Video Games + Coffee + Hair + Exploration (A Passion Fueled Existence w/ Pictures)
*This post was written in the gravity following the news of a friend passing away. Coming home from vacation to this news had a huge impact on how I both wrote, and processed all of the things I am about to share. Before I get into the meat of this article, I truly want to reiterate one thing I believe with every fiber of my being.
Life is the great indulgence, and what awaits us in the void of the beyond can only be described as the abstinence from all that we presently know. Life should be spent living the fullest, most passionate existence we are capable of creating for ourselves. This is the heart of the philosophy behind the creation of “The Barber Story.” A blog that became a business will always be founded as an alternative to a methodically planned out suicide. I continue to believe in this philosophy, and I hope that my experiences demonstrate that I live this mentality in an authentic manner, because at some unknown point in our time on this rock, all of our stories will find their own end.
Living a passionate life is the opportunity to create stories that can impact the reality connecting all of us to one another. Live well so you can sleep soundly.
It’s no secret, video games shaped my youth, and I continue to have a permanent soft spot in my heart to the industry as an adult. I grew up sitting on my dad’s lap while he played a commodore 64, my brother and I had with every iteration of a Nintendo system that came out from NES to Gamecube. Being homeschooled just meant that I had even more time to play Animal Crossing since I didn’t have to wait on the kids who needed extra help from the teachers. Even when I was having struggles in my first marriage, my best friend Josh and I would jump online to play Halo Reach or Gears of War to spend time focusing on things that were positive in our lives.
Video games have always been a cornerstone to the experience of my individual life, and If you come into The Barber Story, you will see our walls lined with art from a gaming industry artist that patrons the shop. You’ll find toys of our favorite characters at our stations, and can join in on the conversations about what we’re all currently playing and what we’re waiting anxiously to come out. It’s the common ground of our community that connects everyone in the shop together in some way or another.
A few years ago, I wrote about the vacations I was able to take from work, and the stress it caused me to plan them out. Starting a business requires sacrifice and constant work. It is difficult to prioritize your passions when you need to pay the bills, especially in the early days of starting over. Finding that opportunity to go to a convention in Seattle was costly, but absolutely worth it.
PAXWest is one of the most fun times you can have with social anxiety while inside a convention center packed to the brim with more people than you will ever be comfortable being around. It is boss level sensory overload with more booths to see than you could ever hope to fit into a single day, especially if you are there with other people that have different priorities. I started going to PAX in 2014, after Josh started working as a contractor for Microsoft. He had been doing community management within the Xbox community, and had recently been going to conventions in a new social capacity, so it turned into a great opportunity to see a friend at his absolute best.
Now, after 4 years of running The Barber Story, I was able to plan out a proper week long vacation to Seattle to go to PAX and get my haircut by a shop I had been aching to see for a few years. I asked my wife and my friend, Christian, if they would be able to make it this year with me or not, and I found out that if I was going to make this trip happen, I would be traveling by myself. Hailie couldn’t afford the time off at her job due to the owners going to a trade show in Missouri, and Christian recently began a new position with a new company, so he didn’t find it responsible (smart decision) to take so much time off within his first 90 days.
I have a wanderlust spirit. My wife and I met when we worked at a travel agency, and If my recent trips to Portland and Boulder haven’t demonstrated it, I entirely understand that my father’s drive to be nomadic is deeply ingrained into my DNA, so traveling gets to bring it out of me. Life is a series of experiences that lead to other experiences, and I want to see and do new things at any given opportunity. Yes, there is value to be had in a normal routine, but when you are in a new space, memories are created in the space of discovery. For this trip to Seattle, I only had two plans. Go to PAX to see my friends, and get my growing mop tamed by a shop that I had been following for 2 years.
Past that, this was a weekend to explore and go with the flow.
Day One - The Arrival into Seattle
Jimbo was nice enough to leave the shop on his lunch break and take me, along with my two pieces of luggage, to the airport on Thursday afternoon. I had chosen a flight early enough in the day that I would be able to connect from the light rail at SEA-TAC to a bus that would take me to the Microsoft campus for a pre-PAX ID@Xbox event. It was going to be a tight connection, but it wold allow me to meet up with Josh while he was still at work so I could head home with them for the first night in Seattle. We had planned it out like this so I could ride with him to PAX first thing Friday morning. On the way to the airport, I get a text from Corrine, Josh’s wife and my wife’s best friend, that their daughter had gotten the flu.
Dammit, I can’t risk getting the flu on vacation and bringing it back to a shop where I work with the public. We were originally going to do a trade off with my cousin in the evening Friday, and I would be staying with her the second portion of the trip, but it looks like we might need to have some impromptu cousinly bonding on top of our scheduled cousinly bonding.
I’m organizing the scheduling hiccup while I wait for my flight, when I hear the announcement come over the intercom that they are looking for 5 volunteers to check their carry-on for the flight. I’ve been on puddle hopper flights before, and I didn’t think too much of it, but I made a large mistake when I volunteered my locked hard case as I made my way onto the plane.
When I arrive at the baggage claim in Seattle, where I was directed to go by the counter agent who checked my bag at the terminal gate back in Boise, I am surprised to find that my bag isn’t there…….at all. I impatiently watch traveler after traveler pick up their bag, until nothing else came off the ramp. I tell myself, “Don’t stress about it, maybe something happened and it will be on the next rotation.” I waited 3 cycles of luggage to arrive, and in that time I missed the small window for my connection that would get me to the ID@Xbox event before Josh had to leave for a dinner meeting. At this point, I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to see Josh or Corrine at all this trip, but I also wasn’t sure if I was going to have a change of clothes for the next week.
People who have known me for any significant amount of time know I have both a short fuse and a lack of patience when things don’t go according to plan, and this was more than a little frustrating. There is one thing that my dad and cousin, both having worked for the TSA, taught me to understand without exception. No matter how frustrated you get, the one place in the world you are not allowed to freak out at, is a post 9/11 airport in the United States.
My ability to follow that advice went completely out the window as I walked up to the customer service counter to resolve the situation, and I see my luggage nestled comfortably behind an area blocked off to the public. Normal people would probably think, “Oh how wonderful! They didn’t actually lose my possessions!” I’m not normal people, and I’m frustrated at the fact that, between Prim being sick and the airlines severe miscommunication, I likely wouldn’t be able to see my friends for any significant amount of time.
The point that Alaska airlines made was that, in the situation of locked hard cases (such as the pelican case that contained my clothes), the bag handlers are trained to assume there is a firearm, so they followed the correct process in taking it to the service counter. In doing this, the airline ensures an ID could be verified before surrendering the baggage (that potentially has a firearm) to the owner.
The point I was making, is that there is no logical reason (in my mind) that they should have assumed there was a firearm in it, considering that I was able to make it through the TSA security checkpoint in another federally secured airport. More importantly, the counter agent of their airline in Boise specifically told me it would be on the baggage claim carousel, and gave me no indication that I needed to go to the customer service counter to pick up my locked hard case. Had she told me to go there directly, I wouldn’t have waited three rotations, and I likely would have made my connection.
There was a miscommunication, improper expectations had been set by the airline, and they didn’t seem to care that I had been impacted. I already missed my connection, so I found myself with free time and a point to prove. With the prior experience of being a travel agent under my belt, I got comfy and had no problem defending my stance. I was probably too comfortable, because two floor supervisors and a conversation that could be heard in all directions later, I was asked to either leave or be escorted out of the airport by local law enforcement.
I lost the argument, probably looked like an asshole to everyone in the baggage claim area, and I should have listened to my family’s advice from the first place. You really shouldn’t ever make a scene in an airport.
With my plans having drastically changed, I catch the light rail to meet up with my cousin downtown, which lasted just enough time for me to calm down from the disaster of miscommunication that I had just left. We meet up at Leña Cantina, where she was having drinks with a friend who was also in from out of town visiting.
Erica is my only cousin on my mother’s side, and is the closest of all of my extended relatives. She used to live in Boise when I was a teenager, and we used to bond over the worst b-movies in the world when I worked at Hollywood Video. Troma was life, and nothing will ever beat the scene in Leeches where the camp counselor says, “This is a democracy and I am the president of the United States of your ass.” I’ve had a handful of chances to hang out with Erica in our adult lives, but this weekend was going to be a great chance for us to see how our careers have helped shape our lifestyles.
We leave the bar and she begins to show us around some of the interesting buildings around the block, but I’m mesmerized when we make it to the Spheres. Amazon had built a self contained ecosystem that fostered a positive workspace for employees and, when available, a beautiful place for the public to explore.
I have a mixed bag of emotions when it comes to Amazon as a company. As a small business owner, I will always give my hard earned money to another small business owner. I will always prefer to support an individual’s passion over a faceless company that offers convenience. Beyond that, I think Amazon is a great company that creates jobs through innovation, and not all of their pursuits are founded out of a desire to make a profit. Local businesses that surrounded the Amazon campus noticed a drop off in revenue in evening hours due to the Amazon employees no longer being there to offer patronage, and when you add the lack of downtown parking to the scenario, it made a real impact to those business owners after 5pm. To help alleviate the hardship, Amazon opened up their parking lots free to the public at night. This ensured their community impact was positive, and their footprint on the city was made to be less intrusive.
The base floor of one of the buildings has a hidden speakeasy that was packed full of people when we popped our heads in to catch a glimpse, and the architecture of the spheres was breathtaking. Had it been open, I could have easily explored the spheres for hours. But it wasn’t, and I had luggage to unload, so we head back to her home in west Seattle where we meet up with her partner, Jacob, and enjoy Russian dumplings and conversations until 2 in the morning. If there is anything to be said about my family, we can chat it up until the late realization that we are about to only get a few hours of sleep.
Day Two - PAX
After appreciating the beautiful morning views from Erica’s rooftop deck with a cup of coffee, I scheduled my first sober uber ride. Back home, I walk to and from work, ride with my wife, or in the rare circumstance, I take my car out of the garage when a situation shows up that can’t be taken care of in one of the prior two scenarios. The last time I had been in the backseat of an uber, was the night of the governor’s ball, and I can be completely honest in saying that I have NO IDEA how that ride went, just that I ended up with a tattoo later in the evening.
After experiencing it for the entire weekend, I have learned that Uber in Seattle is interesting to say the least, but my first experience was priceless. The driver tried to sell me his prototype products, then moved into why I should invest in his poorly-planned business idea, and in the final stretch, he began a religious rant about how I needed his version of Jesus. I quickly told him that I was pretty set in my belief structure, and that I could walk the remaining distance to the convention center as I opened the door in the middle of traffic and got out of the car.
I walked the remaining 4 blocks to the Washington State Convention Center, and breathed a sigh of relief when I saw the familiarity of a glass building that I had been to multiple times over the past few years.
I had finally arrived to an introvert’s nightmare, Line-Con 2019. To their credit, PAX stepped up security measures pretty significantly over prior years. There was a bag check and metal detectors before you could even get onto the property, and it wasn’t done in a way that felt invasive, it just felt like they were making sure everyone remained safe. There was a presence from local law enforcement with K-9 units, but you would have to actively be on the look out for cops to notice them in the massive crowd of people.
Police were the last thing on my mind, though. I was too busy waiting in a line to the door that would allow me to wait in other lines, and I had another hour of waiting in said line before the real fun could begin.
90 minutes of customary line waiting had passed, but now was the time that I finally made my way into the main expo hall.
This year, I had formulated a game plan based on the prior experience at PAX, as well as my ability to travel in solitude. Today was about seeing the major sites, I would get my bearings, and I would figure out where to go on Monday when I came back for a second helping. I would try to play a few games that would present themselves as available, but this was not the year that I wanted to wait in 3 hour queues to be the first person to play a game that I already knew I was likely to buy upon release.
I played the new Ghost Recon game when one of the Ubisoft staff leaned over to me and said, “Are you here alone? These guys need a 4th man.” It was ideal because I was already waiting 30 minutes to play Roller Champions (think Rocket League meets Roller Derby) and was already a captive audience at the Ubisoft booth. I nerded out on the Final Fantasy 7 remake, the SuperGiant and Behemoth booths, and I played a handful of indie games that I walked by when a controller was waiting for a player. Considering that I was aiming to be nothing more than a fly on the wall, I actually had a pretty great experience discovering a few things I wasn’t on the lookout for.
Next time you come into the shop, ask me about how I got Predator to give me a hug.
With Josh being a community manager for Mixer, I have been introduced to a few of the Mixer partners via twitter, and Carrzi had been an online acquaintance for the past two years. This was the first year we would be at a convention at the same time, so we met up at the FF7 booth and decided to wander the convention together without any real rhyme of reason until her panel that afternoon. It is always interesting to meet the real person behind an online persona, but what was equally interesting to me, was being invited to see a closer perspective of the community of partners my friend supports. They use conventions and Mixer events as an opportunity to see the friends they originally met while playing video games and haven’t seen in months, very much in the same manner I use PAX as an excuse to visit Josh.
The people watching at PAX is always fantastic. Cosplayers are some of the most dedicated fans the industry has to offer, and some of the outfits were next level good. We walked the six levels, and I find a Hollowed Knight pin to bring back to Hailie, as well as an autographed Foxtrot comic for my office. I used to want to bring back all of the things, but I simply didn’t have the bandwidth to carry swag with me everywhere, and I had limited space in my bags for the flight back home, so I grabbed a small handful of things that made me smile. Eventually, Carrzi had her panel on diversity in the industry to attend, and I had a dispensary to visit. We parted ways and I made the ill-informed decision to walk from the convention center to (what I thought was) the closest dispensary in the area.
The 10 block walk had a couple of barbershops along the way that I was able to peek my head into, but large city architecture is one of my favorite things to admire. And in a city like Seattle, with a rich history built into the masonry of the buildings, wandering around by yourself is a great way to appreciate the smaller details that normally get overlooked in a rushed commute.
My backpack felt significantly heavier by the time that I arrived to the dispensary, so I tell the bud tender I am looking for a pen that will help me survive my back pain over the weekend, and an edible that hits pretty hard. I’m told that WA regulates edible doses at 10mg, but if I want the most bang for my buck, there is a delicious 10 oz bottle of mango lemonade that can be measured out into 10 separate 1 oz servings of 10mg each. Math nerds are quickly realizing that this tasty bottle has 100 mg in a few simple swallows, so I grab two of those, and start making my way back to the convention center.
While heading back, Carrzi messages me and says that she has a +1 to a few events that she was going to that evening, and wanted to see if I wanted to go check out a few parties. Considering that I’m not a part of the gaming industry, I’ve never asked to tagalong with Josh to any of his industry obligations. An invitation is a different story, and I just purchased what I assumed to be a delicious beverage full of good decisions, so of course I said yes.
On the walk to the first bar, I told her that I believe there are three types of people that go to these conventions. First off, there are the industry professionals that are actively working the convention. They could be developers, community managers, streamers, any number of positions that fit that criteria are there either to network with other professionals or to sell their product. Second, there are the die-hard fans who are excited to either show off their top-tier cosplay outfits, or they want to be one of the first to experience a game before all of their friends. I fall into the smallest category, which is the group of people who mostly go to shows to support a loved one that falls into one of the first two categories. Falling into the third category, I find it fascinating how the convention evolves over the years.
We move the conversation towards curating an online persona that is both a true part of yourself, but a very visible (read as exposed and vulnerable) part of yourself. You have to actively focus on the best parts of yourself that include the people you actually want to have in your own community, while shying away from conversations that could alienate your community. If you are trying to harbor a space for people to feel safe and be themselves, some topics wind up being off limits. Then I started talking about politics and religion, because that’s what I do best.
After visiting my dad, I learned that some conversations are only suited for face to face conversation so you can appreciate the communication that comes with vocal inflection and body language. Online communication has a tendency to be entirely too divisive on certain issues to be able to maintain the energy required to keep the conversations going. It’s one of my favorite parts about being a barber, both myself and the client have each other as a captive audience with real emotions and opinions that can be discussed face to face. 30 minutes of actual conversation can show you the history of a person in a way that stalking their instagram never will.
After talking about growing up with a fairly conservative background, we bonded on the fact that we were both military brats with similar perspectives of the world. We eventually arrive to the first party, and the tradition of Line-Con 2019 continued.
The first party we arrive at is a sign that Carrzi was being incredibly nice to me. She goes for big budget games that bring out her competitive side, meanwhile, I love indie games. The MIX was focused on smaller titles that are out on steam and kickstarter, most of them being published by small teams filled with passion projects. The party felt a lot like the Indie mega booth, only with room to breathe. There were two games that I am incredibly excited about, and the first that I was creeping on was called LevelHead. As I was watching the gameplay from afar, Adam Coster, CTO of Butterscotch Shenanigans, came up and introduced himself and began to tell me the story of his Mario Maker-esque game. After 10 minutes of watching someone play the game while he described to me the pick up and play mechanics of the demo they had available, he mentioned that the company was started alongside his two brothers after a childhood of not really getting along. I immediately stopped talking about the game and started talking about how amazing it must be to have a career that allows him to work with his family.
This is why I love indie games. It’s the people behind the scenes that do it for the love of the project that make (IMO) the best games.
It was about this time when Carrzi came by to let me know the next party was about to start. Since I knew indie games weren’t her gig, it meant she was the perfect candidate for Adam to see someone who loves the type of games he helped create (me) to introduce it to someone who doesn’t. We had a chaotic play through of a multiplayer level that had everyone at the booth laughing. I thanked Adam for creating an awesome platformer before we headed upstairs to check out the second half of the party.
Upstairs is where I was introduced to Spiritfarer, a modernized telling of the ferryman guiding spirits into the next world. In this management style game, you play as Stella, the newly appointed ferry master as she goes back to the land of the living to complete tasks to allow souls to pass on into the unknown. I want to preface the following with the knowledge that I am not the average person at this event. I would have to imagine that the average person at events like this are individuals in the industry, and they are asking industry related questions.
I am not that person.
“How dark do you guys want to go with this?”
”Like, on a scale of someone leaving the oven on before they passed, to I didn’t get to tell my true love how I felt, what kind of reactions are you hoping to illicit from the gaming audience in the tasks performed by Stella? Are they going to be relatively light hearted, or will there be that 1% of gamers who start crying their eyes out because you hit a nerve that nobody else knew how to touch?”
”WE TOTALLY ARE TRYING TO ADD ALL OF THAT INTO THE EARLY BUILD!! We don’t know what will pass into the final version that hits retail, but we would love to be able to get some of those one off reactions that get people talking about a real experience they had with our game.”
I think I may have been the first person to ask the dark questions, but this game was a perfect blend of the gameplay my wife loves and the dark narrative content that I love in story telling, and my questions were all met with enthusiasm.
Carrzi was over indie games, and the next party was starting, so we call an uber and head to another part of town.
The Indie Forest was a party at Fred’s Wildlife Refuge put on by Devolver Digital and Dreamhack. Now, having the conversation about Spiritfarer made me realize that I had ventured somewhere into the effects of my beverage, but it was in the moments walking through the front door of the second party that I was REALLY feeling the entire bottle of mango lemonade kicking it into overdrive.
We walk into a giant space that had pulsating pink and blue clouds being projected onto the wall, while a DJ on the second level was filling the room with dance music to drown out the amount of conversation being had by literally everyone at the same time. There were a handful of game stations that were set up near the entrance for the sake of posterity, but this was entirely a social scene, and I was a stranger in this foreign land. Not only that, sobriety was nowhere to be found.
If it could be described as anything, it was sensory overload. I couldn’t get distracted by any one thing because there were so many distractions that presented themselves every ten seconds. I realized there was a line of people that had been gravitating towards the corner of the projected clouds, so I walked around to see what they were waiting for. Cotton Candy, seriously? Oh my god…… it suddenly all made sense, and it was brilliant. As you stand in line, your peripheral vision slowly became consumed with visions of soft, swirling pillows of pink and blue. You would continue to wait, slowly being consumed by the swirling pastels, until finally you are presented with your own individual cloud of pillowy pink goodness. We were the participants of an interactive art display.
The overall scene wasn’t my vibe, but it was great for the state of mind I was in. I’m far too introverted to feel comfortable in a room of people I don’t know, which is why I chose a career that allows me to have multiple one on one conversations in a room with people I know pretty well. I downed a red bull, and we went upstairs to say hi to some of Carrzi’s friends from Mixer before heading out to dinner with a handful of other streamers.
The first full day wound down at Palomino, where I was introduced to a group of people who play Minecraft together. As a stranger from the outside looking in at surface value, it was one of the most diverse groups of people I have ever seen sit down at a table together, and that’s when it finally started making sense to me. It’s not about jocks hanging out with jocks, or the weirdos hanging out with other weirdos. The streaming community allows people to break away from traditional tribalism to find commonality in shared passions.. This blissful realization was rudely interrupted, when I took a bite of something that I thought was chicken but immediately realized wasn’t chicken. You see, my salad was prepared in a way that the individual could take individual components of the meal, and create perfect bites with every bite. I was unaware that the crusted chicken wasn’t actually chicken, and I shoveled a fistful of bleu cheese in my mouth. Thank god it was delicious, because that could have easily been the worst ending to an otherwise phenomenal first day in Seattle.
Day Three - The Unseen Seattle
After the 4 hours of sleep following a day of walking around, the sunrise from my cousin’s house was the most welcome sight.
We begin to get our bearings for the day, and I let Erica and Jacob know that the only thing I have planned for the entire weekend is a haircut, past that, I was looking to have more of a local’s experience of Seattle rather than a tourist’s experience. I finish my coffee and we head towards Mercer St.
Collin Anthony is an educator for Hanzo shears, and about two years ago, Jimbo and I had a chance to see him teach a class at Boise Barber College alongside Sebastian Lightfoot. We went out for beers after the class, and I had asked him if he would ever be interested in a traveling barber in the new space he was about to open. That conversation didn’t last very long, because the same week I was pricing out the reality of cutting hair in Seattle was the same week I had the lease opportunity for The Barber Story present itself. Of course I made the decision to pursue being a business owner, it was the right decision and I’d make it again if I were presented with a similar scenario. Having followed his career for the past two years, I was incredibly impressed with the team he put together, as well as the quality of cuts they had leaving the shop. As soon as I had booked my tickets for PAX, I had also scheduled an appointment with Tommy Ransom to see what his shop offered, and to see what I still had to learn.
If you want to create a great barbershop experience, visit great barbershops and experience their services. As a barbershop owner, I’m trying to bring as many of these experiences from neighboring markets back to Boise, so I can offer a similar experience to the people in my local community.
It goes without saying, if you live in Seattle and find the value in a quality haircut, the only reason you should be going anywhere other than Valiant Barber & Supply is because of improper planning on your part. Go book an appointment right now, because a good haircut will always be worth the wait, and you wind up paying for a cheap haircut in more ways than money. When the shop owner is an award winning educator for one of the leading shear companies in the world, it goes without saying that the barbers working with him will be nothing short of incredibly talented. A large portion of scheduling the appointment was to watch them in action, and to see their process first hand. The unfortunate thing about getting my haircut is that as soon as my glasses come off, I’m mostly blind to my surroundings, but that didn’t stop Tommy from giving me a damn good service.
As Collin and I were chatting near the end of the service, he asked, “How long are you in town?”
“I leave Tuesday.”
“There’s a hair jam going on tomorrow in Fife, you should check it out if you can.”
”I will figure out how to make it happen.”
Either I’m entirely serious about not knowing how to relax, or I love my career more than I know how to verbalize. Attending this hair show becomes my new priority for the weekend. We say our goodbyes and then I head to the second most magical experience of the day, damn good coffee.
When you think of Seattle coffee, you aren’t wrong to gravitate towards the Pike Place Starbucks, home of what many people consider to be the birth place of the company. Well, first off, it isn’t. The original Starbucks burned down and the one in the marketplace is simply the oldest Starbucks. Second, they don’t even serve coffee. You stand in a line full of tourists (continuing the tradition of line-con) to see the history of Starbucks and buy merchandise from a gift shop. If you want truly good Starbucks coffee (I promise, it does exist) you need to go a few blocks away to the Starbucks Reserve.
As a small business owner, Howard Schultz is one of the few leaders of industry that I have followed and admired for years. He made social changes to the culture of stores while defending his costly actions to the board of directors, stating that fiscal conservation requires social responsibility. When the Starbucks Reserve stores were originally announced, he said that he wanted to create the Willy Wonka experience of coffee for people that came to visit. It should be both familiar to the average coffee drinker, while giving enthusiasts a reason to be excited. Personally, I think he hit the nail on the head with that description.
When you walk in, there is a gift shop next to the coffee bar on the right, a full blown pastry bar to the left, and when you continue to walk down the steps towards the lower level, you find both the roastery that produces the Pantheon blend, as well as the experience bar that rotates their menu on a regular basis. We order more coffee than what was necessary and prepare ourselves for an indulgence like no other. I decide to go with the Whiskey Barrel-Aged Guatemala, while Erica orders a salted honey bee and Jacob gets a blended mocha drink. In addition to the cold drinks, we order a siphon flight of different brewed coffees. While we sit and talk about how I truly believe this concept store is nothing short of a love letter to the history of coffee, we watch an amazing display of talent from the baristas behind the bar.
Our drinks arrive, and we all share a small taste of everything presented to us. My Guatemala cold brew has a faint taste of Knob Creek by itself, but the coffee came in a decanter to be poured over a glass of ice cold Knob Creek and enjoyed as a sipping drink. My reaction to the flavor was appropriate, everything in front of me was flat out nectar of the gods, and Starbucks had proven to me that you can start out independent, move your way into becoming a global leader, but still show a significant amount of respect to the art and craft that started the path to begin with.
Fueled by caffeine, we pressed onward to the Seattle Underground tour.
As a city, Seattle has an incredibly interesting historical backstory. Following the Oregon Trail, prospectors moved north in the midst of the Yukon Gold Rush, and Seattle was the logging community that prepared miners on their way to strike it rich or strike out. The story is presented in the most detailed fashion during the original underground tour.
Moments before we began the tour, Erica realized that the woman leading the tour was an acquaintance she had met recently. This turned into a serendipitous happenstance, because we were able to get to the front of the line and that placement allowed me to capture a handful of amazing pictures of the underground, an area that had been both flooded due to poor planning and inadequate technology, as well as other areas that were burned to the ground due to lack of safety regulations.
Connecting the dots of an abstract history with a physical structure that you are standing in is a magical way to discover the past, and that’s why Erica had no problem going for her 8th visit (she’s learned something new every time) to take me for my first time. I would highly suggest the hour long tour to anyone who wants to learn a little more about how Seattle was formed, as well as the history of Seattle’s sewing circles.
In between the sections of underground that we visited, there was a lot of passing through alleys and side streets to get from point a to point b. I’ve always been one to look up when I’m in vertical cities, and once again, today proved that the architecture is something to appreciate from the ground up, but it also reminded me that there are some top down views of Seattle that needed to be had.
The tour ended near the Smith Tower, which was the first skyscraper to be built in Seattle when the invention of elevators allowed for a new type of construction. At one point, it was the tallest building in the United States west of New York. I had been to the space needle a few years prior when Hailie and I came back to the states from Dubai, but I really wasn’t in the mood for long lines and implied necessity to buy souvenirs. Plus, we were already in the neighborhood, so we walked the few blocks it took to get to the 35th floor observatory entrance.
The Smith Tower is not as tall as the space needle, but what it lacks in stature is made up for accessibility. It is cheaper, less crowded, it is closer to the water, closer to other skyscrapers, and in my opinion, the views are significantly better. Both should be experienced, but if you have already seen the Space Needle, you should definitely check out the beauty that the Smith Tower has to offer.
All this walking around was exhausting, and we were getting to the end of the day. Erica and Jacob tell me they want to show me one of the hidden gems of West Seattle, Alki Beach. It offers some of the greatest sunsets that can only be appreciated by living in a coastal city. We make our way over and I have one of the only moments of calm the weekend had to offer.
“Have you ever eaten Moroccan food?”
”No, but this trip is about experiencing things that I’ve never done before.”
”Perfect, let’s go to Itto’s for dinner!”
Erica and Jacob frequently enjoy the options of ethnic cuisine Seattle has to offer, and Jacob specifically is an adventurous eater who loves the funkiest of the funky flavors. Telling him about the prior night’s experience with bleu cheese was received with delight when he found out that I wasn’t mortified by the pungent nature of what happened. It was suggested that I try the Boquerones, and before I knew what I was into, I was asked, “Have you ever had anchovies before?”
Well……..no. Call me what you want, but I’m a man of my word, and if I’m looking for new experiences they can be found in ethnic cuisine. Jacob described anchovies as the bacon of the sea, so I finally got onboard.
Holy crap, those were far from terrible.
We all eat to our fill, and when the chef came out I had to compliment him on the presentation and overall service of the entire meal. He started the tapas out as light appetizers, moved into the more savory courses, and finished with anything that had been ordered with a little heat to it. It was a perfect symphony of flavors that wasn’t ruined by having a spicy dish too early on into the meal.
I didn’t realize we were as close to their house as we were, so we head home to finish the evening on the best part of their West Seattle home.
Day Four - The Bourdain Experience
Armed with the knowledge that I am willing to try just about anything, Erica and Jacob decided to show me some of the neighborhoods that don’t typically get appreciated by traditional tourism.
We arrive in the neighborhood of Columbia City on Sunday morning, and are welcomed with an hour long wait at the restaurant that has been screaming for my visit.
Columbia City is an incredibly diverse neighborhood, both ethnically and socioeconomically, with pockets of affluence and poverty, all within immediate walking distance from one another. It’s not the neighborhood that I think a lot of people would necessarily feel comfortable walking around, but there were amazing sights throughout the area. I could feel how tightly knit the community becomes on Sunday mornings as we passed a church service that had little more than standing room in the congregation, with the remaining members having conversation and preparing food for everyone outside of their meeting place.
Our hour passes, and we head back to Super Six. Erica had picked this restaurant out because of my constant ramblings about trying to find the world’s greatest chicken and waffles. Super Six is an Asian/Pacific/PNW fusion restaurant with interesting twists on favorites I had back in Hawaii. I start the meal out with a coconut cream malasada, and it’s the best Hawaiian donut I’ve had since eating Leonard’s after church when was I was 14 and living on the main island of Oahu.
A new challenger approaches.
Super Six’s rendition of chicken and waffles is the best I have had outside of Idaho, and it damn near took the top spot. The waffle is entirely unique, described as a Hong Kong cake that is both light and delicate with an airy core, while crisp and textured enough to have enough bite that it still compliments the chicken very well. They also are the first option I have found that takes the best part of a chicken, the thigh meat, and allows it to shine with a sweet and spicy mix of sriracha and Thai sweet chili sauce.
This is, without question, my new #2. The only reason Waffle Me Up hasn’t been dethroned, is because of the sentimental attachment I have to a local Boise business. But trust me when I say that this is a dish I could eat weekly.
The next stop on our off the beaten path tour, was Seattle’s Chinatown-International District.
The CID is home to the densest population of Seattle’s Asian-American population, and contains three distinct neighborhoods with businesses owned and operated primarily by those of Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese descent.
Our first stop was to combat Erica’s jealousy of my recent visit to the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse. The Panama Hotel is home to the last remaining Japanese bathhouse in the United States. The space has been preserved as a memory to the time during WWII when Japanese citizens were ordered to be evacuated into internment camps. The basement is visible from a panel in the floorboards, and a monthly tour is offered to see the belongings that were left behind and unclaimed by families who never had the opportunity to collect them.
We enjoy our tea, and decide to start making our way to Georgetown before the hair jam begins. While we were walking, I see a line wrapping around a building that was at least 50 people deep. I believe in the power of lines to gauge the value of a food vendor. People don’t wait for things that aren’t worth the wait.
“Either something new, or something really good is in there, want to check it out?”
At the end of the line, there was a new business, and as much as I wish I could tell you what Japanese Mochi Donuts taste like, I was pressed for time. I was still ecstatic to take the time to see what the line was about, because we stumbled into one of the largest asian markets I have ever walked through. We decided to go to the end of the food court and grab a cream puff from Beard Papa’s before checking out the rest of the market for a few minutes before heading out to our next destination.
Georgetown is not the tech metropolis that comes to mind when most people think of Seattle. It is a blue collar town for people who prefer to work with their hands. It was the first place in Seattle that I felt like I had the possibility of feeling entirely at home if I were to open up a barbershop next to a pair of railroad tracks.
Our time for exploration had come to an end, and we were now headed over to Fife, to a shop called The Barber Lounge. I’m dropped off, and I walk into a space full of talented educators and eager learners, and it is hectic. Hectic in a way that is a nightmare for introverts who value personal space, but not hectic like the prior night’s party. I got to see some amazing cutting techniques first hand from Jonathan Eric, and this time I had my glasses on, so I could pay attention to Collin demo a razor cut and Tommy simply doing his thing.
We don’t have hair jams to this level in Boise, so it was an absolute delight being in the presence of so many people better than me at what I do. The realization that you have nothing left to learn should be an indication that you should leave your industry, and being this close to so much knowledge reminded me I still have a lot to learn.
I met a handful of stylists from the area, but I definitely felt like a black sheep in a room full of locals. I mostly used the opportunity to quietly observe from the corners of the room and try out my new Osmo Mobile 3.
It was late. Erica and Jacob went and watched Once Upon a Time in Hollywood while I got my part hard (barber jokes), but it was around 11:30 when we finally made our way back to West Seattle. On the drive back, I let them know that I had been invited to wander around the pier and check out what nighttime sights I could find. I didn’t want to pass up an opportunity to see the nightlife of Seattle after the streets had vacated, so I got a key to their house, an uber, and I showed up sometime around 1 am to the Ferris Wheel on the boardwalk.
I like to call this part of the trip “Chris’ quiet time.” There was nobody on the streets, it was fantastic. Only the neons of Pike Market and the surrounding areas were available to distract myself, but seeing these spaces without the hustle and bustle of normal tourist traffic made for some of the greatest sights of any of my times spent in Seattle.
I walked around until 3:30 before catching my Uber back to a soft bed and three solid hours of sleep.
Day Five - My Feet Hurt
I would like to present to you, the face of, “absolutely tired, but determined to continue exploring.”
That morning, I texted Corrine to see how Prim was doing, and I was delighted to find out that the flu had passed over the weekend. We made plans to meet up in the parking garage so I could transfer my luggage into their car after I had my obligatory visit to Pike Place Market during daylight hours.
Pike Place Market is home to the fish market that is responsible for shaping the early stages of my business philosophy when I was first introduced to their way of thinking at the ripe age of 17. I’ve stood by this mentality for almost half of my life, and I don’t plan on changing it any time soon. It’s simple, have fun at work and find ways to engage your clients in a way that they engage back. Get people involved in the fun that you’re having, and you create an unforgettable experience. Going to their stand is a tradition every time I find myself in Seattle, but I completely forgot to factor in that I was visiting them on Labor Day.
There were no fish to be found, such is life. There’s still an opportunity to explore and eat delicious Crab Benedict from Athenian.
Erica and Jacob drop me off by the convention center, and we have our final hugs and goodbyes. I simply cannot express with words how much I treasured the experience they curated for me to have over the weekend I stayed with them, and since I can’t use words, I used an abundance of pictures.
I walked a few blocks to find Josh and Corrine outside of a Starbucks. Josh is fielding the random people that recognize him, and Corrine continues being the most supportive wife she knows how to be.
I tell them that I had seen everything I wanted to see on Friday, so this was going to be a lot of me hanging out and taking pictures of Prim’s first PAX. She was a week away from her first birthday, and traditions have to start somewhere.
PAX West is SO MUCH EASIER on Labor Day. Like, easy enough to walk around with a baby easy. The weekend rush had died down, and the foot traffic in the convention center was so much more manageable that we actually got to see a few things I hadn’t seen on Friday.
This was the first time that I got to see what it was for Corrine to be Josh’s wife at an event like this, and the struggle of walking from one side of an event room to the other while being stopped by every person who recognizes him. Being successful isn’t always about being in the spotlight, it’s about having a support system that unconditionally loves you and becomes your biggest cheerleader.
With that said, I think this picture perfectly describes what it is to be the spouse of someone with any level of notoriety.
PAX West was finally wrapped for us. Josh had an obligation back at Studio D, so we catch a ride to the Microsoft campus and I get comfy in his office. It was the uber ride over when I felt the sleep creeping up on me. I had been burning the candle from both ends all weekend, and I was finally in the home stretch. I noticed my blinking got progressively longer and longer as the moments passed, and the last thing I wanted was to be the random person asleep in a Microsoft office, so I wrote a note on a sticky pad and wore it like a name badge in case I passed out, which I did.
Josh found me half asleep in his office. Thank the powers that be it was him and not some random Microsoft employee, and also that it wasn’t in the middle of his tour. We relax for a few minutes before going out for a burger (you need to try the rockstar and the beauty of beer battered bacon) before making our way back to his apartment. Sitting down to watch the new Dark Crystal series, both of us passed out on the couch. The rush had finally coming to an end.
Day Six - The Departure
I wake up to the smell of Corrine making coffee, and I get to have a few minutes of quiet with her and Prim before their work day begins.
I ride with Josh to the beginning of his actual work week. He had worked his normal job the prior Monday-Thursday, worked PAX from Friday-Monday, and now was about to start the next run of his normal life from Tuesday-Friday. I know I don’t get to see my friends frequently enough, but it’s because most of them are busting their asses to make the most for themselves and their families.
It’s why I love my friends as much as I do. When you surround yourself with people who have as much passion as you do, you live passionate lives.
We hug and say goodbye as he begins a conference call and my final uber arrives. I’m told that I need to ignore my body’s hatred of all things involving lactose, and get Beecher’s while I’m in the airport. I’ve never tried it, so I down three lactaids and call it good before my flight home.
As much as I love traveling, I love Boise more, and I was finally home.
The next morning, I opened up my facebook to find out that Jeff from the Beardsmith had passed away from a heart attack this same weekend. My rush of excitement slammed on the brakes and it quickly came to a crashing halt. His passing came out of nowhere, he wasn’t old, he was in great health, and it shook the local community that he helped create with Wendy through The Beardsmith.
The Beardsmith is largely responsible for the growth of barber culture in the treasure valley over the past five years. Every time I saw Jeff, we talked about how we needed to build community and not focus on competition, there is room for everyone to find themselves and the people they connect with. He saw me as someone with vision, passion, and a drive to make things happen for myself, and was one of the few people within our industry that continually encouraged me to pursue the growth of The Barber Story. In an industry full of competition and ego, Jeff was, and still is, a rogue spirit.
Life is the most delicate and fragile thing we have possession of. If we aren’t living our fullest lives, with the most passion we are capable of putting out, we disrespect the ground we walk on. This is why I want to experience everything in the short time I have on this rock, and I will always take the time to celebrate and find joy in the success of the people close to me.
Life is precious, live well.