Some of my favorite stories from my career as a reporter at The Seattle Times (1994-2008). You can find a full archive in the newspaper archives, here.
"Redefining Beauty: Jackie's Journey Through Cancer"
When cancer struck the second time, Jackie Floyd looked to the future and envisioned her body in one of two ways: curvaceous with mastectomy scars; or reconstructed with breasts.
Truth be told, she had been proud of her breasts, flaunting them on the beach; flashing them inside one of those $1 photo booths. Once, years ago, as Floyd sprinted for a bus her halter top succumbed to gravity and out they flew. She laughs now at the memory. "They gave me great amusement."
When cancer struck the second time, this time with such vengeance it sent her into a rage, she chose to have her cancerous breast, along with the healthy one, removed. And while she had never had issues with her body — as a black woman in her mid-40s she had long learned that it would be she, not fashion magazines, who would define "beauty" — Floyd initially envisioned full-reconstructive surgery.
"Alex Rodriguez: Some Say If Anyone Can Be A Superstar And A Great Guy It’ll Be Him"
“Hi, I’m Alex.” He offers a handshake.
He’s a kid, I think. He’s not sexy in that come take me oh my MY! sort of way but he’s pretty to look at and the more you look at him, the more you like looking at him.
Mostly, though, as he starts answering questions, in a soft-spoken way, all along eating his food and making sure he looks you in the eye when he speaks, he comes across as huggable, like a thick cotton bathrobe just out of the dryer.
It’s been Wisked and Bounced. It smells great; sparkles; looks fluffy.
I am so very sweet and nice, it says.
"Anchor Jean Enersen is In Control"
JEAN ENERSEN has been on the air, in that anchor's chair, for a remarkable 35 years, and that just might be the reason she's so private.
Who else has sat in the glare of a TV spotlight — growing up, getting older — for so long?
Think about it: Three generations could likely point her out, or they'd at least have some inkling that she's somebody. Not even Charlie Royer, Ken Griffey Jr. or Sanjaya can say that. And sure, there's always Ichiro, now, but let's see twentysomethings single Ichiro out when he hits age 50.
"Bob Marley!" some of the workers yell at him, this black man, 6 foot 3, all limbs and graying dreadlocks. "Superman!" some of the kids holler, loving the sight of a man running in long white socks and the green-yellow-red flag of Ethiopia fashioned as cape.
The runner was born with a different name, but sometime after college, after he claimed Ethiopia as The Motherland and decided to boycott all meat and dairy, his buddies dubbed him "Absolute." End of story. Don't look for deeper meaning into why Absolute runs MLK, down to the corner of Graham Street where the McDonald's presides and where he pauses, thrusting his hands in the air à la Rocky Balboa, then turns back, heading north.
Because what matters is that Absolute is a faithful human presence here.
Martin Luther King Jr. Way South, straight as a chopstick in these parts, has always been more than just a humbler cousin of Rainier, even though city folks have long talked of its potential. A perfect people-mover, a grand expressway, a memorial to a revered leader.Such talk is resurfacing as excavators rip up the street, clearing a path for light-rail trains that will zip up the street's middle and radically redefine the Rainier Valley. Such public investment here is unprecedented, and officials expect the new transportation project to ignite new commerce, new character, new vitality to the street.
But what about the life already here?
The middle of nowhere squawks with roosters. Surrounded by sentries of sugarcane, nowhere lies a quarter-mile from a paved road, hundreds of pesos below the poverty line on an island in the middle of the Caribbean. It's a long stretch from Bellevue office towers, Costco pizza, Tommy Bahama silk button-downs or any of the other luxuries of Dave Valle's comfortable American life.
Anywhere, but especially here, Valle stands out — 6 foot 2, cinder-block solid, the Brawny paper-towel guy come to life.
"Policía?" wonders a tiny girl from a doorway, peeking up at the former catcher for the Seattle Mariners. When you know he's a baseball player, it all makes sense: The hands, hefty. The walk, slightly pitched forward, as athletic bodies tend to do. The gum, chewed all the time, whether he's in a suit or in jeans, in a presidential palace or out here, in the middle of nowhere.
"The L.A. Riots: Amid Divisiveness An Act of Unity"
Ja Koo works the cash register at a Seattle neighborhood market, dispensing Marlboro Lights and Lotto tickets, talking small with customers and packing paper into plastic.A short man with salt-and-pepper hair and a cellphone hoisted on his hip, Koo’s routine is not altogether different than a decade ago when he owned a market in South Central Los Angeles.
Back then, Butcher Boys market was his $160,000 investment. Every flank of beef, pound of oranges, carton of milk and bottle of beer that Koo sold inched him closer to his American dream. A Korean immigrant, a husband and father building a better future.
But 10 years ago tomorrow, Butcher Boys sat at ground zero of one of the biggest social upheavals of modern time. When a jury acquitted four white police officers in the beating of black motorist Rodney King, South Central erupted into a battlefield of rioting, looting and beatings.
“Just like war,” Koo recalls, standing in a grocery stockroom on Capitol Hill.
Fifty-five people died in three days of riots. Some 3,000 businesses, the majority Korean-owned, were destroyed.
But remarkably, in spite of so much fury, Koo’s Butcher Boys emerged unscathed, protected for days by black customers and neighbors.
“They told me it was because I did such a good thing,” the 53-year-old Koo says quietly.
And from the Seattle stockroom, he tells his L.A. story about a former employee, a black man everyone knew as Jimmy.
"Viva El Vez, The Mexican Elvis"
El Vez unleashes his freak flag like there’s no mañana. He’s a 150-pound dynamo with seemingly zero body fat (his jumpsuits, despite all the baubles, hide absolutely nothing). Black mariachi boots, proper pompadour, sexy mustache inked with black Sharpie pen.
“It says ‘nontoxic’ so I’m hoping, after 18, 19 years, it really is, or else my lip would fall off,” laughs Robert Lopez, brain and body behind El Vez. El Rey!
Lopez is genteel and soft-spoken, and since it’d be rude to call El Vez middle aged, it’s worth pointing out one other envious characteristic: He has inherited that Ralph Macchio/Dick Clark looks-defy-age gene. He may be approaching 50 (he’s 47), but he looks closer to 40, which is really the new 30, if magazine headlines are to be believed.
"Putting the 'Fine' in Dining"
The show starts once the servers tap out meal orders, triggering printers to rrttts-ttsss-spit out “tickets.” Then it’s a clamorous flurry, everything timed so, say, the couscous isn’t stuck waiting too long for the lamb. Chef orchestrates it all, sleeves rolled up, a pair of hand towels tucked at each side of his ankle-length apron — although those towels inevitably get misplaced. He is a stout man, 5 foot 10 with thick arms and legs that hint of weight-lifting workouts years ago. Chef’s exercise these days is more likely to be a stride around Green Lake plugged into his iPod or a quick walk up to nearby J. Gilbert, a store devoted to one of his greatest weaknesses: shoes.
He is 41, round face marked by a scar above his lip (a childhood accident), the smallest of soul patches (because his father’s chin has long carried one), angular eyeglasses. He wears his hair, veering toward gray, extra extra short. The look on Chef’s face generally falls into one of three categories: pensive (cheeks filled with air); focused (tongue slightly stuck out) or amused (wide grin accompanied, at times, with robust chortle).
It’s unlikely that at any of the times when some appreciative guest has called him into the dining room Chef has chortled at the look of surprise on their face. Most guests read “Chef Daisley Gordon” at the bottom of their menus and assume Chef is a woman. They never expect Chef to be a black man.
Japan is the perfect country to disappear in. Even if you do challenge conformity and you sport the grooviest type of attire – women wearing red fishnet stockings under rolled-up jeans (fashionistas, you have been warned); men with goldfish-orange hair replete with headband – you do not trigger a gawk or even much of a glimpse. You can be a gum-smacking, baseball-cap-wearing gaijin (foreigner), sitting elbow-to-elbow and knee-to-knee with hip Tokyoites at a ramen house, and eyes will not stray from the steaming bowls of noodles being slurped.
The orderly, staid, polite Japanese – some carry miniature ashtrays on their keychains, which is probably more of a statement of their value for etiquette than of their fondness for the cigarette – pay no mind equally to other Japanese and non-Japanese.
Except if you’re the pitcher known as Daimajin.
"Mixed Feelings: Latinos Hire Latinos"
But it was different for Ricardo Martinez, a federal judge in Seattle. He’s also the son of farmworkers and his mother at one time also cleaned houses.
“I can remember her coming home and talking about the houses she’d been in. And there was like this envious tone to it. How big the houses were, the bathrooms.”
He’s always felt an unease when it’s come to hiring people. Part of it has to do with a deeply-ingrained do-it-yourself sensibility. And part of it is, well, he has a hard time articulating an explanation.
Martinez, an affable man, is seated in his luxurious judicial chambers, recalling an incident from years ago, but still vivid. It was the weekend and he was out mowing the front lawn of his Eastside home. And he saw a Latino gardener at his neighbor’s house, also mowing the lawn. They proceeded to small talk in Spanish.
“And he said to me, ‘Who do you work for? I’ve never seen you.’ And I hesitated. It took me a couple of seconds and I said, ‘No, actually, I live here.’ “
Get a Life? Why Bother When There are 29,000 Choices at America's Best-Stocked Monument to Movie Rentals
Sometimes these guys shut their eyes during the previews of movies they want to see so their first viewing won't be spoiled. They scowl at ushers who start cleaning up before the final credits have rolled.
They flinch if you talk to them too soon after a movie has ended. And while the movie's on, don't even think about talking. Shut up and watch the movie, Mark's likely to be thinking. He'd probably like to strangle you. He's too nice to do such a thing and if he did, well, he'd miss watching the movie.
They know extraordinary things: When a film is out of sequence. When a movie's a remake, a ripoff. When a film opened, how one influenced another, and when it was quoted.
They rent movies. They write about them. They drive to Vancouver and Portland to see them.
They buy them, they find them, they work with them and mostly, when they're not watching, they talk about them.
"Patrick. He asked me what my favorite film sequence that featured the song `In the Mood' by Benny Goodman was," says a friend.
"To which I said, I don't know, but I think you need to get out a little more!"
"For diverse fans of manga, there is no place more storied than Kinokuniya bookstore"
The bookstore has always offered the usual fare: novels and cookbooks, foreign-language tapes, fashion and celebrity-ridden magazines. It has a bounty of stationery and, hands down, the city's best selection of writing utensils, particularly for the sort who likes Pocket Monsters positioned on the caps of their pens.
"An Unequal Defense: The Failed Promise of Justice for the Poor"
A three-part investigative project reported with Ken Armstrong and Justin Mayo about the failings of the public defense system in Grant County
Some lawyers command a courtroom. Guillermo Romero shuffles around it, head down and voice low, shrinking as an unprepared student avoiding the professor's eye.
For more than eight years, he worked as a public defender in Central Washington's Grant County. To as many as 1,000 clients — poor, desperate, often despised — he was all that stood between an accusation and prison.
He was supposed to punch holes in weak cases, to intercept police and prosecutors when they ran afoul, to investigate and analyze and advocate.
But legal basics eluded him. In a rape case, he once filed a motion seeking "D and A testing." What he meant was DNA.