A friend I’ve never met

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.

Louis in 9th grade (top left), with legendary hair.

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.

Matt in 8th grade (top right, if you really just can't get there on your own).

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.

Old friends meet for the first time.

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.

Louis grimaces in the face of record-breaking cold.

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.

Bonus pic for subscribers: Sixth or maybe 7th grade. My hair my not be so flaxen now, but I still feel just like this most of the time.

Props: Thanks to Kip for finding, scanning and sending the yearbook photos.


17 Responses to “A friend I’ve never met”

  1. 1 Janet November 28, 2010 at 17:28

    This is a super post. How heartwarming to meet up with an old, and now new, friend. The wonders of the internet etc.

  2. 3 Librarian Girl November 29, 2010 at 10:14

    How lovely!

    I’ve met up with blog friends who live in Madison WI, Chicago, New York, and San Francisco so far, and I have not found a dud in the bunch. Beforehand, I always wonder if it will be like a (potentially bad) first date, but it’s not like that at all. You’ve described it perfectly- it’s meeting an old friend for the first time.

    • 4 jstwndrng November 29, 2010 at 12:28

      Librarian Girl,
      I worried a little too, mainly because Louis is really quick and witty and I’m kinda slow and serious (gave up caffeine years ago and it turns out that’s where the fun was coming from). But like I said, he meets people “where they are” and always seeks out commonality — one of the traits common to all my favorite people.

  3. 5 Ben November 29, 2010 at 11:54

    I remember the kiddie park! I remember the kiddie park!…hhhmm..yes..well, I do. I’m just sayin’. Matt, do you remember the Early Dawn Creamery? It was across from the Bowling Alley I believe, on whatever street that is below what used to be Puget Power. Dad’s second bank (that I remember) was there and there is where I first saw him use an ATM. I remember he really didn’t like the idea of it at all. Big, huge metallic keypad. Anyway, I wander.
    Louis, so glad the two of you could meet. I remember the picture in the yearbook (Matt is right, it stands out with that “fro”). I used to browse my elder’s yearbooks trying to figure out what life would be like when I too, could have a yearbook. Now they get them in Kindergarten, ..

    • 6 jstwndrng November 29, 2010 at 12:22

      Ben, I do remember Early Dawn. Had a rooster logo. It was between 104th (Bellevue Way) and 106th, as you say. Last time I was in Bellevue there was a gigantic square hole in the ground on that site, with a little earthmover in the bottom. I think now there are sky castles there.

      Inkidinkly, here’s the post about the kiddie-park where it all started. It’s pretty funny because the photo was included in the “barf” pool, and that theme gets toyed with in the comments. You can actually see me and Louis “meeting” on here, although in this thread I hadn’t yet actually figured out he’d gone to my old school.


  4. 7 Loui..Bill Carlson December 1, 2010 at 13:58

    What an excellent blog post. This is my…first time visiting this blog and I was astounded by the high quality of its content. In particular that of the aforeblogged individual with the 9th grade afro. I have never met him, but after reading this, I wish I could meet him. He seems like such a fine upstanding >young< person, and I imagine he is a pillar to his community in Brazil. But alas, I have never met him, nor will I probably ever have the chance as I live all the way in Bra….in Tallin, Estonia. Please accept my congratulations as well as kudos for a fantastically well-written blog entry on this most colorful and humanly interesting human being.

    Bil Carlson

    • 8 jstwndrng December 1, 2010 at 14:17

      Mr…(ahem) Carlson,
      Thanks for your comment. The spam filter wasn’t quite sure about it but just barely let it through. I think it’s true that none of us are very likely ever to meet ourselves, not in truth and clarity, at least not often. Mind, I’m not saying this to you for any particular reason, and certainly not because you might in any sense be said to resemble, much less “be”, the aforeblogged person…far from it. I just thought it was a good time to say something like that.

  5. 9 Louis December 1, 2010 at 15:38

    Matt, only two words come to mind after having read this – “aw” and “shucks”. Thank you. By the way, I suspect Bill Carlson is not actually Estonian as he purports to be..

  6. 10 Kip December 1, 2010 at 20:05

    Once I saw the pics of Louis, I, too remember the ‘fro. Since my memories of that time are a bit faded, or purposely blocked, I needed the visual reminder. Now that the school is a park, it’s hard to conger up some of the visual by just walking around. Louis, did you happen to get over to Bellevue and see the “new look”? It is indeed pretty cool how this whole internet thingy can bring worlds together!

  7. 11 Louis December 3, 2010 at 04:15

    Yes, Kip, I was staying with my folks in Bellevue. I can´t believe how much it´s changed even in the two years I´ve been gone! More highrises, more traffic. I was having lunch at the Red Robin on the east side of Bellevue Square. I´m looking up at the tall buildings and it amazed me how much Bellevue looks like a metropolis rather than the small town it once was. If it wasn´t for the old Albertston’s/Marvel Morgan building on the northwest corner of Bellevue Way and NE 8th, that intersection would have no semblance of ye olde Bellevue. I imagine that structure will be gone before long…

  8. 12 Jana December 18, 2010 at 09:26

    I just saw this – I LOVE that you guys met up!! Because both of you are keen for local history and have such clever and interesting things to share, I’ve enjoyed “getting to know” both of you through what you post on-line. So I’m thrilled that you guys actually connected in person. While you guys were at BJH, I was at Hyak so we had similar stomping grounds – I lived on Woodridge.

    There’s a new book this month “A Look to the Past: Kirkland” which is where I now live so am interested in learning about it. I connected with the author on-line a few months ago and he is an alum of the elementary school I work (he actually got bitten by the history-buff bug when he was an elementary school student because he found the principal and custodian of the school had fascinating stories of local history). I invited him to visit his alma mater and bring some books to sell to staff who were interested. He seemed tickled to walk inside the building which is coming down in the next couple of years. And I, too, felt like meeting him in person that he was already a friend.

    • 13 jstwndrng December 18, 2010 at 14:51

      Jana, thanks for reading and connecting with this. Woodridge is over by the old railroad trestle, right? I can’t remember where Hyak was, although I competed in track there once or twice. If you’re the same Jana that’s visited here before, I know you have several blogs out there about vintage photos and such, but you didn’t sign in with your URL so I can’t plug it here. If I recall, you’re deep into family genealogical/photographic research, no?

      Yes, it was great meeting Louis “for the first time”. It surprises me what a solid bond just coming from the same place on earth creates, especially since that place really isnt’ there any more. But I guess that’s why — we are all the keepers of the Eastside of Olde. When we go, it’s gone, but as long as we keep chattering about it, it still exists in a way.

      What a wonderful story of meeting that author friend for the first time. I almost got kinda teary imagining him being welcomed into his old elementary school. You did a cool thing there. Keep it up!

      • 14 Jana December 18, 2010 at 17:44

        Yes, I’ve posted here before. I haven’t updated my personal blog for a while so didn’t include it – but after I clicked “post comment” it occured to me I should’ve link to my Downtown Seattle Christmas 1978 album (so I did for this one)

        Yes – Woodridge is near the trestle. Hyak is close to Kelsey Creek Farm if you’ve ever been there. I think it’s currently called International School.

  9. 15 jstwndrng December 18, 2010 at 21:53

    Oh yes, now I remember. I first saw some of those photos over on VintageSeattle.org. Nice work. Yes we have been to Kelsey Creek, quite recently as a matter of fact:


  10. 16 dsimple March 18, 2011 at 01:16

    Okay, this is sort of funny, but believe it or not, I was just doing an online search for photos of Petram’s Dime Store in the old Bellevue Square. The search landed me here and who I should I see but an old Junior High School photo of my old friend, Louis! For a number of years, he was best friends with my next door neighbor, Chris. They even played in a band together for awhile. I saw Louis all the time! And remember the afro oh so well. So Matt, I don’t remember you … but I was a year ahead of Louis in school and it sounds like you were a little younger than him … so perhaps we just missed each other at Bellevue Junior High. Anyway, my next web search was going to be looking for photos of Kiddie Land (the Bellevue Square amusement park … I could see my house from the top of the ferris wheel!). LOL! Small world.

    ~Debi (Taylor at the time)

    • 17 Matt March 18, 2011 at 09:23

      Hi Debi,
      Glad you stumbled in here. It sure felt like a small world back then, but the old neighborhood has gotten a lot bigger. By the way, I believe Petram’s is in a photo montage video Louis put together for the Eastside Heritage Center. If you haven’t seen it you could google it or ask Louis about that. If you’re not connected with him already (Fbook, etc.) let me know and I’ll send him your email address. I was a year behind Louis, so you would have been a hot-shot senior in my first year at BJH (which, as I’m sure you know, is now a waterfall). Your name sounds familiar. You may have known my sister Jeni, she was quite a prodigy pianist and was in your grade.

      I checked out your blog and see that you’ve published several interesting books. I like the boldness of deliberately becoming a “one income family in a two income world” (I felt something similar when we got rid of my truck). Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Folks, Debi writes about living joyously and frugally (simultaneously!) at http://thesimplemom.wordpress.com/. Click on her name above for her new website. She has good ideas that will save you money.

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