I attended an all-day training class for users of Adobe InDesign this week in Ballard. For strangers and those of you who’ve been gone awhile, Ballard is a neighborhood in North Seattle, north of the ship canal. None of my eight classmates took me up on my suggestion of walking the few blocks to Ballard Brothers Seafood for lunch, so I went by myself. I’d been there before when I took the same class last year.
Ballard Brothers is famous for its N’awlins-style blackened salmon burgers, a Cajun favorite. I wanted to give this place a shout out on my blog for a couple reasons. One is political, in a way, and the other is just my way of mapping my daily journey.
Ballard Brothers is located on 15th NW, the other 15th. This is a road that slices through Ballard from north to south and has long defined a thriving business district along that axis, so the neighbors are places like Wendy’s and Jiffy Lube. And in fact Ballard Brothers looks like any other fish’n’chips joint both outside and in, with the notable exception that apart from the booths along the windows, the tables inside this large space seem few and afterthought-ish, as though the order and pick-up counters were really a puppet theater and small children were expected to crowd the carpeted floor at any moment. If you shoved aside the odd chair you could easily hold a dance in there.
But don’t be fooled. Yes, it’s fast food, but it’s not faceless, corporate fast food. I noticed on this visit that along with the signs announcing they’d been named best seafood at Ballard’s annual SeafoodFest, there were also several prominent posters outlining why supporting local businesses makes sense. I’m all about buying local ever since I read E.F. Schumacher‘s Small is Beautiful. When I spend a dollar, I imagine one of two scenarios. In the first, that dollar is whisked off immediately to Tennessee or Singapore to pad the pockets of investors and owners who don’t know me or my ilk because they are unlucky enough not to live here. In the second (and I go out of my way fairly often to choose this scenario) my dollar goes to the proprietor of a local business, who gives it to his kid for her allowance, who spends it on the Angry Mob Playset at Archie McPhee’s, etc., so that my dollar spends some time enriching the life of my community before eventually winding up as an entry on the books at TimeWarner or Sony, where all dollars eventually find their eternal rest.
Ballard Brothers also uses new “green” utensils, the kind that break down rapidly in soil so you can feel good about throwing them in the garbage. I didn’t use them because, well, I was having a burger and fries if you must know, but they looked just like regular plastic knives and forks. Although for a while now I’ve been eating my enchiladas on the biodegradable plates at Taco Del Mar (a corporate chain but not an e-ville one), I hadn’t seen these before, and in my mind I checked another box in the “Matt likes this” column.
While I was eating and reading the paper — an article about the heating up and uglification of our mayoral race and the tunnel project — I became half-aware that a man was going from table to table and quietly setting something small and colorful on the edge of each. He was a middle-aged man of American Indian descent, with a broad, weighty face (a dad’s face, I could tell) and a long pony tail. I read the little card attached to the end of what turned out to be a series of beads on a string of leather with a keyring. The card said
I AM DEAF. SELLING THESE FOR SUPPORT MY FAMILY. DONATION $2.00 or $3.00. THANK YOU
He (wisely, I thought), moved on after setting the trinket down, going to the next table while the previous potential customer had an unpressured moment to look over the proffered wares and consider a purchase. I usually keep a loose dollar in my pocket to give away to anyone who asks for it, since that happens a lot downtown and I don’t like to become hardened to the less fortunate, even if they are less fortunate because of character defects that I might hastily judge as laziness or craziness. Having a dollar ready enables me to respond (if it feels right) without having to get my wallet out. I hadn’t been approached for a long time, so I figured I had at least $3.00 to give away, and in fact it was a fair price for a thing that I knew Mara would love.
When the man came back, I nodded and gave him three bucks, then hooked the little piece of artwork on my backpack zipper. He made a motion with his hand that I remembered from Mara’s pre-speech days as the sign for “thank you”, and moved on.
When I left, Drew Greer, the owner (there is no family named Ballard involved), looked up from his own lunch and newspaper a couple of booths away and said loudly, “Thank you!” as he had to each customer or party on their way out.
You can see why Ballard Brothers gets my highest rating in the Not-Slow Food category. It didn’t hurt that their burgers, fries and fish ‘n’ chips are some of the best I’ve ever had.