You've seen it. The Seattle this world loves to see. Every food and travel show dives into the same joints: Pike Place Market, the first Starbucks, Pioneer Square, the Space Needle, and my favorite Emerald City cliche--the ferry boats. Yes my friends I give you Seattle. It has always been there for me, but always just there. Taken for granted. The portal for when there is somewhere I need to go, someone I need to see, never just itself. Have I taken this iconic city for granted? Missed my chances to discover the real Seattle? Failed to sip a latte on every corner? Have I not done Seattle? Here is the scandalous truth: I have never been to or in the Space Needle, I have never bought a flying fish from the public market, and I have never penetrated the bouncer worthy crowd wriggling like netted tuna in futile attempts to enter the legendary coffee shop. But do I need to? I know they are there, passed by, observed, tucked the images away as static features of the scenery. Ferries are transportation, basal elements of necessity for we the island and peninsula dwellers. So there they have been, and as I prepare to leave the country, I decide to pay tribute to my birth city, to fall in line with the thronging out of towners and tour, just tour. Sperry's on and Nikon at the ready, we do Seattle--noting the famous food finds, and thinking back on all those collectively we have experienced throughout the years. You've seen Rachel, Giada, those bastard Dean Brothers, and Bordain--the only one with a brain--but now you see me. And Rachel, you got nothing on me. Nothing.
Ah we will leave at 10 a.m. Can we catch the 10:45? No, not today. Why does my hair take so long. 11:30 we make. 35 minutes--we dock. First up: coffee. I've only had one cup, pick a Starbucks, any Starbucks. But no, why not find another joint, another "Seattle coffee". Through pioneer square we go, strolling gaily in search of our mom and pop. Well, there are dozens. We pick a bright one, with a back door and umbrellas. Organic, how quaint. Yet you taste the same. Hmmm. What's next--ah shopping. An interesting phenomenon occurs upon entry into any bookshop in any part of the nation, deja vu. For as much as I love books, and beleive me of my lust, I cannot help but feel that the amount of bookshops I have visited pales only in number to the amount of restrooms I have toured. I have seen many of those. Shopping seems to all blend together in the end; that picture frame is lovely, it would sit well next to the last dozen we saw. Is it time for the food yet? Welcome my friends to the International District, home of the super sized Asian grocery market Uwajimaya.
This is a grocery store. Fruits, vegetables, cereal, and chips--as well as packed seaweed, frozen quail eggs, dried suction cups, sake aisles, and a steady hum of conversations in Japanese. Only here does the air forever smell simultaneously of soy sauce and floor wax. Don't be fooled by the foreign charm of "imports"--there is nothing cheep about Uwajimaya. That Hello Kitty card box costs as much as any other. The produce is phenomenal, here you find the specialty roots, the hard to find spices and Pacific delicacies foreign to the shelves of our paltry Albertsons and Safeways. What to buy at Uwajimaya; white rabbit coconut candies, sake in a fish shaped bottle (it must be a cod I tell myself) and sushi for lunch. Mind you not that bland California vegetarian crap, but real sushi, packed with as much crab, roe, and salmon tartar as possible. To sit in the food court surrounded by sizzling woks, under rows of hanging paper lanterns, and adjacent to greasy windows housing some specie of whole-fried bird complete with head is a wonderfully comforting experience. We share our sushi, it is gone too fast. And my face is now sweaty, as I am ashamedly a very sensitive spice wimp, and even the smallest amount of wasabi is a rush. Enough of our "China town", it is time for more coffee.
The walk across downtown from the International District to the public market is the most familiar. On it we pass the infamous dines featured on television and in travel guides. We pass Salumi, the sausage shop made famous by the shop owner's son, Mario Batalli. Bourdain paid the charcuterie a visit, lunching on slabs of meat with the owners before heading to the beach for a fresh caught dinner of goeuoyduck. Ivars seafood bar--dinner before every Mariners baseball game, "keep clam" is the slogan, bubbling chowder and battered halibut are as Seattle as it gets. Rachel Ray had some fries there, I beleive. Before her visit to Agua Verde in the U-District, where, I must say, the best halibut tacos are to be found. I promise I will get to the market, or rather the zoo in a more proper sense.
No one is buying produce. No one is buying fish. They are just looking, looking and taking pictures. I can't breath. How can this many people fit in here? I want to be screaming fire code violation. But this is the fun of it eh? The soul of the market, I will beat you to the best flower bouquet (which I do--I always get the best--straight from the flower lady's hand, the Barbie pink bouquet thank you). We take our time, sampling the honey, graciously accepting the peach sliver offered on the edge of the vendor's knife. The meat on a stick truly is the best.
Across the street from the market is the location of the first Starbucks. Now they serve the same coffee as they do in the other five thousand Starbucks around the world; but this one is special. This one has the original logo, original lights and counters, and this one has a line sprawling the length of the market. A 45 minute wait for a latte. By the size of the crowd one would expect to find a raucous celebrity studded night club inside. Nah, I think we'll go get a cup at the bucks a block over.
The ferry ride back to the Island at the days end was particularly enjoyable; I realized my absolute favorite aspect of the city: seeing it shrink away as the ferry pulls away from it. It consolidates, becomes intimate, a package by the see all palatable in one glance. It seems to perch on the edge of the sound, almost as if it emerged from the sea. This is how i like Seattle, this view from the ferry as head home to my blackberry bushes, suburban roads and country neighborhoods. I love Seattle because it is there. It is always there. I have a city when I need it, but only when I need it. I don't need a trip to the Space Needle, a fondness for grunge, and a ride on the touring Duck mobile to know the city, I have my city; my backdrop city that symbolizes the view from home, and will always be home.
Rick Steves I dare you to top that. And for the rest of you, my readers, next time you are on the Best Coast, take a trip to Seattle and visit all those traps of legend, and if superfluous rides on ferries amuses you, then by all means I urge you to indulge. Now what you should do when you get to the other side is beyond me. I suppose get back on. Unless you'd like to stay for dinner.