Bodega daydreams

Coupla miles from my boarding house, there's a cheap bodega where I shop twice weekly. They have good prices on produce, plus a random assortment of canned goods and strange surprises. It's Ling's Market, run by an Asian family, but it's gotta be a bodega cuz they sell those creepy-looking candles with pictures of Jesus or Mary looking miserable.

I ain't buying the candles, but a head of celery for 99¢? Yeah, I'll take three. At a grocery store they're $2.79 each, or even more.

My first time at the bodega, Mr Ling was suspicious, and watched me as I navigated the store's few aisles. It's a rough location, semi-slummy, so they probably have shoplifters all the time. Also, I hadn't noticed the stack of hand-baskets when I walked in, so I was filling my own bag with their produce.

I was suspicious of Ling's, too, because only about half the stuff in the store has a marked price. Between affordable cans of soup and tomato sauce on the shelf, there was beef stew in a plastic pouch, but without an announced price. I'd seen the same stew for $5.99 at Saar's Super Saver, so I walked to the counter and asked Mr Ling, "How much?"

He was watching Gunsmoke on MeTV, glanced at the stew I was holding, and said, "Two dollah."

The expiration date gave me almost a year to eat it, so I bought it, liked it, and bought ten more the next day.

The same thing has happened several times. For a while they had dragonfruit, which is so notoriously expensive I'd only tasted it once before in my life. At Ling's there was no price, so I asked. This time it was Mrs Ling at the counter, and she said, "Three dollars each," which amazed me. That's half what I paid for the one I ate twenty years ago.

And here's a very tempting pre-packaged caramel fudge the size of a hearty slice of pizza. With no price marked I was thinking it had to be $6 or $7, minimum. Asked Mr Ling, and his answer again was, "Two dollah," so I bought half a dozen.

After my third visit I stopped asking. The price is always going to be rock-bottom.

Mr Ling doesn't eyeball me any more. Sometimes he even walks away from the counter and into the next room while I'm shopping. "We have more of the fudge you like, two dollah," he told me yesterday, so it's my plan to continue being fat.

At Ling's, I notice the neighborhood, too, and wish I wasn't riding a bus back to my room at the boarding house. On every side of the bodega, there are run-down commercial buildings, and some of them have a second story. Bet I could afford a room upstairs in one of those buildings, if they rent rooms... and if they don't run background checks.

A block away, there's a somewhat better but not snooty area, with cool businesses on both sides of a busy street — coffee shops, a record store that also sells hot dogs, another bodega in case I ever get mad at Mr Ling, and several bars, pubs, taverns, and saloons. There are also a few cheap food carts, taquerias, an Asian sandwich shop (I'm curious what an Asian sandwich tastes like), a non-chain pizza place, a bake shop, and it's a two-block walk to a great mom & pop hamburger.

The bodega's neighborhood reminds me of Mission Street in San Francisco. It's always busy, with very few neckties, and best of all, half a dozen bus routes converge right outside Ling's. If I lived nearby, I could flash my ORCA card and almost instantly be on my way almost anywhere.

Of all the Seattle I've seen since coming back a month and a half ago, Ling's neighborhood feels most like the place for me. I'd like to live there.

But I don't. The room I'm renting is in a sleepy neighborhood of only houses, and "Coming soon, 242 new houses," says the sign across the street from my boarding house. Behind the sign, big burly dudes are hammering ten hours every day. Coming soon, more boring people.

There's a bus that runs through my neighborhood, but only one, and it comes just twice an hour — northbound to downtown, or southbound to nowhere. Four blocks away there's another bus, running three times an hour — northbound to a library, southbound to Southcenter. Ten blocks away there's a bus that runs so often you'd never have to check the timetables, and where does it go? Northbound to downtown, or southbound directly to Ling's, and the neighborhood where I wish I lived.

Well, the boarding house is OK. My flatmate Dean is an annoyance, the floor is crooked, there are rats, the neighborhood is dull, there's not enough water pressure in the shower, the fridge is smelly, and the toilet needs to be double-flushed when you poop, but I have no major complaints. Yeah, I could stay where I'm at and be just fine for the rest of my life.

But in the bodega's neighborhood, twice I've walked around, looking for a "room for rent" sign. So far, nada.

Across the street from Ling's, there's a building so dilapidated, the guy running the porn store downstairs said the city won't even let people go upstairs, let alone live upstairs. I told him that sounds perfect, but porno-guy is just a tenant, not the owner, and he doesn't even have a key to the illegal upstairs. I gave him my number, and asked him to pass it along to the landlord.

Meanwhile, I shop at the bodega twice a week, and always come out with a bag full of cheap vegetables, wishing home was footsteps away, instead of a ten-minute bus ride and a ten-block walk. I'm going to keep knocking on doors in the bodega's neighborhood, asking around...


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