Tuesday at work I was called to the front desk when a guest arrived to see me. I had almost not dared to hope that he would make it downtown, because Seattle was lying under a thin but treacherous blanket of erstwhile snow, which had fallen as harmless little crystal flakes the day before but was now ice. The cold outside, hovering in the teens with the windchill, was alarming for us longtime Cascadians, who rarely experience temperatures below freezing.
I went up front and there was Louis. He saw me, smiled and raised his hands and laughed. We hugged like old friends.
And that’s the strange part. We are old friends, in a kind of a way. But we’d never met until that moment. He’s lived in Brazil as long as I’ve known him.
I hear the stammering, and I see the quizzical looks, the furrowed brows and the slack jaws. Verily, I will rescue you from this imponderable riddle.
I ran into Louis online when I was looking for a photo of Uncle Harold’s hobby shop in old Bellevue, the place to buy bikes and airplane models when I was a kid. I followed a google-trail to someone’s Flickr page, where a lot of folks had commented on the person’s photos of the kiddie amusement park that used to exist at Bellevue Square. One commenter was Louis, who’d grown up there about the same time I did. A few comments passed between Louis and me about this or that aspect of old Bellevue — did he remember Petram’s “five and dime”, did I remember the Crabapple Restaurant — and before I knew it Louis had directed me to a large collection of photos of our old town on his Flickr page, along with his collections of sports and Seattle World’s Fair memorabilia and ephemera. When I saw his last name, I recognized it immediately. He’d gone to my junior high school, a year or two ahead, I was sure of it. He was the only white kid in my universe that had an afro. To me, he was one of the cool kids (he assures me he was just a nerd like he is now, only a nerd with more hair.) He had no reason to remember me — I was reticent to the point of invisibility (on a lucky day) — but his was neither the name nor the persona that one forgot.
Remarkably, Louis and I kept in touch, kept trading photohistory treasures, memories of Bellevue, and comments on each other’s work. Louis introduced me to Jess Cliffe’s VintageSeattle.org, a site I visit almost every day now. A number of you have had occasion to enjoy Louis’ positive, upbeat, and unflaggingly friendly disposition right here in the comments of this blog. I started to feel like he was an old chum, and once asked him when he was going to visit the northern hemisphere again so that I could buy him a slice.
That day came this week. Knowing how impossible it is to fulfill even family and close friend obligations on trips back to the hometown, I was not really expecting to be able to meet up even after he told me he’d be in the Northwest for almost a month. I was therefore much honored when Louis emailed Monday afternoon to find out if I could squeeze him in on my lunch hour the next day. He had an opening. I took it.
So there I was, walking him around the office introducing him to my coworkers as “my friend Louis”, only seconds after we’d first met. And here’s the kinda guy he is: Louis is a professional film and voice actor who has been in movies and commercials (in Watchmen, he’s the TV producer who complains that Dr. Manhattan’s complexion will never do under the studio lights). Those of you who have kept up with contemporary cartoons may recognize his voice as that of Johnny Test’s faithful and verbose canine sidekick, Dukey (watch an episode here). While Louis has not (yet) chalked up the celebrity of a George Clooney or a James Earl Jones, the fact that he has successfully worked in radio, theater, film and television for decades might lead you to expect a certain stand-offishness. Not a bit of it. There isn’t the faintest fresco of hauteur about Louis. The first thing he did was mention to one of my coworkers that he thought he recognized him from a blog post I wrote about the development team’s field trip to the observation deck of the Smith Tower last year. This is a guy who honors other people, takes notice and interest, asks questions, and puts people at ease.
Seattle had had a light dusting of snow the day before and then temperatures had plummeted to record lows. Louis and I stepped out into the biting air and walked over to the diner I frequent…uh…frequently. Planet Java on Washington Street. Louis had the tuna melt, and was gratified that it was put on rye bread, as it should be. I had the barbecue burger, it almost goes without saying. We chatted about all kinds of stuff, filling out the incomplete pictures we have constructed of each others’ lives over several years of emails, blog posts (his and mine) and comments. Between us we have nearly a century of experience at life, and yet each of us keeps finding new folds in the universe that bear exploring.
We tried walking around and taking pictures, but the wind was up and it felt like the sides of our faces were being flensed. We took a shot at the corner of Second and University of Louis in front of his favorite old building in town, the Seattle Tower (née Northern Life Tower), half of which shimmered in watery light patterns reflected off of nearby vitritecture.
I was on deadline for a project and had to get back to work, so he accompanied me back to the office before heading over to the waterfront to take a few more photos. I was sure glad we got to meet and share a meal and some conversation before he heads back to South America. I felt like I’d made an old friend.
Props: Thanks to Kip for finding, scanning and sending the yearbook photos.