The late afternoon sun filtered through the top of the red and gold maple leaves cresting the roof of George and Bunny Gutierrez’s home in Gig Harbor, Washington. Leaves danced in the breeze, some leaped like flying squirrels for a ride to the street, while laughter filled the air between our driveways.
George clutched his sides, laughter vibrated his body like a cheap motel bed and one too many quarters. “Darlin’ you can’t be serious?” he asked. His soft spoken Texas accent a contrast to the bass voice emanating from his lineman’s frame. A pencil thin black mustache and goatee framing his mouth. “Your parents took you to Pike’s Place Market to see the Gum Wall and you never told them you’d been there before?”
“George, I couldn’t tell them. You’ve met my parents,” I said, with a grin to rival the Cheshire Cat’s, “you know better than to get in their way when they want to show you a good time.”
“Fannie, darlin’,” George said, taking a deep breath, “You know, Bunny and I have never been to the market or the Gum Wall, perhaps we can make a trip of it with you when you go up on Saturday.”
“George,” I said, raking my fingers through my short brown hair, “Bunny has enough troubles with our northwest traditions, that might just send her over the edge.”
“Darlin’, it’ll be our little secret,” he said, his dark brown eyes twinkling like a power surge at the Freemont Street Experience.
* * *
A thick fog rolled into the Puget Sound overnight. The canned voice of the reporter on the clock radio said, “it’s 32 degrees outside, the high will be 52, if you’re driving this morning watch for patches of black ice . . . .”
“Fannie, get up, we’re gonna be late,” said Richard, shaking my shoulder.
“Just five more minutes,” I said, pulling the blanket over my head. The world faded away.
“You’ve been saying that for the last half hour,” Richard said, impatience creeping into his voice.
The pillow slipped out from under my head. I pulled the sheet in tighter.
“Fannie, it’s 8:30.”
My zombie avatar jumped out of bed like a spring loaded jack-in-the-box. It snatched my clothing from the nightstand. Then spurred on to the bathroom like it was in search of brains.
Skidding to a stop in front of the vanity, it grimaced. The image of an over-sized cotton ball stuck in an electrical outlet snuck its way passed the swollen slits of my eyeballs.
Leaving the bathroom after a quick shower, we nabbed my shoes and fanny pack. My eyes still mimicked prunes as we stumbled into my shoes on the way to the front door.
“Fannie, I’d swear you’re allergic to morning,” said Richard, handing me my navy blue pea coat.
“I’m only allergic to weekend mornings,” I said, accepting the offering.
Rolling his blue eyes with the ease of a professional skeptic, Richard said, “I’m not convinced.” He put on his matching pea coat.
“That’s because you’re a morning person, Richard Cranium,” I said, straitening out the sleeves of my black and white rugby shirt.
“What does that make you, a mid-day person?” Richard asked, his tall lean frame shaking like a quivering aspen from the stifled laughter. He handed me a bagel and a water bottle.
If my zombie avatar could have pulled it off, it would have stuck my tongue out at him.
George and Bunny leaned against the trunk of their black, 1954 Mercedes Benz 300 parked at the end of their driveway.
“Good morning,” Bunny said, with her refined Texas accent. Checking her watch, the tone of her voice expressing wonderment, “You’re right on time.” Her long blond hair, swept back into a pony tail behind her head, crowning her statuesque figure. She wore a dark blue running suit with coordinating jacket and gloves.
“Good morning,” Richard said, with the enthusiasm of a morning person.
Mustering the stamina to speak, I asked, “Who gets shot gun?”
“Darlin’, George said, wearing a black turtle neck and cream-colored Irish knit sweater, “based on your condition, I’m pickin’ Richard.”
“Fannie, honey, did you remember your shopping list?” Bunny asked, her pony tail wagging behind her head.
“Right here,” I said, patting my fanny pack, “I packed it last night.”
Bunny and I climbed into the cavernous back seat. I got lost in the soft gray leather, my feet danced just above the floor boards. George and Richard climbed in the front. It is one of the few vehicles where the two of them fit without hunching over or smashing shoulders.
The morning sun bled through the freezing fog draping Highway 16. The fog wrapped the toll plaza in fluffy white cotton sheets. The Mercedes rolled east toward the Tacoma Narrows Bridge like a luxury bobsled. Fifty-five minutes later, we took the Seneca exit into downtown Seattle.
Richard turned around, “So Fannie, what do you think, Pike or Pine for parking?”
Winking at Richard, I asked, “Who are you, Skip Town?”
“Very funny, at least I know you’re awake now,” Richard said, shaking his head.
“Take Union down to First Avenue. Then we can park in the lot across the street from the Market on Pike,” I said, my eyes adopting the first signs of life for the day—possession by my evil twin.
“Fannie, honey, I may regret this, but who is Skip Town?” Bunny asked, shifting in her seat.
My cheeks used grappling hooks, constraining the grin to my face. “You’re right,” I said, snuggling into the leather seat, “you might.” Taking a deep breath, I said, “There was a local television comedy show back in the nineties called Almost Live. One of the actors—John Keister . . . .”
George snorted. The Mercedes danced briefly between lanes.
Bunny’s pony tail went on red alert.
I glanced at the back of George’s head. “Like I was about to say, John Keister played game show host, Skip Town, on the segment called ‘Pike or Pine,’” I said, keeping my tone neutral. “The contestants identified which street a local business was situated on, either Pike St. or Pine St..”
Bunny’s pony tail bobbed up and down. Curiosity followed by doubt flickered across her face.
“I’m sure you can find it on YouTube, if you don’t believe me,” I said, the brass-kick-plate tone creeping into my voice.
Richard glared at me before his head went into collision-ball mode as though brass kick plates would materialize on either side of the street.
Bunny lips pursed together in a fashion I’d only ever seen Aunt Verla or Judi Dench render. The basement section of my stomach did a quick reorganization. She changed her focus to Richard.
George glanced at me in the rear view mirror. With an almost imperceptible nod, his eyes moisten. A smile cemented to his face. If the sun were shining, his teeth would have been blinding.
George parked the car.
“I brought the camera,” Richard said, waiving a small digital camera in the air, “in case you want any pictures.”
“Since you two have never been here before, do you want to explore the Market first?” I asked, pulling out my list.
Bunny scanned the market from her vantage point at the cross-walk. “Honey, it doesn’t look very large, I doubt it will take that long to walk around.”
Richard and I swapped smiles.
“Bunny, it’s a couple block long and four stories high,” I said, “and that doesn’t include the adjacent Sanitary Market or any of the attractions along Post Alley. Depending on your level of adventure, it could take all day.”
The light changed. The crowd swept us across the street into the market.
Spices, honeys, flowers, teas, coffees, fruits, cheeses, perfumes, candles, seafood, raw meat, cooked garlic, raw onions, and a hint of salt air masked the smell of humanity. Cameras flashed. Pigeons and seagulls darted between the feet of tourist snapping up dropped morsels. All the voices mingled. The market exuded the energy of a bee hive.
We shuffled single file passed colorful stalls.
At the flower stall just south of the World Famous Pikes Place Fish Market, I bought a single, long-stem, blue-dyed rose. “Welcome to the market,” I said, handing Bunny the flower.
Bunny smiled. “Thank you, Fannie honey.” She held it to her nose. “I can barely smell it.”
Richard tapped my shoulder. Raising his voice above the general din, “I want to get a picture of you guys with Rachel.”
Bunny looked around. “Who’s Rachel?”
Laughing, I pointed to a group of children climbing on a giant bronze pig at the main entrance to the market. “It’s the pig. She’s famous.”
Bunny nodded. She grabbed George’s hand. Using his lineman’s frame like a snow plow, he guided us to the pig. Richard followed up the rear.
When the last of the children cleared the pig, we moved into position.
Two giant hands grabbed me by the armpits from behind, and swung me up, up, up.
My legs and arms swinging like a cartoon character running in thin air.
Flash, flash, flash.
My heart bottomed out in the reorganized basement. I dropped onto the back of Rachel, and the squeal that escaped my lips would have rivaled any living pig’s.
Cameras flashes blurred into a strobe. Laughter erupted from the crowd.
Bunny punched George in the arm.
Breathing hard, I shot the number 149—from my mother’s arsenal: correcting errant children with a glance—look at George. Pointing from Bunny to him, I said, “And that goes double from me.”
“Darlin’, I do apologize. But with those short legs of yours, I didn’t want you to get lost in the picture,” he said, his teeth nearly gleaming again, his eyes brimming like an over filled glass of water.
Richard’s devilish grin possessed his face. His shoulders shook. Shaking his head, he battled his lips back into position. His hands gave him away. Several photos later, he took one that wasn’t blurred.
We lapped the first level of the market before lunch. I’d knocked out all but the last item on my shopping list.
“Fanny, honey, why don’t we get your spices before we go to lunch? Bunny asked, “that way we’ll miss the lunch rush.”
“Do you want to take the stairs or the elevator? The World Spice Merchants are on Western below the market,” I said, pointing to the stairs behind Rachel.
“Walking will build up our appetite,” Bunny said.
We walk single file down two flights of stairs. A small plaza opened up where three sets of stairs converged.
Several bus loads of Chinese tourist surge up the broad lower stair case. Funneling into the narrow plaza with the force of a tsunami, they carried us down a narrow stairway lit with yellow light. The brick walls covered in graffiti.
When we reached the bottom of the stairs, the crowd surged to the left through a narrow graffiti covered corridor.
Cheering voices echo back down the corridor along with a sound almost like a movie sound effect. We burst out of the corridor into daylight. Lower Post Alley opened before us. We were pressed back against the graffiti covered wall.
The cheering grew louder. Women, in blue uniforms, were handing out sticks of gum to their guests—who were lined up in orderly rows. The front row moved into position in front of a brick wall covered in multi-colored wads of gum.
A man in a dark blue uniform shouted instructions to the crowd. The front row leaned forward, the cameras flashed. They puckered their lips—and spit gum at the wall like a volley of Roman arrows.
Half the gum fell to the pavement.
The crowd cheered.
Richard pulled out his camera.
I pulled out a package of Bubble Yum from my purse. I handed some to Richard and George. I offered one to Bunny. She didn’t react. Her pony tail hung motionless.
I nudge George, who was chewing his gum like a big leaguer, and pointed at Bunny.
He put his arm around her. “Darlin’ I’m sorry, this didn’t go as planned,” George said, softening his voice to a quality that melted knees. “I expected to ease you into this.”
“You knew about this?” Bunny asked, her pony tail springing back to life.
George nodded. Smiling, he pulled her closer. “But I expected a whole lot less . . . spittin’.”
Bunny studied him for a moment. Her pony tail slowed down. Her shoulders softened. A small smile tented the corners of her lips.
George squeezed her gently around the waist. A hint of the Freemont Street Experience lit his eyes. “And I thought it would be fun to leave our mark on Seattle.”
Bunny held her hand out to me. “Fannie, I’ll take that piece of gum, now.”
A cheer rose from the crowd.
“Bunny, are you sure?” I asked, holding out the stick of gum.
She watched as the last row of tourist launched their gum rockets at the wall.
She looked up at the cloud filled sky. “Honey, we all have different—blessin’.”
* * *
For those of you interested in watching the Almost Live segment: Pike or Pine.