I guess Pike Place is always chaotic during operating hours. It's a riot of color, noise, and fragrance. Fresh flowers, fruit, vegetables and seafood compete for your attention, egged on by the cries of the vendors. It's probably possible to get in and out of here with one specific goal, but I've never been able to do it. As you walk past a side aisle the sharp smell of lavender joins the fray, one more thing begging for attention. Go down a few levels and glittering belly dancing costumes, gilded statues, incense and the irresistible smell of old books pull you along. Still, the sheer volume of the crowd can get on your last nerve, making you feel annoyed with everyone you see, including yourself.
Toward the back, as much as a sprawling maze like this can have a back, the bulk of the chaos shifts onto the street as you draw even with Beecher's, La Panier, Piroshky Piroshky, and last, but never least, the original Starbucks storefront. The covered part of the market is still crowded, but not quite as crushed as it was fifteen feet before. It's one of my favorite parts of the market, where the artists are usually set up. There are a few empty stalls today, but not many, not along the main path.
My friend and I press through to the end, wander along the stone benches, and back into the covered area. There's a turn off to the right, which we missed the first time around, so we take it this time. Halfway up a young man is selling leather bracelets. They're stamped with various designs, some familiar, some not so familiar. He eagerly shows us the little pieces of Seattle incorporated into the design I'm holding, which is one of his favorites. A tiny "12" for the Seahawks twelfth man, and a stylistic version of the Space Needle, mixed with native themes and designs of different animals. I like it, but it's the wrong color, so he helps me hunt down one in black. This one is too big, making me feel a bit like Goldilocks, but he assures me that isn't a problem. He helps me size it, then quickly hammers in an additional snap, so it fits me perfectly. I'm sold, and reach for my wallet.
He tells me that he can only accept cash at the moment. "Oh," I pause, momentarily thrown. "I don't have enough on me. Where's the closest ATM?"
He points across the road, to a cafe at the corner of Stewart Street and Pike Place. I tell him that we'll be back, that we're just going to finish walking around this little cul-de-sac to see the vendors nearest to him, and then I'll return with the cash.
Something flickers across his face, but he readily agrees, and gives me a smile.
We make our way around the loop, pausing to look at a couple of things, and my friend makes one small purchase, then we cross Pike Place. The ATM is actually inside the cafe, and I don't feel right walking in just to use it, so I purchase a soda after I get the cash, and we head straight back into the market. I doubt the entire circuit took us more than 15 minutes.
He sees us coming, and relief is clearly written across his face, making me realize what I saw there before. I wonder how many people have stood there and chatted with him, let him help them search, let him customize a piece for them, and then walked away and never returned.
Why would someone do that? He wasn't a pushy salesman. I'm pretty sure he would have taken no for an answer fairly easily. Mentioning the cash only policy a little earlier in the transaction might make things safer for him, but that isn't a justification for disregarding a person in that way. Is avoiding "conflict" more important than being honest with someone? Does a person who works at a market with a serious tourist draw not deserve consideration in their mind? Or are they just completely oblivious to other people's needs and feelings? All they have to do is tell him no. That they're not interested.
Or am I just being too sensitive? I sell things for a living too. I get plenty of people who tell me they're interested, and then I never hear from them again. Of course I would prefer if they just told me upfront that they had no intention of purchasing my product. It would make my job easier and more efficient. So am I projecting my own frustrations with my job onto this young man? Maybe.
But I remember the warmth of his smile, and the genuine way it spread across his face. I know I didn't imagine that, and at the end of the day I did all that I could to make his day better. It was a small thing, no more than I should have done, but I kept my word.