Jan 29, 2006

"Somewhere in time," I told Rachel, "there's a 15-second sound bite, radiating into the universe. You're saying, 'I want to be a vet.' And I reply: 'I'm gonna be a writer'."

And here we are.

Rachel does animal acupuncture, among western-medicine duties. She's exactly the person you want your childhood friend to grow into: compassionate, funny, brilliant and thoughtful (the two don't necessarily go hand-in-hand). She turns heads too, which pleases me, because I remember us play-acting: "You're a gorgeous empress with tawny skin and black ringlets, I'm a stunning warrior-princess with honey hair and a pet leopard."

OK, well, I only have Jake the Tabby and Mixed-up Molly Miss. And "beautiful" only happens on a good-hair day. But close enough.

We overloaded on Seattle activities: Fremont public art in the rain, like Lenin and the Troll; Hammering Man outside the Seattle Art Museum; views from Alki and West Seattle; Pioneer Square; the International District; Indonesian food at the Malay Stay Hut.

Scuttling back to Ballard, we caught dusk at the locks, one of my most treasured spots, one where I reset and recharge.

Walking home, we encounter a sign: "Glassblowing lessons."

"You never noticed a glass shop two blocks from your house?" she asks.

"I swear, it wasn't here before," I say. Lamely.

Suddenly Rachel is inside. Shit, shit, shit. I'm not in banter-with-dukes-or-dustmen work-mode. I'm Jane Citizen, out for a sunset stroll. My journalistic superpowers are not engaged.

How can I invade another artist's workspace, even if the studio is open to the street? I mean, c'mon, it's probably just hot in there...

Rachie – a much more genuine soul than me – is chatting away, examining finished pieces. The studio is only a few days old, much to my relief. Good. I'm not an unobservant monkey-child, after all.

But shy still, outside my professional persona. Who am I, when not Amanda Castleman, freelancer for the Rough Guides or MSNBC or the Seattle Post-Intelligencer?


We run by Archie McPhees kitsch emporium, still intent on the Emerald City whirlwind tour, then Enlighten and the Old Town Ale House, the neighborhood's least packed and most vilified bar, because of its controversial group-reservation policy. Much as I've howled, turned away with ten friends, it's nice to find an impromptu seat on Saturday night.

Rachie and I are well and truly knackered. But there's a hitch. She inherited land in Guanajuato, a colonial city in Mexico.

"I must learn to salsa. Immediately," she announces.


And so gussied up, we head to Capitol Hill to dance at the Century Ballroom. A lesbian couple run this grand balconied hall, which is why it avoids meat-market status, I suspect.

Folks are here to dance, not mate ... for the most part.

That said, men far outnumber women. Recovering from the flu, I'm feeble and a bit lightheaded. No guy accepts this excuse with grace, so I'm forced to hide in the ladies' loo to recover my breath.

Unaccustomed to feeling weak, I'm angry. Nonetheless, I struggle on, dancing with leads from Mexico City, Columbia, points unknown. One man marches – arms outstretched tango-style, grin manic. He's not bad, but truly bizarre.

I gulp air by the window. I ran a fever here last January too. Stubborn, I rose from my sickbed to take my mother, Ellen, on her first salsa excursion.

It was worth it, even if I couldn't stand up for a week.

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