The Mountains Before Me (Part VI)

Read Part V here.


The next morning, I didn’t have to rush anywhere, didn’t have speed off to my next destination, but I did want to go down to Seattle again. I wanted to explore the Pike Place Market, wanted to spend a few hours exploring the city in the daylight. So I got moving early and was checked out of my room before eight. The concierge took my luggage and locked it in a back room, and I was allowed to leave my car in the hotel parking garage for as long as I wanted. I called for another Uber and headed back downtown.

I had breakfast at a diner that overlooked Pike Place. The Market was bustling already; people and cars weaved around each other on the road below. I finished my breakfast quickly and went down to join them. I was expecting a flea market, an eclectic collection of stalls of handmade crap and a few farmers selling homegrown vegetables and fruits. I knew about the guys who throw the fish. My mom’s friend mentioned bouquets of flowers.

And of course, I found all of those things, but when I walked through Pike Place Market the first time, my mouth hung open. It’s a city within a city. There are stalls with people selling handmade goods but none of it was crap. There were so many fresh fruits and vegetables. And there were built-in establishments: restaurants and permanent shops. The market wasn’t just what you could see from the street, either. It extended back towards the Sound and down four floors. It was an endless maze of shops and cafes and diners. I walked through one floor, then turned went downstairs and through the next. It was a castle; it was a museum; it was a menagerie. My whole body tingled with the energy that pulsed through the place. There were people selling leather goods next to stalls grilling fish and vegetables that sat across from big tubs of ice stacked with fresh fish. The bouquets of freshly picked flowers were huge and every color imaginable–and they were only $10. I put my face close and breathed in deep. They smelled of wild air and sky and that unique scent of flower.

I spent hours wandering through Pike Place, browsing the shops and stalls, seeing, smelling, touching everything I possibly could. It was an endless buffet for the senses. I exited the Market on the North side and crossed the street to the world’s first Starbucks. There was a line out the door, of course; it’s practically a national monument at this point. I ordered an Iced Venti Vanilla Latte. It took nearly forty minutes from the time I first got in line to when I got my drink. While it was cool to be inside, to see the first Starbucks and to have the experience, I wouldn’t do it again. The coffee didn’t taste any different, and really, it was just small and crowded. But at least I can say I did it.

Coffee in hand, I headed down to the waterfront. I descended a deep staircase down to a street below and then crossed to a walkway that peeled off in regular intervals to different piers. There was a Ferris wheel on one; I walked up to it to take a few pictures but didn’t get on. The air smelled and tasted salty. The sun was peeking through clouds, and I could feel sweat on my upper lip. The piers were crowded with other tourists, a lot with children, all talking and screaming and laughing. The water beyond and below the piers was a deep, deep blue. There were a lot of ships and ferries crisscrossing the Sound, some making their way north, others circling, giving tours.

I wandered up and down a few of the piers, really hungry but unable to make a decision on where to eat. There were so many places to get food, most of them seafood, and I wanted everything so naturally I couldn’t decide on anything. There was one pier that had a Western, pirate theme; it was all wood, and it was under construction, but I went in and walked up the middle. There were restaurants lining either side: a deli, a seafood diner, an ice cream parlor. The only smell I remember though is of wood. The whole pier, inside and out, was this dark amber wood and it smelled of pine. I didn’t stop to get any of the food and instead headed out into the sun again. I stopped and debated about getting fried fish fingers at a hole-in-the-wall place that stood alone off one of the piers, but decided to keep walking instead.

I finally made my way back up to Pike Place Market and walked through that again. There were so many people walking through now. It was way more crowded than it was this morning. I walked up one of the streets that was adjacent to the Market, and found Steelhead Diner. It was packed with people, and I was only able to get a booth in the corner, away from the windows. For some reason, when I sat down, I began to cry. I was hungry and tired and lonely. And I also really didn’t want to leave Seattle. I started thinking about ways I could stay. The thought of getting back in the car and driving to Portland (only about 100 miles!) was too much. Again, the thoughts roared through my head. What the hell am I doing? I don’t want to do this any more. This may be the biggest mistake I’ve ever made. I’m so stupid for having done this. I covered my face with my hands and tried not to full-out sob. I was so exhausted from this journey. I just wanted to be where I was going. I just wanted to stop, go home, or at the very least, have someone with me.

The waiter came, and I knew he could tell I was crying but he didn’t say anything. I ordered fish tacos, and when he left, I willed myself to stopped to crying and to cheer up. I watched the people who were sitting at the restaurant. The décor of the place was fisherman themed, but a very artsy fisherman. On the wall that separated me from the other booths, was a glass case of fishing lures. Each had their own name and all were colorful and feathery. I stared at them, studying each one, while I waited for my tacos.

Once I ate, I felt a lot better, a lot less despondent and self-conscious, but I still didn’t want to leave. I was so enraptured by the city. All I wanted to do was walk up and down the streets, try all the amazing restaurants the lined 5th Street, wanted to spend every Saturday morning at the Pike Place Market. Eventually, I tore myself away from the Sound and called for an Uber to take me back to Bellevue. I returned to the hotel, which handed back my luggage and then I got into my car and headed south. I was finally headed towards Los Angeles; I was getting closer to my destination by the mile. Then why didn’t I feel excited or triumphant?

About thirty minutes into my drive to Portland, I rubbed my eye and lost my contact. It was so painful. Every time I blinked, it was like something was stabbing me. My eyes were watering to the point where I was essentially blind in my left eye. And, of course, I was stuck in traffic. There was no way for me to get off. I squeezed my left eye as best I could, stayed in the right-hand lane, and inched forward until finally (finally!) I was able to take an exit that had a gas station. I fished the stupid contact out of my eye after about ten minutes of rubbing it. I pulled out my case and solution and took my other contact out as well. I didn’t really need them to drive, just to read. Since I was there, I got gas and then returned to the congested highway.

Other than that bad start, I got to Portland no problem. I was staying at a hostel in the northwest part of the city. It was a super cute house, and I had my own private room (which cost more but I like having my own space). The woman who checked me in pulled out a map for me and gave me suggestions on where to go for dinner and circled where Powell’s was. Once I got my things to my room and re-parked my car in the right zone, I wandered around the city.

Add Portland to my favorite cities list. It is an adorable, walkable, and quaint little city that it just bursting with breweries, coffee shops, and super cool people. That first night in town, I walked from the hostel to Powell’s, which was the one thing I needed to check out while here. Before I went in, I stopped to get pizza at this hole-in-the-wall place right across the street. Then, I went back to the bookstore.

I really didn’t know what I expected, but Powell’s blew me away. I used to work at Barnes & Noble, and exploring bookstores is one of my favorite past times, but Powell’s was unlike any bookstore I’d ever set foot in. My mouth dropped open. My heart raced and my palms got sweaty. It’s a palace and a maze and an emporium of new and used books. There’s a coffee shop and a room for rare books. They have knick-knacks and bags and adorable things tucked in and around the endless aisles of books. It was a celebration of reading and of Portland. I fell in love immediately, and just like Pike Place Market, I didn’t want to leave. I bought three books, two notebooks, and a bag before I finally forced myself to leave. The sun was setting, and I wasn’t comfortable walking through a strange city alone.

Despite getting a little turned around, I made it back to the hostel fine. (Thank you, Google Maps.) I showered and fell into bed, exhausted yet again from my travels.