I had a conversation yesterday. On the street. With strangers. In the newly expanded area formerly known as South Lake Union, now swiftly becoming downtown Seattle. Some call it Midtown. I call it Blight.

Because this all sprouted up without my knowledge, I’m now horribly fascinated by it and yesterday I saw almost seven miles of it on foot. Mile after mile of exploration showed me a whole lot of mediocre architecture that houses offices and the people who work in them. In their bases were a couple of chain drugstores and quite a few restaurants and bars. I found one place that sells clothing–it’s a Goodwill store. There are no bookstores of course but even more tellingly the only newspaper box was in front of the building that houses The Seattle Times. It’s an area that’s crushingly bland and almost horrifyingly clean. But then there are few pedestrians to sully the public hygiene. 

When I finally reached the portion of this that lies on the upper reaches of my street, I felt drained. I would have stopped for a soft-serve ice cream at the charming little Japanese-style cafe but the line stretched out onto the sidewalk and I knew from my past visit that service there is slow. I started to walk away when I caught an unmistakable scent. There, sitting on a bit of public seating in a place where this is rarely used were two women–and one of them was smoking a cigarette.

I almost reeled in shock. Instead I began to look around me, trying to figure where I could stand unnoticed and take her picture. Then one of them spoke. “Do you need help finding something?”

Even in the old portion of downtown, this is a rare question. Usually the only people who speak to me on the street are incoherent or so verbally violent that I wish they were. I walked over and asked “Do you live here?” 

When I found out they did, I said, “Then you’ll understand how puzzled and confused I am by how this has changed in the past few years.”

“Yes,” the smoker said. “We’re moving to Mexico next month.”

She was speaking my language and we talked for at least ten minutes. When I moved on toward home, I still felt hungry. 

I wander alone in the streets of Seattle and I live alone in my little cavern. Perhaps once a day if I’m lucky, I’ll exchange a few sentences with the people who live on my floor. Once a week or so, I meet a son or a friend for a visit. Otherwise I’m silent. 

The cities I love and the ones I think I could love are personable ones where street interchanges are integral parts of their fabrics. Even in Tucson where the streets are as empty as ours, random chat with strangers is a staple of that city. Here in Seattle there are days when I use my voice only when I tell my cat to stop scratching his favorite chair.

The only other time I ever felt quite so alone is during my introduction to Bangkok. There I moved into my first-ever solitary apartment where I struggled to enter the postcard and become a part of my new city. But that took only a couple of months. This current solitude threatens to stretch for a thousand years.

In Bangkok, in those early days when I lived in an apartment with no kitchen, there were evenings when I was too tired to go out for street food. That was when I stopped in a little corner shop and bought instant noodles, Mama noodles. They came in a little square packet with seasonings, like ramen, but unlike ramen, they had flavor all by themselves. Some evenings I crunched them into bits and ate them straight from the package, a common practice I learned later, but I thought I’d invented it. Lonely.

But there was something about Mama that was comforting and I ate countless packages of those noodles when I lived in Bangkok, when I stayed in Hong Kong and Penang, during my time in Tucson, and here in Seattle. Last night I had them for dessert after finishing my supper of strawberry ice cream.

I don’t smoke anymore, I rarely drink alone, and I’ve stopped eating meat out of consideration for my case of macular degeneration. But you’ll have to pry those Thai instant noodles from my cold, dead fingers, palm oil, preservatives and all, because there are days when I need my Mama.