This was my morning, which was perfect:
The Top Pot Hand-Forged Doughnut and Coffee shop is just down the block from our hotel, and I was seated by 7:00 AM, leaving The Knucklehead asleep. That means that I was still there early enough to beat the Sunday morning traffic, and my body still being on EDT, got to sleep in until 10:00 AM. Win/win.
Two splendid doughnuts; a Raspberry Raised, and an Old Fashioned Maple glazed (which the dude at the hotel insisted I try. I owe him one; it’s a perfect pairing with black coffee). The Sunday paper, puzzles saved for last. Kindle on top to the right, in case the newspaper directs me to a book I may later want to check out (and it did: The Golden Age of Murder: The Mystery of the Writers who Invented the Modern Detective Story by Martin Edwards, now on my Kindle Wish List). Journal beneath that in case I want to take notes (and also for to rip a few pages from to write a letter to My Bride at home). And, behind it all, prophylactically, an umbrella from the hotel. Because Seattle.
All in all, an introvert’s dream come true. I got to watch the people without needing to engage them. I got to watch the dogs, some of whom waited outside for their people, some of whom, if they were small enough, were carried in one-handed.
I love dogs. I love dog-friendly communities. I love Seattle.
* * *
The Knucklehead didn’t have any strong preference for where we spent our vacation when I asked him, though I knew anywhere on the West Coast would be OK with him. For him, it’s a vacation, a change of scene, of pace, of climate (both meteorological and political). Seattle is a nice place to visit.
It’s different for me. Seattle is my way of reclaiming something I gave up. After keeping promises to people I love, Seattle is a promise kept to myself.
* * *
When The Knucklehead was four years old, we lived in the Washington DC area. DC has its problems (the traffic, the cost, the hyperattention to politics, the almost insufferable self-importance of many of its residents), but there’s also a lot to recommend it. For me, I loved the diversity, which I’ve always found to be enriching. In the working-class neighborhood we called home, our neighbors were white and black. Nicaraguan and Saudi. All of us tending to our families, pretty much looking for similar things out of life. If you liked good food, if you liked good music, everyone had something to contribute. It wasn’t a place to think, “this is the way we do things,” because everybody had a different way of doing things, and if you kept your eyes open, you could learn something. I also liked the cultural opportunities being close to a major city offered both children and adults, families and singles. The world, or parts of it anyway, would come to visit you, in concert halls, museums, theaters, sports venues, and shops.
The Knucklehead’s mom grew up in rural Pennsylvania and had a large extended family there, and as soon as she was able, moved him back to her home. I could have fought it; maybe I should have. Part of the reason I didn’t fight it was a misplaced sense of guilt. The Knucklehead’s mom had a big family she was close to and I didn’t. It just seemed like common sense that family, by definition, always trumps community. I don’t think I really believed that even then (not in all circumstances, at least), but I lacked the confidence to speak out my convictions. The other thing I lacked was the financial resources to gamble that a judge would side with a father over a mother, community over family. I didn’t know if I’d be able to keep him in the DC area. I knew I had to remain part of his everyday life.
So when my child moved to rural Pennsylvania, so did I. I’d lived in the state before, but not that deep in the country. It wasn’t easy. I was moving to an area where I had no family, no friends, no support system. It’s an area where almost no business is conducted online (especially not in the final years of the 20th century), making it even harder for an outsider to gain a foothold. But I did that because I could do no other.
Life is about choices. It’s a certainty that you can’t “have it all,” and I think it’s cruel and misleading to teach our children that they can. If you do this, you’re not doing that, or you’re doing both halfway. That’s not unfair. That’s life. I turned my back on an area I’d learned to call home so that I could be the father I wanted to be to my son. I will never regret that decision, and I would make the exact same choice again and again. It was a defining decision of my life, and I’m proud I stepped up to it. But it came at great cost.
The country can be a wonderful place, but I think it helps greatly if that’s where you grew up. It’s a tough place to break into from the outside. Good friends of mine love it. My Bride loves it. When they look around they see the rolling hills. The farmland. The deer that walk through the backyard. They love the slow pace, the lack of traffic, the simple pleasures, and I’m glad they’ve found what they love.
But it’s not what I love. I love the diversity a metropolitan area offers. I love the flow of different flavors of people, different ideas. I’m politically liberal, and I’ve found myself feeling more and more alone in Red State America. It’s not that there aren’t other people here who believe the way I do, it’s just that they’re in isolated pockets with lots of hostile territory in between. It’s a big part of the reason I took The Knucklehead on a quest to see all 30 Major League ballparks. I wanted him to see that there’s a bigger world out there.
I had promised myself when I moved to the country that I would stay only long enough to see him grow up, then look for a part of the world that suited me better. By then, my son would be able to travel on his own and could visit me as he pleased. Sometimes I liked to think he’d join me.
And then life intervened.
I fell in love, and married My Bride. A wonderful, beautiful soul who appreciates what the world has to offer and loves the pace of country life. Who has extended family in Pennsylvania. And I had another choice to make, a choice that wasn’t really a choice at all. My Bride might have done it, might have uprooted her whole life on my behalf. But I couldn’t ask that of not just one other person, but all of the people who love her that she would be tearing herself away from. I’m here for the duration. Where My Bride is, is home.
* * *
So I made myself a new promise, a small one, but it has made all the difference. I promised myself that one week of the year, I would travel to a place I would have liked to call home, and drink deep of my surroundings. Go native. Pretend I’m an expatriate. The minute I promised myself that, a load lifted off my shoulders. This I could do. Knowing that week would roll around every year gave me the strength to carry on, to continue to be a contributing citizen in my rural community.
Seattle is that place for me. It’s about as far geographically, politically, and philosophically as you can get from my home. I’ve only been here once before, when Knucks and My Bride and I came to see the Mariners play, but I fell in love with the place. Isn’t it just a “grass is always greener” kind of thing? Of course it is. I realistically have little more than a stereotyped view of the area. I’m in love with the idea of Seattle. I’m sure this place is as rife with disappointment as any other place on the planet, and maybe I’ll see some of that even by the end of this week. But it’s still a gift I’ve given myself, and that My Bride has given me.
In the past 24 hours, I’ve seen about a half-dozen same-sex couples walking down the street hand in hand. It’s a sight I have never seen in the town in which I live. I’ve seen foods, fabrics, and films from cultures all over the globe, casually spilling over into each other, into the streets. It’s beautiful. Just knowing that exists somewhere, knowing there are others who value that as much as I, rejuvenates me. Seattle is my Lourdes.
“Go,” says My Bride. “Go play. Play at being an urban-dweller, and then come back to the dogs and family that loves you and wants you here.”
I can do that.
* * *
Having said all that, today’s adventures weren’t really all that exotic. We started off well; after I’d had my leisurely 3-hour breakfast by myself, Knucks decided he’d tag along with me to the EMP, which houses the Science Fiction Museum. We split up once we got inside, which allowed us to take in the exhibits each at his own pace. They’re currently running an exhibit on Star Wars Costumes, which I found surprisingly fascinating. Walking back, we decided to try out the 5 Point Café, which I’d heard about, and was not disappointed by. But the local beer I drank was the most exotic thing I chose off the menu, and by the time we walked back to our hotel we were beat, and wound up watching the Red Sox beat the Tigers on ESPN – something we certainly didn’t need to come to Seattle to do. In an hour or so, we’re going to go to Cinerama, which looks to be a marvelously cool single-screen theater and draft house, but we’re going to see Ant-Man, so that’s a wash.
But I don’t need to spend every minute of my Seattle vacation doing “Seattle” things. Having the city at hand is enough. Besides, I’ve got a lot more than a week here. I’ve got a week a year here for as long as I want.
That’s not so bad, is it?