Saturday, March 22, 2014

the city is ours.

Kate was the first person to notice the way I move through a crowd when she saw me cut through a mass of people during rush hour in a London tube station. One blink and I’d be several feet away, looking back over my shoulder at the rest of my friends. “It’s like you TELEPORTED,” she said. It isn’t about shoving your way through, although sometimes a neatly deployed elbow is essential, but instead looking for pockets of space between the people around you. A sideways wriggle, a swing of the hip, a swift step forward and to the left, and you have leaped over a surprising distance the way a salmon leaps over the fish ladder on his way down the river and out to sea.

I thought about that crowded tube station again after lunch today as my dad and I walked from one end of the Pike Place Market to the other. It was noon on a Saturday, and there were throngs of tourists walking at a snail’s pace, stopping at random to look at postcards or windchimes or straws of honey. I realized then that it is the more than 25 years of weekend visits to the market that have honed my crowd-teleportation skills to a fine art. We came here all the time when I was a kid, and now we still come almost every weekend whenever my dad is back from Taipei. Back then there was a ritual: brunch at Cafe Campagne or Maxmiliens, croissants and eclairs at Le Panier, produce at Sosio’s, browsing at DeLaurenti’s.

I thought about how people complain about the tourists at the market, clogging the aisles and the sidewalks with their strollers and their camera bags and their insistence on lining up down the block outside the Original Starbucks. I thought about how my friends commented on the insanity of going to the market on a Saturday and then over to the University of Washington to see the cherry blossoms in bloom, on the same Saturday. The UW quad, like the Pike Place Market, was a seething mass of people from one end to the other, and more were pouring in from all directions, like ants converging on a fallen cupcake at a summer picnic.

I mention my friends’ comments to my dad, who laughed and said, “When you have lived in Seattle long enough, you are not afraid of crowds. You own the city.” At this point I should admit that we have two secret weapons: my dad’s infinite patience, and his handicapped parking permit. There is a third secret weapon: an understanding of what it is to be a visitor in someone else’s city. You cannot complain about tourists unless you have never been one, if you have never inadvertently blocked someone’s path because you were looking at the Tube map, or if you have never taken too long to order a gelato from a vast array of unfamiliar flavors. Or if you have never stood on the side of a road in a Portuguese town getting directions to the next town in the fractured French that you never properly learned. All of us have been at one time or another a stranger in a strange land. And if you practice your teleportation skills, you will never let a crowd stop you from wherever you want to go in your own city.

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