Day 9: Sleepless in Seattle

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.

Driving around Seattle.

Driving around Seattle.

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.

Enjoying the quiet porch at Abby's place.

Enjoying the quiet porch at Abby’s place.

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.

Hank and Xander watching the world go by.

Hank and Xander watching the world go by.

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.

Xander and Katie hanging out the top of the bus.

Xander and Katy hanging out the top of the bus.

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.

Hank asking for more beer at Georgetown Brewery.

Hank asking for more beer at Georgetown Brewery.

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?

The blue water of Green Lake.

The blue water of Green Lake.

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.

The Seattle gang watches the sunset as we wait for our sandwiches.

The Seattle gang watches the sunset as we wait for our sandwiches.

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.

Hank and his sandwich at Paseo's.

Hank and his sandwich at Paseo’s.

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.

Absorbing the religious experience.

Absorbing the religious experience.

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.

Hank and Xander at the Gas Works Park

Hank and Xander at the Gas Works Park

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.



23 Responses to Day 9: Sleepless in Seattle

  1. Lane


    You know, it always stings when you refer to my beloved home as “flyover country…” just sayin’.

    See you soon, my friend!


    • Hank Butitta

      Oh shush 😉

      • Ann

        I’m with Lane on this one. I have visited cities on both coasts and found delight in each place, but my home, my heart is the midwest. Yes, it lacks the urban delights found on each coast, but it is its own beautiful self.

  2. Gneepas

    You will be back. You will be here. I came to Seattle for the first time in 1988, and I sat in a parked car on Sunset Hill (above Paseo) and looked at the Olympics as the sun set across the sound, and thought to myself, “this feels right, I want to live here”.

    At the time I was a foreign student at a well-known design school in NYC, and had just finished a stint at a sister institution in LA. I was heading back east – and my Seattleite friends had brought me to visit their home. Fast forward twenty years (yes it took that long) – in 2008, I moved here and now couldn’t think of living anywhere else. You too will be back, and you will build many buses for your fellow Seattleits. You will drive them over the North Cascade Highway and wonder how you ever lived on flat land… You will be here. I wish you all the best.

    • Hank Butitta

      That’s a vision I can get on board with! Thanks for sharing a bit of your own adventure!

  3. Mamasock

    Thank you for this wonderful couch adventure. Please keep writing, so that we can all travel with you. I have just figured out how to weave a tiny bus into the strap I am weaving, to celebrate your trip… Just my way of coming along for the ride. Happy travels from Alabama!

    • Hank Butitta

      That’s awesome! I want to see that strap when you’re done! We’ve got some more posts coming for you!

  4. Andres

    Shoot. I would’ve loved to have seen your bus when you were in town (just read about it on Grist). I hope you come visit again!

  5. Jeff P

    Just got back from Seattle myself. Your trip sounds a lot like ours, beers and food. Paseo is a magical place. That was our first stop after we landed. That sandwich will haunt my dreams for eternity. Hit a couple of breweries as well(Freemont was legit), and ate some of the best food I’ve ever had in my 28 years.
    Gas Works was just incredible. I can imagine you guys had a field day with photos. I think I would be content sitting on that hill watching sea planes come and go forever.

  6. Nimi

    rejection letters… know how that feels.. but who knows maybe you wouldn’t have built this bus and went on this trip if it wasn’t for all those letters…life sure does take you places… it all happens for a reason…

  7. David Reese

    I found your site by accident. But I am totally ok with that.I will follow your travels, it reminds me that sometimes just “going” is the fun part of an adventure. Growing up in Seattle, I forget how magical this place is… thanks.. You all have great trip and enjoy the it all…

    D. Reese

  8. Elaine

    You turned that old bus into a very nice home! I love it! I’m only sad that you won’t be making it down South. I’d love to see the bus up close and personal.
    If you change your mind and do come this way, I think it would be great if you would contact the Architecture Department at Clemson University (Or I’ll be glad to contact them for you.) I’m sure they would love to have you and your bus make an appearance!
    Keep on truckin’!

  9. Jin

    isn’t the windows of the bus easy for burglars to break into?

    • Hank Butitta

      Aren’t most windows easy to break into?

  10. Emily

    Hank & Justin,

    Your blog is inspiring. I am a self-appointed helper to the owner of a VW Vanagon. The headaches of trying to have Brown Betty accomplish what you wish her to, to find that she has released her bowels in the street after a 2 hour drive, is relentless. Still, she offers that freedom of letting loose on the road, my feet hanging out the window and a bird’s eye view from the windshield.

    You are ever inspiring and leave me craving to do more traveling next summer in the glorious gal. I have not yet read your posting from my hometown of Portland, but I do hope you enjoyed the variety of character that it had to offer.

  11. Soph

    Hi guys,

    Such a great idea, love your pictures, love the project. Have a good one and keep writing, I love reading your blog when I wake up 🙂
    Greetings from Paris (France)

  12. KK from Vancouver

    This blog is a WOW!!! 🙂

  13. Loretta

    Great adventure I am 55 and I love the fact that you are doing something exciting and adventurous !! I am on board all the way !!!!! 😉

  14. Colin

    Here a comment from the Netherlands. You are already famous here ! See this site:

  15. Jonathan T

    Hank – thanks again for another bucket list item:
    2. Paseo’s and the #2
    Esp if it can make you dream of Unicorns and Rainbows

  16. Gianella

    what camera do you use? I love your pictures!

  17. Tara

    Hank, I had a similar experience where not getting into a few schools set my life on a completely different direction than I had planned. 12 years later, I’m grateful that happened and that I am where I am…. but that didn’t take the sting out of it back then. Keep following your intuition and good good things will happen!

  18. David V

    Ahhhh I love this! I was just in Seattle 3 weeks ago–loved it. I feel ya on the midwest situation–stuck near Chicago now (and even worse–Florida last weekend), however I love the snow. sorry. With that said, you should visit Mt Hood and do some summer snowboarding/skiing, was just there in August and it was quite the surreal experience.

    fun travels,

    PS: If you ever drive to Boston to visit your friend, you should drive the bus through Manhattan and take some pics for us!

    PSS: Also don’t just stop in Seattle, take that thing to the BC and even Alaska if your feeling adventurous enough!

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