(For Katie Paulson, who is one mother-trucking bad-ass woman.)
I like it when it rains hard on a Saturday night because everyone is running through the streets. I love it when someone smashes a coffee mug on accident and the whole jabbering cafe gets silent for a moment. When Billy Jean is Not My Lover is piped in over the loudspeaker at Stone Gardens, I take a joy lap, pushing my way through the throngs just to see everybody singing along and dancing in place as they belay. It's like living in a music video (which, by the way, is my ultimate goal). Pardon me for the epic (EPIC) cliche, but little things that bring strangers together, for an instant or an evening, are my favorite flippin' things on the planet. It still kills me that I was not present for the legendary (but true) audible-fart-that-caused-pandemonium-in-the-ultra-quiet-Suzallo-reading-room-during-finals-week incident in 2005. My friend Will was there. I see him a few times a year and every time, I make him retell me that story.
Anyway. Nothing brings people together like dirt cheap tacos. And that is why Taco Tuesday is my holy day.
Until the sun decides to forgive us for whatever we did to make it quit, we're in a holding tank. The rocks are wet and cold and painful and dangerous. But when spring springs, everyone will go bursting forth into the world, scattering in all cardinal directions towards different summits and slabs of rock, pinnacles and columns, basking in sunshine and lactic acid and multi pitches. In a week, we'll be thoroughly diffused between Squamish, Index, Vantage, Cascades, the Olympics and the Exits.
But for now, in the crap-tastic weather of mid winter, here we are, all of us, jammed together on weekday evenings, cowboys in the same brodeo.
I'm twitchy for spring to get here so I can wear my sundresses, but I do love gym season. Because nowhere else is bouldering so much like performance art, with a red-hot, real live audience watching your every foothold and commenting on your grip.
On Tuesdays, there are many of us present at Stone Gardens who are climbing for a higher purpose: to earn our tacos. Because up the street, open till late, the Tin Hat serves 69 cent tacos and absurdly cheap beer.
And we work extra, extra, extra hard, so that we can go nuts and still have a shred of self worth the next morning.
(Ian, who had shoulder surgery on Friday, climbed for three hours straight on one arm.)
Sometimes, it can be difficult for some to leave the competitive determination at the gym. Which is how Katie and I found ourselves engaged in battle, matching each other taco for taco, each refusing to be the first to quit, stick it, stick it- you got it, go for it go go go yeah! still ringing in our ears. We couldn't talk, we could barely swallow our beers, we just kept eating and ordering, counting the crumbs left on the others plate. Friends, witnesses and waitresses shook their heads and pulled their hair in distress.
"Why? Why?" They asked us.
We gazed down at our plates with summit-drunk smiles, and responded "because it is there."
You are my Everest. How I wish I could quit you:
In the midst of the feeding frenzy, Katie had a moment of clarity. Somehow, somehow she surfaced from the salt and the crunch to wave her arms in the air like a ref. "This is absurd!" She says. "This stops NOW."
A relieved onlooker snapped a photo of this miracle moment, when we vowed to leave the aggression at the door and never again compete gastronomically. By this point, we were personally responsible for the slaughter of sixteen tacos. Each.
There is nothing we love better than sharing our table with people from the gym who we don't really know. Stone Garden friendships (like all friendships in Seattle, home of the world famous SOCIAL FREEZE) are extremely slow to evolve. You brush elbows a few times while standing on the mats, eyeing a problem on the same wall. Weeks go by. You begin to faintly recognize one another. More weeks go by. Then, one of you says something while the other is on the wall. Something like, "You got it, bro." Or, more often, "Yeah!" or just, "Yeah" sans exclamation.
That's a big day. But remember, it's a long process. Weeks go by. Little comments about single moves turn to longer discourses involving full sequences. More weeks go by. One of you gets injured and isn't at the gym for a month or so, delaying the process considerably. And then, there comes a day- a big day- where you finish a problem, and your new stranger-friend gives you the First Bump of Acceptance.
You've done it. You've made yourself a gym-friend.
Of course, I like to just steam-roll right through all that head for the friendship express lanes: an invitation to my stranger friend to join us at Taco Tuesday. More often than not, they don't come. But on the occasion that they're a brave, willing, or hungry soul, we welcome them with open arms into our booth. We toast them, physically surround them, fire bomb them with questions about their life. Usually, in particular if they are a Seattlite, our forwardness and unabashed eagerness to become friends scares the pants off of them. And that is the most fun.
Thank you oh Lord, for rocks, chalks, tacos, and the people who read this.