Roll of Quarters

Fresh off a divorce, I moved into a one bedroom apartment near downtown Seattle in the Capitol Hill neighborhood in the spring of 1995. My possessions included an aging computer, an old Aztec patterned couch, and a calico cat with a bad attitude.

My post-college life wasn’t on the trajectory I had anticipated.

Finances were tight, and I was beginning to understand the cost of living in Seattle was a lot higher than Rock Springs, Wyoming, where I’d moved from a year earlier. I’d recently taken a job with an internet service provider, and I was learning skills that would pay dividends much later. But I didn’t make a lot of money, and those last few days before payday were rough.

My apartment was small. It wasn’t particularly modern, but it was clean and well maintained. And best of all, it was free because each month I took deposited checks from the 19 other tenants and occasionally showed apartments to potential renters on the weekends.

Near the end of each month, a maintenance man would show up and make sure the two washers and two dryers in the tiny laundry room were working properly. He also dropped two rolls of quarters through my office letter box. The first time he did this, he included a note detailing how the quarters could be used for refunds if a tenant had a problem with a machine. Otherwise, I could keep them.

What the maintenance man probably didn’t realize was that $20 worth of quarters often was enough to cover food for a week or more until my next paycheck arrived. When I’d open my office door to retrieve the rent checks at the end of each month, it felt like Christmas seeing two rolls on the dingy orange carpet. That $20 felt like $200.

Even today, when I hold a stack or roll of quarters I’m reminded of that incredibly kind gesture from a man I might have seen three times in the four years I lived in that apartment.

Goodbye, Auburn WA

Less than twelve hours from now, we’ll be on our way to Utah.

Over the past twenty-four hours we’ve been surrounded by friends and neighbors who have stopped by to wish us well or help pack or drop off cookies for the long drive ahead.

It’s sad to leave close friends, yet there’s a solace knowing I will see many of them again, if only through Facebook. I’ve moved around enough to know that friends come and go, but it’s been difficult explaining that to my 12-year old daughter who could very well run away before we leave, and it wouldn’t surprise me. With yesterday being her last day of school in Auburn she decided to get off the bus early and hide away at her friend’s house.

One benefit of moving is the ability to make a new start in a new area. We start a new segment of our life in a gorgeous area of Utah starting tomorrow. As far as know all the teachers at our kid’s schools are excellent, each neighbor is caring and our new church congregation will welcome our family of seven with open arms. Sometimes a computer needs a fresh Windows install to get back in its groove. I hope our family can find its groove in a new city.

It’s an odd feeling to stand back from a moving truck and know everything you own is inside. I’m not sure why we decide to hold on to much of it. Maybe the boxes of old books and picture frames remind us where we’ve been and help bridge the past to the future.

That the past two days have brought near constant rain showers seems fitting. I wouldn’t have it any other way, because just over 17 years ago I drove a U-Haul into downtown Seattle on a miserably cold and rainy evening with this song blaring on the radio.

Here’s to the future.

What I Learned on Capitol Hill

Years ago, after I’d moved from Utah to Seattle I interviewed for a job that consisted of managing a 20 unit apartment complex. Before the interview, a friend warned me that the complex was located in the gay district of the city, two blocks below Broadway on Capitol Hill. At the time I lived in a tiny apartment near the University of Washington.

The initial interview went well. A few days passed and I decided to follow up with the woman who interviewed me. I had no apartment management experience, but I explained to her that I needed the job and would work my butt off. I don’t know if she had planned to give me the job, but I was persistent. She told me to drive by the apartment complex to get a feel for the area and then, if I was still interested, to call her again.

I knew exactly what she meant when she told me to get a feel for the area. Capitol Hill is an eclectic and densely populated area just a short walk from the city center. Like any neighborhood that borders a major city, it’s full of diversity, especially to a kid who was born and raised in Utah.

When I called back and told the woman I was still interested in the job, she was genuinely surprised. The apartment was the perfect size for me, my cat and my computer. I had little else to my name having just come off a divorce. But I didn’t need much.

I eventually got moved in and settled. I loved that I could walk to my full-time job located in the city. On Saturdays, I walked to the bagel shop on Broadway to people watch. There was also a great newspaper shop that carried all sorts of rare computer magazines. I spent so many hours in that store they should have hired me.  And I don’t want to think about all of the money I dropped at the used CD shops. You know, the ones that only play Velvet Underground over crappy JBLs.

Occasionally I was reminded by friends that I lived in the gay district.  I suspect they were looking for a reaction from me. If they were, I’m sure they came away disappointed as I didn’t have a single salacious story to share with them. Since I walked to most places, I got to know my neighbors well. In a short period of time, I came to love Capitol Hill and couldn’t imagine moving away. Kim loved it too, so when we were married, we decided to stay in the same building for another four years.

I made a number of good friends as well. One of the tenants told me about a job his employer had recently posted. I applied and landed the position. We’d worked together for a year when he told me I was the only straight person in the apartment complex. When I see him today, we still laugh about that.

Maybe I was naïve. I’m sure I was. Yet I don’t recall anyone judging me for who I was while I lived on Capitol Hill. One meets a number of good and not so good people trying to rent apartments close to a large city. But, for the most part, people were incredibly kind to me at a time in my life when I had no family and few friends to fall back on.

I’m thankful for that experience living on Capitol Hill because my uncle recently announced that he is gay. Like me, he was raised in a Mormon family and served a mission. Unfortunately, he lives in a part of the country which is known for being hostile towards people like my uncle.

I’ve wondered how my family would take the news, but that’s not something I can control. My uncle didn’t have to come out to me. But I appreciate the time he took explaining how he’s continuing to figure out what this means for him while respecting the beliefs of his friends and family.

What I can control is how I treat others, and that’s the lesson I want my children to learn. When I was a young boy, it was OK to play games during recess called “Smear the Queer” and call people “faggots” or refer to someone “being gay”.  I hope such games and language are no longer tolerated.

When the president of a popular fast food establishment comes out in support of traditional marriage he has every right to make his beliefs known. But when profits from that business are funneled to groups that continue to promote inequality and hatred, those same owners are responsible for how their words and actions damage their reputation and make expansion into some cities more difficult. I will vote with my wallet to make sure none of my money goes to support these groups.

I postponed writing this post for a few days while I gathered my thoughts. Last night I’d decided to keep my thoughts to myself. But today I decided to write. My aim is not to change minds as I know that’s impossible. No, I decided to write because I’d like my children to know where I stand on the issue and learn from the mistakes I made when I was their age.

I look forward to the day when I tell people I lived on Capitol Hill they ask me about the bagels.

Seattle Weather Warnings

“We’d better stock up on Diet Coke before the storm hits”.

Those were Kim’s words to me tonight as she headed out the door to Fred Meyer. One hasn’t been able to turn on the radio or local news without hearing warnings of an approaching snow storm.

Seattle and snow don’t mix. Many blame the lack of snow removal equipment. Some say the rain creates icy conditions no matter the preparation. I’ve even heard people blame the salmon as the reason the city seldom drops salt on the roads.

Whatever the reason, Seattle loves a good weather warning. We can’t get enough of them. You’d be wrong to assume we’d take it all in stride given our penchant for perpetual rain storms.

Shortly after moving to Seattle, I started a round of golf in a light drizzle that turned into a downpour by the fourth hole. I turned to my playing partner and native Seattleite and suggested we ask for a rain check and return after the storm blew over. He gave me that “are you an idiot?” look and I continued to slosh around the next five holes soaked the bone. I must have dumped two gallons of water out of my bag after that round.

Seattle has no problem with rain. Rain doesn’t stop or slow down anything here. We golf, jog and schedule outdoor weddings in the rain. Everyone here expects it to rain so, when it does, nobody is disappointed.

But the mention of snow sends the natives to the grocery store to stock up on the essentials. And by “essentials” I mean coffee beans and lottery tickets. I’m not a Seattle native, but I’m starting to feel like one having spent 17 years here. I still can’t get used to two inches of snow causing schools to close. I grew up in Utah where, if the janitor made it to the school to turn the lights on, school was in session!

There’s been no escape from the mass hysteria caused by the latest prediction of “up to 4 inches” of snow by Wednesday morning. If this is your first winter in Seattle, you’re probably expecting a storm on the same level of Katrina. So try not to act too disappointed when Seattle Snowpocalypse of 2011 is less collapsing levees and more yoga instructors abandoning their Range Rovers alongside 405.

I’m hoping for enough snow to create a snowman. The last one was full of leaves and dog turds leaving the kids less enthused to show the neighbors.

Bring on the snow, I say. I’ll be ready with my Diet Coke 24-pack.

State Route 167

Normally I would have missed it. My eyes would have been fixed on the road while I zoned out to sports radio. Or I’d be watching the rear view mirror trying to figure out why Lincoln’s tongue is aimed towards his sister. It’s always something, and that something is occasionally heard but seldom seen from the driver’s seat. 

I’m usually asleep at 5:45 am. But I’d just finished dropping Kim off at the airport. The kids were asleep before we made it out the rat maze they call the parking terminal. The radio was off. All I could hear was Kai breathing as he sat flopped over in his carseat behind me.

With Kim in Utah for a few days it would be the only twenty minutes of peace and quiet I’d have over the next fifteen hours.

But the next fifteen minutes were mine as I made my way down State Route 167 towards our Auburn exit. Snow-capped Mount Rainer dominated the background. The sun inched over the horizon giving the valley hope that winter is on its way out of the Puget Sound.

Other than a few freight trucks I had the road to myself. I didn’t bother moving left into the carpool lane. I told myself I can drive 70 without attracting the attention of the highway patrol. What cop wants to pull over a white minivan?

Large fields run parallel to the highway. They’ve always been there. I’ve been driving this same route almost everyday for the past four years, and yet I’ve never paid much attention to the landscape.

But what caught my attention this morning was how the fog suspended itself over the fields. From the corner of my eye it looked as though someone had created a huge down-filled pillow that gently swayed over the fields in the early morning breeze.

I lifted my foot off the accelerator. The van slowed. I considered waking the kids. I wish Kim had been sitting next to me. She would have understood.

As I grow older I appreciate when nature speaks to my soul. Such experiences compel me to evaluate where I stand with my family and friends. And with God.

Nature has a way of inviting us to reflect on our lives when that’s the furthest idea from our minds. This was one of those moments. It lasted but a few minutes.

I believe it was nature’s way of saying we’ll survive mom’s five day absence.

But I’ll keep the Benadryl handy just in case.

Crossing the Bridge

Few cars were on the road at this time of night. With the moon roof down, I could see a group of stars in the dark, clear sky.

I don’t know what is about driving on a bridge over water. 65 mph feels like 85. Cops are rare so maybe I was doing closer to 85. Either way, I had the the I90 bridge all to myself as I zipped around the stretch from Mercer Island and into town.

With the top open, I extended my hand to deflect the crisp air onto my face like I did when I was kid while sitting in the backseat of our station wagon. I love the cool air of Seattle. It makes me feel so alive.

My iPod was playing Till Brönner’s “River Man”.

If he tells me all he knows
About the way his river flows
And all night shows
In summertime

It’s been nearly 15 years since I first crossed the bridge on my way to Seattle where I moved into an a tiny studio across from the University of Washington.

But tonight I exited the bridge and jumped onto I5 which goes through downtown Seattle, past the glowing pillars of Safeco Field. Taking the 45th Street exit put me on “the Ave”.

A lot has changed over the years. Tower Records was gone. The corner computer shop had been replaced with a used clothing store. My favorite used record and CD joint was now a copy store. I was happy to see that Bulldog News and Haagen Daz were still around.

But the vibe I remember was gone.

On the drive home I thought about how my life has changed since I moved to Seattle. I’ve lost track of all the jobs I’ve held. I’ve lived downtown and far from town. I’ve commuted to work by bus, train, bike, scooter and ferry. We bought our first home and raised our first child and adopted our first pet.

But the largest change (besides meeting Kim) is that I now have four children that call me dad. And a few other names on occasion.

I arrived in Seattle as a self-centered brat who felt like the world owed me something for sticking out four years of college. Having children has softened the edges. Toned down the attitude.

I’ve got a long way to go. But I feel like I’m a better person than the one that drove a U-Haul over the bridge back in ‘94.

I’m going to take my kids to the Haagen Daz next week.

Before it’s replaced by another gas station.

Zigzagging Through Life

The Evergreen Point Floating Bridge (or the 520 bridge to locals) cuts through the University of Washington as it connects Redmond with downtown Seattle. A good portion of 520 sits right on Lake Washington. The scenery is breathtaking during most of the year including views of Mount Rainier and Mount Baker on clear days.  The blue waters of Lake Washington are dotted with sailboats in the summer and fishing boats in the fall. If you look closely you’ll catch a glimpse of the Bill Gates mansion tucked into the Medina hillside. During windstorms, waves crash down on the bridge closing it to all traffic. When the fog rolls in, it appears as if you’re driving on water.

The 520 is an impressive engineering feat. Yet it’s home to one of the most stressful stretches of interstate I’ve encountered.

520bridge (2)

When I began working at Microsoft in the mid 90’s, I was living in a small one bedroom apartment on Capitol Hill only blocks from downtown Seattle. After work, I’d jump into my black Volkswagen Passat and head west on 520. About a mile from Lake Washington, 520 intersects with HWY 405. Unless you’re paying close attention, and have begun to slow down, it’s easy to zip right past turnoff. And because of the way the off-ramp wraps its way up towards Bellevue, drivers must slow to a near crawl in order to safely navigate the corkscrew turns onto southbound 405.

Of course, the last thing I wanted to do was slow down for a herd of Range Rovers and Mercedes heading to Bellevue. All I needed to do was stay on 520, cross the bridge and fly into Seattle as fast as I could without getting pulled over. So I’d dart between slower moving cars. I’d change lanes without much regard and use my horn liberally. This resulted in drivers giving me the finger liberally.

We would zig zag our way through the boredom and pain
Occasionally glancing up through the rain

Pink Floyd

It was a game. And if the game got me home two minutes earlier than I would have otherwise, then so be it. But I would arrive home exhausted. I could feel my heart pounding through my chest. All the zigzagging through traffic wore me out physically and mentally.

Which brings me to this past week, nearly 15 years later. I no longer live in Seattle and my trusty black Passat is long gone.

But I found myself on that same stretch of 520 heading towards Seattle doing my best to keep up with traffic. Suddenly I found myself darting in and out of traffic. Maybe it’s instinct based on those many years of driving this stretch of interstate. I fight the urge to weave in and out of traffic. No way can I let anyone pass me!

Lift. Foot. Off. Accelerator.

I downshift from 5th to 4th gear and pulled BEHIND a UPS truck which is something I’ve never done before. Every impatient driver knows you can cut off UPS drivers. They may honk, but they won’t give you the finger.

Back then I would have had Alanis or Oasis blaring through my speakers. But now my iPod is playing some Chris Botti off my Jazz playlist. The drive is no longer a game. I don’t have to beat anyone home.

Maybe it’s the stage in my life. Could be the kids, or the slower reflexes. But I no longer feel the need zoom through life in 5th gear.

Sometimes life is better appreciated in 3rd.

Photo by Svensk

A Few Things I Miss

When we moved back to Seattle three years ago I took a job in downtown Seattle. I loved working downtown. I took a 30 minute commuter train from Auburn (south of Seattle) into King Street Station and walked to my office near Pioneer Square.

Downtown Seattle near Pioneer Square

There’s an energy. A buzz if you will. Pedestrians move with a purpose. The crowd is eclectic. It’s a mix of suits, tourists and street people pushing everything they belong down the street in a shopping cart.

I’ve worked in Redmond for the past year on the Microsoft campus. It’s so very clean, overrun with expensive cars, and dotted with programmers wearing shorts and flip flops. It couldn’t be more different than downtown Seattle. 

Yet it’s no comparison.

Working in the city is more exciting. It’s unpredictable. Some days it’s an adventure.

I miss browsing the wall of “staff recommendations” at Elliott Bay Bookstore.

I miss walking past the many small flower shops at just the right time to watch the owners creating amazing bouquets for those lucky first few customers.

I miss watching the street musicians play during lunch hour. Especially that guy with the miniature piano who played with tape wrapped around every finger.

I miss the small but authentic restaurants like the Italian Pizza joint where the owner stops whatever he’s doing to greet each customer.

I miss the “Sandwich Nazi” at Bakeman’s, home of the three buck sandwich. Terrible service but awesome food.

I miss the trendy shoe and jewelry shops with funny signs making fun of Republicans.

I miss watching the huge cargo ships come into port while the cool, salty wind blows against my face.

Redmond is nice. But downtown is home.

One day I’ll be back.

Woodland Park Zoo

We visited the Woodland Park Zoo near downtown Seattle this afternoon. The temperature was in the 70’s, the sky was clear and the sun felt great on my face.

We visited a number of the exhibits. The kids loved watching the howler monkeys climb up high in the trees and make goofy but very loud noises. My favorite exhibit was the birds of prey area. Several times during the day the zoo brings out a person to show and talk about the different birds. Today he brought a Peregrine Falcon. What an awesome bird! That tiny red spot near the falcon’s mouth is a piece of meat the handler had just given her.


Here’s what I learned about this magnificent bird:

  • It’s considered one of the best hunting birds if not the best.
  • It’s such a good hunter that eagles will follow it knowing it will catch prey.
  • It can kill and eat ducks.
  • It has an average wingspan of 45 inches.
  • It can reach speeds of 200 MPH while diving after prey

Watching today’s show made me want to return to learn about the other birds of prey. Well worth the visit, but call ahead to confirm exhibit times.