Tag: seattle

A Return to Cafe Racer

Alley-side View of Cafe Racer Today

I only had an hour for lunch that day, May 30, 2012, and I needed to make it count. I was working at a financial firm in an east-side suburb of Seattle and simultaneously covering the Seattle International Film Festival for my podcast, Cinebanter. Every few days I would make the jaunt to the W Hotel in downtown Seattle to retrieve press screeners, which I would watch back-to-back, review and then return when the next batch was ready for pick up. Because of the hours of operation, I was only able to pick the films up between a short window of time on Saturdays (often when I needed to be in a theater screening films) or during normal business hours on weekdays, so lunchtime was often my only option.

As I was getting ready to go, my boss told me that there had just been a shooting in North Seattle at a cafe; news alerts were saying the gunman was still on the loose. Sadly, I didn’t even flinch at this news because gun violence was nothing new in my city. And I was headed downtown anyway—further south than the location of the shooting.

I went ahead as planned, got my car out of our building’s garage and headed over the floating bridge toward my destination.

Because I’d made this trip multiple times the prior few weeks, I had it down to a science: I’d exit at Union and head left, past the hotel to find quick parking. I always had luck at a lot right across from Town Hall and in the rare times that lot was full, I’d park in the library garage down the hill and try to be fast enough to make the cutoff for the free 20 minutes they granted to patrons returning books.

As I made my way up toward the lot, sirens blared and multiple emergency vehicles cluttered the streets surrounding that block. I thought to myself, “there must be an accident” and went on down to the library, securing one of the last short-term spots.

When I reached the surface of the street, my phone lit up with texts from my boss. “Where are you?” and after a few minutes, “Why aren’t you answering?!” He wanted to know that I was okay.

I quickly texted him back that I was fine and heading into the hotel for my films. “Please be careful! The shooter just stole an SUV in that neighborhood and they haven’t caught him. He killed the owner of the SUV!” Goosebumps. What?

Indeed, he was right. The order of the events went something like this:

Shortly before 11:00 a.m., 40-year-old Ian Stawicki, a regular at Cafe Racer, known for his anger management issues, enters the establishment. Because he’s a troublemaker, he’s asked by management to leave so there won’t be a disruption to the so-far peaceful morning. He doesn’t. He hovers, then without warning opens fire with a .45 caliber handgun (he’s armed with two weapons that day). He kills four patrons and injures a staff member as one man throws a bar stool at him and begins to fight. In these moments, a few others escape to hide in the bathroom and back area of the cafe—they all thankfully survive. 911 calls from that event paint a harrowing picture of fear.

Stawicki then steals a hat from one of his victims and flees the cafe, catching a nearby Metro bus downtown.

He arrives at the parking lot where I often leave my car and confronts a 52-year-old woman, demanding she surrender her Mercedes SUV. She refuses, fights back and he shoots her in the head. Afterward, he takes the SUV, runs over her now-dead body and heads to West Seattle, where a few hours later he would commit suicide when police caught up with him.

I got my films as fast as I could and headed back to the office, terribly shaken. When I arrived, my boss and I watched the live news feed as they tracked the murderer and released footage from the cafe surveillance. The still images showed at first a bustling cafe with folks seated at the bar, enjoying their day as the gunman entered. In the corner to the left of the murderer sat a girl alone, reading her book. In the next frame, the killer is shown hands-on-hips assessing his destruction, barstool overturned.

I studied these photos intensely, thinking mostly of that girl with her book. She had been me so many times at various Seattle cafes (even that very one on a few occasions). I couldn’t help but think it just as easily could have been me.

She was Kimberly Layfield, an actress from Georgia who had recently quit her job as a dental assistant to pursue her dreams full time. Her age, 38. Two years older than me. I wept for her and all the victims, and brimmed with anger that this man who was known to be mentally ill—and had a criminal record of violence—had easy access to the guns he used to ruin so many lives.

Despite the grim history of that day, the cafe did re-open and business was okay, but nearby construction and the changing neighborhood coupled with with the retro-fitting of the building made the debts too large for the owner to continue, so he closed the doors in 2017. A new owner revived the spot and re-opened it in the spring of 2018.

I had a mental block—perhaps fear—of returning to the cafe after the shooting because I was afraid of residual bad energy from the event. Today, I got over it to return and explore their Official Bad Museum of Bad Art.

I was greeted warmly at the bar, where I ordered a salted caramel mocha (delicious, by the way) and then a sandwich for lunch. I planted myself at a table in the window and absorbed my surroundings.

The structure of the room is exactly the same (I think even the original barstools remain), but there is a softness to the atmosphere that has erased the pain. From the artwork on the walls to the hum and dim of those working quietly at single tables, the artsy, quirky vibe I remember pre-shooting is palpable.

Though my eyes admittedly zeroed in on the spot where Kimberly read her book (there is no longer a table there) and the killer stood over his carnage, I shook the images from my brain and concentrated on the delicious grilled cheese (made with Macrina sourdough) in front of me.

After my meal, I traveled to the OBAMA room to explore the hilarious collection of art and snapped a few photos, which I promptly posted to Instagram. Folks gathered upstairs were laughing and talking and enjoying the day. Everything was as it should be.

Now, the cafe has an Indiegogo campaign to ensure the future of the establishment for years to come. I hope they make their goal, because I plan to return for many more pleasant afternoons like the one I had today.

The Great Thaw of 2019

13 Days

That’s how long I was prevented from driving my own car. Nearly two weeks.

It’s the longest I’ve gone without driving since I spent 10 days in Japan for a speaking engagement in 2015. From February 4 – 16 I only left the house to walk to the grocery store once and for work twice (I was picked up at the bottom of my icy hill after walking/falling down it). It was a test of survival skills and mental health. I passed the first with flying colors; the jury is still out on the second.

I’d spent much of December and January on the road—home to Oregon for the holidays; San Francisco and Los Angeles to see friends, attend some events and to work on creative projects. I was working on my tan just three weeks prior to this snow-pocalypse and was somewhat blinded by its duration.

Folks who aren’t familiar with Pacific Northwest weather (other than the false assumption it rains all the time) assume that snow is a normal part of our winters, but really it’s not. We usually get a dusting of a few inches in January or February that lasts for a day or two at best and then we’re back to our usual cold, drizzly atmosphere. It seldom sticks to the ground, let alone a few feet at a time.

One of my Midwestern friends who expressed concern when she saw the national weather reports warning of our demise said she knew I’d be okay because I’m a “planner” and she was right. Though not specifically prepared for snow, I am infinitely prepared for an earthquake (having lived through three in my life; the largest here in Seattle in 2001). So I had plenty of food, water, flashlights, phone chargers and foot warmers. Thank God.

Day 1 of the storm, my power went out from 9:30 p.m. until sometime before 4:00 a.m. Thankfully, I had cranked up the heat in the hours prior, so I was able to put towels under the door to my bedroom and block in much of that warmth as I slept. The next day, my employer closed our office deeming the roads too dangerous to travel, so we all worked from home. NOTE: For those who like to brag “I grew up in the Northeast/Midwest/Montana/Canada, etc.” and think you’d do fine in a Seattle snowstorm, I urge you to read this.

Days 3 – 7 are mostly a blur. It was more of the same; work from home, walk outside in my Muck Boots every few hours with my broomstick to brush the snow off my satellite dish; heat something in the oven for added warmth; run the hot water so the pipes don’t freeze; pack on layers of clothes; rinse, lather, repeat. Mail delivery and pizza delivery stopped in our neighborhood. The Space Needle closed. So did Fred Meyer. It was the end of times.

Day 8 brought my second power outage and damage to my backyard trees (despite the fact I was also taking the broom to brush heavy, wet snow off their branches). I was growing tired of the eerie silence that blanketed my street. All of the familiar sounds had ceased to exist. There were no children playing, birds singing or cars warming up. On top of that, it was dark save for the candles and camping lanterns that illuminated random windows.

Day 9 the power came back on and I slid down my hill (mostly on my feet, but once unfortunately on my back) and caught a rideshare to my office. After work, my boss was kind enough to drive me to the nearby grocery store to get as many non-refrigerated supplies as I was able to carry and I took a rideshare back to the main road and climbed up that horrible hill to get home. Still no mail delivery.

Day 10 and 11 I lost power once more, but only at night so I was able to work from home. On day 11 I also felt confident enough to walk to the grocery store in my neighborhood to replenish my refrigerated staples. It was a treacherous walk and I was sore the entire night and next day from climbing over the accumulated snow.

Day 12 I again returned to my office via rideshare from the bottom of the hill and returned in the same fashion. By the time I got home, our mail delivery had resumed and signs of life were starting to emerge.

Day 13 we had reached 37 degrees and it was raining, so much of the street was clear; the hill was no longer icy and with a little digging out from the lingering snow, I successfully got my car out. I first went to the movies (it’s Oscar season and I’m shamefully far behind), then to Target (oh, how wonderful to aimlessly wander those aisles!) and finally to my PO Box in a different town, where the majority of my mail is delivered. I can’t overstate how much joy I felt being out and about, hearing the din of other humans, looking at a view that wasn’t my own backyard.

I will never again take the freedom to move about for granted.

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