The Burg and Other Seattle Scenes

BOOK: The Burg and Other Seattle Scenes
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The Burg and Other Seattle Scenes

Mostly True Stories

Books by Jerome Gold


The Moral Life of Soldiers

Sergeant Dickinson
(originally titled
The Negligence of Death


The Prisoner's Son

The Inquisitor

Of Great Spaces
(with Les Galloway)




The Burg and Other Seattle Scenes

Paranoia & Heartbreak: Fifteen Years in a Juvenile Facility

How I Learned that I Could Push the Button

Obscure in the Shade of the Giants: Publishing Lives Volume II

Publishing Lives Volume I: Interviews with Independent Book Publishers


The Burg and Other Seattle Scenes

Mostly True Stories

Jerome Gold

Copyright © 2007, 2012 Jerome Gold. All rights reserved.

Cover photograph by Willa Gold.

ISBN 978-1-936364-05-3

“Icarus” and “Monday Morning in Early September” were previously
published by Friday's Egg Calendar Company. Thank you, Bob

Black Heron Press

Post Office Box 13396

Mill Creek, Washington 98082


The Burg

Notes from Under the Floorboards of a
Great Pretty Good
Large University

The Woman Behind the Counter

What I've Learned About Men



Monday Morning in Early September

Reagan Years

A Night at the IHOP


The Burg

On Thursday, December 14, 2006, a gale struck western Washington State. A million people were without power for a few hours to two weeks. The gale's most powerful gusts reached hurricane speeds. In Seattle, winds were recorded at 69 miles per hour.

On Friday when I came by I saw that a tree had fallen on Burgermaster's roof near the southwest corner. Handwritten signs were taped to the doors, informing customers that the restaurant had limited power and was closed. I thought I saw someone inside, and there seemed to be dim lights, perhaps from candles, but the doors were clearly locked. It was the only building in the area without power and I thought it odd that the gale the day before had singled out the Burg.

As I stood beside my car, trying to decide what to do next, a couple of other cars pulled into the lot. People got out, went to the front door, and read the sign. Then they peered inside and drew back. They looked at me, then back at the building, then simply stopped moving.

There was a new Starbucks on my way home and I decided to give it a try. Ordinarily I do not much care for Starbucks. My problem is its atmosphere. There is a kind of anxiety that I associate with young, ambitious executives, or executive wannabes, or unemployed executives that seems to permeate every Starbucks I've been in. The staff are generally nice enough, but Starbucks is not for me. On this occasion, however, I could think of no other place to go that
was close, and I chanced it. The staff were nice, but I was right—it was not a place for me.

Each day for the next five, I cruised the parking lot at Burgermaster. Each time, I saw people reading the signs on the doors, and others wandering as though stranded or confused. Each day, it seemed to me, less light emanated from the restaurant and it grew smaller, as though the weight of the roof were slowly compressing the walls. I wondered if it had been abandoned.

One day, shopping for peanut butter, vitamin C, and other essentials at Safeway, the Burg's immediate neighbor to the west, I ran into Sandi, my friend Roy's partner. Roy had been moping on the couch at her house, she said. “Don't you have to be somewhere?” she said she asked him. But he didn't.

After Safeway, I went to Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, where I saw Bob, a physics teacher, grading papers as he does at Burgermaster. I had wondered where everyone had dispersed to. At least two of us had found our way north to Third Place.

Third Place Books gets its name from Ray Oldenburg's idea (in
The Great Good Place
) that a person needs a place, one neither his home nor his work location, where he can be among people he chooses to be among, where he can speak openly about subjects that interest him and listen to others' opinions over something to eat or drink. Third Place is an agreeable place, but it is not the place it wanted to be. Instead, it is a combination of things: bookstore; food court; community center; a place, on some nights, for musical entertainment. It is for youngish families. It is loud, not with
the passion of discussion, but with the boisterousness or discontent of children and the clatter of dishes and, on some nights, with the music. In the food court I feel that I should not linger, nor, if a band is playing, even speak for fear of distracting those who are there to be entertained.

The Burg is what Third Place Books wanted to be. It does not have live music. While it occasionally hosts vintage or classic car shows, or Mustang or Volkswagen shows, and allows a number of charities to use a portion of its parking lot as a car wash, these events are outdoors and can be ignored, if you choose to ignore them. There is not another place in Seattle like the Burg, with its good soups, its spaciousness and light, its mediocre coffee and free refills. In the Burg you can stay as long as you like and no one will hurry to take your dishes away, though its regulars, unless we are eating, are careful to take our ease only between meal times or after the dinner rush. The staff will leave you to yourself if you are reading or writing (I have written all or parts of several books and a dissertation at a booth in the Burg), although another regular may want to have a conversation.

Except at meal times, the Burg is not a place for families, although you do find some older couples among the regulars. Moms and dads want to eat and get their kids out of there and over to their next activity as soon as they can. You sometimes see students from the University of Washington at the Burg, but it is not the draw that the Barnes and Noble in University Village and the QFC café section are for them. In the afternoon and later in the evening, the Burg is for the middle-aged and older, those who own at least some of their time and who prefer to place themselves apart from
the crowd.

Among the people I've met or seen there regularly are a composer; a retired Boeing engineer; two retired professors; a retired teacher; a woman who lived off her investments; a man who works the occasional job so as to support his reading habit; a man who is a poet as well as a passionate and systematic reader; Wes Wehr, the artist and botanical illustrator who loved the grilled crab-and-Swiss-cheese sandwiches the Burg has offered for more than twenty-five years; David Willson, a novelist, teacher and librarian at a nearby community college who wanted to take a photo of me eating a hamburger with a knife and fork; Kirby Olson, a professor of literature and philosophy and, now, a novelist who wrote me recently from Delhi, New York that “I want to envision you sitting in the Burgermaster, reading a book;” a tutor who meets and teaches her charges in the booth behind the one I most like to sit in; a woman with muscular dystrophy brought in by her husband; a real estate broker for whom the Burg and his car compose his office; a writer and illustrator of children's books; a nurse putting herself through law school; a renowned minister and columnist for one of the local newspapers; Pat, a skilled poet who had studied with Theodore Roethke but who wrote only when depressed and eventually committed suicide; and George, her lover who determined to destroy himself by increments after learning of her death.

The Burg's regulars are individuals. Except for the few couples, most of us prefer to occupy a booth or table alone, though we visit one another freely. My friend Roy always sits at the far corner of a raised section of tables, provided no
one in his or her ignorance has ensconced himself or herself there ahead of him. But no one should: the management has set a small plaque in the rail behind this table announcing that it is reserved for Roy between eight and ten a.m., and again between five and seven p.m. Should another person be sitting there when Roy comes in, he will sit nearby, waiting for the person to leave, upon which departure he will move in immediately. (Lest the reader see this behavior as unique to Roy, I note that the physics teacher prefers to grade his students' papers in the same booth by the window every afternoon. I, too, have my favorite booth which happens to be across the aisle from Roy's table, and I feel a little distressed when I come in and find it inhabited by someone else.)

At his table, Roy will read poetry or Proust, perhaps Saramago. I recently recommended Schnitzler to him but I don't know if he's read him yet, or, indeed, if he will. At his table, Roy holds court. Men and women of all ages will come over to say hello or to chat for a few minutes. People who want to see him know to look for him at his reserved table in the morning or the evening.

For the past several weeks he has been involved in renovating a house, so has often come in later in the evening. He has even skipped some days completely. Someone will come in, go up to Roy's empty table, ask me, “Where's Roy?” then leave, often before I can answer. One man stood before the table when someone else was eating there, and told him: “You're not Roy.” A woman saw that no one was sitting at his table, walked over to it as if he might suddenly appear if only she got closer, started to say something to me, then went to another part of the restaurant where another
woman was waiting for her. Just before they left, she started for the table again, again looked at me, then walked outside with her companion. Some of us regulars are so regular as to be counted among the Burg's attractions.

In Missoula, Montana there used to be a place called Eddie's Club. It catered to the old-timers—those who had worked for the Burlington Northern in the Thirties and the Forest Service in the Forties and who lived now in the residential hotels in the center of town—as well as to university students, smoke jumpers, writers and artists and just about anybody who wanted to sit and talk or drink or make a little trouble. In a way, the Burg reminds me of Eddie's, but without the drinking and with a lot less trouble. Perhaps it is the light. For a bar, especially, Eddie's was exceptionally well lighted, with banks of fluorescent tubing providing such an intensity of illumination that you could not find a shadow in the place except under the pool tables.

The Burg does not use fluorescence, but if light is the stuff of vitality, it has both in common with Eddie's, the Burg relying on overhead lamps at night and the lamps in concert with an echelon of broad, west-facing windows during the day. These two sources of light are sufficient to read or write by, and the softer light is less conducive, I think, to a sneak punch to the back of the head than the lighting at Eddie's was.

Eddie's sustained loyalty among its patrons, as the Burg does, and had photographs of the oldest of them in a row on the wall facing the bar. These were not snapshots or even storefront studio photos, but were taken by Lee Nye, a photographer who might have gained a national reputation had
he been willing to leave Montana for New York or Los Angeles. When one of the old-timers died, the bartender stuck a gold star on the glass fronting his photograph. In Eddie's, you lived in the moment as you contemplated eternity.

I do not recommend the Burg photograph its older patrons, or award a star to each of the departed. Eddie's was in Montana, a rural state where death either by violence or natural cause is acknowledged. The Burg is in Seattle where, like most of the country, we try to deny death's inevitability. But we have suffered our losses. The retired Boeing engineer died of heart failure a few years ago, as did Wes Wehr. Cancer took another retiree. In his obituary, his family noted that he enjoyed his daily visit to Burgermaster until shortly before he died. Another retiree succumbed to cancer not long ago, but her daughter and grandson still drop in occasionally. I learned only recently that the woman with muscular dystrophy had died.

BOOK: The Burg and Other Seattle Scenes
10.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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