Greetings from the Great Northwest

Greetings, all, from the great and friendly Pacific Northwest! I’m currently propping up a counter at the Top Pot Doughnuts on the corner of Galer and 4th atop Queen Anne Hill in the great city of Seattle and thought that, since I don’t have a camera with me, I’d paint you all a picture of my experiences in Seattle thus far.

Why am I in Seattle, you ask? Good question and there’s a good but convoluted answer.

I’m here in Seattle at the invitation of my brother, Bigwig. He’s out here for some kind of training class and he had a weekend to kill. He’s a huge fan of beer, especially if it’s beer he’s never had before. In theory, Seattle offers a whole new world of beers and bars and breweries for him to experience and explore. But there’s one problem. My brother hates to drink alone.

It’s more than that, though. I actually believe him to be incapable of drinking alone. It’s like a physical law of some kind. When forced into an environment in which he is to be drinking alone, my brother can, will and must do everything in his power to befriend those around him, just so he won’t have to drink alone. More often than not, the environment is a bar and, more often than not, the people around him are inveterate drunks. This can lead to interesting and entertaining encounters but, more often than not, it leads to conflict. More on this in a minute.

In this particular instance, my brother decided that the best way to keep from drinking alone was to invite all his buddies to join him in Seattle for the weekend he had free. Together, we’d all explore Seattle and try lots of new beers and have a grand old time. As luck would have it, I was the only one who could make it. Everyone else begged off due to the expense or the time or whatever.

So that’s why I’m in Seattle. I am designated drinking buddy.

If you’ve been following the logic thus far, you’d likely conclude that this would prevent my brother from having to make friends with those around him in the bar. You would, however, have come to that conclusion erroneously. Tragically, I just got in last night and he’s been here by himself for two days. He’s explored every establishment within a two-mile radius around the hotel. And he’s already made friends in at least one location, the one location we hit upon my arrival last evening.

I don’t recall the name of the place but it’s maybe half-a-mile from our hotel. Apparently my brother visited this same location the night prior to my arrival and made friends with the bartender. The bartender gave him complimentary Japanese Whiskey and a permanent bond was established.

My brother also apparently befriended some guy named Tom who spends 318 days of the year on a fishing boat somewhere in the Pacific. Tom, apparently, on the days he isn’t out fishing, spends his time in this particular bar pickling himself with Bud Light. Well, it just so happens that Tom wasn’t fishing last night and my brother, being the social critter that he is, invited Tom to join us whilst we sampled beers and sang a little karaoke.

My first impression of Tom was that he was awfully quiet and possibly shy. My second impression of Tom was that Tom couldn’t speak because he was stone drunk. Guess which impression was the more accurate?

Tom did eventually speak to me. After three or four minutes of sitting with us at table, Tom looked at me and said “Do you arm-wrestle?”

Now, I don’t know about you but, in my experience, people don’t generally open polite conversation with that question. I don’t think anyone has ever posed that question to me, certainly not since I left high school. Maybe this is what they do on fishing boats. I assume when you’re out on a boat for weeks at a time, you get a little bored and do silly man things. Like get monstrously drunk and arm-wrestle one another.

Regaining my composure, I replied that I did not, in fact, arm-wrestle on any kind of regular basis.

“I could beat anybody in here at arm-wrestling. Do you thumb-wrestle?”

WTF? Seriously?

“Um, not professionally, no.”

“I could beat you at thumb-wrestling.”

This is when I let myself get sucked in by the whole affair. He began both to try upon my patience and practice upon my competitive nature. I decided that, not only was this guy a drunk but he was also a jack-ass. So I decide that, fine, I’ll arm-wrestle. And thumb-wrestle too.

So we throw elbows on the table and some thoughtful, experienced soul wanders over and removes our beers from the table top. I’m thinking to myself, “This happens here often. I’m going to lose.”

Sure enough, I did. We start to throw down and he does something with his wrist, twisting it inward somewhat. This totally destroys my leverage and the match is done before it’s begun. Fine. Whatever. I do my best to earn my revenge in thumb-wrestling but to no avail. I have always sucked at thumb-wrestling. I don’t have the thumb length for it or something. I dunno. It’s not important.

Tom goes on to arm-wrestle my brother, carrying the match even faster. Salving some of the Stafford pride, Brother actually wins the thumb-wrestling follow up and the two retire to the out-of-doors to share a victory cigarette.

Eventually, the two come back and things have obviously turned sour. Brother, in addition to finding it impossible to drink alone, also has a difficult time shutting up about things about which he does not know. After some while, this almost always leads to his new-found friend threatening him with some kind of beating.

In this case, he has taken what little knowledge he has about commercial fishing in the Pacific Northwest and expounded upon it at great length, extolling the virtues of the crab-fishers on “The Deadliest Catch”. You’d think that would be safe enough ground but, no. Apparently drunk fishermen who spend 318 days of every year in a cramped boat greatly resent the crab-fishermen of “Deadliest Catch” as self-serving glory hounds that hog all the media attention.

Oh, and Brother also suggested that some of the fishing activities in which Tom and his mates engaged were probably illegal.

I start rolling up my sleeves, convinced I’m going to have to save my brother from having his teeth fed to him. He’s no fighter, that’s for sure. I was the one that grew up doing all the fighting. It’s what happens when you have two older brothers.

I should know better. It never ends in fisticuffs. It always ends peacefully. He always manages to talk himself out of every richly deserved ass-kicking. I don’t know how he does it but he does. He talks himself into being friends with even the most lost souls at the bar. He talks himself into their good and then their bad graces. And then he talks himself through it and back into at least some kind of peaceful resolution, swallowing every shred of pride he might have had in the process.

How does he do it? I’m sure I don’t know. My own nature is such that I would never engage the damn drunk in the first place. And I would never go out of my way to earn their good will. And I would certainly never swallow my pride just to keep the peace. I’m sure it’s a great failing of mine. God has been talking to me about my pride lately. I’m doing my best to listen and learn but…well, I’m not there yet. I guess I’ll just keep trying to see everyone through His eyes rather than my own.

Anyway, I’m shutting down and moving on. There’s a coffee shop across the street that was particularly recommended to me, Cafe Fiore. I need a refill on my latte and it sounds like the place for me. There’s also Umi Sushi to hit up for lunch. I can’t wait to try it out.

Unlike my brother, I’m perfectly capable of doing these things alone. Maybe when I learn to conquer my own pride, I won’t have to any more. Certainly wishing some of you were here to share the trip.

Three Years

If I was in Romania four years ago, that must mean that, three years ago, I was walking the streets of Paris. If memory serves, and it usually does, I was actually on the way home from Paris three years ago today.

A roving band of American houligans in Paris.
A roving band of American houligans in Paris.

That was probably one of the longest days of my life. The flight from Paris is something like 10 or 12 hours and the flight was delayed somewhat due to overbooking. The Air France people tried to keep us off the flight because we were late arriving at the airport. We touched down in Atlanta in the middle of the evening but it was nearly four a.m. by our internal clocks when we got off MARTA to hike the mile to C’s place. We were, needless to say, exhausted.

We were also barely speaking to each other. After 8 days of constant companionship in Paris, our patience with one another was wearing thin. She’d also tried to teach me how to Salsa on our last evening in Paris. As with most other attempts to teach me to dance, it ended in horrible, flaming failure and a shouting match to boot.

From the paragraphs above, you’d probably think that we had a terrible time. Nothing could be further from the truth, though. I had a blast. As much fun as I had in Romania, I had more fun in Paris, largely because of C. It was great to see all the sights and explore the city with her. I’ll always thankful I got to see the city with her and can’t imagine having done so without her.

My favorite things were the Eiffel Tower, the scenic boat ride down the Seine and Sacre Coeur. I liked Notre Dame but Sacre Coeur seemed much more spiritual. Notre Dame was much more noisy and crowded and touristy. We spent a good 45 minutes sitting in Sacre Coeur just praying. It was very peaceful and still.

Sacre Coeur
Sacre Coeur

Apart from that, just being in the city was great. There’s a wonderful energy about it, as there is with most of the really big cities I’ve been in. It was great to just get on the train and go or to walk the narrow streets and alleyways and see the city. St. Germaine and Montmartre were some of my favorite areas, just because they were so tightly packed and full of secrets.

I visit Paris in my mind sometimes, especially around early March of every year. In my head, I walk the streets again or ride the metro or look out from Le Tour Eiffel. I walk through the catacombs or down the Champs Elysee.

C and C in Paree, atop Le Tour Eiffel. She's wearing both our coats against the biting wind. I was immune.
C and C in Paree, atop Le Tour Eiffel. She's wearing both our coats against the biting wind. I was immune.

Mostly I just remember who I was with and I share it with them again in my heart. It always makes me a little wistful but rarely fails to bring a smile to my face. I guess, no matter what else, we’ll always have Paris!

Four Years and Two Days

I hate sometimes that I only get to update the blog late at night. I have so much more energy to say the things I want to say during the day. I think of things I’d like to write and the words seem to come so much easier than when I actually have time to write.

Maybe it’s the physical act of sitting and having the computer in front of me that makes it more difficult. Maybe it’s just the fact that, during the day, writing on the blog would be a welcome distraction from work.

Whatever the reason, I find it hard to say the things I want to say when I actually have the opportunity to do so. This is why my loyal readers get lots of the song in my head and little of the thoughts in it. Posting songs is easy. Composing thoughts…not so much.

Anyway, I have been thinking a lot lately of traveling. I haven’t been thinking so much of the places I want to go so much as I’ve been thinking about the places I’ve been. Little things keep popping up to remind me of them.

For instance, I’ve recently started drinking kefir every day. Kefir, roughly translated into English, means “omfg, this milk has gone rotten and has chunks! Sorry but it is now in your hair and all over your luggage.”  It’s a drink I first experienced in Romania, four years and two days ago.

The people who were with me then, the Italian, the Greek and others, would be surprised to find me drinking kefir willingly on a daily basis. The first time I tried it, I quite literally sprayed it all over our bus.

The UNCG MBA crew in the Carpathians.
The UNCG MBA crew in the Carpathians.

When you’re parched and in a foreign land, there’s nothing quite as quenching as cold, fresh milk, especially when all the water is of the mineral variety. When you’re parched and anticipating a long, refreshing draught of milk only to receive a mouthful of sour, lumpy kefir…well, let’s just say that there is nothing quite so likely to stimulate your spontaneous spit-take reflex.

But that’s not what I want to write. That’s just one story of many from the trip. What I really want to write is that it’s been four years since my trip to Romania with the Italian and the Greek.

It’s been four years since I shared eight days worth of long flights, cramped buses, bitter cold and taxi rides to nowhere with those two. It’s been four years since we stayed up all night drinking the night away in a chateau in the Carpathians. It’s been four years since we visited Bran Castle. It’s been four years since we regretted our carousing on the excruciating bus ride down the mountain.

View of the Carpathians from our Chateau. You can't quite see how cold it was.
View of the Carpathians from our Chateau. You can't quite see how bitterly cold it was.

It seems like only yesterday but, already, it’s been four years and we’ve all moved on. We’ve graduated from school, moved, changed jobs, some of us three times already. And the Italian is getting married, for crying out loud.

Where did the time go? Has it really been four years? Hard to believe.

And am I really drinking kefir every morning? Seriously? After the nasty shock I received that day on the bus, all those years ago? I guess life does move us all down the road after all.

I guess, in a nutshell, that’s what I’m trying to say. During the day, there just seem to be more words to say it, more ways to express it.  Life move us all on down the road, no matter how we might like to stop and linger for a while. The best we can do, when we remember the people who shared the trip with us, just for a little while, is to smile at the memories, raise a glass and drink a toast in their honor.

Greek, Italian
Greek, Italian

Here’s to the Greek and to the Italian and to all the rest. Thanks for sharing with me a little piece of the trip called life.