Day 1-June 16, Maui to Seattle

I didn't know when we left, that we were setting out on a food safari from Maui to Seattle. Departure from home goes smoothly with our friends, Ken and Cindy, arriving on Maui to house-sit for us and keep the plants and dogs alive. Liko and Nalu are excited to get more attention than we usually give them, and we leave a little early, antsy to go.

I encounter my first hurdle of the trip without even leaving Maui.  The airport restaurant is still serving breakfast, and I can’t find one thing to order on the menu that doesn’t have something in it I’m allergic to. After the plague of the mysterious rash on our last road trip two years ago, I discovered I have a host of food and additive allergies. I knew that would be an issue this time too, but at least I know what to avoid now. Dickering over the menu, the waiter, a kind Filipino man, finally brings me a bowl of lettuce and a loco moco without the eggs or rice—a burger patty with gravy. I looked at Mike, feeling upset and worried about all the times that this is going to happen in the coming thirty days.

“I hate being that fussy customer. I hate it,” I say passionately. Behind that statement is our shared history starting out poor thirty years ago, both of us waiting tables, and all the times we grumbled about “that customer.”

Mike reaches over and touches my hand. “I know.” The compassion in his face makes me cry, snuffling briefly into my paper napkin. He understands my frailty and frustration and doesn’t hold it against me. The flight to Seattle is smooth and mellow, and we watch a movie on a rented tablet and each share one earbud like a couple of teenagers. I notice how blue his eyes are, and I hadn’t noticed that in a long time.

I am astounded by the majestic snow-topped volcano-looking mountains all around Seattle as we descend. Arterial waters, lakes and possibly the ocean are all swirling in a mysterious blue mist around the sprawling city, and it’s still sunny at 8 pm. We are picked up from the airport in a van driven by a Mr. Singh who wears a large lavender turban, and by 9:30 p.m., we’re checked into a Ramada Inn (smelling of cherry rug cleaner and decorated in clashing multiple patterns) on the outskirts in an area that looks like urban sprawl anywhere but turns out to be entirely different.

After checking in, we walk along the slowly-darkening road looking for food because it’s almost 10 pm and that burger patty was a long time ago. We pass a bright lighted strip mall doorway that I think is a restaurant but we discover it’s a religious gathering, and everyone coming out wear light-colored, drapey clothing and the women have scarves on their heads. It feels strange to have no idea what country these slender, polite black people are from, or even what religion they are, though I’m guessing Muslim.

We eventually  find a restaurant open in another strip mall and go in. We are the only white people I’ve seen since we left the airport, and I wish I’d read up on Seattle more because I had no idea it was so multicultural. Called Juba on it’s slightly greasy, laminated plastic menu, the restaurant’s a convivial place with a welter of foreign voices, chatting and talking and semi-watching a large TV in the corner. The friendly waiter nixes our attempts to order things they’re out of, and finally I ask, “What do you have left?” and he has goat meat, and something called beef something or other, so we get that along with pasta and pita which were words I could recognize.

I’ve never had anything any sort of African food before except a dinner one night of Ethiopian food, prepared at her home by my friend Jody Brown, who's an adventurous cook. Juba’s East African cuisine was entirely new, and everything, seasoned by hunger and the excitement of adventure, was delicious. The “mango smoothie” was amazing, a sweet, tangy blend of real mangoes and probably tons of sugar. It tasted better than any  mango smoothie I’d had in Hawaii (even if I could afford one!) and was only a couple of dollars. My beef dish, named something I couldn’t pronounce, came with flat bread and a thin soup and was basically a pile of chopped, spiced steak. I motored through the whole bowl, making little tacos out of the flat bread and dipping them in the soup, while Mike chewed on a hind leg of goat along with a towering pile of thin, spicy, red spaghetti.

It was all delicious, especially the mango smoothie. I wondered where all the women were—there were none in the restaurant. I ate the whole thing, Mike ate all the goat (it was very chewy with a gamey aftertaste, kind of like lamb) and I realize Seattle is a very different place than Hawaii.

We have so many races in Hawaii and I recognize all of them there, in their niches, and know how to navigate situations with Japanese, Korean, Hawaiians, Chinese, Tongans, Micronesians, Filipinos and blends of all of the above—and here I’m clueless. It feels uncomfortable but fascinating, and chewing on a bite of gamey goat, I pretend I’m Anthony Bourdain on a food safari. Interestingly, nothing on the menu is one of my allergy foods.

Walking back to the Ramada, holding hands as we look for stars in a sky that’s finally surrendered to sunset well after 10 pm, we pass a grocery store with signs in many languages and look into a barbershop lit and bright with people talking in voices that remind of me of bright confetti. If this were Maui, it would all be shut up tight hours ago.

We're not in Kansas anymore.


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