In which I visit Seattle for the first time in February of 2012, bond with some of my favorite tiny house heroes, and enjoy a simply superb weekend.
These are the experiences and impressions that poured out when I sat down to write the day after I returned from this trip – a flood of (nearly) uncensored memories. A heavily edited version of this appeared online around that time, but I’m correcting a couple typos and posting the original today, just over three years later, because I cherish irreplaceable experiences like this one so deeply. This version, written freely for no one but me, gives a richer hint of the actual experience. Reading it now brings back so much joy and excitement I want to share. Enjoy:
I’m old enough to know that I will forget this unforgettable thing if I don’t take it all down, and it was far too good to let slip into a haze. I am 36 years old and I just returned from a four day adventure to Seattle with the Tumbleweed Crew. Some trips in life go down in your personal history as peak times. This was just such a journey.
I’m the first to arrive at the Sonoma County Airport on Friday morning, and I get at least 15 minutes to wonder if I got something wrong before I see Jay Shafer checking in at the computers to the right of the doors. His head is down and he doesn’t see me at first, but when he does he smiles and we hug. For one moment before he saw me I had this sudden thought that he would somehow not recognize me, or would not be welcoming, but that fled my mind as we talked and I remembered how much I liked him when I met him at his workshop in Sebastopol four years ago. In a few minutes Steve Weissmann, the business genius of Tumbleweed, arrives with Alicia Feltman, the web designer, artist, and all-around tech diva. We all board the plane together, though our seats are scattered on the small Alaska Airlines prop plane.
I’m seated next to the skin of the plane, but directly above the wing with no window to look out of as we take off. The young guy sitting next to me stows his skateboard in the overhead compartment and so I ask him if he’s traveling light. Turns out he’s put his bag in the cart, just like me, and he tells me he’s going home to Seattle from his first trip to Sonoma County. We pass the time in conversation about what’s fun in Seattle, and I talk about the tiny house thing a bit. He doesn’t have Facebook, and I’m shocked, but he says he’s going to start one up, so I give him my card and tell him to find me on FB when he joins the herd. I consider this practice for a future containing much networking and business card distribution.
At the Seattle airport we find our way to our rental car after many wrong turns, and then get a bit lost on our way to the hotel. Steve ends up taking a wrong turn down a (thankfully deserted) one way street, but we make our way and the valet meets us at the front of the hotel to park the car. Our hotel is the Courtyard Marriot Pioneer Square, newly opened within the renovated Alaska Building, which was constructed in 1904 and was the tallest building in Seattle at that time. It’s beautiful, and the renovation is respectful, leaving much of the old architectural detail intact and visible in a lovely way. Unfortunately, like everyplace these days, screens are everywhere, with little individual TVs at many tables in the Bistro, big flat screens on two walls, and a touch screen news and weather panel in the main lobby.
Friday afternoon after we all check in and throw our bags in our rooms we meet at the hotel Bistro for a minute then head out to Olympia to have dinner and see Dee’s house. It takes us three hours to make a seventy minute drive, but finally we enter Anthony’s Hearthfire Grill, built on pilings over Budd Inlet. It’s surrounded by water but the interior is too bright to see out very well. I would love to have eaten here just an hour or two earlier when the sun was still setting. Dee introduces us to the hostess, a young woman she’s been living next door to since she was 12 years old, and we sit down to enjoy a wonderful meal. The menu is small and upscale with lots of fresh local ingredients and I get a little steak and asparagus with roast fingerling potatoes in gold and brilliant purple. Eventually I eat everything but I’m too full to finish my last purple potato, which I make Christopher (Smith, co-creator with Merete Mueller of TINY; The Movie) eat because he’s still hungry.
Dee’s place is adorable, and it’s lovely to look at all her details and talk about it with her for a while. Jay sneaks out to smoke a cigarette and I follow him and ask him for one, which he gives gladly. We stand together under the roof overhang on Dee’s little sauna talking about smoking and I share how hard it is to find another type of break that will give me the same latitude to escape everything else for a few minutes and be alone.
On the way back to our hotel I notice a glowing arch in the sky around the downtown area lit in vibrant multicolor. After a pause in conversation I bring it up, asking if anyone noticed it, and the only person who seems to have seen it is Alicia, so I have no idea what it is. We stop by an Irish bar called Fado and have a couple more drinks, then head back to the Alaska building. Back in our room Alicia and I stay up until four talking about our kids, our childhoods, our Sonoma County connections, and a deeply interesting and random assortment of everything else. The last thing I remember clearly is bonding over our mutual disgust at the notion of embalming and burying our dead bodies in elaborate caskets; a “final fuck you to the earth” is her memorable and fitting description. We’re both more inclined toward being composted.
Saturday morning we’re up at 6:00AM (!) to prepare for the workshop. We eat in the Bistro at the hotel, after switching tables three times to avoid screens, and head up to the 14th floor to get ready. Alicia and I spread out the books, plans, samples, and name tags and start checking people in. Deek Diedrikson, the mad scientist of recycled tiny structures, shows up with Christopher Smith, the guy shooting TINY (the film that will bring the tiny house movement to the masses*) just before Dee gets started, and I meet Takeshi Okada, the Tumbleweed architect and draftsman, a little later in the morning.
At lunchtime we all gather around a parking spot a mile away to see Sharon Read’s (of Seattle Tiny Homes) tiny house. Steve ferries some workshop people in his rented SUV and many just walk. Outside the tiny house, a workshop attendee I’ve met before tells me how she manages to go for weeks without washing her hair. She uses cocoa powder to dry shampoo it. Later I got a chance to hug her for a nice long hug and sniff her hair, and she smells great.
Afterwards Steve, Jay, Takeshi, Alicia, Deek, Christopher and I have lunch with Sharon and her husband and son at a nearby brew pub. I order a grilled BLT panini and barely eat it because I’m too busy talking to Sharon to try and convince her to bring a house to Sonoma County for five weeks for the 2013 Sonoma County Fair Hall of Flowers. I actually asked Takeshi to switch me chairs so I could talk to her while we ate. She ordered sweet potato fries to hold off her son who was three and tired, but they arrived covered in sugar salt and cinnamon, and she thought they would be too spicy for him. We all tried them, but they weren’t very good. Not spicy, but not very good either. After we get back from lunch I spent a little time talking outside the room with Deek Christopher and Alicia, then we get back in the room to listen to the rest of Dee’s presentation.
Saturday night is the night of nights. Steve announces he’s taking us all to Palisade for dinner to celebrate Alicia’s birthday. The restaurant sends a car out to fetch guests, and when we arrive the restaurant is stunning. Once again, we’re on a point surrounded by water, but this time the windows, lights and view work together perfectly. Tall masts crowd the foreground to one side, and the entire skyline of Seattle glows across the water like a string of jewels. I can see the Space Needle and the arc of that same glowing rainbow in the city. Although it’s prominently visible in the skyline outside the restaurant, strangely, no one mentions it – including me. I guess I’ll have to wait to find out what that crazy thing is. In the meantime, a waiter places a linen napkin across my lap, sprinkles rose petals on the table and brings us our wine list on a couple iPads. The menu has a fabulous range of seafood, and the prices take my breath away. I look at Ahi three ways, but it’s $50. I end up choosing wild salmon with rice, asparagus, and a roast salmon and cheese stuffed tomato. Coincidentally, Steve orders the Ahi three ways. He also orders a couple bottles of delicious red wine, and between three of us we polish them off.
Sunday Steve is too hungover to come out of his room all day, so we conduct ourselves without him. I spent Sunday lunch with three ladies from the workshop and enjoyed talking with them about composting worms, chickens, and cooking, and recommending great books to each other. At the end of the workshop the woman who powders her hair with cocoa gives me a wonderful looking jar of homemade pear preserves with bourbon and cardamom.
Sunday night Deek, Alicia, Christopher and I take a cab to Capitol Hill because Christopher says he likes that area. We start off at Bimbos Cantina, decorated in Luchadore masks, and Christopher orders a vegetarian burrito. When it arrives he takes one bite and notices it’s very meaty. He’s thrown, and we’re all a little surprised and annoyed, but he shrugs it off. The meal has already been served and he doesn’t want it to go to waste, plus he’s starving, so he eats the burrito. We have a good time laughing and talking, then the check comes and the burrito is revealed to be the meat lover! After that we stroll down the street to a moody interesting spot called Grim’s. Everything inside is old dark wood and battered recycled materials of all kind. Bare bulbs hang on long cords from the vaulted ceiling and the face of the bar is covered with narrow little drawers – unfortunately they either don’t open, or they flip down to reveal blank wall behind them. Deek orders something called Dark & Stormy made with rum, ginger beer, and lime that is ever so yummy. The bathrooms are all unisex in the bars, and the floor has a little utility tub on the floor, probably intended for emergency use in case of a chemical spill, that I take photos of because I imagine it might come in useful in a little house.
On Monday we get up a little late and meet at the hotel cafe at 10 am. I believe it’s during this breakfast Christopher talks about his father and remote viewing, and we discuss Ken Wilbur and his holon theory. How I cherish those oddball talks you never expect to have! The morning is all about reading through evaluations and figuring out the workshop flow for Saturday. People want more hands on, so we talk a lot about samples, demos, using tape on the floor for floor planning, and bringing models we can easily break down and set up.
During a long lunch we walk to the harbor steps, turn right down Post Alley, admire the gum wall, make our way to Pike’s Place market, eat lunch at Athenian (pan seared sea scallops in a bed of wilted spinach with sun-dried tomato cream sauce for me). There’s somehow a palpable cool factor about the group of us – especially Takeshi in his motorcycle gear, carrying his helmet -striding down quiet urban streets lined with historic buildings that makes Steve remark that he’d love to shoot a high def video of us and edit it down ironically into the kind of slow motion action film sequence you see as the heroes head into battle, delighting my geek side. I can see it perfectly. We take a few pictures of ourselves sitting on the bronze pig, and fetch some sticky notes on our way back to the hotel. Monday afternoon, we get the schedule and extra content nailed down for our workshops.
Monday night is relaxed. Drinking wine and eating cheese olives and pickled raisins at Lecosho for hours. Introducing Steff to everybody, and seeing she and Alicia figure out people they know in common. Christopher confessing that he’s ordered meat on purpose – the local grass fed beef burger on a crisp sourdough artisan roll smells amazing and apparently tastes even better, because he jokes about how he’ll be waking up in the night gnawing on Merete’s arm after he gets home. Saying goodbye to Christopher and Deek, talking about how I wish I could meet Merete too. Drawing the elegant French lady into our conversation as she stood to swirl her tailored coat around her shoulders in preparation to leave. Turns out she owns a winery in Eastern Washington and her husband comes to talk to us. He’s American, and he loves the idea of our tiny house specialty; he says “I need a small house and a big workshop” and I wholeheartedly agree. He leaves us his card, and Alicia picks it up and says “I’ll follow up with him after we get back” and Jay says “Thank you”.
I will savor these little memories for the rest of my life. Laughing for hours over the midget drawing story and everything else in that beautiful dark restaurant while drinking silky Pinot. Talking privately with Jay about the tragedies of our parents; revealing my mother in her trick riding carnival traveling burlesque dancer era, where she once went on stage without her g-string because she simply forgot it. Telling him about her death. Jay finally gathering up the courage to ask our bartender if she saw his drawing, then asking us to speak to her privately and tell her he’s retarded just before we leave. Walking home from Locosho with Jay and Alicia, talking about how Steve uses his powers for good, and how remarkable it is that he likes herding these crazy tiny house cats. Talking about novels with Alicia; She’s Come Undone, Ahab’s Wife, Two or Three Things I Know for Sure, Bastard Out of Carolina. Getting up at 5:45 and checking out the garbage truck and the alley for the last time. Getting lost on the way to the airport the next morning. “Stop talking about coffee and help me navigate”. Detouring to the topless Tuesday coffee shack (they wear bikinis). The reluctant apologetic TSA official taking my homemade jam away for destruction.
Landing on return, circling into the Santa Rosa airport for the first time, seeing egrets in their timeless hunting stance not far from the runway. Even something as practical as touching down in a commuter plane has its own magic unique to it in this beautiful place I call home, and I’m brimming with gratitude as I realize I’m as delighted to return as I am to adventure.