In Seattle

On Thursday I took the bus to Monroe by way of Spokane, Wenatchee, and Steven’s pass. I had chosen an unfortunate day to be picked up from that town—rain begins pounding in, sideways, and my ride calls to say the traffic from Redmond is unbelievable. I crochet in a coffee shop for two hours (manned by an ex-Communication student who had bought the shop just before graduation) as the lights flicker and the streets flood, until he arrives. To let traffic die down, we go grocery shopping and buy some raw marked-down shrimp and a baguette to bake and organic milk and cereal and run through the rain to the car.

The next day nothing works. As in, the lights, the heat, the gas stations, the phones, the cable Internet — not the West side, the East side, not in all of Seattle and its surrounding areas. Clerks behind flickering candles sell un-refrigerated Mountain Dew in corner shops to haggard coffee-lorn caffeine addicts who can neither make their own brew nor buy from Starbucks.

Seattle, even in the winter, is not bitterly cold, but no one knows how to function except to hunker down with their families, possibly lightened by the ability to skip work. In this society, that’s not actually “functioning,” though. I keep overhearing the same thing: “my cell phone doesn’t even work.”

Even for a resourceful Idaho girl on holiday, there is still the question of the now-expired shrimp, and how it might be transformed into something edible without propane, charcoal, electricity, or anyplace to make a fire. Fallen twigs litter the streets; I gather some. They’re a bit damp. I make a tent out of them anyway on a square of dirt torn from the apartment lawn; I peevishly tell my questioning Seattle friend that this will work because I have been trained in the art of fire-making. This is true, but all I have to cook the shrimp in is a pie tin. And a lot of butter. I light the fire; it takes (more or less), but emits more smoke than heat. I hold the pie tin over the flame and stir the seafood and butter. The butter even sizzles once. My eyes begin to water and I wonder how safe this cooking method is.

“That’s it,” says Scott, when the tin gets too hot to hold “we’re going to the store.”

I am highly irritated. I imagine the hoards of frantic and bored consumers have pulled everything off the shelves. I imagine I could eat cereal, or crackers. I imagine this would work perfectly with more wood and a cast iron skillet, which I have at home in Moscow.

“I just want to survive!” I wail “But no one will let me!”

Of course, I have survived. The power has (mostly) come back on. In about three minutes, I’m going to cook some seafood for dinner on an electric burner.

Lame. But, in a pinch, it will do.

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