The thing about getting older is everybody’s nice to me. Women who are much younger come up and say “I like your style,” or “Great outfit.” Young men smile when passing and tell me I have beautiful hair. Even in the building I live in, where most of us hover around the same age, we’re all relentlessly nice to each other.

After a while it becomes obvious that nice is just another form of invisibility. Compliment paid, courtesies exchanged, move on. I’d almost rather have a street person rail at me–at least that makes a good story. But when a mere slip of a girl remarks upon my “outfit,” she strolls off while I realize she has no conception of what an outfit really is–and that’s the end of it. I’ve been the beneficiary of “Pay it forward,” and I do. That’s what passes for social interaction when a woman gets older. 

My mother once told me she wanted to get old so she could be like Mrs. Hollister, an aristocratic old lady who lived on her block. Mrs. Hollister carried a cane and when cars stopped too close to her when she was crossing the street, she used it to strike their hoods with authority. Now there was a woman who still caused a public sensation by refusing to dabble in being nice. 

Sometimes I think of becoming Mrs. Hollister but unlike her, I live in the era of drive-by shootings. Instead I dabble with the idea of finding someone who would make me a lovely sword-cane, but I’m not quite the right age to carry that off properly. Instead I buy clothes.

We all greet each other in the building where I live, probably because meeting someone in the hallway is almost an event in this place that often feels like a ghost town hotel. Once in a while there’s even a spot of conversation involved, the oatmeal variety, bland and pallid. 

One day I walked through the door to the street and passed a man with whom I’d exchanged taciturn hellos. This time he was pushing something that resembled an infant’s stroller and without breaking stride I said “Nice baby you’ve got there.” 

Obviously he was another person drowning in nice because we’ve been talking in brief bursts of companionability ever since. His face lights up when he sees me and I’ve begun looking for him when I’m out in the world. It’s come to the point where I’m ready to ask him to have coffee.

It’s not easy breaking through niceness to find friends when you’re getting older. The people who nourish my life are ones I met in a past decade or three and few of them are men. I don’t want romance in my life but I long for the excitement and discovery that a new friendship brings. I want to move past platitudes into exchanges of sarcasm. I don’t know about you but I’m effing tired of being nice.

My apartment is finally doing what it was always intended to do–welcoming company. As it opens, so does my heart, inches at a time. Eager isn’t the right word for how I feel; this is like quenching a thirst.

It must be the Alaskan in me that hungers for other bodies to visit the spots where I live. The other night I watched Robin Penn in Land and understood why she began to accept another human within the isolation where she had locked herself. Company is a word that’s like a campfire in cold and lonely country and the need for it becomes more permanent than a tattoo.

It’s the one Alaskan trait that I acknowledge and foster. It isn’t part of New York or Seattle. Cafe society and street life have become art forms in New York, a city so studded with interactions between strangers that home is where you go to make sense of them all, alone. Seattle? I still don’t have a grip on its protectiveness of personal dwelling places. “Neighbor” is a word that’s tossed around a lot by residents who barely learn the names of the people who live next door. It’s the only place I’ve ever lived where I’ve been greeted with a hearty “Hello, Neighbor,” a salutation so unsettling to me that I start looking nervously over my shoulder for Mr. Rogers.

In my forty-plus years of coming and going in Seattle, I can count perhaps eight people who have invited me over for a visit. Three of those became my friends because we all lived on the same block and my cat was a feline Welcome Wagon in reverse who moved in and took over, refusing to recognize any sort of boundary. But now I can foster my own porous borders again and I feel a core of chill inside me begin to warm and melt. For me, meeting in cafes simply isn’t a substitute for being able to have people sit at my own table–and that’s Alaskan.

Or maybe that’s Tucsonian, where I was so welcomed that over two years after I moved away it still feels like home. Maybe it’s a frontier survival tactic, a matter of pure necessity that was bred by harsh circumstances and became innate. 

“Come in. Sit down. Have a cup of coffee,” were words I learned to parrot soon after I learned to talk. They still make me happy, although now I’m much more likely to say, “Have a glass of wine.”

Who knows why some places claim us? It’s as inexplicable as any form of falling in love. “He has such marvelous eyes,” we tell our friends, while if we were truthful, we’d admit that we’ve seen better ones in many other faces. What actually attracts us is so undefinable that it’s enough to make a woman believe in the pull of unremembered memories from past lives. 

But while men come and go, briefly mourned and then forgotten as thoroughly as a bunch of lost earrings, an affinity for a place is there forever, resurfacing suddenly, prompting the purchase of an airline ticket. 

When Facebook tosses photos from the past in my direction, I realize my trips to those places are seasonal–Bangkok in the fall, Queens in early summer, Tucson at the end of winter. It’s as though I have an innate migratory pattern that I’m forced to follow. And so, obedient as a sandhill crane, I fly to Tucson at the same time every year, just when my home base in Seattle begins to lose its winter gloom.

It’s a quick flight but within 200 minutes or so, I walk into a whole other universe, under a bright and piercing sky. Gusts of wind blow sand under my fingernails and the punk-rock mountains, low-rising but full of attitude, tell me that I’m really back in this pared-down corner of the world.

I’m not always warm, although that’s what I’m looking for. One year I shivered under a sweater and my winter coat. That wind blows hot and cold, just like a bad boyfriend, and I pack for both possibilities. This year it moved air that was warmed to 100 degrees. Like a gigantic, invisible fan, it lightened the heat and let me walk for a couple of hours, acclimating to a landscape that’s always invigorating, always eerie, always comfortable.

Years ago my son took me to the Mission, San Xavier del Bac. I’d recently returned from living in Bangkok and this desert world was so unlike where I’d been for years that I couldn’t absorb any of it. Later, during the six months I’d spent in Tucson, I didn’t go there because I was looking for things that would become part of my daily life. On this trip I wanted to go outside of the city and the Mission seemed a good destination for a non-driver who travels on buses. What I didn’t expect, nor had I discovered earlier during my first glimpse of this place, was that it would engulf me in surrealism beyond anything imagined by Rene Magritte. 

The Mission is on the Tohono O’odham tribal lands which back right up next to a range of menacing jagged mountains. Poised against a cornea-scorching sky, the white walls and spires of the Mission are as sharp as a blade. Its baroque splendor is out of place in the severity that surrounds it, the way I imagine it would be to find the Eiffel Tower on the moon. The contrast is absurd and exhilarating, and although the interior of the church is a photographer’s paradise, I spent most of my time outside of it, loving that what I looked at made no sense at all.

That the Mission exists is bizarre– a tiny fragment of a Spanish city set down upon ground that is almost barren, surrounded by unadorned bushes and a scattering of dark and sinuous trees, as though it’s the last surviving structure in a post-apocalyptic world. 

If I were ever to live in this country again, I’d want to be here, a guest perched on the earth’s skeleton with nothing to soften it, only the sky and the crazy peaks and the flat, almost bare ground. Although usually color and moving water are essential features of my homes in the world, in this place, I tell myself, the sky would feed me. That would be enough.

I’ve been boarding planes since I was four. Take-offs and landings, buying magazines in unfamiliar airports, having a drink while staring down at the clouds (from that first orange juice when I was little to my customary bloody mary now), are delights so engrained in me that I never sleep on planes. Not even on the 15-hour flights across the Pacific am I able to take so much as a nap–I’m having too marvelous a time to waste it in sleep.

Preparing for a trip has become like yawning, an automatic action that takes no thought and very little time–until now.

I knew covid behavior would change me. The behavior that we all embraced in order to survive was like being forced into a bizarre social experiment that went on forever–avoiding other people, staying at home as much as possible, moving through the world with facial expressions hidden behind masks, smiling invisible smiles. But I believed that this would all stop with the advent of vaccines. That it didn’t stop made 2021 even more difficult than 2020. 

Soon after my vaccinations last spring, I made two trips to see friends in Tucson. They felt like a prelude to my former life but then the variants arrived. The glimmer of freedom that I anticipated when taking those two flights turned out to be a mirage and like all mirages it vanished before I could grab it. Fear set in as it hadn’t the year before because now I wasn’t sure if my vaccine would protect me. I lost hope.

Yes. There were things I did in the past year that were unthinkable in 2020–meeting friends, visiting my sons, going to a movie, seeing art in museums. But those little miracles were all rigidly planned and masks were still a key feature of everyone’s wardrobe. Plastic shields at customer service counters made communication even more irksome. Not only was spontaneity a thing of the past, so was small talk and random chat. We all lived in a world that held no stories.

For most of last year, I stayed home. I had to force myself out of my apartment to take walks. I stuck to familiar routes. I stopped exploring. I stopped writing, except for long whines to myself.

This spring I found I had just enough mileage to make another trip to Tucson and I knew I had to do this, if only to improve my mental health. I bought my ticket well in advance and waited for the excitement to kick in. It did–and then the changes locked within me took over. 

Never has it taken me so long to pack a suitcase. Then there’s the burning question: check it or carry it on? I’ve been mulling over that one for days. But by far the worst qualm is a four-block trek to the nearest light rail station. My flight is an early one and usually I give myself a two-hour window. This time in order to do that, I have to be on the street at first light. I’m apprehensive about that.

Downtown has a substantial population of people whom I dislike seeing in broad daylight. If they hold a degree of menace at high noon, how are they going to look at 5:30 in the morning? I reactivated Lyft on my phone but it seems absurd when I have mass transit only a few minutes away. Besides this is my city. I live here. It’s a place where I’ve exercised reasonable caution but I’ve never been frightened. 

I tell myself I’m not afraid now but when I add up all of my niggling concerns, they amount to a ration of fear. I’m afraid to leave my cat for four days, even though someone will be checking in to give him food and water. I’m afraid that I haven’t packed enough clothing. I’m afraid I’ve packed too much. I’m afraid there will be a majority of unmasked people on the plane. I’m afraid I’ll spend three hours underneath one of my free N-95 masks. I’m afraid of who I’ll encounter on my walk to the light rail. I’m afraid I’ll make the trip to the airport in the company of passengers who use the train as a shelter. I’m afraid.

But damn it. That is not who I am–at least it’s not who I was nor who I want to be. The only way out of fear is to face it down and I’m going to do that. I’m leaving my cat a generous food reserve. I’m checking the damned bag, no matter if it holds too little or too much. I’m carrying my usual mask as well as a back-up N-95. And at 5:30 on Tuesday morning I’ll be walking down Pine Street to catch a train to the airport. 

I hope I’ll be able to have a bloody mary once the plane hits cruising altitude, but even if there’s no beverage service, I’ll still have my view of the clouds. It’s time for me to reclaim that pleasure and so many others, without fear.  Hello, life.

The firstborn gets it all. For too brief a time, because there’s never time enough for this, she has all the love, all the attention that he’ll seek for the rest of his life. She gets the raw fear and uncertainty, the parenting theories, the failed experiments. During that crucial time when infants soak up the information they need in order to to become children, he has only adults to observe and learns their behavior long before they realize they’re being watched.

She’s the one who’s eaten her parents’ freedom, the one who absorbs the unspoken rage and frustration that her birth spawned, as well as that first joy and the unexplored realms of tenderness. He’s the one who had his parents’ own childhood bring pain to his own, as they passed on what had been taught to them, what crawls out of them like poisonous insects whose bites don’t kill but leave scars that never heal.

She learns the weapons that she’s seen her parents use–the shouts, the invective, the violence of an ashtray shattered against a wall. He learns that sarcasm can bring attention, sometimes laughter, sometimes punishment.

The firstborn is hybrid, part child, part adult. He lives under scrutiny that never wavers. She grows under the beam of a ferocious and untutored love. He breaks ground for the younger children in the family, forging a path they’ll walk in more easily than he ever did. She is forced to follow rules that her parents will later abandon out of absolute exhaustion. He will, in some inner corner of his secret self, hunch under the expectations that his parents placed upon him. She learns ways to break her parents’ hearts.

She tells herself she will never be like them. He makes lists of the things he won’t say to his own children. She does her best when she becomes a mother, just as her parents did. He learns that each generation of parents improves over the previous one but never quickly enough to satisfy their children. 

And the beat goes on.

Years ago I shocked one of my Thai language classes by writing on the whiteboard, “What’s worth doing is worth doing badly.” In a country ruled by perfectionism, this was heresy, I went on to explain that nobody does anything well at the beginning; practice was the key to perfection and practice involved doing things badly until they were finally done well. Then I proved the truth of my statement by speaking their language, an action that they all agreed I did very badly indeed.

I paid lip service to my twisted maxim but I rarely incorporated it into my life. I did the things that came easily to me and ignored the rest. My halting attempts to learn Thai were the exception–but if I didn’t stumble my way through that language, I was going to go hungry or worse. My first piece of language acquisition after getting off the plane from Seattle was “Where is the bathroom?” No matter how much I mangled this phrase, my tone of urgency and face filled with panic helped to get the point across. And although I knew what came out of my mouth was laughable gibberish, perfectionism was a frill I couldn’t afford.

Like every child in the 1950s, I was given a box of crayons as soon as the adults in my life felt assured that I wasn’t going to eat them. I fell in love with the colors immediately and gave each one its own personality. When I wasn’t putting them through silent dramas of my own invention, I scribbled happily. 

Then my younger sisters stopped eating my crayons and were given boxes of their own. Their scribbles rapidly turned into recognizable figures and landscapes that gave them the praise that eluded me and I decided the hell with this.

I still loved color but I transferred that passion to the clothes I wore and much later to the furniture I bought. Colors made me happy but I never willingly put them on a piece of paper–the lowest marks on my elementary school report cards were in Arithmetic and Art. I told myself I hated them both.

Seventy years after I stopped using my crayons, a conversation with a friend made me walk into an art supply store and buy paper, brushes, and four tubes of paint. When I brought them home, I spread my purchases on the table and wondered what the colors would look like on the paper. A couple of hours later, I stopped, only because the sheet of paper was completely covered. During that time I had no thoughts, no interruptions, and didn’t stop playing with paint even to get a glass of water. It was as though I’d been possessed and I suppose I had been–the colors had taken over.

Since then I’ve bought and have been given many more tubes of paint and different brushes. I use them with enthusiasm and with no idea of what I’m doing. Nothing I put on paper has any resemblance to an image–each sheet looks like a four-year-old’s session with finger paints. And I’m grateful for that. This is one thing I do without planning, without editing, and without any expectations. When the paper is full, I stop. In the meantime only the colors matter.

In spite of myself, I’ve learned a few things–which brushes are my favorites and why I like them; the differences between paper; the garishness of cheap paint. 

Yesterday an artist friend gave me two colors that astounded me and I know that from now on things will never be quite the same. Even though I’ll cling to my less subtle colors, I’ll always know there are other tints that catch the light and use it softly. I’ve discarded what I think of as color swatches, ones I did months ago, because now I can see how clumsy they are. But still I resist anything that will let me know what I’m doing. All I want is to have the delight and freedom that my perfectionist self denied me when I was little. All I ask for is to be in love with all the colors, in my second childhood–me and ROYGBIV, BFF forever.

Yesterday I had one of the best meals I’ve had in years, far from downtown Seattle, in a Tukwila food court. Next to a street that’s almost a highway, in a building that blends in with the library and community center, I sat on a plastic chair at a small table and ate with a plastic fork from a compostable food container. The food I ordered surprised me when I first looked at the menu; it wasn’t cheap. Dishes ranged from $15 to $20, but there was a selection of four different cuisines that are hard to find in this city: two from Africa, one from Afghanistan, and one from Cambodia. After reading a description of the different meals each vendor offered, I chose food from Gambia and Senegal made by Afella Jollof Catering.

Chicken kebabs and rice is a dish that is simple enough to be risky. There’s nowhere to hide; it rises or falls on freshness and flavor. I took a bite and stopped thinking until I’d eaten every last scrap in the food box. When it was all gone, I had a new food obsession–jollof rice. The chicken kebab was loaded with flavor but the rice was addictive.

“It’s broken rice,” the lady behind the counter told me, “We blend our own spices.” Suddenly I realized the price of this dish was too low–I’d pay a lot more to have those flavors in my mouth again. 

October 2020 was a bleak time when many Seattle restaurants went dark, others closed for good, and isolated residents resorted to Door Dash. Restaurant empires in this food-obsessed city struggled to survive by pivoting to take-out, their expensively designed settings empty and useless. It was an unlikely, if not insane, time to enter the food business, but this was when Spice Bridge began.

The brain child of a group called The Food Innovation Network, Spice Bridge has a mission. This is a restaurant incubator, a clean, well-lighted food court where a rotating group of female food entrepreneurs have kitchen and counter space. The setting isn’t elaborate but it doesn’t need to be. People don’t come for the ambiance. They’re here for food that they can’t get anywhere else, food that hasn’t been adapted for American taste buds. 

Once years ago I was in a Seattle taxi that was filled with an odor I’d never smelled before. It was rich and aromatic and unidentifiable. When I asked the driver about it, he said, “It’s my food. We use spices that you don’t.” I’ve been haunted by that wonderful smell ever since. Now thanks to Spice Bridge, I can taste where it came from, any time I want. I can’t wait to go back.

Once upon a time, boys and girls, there was no internet. Instead we had a weekly magazine called New York. As opposed to the New Yorker, New York didn’t decide to exclude the lady in Dubuque–or Fairbanks, Alaska which is where I was one of its subscribers back in the early 70’s. 

New York was where serious writers wrote about serious issues in a narrative style that may not have made its readers think but certainly gave them some lively topics for dinner table conversations. Gail Sheehy immortalized Red Pants, a midtown Manhattan streetwalker, in a story about prostitution in the Seventh Avenue Sheraton. Joe McGinnis brought the camaraderie of a baseball series to the political game. Gael Greene reviewed Manhattan’s loftiest restaurants as though she was writing softcore pornography. And then there was Michael Korda.

The editor-in-chief at Simon & Schuster, Korda wielded enough clout that it didn’t matter that he was a mediocre writer. He was a gifted gossip with ambitions of being edited himself one day, so he took an anecdote about having dinner with his wife and cloaked it in a mea culpa that examined male chauvinism. Suddenly everyone was talking about this—national magazines, the lady in Dubuque, Nora Ephron.

Korda and his wife were dining out at a place that befitted their social station–let’s say Le Pavillon–when a group of slightly intoxicated gentlemen were seated nearby. Apparently Mrs. Korda was quite the looker because as the evening progressed, it became obvious that she was the topic of discussion at the next table. The Kordas did their best to rise above the situation until one of the adjacent diners gave a waiter a card to present to Mrs. Korda. It was something he’d picked up in a novelty shop, an invitation for its recipient to become more intimately acquainted with its sender.

This was too much for Korda, who picked up a heavy glass ashtray (yes this was a very long time ago), threw it, and connected with the offender’s forehead.Because it was Michael Korda who launched the missile, he wasn’t escorted from the restaurant but his wife gave him hell. In a somewhat overwrought diatribe, she tore his act of gallantry to shreds. Suddenly Sir Galahad of Park Avenue became the poster boy for male chauvinist pigs everywhere. As Mrs. Korda pointed out, his violent reaction to a stupid drunk indicated that he saw his wife as his property, complete with a no-trespassing sign.

Korda, his editorial instincts sensing an opportunity, accepted her point of view and turned it into a piece for New York which he later cobbled into Male Chauvinism and How it Works. 

Even though Korda was one of the most powerful publishers in the country, it’s unlikely that this book would ever have come into being if his hurled ashtray hadn’t, as the kids say now, gone viral. What had been a minor case of aggravated assault flamed into a version of The Lady and the Tiger. Was Korda justified in defending his wife’s honor or was this something that should have been handled by Mrs. Korda herself? In the early seventies, when men were still debating whether their wives should enter the workplace, this was a true hot-button issue, one that Nora Ephron turned to ridicule with a few devastating questions in Esquire. What sort of restaurant would deliver a cheap novelty card to one of its patrons?  Was Korda’s reaction prompted perhaps by the idea that the awkward invitation had been meant for him? 

The part that interests me about all of this is not only has this all been forgotten, it’s untraceable. Everything that’s ever happened is alive and well in the internet archives–except for the Korda episode. When I tried to fact-check–Were the Kordas at Le Pavillon or were they slumming at The Automat? Did Korda throw an ashtray that came with ashes and cigarette butts or was it pristine?–this cause celebre apparently never transpired. Maybe it’s enshrined forever in Korda’s cri de coeur, Male Chauvinism etc, but I really don’t want to scour used book sites to buy the damned thing. Nor do I want to subscribe to Esquire in the hope that I’ll be able to unearth Nora Ephron’s essay. (Maybe I would if she were still writing for it….)

Still I find this comforting. Not only does nobody remember Korda’s social faux pas, nobody cares. Someday in the future, poorly behaved celebrities of our time will be as moribund as Michael Korda and their misdeeds given not so much as a shrug. The sad part is misguided men are going to embarrass themselves and the women sitting beside them again and again–and for five minutes, we’re all going to be forced to pay some degree of attention to that.

My question is: Which is more humiliating, being struck with a heavy glass ashtray in an exclusive restaurant or receiving a restrained slap at an Oscar ceremony? I say bring back the duel. Pistols at dawn and be done with it.

(This has been revised after reading Korda’s brief account of his misdeeds in his publishing memoir, Another Life. It wasn’t a drink in the face, although I’m sure the assaulted man would have preferred that. Blood is so messy.)

Like most people who are good at leaving, I’m very bad at being left. I never would have been one of the crowd holding ribbons tied to a ship, calling bon voyage to invisible friends on the deck before the ribbons snapped and they all sailed away. I won’t even go to the airport with a departing friend, not because I don’t care for them but because sniveling on my way back home is so unattractive. I’m the sort of woman who’s packed two suitcases, given everything else away, and left people I care about more times than I care to count but who cried for a week each time a son left after he’d visited my new home. (In my own defense, that new home was far across the International Date Line–visits from people I loved weren’t a matter of “I was in the neighborhood and thought I’d drop in.” )

These past two years have felt like a very long period of departure but a sneaky one. Nobody ever thought the absences would last this long. One day I had lunch with a friend and the day after that came the isolation era. In the months before, I came home from trips to see friends with no idea that it would be years before I’d see them again. 

I’m a slow learner. Only now, one-quarter of the way through 2022, do I feel the sorrow that didn’t erupt in 2020 because back then I was certain that shelter-in-place was a temporary state. “If this virus lasts for more than a month, I’m going to go insane,” was one of my prevailing thoughts. Two years later, although some may find this debatable, I’m still of sound mind but I’m holding an unresolved grief, with new forms of departure looming into view, deepening an unhealed scar.

A correspondence that has sustained me for years has slowed to a trickle, with that friend fading into an unfamiliar distance. My oldest son is preparing for a new job that may take him to another city and will certainly ensure his absence for long stretches at a time. In what I still insist on calling “normal times,” these things would simply be little glitches that are part of life, calling for an adjustment, not mournfulness. These days, when loss is still an open wound, I feel depressed. I feel sad.

Turning to my usual opiate, I’m mentally constructing a packing list. I have an air ticket. It’s a trip that will last only for a couple of days and no passport stamps are involved. But if every journey begins with a single step, who knows how far and how long this one is going to be?  Unfortunately, for the drug to be effective, I need to know how long it will last.

In one of the Scandinavian countries, they call this period of time “nearing the end of the tunnel,” when thoughts of suicide seem frighteningly close. In childbirth it’s called “transition,” the point at which women in labor decide they don’t want to have this baby after all so call the whole thing off. People who deal in cliches opine that it’s always darkest just before dawn. The only brightness that I can find is I’m neither suicidal nor wracked with labor pains.

I know this blanket of sadness is going to lift, that impending changes will settle into the new normal, but at the moment only one thing feels set in stone. No matter how much I love you, I won’t go with you to the airport. But although you’ll never see me do it, I promise I’ll cry.

March 2020—

The plum blossoms were a surprise, gleaming under the Seattle streetlights as I rolled my suitcase toward a friend’s house. Last year in March those branches were frosted with snow. Last year I would have sworn on any bible that the pavement I walked, from the street car until I reached the hill I used to live on, was flat. But after my months of wandering through the even ground of Tucson it was quite obvious that this street had a definite incline that steadily increased. Only by Seattle standards was this slope level.

Flights of any length make me tired now and even though the journey between Arizona and Washington was under three hours, it had disoriented me by its change of universes. A vague hint of vapor from salt water had replaced the dry air I’d breathed earlier in the day. Trees had taken the place of cactus and I could smell green leaves. As I walked toward the house I’d left in October, I felt as though I was coming home.

But it was a home that had been subdued by the region’s first deaths from covid-19. When I met a friend for breakfast at my favorite noodle shop, we were the only customers for hours until two more tables were taken at the start of what used to be the lunch rush. “I’ve never had such an easy time parking in Chinatown,” the friend said. His car was only inches from where we sat, on a street that was usually lined solid with parked vehicles and delivery trucks.

The next morning another friend and I had a popular breakfast spot in the Pike Place Market all to ourselves and afterward strolled past flower stalls where we were the only admirers.

The eeriness of being uncrowded in spots that were normally thronged hadn’t yet hit me. Living in Bangkok during bouts of avian and swine flu had made me cavalier about viral outbreaks; Tucson had accustomed me to quiet streets and empty sidewalks. During this visit, Seattle was still functioning. Two days after I left, it shut down.

Schools, libraries, museums, and zoos closed. Public transit stopped accepting fares. The airport’s lines were scanty. Microsoft and Amazon told employees to work at home. Many bars and restaurants closed their doors and there began to be a real fear that the smaller ones might never reopen. Neighborhoods like Chinatown and the Pike Place Market might never recover, falling prey to generic corporate businesses that would change them forever.

And as lights went out all over the city, Seattle started to wonder when it would be cordoned off from the rest of the world.

As all this happened, I checked one-way tickets and made mental checklists of what to give away, what to pack. A city I had never valued enough proved to be a place I need to have, one I was eager to support and fight for. It holds the people I love, the water I yearn for, and the roots I’ve denied. It won’t be tomorrow, I decided, but I’m going back–and I did.


That was two years ago. Because so little has changed since then and the change that took place has come slowly, it feels as though it was only last year. We all lost 2020. 2021 felt as if we were chipping at an iceberg with a nail file–or at a pandemic with our vaccinations. To make a dent we needed to all do it together but only half of us did nationwide. 

Downtown Seattle lost almost all of “the generic corporate businesses.” The supermarket that recently opened is a local one and the shops that dot the city blocks are too–Fran’s Chocolate, Sandy Lew, Watson Kennedy. The area that claims the crowds and the lines of waiting customers is completely local–the Pike Place Market–and Chinatown’s shops and restaurants have survived too. This speaks so well for Seattle; it shows what its residents value in their city. (Even the global behemoths that have remained are locally spawned entities. Amazon and Starbucks were born here.)

We have a chance that last came our way over a hundred years ago after the Seattle Fire. Once again we have the ability to rebuild what’s been lost. Let’s not blow it, Seattle. Dance with the guys who have stuck with you, not the ones who cut and run. Buy local. Eat local. Foster the locals who stayed and welcome the locals who come to join them. They’re the ones who care about this place. They’re the ones who are bringing it back to life.