We had arrived at the airport early in the morning, bright eyed honeymooners overly eager to begin the long awaited break that was desperately needed after the months of planning and preparation for the big day that had so recently passed. We removed our shoes, scanned our bags, and waited in the pink glow of the early morning that spilled from the tarmac through the giant plate glass windows. On that first flight we were able to share a set of two seats, up and down into the air so quickly that the small seat-belt light above the tray tables never flickered off.
Disembarking into a maze of persons with places other to be than an airport in Minneapolis, we checked our watches and stopped for a drink, disregarding that it was still barely mid-morning. We had a long day ahead of us, classic travelers eagerly crossing trains, planes, and automobiles off our checklist for the day. As we arrived at our gate we were beckoned forward, no need to wait when the timing had worked out so well. I smiled at my new bride as I handed her a boarding pass, promising that I would take the middle seat on the way back from the Pacific if she would make the sacrifice on the way out. I ended up being untrue to my word, but that is perhaps a story for another time.
Our seats had been carefully selected online months prior to the trip, but after the wedding preparation process paying attention to minute details was no longer maniacal. What we had not been able to prepare for was the drunkard who would join us on our trek to the Pacific Northwest, an apologetic boy with a scraggly goatee who explained his pungent odor as a side-effect of his nerves at flying for the first time. I did my best to distract my wife, my efforts unsuccessful nature revealed by her whispering about how I would undoubtedly be positioned in the middle seat on the return flight. The usual preflight rig-a-ma-roll ensued as the pilot introduced himself and the flight attendant went through her choreographed routine. Wheels up, out of Minnesota and into the atmosphere in a flash.
As we soared above the plains I tried to put my undergraduate coursework in geography to the test by speculating about the true identity of rivers and cities that slipped by soundlessly below. Every once in a while my musing would catch the attention of our seatmate and he would chime in, offering little in the way expertise but too much conversation. As the stewardess dropped more mini-bottles on his tray table I could tell both his presence and the day were beginning to wear away the patience of my traveling partner. We did our best to avoid any confrontation, curtly answering any questions in a way that would have made a more sober person demure and flip through the in-flight magazine quietly. Mercifully, Mt. Rainier finally appeared above the clouds, signaling our arrival into Seattle while ensuring our approaching freedom from our new acquaintance.
The aircraft dove through the clouds above Puget Sound as we approached SEA-TAC, allowing us our first views of the city which was partially illuminated by a breaking in the clouds to the west. Thousands of house windows blinked in the early evening twilight as we barreled toward the runway, combining with the reflection off the water to make the entire metro glitter. Tray tables up, wheels down, up the concourse and into the late afternoon sunlight streaming through the windows of the baggage claim we went. Our bags met us quickly, ensuring that we were not able to fully gain our bearings before embarking out of the airport and toward the train.
SEA-TAC is the end of the line on the Central Link Light Rail, and we clutched our checked bags as the empty train car rumbled off the platform north toward downtown. The clouds had fully broken, and new passengers streamed in with the sunshine as we passed through Othello Station. As we inched closer together we sailed past Safeco Filed, home of the Mariners, and plunged into the darkness of the Pioneer Square station. Our stop had arrived, and we disembarked up the grimy stairs to the humid sea air of south downtown. Noisily, the wheels on our rolling luggage bumped against our heels as we hastily fought the steep gradient on our way down to the waterfront, bums laughing from a bench beneath a totem pole at the country bumpkins exchanging stressed looks with one another. One glance at my wife told me she was not pleased.
Finally, we arrived at our hotel. Exhaling as we tried to shake off the hurry up and wait mindset that always seems to accompany travel, we got our room keys and found our way to the elevator. The boutique hotel I had chosen as a surprise underwhelmed, but we were grateful for shelter after a day spent shuffling through crowded thoroughfares. Our fresh faces of the morning had been lined with exhaustion as we quietly changed our clothes and scanned the map of restaurants provided by the clerk at the front desk. Starved and weary we agreed that we would head the block to the waterfront after participating in the complimentary wine hour provided at the hotel.
Lightly buzzing yet unrefreshed we disembarked from the art-deco lobby and headed for the waterfront. Boats were milling about the Sound, many of our fellow tourists were quickly getting trapped, and an overwhelming number of vagabonds were begging on nearly every spare bit of pavement. We stopped at a promising looking restaurant, asked to see a menu, then immediately left without really exchanging a word after eyeing the offerings and price points. Back into the rapidly fading twilight we went, lost in the confusion and weariness that come with traveling in an unknown city with no agenda. After a couple more unsuccessful attempts to find a restaurant, a bit of a scare from a disheveled woman who bursted out singing in a scraggly voice behind us on the sidewalk, and a heated exchange about which direction to head we decided to climb back up the hill toward the hotel in the hopes of finding some place or refreshment.
Up several flights of scraggly wood steps appeared to be a cafe, so we started to climb, recessing from the touristy waterfront. Disappointment prevailed as we turned the final landing only to realize that what we had been climbing toward was only a coffee shop, one of the dozens located throughout downtown Seattle. A few more steps and another left turn found us in the bowels of the Pike Place Market. The vendors had all packed and went home for day, leaving the stalls ghastly and empty as the sun slipped the last few inches into the Sound. We paused for a moment, both out of breath from the climb, numb from exhaustion, and on the edge of breakdown from hunger. Both of our eyes were filled with hopeless desperation as we struggled to even push forward up Pike Place further into the city.
Emotions ran high as we glanced down a side street only to not see any viable options, another block and we were both on the verge of tears. An unlikely savior blazed neon in the evening, the sign for a familiar burrito chain that had been a staple of my undergraduate days. I pointed, but was curtly shot down by my spouse who insisted on finding something, anything, we couldn’t get back on our familiar Great Plains. I was on the verge of complete meltdown when we finally turned a corner and saw an open-front bistro with patrons crowded around the bar. Without thoroughly reading the sign beyond, “Bruno’s Italian” we entered, quickly ushered by an old Hispanic woman to a table in a small room at the back of the place.
Happy to have a seat and the promise of a cold beer in the near future, we both scanned the menu, surprised by the offerings. Paying closer attention now, I finished reading the name of the place: “Bruno’s Italian and Mexican Restaurant.” Not quite sure exactly what was to be expected we waited for someone to take our order. Exhaustion and hunger had pushed us both past common courtesy, just two weary travelers lost in a foreign time zone. Finally, the same Hispanic woman who had seated us, wandered over to see if we would like to order. Beer and a calzone for me, fajitas for the lady.
Under the artificial ivy lined trellis, two portly women dressed up in costumes that I surmise were some type of animated characters shuffled in. The beers arrived and I sank back into the damp, unairconditoned heat of the backroom and took a sip as I eagerly waited for our food to arrive. After a time my bride’s entree showed up, and I continued to stew in the uncharacteristic heat of the early September evening. Ten more minutes went by, each adding to the malice that hunger had poured into my veins until at last an old Italian man turned the corner with a plate in his hand. My eyes surely grew wide as he meandered past the table to place the dish in front of one of the cartoon characters a couple tables away. As he exited back to another part of the restaurant the percolating frustration inside of me finally boiled over.
In hushed tones I unleashed a rant of surely epic proportions on the disinterested ears of my new wife, her still only a single bite into the fajitas she had ordered, looking down with the knowledge that at this point it was the fault of circumstance that we had arrived at such a sour note on the first night of our honeymoon. I cannot recall what was said, only that after awhile the old man, Bruno, I assume, arrived again in the backroom to inquire as to what I had ordered. As he scurried back to the kitchen to “checka the progress” it was evident that the order had been misplaced, and my wife looked at me with a fearful gaze.
A few minutes later my food arrived with a side of apologies from the man, and my frustration dissolved now that an end to my hunger was below my nose. With a smile he shuffled off, and I apologized to my bride both for my unpleasant behavior as well as her having to wait to eat her food. She just shook her head, and I assumed that I had damaged the mood of the evening beyond repair. However, her face broke into the fainest of smiles as she continued to look at me across the table in the glow of the year-round colorful Christmas lights that illuminated the table.
“What?” I asked.
“They used tomato sauce from the Italian food as fajita sauce,” she replied, shaking her weary head as I chuckled.
In a normal situation we may have sent the food back, but in our exhausted state she just decided to pick at the entree before declining a carryout box. We were grateful to have had a little sustenance, a place down the street to sleep after our long journey, and the company of one another. We paid our tab and wandered back out into the bustling downtown district, stopping at a corner grocery to buy a case of beers before our tired steps led us past numerous dining options that had been only a block in another direction on the way back back to the hotel lobby. We had weathered our first meltdown as a married couple, our night playing out so different than I had imagined when booking flights and hotel rooms months before, much like the experience of marriage would unfold in unimaginable ways in the weeks that would follow. In both that moment and the months after we were happy to simply have each other, no matter the circumstance. Leaving the elevator we trudged the final few steps to our room, both collapsing on the bed as the door shut, falling asleep with the unopened case of beers next to the bed.