Serendipity, for the asking

I figure I lead a charmed life. It might lack a little in movie starlets, and gold fixtures a la Donald Trump, but I can live without those. Instead, I get to keep bumping into interesting people and circumstances.

The flight to Seattle this morning introduced me to Josh Adam, an assistant coach up at WSU who works with the rowing program. Did not know that when I asked if the compression socks he wore helped when travelling. (Also had Nikes on, so I figured he was one of my kind.)

Josh is headed out to Sarasota, Florida on a recruiting trip. The Nationals for high school rowing take place on Saturday and approximately 600 athletes get a chance to compete against the other top rowers.

Being runner-centric as I am, I asked Josh about the crossover from running to rowing. Turns out, a lot. We compared points back and forth on the sports. As with the other youth sports, the emphasis at many rowing programs has changed from teaching technique and character to winning.

Toward the end of the flight, when a combination of engine noise and altitude changes made hearing hard, the subject of visualization came up. I touch on it with the junior high kids. As it happened, Josh’s masters is in the juxtaposition of sports psychology and physiology (I think I got that right.) He was a little surprised that I used it but pointed out that the best of the best are all beautifully trained physically. The deciding difference is often what happens between the ears.

We kept chatting while we deplaned and headed our separate directions.

Yes, by the way, he says the compression socks help with longer (2+ hours) flights.

Then it was a drive up to the meeting for the State Building Code Council. The purpose of the code is to keep life as boring as possible. This starts with the meetings. Very, very smart people, but it takes a thousand words for them to say yes. Noes take considerably more and we got out a bit late.

I expected this so I requested a booking on a flight in the evening. Not in a hurry to get to the airport, which was a good thing. Seattle does not have freeways. Instead, everybody gets onto the road at the same time, virtually parks, and throws a massive party, minus the booze, the music, and the joy, with the other 200,000 people around them to share a hangover called ‘traffic’. No thanks, kemosabe. I’ll head back to the big empty where I dodge deer and farm combines.

 So I dipped off the main drag, so to speak, and headed to Lake Washington. My next novel is set over there and I figured I’d scoped out the locations again.

Glad I did. I found a couple of neat little paths through Seward Park I can play with. Last time I was here, I could see Rainier.

Pure luck, and not replicable, at least today. Crowds were different, too, fewer kids even though summer is starting. Did see a gray heron on a piling a hundred yards out on the lake. Very elegant.

I meandered off the lake because I was hungry. I also needed to get some writing done and stuck at an airport has writing time all over it. Plus there was enough time to have a couple of beers and still sober up before I had to drive. I’ve been here a couple of times, so I headed up Orcas Street toward Columbia City and saw a Neapolitan Pizzeria. That’s the way it advertised itself. What wasn’t advertised was how to find some parking, so I started a spiral search for decent parking. I have a parking angel. I usually don’t’ worry about parking, it just appears.

Not today.

Found a Kenyan restaurant, the Safari  while looking for parking and took this as a sign that I was not meant to eat ordinary pizza. Parking was close. Of course.

Ate mbuzi instead. And ugali. If you’re a runner, you have to try ugali, the food of the running gods. It’s denser than I expected, like a stiff flan made with very fine corn meal. Cut pieces off with my fork and added a bit of the sukumi, vegetables. Tasty.

Next to me sat a family, dad, mom, and 15 month old. The little girl made pretty little sounds and reminded me of my granddaughters. The parents spoke Swahili to each other and English to the toddler. There’s one white face in the whole place.

I also noticed another young man, diagonally across the restaurant, eating the ugali with his fingers dipping it into the mustard. All the tables had a mustard bottle.

Yeh, what the heck, I thought and squeezed some out onto my plate. A little chunky for mustard, and the wrong yellow. This is where prudent people look, and ignore.

I sampled, with the ugali, by fingers. Whoo-hoo, glad I like hot stuff. It wasn’t cook my brains, tears on the face hot, but had a nice zing anyway. The couple notices I’m eating with my fingers, emulating the man in the corner. They smile at each other.

I tell them I watched the others eating and copied them. Basic lesson from Robert Heinlein, Citizen of the Galaxy, on knowing when to put the blue mud in your belly button to fit in. I’m pretty sure the white face told them I wasn’t from their country, but hey, I’m trying.

We strike up a conversation, and I mention that I’m planning on going to Kenya next year. She’s from Kikiyu – I’ve heard of that, he’s from a place I don’t’ recognize. I have to ask where it’s at. North of Nairobi, apparently. They’re a nice couple and wish me well on my travels, and then head out the door and load the little one into a minivan.

I finished the mbuzi—it’s goat, with coastal spices and delicious—and eventually asked for the bill. They need to charge more, so I left a largish tip. The owner asked about my trip, so I told her about the story idea I had, of a girl who wants to go to school and to run and, if she can get out of the country, the culture shock coming from Kenya to the United States.

“The food,” says Jane. “I tell my friends when they come over, but they don’t believe me.”

Jane has lived in Seattle for 25 years. Her husband is the chef of the Safari Njema Restaurant

She tells of first coming to the country and getting hungry so she went to McDonald’s. She didn’t understand a hamburger, why mix the bread and the vegetables, and the disk-shaped thing.

She ate beans for a long time. Beans are safe, they don’t change. She tries to tell others following in her footsteps about the differences. They don’t believe her or don’t understand. I get it – I raised kids. You tell them. Later they remember the telling and nod. Now they get it, when they’re ready.

Jane is from Voi. About three quarters of the way from Nairobi to Mombasa. Her brother is still there and she suggests I visit his restaurant. There are gem mines by the score and I do love pretty shine-ys. I added it to the itinerary.

(I know shine-ys is not a real word. Roll with me, m‘kay.)

Now it’s back to the airport. I’ve got a flight back tonight. Work tomorrow, though I’m considering a career change to bellboy.

It’s been a great day, mostly because of the accidental events. Sitting next to Josh on the flight out. Having time to explore because I didn’t want to stress about the airport. Finding a great scene for the book. Having a parking angel save a spot for me to find a Kenyan restaurant and Jane so I could introduce myself.

All accidental. On purpose. Kinda.