Skate King

Roller skating was a thing back in the late 80’s, early 90’s.

Growing up, yes I spent some time learning to bicycle, but my father was more interested in roller skating. I too grew interested over time. I remember having a birthday party or two at a skating rink.

On weekends, when I was visiting him, my father would put on his own skates and he’d be listening to music, riding backwards around Greenlake on weekends, shaking his booty and whatnot. As for me, I wasn’t really that good, despite all the time spent at various rinks. At least I graduated from hugging the wall and could go fast and stop well.

Skate King in Bellevue was our regular spot.

Things I recall about Skate King:

  • The smell. The place always smelled like a gym with bad ventilation. Add in the smells of popcorn, cheap hot dogs, pizza, and pretzels being kept warm, musty shag carpet, and years of smoking before it was banned and you get the general idea.
  • The sounds. 80’s pop rock, wheels and brakes on concrete, metal locker doors slamming, the chatter of kids and parents, the DJ announcing games: “Four Corners”, “Red Light Green Light”, etc.
  • Sights: Benches for large numbers of skaters to lace in and out. Again, red shag carpet. Round couches to take a break on. A suspended white ceiling with fluorescent lighting. A large neon mural that would glow under the black lights. Old arcade cabinets in attract mode. A wall for kids and beginner skaters to hold on to as they went around. A DJ booth with hundreds of vinyl records and plexiglass to contain the sound around the mike. A snack bar area. (I don’t think I ever ate there; we packed our own food I’m pretty sure.)
  • Putting on old skates and getting them to fit. Skates where the foot bed was worn through and you’d feel the frame, the wheels were worn funny on one side (because you’d always be going counter-clockwise 95% of the time). The sensation of falling and flailing suddenly. The sensation of being hit or run into by falling skaters. Going from the safe and slow surface of the carpet to the fast smooth surface of the rink.

My Dad, bless him, taught me patiently to skate backwards but I never figured it out. But really what it was all about was at least finding something physical to do that I enjoyed. I never got the hang of team sports, unfortunately.

Skate King is closing at the end of May (2015), which is sad, but given I haven’t been back there in years, perhaps it is time for it to pass on.

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Sakura-Con 2015

With Sakura-con coming up, the original agreement I had with Hitomi was, I’ll watch the kids, and Hitomi can spend the weekend with the guests.

Well, h.Naoto was back this year and given I was assigned to him, I knew I couldn’t manage him with two children. I scrambled a bit to get my parents and Ilana to help out watching Leo and Luca.

Thursday

I didn’t take off Thursday, but I did get a call around 3PM asking for my help. So on my bicycle I went, carrying my clothing and computer in panniers for the extended weekend.

Naoto was setting up his booth, and by the time I did arrive I met him at the Cheesecake Factory with his assistant/publisher Ms. Yamamoto. Naoto was pretty surprised but happy to see me. R wasn’t able to make it this year (due to financial reasons, i.e. not getting paid like she expected), which disappointed both of us since R’s nice to work with and beautiful, of course. Anyway, with lunch/dinner wrapped up around 4PM, and we’re ready to go, of course the wait staff wasn’t on hand, and I went direct to the counter, which turned me back to the table.

With young children, this comes up often in restaurants: Asking me to wait is fairly problematic. When I need to leave a restaurant, I need to leave then and there. Of course, in this case, mostly it was a problem of needing to set up for tomorrow.

Back to the booth: I met up with David, who was assigned (“at the last-minute”) to work with me. Of course there was a bit of confusion as to how much time I could spend helping Naoto, and since he was new, it seemed like a good idea to pair him with someone experienced.

What I ended up doing, mainly, was calculating the appropriate dollar amount for clothing items (after calculating a 50% price increase from the original yen). Mainly, I would divide by 12. I was carrying around a calculator and pen, thinking to myself, “Why am I doing this?” But in the end, the work needed to be done anyway, before my guest could do anything else that evening.

The booth was run by Harry and several other ladies. I’m not sure why Naoto didn’t just let them do all the boring retail work, but maybe he was being nice. Since most of what I could do (simple arithmetic) was done, I excused myself for the “staff signing.”

Staff signing usually consists of me behind the long row of tables with my guest, but this year I was with Hitomi gathering signatures. It was kind of amusing, because this was really the first time ever we got to actually get signatures. The odd thing, of course, is that the American guests—who Hitomi and I don’t really know that well—were lined up before the Japanese, and well, it seemed inappropriate to walk past them, and stop in front of just people we knew. Of course, we didn’t know half the Japanese guests either…Still, isn’t it just a bit a waste to get signatures of people you don’t need?

The signing ended and following that is the Thursday night “Industry Dinner.” Which is neither really a dinner (maybe a cocktail party?) or exclusively industry. There’s a lot of staff and maybe press? But mostly it’s just people who seem to be interested in free food.

Although I previously stated via Facebook, I didn’t have a complaint about Sakura-con, I do have some important suggestions to make here: It’s weird to bring honored guests from Japan and have them deal with navigating an American style cocktail party/buffet. And actually, it wasn’t really a true buffet, just a bunch of finger foods in steamer trays, and which most of the time was thoroughly pilfered. As for drinks, there were not so great drinks: For example, no draft or micro beers. And unfortunately for ambiance, this all took place in a noisy cave-like place with limited seating.

The gold standard for the Thursday night dinner is the arrangement we made many years ago at the Palace Kitchen, where there was plenty of good, fulfilling food and places to sit, importantly. The only downside, being that the Palace Kitchen is a bit of a walk from the hotel.

Friday

I knew already (without being asked) that people working the booth need convenient food and drinks. Luckily I had my bicycle and knew that I could get some piroshki at Pike Place Market: Keep well, easy to eat, and filling. Oh, and coffee from nearby.

The convention center amply has what I call industrial food (e.g. pizza and hotdogs) inside, and places like Subway lurk outside. Yet, nobody working a booth wants to leave if they don’t have to, and especially when you do need to eat have to wait in a huge line. My recommendation as a guest liaison is to think ahead the night before as to where and how easy it will be for your guest to eat. Even if you plan on having time, sight-seeing may trump the time it takes to stop to eat.

If anything, if you buy extra food that isn’t consumed, there’s usually someone around who hasn’t eaten and will be glad to help.

Many years ago, I used to buy boxes of bottled green tea, but then the convention center food service folk put an end to that. My recommendation is to buy enough bottles for you and your guest to have on hand.

Most of the day, I hovered around the convention center and walked around, as Naoto was at his booth and wouldn’t need me until closing that day. Still, when dealer’s room closed, there was a bit of work to set up for the next day. After a few hours, finally we headed off to the guest reception dinner at the Fairmont Hotel.

The guest reception dinner is the best chance for attendees to meet our guests. I would say, if you are serious about actually talking to a particular guest, then the dinner is really the best way to meet them. There are the autograph events, but having 2-3 hours with a guest is quite an honor and privilege you don’t get at any other convention.

Though every year, there are a couple of problems that surface with such an event: Often due to different circumstances, a guest shows up late and can find no place to sit. Also, some guests are seemingly unpopular. Actually, they might be generally popular, but not popular as some other guests attendees want to see. And depending on the situation, guests can often not have time to eat, as eating and talking simultaneously isn’t that possible. Given the seating, attendees can camp around guests they like and prevent others from getting to talk. And some attendees show up, but can’t manage to speak up. And worse what can happen is that it turns into a sketch and signing gathering, which isn’t really what it is about. But you know there’s a problem when attendees bring in plastic binders of signature boards and bags of Copic markers to a dinner.

In my case, very few attendees wanted to talk to Naoto, I didn’t have enough seats, and we were seated with attendees who didn’t want to ask anything. So David and I got some beers and just chatted amongst ourselves.

Logistically, it would all be better if attendees could simply choose the preference on who they would like to sit near, then the table seating could be pre-arranged for the attendees, avoiding fights and bad feelings. And there really should be no signing, sketching, video, or pictures…because there’s a lot of overlap with other convention events. And it really distracts from the purpose of the event, which is to talk to guests.

Saturday

Today was the day of the fashion show; the most important day for my guest.

I knew there would be no time for breakfast or lunch. So I got up early again, in search of rice-based food at Uwajimaya. I discovered, although they open at 8AM, there is no fresh bento lunches until much later. So I bicycled back to the Pike Place Market and bought french sandwiches and yet more piroshki.

The schedule was roughly this: 10-11AM we rehearse, practice the walks, and work with the sound and stage crew on lighting and video. Then there was hair, makeup, and fittings.

There were about 13 female models, some with actual experience, and many new faces, but fortunately it was an easy walk-on, walk-off. I did my best translating and talking to Naoto and the Sakura-con staff, who were very helpful. It was just going to be a 15-20 minute show but there’s a lot going on when you’re in front of an audience.

Once the rehearsal ended, we were back in the dressing room. Of course, few if any of the models had brought food so my food went to them. And then we sent David on a run to buy more things to eat.

I was going to make an appearance on stage. Naoto wrote down what he was going to say, I translated. And of course I find out the problem with that, which is he does not stick with the order of what he wants to talk about…

Incidentally, where was a question of time. Programming had somehow bumped back the show to 2:15PM, yet the Guidebook application was showing the show from 2:30PM. Which meant that attendees might end up missing the show. I had tried to make several calls to update the Guidebook to no effect. Since we were running late with the makeup and hair, it didn’t seem like we could make 2:15 anyway.

But we were on time, at least we arrived backstage at around 2:15. There was a bit of a scare as we took the freight elevator and I hadn’t quite figured out the controls. It was a then the decision to start or not start right away. Well, we started around 2:22 I think, which I guess was splitting the 2:15 and 2:30 difference.

I was wearing Naoto’s black jacket (it fit!) and made my appearance in front of the audience of … I couldn’t see anybody with the bright lights in my eyes, just as well. After saying thank you, Naoto went off script, I tried to read off my translation, it obviously wasn’t corresponding to anything, and plainly obvious. So a bit of a laugh I guess. But then after, things were okay.

Post show, there was a lot of good cheer, photographs, and makeup removal. David and I helped move things back to the booth and again, we were on our own.

Hitomi and I don’t often get to go to the Saturday night concert at Sakura-con, but with Naoto having dinner with his booth staff, I had a chance. Although I admit later, Naoto did contact me and ask if I wanted to go eat with him, I did turn him down, saying I had to watch the kids. Which was true.

Well, Hitomi and I brought the kids to the concert. I didn’t know how well it’d work out, but with the lighting and energy in the room, Leo and Luca had a lot of fun. It was loud, of course, but Luca didn’t want to wear his ear protection.

Sunday

Sunday’s always on Easter, which makes for an extra quiet last day compared to most conventions. Which is just as well, as sleep deprivation eventually catches up to even the youngest of us.

The original plan with Naoto, was, post convention to head to a shooting range. For which there are plenty in the Seattle area, even there are many open every day of the year. The problem is that I couldn’t find one with a coach on Easter. I think, if you wanted to do something fun and that’s still illegal in Japan, marijuana might be a better option than firing a gun.

With my parents coming by in the afternoon, and Hitomi busy, I had both the kids to watch. I tried taking them to the convention craft room, but Luca was really too young to do anything there. Leo wanted me to fold something, but he couldn’t really fold origami on his own, either. Then discovering Luca’s poopy diaper, I bailed, and instead headed to Pacific Place for an early lunch.

Feeding two young kids on your own is a bit like juggling cats. Leo’s finally getting more self-sufficient, but Luca’s entered a fussy phase of refusing to try anything new. It used to be I could shove a spoon full of something in Luca’s mouth and he’d just simply eat it. Now he uses both arms to great effect.

I also bought some clam chowder (a combination) for Naoto and Yamamoto and headed back to their booth. Unfortunately, they were busy then and busy two hours after the hall closed at 4PM. Still, I made reservations, and so we were going to (finally) get dinner at a nice restaurant at 7:30PM. So with only about an hour, any sort of major sight-seeing was off the table, but I had my car ready and we managed to take a trip to Kerry Park on Queen Anne, overlooking the Space Needle. (We were going to not appear at the closing dinner, which was just as well, given the things I had heard.)

Three years prior Naoto didn’t even get to see anything in Seattle but Pike Place right before it closed. And he had said he never got to do any major sight-seeing in other cities he’s had shows in. Obviously, he’s a hard-working man, but a major draw of coming to an anime convention our guests is indulging in eating, a bit of sight-seeing, and shopping.

We all had a nice quiet dinner. Anthony’s Pier 66 wasn’t my first choice for the evening but it had a nice selection of seafood, oysters, and wine. David picked out a nice bottle of white. And the huckleberry and blackberry desserts were surprisingly good, with the right proportion of sweet, sour, warm and cold.

It was the final night for h.Naoto, but not for me, who took off Monday to help out with some remaining guests.

Monday

Hitomi left in the morning to go to work and take the kids to daycare.

So I had no car, but we needed something for the guests. There was no problem with Sakura-con renting another car and I managed to score a 7-seater Lexus at Hertz. At Hertz, there was only one person manning the phone and line, who was overly nice and enthusiastic, especially when it came to their super-duper insurance. (If it were me, I’d forgo paying another $100 a day, but so be it.)

We took people to the Museum of Flight. I kept my membership from last year, so I got a few folks in pretty cheap. I’m not a real flight enthusiast, and perhaps a few of the guests were not either, but it’s still great to see aviation history all hanging from a glass ceiling.

Afterwards, Sumi Shimamoto and her lovely daughter, wanted to go watch shopping for her father. Watch shopping is something I have never done since my college days in Japan, back when G-Shock Casio watches were peaking in popularity. (Hitomi had one herself.) The particular one we were looking for, of course, no store carried. The rumor is luxury goods are cheaper in the U.S., but the true price depends on the currency you’re spending, and the yen has been weak.

Run Sasaki and Sumi were hanging out, and I took a much-needed nap on some chair outside Macy’s. With dinner only about an hour or so away, we left the mall and I decided to take them on a little journey again to Queen Anne Hill, to Kerry Park. I don’t think anybody knew how to work their cameras properly, but whatever, there was the Space Needle! I really wish we had some time to walk around a bit, but…dinner!

Dinner was again at Eugene’s uncles’ place (?), near Greenlake. Hitomi and the kids came and we again had our own table. Luckily things were a little more laid back with the children, but with any long meal it’s a challenge to keep them occupied, at least until dessert arrives.

And so the kids go home again, I take the guests back to the hotel, drop of Lillian in the middle of the night, head back home (with my bicycle in the trunk), and guess what? I have some guests going to the airport at 6:30AM the next day.

Tuesday

I had to work, but my work starts at 10AM, so I had the morning for the airport run. I actually hugged the guests at the airport, whereas most Japanese manage a bow and if anything a weak handshake. I don’t suppose they minded, I figured it would seem more American that way.

Eugene got the car, dropped me off at home so I could work. But then for lunch I met up with Run, Sumi, Rick, etc. again. I convinced the group to go see the tulips in Mt Vernon. (For the full experience, I suggested Deception Pass and a ferry from Whidbey Island, but I don’t think they were up for a long day.)

And again, I got invited to dinner, which was fried chicken at Ma’ono. Oh, and I brought the kids and wife but they didn’t expect to run into Run Sasaki and the rest of them…

So ends my convention experience for 2015.

Suggestions for Next Year

It’d be best to pre-arrange car rentals for post-convention travel use. Car rentals are always cheaper this way.

The Industry Dinner needs to serve better food and drink, be less crowded, and better suit the tastes of Japanese.

Do away with autographing, sketches and possibly photography for the guest reception. Also, allocate attendee seating per guest, possibly charge more for attendees.

A better theater for music performances, which I know isn’t realistic in some ways, but honestly larger conventions use outside venues. AX, Otakon, Fanime all use proper theaters.

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As a young cyclist

My son Leo (3) has his first pedal bike. He has had a couple of push bikes and a balance bike, but Leo wants to ride with pedals.

How did I start to ride? My mom or dad could weigh in, but what I recall is my dad had a plastic carrier on the back of a frame. I’m not sure how much my dad rode, to be honest, as even when I had many bikes throughout my youth, I don’t remember him on a bike. When we went to ride Greenlake, for example, he’d be on roller skates.

Anyway, I grew up early on in Burien, on a little subdivision near the airport. I recall one important goal of my youth: To be able to ride before the age of 5.

I rode on borrowed Hot Wheels. I remember the huge front tires, and how the plastic would be whittled away, and in some cases worn through. There was a cul-de-sac where there was a bit of a hill and you could spin around and somehow there were ramps and whatnot to jump off of.

As for my actual first bike, I remember a training wheels bike. Red, perhaps? The training wheels were cheap white plastic, held on by metal brackets. I think mine were not attached well and eventually came off one day and I had to rely on balance to hold myself up.

Bicycling at around age 5-6 or so, I remember transitioning to my older sister’s red Schwinn. Actually, I’m not sure of the brand, but it was too large and had a big seat, big wheels, swept back handlebars with white plastic grips. It felt really awkward. I remember skinning my toes pretty badly one day, when I wore sandals foolishly, and dragged my feet underneath the pedals. There were probably way too many accidents to remember but I got plenty of pleasure out of riding anyway.

Where did I ride? I had a friend in the neighborhood, Trent. I rode to his place and back, which was a short walk, really. I don’t recall venturing out of there, as basically there was just one busy street outside of the subdivision on a steep hill.

For some reason I recall just riding alone. It wasn’t until my parents divorced and I moved to Seattle did I find somebody to ride with me. Did my sisters ride? I don’t really remember much with them. My oldest sister had a ten speed, blue bike with drop bars. I remember the story of when she rode one day ten times around Greenlake, and how impressive of a distance that was. (Maybe 28 miles?)

When I moved to N 6oth street, I rode to McDonald Elementary. At that time, it was no longer an Elementary, but maybe used as storage or a community center? Anyway, it had a really cool playground, with an interesting and expansive wooden structure. And nearby (in “Tangletown” which it wasn’t known for at the time) was a mini-mart with cheap candy, desserts, etc. Opening later was the Honey Bear Bakery, a produce stand, and later deli. North on Latona was (and still is) a mini-mart run by Koreans. A little further afield was Greenlake and its paths. And when I was older I would bike to N 50th, Meridian School, and play in its fields.

This was my known cycling universe as a kid. I rode the sidewalks and streets when no cars were around. I rode by myself. I discovered all the ways to ‘beat’ the hills, or all the side streets I could maneuver safely through. The idea, suggested by my parents, was that don’t count on cars to see you; to pretend you were invisible. So whenever a car would appear I would dart up somebody’s driveway onto the sidewalk.

Summer times, besides spending time on the computer, was also making the neighborhood rounds. I’d take money from my mom, go buy a sandwich or snack, and head down to Greenlake for the day.

I had no helmet until about Middle School. It wasn’t common in the early 90’s, but when I was moving further afield and my parents finally got me a red Fuji bicycle, it seemed appropriate. This was a Fuji; a serious bicycle from an actual bicycle store. My friend Jeremy was living about 2 hilly miles away, so well within bicycling distance, but there were lots of busy streets in between, but I rode anyway.

Luckily I have completely avoided accidents with cars and really only hurt myself. I rode my bicycle, for example, into a bunch of gravel off the Greenlake path and really scraped my legs. One time I flipped coming downhill into a surprise pothole on NE 65th Street, late at night, and bruised myself really badly on the road. (The street was finally repaved maybe 10 years after that? Seattle streets, especially those patched up over the ages, are not really safe to ride.)

As I made new friends throughout high school (Kevin, Ian, etc.) I rode further and further afield. There were some bigger hills, but really I didn’t go much further than a few miles from home until high school. High school senior year I had my biggest revelation when I participated in a bike to work rally in Westlake Center. I recall meeting my calculus math teacher and getting lots of free food and drinks. It was also awesome having him show me the route from Downtown Seattle to Garfield. And from then on I started riding by myself to school, which was about 6.5 miles each way.

It wasn’t every day, but it sure beat taking the bus.

Flipping through my high school yearbook, I also saw some pictures of the Lopez Island bike trip that Mr. Hudson would put on. I think I only did that two years, but it sure was a great trip. I recall them renting a great big moving van, they would stack the bicycles in there, then put a layer of plywood on top and stack more of them. Hopefully nobody’s handlebars were ruined.

Those trips to Lopez, I probably got just barely south of Lopez Village, no great feat. But the hills were pretty difficult and it was great fun finally riding on the road, not afraid of cars.

I had some ambitions past senior year for me and friends to ride from Seattle to La Push (160 miles). As I looked at the map, though, I realized I was no match for the distance. Fifty miles a day was inconceivable. Yes, I could ride from Seattle to Marymoor Park and back, but that was brutal. And so instead I planned a trip to the San Juan islands, which turned into a really great time. (That’s a separate post.)

Thinking back, really I was timid about the whole thing. I had to figure out cycling on my own. I really needed a mentor or somebody to ride with me, and my parents (post car accident) weren’t really riding much. I also could have used better equipment or better adjusted equipment, as I doubt I did much more than put air into tires or whatnot until things broke.

Now with kids, they will likely have ever advantage they may want (or not) as a cyclist. I’m not sure they are going to be into it, but I don’t really know of any alternative.

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Two kids on a bike

Weather-wise it’s been a tumultuous week. It definitely feels like autumn now, with all the rain and leaves beginning to fall, but today was summer time temperatures, and definitely a good day to ride.

The morning started with Leo getting up and leaving the bed. I’ve been sharing a bed with him, partially because I often put myself to sleep after story time, but also Hitomi stays up later than I like and wakes me up, and baby Luca wakes me up as well. Leo also has a habit of waking up in the middle of the night and storming into the bedroom scared of ghosts or something. Anyway, once Leo gets up, I have to get up too, because immediately he heads toward the kitchen, which isn’t the safest spot for a 3 year old.

From bed, I can hear the dragging of a chair, and crinkle of plastic wrappers and I knew he just was helping himself to some bread. Yes, some day he might help himself to the knife block and start cutting fruit (or his body) and I’ll have to answer to somebody. But he’s been good. And eventually Hitomi had woken up, after Luca started crying. I heard her head down the stairs, and then I need not worry.

It was Saturday, but Hitomi needed to work. Hitomi left and I ended up with two kids. Timing being what it is, I was left with Leo who had (again) dumped a couple boxes of toys out around. Dumping out toys is okay by me, but then he refused to pick anything up, which got me angry and I yelled at him. After scaring him a bit and cleaning up, I knew we ought to leave as well.

I wanted a bike ride. With two kids on one bike, I headed to Magnuson Park. There’s a bouncy castle area and if anything Leo could use some wearing out.

The park is directly east of my house, on NE 75th street, a street definitely hilly on a regular bicycle but I had an extra 70, maybe 80 pounds of kids and seats on a bicycle weighing 50 pounds. (As an aside: I ought to have put in more air in my tire, but I misplaced my pump value. And I ought to have wore lighter clothing: It was quite warm. But once you have the kids on the bike it’s hard to make yet another trip back to the house.)

NE 75th is quite busy with cars. They have recently painted bike lanes on both sides but given the steepness, I can’t see them encourage much use. Really, there’s no need for bike lanes on the downhill, as they are actually pretty dangerous as drivers don’t always “see” the sides of the roads. On the uphill side, bike lanes are quite useful as anybody but the most fit are crawling up on the lowest gear and speed. With Luca in his car seat strapped to the front of my tandem, drivers, but especially passengers were fairly curious. The expressions I saw from both were a mixture of amusement, surprise, and perhaps concern. For who in their right mind would endanger a baby like this?

I certainly share the sentiment. But baby or not, nobody on a bicycle stands a chance against a 5000 pound SUV.

At least in Seattle, the drivers that do notice you usually do give you plenty of room and pass at a reasonable speed; although there are sometimes cases of not so pleasant encounters. With a baby—who would dare honk at a baby—drivers are friendly. I believe the danger comes from drivers not paying attention. Which, thanks to modern technology, are compelled to pay more attention the virtual world than traffic around them.

We arrive at Arena Sports, mostly indoor soccer, but we’re hear for bouncy castle-land. At around 10:45AM, the bike rack’s mostly empty, but the parking lot is very full. I think it’d be nice if there were more bicyclists around, right? Bouncy castle time is only until 11:30AM, and I’m asked if I would I still like to get in? Of course.

It’s carpeted inside, so Luca gets to crawl around a bit, I surreptitiously check my iPhone and (coincidentally) read yet another article about how cyclists and cycle facilities make car drivers miserable. I try to rest but Leo can’t leave me alone and wants me to play with him. So then I carry around Luca and climb up places I shouldn’t one handed with the baby—and slide down steep slides carrying Luca which is probably not a good idea either. In any case, I want to rest not bounce.

Around closing time, Leo pees himself. This I discover after he asks me to take him to the bathroom. When removing Leo’s pants they’re quite wet. Of course, I find plenty of Luca’s clothes, no change of pants that will fit Leo. I put Leo into a diaper sans pants, and he looks fairly ridiculous as he’s half naked wearing rubber boots. And sadly, Leo looks tired and miserable, especially after giving him a hard time about not going to the toilet. I give up further discussion, and we head to the U District Farmer’s Market for food.

Again with the hills! Ravenna Boulevard’s quite a nice ascent, but fairly excruciating with the weight. I’m hungry but Leo’s now fast asleep, so how are we going to eat? On the flip side, Luca now has an opportunity to eat before we do. I place Leo still in his seat down on the sidewalk, lean him on a building so his head is leaning back, and feed Luca some soup and cantaloupe.

I do my grocery shopping carrying Luca in one hand, trying to pick out veggies with the other. And then the rest of the market is a bit of similar one-armed juggling. I forgot the carrier for Luca, sadly, so I’m stuck lugging Luca’s baby car seat.

Once Leo’s awake we can shop and eat. Leo’s a good follower, fortunately, so I managed a sweep of the stands I like. There’s no wood fired pizza today, which was promised to Leo, but Salvadoran food is good if not better. Luca can eat the cooked plantains, and Leo likes rice and beans.

I find a spot on some grass so we can all sit, but what little grass there is is in the vicinity of some ripe smelling dog shit. Leo and I are shouting kusai! 臭いよ!(it stinks!) to the heavens. I get clever and try to kick the shit into the street, but my kicks are not far enough and the sun has its way with ripening it more on the pavement. Well, I’m hungry so I do what I can to not smell it. And I feed both kids at once. Luca after eating his plaintain is in search of more food crawls up my leg and gets himself fed some part of our pupusas.

Fed, I’m hot. I load the bicycle, take off my long sleeved shirt—now I’m half naked!—and do what I can with two kids and a ton of groceries going home.

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Kayak’s Not Done

I had my first trip yesterday in Lake Union with my new kayak.

Finally, it out in the sunlight, not in the garage and it looked great. It looked like a finished product—at least from a distance—and I was soon to put it into the water. Yes, I knew it would float, but would I fall in love with it?

Earlier that same day, I had taken Leo to the Center for Wooden Boats. They have free public boat rides on Sunday. I showed up at 10:15 and signed up for an Umiak (big canoe) ride for Leo and myself at 1:30. It was a very nice day, so I figured Leo and I could spend few hours near the water and have lunch.

Of course, as soon as I’m in line to sign up, my dad calls. He’s wondering when to meet up and given the timing of things, 4PM. I would have rather seen him earlier, but I had already biked my way down to South Lake Union, there’s no point in leaving until our boat ride was done.

Killing times with kids is pretty easy, if there’s a body of water nearby. There’s a fairly new park with a beach just next to MoHAI, where at around 10:30 in the morning had quite a number of dogs (not kids or adults) splashing about. It all seems a bit brazen of the many dog owners to let them off leash with a nearby sign explaining a $500 max fine for them at the beach.

I’m not really sure what I think of the dog owners, but I knew Leo was going into the water at some point and I know he’s understandably frightened of them.

Having biked my way here, I was soon hungry. Just across the street on Westlake, there’s a row of restaurants, one very large sports bar (capacity 600+) and down a few doors, a barbecue place, with again a sports bar theme. This being Football Sunday, waiters and waitresses were in Seahawks jerseys.

Leo’s actually fun to take out to a restaurant. Every time I’ve done it, it turns out better than I expect. And in many ways it’s easier than with the wife and other kid. Maybe because I don’t have to calibrate Leo’s behavior within the wife’s parameters, or maybe I can just focus my attention on him and the food, rather than the n-way dynamics.

In recent memory: Duke’s Chowder House. I order fried fish and a side of clam chowder; he ate and was happy. (Yeah the neighboring table of made-up ladies gave me dirty looks when he played with the the stanchion rope, but he’s just a kid.) Pizza at Veraci and Tutta Bella was easy. I also remember taking him to Pike’s Place market and eating at a fried fish place. When the food comes quickly, it really makes it easy.

Much like his mother, he’s also really enthusiastic about food. I mean, if you mention cake to Leo the previous day, at breakfast he’s wondering when he’s going to eat cake that day. It’s all a bit absurd.

Anyway, lunch was good. We even had a good time when he went to poop. I’m always impressed with how much cable is laid. It’s always good cheer when your young ones use the toilet like you’ve been asking. And then we were off to the small beach again.

This time, no dogs, and lots of kids. I don’t even manage to take off his shorts before he’s flopping in the water. Though Hitomi always packs in a few changes of clothes, although we had a spare pair after he wet his pants watching a float plane take off nearby—Kenmore Air—we were down to a couple of pull-ups. Dutifully, though, every time after that he peed in the bushes.

Nearby the beach, lots of kids were jumping off a foot bridge. And despite “No Diving No Swimming” signs, parents didn’t seem to mind or even photographed the transgressions, which I thought was a good thing. I had thought to jump as well, but who would watch Leo? Besides, I had no change of underwear and I was going to paddle and still have to bike home.

The Umiak we were about the paddle held about 12 people, plus a captain. Originally only Leo and I were signed up, but later about 10 more high school aged kids came by. And most of them were frightfully obese it became an issue of getting everyone off and on the boat using help from the dock.

Getting the group to paddle was another problem. About half the paddlers paddled, and it was small miracle was we moved at all. The captain (Elizabeth) chose the small bay in the corner of SLU park, which wasn’t very far. After orientation and boarding, we didn’t have a lot of time anyway. We frightened off a sunning turtle or two, but the group still had a good time waving to motor yachts we went by.

I eventually realized that Elizabeth was Betsy, Kevin’s stepmother. She obviously didn’t recognize me, with the hat, sunglasses, and half-Asian kid. I thought I’d bring it up the fact I had, many years ago, slept in the same house with her, but obviously she had her hands full with the many newbie paddlers signed up that day. What made it a certain match was her impromptu lecture on how learning to wait patiently in line as a kid was critical, because it made you prepared later in life to wait your turn in traffic.

I know in many ways, Betsy and Ken (Kevin’s dad) are upstanding citizens, but operate on a different plane than most mortals. Meaning, they are perfect and perfectly nice but for whatever reason not fun to be around. I don’t really know, though, but that’s sort of the cemented impression that I got as a teenager staying at Kevin’s house.

It was now 2:30 or so. I rode my bike home and it was hot and Leo was heavy, and heavier asleep. I wanted to get back and get my kayaks ready for launch when my Dad arrived.

Now I realize it was a bit insane to start out on another trip this late in the day, but it was likely my only chance. Dad was going to ride in the double with Leo, and I was going to try out my kayak. We’d paddle to Gasworks (and beyond), turn around, and eat dinner at home. I had dinner ready in the queue.

I juggled dinner, kayak loading, and what-not. I was hot and tired. Leo didn’t sleep at home. (He enthusiastically resists nap time now.) But after I loaded my new kayak on the car I was determined to make the outing work. Now, the double…I struggled to find the proper straps and resorted to jury-rigging with red tie-downs.

But then we were in the car and on route to Lake Union. Then there was the parking, and then unloading. Then the figuring out the rudder for Dad.

My first impressions of my kayak (the Murrlet) on the water: It looks great. Not as tippy as I was hoping for, really, probably because of the long waterline. It really doesn’t feel as narrow as it looks. The cockpit is pretty roomy. But I could easily turn and keep the kayak pointed where I wanted to. And then my Dad had a hard time keeping the double going straight and so there was a lot of waiting. I didn’t really get a feel for the speed, with all the chop on the lake.

So maybe it’s not fitness craft I want, but really more appropriate for kayak camping and the like.

Leo, despite all his bounciness, managed to stay peacefully in the front of the double, though I figure he may only be good for about 30 minutes without landing. With food to occupy him, maybe longer. He’s way too short to paddle, though maybe with a high enough foam pad he could sort of do it. If I was able to load and unload the double on my own, I’d really be looking forward to taking him out on milk runs to Agua Verde for tacos.

For a quick snack and stretch the legs, we ended up at Roanoke Street Mini Park, where Leo and I split an apple. I decided to switch boats with Dad, since the double was hard to steer, which turned out to be a mistake. He was furious about the seat back being uncomfortable, although to be honest unless you really sit leaning slightly forward, which isn’t that natural, you really are going to suffer.

Since it was maybe a year or so since my last paddle, I was pretty wobbly getting out and my chest felt sore. My body’s no longer that of a kayaker.

Getting home was easy, and dinner was pretty good. Despite my Dad having a hard time all is forgiven over a nice meal.

So today I finished strengthening the interior (the joint between the deck and hull) and now it’s just sanding and varnishing to be nearly complete. I also need to add end pours, holes for toggle lines, and rig the deck. But more importantly I need a strategy to get more time in the water.

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Mixed Feelings

I was working on my kayak this morning, doing a saturation coat on the deck. I’m hoping to get the project done in time for some summer time paddling.

When I work on the kayak I have the garage door open. Working on the project is a natural conversation starter. I’ve had more than a few people come by and ask me about my kayak project. One was a guy selling Real Change newspapers at Safeway and talked to me for about 30 minutes or so. But most people are just walking by on the way to the medical clinic, Safeway, or Roosevelt High School and just stop for a minute or two.

School’s been out for about a month but some chubby high school girl, sipping on a Starbucks drink walked by. Leo (and Hitomi and Ilana) have been decorating the driveway with chalk. The girl asked me if this was Anpanman? and I replied yes, it was. She apparently was half Japanese and knew how to read Leo’s name in Japanese, etc.

I asked her what she was up to, and she replied “Summer school. But I had nothing going on in July anyway, so it’s not so bad.”

I was taken aback, “But July is so nice, why wouldn’t you have anything to do? Like go camping or something.” At this point I had to get back to the epoxy, now starting to set up.

I had been camping the past four days at Mt. Rainier with friends, but I suppose if it were me back in high school I’d be out bicycling, playing games, swimming, doing sleep-overs, water fights, movies, video games, etc. I would die if I had to go back to school in July. I could not believe this person.

Back working on my kayak put me into thought. My first thought, surely no half-Asian would be taking summer school. Japanese parents, even singularly, would not let this happen. Secondly, could it be that my kids could turn out this way? I certainly disliked going to school, though I went. But maybe my kids would dislike it and also refuse to attend. Thirdly, Starbucks is evil since I’m sure it’s making people fat.

But really, how can somebody of her age be bored? I cannot find time for half the things I would like to do during the day.

Still, she seemed pretty nice, so I hope she comes by tomorrow. I’d like to know to more about her.

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Top Smells of Japan

  1. 青い畳, or green tatami mats. When I visited Japan in 1993 with Garfield Orchestra, we stayed in a newly built resort in Kobe that had green tatami. (The place we stayed was 神戸市の総合福祉ゾーンしあわせの村, in case I ever want to go back.) Anytime I step into a place with fresh tatami, I feel like I’m back in Japan.
  2. 石油, or kerosene. As much as you try not to, you spill gas everywhere. And the stoves rarely seem to burn it clean. Reminds me of my time staying in a very old Japanese house in Sendai. Though I burned a lot of fuel, the heat went right out through the roof. Perhaps if my bed was elevated I might have gotten some of that heat.
  3. 炊飯, or cooked rice. Open up your rice cooker sometime and put your face into it. You may become addicted to it. (Wait for the rice to finish steaming or your wife will complain that you’ve let out all the moisture.)
  4. 洗濯石けん. Laundry soap scent. Yet another chemical smell, but oddly puts me back in Japan. I don’t use scented laundry soap at home, so perhaps the American stuff is similar. When traveling I seem to hit the same scent every time. When you’re drying clothes in your hotel room it hits even harder.
  5. コンビニ店. It seems every convenience store (Family Mart, 7-11) standardizes their scent. Since you seem to go into one all the time, it becomes a smell you learn. Does it come from combining the oden (fish cakes in broth) with fresh magazine chemical smell? I don’t know how they do it.
  6. タバコ. Tobacco or cigarette smoke. Hey, they still smoke in restaurants in Japan. It’s not that the smell is unique to Japan, you just notice it in different places than you’re used to and it reminds you you’re not in your home country anymore.
  7. 廊下のカビか. Wander the closed air hallways of apartments in Japan and there’s some sort of stale odor. In Seattle apartment hallways, we end up with mildew and mold smells. There’s a similar unpleasantness going on in closed air spaces there, but probably with different mold species or something.
  8. 杉風呂. Cedar bathtubs. Every time I come across one, I decide I want one at home. I’ll probably never own one, though.

I’ll probably add more smells as I come to remember them.

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