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Back Buzz - February 13, 1998

pumping heart Café Allegro, 4214 1/2 University Way, University District

It was 3:00 on a Tuesday afternoon when I visited Café Allegro, and it was a real challenge to find a place to sit. This is a situation one usually doesn't find in a coffeehouse which caters to working people or neighborhood self-employed or underemployed bums like myself. Probably the reason Café Allegro is crowded on a Tuesday afternoon is because it's close to the University of Washington, and students camp out at the tables with their books and studies. I managed to find the very last seat at a table for four, already taken by three students. I felt almost invasive for not having a huge stack of books to spread out on what remaining tabletop there was. I'd brought along the latest issue of The Baffler, but it's not exactly a tomelike publication.

Probably the real reason so many students hang out at Café Allegro is because it's a cool little coffeehouse. Hidden off the alley east of University Avenue, it features a mundane but peaceful view of an alley parking lot, while little patches of green from the University campus can be spotted just beyond. It offers the usual neighborhood coffeehouse features: conservatively bohemian art graces the walls, with one wall reserved for a plastering of posters. And I discovered too late for my visit that there's a quieter back room for the more studious-minded. There you'll even find a couple of Internet terminals hooked up to the Speakeasy Cafe.

My double short cappuccino was served in a standard-issue white china coffee cup. It possessed a very nice milk foam and the shot was strong enough; in other words, it was made with confidence. I'm not sure what kind of coffee Allegro uses, although my 6-year-old version of Seattle Emergency Espresso: The Insiders Guide To Neighborhood Coffee Spots (by H.D. Barbieri, Alaska NW Books, 1992) mentions Starbucks. Hopefully Allegro has branched out by now; there are so many good coffee roasters in Seattle, and new ones opening all the time, that no self-respecting coffeehouse should have to resort to Starbucks. Now, I'm not trying to say anything bad about Starbucks -- it can be a lifesaver when you find yourself stranded with espresso cravings in places like Podunk, Illinois or Bumfawk, Nebraska. But when you're in Seattle, well, there's really no reason to ever even think about Starbucks.

Anyway, back to my cappuccino. Whatever kind of coffee Allegro is using, it's not terribly memorable. But I'm sure I could deal with it on a daily basis if I were a student at the UW -- although I hear there are some decent espresso places directly on campus. At some point in the future I'll try to check those out.

Not only is it a bit of a challenge trying to find Café Allegro in its hidden alleyway alcove, but it's a bit of a challenge trying to get to the University District from Lower Queen Anne on public transportation. In Seattle -- if you're not trying to get from Lower Queen Anne to downtown, at which point you can take the Monorail -- "public transportation" translates to "bus". Now, catching the #13 from Lower Queen Anne to Seattle Pacific University was easy; I've done this two or three times before. But trying to figure out where to transfer to the #30, which goes from Magnolia to the University District, was the challenging part. I disembarked the #13 at a bus stop whose sign said it was for the #13 only. Across the street -- and going in the opposite direction -- was a bus stop whose sign said it was for the #30 only. So where in the hell was I supposed to catch the #30 continuing in the same direction? After walking all over the neighborhood, up and down odd little triangular streets, searching for a #30 bus stop heading in the right direction, I managed to use up all but the last five seconds of the five minutes I had available to make the connection; I finally found a stop close to the Fremont Bridge, a good five-minute brisk (or almost-running) walk from Seattle Pacific University. I was grateful for catching that particular bus, because it was raining and rather uninteresting at the bus stop and I wouldn't have been happy about having to spend another thirty minutes there.

On my way home I discovered that the #30 bus stop, which appeared to be aiming in the opposite direction from the University District, was in fact where one catches the #30 to the University District. I won't even try to figure that one out. If you happen to live in Seattle, or if you've lived here in the recent past, you already know that directional traffic signs make absolutely no sense in this city. If you're contemplating moving to the Seattle area, I wouldn't do it unless you're the type of person who enjoys puzzles, mazes, brain teasers, and logic problems. I mean, walking and catching buses in Seattle is bad enough; driving is ridiculous. Take Mercer Street, for example. Mercer is a major one-way street, and three of its four lanes ultimately merge onto I-5. In the leftmost of these three lanes you'll see a sign saying "I-5 North" and in the rightmost there will be a sign saying "I-5 South". But if you stay in the middle lane, you're greeted with a cryptic sign which says "N/S". Now, does this mean "North/South"? Or does it mean "No Smoking"? Could it mean "No Sex", advising against engaging in a sexual act at the same time you're entering the freeway? Your guess is as good as mine.

Max and I were once supposed to meet some people at a restaurant called Steve's 205th Street Bar 'N' Grill, located on a street bordering the top of King County and the bottom of Snohomish County. The fascinating part of this experience was trying to figure out just what street Steve's is on. You see, if you're driving up from King County, the street is either North, Northeast, or Northwest 205th Street, depending on which part of North Seattle you're driving up from. But if you're driving down from Snohomish County, the same street is either 244th Street Southwest (in Lynnwood) or 244th Street West (in Mountlake Terrace). Okay; maybe this isn't terribly unusual for a street which technically lies in three separate municipalities.

But this same exact street is also called Ballinger Road, as well as Highway 104. So just how the hell do you figure out what street you're on? In the Seattle phone book Steve's 205th Street Bar 'N' Grill is listed as being on Ballinger Road in the city of Everett! How the hell did Everett get down that far south? Does this mean this street is 205th Street North, Northeast, or Northwest in Seattle, 244th Street West in Mountlake Terrace, 244th Street Southwest in Lynnwood, Ballinger Road in Everett, and Highway 104 for interstate truckers?

I wouldn't even attempt to figure out what the zip code is...

Speaking of strange routes and elusive entities, the following is an e-mail conversation from last summer with my Bay Area friend:

Max and I awoke the other morning to hear one of the cats vomiting, so Max got up to see who was puking and what was being puked. This time it was Malcolm, and I kept hearing Max gasping, "Oh, my god! Oh, my GOD!" When he finally came back to bed I was wide awake with curiosity. It turns out Malcolm had puked not one but five huge piles. The first pile contained a massive hairball and a large amount of dry food; the second pile contained about half of a hairball and a large amount of dry food; and the remaining three piles each consisted of a massive amount of dry food. The total take was a giant hairball-and-a-half and enough dry catfood to feed five large cats.

Where does Malcolm put it all? Did he really eat that much food the night before? Neither of us remembers putting down more than enough dry food for two cats' dinners and one small midnight snack. Does Malcolm have four stomachs, each succeeding stomach holding one day's worth of meals? If so, why isn't his abdomen distended? No, I think a better explanation is that there's a black hole in Malcolm's digestive tract which sucks up a certain percentage of his daily meals. Obviously cat hair gets sucked up in there, too, although you'd think in a black hole it would collect into an unimaginably dense, hard, and heavy hairball. Since Malcolm doesn't puke rocks, and his turds don't seem particularly petrified or unearthly, perhaps the majority of his hairballs are ending up in some other universe.

I wonder just how much Science Diet Light Dry Catfood Malcolm's digestive tract has regurgitated into that other universe. Perhaps it's not considered a waste product there at all. In fact, perhaps Malcolm's regurgitations have produced life all over again, another planet Earth covered with swamps bubbling with a future civilization's ancestors...

Why is it that carnivores need to be able to vomit readily? I always assumed that much more virulent things grow on meat than on vegetables, nuts and grains. Even on fresh, government-inspected meat there are serious warnings about handling it, cooking thoroughly, and washing hands and countertops afterward. Imagine if the government approved wild caught animals and road kills for consumption raw the kind of warning labels they would have to bear.

One of many unusual things about my cat Ariel is that I've never seen her vomit. Once, years ago, I found a bit of regurgitated grasshopper, or something, on the rug. I heard her gagging the usual prelude to a furball, but she's never produced anything. So either she's got a tough stomach, she goes outside to purge, or she's got more dimensions of stomach than I can imagine. (She did tip the scales at 14 pounds today. Does semi-digested food in another dimension exert a gravitational attraction in ours?) Maybe one of these days she's going to barf up four years of partially digested gourmet grill, kibble, birds, and reptile tails.

Our previous cat Wesley, as you recall, was a great consumer of small animals, grass, and dumpster food as well as gourmet meals prepared lovingly by elderly women and chicken sandwiches donated clumsily by small children. Wesley was also an indoor-outdoor cat. Although I'm sure he regurgitated miles and miles of food in the privacy of the great outdoors, he also had plenty to share with the indoors. I'm sure he produced the majority of his indoor vomitus in his later years, when his bad teeth and gums started affecting his system; but I remember scraping plenty of cat puke out of the bright green shag carpeting in the first home Wesley and I shared. I remember there was a large nursery storage yard behind the back yard where all sorts of regurgitatable goodies and creatures abounded for Wesley's dining pleasure.

Yes, I believe Ariel must have the same black-hole connection that Malcolm has -- Malcolm doesn't vomit nearly as often as our other cat, Alex. Perhaps whenever Malcolm does vomit, he's regurgitating some of Ariel's food, too! I'll pay closer attention next time he does. What types of Bay Area-specific flora and fauna should I be looking for?

In your last e-mail I noticed an interesting word: regurgitables. No, I'm sorry, I guess I dropped a syllable while skimming. But this sounds like a food group that ought to be well stocked in every carnivore's market and a daily staple in every carnivore's diet. I'd like to see a bumper sticker: "Have you had your regurgitables today?" Perhaps you could add a new design to your Cat Anatomy t-shirt page with this caption -- a cat hunched over a slimy pool with bits of insects, birds, and reptiles. (This also brings to mind that variation on the old Blue Bonnet jingle: "Ev-ry-thing's bet-ter with cat vom-it on-it.")

The regurgitable course of insects, birds, and reptiles should also include bits of string, yarn, rubber bands, mylar ribbon, grass, and, of course, cat hair.

So what are the 4 feline food groups? Canned catfood, dry catfood, dumpster scraps, and regurgitables?