Thursday, June 4, 2009

Two years a fishmonger

Scotty's story on coming to Pike Place Fish Market....more monger tales to come.

I parked my car under the viaduct on Alaskan Way because that is the only place I had been in Seattle. I walked up the Pike Street Hillclimb because that was the only way I knew how to get to the market. I vaguely remember the voice on the other end of the phone a few days before saying to get there around 8. It was 7:45 Monday morning and I was shaking. Just walk up and say hi, they'll totally remember you. Oh man, they're busy. Who looks like they're in charge, I'll grab them. Maybe I should just forget it. No, go introduce yourself.

I had just spent the night on a friend of a friend's floor in Seattle after arriving the night before. All that I owned was in the back of my car, including a bike without a front wheel (that had somehow danced off my roof rack somewhere around Portland, Oregon). On the road from Pennsylvania (home in Lancaster) by way of Colorado (friend's graduation, alma mater visit to Colorado College) and a Memorial Day weekend ultimate frisbee tournament in Bozeman, wallet and I were ready for the next step (desperate may be the word).

I had watched the FISH Video, seen the Real World episodes, and properly built up the Northwest to be quite the utopia of mountains, oceans, beaches, and oh yes.....fulfilling work places (the city supports a fish market that espouses a "philosophy", that's gotta say something). I saw the fish market as a place probably with a grueling, long and arduous interview process. You're on stage, you have books, you travel, you get to be in pictures, this is not a job for the average young kid looking to make a buck. Maybe I can get in as an intern if I say I'm hip to their philosophy and drop some lines about being present and "making a difference". Well as in many things in this short life, they're never as they are in your head.

I step in a puddle while almost running into like three guys. My backpack is soaked and I have a hard time hearing the question or believing it to be a real question when Sam asks me "do you have any injuries?". The place is known around the world, it shows up in magazines, newspapers, Harvard business journals and the first question they ask an "applicant" is if they have any injuries? Then it sets in that a lot of work has been done and it's not even 8am. There is a helluva lot of fish already displayed. They guy who I just bumped into almost knocked me straight on my ass. Oh yeah, this is a busy, outdoor fish market in the middle of Seattle. The philosophy stuff will come later I guess, I better just let him know I'm not a powderpuff first. "No sir, no injuries sir" I say progressively louder until I hear myself and wonder if I really am that militaristic. Sam laughs and tells me to chill out and talk in the back room. Not chilling out at all, I follow and begin to freak out about this potential "interview".

Sitting on an overturned milk crate in a room that feels like a closet filled with boxes, sweatshirts, rubber boots, Grundens fish waders, and a small computer in the corner, I meet Dicky who I now remember is the one I talked to two days before when I was calling from a payphone in a parking lot in Eugene, Oregon. "I don't remember. Dah well, you're here now. D'you want to work?" he says. Now all my career counseling sessions at the ivory tower school in the rockies told me about the importance of hand shakes with eye contact, bullet points with consistent verbage on the resume, and following up after making contact......but no where did they say what to do if the first question is "do you want the job?" I was looking for the hidden cameras and decided to keep my why-you-should-hire-me speech for another time and just take the opportunity.

So to round out the beginnings of his venture, the first order I took from someone over the counter I was holding in my hand and yet still yelled out that it was "going to Montana" as I got bulldozed by three guys (one of which sat on my back and yelled about it while getting a round of applause and thunderous laughter).

2. Some kids on a scavenger hunt asked me about what it meant to work there and I about started crying cause I couldn't give them an answer that would fit in the amount of space they had.
3. I was choking down my fifth cup of coffee at 10:30am on the sidewalk when a Seattle DuckBoat tour drove past while honking, waving and taking my picture yelling "hey fishguy!".
4. On my second day, I ran across a billboard for a bank that said "it was like only yesterday that you threw your first fish" and I was grabbing strangers telling that it was ACTUALLY yesterday that I did that.

Those are some highlights and if you've read this long, I applaud you. Since then, I've traveled to Houston and addressed a room of 300 physical therapists about what it means to work here. I've been in a room with 10 high school guidance counselors telling them why we are the way we are. I've sold a fish for over $800 and I've sold scraps of salmon bones for 50 cents. I've stood outside in 10 degree weather for a twelve hour work day and I've gotten sunburnt on my left arm from staking out the Alaska Airlines Cargo lot in our truck for our fish from the Copper River. I've thrown fish synchronized with the Seattle symphony and I've had my picture pop up in magazines, emails, and web picture galleries.

At the end of the day though, I go home smelling like sweat, fish an probably have one too many beers. I don't spend my nights on that friend's couch anymore and I even have a dog now. My hands are like sandpaper and I have probably said some pretty off color stuff in public settings. But I sell fish and I have fun doing it because I say so and because my coworkers are commited to that too. We are our own commitment and we are our buddy's commitment; wholes in alignment. If you've ever experienced that, you know what I mean. This experience is not over for me and I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.

Today is June 4th and two years ago on this day I fell asleep at 7:30 because it was my first day at Pike Place Fish.

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