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Note No. 24

October 28, 2009

The people here are so nice.

It’s a brisk evening when we touch down in Seattle and I make my way to the train, which is meant to link me to the center of town. I have arrived in a bit of a disorganized fashion, though. Living on the island seems to have dulled the savvy traveler inside of me and it was all I could do to even remember to jot down my friend’s address before stepping on the plane to get here.

No MapQuest forays to figure out where her place is from the end of the train line; just the resignation that I will hop in a taxi and give him or her the necessary combination of numbers and letters to get me there.
No hunting for the name of the train, even. I was told there is now such a service to get people downtown and so I trust that it will all come together when I am there, following that instinctive “logic” that I wish I could turn off sometimes, the one that, for example, leaps over all sequential details and arrives at the grand (yet somewhat erroneous) assumption that: there will only be one train, as it is a new service, so there could not possibly be two trains, because that would mean the city invested all this money into something that could be a failure and it’s better to fail once than twice; nor will there be any additional stops, just a straight shot from A to B, because, well, it’s a new service and if it took this long to get it then why would it offer choices?
(Why, really? This is the land of 17 different brands of yogurt to choose from, not to mention the low fat and the no fat and the cream on top goat’s milk and the cream on top cow’s milk and the Greek and the blueberry and the mango blueberry and the mango cherry blueberry, when all you want is something cold and creamy that serves to put some healthy bacteria back in your gut. So why would there be choices of where to get off on the train?)

There I am then, standing in front of the ticket machine to buy my fare on said train (There is just one, it turns out.) and looking at about 12 different choices for the station where I must disembark.

“Excuse me, sir?” I have pounced on the first person I see, as he happens to be wearing an official-looking reflective vest. “If I give you an address, can you tell me where to get off on the train?”

Yes, he can. Turns out he is a retired police officer who knows the city’s ins and outs quite well. Turns out he can not only tell me where to get off but also which bus to take from there and even which stop to get off at, complete with surrounding landmarks. Turns out he’s driving the train I must get on.

Once I get to the station and wave goodbye to him, though, I am faced with a plethora of signs pointing to foreign street names and something called Bus Bay this and Bus Bay that. None of the numbers match my 11 Eastbound Madison bus and none of the maps seem to know what I am talking about, either, and I am apparently staring off with that half-lost look, one foot pointed one way, the other held reluctantly back, when a man sees me. “Can I help you find something?”

Was it that obvious? So I am showing him the address and the instructions I have jotted down from my conductor friend, and he is nodding and instructing me how to cut over a few blocks to find the bus, which I do find; it’s sitting there at the stop, just as I am beginning to lose hope that I will be able to find my way on public transit, so I break into a half jog and make sure it’s eastbound before I hop on, all awkward with my suitcase and my camera and that distinctive you’re-not-from-here energy.

Several stops later, the driver lets me know it’s time to get off and I am out in the middle of a seemingly hip part of town but with the sudden sinking sensation that the address I have is not for a home but rather, for a business.

Sure enough, 1001 East Pike Place is a bar/restaurant. I stand on the corner staring at it and its surroundings for as long as I possibly can before it becomes clear I must lug my stuff inside and ask the bartender where the hell I am. “I have this address for a friend’s apartment but clearly this is not it.”

No, it’s not. Maybe she meant Pike Place, because just over there, just over Broadway, it becomes just Pike Place, without the East, and maybe that is where she lives, but maybe I have a phone number and maybe I can call her.

Yes, but I have no phone.

Use this one then.

I have made it to her neighborhood, she tells me. I am, in fact, right near her business but it is just far enough from her house that it is better if I wait there and she will put on some sneakers and come get me. I sidle back to tell this to the bartender, realizing I am about to explain it all in Spanish, because as always when returning to the States, I have to get used to speaking my own language in public.

“Would you like a drink while you wait?”

“Um, yeah. Do you have any dark beer?”

“You really don’t know where you are; do you?”

He pulls out a menu as long as my torso with the different types of brew you can get, either in the bottle or on tap (again, there are no choices in this country), and recommends an espresso stout.

Then the conversation turns back to how on Earth I made it to his bar. “Did you Yelp us, maybe, and then write this address down accidentally?” He is referring to a user-rated site where you can find out about the best places to have anything and everything in the city.

No, it surely wasn’t that, though it’s sweet, really, that he has given me the benefit of the doubt that I actually did any form of research before I arrived.

“No. I feel like I just crash landed in a spaceship, actually.” To explain the meaning of that statement to him would involve about two years of backstory, so I humbly accept that he now must think I am more bonkers than he even imagined when I wandered in with my entire winter wardrobe on wheels, and I leave it at that. “She sent me a message on Facebook and this was the address she gave me but she has an event space right around here, Sole Repair, so she probably gave me that address instead.”

“Is your friend Grace?”

“Yes, she is.”

He laughs. “Now it’s all coming together.”

And so she arrives and orders a wine and I, another beer, and I am so happy that I will finally get to repay someone for their kindness tonight and I even go to the bathroom early on, so as not to be doing it when the check comes, but somehow, all of this is thwarted when it’s suddenly time to go and without even having ever arrived, the bill has miraculously been taken care of between the two of them and I am stuck, yet again, in the debt of others.

“That wasn’t the plan.”

But this only gets a sly chuckle, because like I said, the people here are so nice.

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