I’ve been looking forward to visiting my friends in Seattle since they moved there last year.
I went to undergrad with Abby and Xander, and was friends with them independently before they started dating a few years ago. Last year they were living in Boston, because Xander is doing his Masters of Architecture at Harvard. This year Abby started her Urban Planning program in Seattle, forcing their relationship into a long-distance situation until he can join her out west next year.
Xander and I have always had a special relationship. We see architecture and design from a perspective that is uncommon, with a strong emphasis on making, and a passion for working with our hands. When we hang out it’s a blur of shop talk and condescending remarks regarding high-design. We collaborate extremely well, and have plans to work together sometime down the road. I only get to see him a few times a year these days, so getting to spend time with him and Abby is one of the most important parts of my summer.
Arriving in to town predictably late, exhausted and ready to pass out, Abby and Xander came out to embrace us in the street. We immediately went out to the nearest bar, and predictably closed it down.
The next morning, we got a proper tour of Abby’s home. She lives in a fantastic little carriage house on the edge of a lush ravine, right in the middle of the city. Just north of the University District, Ravenna Park is like another world, completely hidden by vegetation from the surrounding urban environment. Abby’s home is built into the side of the ravine, with three levels facing the park. Their small back porch is almost entirely invisible to surrounding residences, resulting in a view that feels like their own private rain-forest. Abby is the only person I know who could have found this home and leased it before anyone else had a chance, and I’m glad she did.
For our only full day in Seattle, Abby, the ever consummate host, had suggested a number of activities she couldn’t wait to share with us, mostly involving beer and sandwiches. She knows her audience well. Abby had to go to work, but she sent her roommate Katy as our guide. We took the bus on a tour of the city, driving through downtown and past the space needle. As much as I enjoyed the tour, the cherry on top was letting our new passengers enjoy the city from a new perspective. You see everything a little differently from the bus.
Our destination was Georgetown, an industrial part of Seattle, with pockets of quirky intrigue. We managed to find a flat, freshly paved, completely empty parking lot for the bus. As Vince pulled the bus into the lot, he saw the remnant marks of burnouts on the blacktop and thought, “hey, that’s not a bad idea.” With little warning, Vince turned the wheel hard to the right, and pulled the bus into a surprisingly tight circle and held it. The rate and force of the spin caught us all off guard. The view out the rear of the bus was dizzying. We all fell to the port side of the bus and started giggling. After only a single loop he stopped. But after much pleading on our part he got back out there and did a few more. It was so much fun I’m going to have to start scoping out Target and Walmart parking lots when I get home. Bus donuts are just too much fun.
Along what appeared to be a completely uneventful industrial avenue, we arrived at Georgetown Brewery. The brewery had a wonderfully clean industrial aesthetic that complimented the neighborhood and the beer. To our great surprise and pleasure, the “bar” was exclusively for sampling. Free sampling. Over the next hour and a half we steadily worked our way through tastings of their entire selection, and learned a great deal about the brewery. We were a complete distraction to Matt (which is possibly his name), who answered all of our inane questions and sometimes remembered to continue filling growlers as we chatted.
By the time we finished working our way through all the draughts, it was getting close to the time Abby would be done with work, so we made our way back to the bus. In hindsight, we probably should have picked Abby up before we impulsively stopped to take a quick swim in the lake, but then it wouldn’t have been impulsive would it?
That evening Abby took us to Paseo’s for the #2. The #2 is a pork sandwich with lettuce and onions. This sandwich, Abby promised me, was the best sandwich I would ever have. This is an extremely tall order, and she knows it. I love sandwiches. I could, and often do, eat a sandwich for every meal. As we waited for our order, we had just enough time to run across the street to the beach and watch the last slice of sun disappear behind the mountains. I’m sure it was magical, but I was hungry. The #2 was waiting.
I’m not even sure how to describe this sandwich. I’m incapable. Perhaps the best way to describe this sandwich is that I did not speak for 15 minutes as I enjoyed each precious bite, then sat with my head in my hands, not sure how to process what had just happened. For any of you that know me, you understand that this is unheard of. To find me without words is like finding a unicorn in the wild and riding it’s rainbowy mane off into the sunset.
As I sat there in shock, head in my greasy hands, I looked up to see a large piece of pork sitting in front of me. The wave of emotions that washed over me was complex and overwhelming. In a single moment I felt joy, excitement, and gratitude. That piece of pork was not there before, I can assure you. It was a gift. Someone had parted with their pork morsel, knowing that as I sat there in the afterglow, I was wondering if I would ever taste that sandwich again. When the gift-pork caught my eye I did a double take, and my head fell back into my hands, on the verge of tears. When I was ready, I picked it up, and savored just a few more bites. It was a beautiful moment, and a sign of true friendship. Thank you Justin.
And Abby? You were right.
Our last stop this evening was Gas Works Park. Gas Works sits on a former industrial site on the north end of Lake Union, and hosts the most spectacular view of the Seattle skyline. A rusting pile of machinery several stories tall sits quarantined, on display to decay indefinitely, next to a gently sloping grassy hill, dotted with friends, families, and couples enjoying an unobstructed view of the shimmering city lights over the water. There was a nostalgic energy in the air. It was one of those fleeting moments you try to hold on to. Many people were saying goodbye that night. The next morning bus was headed south, Abby and Xander were headed east, and Katy was flying to Holland. We laughed, told stories, and rolled down the hill in a fit of giggles. We absorbed what we could.
The Pacific Northwest holds a strange place in my heart.
Four years ago as I applied to Masters of Architecture programs, having spent my entire life from birth through college in the midwest, I knew graduate school may be one of my last chances to get out. I was tired of Midwestern winters; tired of ‘Minnesota Nice’. I was tired of living in flyover country, and was desperate for a fresh perspective.
I had returned a year earlier from my first experience abroad, spending 10 months in Western Europe. In the months following my return I collapsed into a funk. Home wasn’t the same. Graduate school was an opportunity to start fresh. It would give me direction in a time when I was floundering, and provide the community that can be so challenging to find when you decide to call a new place home. If I was going to start putting down roots anywhere other than Minneapolis, I knew it would be in the northwest. It was like the midwest, but a step up. More urban, more environmentally minded, more food carts. No snow.
The first and last time I was in the northwest, I had already applied to graduate programs at the University of Washington and the University of Oregon. I was on a week long road trip with my roommate to visit the schools I hoped would be my own. Days before the journey started, I had received a rejection letter from Seattle. It hurt, but Portland was still a possibility. As we travelled between Seattle and Portland, I got a call from my best friend, Xander. He had just been accepted to the graduate architecture program at Harvard. I was ecstatic. And I was crushed. I couldn’t have been happier for him, and ultimately I knew that is was good news for both of us, but I had this sinking feeling I wouldn’t have my own chance to experience the excitement he was feeling that day.
Shortly after the trip, I received a rejection letter from Oregon.
In what seemed like an impossibility, I had been rejected from every school I applied (including three others across the states), except my home institution.
I can’t complain about where my life has taken me. I have a passion, a bit of direction, and incredible friends and family who support me along the way. But that can’t erase how hard it was to watch my best friend go to the nation’s premiere institution while I stayed home.
There’s something bittersweet about visiting some of my best friends in the city I longed to live in. But maybe it’s not over yet. Again my life is at a point where I have little responsibility, and I could start fresh. The northwest has a lot to offer, and I’m not ready to rule it out. I may be back.