Between Pike and Union

I hear his music before I see him. Deep bass notes push vibrating thuds through cheap speakers to land, rubbery and hollow but welcomed, on my ears. Familiar lyrics make me smile and my hum turns to singing, while he slides by me. Turning, dancing, laughing. Blue jeans, faded gray tanktop, bulging arms, a baseball cap sits jauntily across brown-gray curls and skin tinted a lighter-almond shade, jawline outlined with scruff. He waves a 3 foot, black ghetto blaster covered in spray paint, through the sea of suited, focused, calloused 9-5’rs. He greets their reserve with a smile, a friendly shout or impromptu dance. Before I know it, I’m walking behind him, flashing a smile that feels like hot sunshine, drinking in the warmth of a playful soundtrack that compliments the beautiful afternoon. Down the block he ambles, and, every once in awhile, he teases a hesitant, partial smile from the pursed lips of someone late for something or worried about some outcome, somewhere.

It’s a beautiful dance. Only possible because there are two players. One leads. The other with no choice but to follow. His brave open heart, their disdain. His glowing warmth, their coldness. He sees who they are and instead of suffocating under the weight of their disapproval, growing bitter about their backward, curious glances, it seems to fuel some desire within him to do, to be more. He summons more beauty and honest strength and dances on. And it balances out somehow, like the sun amongst the clouds, oasis in a dessert, a distant mountain peak rising up, tall, amongst an endless, analogous range. As I walk on, through a sunny Monday afternoon, dreaming about where I’ll travel to next, with my new yellow laptop bag to match my new, crazy life, he makes me happy. Bass-thumping reassurance that you don’t have to march ahead with everyone else — accumulating, scheming, winning — when there’s so much more to discover veering, sometimes careening, sometimes out-of-control but always breathlessly excited, towards something different, sometimes with loved companions, sometimes alone — giving, sharing, sometimes stumbling, but always growing.

I stop and fish for my camera then. Keeping it within reach has become a strange habit to me. When he walks by, I smile and ask for a photo.

Of course! He kneels down and poses, biceps flaring, rap blaring. We walk for a block or two. Talking, after he clicks a button and the sountrack squeals to a stop. He points to the stereo. 1982. An original, he swears. I walk up and down the street. From here to Broadway, every day. I make people smile and I like that. I made you smile.

You made my day! I tell him enthusiastically. You do this every day?

Every day. I get tired, it takes some work hauling this baby around town. Here, you hold it! I lower my camera as he shoves it in my arms as we walk. It’s like carrying a small child, 30 pounds maybe? But much more awkward cradling a black plastic square.

It’s the batteries. Old school baby sucks up big alkaline batteries like it ain’t a thing. But it’s worth it. When I see those smiles. It’s worth it. People need to smile.

I remember my old hand-held portable stereo, one tape cassette. I’d bring it on family vacations, tuck it under my pillow and quietly press “record” as my siblings talked only to play it back giddy with the surprise! Later, when I was alone, I’d sing along to my favorite songs, sometimes sing harmony, sometimes melody, but always singing. It made me smile. It still does. I can’t sing a note and not feel my heart start to unfold into a smile.

Hold on a sec. Let me give you some battery money – you made my day and I appreciate it. I hope you keep doing this.

I fish into my purse for $5 and hand it to him with a smile. I never ask for money he tells me, I think it’s bad karma or something. I just do it because I want to… He looks at me, but I appreciate this. I really do. He takes it with a promise that it will go to batteries, no liquor or booze or anything. I ain’t like that. He tells me his name is Grizzly just as I see it painted on his deck.

I look at him, brown eyes and smile. Thanks for doing this.

Ma’am, I’m Native American, descended from the Cherokee Indians in the Appelachian Mountains of Virginia. We were a proud and happy people.

I smile, imagining what it would be like if we could both walk the Trail of Tears backwards, we might find ourselves neighbors or brothers as my great-great someone was Cherokee too.

He leans in, playfully, Now if you want a Native American to follow you…

Back to present, I have a nervous image of him mistaking my interest and finishing the sentence with an inappropriate proposition. But he finishes in nothing less than how he started…just turn on some music, they will go wherever you lead.

I smile, and wish him a fantastic day. He smiles and asks if I want another photo opportunity. He’ll be performing. Capital Hill tennis courts, by the resevoir. 50 kids and 50 balls. The biggest dodge ball game on the books. I’m the DJ. Friday nights, 7pm.

I tell him I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I hop on the 7. The crazy bus headed down it’s crazy route, home. It’s crowded, chaotic, and noisy. People get on and off, head to and from the life we all share, though we only ever see the intersection for the 5 or 15 minutes we share, sitting, facing forward on this bus.

I turn and smile at the woman sitting next to me. Ebony skin, rich mahogany lipstick, corporate jacket and matching heels. On my left, his damp skin turns his shaggy hair to thick ringlets as he plays with his iPod, head down. The woman with a flat wrinkled face and eyes curving slightly down, stringy gray hair pinned back with an electric blue paper flower. She holds on to a little girl, whose lush jet black pigtails sit on top of her head like soft kitten ears, as she plays with the bag around her shoulder that reads “very amazing living”. She looks up at the boy in the bright red shirt, tan vest and sagging pants as he limps to the front of the bus, only to race down down the sidewalk once outside. We both watch him run. But as I sit, he stands up to offer his seat to the woman whose hair hides behind a black headscarf and while her stomach bulges, the size of a watermelon, under her dress. His rough carpenter pants, stained with paint and dust, sway comfortably to the stop and go rhythem of the city bus.

Then she gets on. A bandana around her head. Sweats, fanny pack, glazed eyes that see nothing.

Straight ahead, the bus driver tells her, as she walks carefully up the stairs and sits down to join us, poking a metal stick at the colors and sounds that swirl around that sunny day. My quiet thoughts cheer her on and urge her to keep going. Straight ahead.

Magic Taco Bus

We prepared by drinking a Corona (Light) in the afternoon sun of the first truly beautiful Saturday of an otherwise overcast June. That’s all it took for my light-weight buzz to kick in and accompany Nic and I down Rainier Ave to the taco bus.

In flip flops and shorts and craving another cold beer–it feels like Mexico. It sits in an empty parking lot, just past the crumbly 1960’s apartment complex, where the chain link fence that guards broken down cars, ends. Rounded corners of off-white gleam in the orange-gold light, an old bus turned taco truck–it looks like Mexico.

I stare hungrily at the menu. Past the torta and enchiladas, pause for a moment on the cerviche, only to forget it all when I find the taco plate. $1.20 each–I feel like I’m in Mexico.

We climb aboard the bus to order. Twirl lazily on stools wrapped in vinyl. There’s no taco truck “mystery” of ordering through a window and minutes later the “voila!” of being presented with a styrofoam package you hope will taste amazing. Instead, I watch him grill up carnitas and tortillas as my lunch-less stomach rumbles. A man climbs aboard, he’s called ahead. Nic and I look at eachother–next time.

Moments later it’s ready. No questionable styrofoam, just two paper plates wrapped in foil, steaming with something that smells like a little bit of authentic Nayarit goodness…

Bank of America Tacos

The craving for tacos can strike at the strangest times.

Soaking in a hot, steaming bubble bath–after a cold, wet mountain bike ride that ended in me (the heroine) riding gallantly down some stairs to crash on pavement so I could avoid hitting the (insolent) little girl who stood (not very smartly) watching and not moving out of my way–I lazily texted friends and family, I thought of what I should do next today. Mow the lawn? Paint the ceiling? Tacos?

Hmmm! Tacos.

Nic was down for taco truck and I was pleased with myself for having inducted another taster to my taco research.

I ventured back into the unseasonably cold June day and the fine mist that had replaced the rain. This time I’d try the truck parked outside Bank of America, in Columbia City. Almost giddy with myself over this new summer project, I walk confidently up to the counter. An older Hispanic man in a cowboy hat pauses his cascade of fluid Spanish to look at my shiny red ballet flats, designer jeans and (probably) overly-eager face and wave me to the window to order, before continuing his conversation with the voice that hides behind jars of jalepeno and Coca Cola.

I look at him, then scan the colorful “Los Primos” concert flyer behind him, then scan the “nuestros dentista” flyer, and then step back to behold a completely menu-less white taco truck wall. The last place had been decked out in multi-lingual menues and pictures. This was like a taco truck sahara! Spanish floats on the air around me, then, behold: a daily special written in light pencil on a college-ruled slip of notebook paper.

Especial: 3 Tacos, $6

I order two from the smiling woman behind the counter.

“That’s it?” she asks.

“Si, es todo,” tumbles from my mouth with an authentic confidence that delights me.

She smiles, we exchange some pleasantries in Spanish and my eyes plead with her to make this good. I don’t know that I can choke down another cardboard asada dinner.

I sit on the picnic table, slowly dissecting the “dentista” flyer. I pull up my pant leg a bit and carefully re-adhere the big bandaid to my oozing red road-rash. I realize the cowboy has stopped talking as he looks from my purse to my leg, and cracks a small smile that looks like something I decide is “appreciative”. Perhaps he’s enjoying the irony too? I flash back a smile, the best I got. He tips his hat, as he walks off into the mist.

A new man walks to the counter. Without hesistation or a look for a menu, he orders two burritos. I nod my head, this is how they do it.

My order is ready, and I cross my fingers…

You have to start somewhere…

Upon opening the white styrofoam package of goodness, I quickly realized I would be starting close to the bottom. (Or at least, I hoped…)

I’d made my first mistake ordering carne asada combination plate. Lesson number one: stick with tacos.

The meat was about cardboard thickness, color and consistency. There was no rare or even medium-rare tenderness to be savored, as I carefully picked my way through glistening threads (and sometimes clots) of grissle to build a modest taco. After finishing off one taco and a couple spoonfuls of non-descript refried beans and rice, I was done.

For what it was (immediate caloric fulfillment on a cold, rainy night), it was ok. Before writing them off completely, I’m determined to go back and try learning from my mistakes and just sticking to tacos. Simple, good, & crazy delicious tacos.

Taco Truck Tuesday!

Tonight, as I drove home from Bellevue, across an abysmal Lake Washington, cold rain dripped from new spring leaves and collected in muddy puddles. A far cry from the sandy, warm beaches of Mexico. And yet all I could think about were tacos. No time or interest in a big, sit-down restaurant ordeal. I just needed tacos and I needed them now.

I drove to the less than credible intersection of Graham and Rainier, thankful they were still open this late. Ordered the carne asada plate with flour tortillas. An aquamarine blue Taurus rolls up, tinted windows down, P. Diddy’s “Best Friend” blarring while I stumbled my way through a simple Spanish flyer advertising the benefits of pre-school for non-English speaking children. It’s difficult to get through. Mostly because as the linguistic side of my brain translates one line of Spanish, the hip hop side of my brain (we all got it, just admit it) is singing it out with Puff. It goes something like:

“Half day or complete day school”
[Puffy] “You mean everything to me”
“Door to door transportation”
[Puffy] “You’ve been with me from day one”
“Good for children who speak little or no English”
[Puffy] “Even when I thought nobody was there, you were there”
“Must be 4 years of age by August 31st”
[Puffy] “You’re my best friend”
“Smooth transition into Seattle public kindergarten”
[Puffy] “I love you like no other”
“Call to enroll your child now!”
[Puffy grabs the mic and takes over]
“There is no feeling like this in the world”
“If you can relate to what I’m feeling”
“Put your hands in the air for me”
“You’re the love of my life”

Fortunately, before I can raise my hands in the air, my carne asada is ready. I brave the drippy night and head home to enjoy….