I’ve got to keep moving

Music – Stevie Wonder – Higher Ground

Chris did not pick us up in a Sportage after all.  Some unpleasantness at the rental agency resulted in him being issued a urine-colored Kia Rio instead, a car that is the equal of many ride-on lawnmowers in luxury, acceleration and handling.

I was the last to arrive, and we hauled our bags from the terminal out to our rented shitbox.  Chris had brought along a handle of JD and some plastic cups to celebrate our reunion, so we sat in the parking garage drinking for a while.  Ever the courteous host, he’d even brought along a miniature bottle of Malibu for Paul, who can be kind of a pussy about drinking.

“To a bromance rekindled.”

We clinked our plastic cups.

“It’s good to see you fuckers.”
“Yeah.  Been too long.”
“Seriously.”

The last time all four of us were in a room together, we decided, was at the hospital in Irvine a few weeks after Chris’s near-fatal motorcycle accident.

We had another round before fleeing the parking garage, zipping away from SeaTac at a blazing 40 mph with the pedal to the floor.

—-

Chris came to spend the weekend with us in the hotel in downtown Seattle, preferring the lesser evil of being accused of abandonment and inattention by his wife Niki to the risk bringing us three assholes into his small apartment for 72+ hours.

The reality of having to placate a wife and baby, once a comical and Hollywoodish concept to me, proved harsher when witnessed first-hand.  Chris made the best of it, sneaking off at discrete moments for hushed phone conversations and apologies.  Still, I made some offhand remark about marriage being a war of attrition in which there are no winners and got a serious look.

We valeted our Kia, much to the amusement of the snotnosed teenager who drove away in the Korean Tardmobile, and asked the concierge for the nearest all-night restaurant.  It was midnight or so.

She sent us to some high-end faux-fashionable grill where we ordered $25 burgers which where $23 too expensive.  Peter got a piece of cod that tasted like it’d been dragged behind a snowplow through miles of road salt, and he paid something like $35 for it.

Fuck that concierge.  I swore to find out her name and call her a treacherous bitch on Yelp.

It was two AM when we got back and, after finding the hotel pool locked, we went back to our room and finished the handle of JD.

—–

Downtown Seattle is a lot like San Francisco at first glance.  It’s colder, obviously, but it’s a clean, tasteful cold, not the filthy, hoarish chill you find in places like Truckee or Reno.  The first thing I noticed was the absence of the ubiquitous piss smell.  The grime and stench of SF have made me expect any city with buildings taller than six stories to smell like puked-up Colt 45 and unwashed crackheads.

We walked along the water, went to that market where they throw the fish… did obligatory touristy shit.  We went in to the original Starbucks, where I got tea and burned the fuck out of my mouth.  Wandering around, we spent several hours catching up, discussing our frighteningly divergent lives.

A lot of shit has changed since college.  We’re different people now.

Except for Paul, who is as eternal and immovable as the Earth itself.  I find strange comfort in the fact that, come ruin or death or the goddamn rapture, Paul will still be Paul, awkward and occasionally weird as fuck.

I love you Paul.  Don’t change.  Don’t change.

We walked around some more that afternoon, and did some more unremarkable shit.

——-

Niki met us at the gargantuan, fortress-like REI store downtown, baby in tow.  The kid who, until that moment, had been a formless and theoretical ‘it’ as far as I was concerned, was presented.  I was curtly reminded to no longer refer to it as ‘it’, but as ‘her’.  I will likely even learn to pronounce her name properly, soon.

She’s about the size of a football, not fussy at all, and looks absurdly similar to Chris, a tragedy we all pray she will outgrow in the years to come.

I don’t do babies, so I stayed a few steps back with Peter.  Ostensibly, Peter avoided her because he has some kind of highly infectious Avian Super-SARS, which he battled all weekend with fistfuls of Sudafed, but I think in truth he’s as awkward with squirming human larvae as I am.  We both lack Paul’s natural maternal instincts.

She’s a good kid, though.  She doesn’t smell or cry overmuch, and didn’t barf on Paul even when he shook her.

——

We saw the Space Needle but were too cheap to go to the top.  Pete took some photos and we had lunch at a shitty tourist-trap food court.  Niki fed bits of french fry to the baby.

Seattle seemed eerily empty, even for the off-season.

—–

Around ten, we headed out to an area called Pioneer Square a mile or so from our downtown hotel.  There were several bars in the neighborhood and paying cover for one gets you entrance to them all. So sayeth CitySearch, at least.

The first place we went was a divey, top 40 place a la SLO Brew.  We got blitzed in about four minutes, our late-20’s-working-professional livers totally unaccustomed to our return to college-style binging.  The bar was a sausagefest, and I feared Seattle would prove to be another Portland; a beautiful town utterly spoiled by its 47:1 male / female ratio.

At one point I came back from the bathroom to find a short, possibly psychotic dude yelling at Peter.

“You *unintelligble* *unintelligble* lick ass?”
“What?” I asked, utterly confused.

Peter, big Gentle Ben motherfucker that he is, just looked at me wide-eyed.  The weirdo contiued to rant about licking assholes, the pulled a small stainless steel crucifix on a chain out of his shirt and aimed it at Pete.

Creeped out and very confused, we pounded our beers and left.

“What the fuck was that all about?”

“I… I thought he was hitting on me at first.”

“The fuck did you guys do while I was in the bathroom?”

“Nothing! He just came up and started yelling about assholes.”

“I think he thought you were gay… or we all were.”

“Or vampires.  Did you see that shit with the cross? Did he think we’d all start hissing and burst into flame if we were gay?”

“Ridiculous.  You look about as gay as you do black, Peter.  I mean look at your stupid haircut. Come on.”

“Asshole.”

“Place was a cockfarm anyway.  I’m over it.”

We walked toward the next bar, laughing.

“The real tragedy is that it’s only our second night in Seattle and the locals have already discovered that Pete’s a gay vampire.”

Peter sighed. “Now I’ll never get laid.”

Welcome to the Pacific Northwest.

—–

The next place was free of strange, aggressive weirdos as far as I can remember.

But I was pretty wasted by that point, so who knows.

I do remember a terrible, terrible Nirvana-knockoff grunge band.  Listening to those posers try and channel KC was like watching a mental patient try to recreate the Mona Lisa on his cell wall with his own feces.  It was unpleasant on so many levels, and we left before I could muster the self-righteous indignation to throw a pint glass at them.

—-

My memory of the last bar is even hazier.  I think it was another dance place, and there must have been at least a few girls there since they were playing techno and yet we stayed for more than two seconds.

I spent the remainder of the night at a table babysitting our huge heap of coats and gloves and beanies and scarves while Paul, Chris, and the gay vampire danced with local girls.

I don’t remember getting home.

——-

The morning sun came in through the shades like the wrath of a vengeful god.  Chris says it’s never, ever sunny in Seattle, so I’m forced to believe that the weather improved so dramatically to make my headache that much more unbearable.

Our pennance for a night on the town was an atrociously nice day.

We had lunch at the Pike market, where I drank four cokes and ate some saltines, all of which threatened to make the return trip from my stomach at any moment.

Can’t drink like I used to, apparently.

Chris and Peter and Paul talked about the AFC championship game while I slumped against the wall reading a Seattle free paper full of ads for indie rock shows and escort services.

—–

As we walked the streets we were panhandled pretty much constantly.  For a relatively clean city, Seattle’s got its share of street people.  Beggars in parkas and blankets, bundled against the winter, shook their cups at us or followed us a few hopeful steps as we passed by.

Life in San Francisco has destroyed any tiny remnant of pity I had for the homeless.  For every panhandler who’s an honest person down on their luck, there are a thousand who’ve smoked and drank and snorted themselves into the gutter.  Seattle street people, however, seem altogether more collected, more coherent than their SF counterparts, which makes me even less likely to toss them a quarter.  Their ability to walk upright and complete a sentence puts them lightyears ahead of the shambling wretches of the TL, and thus less pitiable.

Who knows why such a marked difference exists. Maybe meth is a more forgiving drug than crack.  Maybe Seattle has a city government concerned with addressing the problem than simply containing it.

Or maybe you don’t see the same bottom-rung people because they all die of exposure during the first snows of winter.

—–

We hit the bars again the next night.  A chubby girl from Vancouver latched on to Paul and talked his ear off for two hours about her husband, her favorite person on the View, and her new used Tercel.  She made him buy her round after round of Long Islands, mentioned eight or nine times how much money her husband was going to make when he finished chiropractic school, and had terrible breath.

We sat back and, depraved motherfuckers that we are, laughed at Paul’s misfortune.

What a catch, Paul. Some guys have all the luck.

We drank until closing and, other than a tattoo-covered tweaker girl who looked like Gollum from Lord of the Rings jumping into Pete’s lap a couple of times, the night was a success.

——-

The next day we stopped by Chris’s apartment, about a half hour out of Seattle proper, to pick up the baby.  Niki decided our just punishment for taking her husband away for three days was to spend our last day in Seattle babysitting Malia.

We made the best of it, however, and cruised around in Chris’s minivan.  Four hung-over dudes and a baby, touring the suburbs of Seattle in a Previa. Such fast and dangerous lives we lead.

We saw all that the Northwestern Sprawl has to offer, mainly trees and topless drive-thru espresso huts.  I expected the trees, but when Chris started telling us about topless coffee shops, I took it with a grain of salt.  Sure enough, though, they’re there.  One every two hundred yards or so, along every main drag through Bothell and Woodinville and Edmonds.

Endless forests and topless coffee bars. What a strange fucking place.

On an unrelated note,  Peter and Paul discovered a previously unknown passion for coffee that day, and I think between the two of them they drank 39 cups of coffee in about five hours.

——

We had planned to go see some bald eagles which supposedly congregate around some salmon-rich river to the east, but ran out of time. Instead, the four of us and the baby toured the Boeing factory, which has the world’s largest building, a building big enough to house Disneyland and all its parking lots.  Yep.

Then we found a bar / restaurant that would let us bring the kid in, and watched hell freeze over as the Cardinals beat the Eagles.  There were five or six waitresses in the place and, since apparently four guys and a baby are the most adorable sight known to womankind, they all took turns filling our waters and bringing us condiments and generally hovering about attentively.  We ended our meal with fifteen bottles of ketchup on the table, and my Coke never got below three-quarters full.

It’s remarkable what a profound effect babies can have on people. Especially waitresses.

——-

We headed to the airport that evening, heading back to California.  Paul was pouting in the back after being told no, we weren’t going to stop for him to take the baby up to the window of a drive-thru coffee place to see if it had the same kind of attention-getting effect.

My flight was delayed, because air travel sucks, and I caught the last bart train back to SF by diving Indiana Jones-style through the closing doors.

I made it back to my city that smells like piss, Chris went resumed his responsible fatherhood, and Pete and Paul went back to doing whatever the fuck it is they do.

Yep.  That was Seattle.

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