The chatter of people is an ambience in the background as we near the Pike Place Market on Pike Street. A jazz band is playing in the distance, near a Starbucks, and as I near the entrance of the market, I can’t help but smile. A magician stands there, a sign proclaiming that for a quarter, he could tell you what day of the week you were born on, and for a dollar, he would do any magic trick you requested with only a bucket and a place to stand. I walk along, curiously reading his sign stating that all proceeds would go back to his hometown school in Vietnam.
As I move about the market, I spot beautiful wood carvings, polished to a spectacular gleam, and traditional calligraphy, paintings, hand drawn and painted in front of your very eyes. There are hair accessories, a lot of them, and little bracelets and a ton of fake jewelry. There are assorted wood selections, each of them from a different state, proudly arrayed, each with a tiny label of the wood’s home state. But there are only a few stores I am interested in. I walk past bouquets of flowers, arranged and preserved for the wintertime, a sea of them on one side of the market, stretching all the way to Virginia Street. On the other side, there are assorted food stalls, each with their own specialty, one selling Rainier cherries and Lapin cherries and Bing cherries and so much more. Another offers fresh roasted nuts, arranged in a buffet-style orderly line.
But as I walk on, past the vegetable sellers, past the sea of flowers, past the nuts, past the wood carvings, the paintings, the jewelry and accessories, I get to the place I was looking for. The classic Pike Place Fish store stands there, a crowd clustered around it. I walk up to the counter. A bellow emanates from the lively stall: “We got a SALMON!!” A response comes “OOHHH OOHHH SALMON!!!” I spot the order suddenly flying through the air, dipping toward the ground, and… At the last moment, a fishmonger with an apron, clad in muck boots, not slipping despite the wet floor, catches it. Applause showers from the audience as cameras click and video recordings start. The wet fish smell starts to get to me as I walk up to the counter and state my order. The guy at the front starts smiling.
“Ahh,” he says. “You want the oysters, eh?” I give a nod. “They’re free. Go take em!”
I raise my eyebrows. “Raw, fresh, oysters?”
“Sure, they’re raw. We even give hot sauce! But you gotta eat them here!” He laughs.
“Nah, I’ll pass.” I reply.
“You sure?” He asks again, hands already moving to hose down and wrap my order.
“Sure as can be.” I repeat.
As I walk back to my car with oysters in my bag, I decide to visit the gum wall, a tradition that I do every visit. As I walk toward it, the grays and blues and blacks start merging into a vibrant pattern as I make my way to the piece of collective art. It is vibrant, neon colors, boring into my eyes, yet it is also set in darkness, black gum of a suspicious flavor and white, drained, depleted gum scattered all over. It is the essence of creativity, human ingenuity, and culture in one place, but every 6 months is hosed down, cleansed of all this. It is a collage of the people, one that is universal, one that anyone can add an important part to, no matter the age or size. From the wood bits from every state to the hand-made paintings to the flying fish and music playing and the magical tricks, the market has a special place in my heart. So, taking out a small stick of gum out of my pocket, I chew for a bit, and add my own piece to the collage of culture.