I arrived in Seattle about three o’clock, and was late for my get-together with brother Ethan, but wanted to take this opportunity to check out some of my old haunts on the way to his home. I hadn’t re-visited the places that had defined several important events in my life. It seemed now was the time to do it. It was important to me to revisit these places since I had written about them from memory in my book, “The Prodigal Son,” and I was curious if I got it right.
I left I-5 and slipped through the Mercer Street corridor headed for Magnolia, I couldn’t believe how Amazon’s coming to town impacted the sleepy Lake Union neighborhood of my youth. It was awful.
Looking north towards where my 1960’s twenty-five-dollar-a-month rented houseboat was moored, all I saw was million dollar floating homes and expensive yachts. It was a far cry from the days these dilapidated, tiny homes were inhabited by college students and hippies, and the toilets and sinks emptied directly into the lake.
When I approached the Seattle Center, I spotted the Space Needle looming over me. I remembered when I was working for NWC in 1968, and they had something to do with building the Space Needle. I got a call from the Needle’s restaurant manager, “Help, the restaurant deck stopped turning this morning. You have to fix it. We are booked for tonight, and it has to be turning by five. I sent a couple of millwrights over with instructions to fix it, and have it done by five. The Restaurant did open on time and the next day I asked my guys, ”What was the problem?”“That whole restaurant is on a turntable driven by a little one-quarter horsepower electric motor and gearbox. The motor failed, and we replaced it.”
As I passed Izzy’s Bar across the street from the Seattle Center, I thought of the many nights we used to spend at this high-toned beer joint which was built for the Seattle World’s Fair crowd. It was no longer there.
I dropped down onto Elliot Ave and pulled into the parking lot of what used to be the old XXX Barrel restaurant. Doc’s buddy, Bill Ruff, owned it, and they had the best barbecue beef sandwich on the planet. I remembered doing the design and drawings to remodel it into a Hawaii themed restaurant and cocktail lounge. I was a twenty-year-old, starving architecture student at UW, and needed the money. I designed it and oversaw the construction for five-hundred-dollars. They named it the “Tiki Hut.” Ziggy used to be a part-time bartender there. Today it’s a sleazy looking Chinese joint.
I turned onto the Garfield St. Bridge, where I spotted Pete’s old house on the bluff. He was my childhood best friend. I drove through an unremarkable Magnolia Village and turned onto 37th street, where I stopped for a moment to look over our family’s first house. We lived there while Doc was away fighting the war and a few years after he returned. It hadn’t changed much since this old photo was taken in the late ’40s.
I drove up the hill and turned onto West Viewmont Way, and stopped in front of the Winston family’s second home, which Doc bought in 1950. It was a large ranch style house overlooking Puget Sound. I always thought it was a status thing for him, after all, he was a doctor. I hated doing the yard work and cleaning the pool. I marveled at how, as a teenager, I was able to back his car out of the garage, and up the steep driveway at night without Doc hearing the car, and catching me. Actually, he did so once, but that’s an unhappy story for another day.
I drove north to the house that I designed, and Doc built on a narrow, abandoned City alleyway off of W. Viewmont, and a few blocks from Ethan’s home. It was selected as the Seattle Time’s “House of the Month” in 1964. Doc bought me an old ’57 Chevy Bel Air for my troubles. It was the best car I ever owned.
My short detour and tour confirmed that my memory had served me well, and I got it right in the book. It also caused me to realize that the easy, un-crowded lifestyle of my youth was over. I knew I couldn’t handle Seattle’s traffic on a daily basis. Great place to visit, but I don’t want to live here.
Ethan and his dog, Sara met me at the door of his 1940’s, tiny Cape Cod home. It looked out-of-place surrounded and dwarfed by the two and three-story, multi-million-dollar, modern homes, which had replaced all the other original houses in the neighborhood. Jim Bradley lived a few doors down. He motioned for me to sit in his favorite spot on the ratty, torn, duct-taped, ancient sofa next to Sara. Ethan has never embraced materialism, and it’s my guess the sofa will be with him until the end.
It seemed like there were model ships everywhere. It was his hobby, requiring a steady hand, precision, and patience. He was good at it, I never could have done that, but if you have the plans, I can build you a refinery.
I was anxious to spend a couple of quality hours with him. Although we hadn’t seen much of each other over the years, Since we reunited, I have come to rely on his sage advice, focused perspective and well thought out responses to issues dear to me about God, life, death, family, and even writing and publishing.
We cut to the chase, and I brought up the subject of his book, “Hey Father!”, which did well, and went into a second printing. I asked him. “Why was your book so successful?” He responded, “I told my stories from my heart with love. I spoke simply to what occurred and how we accepted it. It wasn’t about me; it was about my students and their journeys. I merely transcribed what happened, and commented on it. We didn’t do any marketing. I believe my book sales were based on a word of mouth networking among the many folks I had encountered at Blanchet High.
I told him my first book, “Jake The Prodigal Son” initially sold well, and got dozens of great reviews. However, when sales dropped off dramatically, several months later I guess I was a little paranoid, and disappointed. I was considering abandoning writing, and not finishing my second book, “The Raising of the Ruth Ellen,” which was in the final editing stages.
I thought perhaps I needed to move on to something more rewarding, but first I needed to hear an unbiased, knowledgeable, opinion from my brother, and fellow author, before making that decision.
Fr. Ethan told me, “Jake, your book is a good one. It is an incredibly, interesting story, well told and hard to put down. You definitely have a talent for writing, and every blog you send me is better than the last one. Yes, I certainly encourage you to keep writing.”
I gratefully accepted his opinion, and concluded that since “Jake The Prodigal Son” was a decent, if not excellent book. The decline in sales was a marketing issue, not a writing one. My confidence returned and I was fired up to publishing ‘The Raising of the Ruth Ellen.”
I asked, “Would you write a second book?”
“I don’t think so. It’s a big undertaking and a time sink. To be honest, my motive to write ‘Hey Father!’ arose from a desire to have my name on a literary work in the Library of Congress. Don’t ask me why. I have thought about writing another book from time to time. If I did so, it would be centered on the many unusual happenings during marriages I have performed. It would be a funny, thoughtful and sometimes adventurous series of short stories.”
Ethan knew I had just dodged another bullet last month when I survived my fifth cancer in seven years. This time it was liver cancer. Although I seldom spoke of it, he quietly asked if I remembered him telling me about a passage of the Talmud which goes like this, “Each child is sent into this world by God with a unique message to deliver, a song, a personal act of love to bestow…”
“Yes, I do. In fact, I often use it when I’m teaching RCIA, (Catholic Religion for adults.) or talking with my grandkids.”
“Well, Jake. We don’t know what your message is, or when it will be delivered. However, I would suggest that God has gone to a lot of trouble to keep you on this earth, so your message must be pretty important. Just relax, have faith, and keep doing whatever it is that you are doing.”
Changing the subject, I asked, “Do you have any regrets for selling your boat?”
“No. I’m still drawn to the water. I guess I always will be, but now I’m content to go out occasionally with friends, I always enjoy our annual cruise to the Tides in Gig Harbor.”
He started to tell me one of his corny old jokes, which he’s so fond of repeating. I told him. “Save it for Athena’s dinner party Saturday night. Oh, by the way, if you’re finally ready for some new material, I had a couple of good jokes I could let you have. We laughed; he looked at his watch, and said, “I have to go I have an event to attend. I’ll see you Saturday.
THE METROPOLITAN GRILL
THE EVE BEFORE
As Ethan and I left the house, he said, “It’s rush hour. So, stay off of Interstate-5. Take Elliot Ave to the Alaska Way Viaduct and follow it out of downtown to highway 509, and Burien. There would be much less traffic.” In the back of my mind, I remembered being with Ethan the year before when he got horribly lost taking that same route, and we ended up at the White Center garbage transfer station.
I was making good time down Elliot Ave, and I was glad I listened to Ethan. I turned onto Western Ave, and lined up in the right lane to enter the Viaduct, which was about a mile south. A block up Western Ave, I slammed on my brakes when I encountered total gridlock. I was frustrated by the traffic jam, and ticking clock not because of the stress of crawling through traffic, but because I had an unspoken agenda, which had eluded me for the past three days. That being, enjoying a takeout plate of Ivar’s fish and chips. It had been on my bucket list for over two years. Tight schedules, and commitments had blocked me from doing so at the Ivar’s Fish Bars in the airport, in Edmonds and twice again in Burien. Today I planned to reach the Burien Ivar’s before five, sample enough fish and chowder to satisfy my craving and memories, but not spoil my dinner.
I looked at my watch; it was already after five, and I was going nowhere. I reluctantly set aside my quest for fish and chips to another day and tried to figure out how to get out of the traffic mess. I remembered when I was a teamster driving a truck in Seattle during college, I knew my way around pretty well, particularly the waterfront. I made the first right turn and followed the Alaska Way truck route south. I zipped alone for a half mile, before encountering a detour which took me off Alaska Way and shunted me under the Viaduct, directly into another gridlock that included the backup for Ferry loading traffic.
Thirty-minutes later, Alaska Way was still on my right as I crept along the detour. Suddenly, I spotted the flagship of Ivar’s empire and legacy, “Ivar’s Acres of Clams.” It was seeming within reach, a mere few yards away; but alas, I could only gawk at it, and inhale the delicious fragrance of its fishy goodness as I crawled slowly by. There was no way to get there without abandoning my vehicle in the middle of the road and making a run for it; which I did consider before moaning, “Oh! the irony of it all!.” It nearly broke my heart. I never spoke of my disappointment to my hosts.
I arrived at Alisha’s after six. The seventeen miles from Ethan’s to Alisha’s should have taken forty-five minutes, not over two-hours. Gary and Alisha could see I was frazzled and suspected it was the traffic. Alisha said, “You poor dear, let me fix you a drink. Gary is preparing some pupus that will make you droll.” I took my place at the table out on the deck, sipped a Bud Light, chased with a glass of Merlot. I gazed out across Puget Sound at Vashon Island and tried to erase my drive through hell, as my hosts scurried about the kitchen. I needed to relax and let the beer dissolve my tensions and simmering road rage. I gradually morphed back into my happy-go-lucky self, prepared to behave like a brother, and pleasant house guest. Gary and Athena soon joined me, and placed two large trays of delicious Italian bruschette, and a bottle of wine on the table. We talked and laughed until the wine and pupus were gone, and the sun dropped below the Olympic mountain range.
When we entered the dining room, and I saw the platter of beautiful, Dungeness crab, which Gary had bought at the local Vietnamese market, then cooked, cleaned and chilled for dinner. I was glad I never stopped at Ivar’s. I think I ate most of the crab by myself, but I still had room for my share of warm French bread, and lettuce wedges drenched in Mom’s homemade thousand-island dressing recipe.
While we were having coffee in the living room, Alisha said, “We have a surprise for you tomorrow, Jake.”
“What would that be?”
“You remember the Metropolitan Grill, don’t you?”
“Of course. It is arguably the gold standard of old-school, elegant, wood-paneled, Seattle restaurants, and it has always been one of my favorites. I haven’t been there in twenty-five years. Why do you ask?”
“Gary has another commitment so, you and I are having lunch there tomorrow at noon.”
The thought of a power lunch with my kid sister, at one of the five-star watering holes of the movers and shakers of Seattle’s business world excited me, and rekindled old memories.
THE METROPOLITAN GRILL
When I awoke the next morning, I asked myself what was I getting so excited about. It was just lunch in a nice restaurant. Suddenly, I had an epiphany. I understood what today’s lunch meant to me. My kid sister, a successful stockbroker, had made her mark in the rough and tumble, “Man’s World”, of Seattle’s exclusive financial community. She had earned her place at the table of Seattle’s elite, although she seldom spoke of it. This would be our silent testimony and toast to her achievement.
Alisha and I parked at her upscale office building at Fourth and Marion and walked down the two steep blocks to the Metropolitan Grill on Second. The Maître-D seated us in one of the prized cozy booths in the nearly full, front dining room. I glanced into the long narrow, busy bar, noting that it was also crowded, as it should be on a Friday afternoon.
A waiter in tuxedo appeared out of nowhere, presented us with menus and took our drink order. When he returned, Alisha ordered the Friday lunch special, which was one-half of a French dip sandwich and a green salad. I followed suit, but I added a cup of seafood chowder and a side of barbecue sauce.
The Metropolitan has its own unique energy, and the luxurious decor and attentive staff always made me feel special. I was proud to share that comforting feeling with Alisha today. We talked about Mom and how she taught every one of us that we were special, and instilled the drive to succeed in whatever we chose to do in life in us. I glanced up and thought perhaps she was looking down on us as we dined and talked. I told Alisha, “I think Mom is proud of us today.” We discussed some of the private events and feeling we held close to our hearts. Nothing heavy, but subjects like religious beliefs, which could be awkward if discussed around the family dinner table.
The soup was exquisite, that’s always a sign that there is an excellent chef in the kitchen. When they brought the entrée, I was surprised by the amount of thinly sliced prime rib that filled and overflowed the French roll. It was enough for two sandwiches. We ate and talked for almost two hours,
After espresso and Italian ice cream, I paid the check. As we were leaving, Alisha encountered a couple of girls she worked with. They seemed excited to meet her big brother. One of them was from Hilo on the Big Island. We chatted about Hawaii, our lunches, and why I was there. following a friendly farewell, we were off for our next adventure.
Alisha said, “Let’s walk down to the Pike Place Market. It’s only a few blocks from here. Remember how you always talked about the tiny donut shop that Mom used to take you to when you were little? Well, it’s still there. We’ll buy some donuts. There’s also a unique English crumpets store and a lovely flower shop close by. We’ll get some crumpets for breakfast, and flowers for tomorrow’s dinner table.”
“Sure. It sounds like fun.”
Six blocks, or a half mile later, I stopped, “ I’m not going one step further. You go on, leave me here, I’m through.”
“No, it’s just up ahead; can’t you see the sign?”
“There is no sign, Alisha. I googled it. The market is another half-mile from here. I’m sorry to rain on your parade, but I’m not walking nearly two miles to get a donut. Sorry.”
We looked at each other sheepishly and didn’t know what to say, or do next. Then, I noticed there were a few motorized “Limebikes” for rent in a rack on the curb. I said, “Let’s rent a couple of these bikes and finish our journey. It will be fun.”
Between the two of us, we had trouble pulling up the Limebike app. When we got it, we couldn’t remember our Apple passwords to unlock and activate the bikes. After about twenty-minutes of fumbling, I said, “Forget it. I’m going back to the Met. Meet me in the bar on your way back from the market.”
Just then, a pedicab pulled up next to us. We jumped in, and the young driver pedaled furiously up and down Seattle’s hills and deposited us at the Pike Place Market. We haggled over the fare on the way. He wanted forty dollars, round trip, I offered thirty. We settled on thirty dollars plus a tip. The haggling was kind of fun. The young man kept a close eye on us as he waited in front of the market, while we darted in and out of the shops. He wasn’t going to let us stiff him. When he delivered us, huffing and puffing back to Athena’s office, I asked, “How much?
“Thirty bucks, plus a tip.”
“How about a three-buck tip?”
“Come on, Mister!”
“Will you take our picture?”
“I’d be happy to.”
I gave him my iPhone, he took three photos, and I handed him forty bucks. It was worth every penny.
Stay tuned for Episode III:
It includes: The Class of 1958, The Winston Sibling Reunion, and Ivar’s Salmon House.