Flying south from Alaska, Seattle catches me off-guard. Again.
In an instant, I am part of a bustling humanity again, a type that the north seems to exist apart from. In the big city, with its cars and pedestrians and high-rise buildings, an energy abounds that I forget exists when I am settled in the slower pace of Alaska.
The pace is invigorating. The sound of traffic constant. Streets are lined with stores of all types: fashion at Macys and contemporary furniture at Roche Bobois and white chocolate mochas at Starbucks. At the Art Museum, an exhibition entitled “Flesh and Blood” promises the shadowy chiaroscuro style of Italian Baroque masterpieces. The Symphony lures with a Christmas concert by three Canadian tenors. And, everywhere, people. Darting in and out of shops, skirting street musicians, waiting in clusters at street crossings. At Pike’s Market, I sidestep the crowd, watch fish mongers throw salmon at each other across ice displays, mostly for the benefit of photo-taking tourists. Coho salmon, Alaskan halibut, wild spot prawns. I have to smile. Had I brought Alaska south with me?
In the late afternoon, we go to Sneaker City, some blocks distant. The store is run by two Asian women. The younger woman takes her pug out onto the sidewalk to pee while we scan the shoes on the racks. Her mother straightens up the store around us, yawning. It is close to closing time. Nick deliberates between Saucony and Nike. When he finally decides, the older woman packs the shoes into a bag, discarding the shoe box. On the walk back to the hotel, we stop to peer at store window displays. A wine store displays bottles wearing Santa Claus hats. Zwilling knives gleam in a cutlery store. In the German deli grocery store, salamis and Black Forest ham and Löwensenf mustard remind me nostalgically of my childhood.
When darkness falls, we venture to the Steelhead Diner. The restaurant is filled, the scents aromatic. I am wedged in tightly between two other tables. I feel like I am practically sitting on my neighbor’s lap. I try to politely avert my gaze, not wanting to eavesdrop on their conversation. I settle to people watch. Trendy attire, long boots, form fitting jackets. I glance down at my jeans and sweater, feeling, all of a sudden, distinctly Alaskan. Afterwards, walking back to the hotel, I notice the homeless, huddled, leaning against buildings. Caught in the excitement of the day, I had not seen them earlier. I pull my jacket closer, feeling the wet cold brought in from the ocean.
In our hotel room, we open the shoe box to see that the lady, inadvertently, has packed us the wrong shoes. Should we return for an exchange? We ponder for a moment, then let it go. The day has been long. I feel frayed. I walk onto the outdoor patio, where gas-lit firepits ward off the chill. No one is there. The market vendors have crated their produce, covered their crafts, shuttered their stands. Ferries have stopped. I sit, huddled into my fleece, and look out onto the bay. The Ferris wheel on the waterfront has been stilled for the night, but its lights cast a glow onto the dark water.
As much as I enjoyed the lively, whirling day, I exhale. It is quiet, finally.