Seattle’s Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame was designed by Frank O. Gehry, while the iconic Space Needle debuted at the 1962 World’s Fair. Photo Credit: Benjamin Mack/GALO Magazine.

Seattle’s Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame was designed by Frank O. Gehry, while the iconic Space Needle debuted at the 1962 World’s Fair. Photo Credit: Benjamin Mack/GALO Magazine.

After a healthy round of giggling, we entered the market. Opened in August 1907, Pike Place is perhaps the most famous public market in the United States. Over 10 million annual visitors venture through the multilevel maze of stalls, where farmers sell fresh produce, fishmongers loudly hawk the day’s catch, and craftspeople show their art, which ranges from screen printed T-shirts and hand-sewn purses to pottery and paintings. Shoppers chatting with each other in over a dozen languages shuffled past in a shoulder-to-shoulder sea of humanity, while electric fans whirred furiously overhead. With its proximity to the sea, seafood is unquestionably the main attraction, and countless stalls featured sellers eagerly displaying everything from crab to tuna to more exotic species like swordfish. And the whole place stank of dead fish, an olfactory assault that reminded me of a landfill or rotten eggs, and was so nauseating that I had an urge to vomit.

Squeezing our way through the maze of bodies packed closer than sardines in a tin can, and away from the pungent smell, we both realized we were utterly famished. Shouting at the top of our lungs, despite the fact we were right next to each other — a necessary action given the din of noise that Pike Place produces, a sound that rivals a sports stadium in loudness, or Jerusalem’s famous Mahane Yehuda Market that I’d been in roughly six weeks prior — we determined that we needed some food. Given that we were in the thick of the largest seafood market on the West Coast, we decided that the only appropriate sustenance would be of the water-breathing variety.

“Let’s try to find some food,” I shouted. I quickly added to my statement, “That isn’t grossly overpriced…You hungry?”

“I can eat,” John said.

“Me too, I feel like I can eat a whale,” I said in response.

“They might have that somewhere here,” John wittily replied.

We both laughed.

A few more minutes of pushing our way through the T-shirt and shorts-wearing throngs and we stumbled into the Sound View Café. Known for its sandwiches, soups and salads, the intimate eatery offers one of the most commanding views of the waters of the Puget Sound. Stepping into the restaurant (open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.) from Pike Place’s main promenade feels like you’re slipping through a crack in the wall (helped, no doubt, by the fact advertising for the restaurant is minimal from the promenade, and it features few inward-facing windows) and into a quiescent world of leisurely luncheons and 20th century charm, a la The Great Gatsby. Polished woodwork and brass dominate the restaurant’s small confines, and a chalk menu informs diners of the specials of the day. Standing in a short line before approaching the counter, I ordered a four cheese tuna melt ($9.50), while John went with a spicy seafood burger ($10, and whatever qualified as “spicy” and “seafood”).

Seating at the Sound View Café is on a first come, first-served basis (and done without the assistance of wait staff), and we were fortunate to get a small table at the window. Taking a seat and sipping a strong black coffee with cream and sugar (it may have been a warm day, but my coffee addiction is well-known), I looked around the restaurant. Amid the smell of grilled fish and brewing coffee, groups of families, friends, and couples of all ages were swapping stories around small wooden tables. I thought about my own stories. It was hard to imagine all I’d seen in the past fifth of a decade. Had any of these people ever almost died of dysentery in northern North Korea (and then decided to return to the rogue state a few months later), prayed at a mosque in Oman where one could hear the squawking of seagulls along the shores of the Indian Ocean, gazed upon an object some believe to be the Biblical Ark of the Covenant in the Zimbabwean capital of Harare, or found themselves in a rural German castle late at night surrounded by people who actually thought they were vampires? Perhaps — or perhaps they’d had even stranger experiences. But either way, it didn’t matter.

“Umm…Captain Spicy?”

My brief cogitation was quickly interrupted by a smiling blonde-haired waitress, who deftly balanced two large plates of food.

John and I burst into laughter. “That’s us,” I said. We were known for the occasional juvenile streak.

“I knew it was you,” the woman said, putting our food down on the table. “Captain Spicy” had been the order name we’d left at the counter, after all. “You guys made my day,” she added, still laughing as she walked away.

At least we’d accomplished something on this trip.

I had never had a sandwich with four different types of cheeses before, and realized after the first bite what I’d been missing in all of my 24 years. Asiago, cheddar, Swiss and Colby all blended with (presumably) fresh-caught tuna in a symphony of delectable taste that teased the taste buds and made the mouth water more with every bite. The sandwich was gone within minutes, but fortunately the free refills of coffee — and the ability of John and me to keep a conversation going for practically eternity — meant we remained seated for nearly an hour after we’d finished eating.

“Amazing,” John said.

“The food or the view?” I inquired.


“That’s an understatement. That’s like saying the 1960s Celtics were only kind of good.”

“Agreed…or that Richard Nixon only kind of covered up Watergate.”

I added a third analogy. “Or that ‘Captain Spicy’ is only kind of a silly name.”

We erupted into riotous laughter.

It was that hazy period between late afternoon and early evening (somewhere around five o’clock) by the time we returned to the Seattle streets. Making our way down Alaskan Way, we moseyed across the piers and boardwalks packed with locals and tourists. It seemed every few steps there was another seafood restaurant, coffee shop, or mercantile peddling all manner of sea-related trinkets (fake pirate flags and wooden ships seemed especially popular). Like Pike Place, everything smelled of fish — though a light breeze helped temper the stench somewhat.

“I have no idea why this is so fascinating,” I remarked as we stared at vehicles and pedestrians boarding a ferry bound for Bainbridge Island. “But I just can’t look away.”

“It does have a strange pull to it,” John said. “It’s so simple, yet captivating.”

“It’s one of those meaningless moments of tranquility.”


A few hours later (much of the time spent at a basement bookshop on First Avenue South that had apparently, as the owner told us, been occupied by a wandering chipmunk), and we by chance happened upon The Berliner Döner Kebab. A Seattleite take on the German street food favorite (which is said to have been invented in Berlin by Turkish immigrants), the small restaurant (one of two locations) was founded when a Seattle native ate at the famed Mustafa’s near the Mehringdamm U-Bahn (subway) station in the Berlin district of Kreuzberg (the place is said to be the birthplace of the Döner) and decided to import the dish to the United States. Having eaten at Mustafa’s on multiple occasions thanks to the fact I presently live in Berlin (and for a few months, while staying at an artists’ colony, I had only been a single U-Bahn station away from it), I simply had to see if the American version compared. And John, as he quickly informed me, had never had a Döner before. It was time to change that.

Ordering a chicken Döner (Hähnchen Döner) and a couple beers (Döners in Germany are often consumed with alcohol), we sat near a large photograph of the famous Alexanderplatz TV Tower (also known as the Fernsehturm) that dominates the Berlin skyline. I felt — if only for a moment — that I was back in the German capital. Served in thick flatbread (Fladenbrot), feta cheese, lettuce, onions, cucumber, and tomatoes were all stuffed inside the Döner along with the meat, and the whole thing was slathered with copious amounts of hot sauce. The $6.89 price tag may have been considerably higher than the price one normally pays for such food in Berlin (anything more than 3 euros, or about $4.10, is considered expensive), but it was worth the “home away from home” experience.

“That was one of the most filling meals I’ve ever had,” John said. “Considering the price, it’s surprising this isn’t more popular in the States.”

I couldn’t have agreed with him more.

The sun was finally setting as we again found ourselves on a boardwalk overlooking the Puget Sound. A few clouds had appeared in the sky, transformed by the sinking sun into brilliant hues of orange, pink and red as vivacious as a watercolor painting, much like Winslow Homer’s 1885 work Santiago de Cuba: Street Scene or Stanislaw Maslowski’s Fountain at Garden of Palazzo Colonna in Rome. Behind us, the glittering skyscrapers seemed to have acquired a golden tinge, as did the planes flying low as they approached Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (colloquially known as Sea-Tac). Sipping free 16-oz. coffees with cream and double shots of peanut butter flavoring given to us by a kind barista as she closed her shop for the night at the Washington State Ferry Terminal, we watched as a gargantuan Hyundai car carrier labored through the waters, pulled by no less than four tugboats. The skyscraper-sized boat’s slow movement reminded me of one of the most poignant scenes of George Lucas’ 1980 sci-fi flick The Empire Strikes Back, when Darth Vader’s behemoth capital ship, The Executor, is first shown on screen surrounded by other (and much smaller) ships belonging to the Evil Empire. But unlike that film, there was no sense of dread as the vessel sailed past. Instead, as seagulls squawked overhead, we simply took in the scene before us.

That is, until we continued our never-ending conversation.

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