Washington Day 1 - Seafood, Starbucks, and Stunning Glass
Dana and I started our first full day in Seattle (and her last) by heading down to the world famous Pike Place Public Market. The market was founded in 1907 as a way to allow farmers to sell directly to the public without interference from corrupt middlemen who were screwing over both parties. On its opening day only ten farmers showed up because the wholesale commission men had used threats and sabotage to either intimidate other farmers from staying away or make sure they had nothing to sell. Still the public rallied behind the little guys (and better deals), and those ten farmers sold out their entire stocks, so the rocky beginning turned into a resounding success and the market’s been going strong ever since. The market has since expanded and now has over 500 rotating vendors and small businesses over 9 acres of historic Seattle seaport. Beyond providing a venue for fresh produce, artisan crafts, and small businesses, the market is also home to a ton of wonderful community-focused social services including low income housing, a senior center, a Medical Clinic, Childcare Centers, and a Food Bank. During the Reagan 80s, Government funding was drastically cut for these programs (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I really hate Ronald Reagan), but the community started the Pike Place Market Foundation to help raise money for and administer these different services and guarantee their continued survival. I love how much of a legacy of social activism and neighborly care is built into the history of the market, and it shows off a really nice side of Seattle to see so many people looking out for one another. Best of all one of the ways the Foundation helps raise money is with a giant 550 lb bronze piggy bank named Rachel where visitors can deposit donations. Annually Rachel usually single handedly brings in between $6000-9000, which is not bad for a pig.
Of course as nice community is, the biggest draw to the Market is that fresh Northwest Pacific Seafood, and they have one hell of a fish market. The air is beautifully salty, the seafood is enormous on a level I’ve never seen before, and the fishmongers famously hurl the fish to one another for a bit of theatrical flair with your food. They were even featured in Frasier for that extra bit of Seattle cred. My jaw was firmly on the floor the whole time I was there in utter amazement at all the gloriously fishy sights, sounds, and smells. In particular the Jumbo Lobster tails called out to me, but luckily Dana was there to drag me out before I spent all my money.
After embracing all the great socialist-trending aspects of the market and the, it was time to pay respect to (possibly) Seattle’s greatest contribution to Capitalism, Starbucks. This isn’t technically the very first Starbucks location, it is the only remaining original store from 1971 so it’s gained the reputation of being the Original Starbucks., which has made it a pretty popular tourist destination. Because it’s considered a historic location, they also get some design leeway, retaining their original aesthetic instead of the more homogenized corporate decor of current Starbucks stores. The most interesting part of that original aesthetic to me is that the famous Mermaid logo used to have totally exposed nipples before becoming more sanitized for globalization. It’s a fun little illustration of sacrificing (juvenile) artistic integrity for corporate interests.
As much as I generally like to bedgrudge Starbucks for being overpriced and mass produced, it pains me to admit that the first store was actually very cool and good. The most noticeable difference from a less original Starbucks was that they had a line out the door of tourists and one employee whose sole job was to manage the line and keep things running smoothly. When we were there that role was filled by a very sweet older woman, who was fun to talk to and did an admirable job keeping the line moving and sorting out people who were there to buy merch versus people actually getting coffee. Beyond the vintage art and merchandise, the other big selling point of the Original Starbucks is that it really was a bit more like a small local coffeeshop than the behemoth of a brand that it would go on to become. The baristas actually pull and roast the espresso in house, and they have a special small batch blend called the Pike Place Roast that I hate to admit tasted much more full bodied and flavorful than any Starbucks coffee I’ve had before. Despite our best efforts to be hipster curmudgeons, Dana and I really had a lot of fun there.
With our two big tourist boxes checked at the market, our next job was to just enjoy the smorgasbord of good food and fun and try as many free samples as we could. All the fresh fruit we tried was delicious, but the thing that really blew us away was watching the artisan cheesemakers stirring the vats at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese. These purveyors of fine cheeses are all about quality local ingredients and the added care of individual attention from skilled cheese craftsmen. We sampled a few of their wares, and the extra attention really shone through with some incredible flavors. Plus there’s just something oddly soothing about watching people stir big vats of goo (the technical term obviously).
At this point, free samples, even excellent free samples, weren’t going to cut it so we assembled a real brunch for ourselves from a couple different vendors. We picked up bagels and cream cheese from a really great old-fashioned bakery called Three Girls Bakery, which is the first and longest running woman-owned business in Seattle! The bagels were handmade and excellent, but what really took everything to the next level is that we added some stellar smoked salmon from a place called Totem Smokehouse. There was so much concentrated smokey flavor and the salmon was still somehow juicy. I don’t know what it is about the Pacific ocean, but the salmon they get is just leagues above whatever we’re eating on the east coast. Even better we ate our little brunch assemblages right on the docks so we had fresh salty air and some beautiful views to go with the tasty food.
After our meal, we discovered that Pike Place has the most hilariously urgent rest room signs I’ve ever seen. You can see the panic in that stick figure dad, because that baby’s gotta go now.
Lastly, before heading out of the market we decided to check out some of the local arts and crafts as well. I got some more coffee to fuel this transition at a hip spot called Seattle Coffee Works that has an espresso bar and slow bar (something I’d never heard of before for single origin drip coffees). I really enjoyed the vibes of their location, and their coffee was unimpeachable.
Our favorite local art spot we stumbled across was a very cute and very bizarre store called Robot vs. Sloth that featured handmade art by Seattle artist La Ru (and a rotating lineup of featured artists) that was all concerned with adorable animals fighting each other. It was very goofy and whimsical, but all the art was actually super good so it was a totally delightful random find. Check out more of their great weird work here
Finish up with Pike Place, we set sail for Seattle’s other biggest tourist destination, the Space Needle. It’s an iconic feature of both the Seattle skyline and the Frasier logo (that show and Cheers were big parts of my childhood) clocking in at a towering 605 ft tall. It’s a bit of a space age throwback, and it was being renovated while we were there so the trademark glass windows were obscured, but there was still something very impressive about getting to see it in person. It was pretty expensive to actually go up to the top so we opted out of that and just appreciated it from afar.
The Space Needle is also the center of a series of parks and museums and there’s some really amazing public art scattered all around. My favorites were: five brightly colored interactive flower sculptures outside the Pacific Science Center called Sonic Bloom by artist Dan Corson which featured solar-powered lights and motion sensors that would cause each sculpture to admit different musical notes as people walked by and The Mural Amphitheater made by Japanese-born Seattle artist Paul Horiuchi in 1962 out of beautifully layered panels of Venetian glass arranged in an abstract pattern that he felt captured the native colors and beauty of the Pacific Northwest. In a neat bit of form and function coming together, the mural’s shape and the specialty glass serve as acoustic reflectors helping to magnify sound for any performers or speakers using the amphitheater.
The thing Dana and I were most excited about in the park area was the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum, the most comprehensive permanent collection of works by Washington’s glass-blowin’ native son, Dale Chihuly, arranged across 8 galleries, a glass conservatory, and a carefully curated botanical garden. We were both really looking forward to this one, because as two art-nerd Massachusettsians we both had fond memories of seeing the massive Chihuly exhibition that had gone up in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts with our families when we kids. There’s just something oddly magical about the shapes, colors, and substance of his works that always draws you in, even when you feel like you’ve seen a hundred of his pieces before (as you will if you go to art museums all across the country).
The museum started off right with a bang with a dreamy installation called the Glass Forest which feature glass filled with electrically illuminated neon and and argon gases. The combination of fluorescent colors and the curation of putting everything in a dimly lit room on a reflective surface really created a totally immersive effect of almost stepping into another universe. It was breathtaking.
The next gallery was dedicated to a series of pieces inspired by Native American basketry. They have less of an immediate wow factor than the glowing forest, but may actually be more technically impressive with improbably thin amorphous layers of glass blended with zig-zagging bands of color seemingly defying all laws of physics in the way they remain upright and hold their delicate shapes. In an even more impressive move, many of the baskets are filled with smaller baskets which must have taken insane care to not break any of that thin thin glass. All of these pieces were then arranged in a room with actual authentic Northwestern baskets and blankets as a way to showcase and honor the Native artwork that inspired Chihuly’s pieces in way that also heightened their own resonance.
The next gallery was my favorite featuring works made in collaboration with Italian master glass blower Pino Signoretto that feature more traditionally abstract Chihuly creations combined with insanely lifelike glass sculptures of sea creatures. I’d never seen such beautiful and hauntingly life like sculptures made out of glass, and the way they just sort of seemed to float on the vase like sculptures gave you the feeling that you had somehow actually stumbled into an undersea environment. It was awe-inspiring.
Not wasting any space, the walkway to the next gallery was adorned with one of Chihuly’s Venetian Ceiling installations. As amazing as all the varied glass blown sculptures in the ceiling are, the thing that really amazed me was how they changed the light and shadows along the walls of the walkway. The interplay of the light and glass was so playful and lovely.
The next gallery was a massive swirling colorful glass garden. The looping twisting organic shapes and vibrant colors are at once both familiar and plantlike and also totally out of this world and alien, a wonderful blend of the realistic and the fantastic. How any of these things stay up without shattering is totally beyond me.
The next exhibit featured some pieces inspired by Japanese art of Ikebani flower arranging and from fishing floats off the island of Niijima. The pieces were arranged in wooden row boats which lent the ethereal glass, an earthier feel. The idea for the rowboats came when Chihuly was experimenting with the way water, glass, and light would interact by just throwing some of his pieces into a river in Finland. Local children started collecting the pieces in rowboats, and something about the imagery caught Chihuly’s imagination. That story cracked me up, and I loved the way the reflective surface the boats were on mirrored the effects of a body of water.
Next up were some big classic Chihuly chandeliers. I love the way these towering constructions can alternate between dominating a space and gently floating above one. It was such a fun mix of the delicate and the powerful, and of course the colors were phenomenal.
Next up came one more room of classic Chihuly with a collection of his beautiful wave vases. Again they seemed to defy physics and logic with their loosely lopsided forms and colors that varied from inside to outside.
Complimenting the works on glass were concept drawings and sketches made by Chihuly himself. He has a ton of input in directing his glassblowers and artisans, but he doesn’t do any of his own glass blowing after sustaining some serious injuries to his eye and his arms after a car accident, so it’s cool to see that he can still make some pretty beautiful pieces with his own two hands. In a cool bit of technical innovation he actually draws with semi-melted glass to get an even more accurate sense of how things will blend and mix.
As always the fact that he looks more like a mad-scientist/pirate rather than a famous artist is never anything less than a source of joy:
Up next we moved to the outdoor components of the museum which is where it really went to another level of incredible. The big centerpiece was the Glass house which is a 40-foot tall, glass and steel structure covering 4,500 square feet and filled with an impressive array of red and gold floating sculptures. The Glass House was closing down for a private event while we were there, but the security was really sweet and when we said we were from Boston they let us go get a peek. It was pretty magnificent.
From the Glass House, we started walking down to the botanical garden, but since the museum doesn’t waste any of its available space the path was speckled with hanging Chihuly chandeliers spiraling out in every direction. It’s like the whole museum is designed to make you say “wow” every 5 minutes.
Walking along the path, we stumbled into an artist’s demonstration by some of Chihuly’s glassblowers. I’ve seen glassblowing demonstrations before, but these guys were operating on a higher level and watching them work was mesmerizing. I thought it was particularly fascinating how they get different colors and patterns into the larger works by making them out of really thing glass and then melting them on in the designs they want to get. It’s such finely detailed work, at such insanely high temperatures that things could go wrong at any split second, yet they make it it look easy.
After the demonstration, we made it to the gardens which were really the most amazing part of the whole place. There was a mix of massive glass installations and smaller pieces sprinkled around the different pathways as well as carefully curated flowers and greeneries. The nature and the glass complemented each other so well and the beauty of one only brought out more beauty in the other. It was like walking through a fairy tale.
Dana wanted to take a photo in the garden to send to her mom, but she made the big mistake of asking me to do it:
After the Chihuly, Dana wanted to check out a fancy coffee shop that had been recommended to here called Cherry Street Public House before I had to take her to the airport. Cherry Street was pretty impressive with a super sleek interior and high end food and espresso drinks. Wanting to be in-keeping with the fanciness, I ordered something called a Coffee Old Fashioned which featured smoked orange syrup, iced coffee, and bitters for a pleasantly well-balanced coffee cocktail.
The Coffee Shop was located in Seattle’s Occidental Square which is a funky and lovely public park located in the heart of the arts district. I loved the way the trees stretched out in such weird spindly ways and the ivy covered the walls of the old brick buildings. It really felt like a little patch of city transported from another time.
Being in the arts district, the park itself has some pretty amazing art in, mainly some massive and massively impressive Traditional Northwest Totem Poles and wood carvings by the artist Duane Pasco. These towering sculptures were both technically impressive in their size and scope and really oddly lovely in their color combinations.
The other impressive sculpture is a memorial to fallen firefighters by the artist Hai Ying Wu. It’s a really touching tribute to some heroic men and women, but my photo ended up being much sillier than I intended thanks to the completely unaware lady perfectly standing in the path of the sculpted fired hose.
After the park, I dropped Dana off at the airport and started making my way to Vancouver to meet up with my ex. It was a slightly stressful drive, partly because I’d be crossing a border, but largely because it would be the first time we’d have seen each other in over a year, and it was a meeting that I’d been alternatingly looking forward to and dreading since the beginning of my trip. To make it through the 3 hour drive, the fancy coffee from Cherry Street wasn’t totally going to cut it, so I did pull over about halfway to go through a cute little drive through coffee place in Marysville called Locals Coffee. I also took a little stress nap in their parking lot, and between the nap and the coffee I was able to go on.
The border crossing was slow but painless and it was a straight shot to Vancouver from there. In the car, I naturally and totally healthily played through the past year of interactions with Emma in my head on a constant loop. By the time, we ended up meeting up, I had really gotten into my own head and was a bundle of nerves worrying that the meet was going to make me sad or upset or hurt. Much to my surprise it was instead totally… pleasant.
There were some initial tears on just seeing each other, but Emma had stipulated earlier that we wouldn’t talk about “us” (she was seeing someone at the time and I was a vagabond so it was built in that that would be silly). Instead we walked around her block with her very cute new dog, Morty, got more coffee, and chatted. When we didn’t talk about all the ways we had hurt each other (which is unfortunately all I had tended to bring up whenever we tried to talk earlier in the year), we had a lot of catching up to do, and it was fun, funny, and easy like it had used to be. I think it’s harder to hate someone when they’re right in front of you and being nice, but it’s easy to build up negative thoughts about someone in your own when they’re not actually there to defend themselves, which is what I realized I’d been foolishly doing. Seeing her in person made it more obvious that her in real life wasn’t her in my head or in my memories. She was a good person, who was smart, thoughtful, and funny, and there had been no malice in the ways we had hurt each other. We were both going through a massive life transition with graduation, and we had tried to navigate all that messiness in the best way we could and a lot of the things that hurt the most were things that had been done in attempts to be nice. It’s sad but it’s life.
After coffee, I had intended to leave but her mom had made dinner, so I stuck around for a bit and got to hang out with her little brother which made me really happy. I really love her family, and one of the hardest things about the break up had been feeling like I wouldn’t see them again either. That was dumb of me, but I feel like it’s a common thing people do where you build it up in your mind that you can’t talk to or see people who are connected to your ex after a break up despite them also being autonomous individual humans who might like to hear from you from time to time.
After a lovely dinner, I naturally couldn’t let a whole evening be totally pleasant without doing the one thing Emma had explicitly asked me not to do, which was ask why, if this was fun and nice were we not still together. I cannot stress enough that she was currently dating another person and that I still had 20 more states to drive to before going back to a coast that was not the one she lived on, so there were in fact several good reasons why we maybe shouldn’t be dating, but I was being an emotional dumb-boy and that didn’t compute in the moment. We talked and cried outside by my car for a while, and it was hard but I think so much of our previous conversations that weren’t face to face were so heated because we felt like the other person was totally hearing us. We didn’t have that luxury in person, and I think we really finally knew and understood where one another was at (which as it turns out was more something I wasn’t doing, despite being the person who complained about it more, because that’s how emotions make your brain work sometimes). It finally clicked for me that we were really in different places both geographically and in life, and sometimes just because two people really care about one and like each other doesn’t mean that they should be together. It wasn’t what I wanted to hear naturally, which is probably why I hadn’t heard it all the other times Emma had tried explaining it, but it was an important thing to hear.
I made my way to my Air BnB, feeling pretty down and ready to sleep and be alone, but instead my Air BnB host was a very sweet, chatty guy who made me tea and wanted to talk about the Free Market and why the Last Jedi was the worst of the Star Wars movies because it was trying too hard to be PC. Between his cheerfulness and libertarian leanings and my glumness and socialist leaning, it was one of those amazing tonal inconsistencies that can’t help but make you want to laugh even when you just spent the past hour crying. Little weird moments like that are always my favorite, and probably the biggest reason I kept going and keep going.
Favorite Random Sightings: Biscuit Bitch (wild); Shy Giant (cute): Sanitary Public Market (methinks thou doth protest too much); Shirts for Perverts (a bold marketing strategy; The Confectional: confess your love for cheesecake (I didn’t get the pun until the slogan, but I kinda love it)
Regional Observations: I cannot possibly stress this enough, if you are in the Pacific Northwest you have to eat Salmon. It’s just better there, trust me
Albums Listened To: Static World View by Spring Heel Jack (fun 90s ska from Connecticut of all places!); The Stax/ Volt Revue: Live in London by Various Artists (Just Sam and Dave’s Hold On, I’m Coming); Stay S.H.A.R.P. Vol. 2 by the Slackers (just Do You Know); Steal My Sound by Bigger Thomas (Shamokin); The Stereo Prophesy & Electric Hymns by Crazy Baldhead (Agent Jay from the Slackers and a bunch of fun guests on a really tight album); Still Crazy Original Soundtrack by Strange Fruit (an underrated British comedy gem); Stomping Ground by Goldfinger (just 99 Red Balloons); Stormwatch by Jethro Tull (probably just a little too 80s for me)
People’s Favorite Jokes:
I was too in my head to ask anyone anything but here’s one from the internet:
Little Johnny asks the teacher, “Mrs Roberts, can I be punished for something I haven’t done?”
Mrs Roberts is shocked, “Of course not, Johnny, that would be very unfair.”
Little Johnny is relieved, “Okay, Mrs Roberts, good to know. By the way, I didn't do my homework last night."
Songs of the Day:
Bonus Frasier, because I have to do it: