Peggy Sturdivant
Only the finest restrooms at Swanson's after the electrical fire.

At Large In Ballard: The Walk

By Peggy Sturdivant

We picked up others as though we were a walking school bus, two at one corner and another one at the next. I’d wavered on joining this walk. One friend I see several times a week but it had been long time since I’d seen the others who socialize frequently. Still, a good long walk and catch-up…I took the plunge.

Some of our lives used to be more entangled by living on the same block, then crossed with extended friends of other parents, widening out from school and soccer. Now all our kids have graduated, if not actually launched from the nest.

The plan was to walk to Swanson’s from South Sunset Hill, picking up others in North Beach. It was Labor Day weekend, cloudy with a chance of rain. Walking by houses triggered my ongoing obsession with the stories within houses and new construction. Another friend wanted to photograph a sculpture she’d seen on a walk.

I mentioned the Early Design Guidance meeting planned for the development of site of El Camion. “How do you hear about these things?” Kay asked.

I thought about the question. I read about notices of zoning changes on a weekly update I get from the Neighborhood Coordinator. I see reference to them online at BNT, MyBallard, NextDoor, Facebook. I read The Seattle Times and follow Crosscut and The Urbanist.

“How do you get your news?” I asked.

“New York Times,” she said.

“And local?”

“Walking around the neighborhood, seeing signs.”

I sighed. Many of my closest friends, at least those who live nearest to me, don’t even read the Ballard News-Tribune online. Some claim they just rely on me to give them the news. As if I can keep up, and besides, what constitutes news?

In school pick-up days we exchanged the news of the school news first, then Ballard, perhaps even covering Seattle. Sometimes our hearts had been pierced by outside tragedy, as though a shard of glass had found a gap in our armor.

By the time we chatted and climbed our way up to the flatland of 15th Avenue NW it was sunny, and we’d added a fourth. We were hungry, thirsty and been on the road (given lack of sidewalks) for over an hour. That’s when knowing the news about the electrical fire at Swanson’s became the reality of no café or gift shop. Signs proclaimed, “the koi are doing just fine”. We weren’t there for the plants, and I won’t pretend we were there for the koi.

So much for my grasp of the implication of local news: a fire at Swanson’s is news. As was the fire at St. Paul’s last March that continues to displace its parishioners and many groups that meet there. Eight churches throughout the North End have opened their doors. St. Paul’s plans to at least regain the use of its basement as of Sunday, September 11th.
While we reassessed Swanson’s as our destination we had to hand it to them for the Regal Restrooms. I’d seen them parked near outdoor weddings (never one for which I had an invitation). Porcelain sinks, framed art, and of course, fresh flowers.

Where to get food and meet up with others? We headed south on 24th NW but Robertino’s was closed for the holiday.. A car pulled up with the two missing women. “Mabel,” I said. “There’s a new place called Mabel where the North End Emergency Fund was located.” We temporarily abandoned one friend who ran into her children’s former babysitter on a street corner.

The rest of us flooded into the two-month old coffee place that is Mabel. I blinked when they said it would be ten minutes to heat a breakfast bagel. Then I realized, they’re going to heat it properly in the oven. I almost wiped away a tear of joy. The others sorted through choices that included extra shots (or maybe sides) of collagen and bone broth. The option of butter made from the cream of grass fed cows in tea. I tracked on the fact they open at 6 a.m. and ate a day old muffin..

We six women clustered around two small round tables. Even though all our children are out of Seattle Public Schools we talked about Seattle Public Schools. We traded stories of labor and delivery, of our children, not purchases. For a blessed afternoon we were away from laptops and iPads. A screen at Mabel, the only unfortunate offering in its sweet setting, was showing Law & Order, Special Victims Unit. Other customers came, and went. A walk stretched into a day outside the house. How do we get our news? The real question is how do we find our community. Let’s ask Mabel.

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