The Seattle Pun Slam

On a recent Sunday night, it was my pleasure to attend the Seattle Pun Slam, called Pundamonium, with a date. It’s held the second Wednesday and the forth Sunday of each month at the Peddler Brewing Company in the Ballard neighborhood. Tickets are 6 dollars.

Pundamonium also happens in Chicago, Los Angeles, Madison, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis. If you live in any of those fair cities, I highly recommend pun slams. They’re a great deal of fun. (But then, I do love a good pun. It’s just how I roll.)

Think poetry slam without the poetry. Contestants compete against each other. In the first round, you are given a topic up to an hour in advance, and you have to come up with as many puns as you can when you take the mic for two minutes. Each contestant is scored by a panel of judges.

In round two, the contestants only get 30 seconds to come up with puns on a topic they pull out of a hat. (Here’s where I would crumble. I’m not a spontaneous punster. I need time to mull things over. My comebacks usually aren’t very snappy.) I have to say that watching this and the next round was increasingly excruciating but also hilarious. Again, they’re scored.

In the third round, the top four punsters go head to head on stage with absolutely no prep. I really admired their courage. (I did kind of lose respect for one guy, though, when one of his puns was a thinly veiled insult directed at a competitor, and it clearly struck its mark. That was unnecessary.)

The puns were running fast and furious, and the beer and the food was good (and clearly that was the only reason some people were there, but what the heck, we’re all adults), so a good time was had by all.

If you do come to the one in Seattle, I recommend that you dress warmly, as it’s held outdoors in a tented courtyard. They do have gas heaters here and there, but I was kind of glad I had someone to snuggle up with.

In this increasingly tense world, it’s a pleasure to have some lighthearted, apolitical fun for a change. It feels good to be laughing again. More, please.

Maybe I’ll see you there sometime!

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Three Cheers for Stupidity?

Recently Katie Herzog, a writer for The Stranger, a favorite publication of mine, posted a photograph of a man climbing the wide open Ballard Drawbridge here in Seattle. Fortunately this is not something that happens every day, so yes, I agree it was noteworthy. But here’s where Ms. Herzog and I part company. She said, “Kudos mystery climber! Way to make the morning commute a little more fun.”

I’ve been opening drawbridges for almost 16 years. That photograph made me sick to my stomach. Someone tried this with me once, but I realized it rather quickly and aborted the opening, which caused a 2000 ton gravel barge quite a bit of panic, but prevented injury and potentially loss of life. My adrenaline pumped for several hours after that, and I literally went home and vomited.

I suggest that anyone who thinks that this little jaunt was “fun” should Google “Drawbridge” and “Death” some time. People have died on drawbridges. They are millions of pounds of lurching, shuddering concrete and steel that seem to bring out the worst in thrill-seekers. Not a day goes by when at least one fool climbs under the gates when I’m just about to open the span.

If “mystery climber” had fallen, he would have splattered all over the pavement. We’d be scraping him off the sidewalk with a shovel. Would that have made your commute more fun?

People wonder why the bridgetender didn’t see this guy. He was on the opposite side of the span from the operating tower. We do have cameras, but they can only see so much. The bridgetender would never have continued the opening if he had been aware this was happening. Not in a million years. Safety is our number one concern. Killing someone is not something that would be easy to live with. Personally, I don’t think I’d ever recover from that. And despite the fact that it was this climber’s choice to be a total idiot, if it happened on my watch I’d probably lose my job, and therefore my house and my car and… on and on.

As writers, we have a certain amount of influence, and therefore a great deal of responsibility to the public. Encouraging life threatening (and job threatening) behavior is a breach of that trust. I hope the Stranger’s post won’t entice anyone else to copy the mystery climber, or we might see a senseless tragedy.

Stay safe, people. Be smart.

Update: Whoa. Was wondering why my blog was getting so many visits. The Stranger responded to my tirade! Unfortunely, they still aren’t taking it seriously, and they didn’t even have the courtesy of contacting me before quoting me. http://www.thestranger.com/slog/2017/08/23/25370933/drawbridge-operator-takes-issue-with-the-strangers-coverage-of-a-drawbridge-incident

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One of my coworkers taped a Go-Pro to the rising Fremont Bridge recently. As you can see, it’s a long way down, and the bridge is only halfway open.

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The Ultimate Seattle Evening

Recently, my friend Ian Reilly invited me for another ride on the Mallory Todd, one of my all-time favorite vessels. This concrete-hulled, double-masted schooner is absolutely gorgeous inside, full of teak, a bathtub, a fireplace, and some amazing amenities. I’ve written about her before, so I’ll hold off on my rhapsodizing about the boat and focus on the journey.

Normally, the Mallory Todd roams the Ship Canal here in Seattle, going from Ballard through the drawbridges to Lake Washington and back, but this time she went from Ballard to Shilshole Bay Marina, to be pulled out for her 5 year inspection. This was a unique opportunity for me, as it meant we’d be transiting the Ballard Locks and going out into Puget Sound, two things that I had yet to do.

The weather was amazing. No rain, for a change, and the seas were flat calm. And there were only seven of us on this glorious journey, friends old and new, and Bonnie the Black Lab who took turns cuddling with us all.

As we passed under the Ballard Bridge, I thought how wonderful it was to have a drawbridge open for me for a change. And when we approached the locks, I got really excited. I’m nerdy that way. My very first lockage! We had the lock to ourselves, and the crew was pleasant and professional. We even drew a crowd. I got a sense of what it must be like to be on a red carpet. It was fun sinking down to sea level and marveling at the engineering involved.

As we entered Puget Sound while the sun was setting, it took my breath away. The water was a perfect mirror that reflected the snow-capped Olympic Mountains in the distance. A few vessels passed by us, also reflected in the water, looking like works of art. Suddenly my heart swelled with pure joy. I felt so lucky to be alive, in this place, at this time, with these people. I knew it would be a memory that I would carry with me for the rest of my life.

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And then, to make things even better, we heard barking in the distance. It was seals, resting on a buoy. (Or sea lions. I can never tell the difference.) We cruised right up to them. They didn’t seem to be very concerned. I was fascinated.

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As it got dark, the full moon still lit our way, and we passed Ray’s Boathouse Restaurant, which clearly has stunning views. I was told the food is really good as well. I hope that I get a chance to eat there someday.

Looking back at the city lights from the water was spectacular. You could see the space needle and the wheel, both lit up amongst the sky scrapers. I wish my camera did it justice. I kept thinking about how much I love this city, and how I can’t imagine living anywhere else now.

Someone pointed out Discovery Park to me, and I remembered sitting high up on that bluff when I first arrived in Seattle. I looked out over that vast expanse of water and mountains and I wondered where my life would go now that I was on this new and glorious adventure. 2 ½ years later, I still can’t answer that question, but I’m more excited to find out than ever!

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The Fellowship’s the Thing

I had a very unique Thanksgiving this year. It wasn’t about turkey or relatives. No family tension.

Since Thanksgiving has forever been my favorite holiday, I always kind of feel a spike in anxiety just before the day. Will I be spending it alone? I can think of nothing worse. When I came to this city in August of 2014 I didn’t know a soul. It was kind of daunting, really. It’s not easy to start over again in your 50’s.

But my first Seattle Thanksgiving was a delightful one. The cousin of a dear friend kind of took me in, and I met a lot of really nice people in a beautiful house in Ballard. On year two I had to work, but a friend brought me a plate on the job, and hung out with me while I ate it. That was unbelievably kind.

This year I was invited to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving. I met her daughter and her daughter’s partner for the first time, and got to know another one of her friends a little better. Vegetarians all, but willing to occasionally eat fish, they had no turkey or gravy on their table. We had salmon, and the most amazing stuffed squash and salads and mashed potatoes, and deviled eggs, and pumpkin pie for dessert. And then I had to rush out the door and go to work. But I left encased in a warm glow.

Then at work I got a text from another friend. “Look for hippies in hats,” she said. Huh? And then there they were, walking up the bridge! I had a nice visit with them while I ate my second Thanksgiving of the day. (Calories don’t count on this one day a year, don’t ya know.) They made this pilgrimage in the rain just to spend some time with me. And that meant so much to me that it brings tears to my eyes whenever I think about it.

Yes, the meaning of Thanksgiving is rather troublesome. I would be thrilled if it were replaced with Indigenous Peoples Day. (But I can see how that would be a difficult shift to make for some people, after the momentum of generations of tradition.) But for me, the Thanksgiving story, with all its falsehoods and inequities, is not the thing. The thing is the fellowship. It’s breaking bread with people. It’s gratitude for making it through another year. It’s the coming together, without the pressure of gift giving or elaborate decorations. Good food, good people. Good times.

This was a most excellent way to spend the holiday. Salmon may fly in the face of what we consider to be tradition, but it felt like the perfect Pacific Northwest way to celebrate a year of abundance. And sitting in the dark on a drawbridge and watching the rain fall may not be a horn of plenty, candles, and the good silver, but it was such a relief to be around people who weren’t at political loggerheads, and had no reason to rehash old wounds, as there were none. It was the best of that day—fellowship with people who accept you as you are.

With the right people, you could serve me a TV dinner fresh out of the microwave. It would still seem like a feast. When all is said and done, that is definitely something to be thankful for.

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Exploring Seattle – Part 9

I’ve decided that Ballard is my favorite neighborhood in Seattle. I doubt I’ll ever be able to afford to buy a home in this outrageously expensive town, but if I could, that would be the area I’d want to live in. It is rich in Nordic history, which brings me back to my roots.

Apparently I spoke Danish before I spoke English. As a hard-working single woman, my mother had no choice but to leave me with my grandmother during the day, and she spoke to me in her native tongue. Once I was old enough to go to school, I lost this talent, and my grandmother passed away when I was 8 years old. I have no memories of speaking Danish, and that’s a pity. I would love to have that ability today.

I thought of my grandmother quite a bit when I visited the Nordic Heritage Museum last week. It’s housed in the heart of the Ballard neighborhood in a former elementary school, so all the railings and door handles are unusually low, and that brought me back to childhood as well. While there I read the stories of the people who had come to America from that region to make new lives, and I saw a lot of the items they brought with them along the way, which reminded me of some of the things my grandmother brought. There were also crafts that looked familiar to me, and skills that my grandparents possessed. My grandfather was a very experienced seaman (in fact he died at sea during WWII) and he was also a dairy farmer. These are very Danish qualities.

All the faces in the pictures, with their pale skin and ice blue eyes and heavy eyelids could have been relatives of mine. And the Danish room with its plain, simple, severe Lutheran religious display struck a chord, too. A translated excerpt from a Danish children’s book entitled The Flight to America made me smile. It said, “In America the rain tastes like lemonade and you can spit on the floor as you please.”

I was delighted to see that they were having a Nordic Christmas Celebration soon called Yule Fest and it would fall on one of my days off, so I made a point of going back. The place was packed. It was full of craft and food vendors and musicians. I spent more money than I intended, because I couldn’t resist the Danish Æbleskiver (which is a kind of pancake that’s shaped like a tennis ball, topped with jam and powdered sugar), the bratwurst, and the clam chowder. I was also dying to buy the sweaters, the candles, the Danish plates, and the jewelry, but I had to control myself.

As I sat there in the crowded hall eating my delicacies and listening to the music, I looked around at the weathered faces, and listened to them telling stories to their grandchildren about the home country. It made me feel somehow connected. As transient as my life has been, that’s a feeling that I’ve rarely had.

I want to get more in touch with my Danish heritage. I even thought of taking Beginners Danish at the Scandinavian Language Institute that’s housed in the same building, but unfortunately it takes place on a day I have to work. Maybe some day. I quite like the idea of coming full circle. Like an Æbleskiver.

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[Image credit: wikipedia.org]

Exploring Seattle – Part 8

The day I’m about to describe is one that I could have only had in Seattle. It’s one of the most charming things about this city. I’m coming to realize that it has a culture, a vibe, and an attitude all its own.

I was casting about for something inexpensive to do, and was reading about various attractions around town when I discovered that the library offers free passes to museums! Sign me up. So off I went to the website in question and checked out what museums were available that day. I found one that interested me and punched in my library card number and…nothing. Huh?

I called the library and we finally figured it out. I was trying for a museum that doesn’t have an agreement with the King County Library System. Oh no. I would have to use my Seattle Public Library card. Wait. What? There are two library systems in Seattle? Oh, and they’re both open 7 days a week?

You’ve got to understand. I come from Jacksonville, Florida, where there’s a lot more people and yet only one library system. There, they can barely stay open for 5 days a week, their hours are constantly being reduced, and every year when the city council is dealing with the budget, the library is their first target for cutbacks. Branches keep getting closed down, and they sure don’t offer free passes to anything.

So with tears of joy in my eyes, I went to the Seattle Public Library and got my card. As with the King County system, the parking lot was absolutely packed and the place was a hive of activity. That’s also something you rarely see in Jacksonville. Many people there don’t hold reading anything beyond the sports page in very high esteem. Here in Seattle, the most literate city in the country, our libraries are considered vital. So I got my library card and my museum pass. (And the museum deserves a blog entry of its own, so patience, dear reader. That’s for another day.)

I hadn’t even gotten to the main event and I already felt like celebrating, so I asked a friend to recommend a restaurant near the Ballard neighborhood, and he recommended Highliner Public House at the Fishermen’s Terminal, just south of the Ballard Bridge. Getting there was a bit of a nightmare, which is also oh so Seattle. There was construction going on, and an insane detour, and traffic was backed up for miles, but I wasn’t in any particular hurry. I just kind of sat behind the wheel of my car and enjoyed the Ballard vibe. This historic area is fisherman’s central. Its Nordic history gives it a feeling all its own. You get the sense that the people here are used to working hard in raw, wet weather, and that appeals to my Danish heritage quite a bit.

I approached the restaurant with a certain level of trepidation, because I absolutely hate eating alone. I feel like I have a spotlight shining on my pathetic solitude. So I brought a book. But I enjoyed the people watching too. At the table next to me were four men in town for some convention or other. One was holding forth about something every technical. I have no idea what it was. I heard the word “centrifugal” being bandied about. What a refreshing change from Jacksonville, where the most popular convention is “Christmas Made in the South”.

And there were several mixed race couples. That simply isn’t done in Florida, at least not with any degree of comfort. Here it almost can’t be avoided, and I love it.

I ordered the seafood pot pie, which is described as “scallops, prawns, bay shrimp, crab, and cod in a creamy blend of cream, herbs, and seasonings served in a puff pastry shell”. Believe me when I tell you that this was the most delicious thing I have ever eaten in my entire life. I nearly swooned. The seafood here is very fresh, as one would expect from an area with one of the largest fishing fleets in the world.

As an extra treat they also provided me with a postcard (below) that includes the Ballard Drawbridge where I sometimes work in the background. I can’t wait to come back and get another one, and post it inside the bridge tower. It makes me smile.

Back in my car as I headed to the museum I thought about how every experience I had that day was uniquely Seattleite. I am definitely here. I’m definitely in it, baby! And I’m enjoying every delicious bite that I take out of this city so far.

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Rapunzel, Rapunzel…

Seattle really knows how to let its hair down. This neon image of Rapunzel on the Fremont Bridge is a neighborhood icon. Her hair used to be much longer but the bottom half of the neon isn’t there anymore for some reason. Now more than one person has said it kind of looks like an advertisement for a brothel, but hey, it’s art. What are you gonna do?

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Across the street from Rapunzel on the same bridge is more neon art. This one is of an elephant battling an alligator. I know not why. But it’s interesting that the bridge is being painted blue and orange, which are the team colors for the Florida Gators. But then I’m told they’re also the colors for the Denver Broncos. Go figure.

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You can’t sling a dead cat around here without hitting public art. That’s a refreshing change after living in uptight Jacksonville, Florida for 30 years. Public art is way too radical for that town. People might get ideas.

Here it’s almost a traffic hazard. I keep coming across unexpected delights and taking my foot off the gas. People tend to get a bit testy when I do that.

Here’s a sculpture that I came across when I was visiting the Ballard Locks.

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And one can never forget the grumpy old Fremont Troll, clutching an actual volkswagon.

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Here’s some more Seattle art that I’ve found on line that I’m looking forward to stumbling upon in person as I explore the city:

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[Image Credit: visualnews.com]

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[Image credits: whatrain.com]