Sunday, June 30, 2013

Ladycation in Seattle: A Reunion Weekend

Gum wall. The name pretty much says it all, but I'll paint a more vivid picture. Millions upon millions of gum wads stuck to a brick wall, creating a mosaic of fading color. But it doesn't stop at the wall. The gum covers window sills and hangs from drainage pipes, as if they were oozing bubble yum. Words are spelled out using chewed gobs of Trident and Extra, leaving personal messages for all to see. The whole scene is surprising and different, at first, until you realize that gazing at a wall of used gum is actually kind of disgusting.

Steph and Em in front of the gum wall

The Market Theater Gum Wall is a landmark in Seattle, located in Post Alley in Pike Place Market. The tradition supposedly began back in the early 1990s when patrons of the theater stuck gum to the wall and placed coins on top. For years gum collected on the wall, despite a couple attempts from theater employees to scrape it away. In 1999, it was deemed an official tourist attraction and people have been leaving their mark--or gum--there ever since. And a couple weekends ago, my friends and I joined that special group of people. We each chewed a piece of gum and strategically placed them in the form of two letters and an exclamation point: "GC!"

This was our calling card in high school, and remains our personal title whenever the seven of us get together. It stands for Glue Crew, because we were always together. Now, almost 10 years after graduating, four years of college under our belts, various years in post-graduate education, two engagements, one wedding, and countless life-changing events, we are still together--at least in spirit. We live all over the country, spanning the nation from East Coast to West. But once a year, we all descend upon one location--which takes a long time to figure out--and spend a weekend together, where we laugh, cry, reminisce, catch up, and drink way too much.

This year, we journeyed to Seattle, where Christi lives with her husband Matt--whom I personally want to thank for tolerating the takeover of his apartment for three days. This was the first time to the Emerald City for a few of us--myself included--and we were ready for a weekend packed with touristy activities, delicious food, and plenty of good times.

We all arrived at various times on Thursday, although some later than others due to some major weather delays on the East Coast. For those of us that made it at a reasonable hour, Christi took us to dinner at an eclectic Mexican restaurant called Pesos, where we enjoyed some uniquely blended margaritas and cocktails, and delectable traditional dishes that spent very little time on the plate before being scooped into our mouths. After dinner, we made our way downtown via the Monorail, a one-mile transportation system that connects the Seattle Center to downtown. It takes less than five minutes to make the journey and will cost you $2.25 one way...a little pricey, but a fun way to see a view of the city. We headed to the Hard Rock to enjoy their rooftop bar, since it was a relatively nice night. It was there we were joined by the last two members of our group, Emily and Hannah, and we took a Washington Apple shot in honor of us all finally being back together.

We woke up early the next morning and took a walk along the sound to grab some coffee at one of the nearby piers. Christi's apartment, located in Queen Anne, is right next to the water, making it super convenient. She also has a pretty killer view from her rooftop. After sucking down some much needed caffeine, a few of us headed to the local Safeway to grab some essentials for breakfast and the rest of the weekend. We cooked up some egg sandwiches and then got ready to see the city. At this point, Sari introduced us to an interesting game, I don't think it actually has a name. The idea is to clip a clothes pin to the front of someone's clothes, without them noticing, and see how long it takes them to see it. You cannot clip it to the back of them, because that's just easy. Once they realize they've been pinned, they then have to pin someone else. And then the cycle continues. Needless to say, clothes pins showed up in all sorts of places during the weekend, creating yet another GC tradition.

Our first stop, Seattle Center, home to the Space Needle and numerous other attractions, including the International Fountain; the Center House, which features the Center House Theater and the Children's Museum; The Experience Music Project; the Mercer Arena; the Pacific Science Center; the Fisher Pavilion; and the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum--one of the main attractions on our list. The museum recently opened in May 2012, and showcases the work of Dale Chihuly, a talented and gifted artist who created inspiring pieces that seem to come alive right before your eyes. Since it was still pretty cloudy, we decided to visit the museum first in the hopes the sun would burn through by the time we were ready to go up the Space Needle.

All the intricate glass pieces were visually stimulating with all their bright colors and hidden details. I could try to describe it, but I think the pictures say more.

The sun still hadn't managed to peek through the clouds as we made our way to the elevator that would take us up to the observation deck, 520 feet above the ground. The elevator sped us up at 10 miles per hour, and took 41 seconds to reach the top. They try to squeeze a decent amount of people in, and it can feel a little claustrophobic, so it's a good thing it's a quick ride. From the top, we were treated to unmatched views of downtown, the Olympic and Cascade Mountains, and impressive Mount Rainier, which was still slightly hidden by the clouds.

We were all pretty hungry by the time we got back down, so we hopped on the Monorail and headed downtown to a local restaurant chain Christi absolutely loves, Blue C Sushi. I was definitely craving some quality sushi, since Seattle is known for it. The restaurant had a conveyor belt covered with different items that you could grab as they scooted past the table, and we wasted no time picking what we wanted--Spicy Tuna, please!! With seven girls, it was inevitable the plates would pile up, but I think even we were surprised at the damage. As fun as these systems are, it is easy to go overboard and grab a lot--and with four orders of sake and seven Sapporos--it can add up quickly. But we were on vacation, so it was only right to indulge a little.

The sun finally came out after lunch, so we walked around the shopping district of downtown for a couple hours before heading back to the apartment to get ready for our night out. We had reservations across the bay in West Seattle, so Christi wanted us to take the ferry to get a different view of the city and experience the commute many people do everyday. Naturally, it took a little longer than expected to get ready--and our taxis getting confused and lost didn't help--so we missed the first ferry, making us a little late for our reservation. But it didn't dampen spirits at all, because we can mini bottles of Fireball, a cinnamon-flavored whiskey Christi gave each of us upon arrival in Seattle. We enjoyed these as we waited for the ferry and mingled with some locals who were fascinated that we were high school friends who still managed to get together every year.

We arrived in West Seattle and headed to Salty's, a seafood restaurant with the best view of Seattle. Our table was perfectly situated right next to the windows, allowing us to enjoy the cityscape as the sun went down. The cocktails were very interesting, and we each sampled one another's happily. The food was also delightful, especially the "World Famous" seafood chowder and the crab mac 'n' cheese. I ordered the Alaskan Ling Cod Oscar, which is topped with crab, grilled asparagus, and tarragon-infused hollandaise.

After we cleaned our plates, the evening took a sentimental turn. It was time to reminisce the past year of our lives, since we hadn't all been together since August 2012. We went around the table sharing our highs, lows, crushes and surprises over the last few months. Tears were shed, for sure, as many of us definitely had some intense life-changing experiences. For the most part though, we smiled and laughed about everything we had been through, not just in the last year, but since high school. We've come a long way, and it's amazing that we still have one another to share it all with.

Since we took the ferry over, we were eligible for free dessert or a discount on our tickets back. So, of course, we went for dessert. We chose Salty's Famous White Chocolate Mousse Cake and the Vanilla Creme Brulee. The waiter also brought us the Chocolate Hazelnut Mousse Terrine and the Rhubarb Custard Tarta, because he insisted we needed to try them, and who were we to object?

As we waited for our cabs to pick us up, Christi decided we were in need of another Washington Apple shot. While I'm not the biggest shot taker anymore--waved goodbye to that pretty shortly after college--I gladly took it in honor of my time with the girls. We headed back into Seattle to a neighborhood called Belltown, just north of downtown. Our first stop was Rabbit Hole, where we hoped to play skeeball, but sadly the line of people waiting was pretty long. So we just grabbed drinks and hung out while we waited for Christi's husband and his friends to show up. We were joined by a few of Emily's old Boston buddies who had moved to Seattle. After a while, we left and went to a different bar a couple blocks away, which is where we ended the night around 1:30.

Saturday was a beautiful, sunny day--not such a rarity in Seattle, I came to find--so we walked along the water over to the Public Market, which is where we came across the gum wall. Walking along the wall, I couldn't help but feel a little disgusted by it. People leave gum all over this country, and no one looks twice if a few wads happen to be next to each other, why was this so special. The scale of the wall is certainly impressive, but that doesn't change the fact that its used gum. Still, we felt compelled to snap pictures and add our own gum to the collection, in our own form.

The market was incredibly packed with tourists trying to see the Pike's Place fish throwers in action, sampling fresh produce, buying all kinds of souvenirs and food items. We could only last about an hour, but not before we tried some cheese curds from a local store Christi raved about--and they were quite delicious. We ended the touristy activities with a ride on the Ferris wheel. The Seattle Great Wheel, built less than a year ago, is the largest observation wheel on the west coast at 175 feet tall. Christi has a fear of heights, but she refused to let that stop her from hopping into the gondola with us, even though she had some moments of uncertainty. We enjoyed a quick ride on the wheel, which took us well beyond the end of the pier over Elliot Bay, and gave us yet another unique view of the city.

After that, we made another trip to Safeway to buy food for an afternoon grill out--not what they call it in Seattle--on Christi's rooftop. The weather was perfect as we sipped our drinks. Two of the girls--Steph and Elise--just finished graduate school, so we gave them their gifts before everyone else arrived for the party. Once again, there were a few tears of appreciation and happiness, but that was to be expected. The rest of the evening was a blur of food, drinking games, hockey games, and way too many clothes pins. We took over the rooftop for most of the night, welcoming anyone who came up there to join the party.

Just when I thought we might turn in--since we'd been drinking since 3--Christi's husband Matt rallied us and took us to a local bar called Ozzie's, where someone you know always gets kicked out for no reason. In our case, Matt's friend Nick was thrown out for appearing too drunk, but we managed to get him back in. Ozzie's is basically three bars in one. There's a more relaxed sports-bar in the front, with a few booths and tables. Off to the right is a karaoke bar, where more of the older crowd hangs out. And in the back is the dance floor, where we spent the rest of the night. Around 1 a.m., we left Ozzie's and made our way to Dick's Drive-In, known for its hamburgers, which only cost around 60 cents. The perfect late night meal. I wasn't super hungry, but I was told I had to try Dick's, and I'm glad I did.

It was rough waking up Sunday morning, but I knew I needed to pack up my stuff and get over to the train to catch my flight. Luckily, it was a little later in the afternoon, so I was able to sleep in a little, but it wasn't nearly enough. After three nights of staying out until past 1, I was exhausted. And yet I expected this to happen. Because when we get together, we try to savor every moment we can with each other, so sleep is usually sacrificed. As I zipped up my bag and hugged all the girls goodbye, I felt truly blessed to have had the opportunity to experience Seattle with all of them. I was also incredibly grateful to have them in my life. No matter what happens, I know they'll be there for me.

Just like the wall of gum that seems to keep morphing and changing with each new wad, our lives will transform with each passing year, story, experience, challenge. But our GC! gum will hold strong to that wall through it all, and it seems pretty clear that we will stick together, too. We are the glue crew, after all.

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