Monday, June 27, 2011

Emerald City [survey in 26.2]

24-26 June 2011

Just returned from a short survey of Seattle...via a 26.2 [+change] venture. I signed up with a friend of mine to run the Seattle Rock 'N Roll Marathon several months ago, and we've been following the same training regiment, although living in different states, for the past 18 weeks. She's been my running buddies for years now [and one of my dearest friends] so as soon as she mentioned that she was doing the race, I knew that I was to do it as well. It was not only an excuse to see a new city & get into shape, but a way to stay in touch over the geographical distance that separated us.

Friday 24 June 2011

I pride myself on being a good planner...however, there are times when God sees my pride growing too heavy, too large such that it obstructs my view of Him and makes me feel that I am above needing the help of others. So this trip began with a humbling. I had conducted significant research into what flight would be the best from a cost & time standpoint in order to maximize by two day venture to Seattle. The airport selected was one that I felt I would have plenty of time to get to because I make a drive in that direction often, and felt myself familiar with the traffic flow. However, I did not account for it being a summer Friday afternoon, and with an hour until departure I was realized I would not make my flight.

So I reversed course, grumbling internally with the diction of my tight-on-a-dollar obsession, and went to a more local airport to purchase any ticket I could get to Seattle that night. I have to admit there was something slightly exciting about walking up to a ticket counter and asking for an ASAP flight out, one way...I wonder what that Alaskan Airlines employee thought of me, what story she imagined was attached to my urgent departure with no apparent plan for return. Although I am still mourning the loss of the dollars extra I had to shell out for a replacement ticket [time will heal all sense of loss...right?], I am very thankful that there was a flight I could take that night...lest I miss the race I'd been training for over the past 4.5 months. I landed around 2300, caught the free shuttle to our hotel [thanks to my friend's mom who got the information for me], laid out my running gear for the next day and hit the hay.

Saturday 25 June 2011

The next morning reveille was at 0500. We quickly got dressed [I actually slept in my running kit, sans shoes, in order to maximize my zzz's], grabbed a bit of breakfast on our way out of the hotel, and hopped in the car for a drop-off point by my friends mom [many roads were closed for the race, so she could only get us so close to the start line]. We followed the zombie-paced parade of runners to the start line, about a mile walk, and got there with about 45 minutes to spare.

0700 the race began, with us starting in the 4:15 corral. The Seattle Rock 'N Roll Marathon has one of the most efficient starting procedures I've seen in marathons. Granted I haven't run that many, but I was still impressed. They use a wave start, such that each corral starts separately with about 2 minutes in between, this keeps you from bottle-necking in the beginning. In past races the first mile is usually more walking than running. The course itself is quite pleasant and forgiving. There is a good variety of terrain and scenery your run by, keeping you from mental fatigue if nothing else: by lakes, in residential areas, parts of downtown, on closed-down highways, and through tunnels [my personal favorite]. The hills weren't too taxing, they were long and gradual and game at increments in which a hill was needed to relieve you from the flat, to simply use different muscles and keep you from cramping too much.

We ran well, my friend had her sights on sub-4, and while I very much believed she would obtain that time for herself, I had little faith, bordering on negative faith, that I would be able to get such a time myself. We ran together until mile 24, and then my leg muscles decided they were done for the day:

Legs: Well, I've had a great time, but I really must be going

Me: Actually, you see, we still have 2.2 miles left...we've discussed this...don't be like this...

Legs: You're free to continue on, but I've had my fill. See you on the flip side!


My friend and I had both discussed before hand that if one of us was feeling good and the other not-so-much, that the former must continue on...for, slowing down when you're feeling pretty good to keep up your current clip will only increase your physical pain. I would have been upset if she had done otherwise. We ended up finishing 3 minutes apart...and I was quite frustrated that I could not finish with her [my legs and I are still not on speaking terms], but I was very happy we had got to run the majority of the race together and was please with our final time, both under 4 hours.

I staggered and dragged myself to her after I crossed the line and we made our way, hobbling, to the meeting point where her family and friends were. Interesting to get glimpses of being older...feeling acute pain in each step, the experience of standing up and sitting down being an event. We grabbed some lunch as a group [most generously paid for by her parents]. Her dad had done the marathon as well & several of her friends had done the marathon or half-marathon, so anywhere we went we were a force to be reckoned with...and to be seated. We then returned to the hotel to shower and rest, and then we went to her friend's uncle's [?] home about 30 minutes outside of Seattle for a BBQ.

They were so hospitable and hind to take in so many of us...we were a small army really [at least 15], but they welcomed us to join them in their feast. The property was beautiful. Simply blinding in the variety and intensity of green hues with the fading afternoon made sense then why Seattle is the Emerald City. A perfectly peaceful place to relax after a race day.

The highlight of that evening, however, was the potato launcher. Made of PVC pipe, with a small button at the bottom to give a spark, one simply inserts a spud of choice [the variety that suits your fancy], spray some hair spray on the inside near the spark-button, aim into the woods and shoot away! Makes me wish I lived out in the open...that's not the only reason, but certainly an added bonus. And we all slept well that evening.

Sunday 26 June 2011

The next day we went to the 1100 mass at the Chapel of St. Ignatius on the campus of Seattle University. Although I am not Catholic, I enjoyed the service immensely. The chapel has a stripped down, simplistic beauty in its interior decor and exterior architecture, feeling modern and serene. I tried my best to follow along and enjoyed the old hymns especially, and I was doing quite well blending in until it came time for the Lord's Prayer...I kept going after "deliver us from evil" and got a chuckle from the man sitting next to me and a few behind me as well. I was exposed as the non-Catholic. I did not feel judged, but I had lost at the game of trying to blend in. When the prayer ended the chuckle-man glance my way and with a raised eye brow commented on the shirt I was wearing, which happened to have a skull on it...which in hindsight maybe was not the best choice for Catholic mass, but it is one of my favorite shirts and I had packed light so it was the only clean shirt I had. Oh him a story to tell others I guess...the girl who likes skulls and didn't know the proper ending of the Lord's prayer.

After church we walked a it around campus and then began walking down town towards Pike's Place Market. En route our first stop was Elliot Bay Book Co. This giant book store had a warehouse-type interior with the selection of a larger chain book store. They had a substantial graphic novel section that I spent a good amount of time in and had a bargain books section as well. Being the bibliophile that I am, I could have spent quite a long while in there, but we had other stops to make. If I lived in Seattle, this would become a dangerous place for me to be.

Right before we hit the market we stopped for lunch at Kell's, and Irish-pub-styled restaurant on a side street just before Pike's Place Market. It had that inviting and warm atmosphere that every good pub has, a wide selection of beers & Irish fare including shepherd's pie, stew, and pasties [the latter picture below].

Next we hit the market place. It was more busy than usual [I was told], and simply buzzing with activity.

First notable thing we saw was the original Starbucks, the franchise started here in Seattle, and the crowds seemed to know it...there was a line leading out the door [not unlike any other Starbucks I suppose].

Then we ventured into the the market area itself, full of vendors selling produce, meats, candies, and crafts. We sampled cherries, honey sticks, chocolate covered nuts, fresh peaches, and even chocolate linguine.

The liveliest area, undeniably a tourist trap but still entertaining to view, was the fish section. You know you have arrived via all your senses: the smell the sea, the sound of laughter and shocked comments, the taste of salt gleaned from the air, the feel of sticky fish residue on the ground [roll of the hems of your jeans!], and the sight of [yes] flying fish. Pike's fish sections is infamous for the employees throwing fish over the counter to each other to fulfill a customers order, intentionally catching at the last moment in front of a customer's face to varying reactions ranging from anxious excitement to squeamish disgust and even tears.

After that we headed back towards the Seattle University campus where our car was parked. We made one final stop for beer, coffee, and conversation along the way at Elysian Brewing Co. Constructed in 1919, the interior is complete with high ceilings, wooden floors, and brewery tanks. In the proper season, they even offer pumpkin beer.

My friend and her roommates dropped me off at the airport as they headed out of town, completing my Seattle survey.

It was one of those travel experiences that was wonderful not for the things we did, but for the mere fact that we did them together. I continue to be amazed and humbled by how many kind people there are in the world, they dwarf me in their Christ-like servant-hood and giving spirit [this most especially relates to a certain Filipino couple that not only paid for my hotel & a meal for all of us, but also made me feel like a part of their family within 30 minutes of knowing them]. I rarely get sentimental when a trip comes to an end, especially one so short, but I was sincerely sad to see such a simple weekend of fellowship come to a close.

Aching physically from the marathon of the day before but renewed spiritually on the highs of companionship I boarded by 2115 flight back home, bidding the Emerald City farewell.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Join the Congregation in the LBC

For many of us in Southern California, it can prove difficult to get away from the office and go on vacation. This sparked my investigation into enjoyable outings that can be done locally, having the veneer of a vacation without actually having to take any days from the office to enjoy it.

Long Beach had long seemed to me a place unworthy of a stop over...just another place to drive by, through, or around on a grumbling, slogging trek through traffic to get to Los Angeles for the airport or concert. However, once introduced to the LBC I eagerly sought better acquaintance, yesterday being one such occasion. One of the great things about Long Beach is that it has many of the great aspects of Los Angeles without actually being Los Angeles. It’s big enough but not too big, and small enough to still have an echo of an embrace for visitors.

I had heard from a friend of mine that there was this unique restaurant on Broadway that was decked out in Catholic-themed particulars. Always intrigued by history and religion, this restaurant sounded like one to check out, and my peeked interest was not disappointed. There is a parking garage just across the way, but be thee warned: if you plan to make an evening of it, you should know that it charges $1.50 for every 30 minutes. I was in a rush, late in meeting a friend, and didn’t “shop around” for a better deal. Come to find out, if one has patience [the fruit of the Spirit I threw aside last night] you can get parking for free instead of paying the exuberant amount I ended up shoveling over before my drive home. I felt that piping frustration of being duped, misled, wronged, but had only myself to blame. Let me recover for a moment from the blow to my thrifty-deal-finding-ego, rest assured I shall not be shamed so twice…I must seek confession for the sin of pride, and what luck!

Congregation Ale House is an Irish pub meets Catholic cathedral. The atmosphere is inviting and bright, conversations of the parties along the bar and seated at small tables create a buzzing river of sound that draws you downstream, right to the alter [cash register] to place your order.

As you peruse the menu items above your head, as if petitioning to Heaven to help you select among the enticing [sinful?] items offered, you cannot help but be distracted by the décor. Above you are iron chandeliers and stained glass windows, dripping in Gothic perfection.

The men wear a patch of some sort of coat of arms on a sweater, with the logo embedded within, and the girls wear Catholic school uniforms, similar to something I wore in elementary school myself, although the length of skirt and number of buttons buttoned on the blouse were somewhat altered from what I remembered…In lieu in giving a tip to a jar you can tithe to an offering box right in front of the register, and if all you want is some H2O, you obtain it from a tabbed barrel labeled “Holy Water.” I lost myself in the whimsy of it instantly.

And then there is the menu. If you are a beer drinker, you may wrestle with your beverage selection for quite a while since Congregation offers dozens of different ales and beer. As for the food, there is something to please all palettes: burgers, sausages, flat breads, salads, pretzels, sweet potato fries [not complete without a dipping sauce like curry ketchup], and a selection of desserts. If you go for Monday Mass, your piety will be rewarded with Happy Hour prices all day which offers $6 burgers and sausages and $1 off all draft beers and wines.

Once you pick your sinful edible & beverage, grab your order number and find yourself a seat if you can: the place was full of pilgrims last night when I visited. As any congregation should be, you can’t avoid meeting a new person while dining. The quarters are tight and you will likely end up sharing elbow space with a stranger-turned-friend by the end of the meal as you catch bits of each other’s conversation and emit common pleasantries to one another.

A solid recipe for an evening out is dinner and a movie, which is a taste of the vacation mentality without as great time commitment. If you dine at Congregation after work you have plenty of time to catch a late showing of the film of your choice at the local Art Theater of Long Beach, but you may have some time to kill. And good thing too.

After departing Congregation hop in your car [escaping further parking fees if you made the same mistake as I by parking in the closest garage] and head make a stop at Finger Prints Music on your way to the movie theater. Its an one-stop-shop for those into music, art, or literature. The store features art work, designer toys, screen printed t-shirts, along with new and used CDs, books, DVDs, and records. The best part about this place for me is that it was something my friend and I just happened to stumble upon. This brightly-lit-warehouse-styled store caught our eye on our drive and we pulled over to take a look inside. So often the “let’s just check this out for a second” decisions prove to be the most rewarding.

Since you’re catching a late show, and will have to return to work tomorrow because, remember, you aren’t actually on a vacation although it feels a bit like you are, it might be best to grab a cup of joe and some dessert before your flick. We stopped into the Portfolio Coffee House, walkable from the Art Theater of Long Beach. When you walk inside, you are no longer in Long Beach. You have been transported to 1940s New York City. The beverages are of the usual selection, the desserts to pretty to eat. But if you are to try one, may I recommend the crème brulee cheese cake. You heard me right…and such decadence may convict you so that you feel you must return to Congregation thereafter to be absolved of your sins once more.

The Art Theater of Long Beach stands like a beacon in the night with its neon sign beckoning you towards it. There is a charming wine & gelato café next door, which you might as well indulge in after the crème brulee cheese cake you just partook of [go big or go home, right?] The theater itself is spacious and seats many, but if you play your cards right by going to a week night show and choose a film that has been out for a while [as we did] you will find the theater rather empty. There is one significant positives to a poor turn out at this theater for the viewer [besides not having to battle your anonymous neighbor for the arm rest]: the theater experience ends up feeling like a movie night in a friend’s living room...albeit a group of friends you have never met before, but a movie night none-the less. We found ourselves conversing with our unknown neighbors via laughter and chuckles, the only type of movie conversation that can occur across rows. It was a strange sensation, feeling as though we were sharing in the experience with strangers that for the two hours of semi-darkness felt like intimate friends.

There are many worthy things to explore in Long Beach and enjoyable things to do, but the LBC congregation should not be missed and is one simple way to get the flavor of vacation all in one evening after the 9 -to-5 of the office.