'd purchased pot a few times, and where I’d picnicked with, I think, every girl I ever dated in Seattle, one at a time.

Waiting for the bus back to downtown, I am 85% sure the teenage boys at the bus stop were snickering about me. See that fat old man, wearing sweat pants, looking lost. It's the circle of life, boys. Long ago I'd probably been the dumb pimply kid laughing at the fat old man, and in fifty years, those kids will be the fat old man the next generation will laugh at.

The bus took me back to the hostel, where I returned my key and grabbed my bag. Then I walked to the train station, to wait for the westbound Empire Builder that I'd told my brother I'd be on.

Yeah, this was a vacation to see the family, and now it was time to see the family. Something usually goes wrong when we're together. The more of us are together the more things can go wrong, and this time we were all going to be together — the whole family, except for the dead.

But you never know. Maybe this would be the time when things go mostly right! (Insert chuckling sound effects.)

I waited in the train station, and my brother Clay was twenty minutes late, but I saw him come in, and recognized him before he recognized me. He'd gotten plumper — good for him. Ain't nothing wrong with being plump. I waved at him, and he saw me and waved back. ...

Next: The family.



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  1. I don't approve of this being a three-parter. I want more!

  2. You can never go home again, said Thomas Wolfe. It makes me wistful for a place I have never been but holdup, a 12-egg omelet? I clicked the link and you're not lying but thatr is crazy. Is 1 person supposed to eat it or is it a family meal?

  3. Chi — The complaint desk is in the little room at the end of the hall. Flush when you're finished.

    Guano — You can split it for an extra fee, but I never did, which is how I got this fine physique.

    It's not just a 12-egg omelet, though. It comes with toast and hash browns, and if you're still hungry they'll make you more hash browns — free — until you've had enough.


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