Adventure, holiday, work, and play

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The next few days in Seattle are full of adventure, holiday, work, and play.

We finally rouse ourselves from bed the morning after Oktoberfest, and someone mentions breakfast at the 5-Spot. The wait outside is casual as Ben, Matty, and crew nurse hangovers with an air of glamor only well practiced drinkers possess. If I had half as much to drink as they, I’d be in bed, grouchy, and pissed. But Matty smiles his big smile with Marie snuggled close by, and Ben’s still on cloud nine from making sparks with a pretty lady at the party. She asked Ben to dance, and the rest is a fairy tale. The great news is that she’s local; she lives and works in the city, and this gives Ben want to stay. We explode with a bit of laughter when he admits not minding a few extra days in Seattle.

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And so we do. Later that evening, Jakob, Katie, and Marie lure Ben, Matty, and I out of the house on three different pretenses. Still sleepy from the night before and finally content with a belly full of brunch, I seriously want to stay inside. But Jakob insists that evening is the best time to walk Broadway; and he may need my help carrying groceries on the way home. I mumble dissent all the while putting on shoes and stuffing electronics down my pockets. This better be a fun walk — especially since it’s raining.

Jakob and I take to the streets and walk 10th to Broadway. Along the way we pass beautiful homes overlooking Lake Union, an exclusive private school draped in old growth trees and moss, worship sites of every flavor, and street art meant to beautify the city. At Cal Anderson Park, I stoop to take a photo of rain falling into the pond. Jake up and walks himself into its center and demands a photo of himself. He’s wet clear past his ankles with soggy boots and now drenched pants. I’m just beside myself that anyone would do such a thing. Jake must really want me distracted.

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Night falls before we return. Jake and I lug two bags of food and drink up the steps. When I walk through the door to the apartment, you would think we were gone for months, skipped Thanksgiving and Halloween, and landed ourselves smack into Christmas dinner. A roasting ham smells sweet on the air mixed with the sound of holiday music and cheers from Katie and Marie. Merry Christmas! Jake smiles big, and they slather me in hugs. While we were out, the girls decorated the apartment with a tree and lights. Paper snowflakes adorn the windows; holiday music plays from the speakers. I was cajoled out of the house so the girls could stage Christmas in October.

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Matty looks just as surprised when he comes home. We’re waiting for Ben now, but no one seriously expects him to change plans and show up at a surprise party. He’s on a date with the girl he met at Oktoberfest. Ahead of dinner, Jake makes mulled wine from the Carlo Rossi burgundy we bought on the way home, and Katie and Marie hand out gifts. They leave me speechless with such wonderful hospitality. Just a month ago I joined Ben and Matty on their ride, and now I’m treated like one of the family. Special connections like these make me smile and truly appreciate what it means to travel — making lasting memories with strangers who are now close friends. We sit down to a very nice meal in the living room and share stories of our fondest holiday memories. Between laughs about Matty sweating through Christmases in Australia and my describing sub zero camping trips for Christmas in Alaska, we snip some of the ugliest paper snowflakes I’ve ever seen.

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Monday morning, after a quick bite to eat, Matty and I head to Shawn’s house and start our bike chores. Matty’s bike is a mess. In tearing Sandy down to her most intimate bits, he found rust in the gas tank. The previous owner used a sealer to stop the oxidation but didn’t first scour the inside of the tank properly, and now chunks of the sealant have peeled from the tank wall and float about the petrol. He’s managed to remove the tank and soak most of the loose particles free. Just to make sure, he stuffs a handful of gravel from Shawn’s driveway into the hole and dances hilariously around the front lawn.

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Ben rides up later on, and I make good on my promise to change his front tire. We bought a can of starting fluid a few nights ago and now have everything we need. I warned Ben to expect a bit of work. The last time I set the bead on a motorbike tire with an explosion, nothing went as planned. My brother and I spent hours removing the old tire, mounting the new tire, and stomping flames with our feet when the tire caught on fire. This doesn’t discourage Ben, and he’s excited to save a few bucks. Matty’s just curious about the explosion.

Having twice as many tire irons this time helps a great deal. I make a mental note to double my own set before I need new rubber. With Ben’s tire flat on the grass, I scoop a section of tire over the rim and direct him to do the same. The old tire is so worn it comes off easily enough. The new tire, however, is so tight I question whether he bought the right size. After checking the numbers, soaping the bead, and all but ripping it to shreds with four irons at once, it pops into place. We yell success to Matty who’s off in the garage rebuilding his shocks. Now, the real work begins. With my portable tire pump running air into the valve stem, I spray a bit of ether into Ben’s tire. We let it sit a moment to equalize, and then I light the sucker. It hisses violently, flames erupt from the sidewalls, but just before it pops into place, everything fizzes to a halt, and I curse.

Three more tries end in three more failures. The bead just won’t set. What a service station can do in two minutes has taken us more than an hour to not do. I let the tire pump expel the lingering smell of scorched rubber and half-burned starting fluid before trying again. This time I soak both beads in soapy water, position the tire on the grass, and spray a reasonable amount of fuel into the tire cavity. I put a foot against the sidewall, position the lighter, and pull the trigger. Soapy water sputters between rubber and rim. A loud, springy pop confirms the last stubborn edge has stretched into place. Success!

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Ben mounts the wheel on his bike and Matty turns the last bolts of his fork rebuild. I remove one very sopping wet tent from my pannier and set it up to clean and dry. From Shawn’s front yard I look east to Bellevue. Smog tinges the skyline in brown, making the transition from blue water to city to sky somewhat dirty looking. Overhead, puffy white clouds float past. Before the afternoon turns into evening, a breeze whips through the air and dries my tent. I look back to Matty calling us into the garage, boasting about some amazing feat of engineering. In the true spirit of Matty’s bike, he’s rigged a pair of denim jeans to keep dirt from ruining the new fork seals. And with that, I call the day quits and urge my friends away from the garage. They’re as bad as children playing with building bricks.

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I sneak away later that night for a few drinks at Rplace. Monday night, I learn, is when all the bartenders go out drinking. They’re a boring lot of drunks, for sure. They don’t do any of the fun crazy, stuff one normally expects of a club. They just sit at the bar, buy drinks for each other, and poke fun at the bartender who keeps their drinks full. Imagine having an expert as your toughest customer, and that’s how I imagine serving drinks to a bartender feels. On the other hand, I bet the tips between bartenders are great. The guy at my right buys me another margarita on the rocks before I leave to wander my way home in one very stuporous state. One thing from the evening is clear — bartenders don’t let bartenders drink sober.

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On Wednesday, Ben and I leave Matty to the remainder of his bike maintenance and take ourselves on a tour of the city. We catch the bus outside the apartment and head downtown. We exit within walking distance to Pike Place. Even in the middle of the week, Seattle’s famous public market bustles with life. Vendors line the market peddling hats, flowers, candy, and food. Memories of walking Florida’s flea markets with my parents spring into vivid recollection. We grab a world famous apple cinnamon Piroshky for breakfast and walk deeper into the horde of the market. We pass several musicians vying for spare change, watch fish butchers cut and throw salmon across the walkway, and nearly get lost below street level in a maze of Mexican tapestry stores that actually repeat each other.

When Ben and I emerge on the far edge of the market, having bought only a cinnamon roll each and a pound of candied nuts, I cheer success and urge us away. We walk south between Seattle’s tallest office buildings and take in the sights and sounds of commerce. For the middle of the week, the city feels tame if not entirely quiet. Instead of hearing the roar of traffic and horns I expect of a city, I see electric buses sneaking around without a sound and most people walking or cycling between destinations. Pedestrians smile and look happy. People look me in the eye and exchange a nod when we pass. Quite the opposite of my preconception, Seattle feels friendly, full of life, and welcoming.

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Around a corner, a street poet introduces himself as Jerome and politely asks for our audience. He’s well dressed and clean with a beautiful smile and calm voice. For a street performer, he does everything right to make us comfortable. And all he asks is that we give something to show our appreciation if after he’s done we like his work. I look to Ben, nod, and turn back to say go for it.

His song isn’t a song so much as one would sing a song but is a song of feeling and imagery. His words speak of the simple rules in life, of living life, and of what it means to love. Life is the love of living. Living is the love of life that makes life worth living. Without the love of life, darkness compels us to abandon life and forget its worth. I immediately relate to his words, and I appreciate his message. It rings true in everything I do and in all I seek to do. If any single person could explain how I feel while riding my motorbike through the mountains of Canada or across the desolate tundra of Alaska, Jerome can, and he does so in his poem. I ask for his photo before handing him some money. He thanks us, obliges me, and we walk away. With luck he’ll recite his story to someone else and they’ll feel equally inspired to look at life as an opportunity to love living every single moment to its fullest.

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Of all the exciting elements of Seattle’s culture that strike me with surprise, the diversity of people and their desire to be happy among each other surprises me the most. Ben must think me a whirling dervish as often as I spin around to look up or back at something that catches my eye. My country boy mentality definitely distinguishes us, but we both get candy eyed at the city’s beauty. With a single frame, I capture a dozen different textures sprawled across a handful of buildings. With a single frame, I capture Jerome’s poem lit against a hand woven rug. In a single mile, an hour, a blink of time — I capture camaraderie, and appreciation, and art, and sport. On murals and lamp posts, and signs, Seattle’s life blood pours into the streets and overflows against everything and into everyone. The whole place feels electric with life.

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Ben and I get a call from Matty while waiting for his date to meet us downtown. He says it’s burgers and beer Wednesday at De Luxe on Broadway and Roy streets. You buy a burger and you get a beer. Or maybe you buy a beer and you get a burger. Either way, burgers come with beers and beers with burgers. We’re going out to eat and drink tonight — do we want to join? Of course! We’re across town and parked in front of the pub in no time. A short wait outside lets everyone arrive, and we’re seated, eating burgers, and drinking beers before any of us can remember swearing off the stuff three nights ago in Leavenworth.

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Brian

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