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The Contrarian’s Guide to Pike Place Market

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

Although Grinnell, the Urbanologist, appears to be the second coming of Augie March, or some scrappy fish-mongerer from say, Bensonhurt, Bklyn, or Gloucester, Mass, the guy is actually from Seattle. Yep, the Emerald City. You could never tell. Look at him? He looks like a pipe-fitter from Dorchester for chrissakes.

I’ve never seen the guy wear even one article of REI-clothing. He never talks about camping, kayaking, eating Halibut. He doesn’t drive a Subaru, and he doesn’t know
know much about salmon farming, Starbucks, or Kurt Cobain. He’s a Packers fan.

Yet, the Urbanologist, is from Seattle. He grew up in a Queen Anne-vintage in Sea-Town’s Capital Hill nabe. So we sat down with the Ubologist to get his take on Seattle’s iconic market. Here are Max’s four favorite things to do at his neighborhood fish market…
1. Those Damn Tiles!
Contrarian’s don’t usually look down unless they are parkouring off the Brooklyn Bridge while strapped to a tub of Zabar’s chive cream cheese, but they should probably try it while at the Market. In the cash-strapped 80’s, a consortium of greedy New Yorkers (are there any other kind?) were going to gentrify the hell out of the Market. The Market got saved, but they needed to replace the crappy floors of the entire joint. They struck upon an idea: “Hey, I bet people would pay $35 to have their name on a new shiny tile”. Turns out 45,000 people did, and so it came to pass. These days, a lot of the tiles are in lousy shape, but after a few miniature doughnuts, visitors can look around for such noted names as Ivar Haglund, the noted Norwegian fish restaurant mogul, and that of Charles Royer, former mayor turned sometimes Harvard prof.

2. A Spot Of Tea, or Let’s Visit the Crumpet Shop
I used to go on dates to the crumpet shop when I was a young’un, and that probably explains why I never got to go on any second dates. Hey, it was the early 90s, and Rupert Everett hadn’t made it big, so give me a f’n break. Anyhew, the Crumpet Shop is a good place to rest up, grab one of the many tea offerings, and slather some blackberry jam on a crumpet.

3. Buskers, Buskers, Buskers: From Artis the Spoonman to that Guy with the Kind-of Creepy Animal Punch and Judy

At age nine, I was still pretty intrigued with talking animals, real or otherwise. On one early trip to the Market I came across this somewhat creepy Punch and Judy show that featured a dirty yellow cat and a bear that looked a bit like Ernest Hemingway in his post-Paris days. The show was fairly amusing, and I’m still impressed with the quality of street musicians they get down around the Market. There are gospel quartets, singing lunatics, and the omnipresent Jonny Hahn who bangs out liberal screeds like “Dick Cheney: Kiss My Ass”. It’s a hoot.

4. Hello Trotsky: Left Bank Books

Perched in between a leftist floral shop and a leftist staircase at the northwest corner of 1st and Pike is Seattle’s ur-leftist bookstore. What was there before Left Bank Books? I don’t know, but in high school I used to pick up postcards there that featured Karl Marx done up in neon. They might have had black-light posters at that point, but I don’t want to cast no aspersions. It’s a true collective, and there’s intelligent conversation to be had, even in the small cookbook section. Stop in, though it’s worth mentioning that there’s no such things as a free bound edition of Kapital in here, okay?

5. Puget Sound Vistas: Homeless People, Totem Poles, et al.
Watching buskers and arguing with college-age Trotskyites can really wear a body out, so clear your head out at the end of the Market at the Victor Steinbrueck Park. If you look straight out from the park’s edge, you’ll get some of that Elliott Bay action, complete with ferries, waterfowl, and the ever-distant West Seattle. If you look straight down from edge of the park, you’ll see the Alaskan Way viaduct, which is about as sturdy a structure as the old Embarcadero freeway in the summer of 1989. There’s nothing like a six lane rickety old state highway suspended on landfill in a seismically active area to make one say “Damn, don’t I have to take that thing to get to SeaTac?”. Hopefully you won’t, but turn around and take in the park’s natural inhabitants, which include colorful alcoholics and people who never left after that Dead concert in Volunteer Park back in ‘67.

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