2023 is upon us. I’ve now been operating this blog for about 3 years. The difference between being a 22-year-old with a blog and the person I am today is quite stark. Back then, I started those posts so that one day I could remember the details of the peak years of my life. Now, every time I write in this blog I’m reminded that many of those peak years are gone. 2023 means I’m closer to 30 than 20. For many people, that would be a cause for existential dread. But for me, who feels existential dread constantly, that’s just a challenge. Peak years are beginning to run out? Okay then, I’m pushing my chips to the center of the table. 2023 WILL be the best year of my life.
There’s plenty of reasons to believe that that will be the case, too. Soon, I’ll be married to my best friend. I have a job that I work hard at – and that’s not said as a complaint. Working hard and doing something you love for the public good is really rewarding. But one of the big reasons 2023 is going to be the best year of my life? Travel. Already, the roster has filled up: Denver in February, Kansas City in April, the Bay Area in May, Jackson Hole in June, then Colorado and Iceland in June. And to that list, Elizabeth and I chucked a whirlwind 48 hours in Seattle when we realized I had a long MLK weekend and flights were ridiculously cheap on American/Alaska. The Best Year waits for none. Elizabeth and I booked, then told Michael and Irene we were visiting. Michael and Irene, in turn, told Chris and Chanelle (we hadn’t wanted to bother them with their first baby due literally any day now. They were offended that we didn’t inform them). It turned out that even Charlie would be in town overlapping us by a few hours on Saturday.
Then we didn’t bother to plan anything. I was proud of Elizabeth. Normally, having itinerary right before leaving for a trip would be enough to give her an ulcer. Either she’s learning how to be adaptable (unlikely) or her cousins have driven her to despair of any hope of planning (likely). Honestly, I didn’t care what we did. If we got to see Seattle and hang out with her cousins and have a free place to stay, I was in.
By the time the trip came around, there was a loose plan in place. Today, January 14, was the first day of that plan. Elizabeth and I were on our way to the airport for a very early American flight up to O’Hare, with a short layover and then a very long against-the-wind flight into SeaTac. The night before, Elizabeth had asked me if I wanted to upgrade our seats to Chicago to first class for $70. I told her no, then she told me happy Valentine’s Day and did it anyway. In fact, she spoiled me all morning, including ordering a frappuccino and a breakfast sandwich for me from the past-security Starbucks. In the world of a paycheck-to-paycheck mid-20s individual, that comes pretty close to being spoiled rotten.
The first class flight was pretty plush, I will admit. The flight attendant kept bringing us drinks promptly even before we flew, and we got an extra snack. The sunrise off to the right of the plane as it soared northward was pretty damn majestic. Was it worth $70? Lol no. But it did make my day a little better, so I guess that’s worth something. First class also kept Elizabeth in a chipper mood leading into a very short layover in Chicago that involved hustling across several different terminals. I’ve seen that be a travel pitfall many times before, so the fact that it wasn’t a low point of the trip was also noteworthy. Before long, we were reboarded and flying west toward an airport I’d never been to before.
The second flight was much, much longer than the first. I had a book about the building of the transcontinental railroad that was both interesting and a really dry read. That meant that while Elizabeth closed her eyes and tried to take a nap, I spent a good chunk of my flight staring down at the Great Plains far below, until we suddenly reached the mountains and a deck of clouds took away the whole view. I stopped paying attention to the (lack) of scenery for a while until Elizabeth poked my arm. There, to our right, poking through the clouds like islands above a pond, were the high peaks of the Cascades. It was a treat to fly around and over them and gawk at their massive, sunny peaks. The clouds even broke up as we began an initial descent into Seattle.
Then we flipped it around to a north-south bearing, and I got a glimpse of the Tacoma area and the Puget Sound beyond it as we landed. One final treat for me as the plane bounced down into my 39th state – I got a glimpse of a massive Mount Rainier lit up in the morning sun.
Even though it felt later, it was still only midmorning Pacific time. I was surprised to learn that downtown Seattle is only a half-hour drive from the airport, so it wouldn’t be too long before we could get set up in Michael and Irene’s place to do… whatever we were doing. We just needed to coordinate Michael picking us up. Or maybe we didn’t, because when Elizabeth texted Irene asking what the pick-up plan was, it became clear that Michael had forgotten to pick us up. Elizabeth’s commitment to not being mad when things didn’t go according to plan had an early test. She passed it with flying colors, in my opinion, ordering us an Uber (Tesla!) to take us to Michael’s apartment. Along the way, we drove past downtown Seattle for the first time. It’s got an indescribable vibe to it – it *looks* cooler than other U.S. cities.
Michael and Irene live on the same floor, but in different rooms of an apartment building on top of a hill in the neighborhood of Queen Anne on the north side of downtown. After Elizabeth and I swiped our virtual access key on our phones to get in (super high-tech), we took the elevator to the 3rd floor to Irene’s apartment. She’s got a pretty nice setup. It gets lots of natural light, it has its own living room and kitchen space, and it was well-furnished. It also had an Oakley, their 1-year-old golden retriever, bounding around it. After exchanging hugs and greetings with Michael, Irene, and Charlie, Oakley and I quickly became friends because all dogs love me.
It turned out that we did have something that loosely resembled a plan for our Saturday, and with a little bit of energetic drive, we could actually enact that plan. Roughly, in terms of orders of business: Elizabeth and I needed food, since it was well past lunchtime and breakfast sandwiches from Starbucks only last so long. Then we would head down to the pure downtown part of the city and take a look around Pike Place. That walking/wandering tour should lead up perfectly to a 4:30 reservation Elizabeth had gotten us at the Space Needle as my Christmas present. After that, who knew where the night might lead us? All of that was glimmering ahead of us in a beautifully planned Saturday. We just had to get going. So someone texted Chris, Chanelle, and Charlie to meet us at a coffee shop, and we took Oakley to a donut place just down the road to get a little bit of ballast in my stomach. We walked all the way down a big hill to get to the donut shop, and had to go all the way back up to get coffeehouse. Was this Seattle, or was it San Francisco but with dogs everywhere?
We met Chris and Chanelle at the coffeehouse for what Elizabeth would probably assure me was some very good coffee (I dunno, not my thing). Then the seven of us headed back to the apartment building so we could hop in a car and drive downtown to Pike Place. Once again, I was taken aback by how clean and modern Seattle looked, and how hilly it was. I was not taken aback (in a bad way) by how busy downtown Seattle was around Pike Place. It was a sunny Saturday in January at the top tourist spot in a major city. The least surprising thing in the world was that it took 20 minutes to find parking. Chris, Chanelle, and Charlie had better luck finding parking so I hopped out to join them and left Michael to his fate.
I didn’t know that much about Pike Place, other than that it’s a big market and the world’s first Starbucks is located there. Elizabeth walked by the legendary Starbucks but I literally never saw it. No loss, in my eye. The rest of the market was teeming with stands selling everything from dried flowers to ceramic tops to honeys. In the back, there was a patio where Charlie could order clam chowder and one could sit and eat it and overlook the Puget Sound. In fact, *if* you did this on that particular day, you could even overlook the Olympic Mountains if you so chose.
You could even see lenticulars over Mount Rainier, all before Elizabeth even got out of Michael’s car.
I’m not a chowder guy (or an any seafood guy), but everyone had been talking about the many dumplings they’d eaten the night before, so I was in a dumpling mood. There were vendors on the other side of Pike Place as the market, including a vendor that sold dumplings, so I got a dozen. This would kick off a weekend where I ate a lot of dumplings as a meme. I would give the view that I had while eating these dumplings an easy A-, and the taste of them a solid B or B-. They weren’t the worst, but there are definitely better ones in the world. Most importantly, they fueled the fire for what was a heavy-walking afternoon.
I don’t have much in the way of revelationary takes on Pike Place. I like the patio, and the street vendors were pretty neat. It was too crowded, but most tourist locations in a post-covid world are. I didn’t enjoy the fish market as much as most tourists probably do, mostly because it smelled like the fish the employees were throwing around. But the other vendors selling olive oils and weird mushrooms and the barbecue stand I got myself some potato salad from were all pretty cool, so it was a worthwhile place to wander for an hour or two. And at the bottom, there was an alley with a gum wall. I thought I’d be more excited and less disgusted by the gum wall than I was. But since it’s in an alley, there’s a sickly sweet smell of decaying, moist gum everywhere, and apparently some nearly fell on Elizabeth, so the gum wall did not go down as a trip highlight. A Nolan facial expression verdict:
After some time spent at Pike Place, the 7 of us aimlessly wandered along the waterfront for a while. It was sort of an awkward in between time where Elizabeth’s reservation for us at the Space Needle was just a couple of hours out, and Charlie had to leave for a flight to go skiing (somewhere) soon, so we didn’t have any time to do something else. Eventually, it was time for him to leave, so Chris departed to take him to the airport. The rest of us took a one-mile downtown walk from the waterfront up to the Space Needle. If you’re impressed that Chanelle walked a mile (including some of those hills!) while her baby was due any day now, then just wait until the blog about Sunday of this weekend. Oakley loved the walk and the chance to sniff the other dogs of Seattle. I liked the chance to walk along the water and through the sculptures of the Olympic Sculpture Park.
One thing worth noting: the sun goes down so early in Seattle in early winter. Those pictures were from 3:45 p.m.
That meant that it was just going to twilight when the five of us arrived at the Space Needle. Chris said that that was the best time to go up to the top, and Elizabeth had taken him on faith. Nobody else had bought tickets to join us at the top. That makes sense; if you live in Seattle, you probably don’t need to do the single most tourist-y thing in the city when someone visits you every single time. I think Elizabeth was a little disappointed, but instead Michael, Irene, and Chanelle visited the Chihuly Glass Garden next door. My fiancee and I got into line at the bottom of the *massive* needle. It was one of those things that you feel uncomfortable craning you neck all the way up to look at.
The line wrapped clockwise around the base of the Space Needle on the outside through a very fancy security line, then started to ascend along the spiral once we’d made it indoors. It wound past an exhibit highlighting the timeline of the Needle’s construction in the 1960s, then past a “free” photo booth, and then snaked its way to the center of the needle where a group of elevators ascend in Cedar Point Power Tower fashion. Given how long the line was, and how many little piggies like us were in it, I was surprised to see the line only take 15 or 20 minutes to deliver us to an elevator. The staffers loaded Elizabeth and myself into one of them with 15 other people like sardines in a can. The doors closed, and then we were zooming upwards at a rate that made you want to buckle your knees if only that wouldn’t send you into someone else’s personal space. In a shockingly short time, the elevator slowed as it approached the observation deck, then stopped. And we were up.
Wow. If the view from Pike Place overlooking Puget Sound and and Olympic peninsula had been cool earlier, this view was certifiably insane. On two sides, a big city spread beneath and across from us, bustling with the lights beginning to turn on as daylight faded. The other 180 degrees overlooked scenery – water, shoreline, and snow-capped mountains beyond them. I wish we’d gotten up 15 minutes earlier to see some of this with a little more daylight. As it was, Mount Baker was lit up a brilliant red by the fading sun just as we reached the viewpoint.
A chilly winter wind whistled through gaps in the plexiglass that protects visitors to the top of the Needle. It was extremely crowded; we weren’t the only little piggies come to play in this tourist trap. Still, it didn’t take long to be able to push my way to the front and marvel at the panorama laid out beneath. There were plexiglass benches that you could sit on for a truly immersive picture, if you so chose. The only problem is that they slope backwards into the wall behind you. I gingerly scooted back until my back was flush against the two inches of plastic between me and 520 feet of air. Elizabeth chose not to scoot back at all.
As Mount Baker faded from pink to blue like the rest of the Cascades, we began doing a slow clockwise loop around the observation deck. This often meant taking five steps forward, waiting for someone to get their picture taken, and then taking another five steps forward while stepping around a group waiting to get their picture taken. It was a bit of a logjam.
We were up top for about 20 minutes. The wind made things kind of chilly, and I couldn’t get much in the way of cool shots because of the reflection of lights from the inside area of the observation deck off of the outdoor plexiglass.
On top of that, the Instagram-moment-seekers became ever more brazen in their efforts to block all thru traffic. I don’t know how it is that I feel superior to them, since I was taking pictures of the view myself. But that feeling of superiority, misguided as it probably was, persisted. Doesn’t anyone just want to enjoy the view? There were so many cool things to see if we all just took a moment to stop and smell the roses!
The view-enjoyers were greater in number below the observation deck. If you go down a couple of flights of stairs, you end up in this circular room that holds a lounge, a bar, and some plexiglass floors.
The nicest feature of this room? It slowly rotates around the center of the Needle, so that once you’ve found a spot along the window you no longer have to move to enjoy the full view. If you’re patient, it all comes to you. It got dark remarkably quick. By the time the room rotated around a view of downtown, it was all lit up at night.
It would have been cool to sit in the lounge and watch the Pacific Northwest slowly spin by my view while I enjoyed a beer, but Elizabeth said that it was prohibitively expensive, and I appreciate her prudence.
It was really weird to wait for the elevator on the spinning floor. The elevators are in the center of the level, where the ground doesn’t rotate, but the queue in the stationary ground was full. So Elizabeth and I had to stand outside in the rotating area and move every few seconds to stay in line. Then once we got into the elevator level, it felt like we were moving and the outside part was stationary. It was extremely weird.
The elevators whooshed us downstairs just as fast as we had taken them up. The gift shop had a pretty decent selection of pins for me to choose from, which is always nice. There’s nothing worse than having to comb through a gift shop for pins. Elizabeth texted Michael, and we walked out into the blackness of the Seattle night to meet him.
You could be forgiven for thinking “Holy cow. This was a long day for them. Glad this blog post is finally over”. But although our day had begun at 5:00 central time, we were now on Pacific time, and it was only a little after 5:00 pm. Seriously. It gets dark fast in Seattle in the winter. There was still a whole evening ahead of us, whatever we wanted to do with it. First Michael took us back to Irene’s apartment so the four of us could regroup. Charlie was officially off, and Chris and Chanelle had gone home for the night, but Michael and Irene were down for whatever. While we schemed up a memorable evening, Michael popped the cork on his Wine Club wine of the month, a rich red that had a lot of body. Two glasses of that, then another glass from another bottle – the YouTube videos we were watching to pass the time started to seem a lot funnier.
Finally, the four of us came to a resounding dinner consensus – Kin Len Thai Night Bites, the new Thai place in a hip neighborhood called Fremont. It was just a short five-minute drive away – but when we got there, the host staff said it would be a 30 to 45 minute wait for a table. I might have hemmed and hawed over that. Michael didn’t; he immediately accepted, gave them his number so he could get texted when our table was ready, then turned on his heel and walked outside the restaurant. We walked down one more of Seattle’s ubiquitous hills, crossed the road, and ended up at our intermediate destination – Schilling Cider House. As the name implies, this brewery specializes in ciders of all varieties – dry, super-sweet, fruity, citrusy, and everything in between. I wish I could recall what the different types I got were, but alas, the picture only gives their numbers.
We hadn’t been there but 10 minutes (all while putting up with irritating glances from the group sitting near us at the table that we were standing at – no seats were available) when Michael got the text that our table was ready. Instantly, Elizabeth and my shared sipping flight turned into more of a glug-glug-glug flight. I am an expert at glug-glug-glug. However, my head was starting to feel a little light by the time we got back to the Thai restaurant.
I suppose my drunkenness could be used as an excuse for my ordering decisions. First of all, Michael and I decided to get beef tongues as an appetizer. I won’t lie – they weren’t bad. The best way to describe them would be to say that they were sort of like little pieces of seasoned steak, except much chewier. 7.5/10, would order again. My real mistake was getting talked into the khao soi instead of my bread and butter, a nice pad Thai. Elizabeth was kind enough to switch with me so that I got her pad Thai, which was spicy and delicious. I hope she enjoyed my khao soi. Thanks, Elizabeth, for always being the best fiancee.
Michael and I capped the night off with one more cocktail. I was drunk enough that I can’t tell you what the cocktail was, but it made the world seem that much better of a place and it got me nice and tired for bed. Fortunately, neither Michael nor Irene pressed the two of us to keep staying up, even though it was still the early side of 10:00. It had already been a 20-hour day for us, and the bed in Michael’s bare-bones apartment sounded perfect. He went to spend the night in Irene’s, leaving the sole bed to Elizabeth and myself. In a matter of seconds, the two of us were unconscious.