to seattle and back

I took my tiny family up to Seattle last weekend for a quick weekend visit. I thought a mini-break was in order for all of us. Plus, I had a Virgin America discount code that made flights way cheaper, so why not take my boys away for the weekend?

We used the little known 24-hour upgrade discount window to get bumped up to Main Cabin Select, which actually made the flight up a lot easier with Ben. Regardless of what the original price differences were between fare classes, you can upgrade for $50 within 24 hours of your flight. The $50 pretty much backs out, when you figure that it includes the cost of checking a bag, free food and drinks and entertainment, and the extra legroom that really helps when you have a toddler to set down. Hooray for Virgin America.

Upon arrival in Seattle, we picked up our rented car ($108, thank you Hotwire), and drove into the city. Ben, by this time, had realized that he had somehow escaped his bedtime, and he was DELIGHTED about it. He was toddling around the rent-a-car counters, grinning and exploring, and then looking out the windows of the car until he finally fell asleep. Arriving at the hotel though, with a sleeping baby and and his exhausted parents, was a bit rough. We managed to scrape Ben out of his seat and into his stroller, and then from there eventually into his crib, without any major drama, and counted ourselves lucky.

Ben woke up the next morning and was further delighted that he was somewhere new, with both parents. Ben is always delighted when he realizes that BOTH of us are hanging out with him. We rounded ourselves up, and wandered down to Market to search for coffee and breakfast. We ended up eating croissants and drinking coffee at Victor Steinbrueck Park, at the north end of Pike Place Market. Ben chased pigeons, and was then made an honorary Seattle Parks Ranger by the two grown-up Parks Rangers who were policing there that morning. If only he was a little older, that sticker badge would be perfect for show and tell.

The next highlight of the trip was my reunion with my old friend Andy. I’ve known Andy pretty much forever, but I haven’t actually seen him since 2006, when I was last in Seattle with my mother. And in Auust of 2006, there was also twice as much of Andy as there was when I saw him last weekend. Andy embarked on a life-changing weight loss program that brought him down to being a fit, well-muscled, guy, after years of being obese. It’s the sort of drastic change that usually only exists in movies or books or TV, as opposed to real life, because it takes the sort of dedication and work that few people can put in. I’ve kept in touch with Andy through IM and Facebook over the past few years, and I’d seen photos, so I wasn’t totally unprepared. But it still took a while to really make the connection between my old friend, and this new guy I saw sitting across from me. Not only is Andy completely different physically, but his weight loss also made him much more optimistic, giving him a more cheerful and outgoing demeanor. I’m ridiculously impressed by how much he’s changed his life for the positive.

Paul, being a supportive husband, also stayed in the hotel room with Ben while I went out for dinner with Andy at Brasa in Belltown. Over dinner, we got to talking about what’s changed in the Seattle area in the last six years or so. “You wouldn’t believe the Eastside,” Andy told me. “Bellevue’s so upscale now.”

“It was upscale before,” I said.

“No, it’s REALLY upscale now,” he said. So we had to go look at the Eastside to see what had changed. And it’s kind of weird, coming out of L.A., to see it. Downtown Bellevue is now like Santa Monica or Pasadena: high-end malls and stores, chain restaurants, and corporate buildings. The old buildings are being torn down, taking out all the 70s strip malls and local chains to make way for the prestige stores. And there’s twice as many skyscrapers as there were five years ago, with three of them being Microsoft offices. “Yeah,” I said, looking at the change. “It’s ridiculous.” We went to look at Microsoft too. “I don’t remember Microsoft being on this side of the 520,” I remarked, as we drove through. Microsoft has snapped up all the office buildings surrounding it, and is now building new on-ramps for itself. There’s a freaking mall on campus now, complete with the largest underground parking garage on the West Coast. I’d thought Seattle had money flowing into it, to have cleaned up as much as it had in the last five years, but the Eastside has way too much money. It must be what Santa Monica or Pasadena or Century City was like thirty years ago. (Actually, now that I think about it, Bellevue is more like Century City crossed with Pasadena. There. A translation)

I got home to the hotel that night to find my husband struggling with a baby who wouldn’t stay asleep. Ben kept waking up, either on purpose, or from the cough he’s had for a month. And because we only had one room, he knew we were right there and wouldn’t go to sleep. He wanted to hang out! He wanted to play! Finally, around 1:30, I gave up, put shoes over his pajamas, and took him downstairs to the lobby. We played with the touchscreen tabletop computers that Sheraton has in their lobbies, ran around the lobby for a half hour, and watched some Thomas the Tank Engine clips on the Interwebs. Then, Ben was ready to go to sleep.

The two other big activities we had while in town had to do with my old summer job from seven years ago: deckhand on the Argosy boats. I LOVED working on those boats. The job was a combination of deckhanding, tour guiding, and bartending. I learned how to parallel park a 100-ton class vessel, narrated tours through Seattle waterways, and served a lot of drinks. And I stayed in touch with a few of the people I worked with. We were able to meet up with Captain Kat and her fiance Kevin and my old friend (now Captain) James for brunch at Portage Bay Cafe in Ballard. Ben sat in a high chair and ate his organic free-range scrambled eggs, while the rest of us plowed through our huge plates of equally ethical and responsible food. (PBC’s motto is, “Eat like you give a damn.”) We then went for a quick walk down on the beach in Ballard with James before heading home for naptime.

In the afternoon, we actually went on one of the Argosy tours – the Locks tour, which goes from Elliott Bay, past downtown and Queen Anne, and into the Ballard Locks to get to the Lake Washington Ship Canal. Ben is in love with transportation right now – anything bigger than an SUV gets a wave and a “hi” or a “bye bye,” and he enjoys boats. So we took him on the Argosy ship, thinking he would love it. I think the high point for him was actually when we were waiting to go through the locks and he got to see trains going by on the bridge above us. This caused much grinning and pointing and train noises. Ben can’t say “Thomas,” yet, so instead, he makes the Thomas “toot toot” noise:

ME: “Look, Ben, a train!”
BEN: “Toot toot! Hiiii!”

I loved being able to share the boat ride with my tiny boy though. One of the best things about being a parent is sharing the wonderful things in the world with Benjamin, and seeing the expression on his little face – delight, curiosity, fascination, or all three.

Also, it was great to be back in in Seattle for the weekend. It was comforting. I like seeing all the signs that say British Columbia is just up the road – the next major city up I-5 is Vancouver, and the Victoria Clipper leaves from downtown Seattle. I also like being someplace where proper priority is given to good coffee and good seafood. We went to Seattle Coffee Works and one of the coffee guys was telling rapt listeners about how the drip coffee was French pressed, and how the espresso was drawn and served with the exact timing to release the most flavor. And I like being told every detail on the fish I’m eating – I expect to know if I’m eating a wild, line caught Coho salmon from British Columbia, or a wild, trawler caught pink salmon fillet from the Yukon River in Alaska. I like being in a city that’s still small enough to have a collective memory. Los Angeles is seven cities in one, but Seattle is just….Seattle.

Oh, and also, it’s a lot less expensive to eat really well in Seattle. Over my weekend, I consumed:

– A perfect butter lettuce salad (with hazelnuts and blue cheese) and a plate of really fat Puget Sound mussels at Brasa
– Buckwheat pancakes with Northwest berries at Portage Bay Cafe
– A 75 cent cup of red chowder from Ivar’s, with a grilled fish taco from the Steamer’s on Pier 55.
Pagliacci Pizza, which is still the best pizza I’ve ever had
– A bonus Ivar’s meal while at Sea-Tac: grilled salmon on rice pilaf with a cup of salmon chowder

Right now, I’m actually drinking my coffee from the Seattle Coffee Works, because it’s early, and I wanted the extra-tasty coffee. Which I carefully ground and then brewed in my French press. Some things about the Northwest will always be near and dear to my heart, and coffee is among them.

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