My City for One More Year

Image by Busse

First, thanks to everyone who has purchased my new product, the Unconventional Guide to Working for Yourself. You guys are so great… but you know that already. Please make sure you’re on the list for free updates, and let me know if you don’t receive the download links .

And now, on to traveling life – or in this case, life at home.


After a lot of contemplation, Jolie and I recently decided to stay in Seattle for one more year. We originally came here for my graduate school program in 2006, and I finished that a few months ago. We looked at some other options, but finally decided that until we start a new adventure next summer, we’ll continue to base out of Seattle.

I’m working on the book contract and growing the readership for the site, and she is building an art portfolio so she can launch her career as a painter.

Having written previously about my inability to get around very well in my own city, I’ve decided I might as well start learning more. Here are a few of the people and places I’ve come to know well over the past two years of living here.

Aladdin Gyrocery and Deli - Seattle, Washington
Image by Travis

The Gryocery

The Gyrocery on University Way in the U-District has the best falafel sandwiches anywhere. And I don’t mean just anywhere in Seattle, I mean anywhere in the world.

When I went to Jordan for the first time in early 2007, I ended up eating falafel every day for about 10 days straight. I was a new vegetarian and had no Arabic, so falafel was pretty much all I knew how to order. The falafels in Jordan were decent, but when I came back home and revisited the Gyrocery, I decided they were a lot better over here.

I thought it was just me, but a few months ago I was back in Amman for a one-night layover. I met up with my friend Dimitar who was studying Arabic for a semester. Ironically, Dimitar and I used to go to the Gyrocery to eat lunch once in a while back at home, and there we were in Jordan. He took me to a nearby falafel place around 11pm, but before we went he warned me that it was “no Gyrocery.”

Indeed it wasn’t. The falafels were fine, but the Jordanian guys who run the Gyrocery have obviously improved on the original recipe. The only problem is that the falafels in Seattle are $5 and in Amman they are 50 cents, but the huge difference in quality justifies the price. Really.

I also know Samir up the street, who is from Beirut, Lebanon. I met him just before I went to his homeland. “Hey, aren’t you from Lebanon?” I asked him. “Yes!” he said, with a smile that turned to a frown. “But it is not good there right now. We can not go back because it is unsafe.”

“Oh,’” I said. “I’m going there next week.”

“In that case, you will have a great trip!” he said, and we both laughed.

(In the end it was completely safe while I was there, although unfortunately it wasn’t for other people a few days later.)

Image by Rakkadeer

Ly the Donut Man

Ly (pronounced Lee) runs a donut shop called, fittingly, Ly’s Donuts. It’s up on 45th and Roosevelt, and as far as I can tell, Ly works there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Most of the time I go there, he slowly rises from a big chair like a sleepwalker to greet me, so I got the impression from the beginning that he spends a lot of time behind the counter.

One time after several visits, I went in and someone else was there. I was disappointed not to see Ly, but glad that he finally got some help.

A couple weeks later I was back, and I mentioned to Ly that an employee had helped me on my last visit. I said that I hoped he had a good vacation, but Ly looked confused.

“The white guy helped you?” he asked.

“Yeah, the white guy,” I said. “Where were you?”

“I must have been sleeping in the back.”

Go and see him sometime; he’s virtually guaranteed to be there.

The Food Bank

Every Thursday when I’m in town, I visit the Food Bank near the Public Library in Wallingford. Before someone accuses me of stealing from homeless people, I should note that this particular food bank is for anyone who lives in certain zip codes. There is also plenty of surplus food to go around; you just have to wait a while for it sometimes.

Since I’ve made this discovery, I’ve tried to figure out whether it’s worth my time or not. On any given week I get at least $20 in free bread and usually anywhere from $10-50 in other groceries. On the low-end weeks, it’s probably not worth the 40 minutes it takes to walk up there, wait in line, get stuff, and walk back.

But on the high-end weeks, it’s basically free grocery shopping with a few nice surprises. I also think of like a food reality show. It might not always be good, but if I didn’t go one week, I’d worry about what I was missing.

Every year for Thanksgiving and Christmas, you can get a free ham or turkey in addition to the regular selection. Since neither of us eat hams or turkeys, I always decline the offer, but this creates a lot of nearby interest.

The first holiday week I was there, a fight almost broke out as three people simultaneously asked if they could have “my” turkey. I ended up giving it to a Vietnamese lady who was very excited. She offered a couple of onions to thank me for “regifting” the turkey.

Fights don’t break out that often, but there’s usually something interesting that happens each week at the food bank — another good reason to make the Thursday afternoon trip. Last week, some guy asked the staff if they had any stuffed animals to give out. (They usually keep a few on hand for kids.)

The man at the desk said, “Sure, hold on.” As he picked one out of a nearby box, the guy said, “Thanks! My dog is really going to love this!”

To his credit, the man at the desk didn’t bat an eye. “I hope your dog has fun,” he said.

origami-guy - seattle, washington
Image by Bus Chick

The Origami Guy

An elderly Japanese-American man frequently rides the bus around our parts of the city, sitting in the front and making origami birds for other passengers out of old newspapers. He looks like Mr. Miyagi from the old Karate Kid movies, and whether you want to or not, he’ll try to involve you in making the origami.

Mr. Miyagi also shares a numbers of observations while he’s making his gifts. “Mechanics,” he says frequently, perhaps out of explanation. “Holy Spirit,” he says when he gives out the dove – a nice touch, I suppose.

He usually gives the origami presents to women—my theory is that they are less threatening to him, and more likely to be friendly—but sometimes he’ll give them to men as well. One time I saw a business guy (not that typical in Seattle) try to decline the gift. The origami guy just kept offering, and by the third time the business guy gave in and ended up holding the paper crane for the next few stops. When someone gives you origami on the bus, resistance is futile.

Update: Bus Chick, who writes for a Seattle newspaper, spotted the same guy and has a picture.

Overheard on the Bus

Speaking of the bus, there are some great Overheard sites out there—see here and here — and I could probably create my own from riding Seattle’s buses. One time, coming back from the airport on the local 174 (one of the city’s longest routes, which means a lot of interesting people ride it), we heard a woman behind us talking loudly on her cell phone.

“Yeah, the doctor sent me home from work. What’s that? Oh, it’s so I don’t have an episode… the last time that happened, the police had to come… no, I wasn’t fired… after I got out they let me come back.”

Another time someone was calling his pharmacy about medication of a more personal kind.

“I need a refill on my medication… Well, it’s not working very well… It’s a sex medication and I think it needs to be stronger…. I took three last night but nothing happened… ”


These notes about living in Seattle served as a break from some of my other writing. Next week, I’ll be back with regularly-scheduled programming: How to Fight Authority (and Win) on Monday, and an analysis of the recent product launch on Wednesday.

Have a great weekend, everyone!



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  • christy says:

    I have not had the Gyrocery’s falafel, but if you go to Lebanon again, I would encourage you to compare it to a falafel place on Hamara St. in West Beirut. I lived just a few blocks from this shop a number of years ago and still believe (after innumerable other falafel experiences) that this one is the best.

    The name of the shop literally translates into The King of Fries (as in French Fries). This is because they also make the absolute-bar-none-all-competition-is-pales-by-comparison (including Belgian fries) French fries IN THE WORLD. (I’m not up to your standard of country-hopping, but I’ve nearly 100 under my belt; nearly all for work.)

    So you get a double bonus at the King of Fries shop. (I promise, this is not an affiliate endorsement either. 🙂 )

    You description of the Gyrocery brought up all of those wonderful memories of living in Beirut. Thank you for that. And thank you for the wonderful description of Seattle. I’ve clearly not spent nearly enough time there.

  • David S. says:

    Nice to hear the Seattle Food Bank has a surplus. The one down here in Portland, OR seems to run short much of the time. Too many people going through hard times. A solvent person wouldn’t plan to go there.

    Not sure where you’re considering moving, but I would put in a plug for Portland. Kind of a “kid brother” to Seattle: Has a lot of the coolness (bands, bloggers, scenes), less of the big-city hassles, and still a short drive to the coast (I recommend Cannon Beach) but also a fairly short trip to high desert country (Bend area). It’s basically divided into two halves by Willamette River: As to which half is better, or cooler, depends on whom you’re asking. (I’m a “west-sider” myself but I’ve got good friend on the east side, so there you go.)

    Knowing you though, you’re probably considering another country entirely, like Canada or Australia. The politics and societal issues in the US are driving me crazy, and the more balanced a worldview one gets, the crazier it seems.

  • Chris Guillebeau says:

    Hey guys.


    An affiliate endorsement at the King of Fries – that’s hilarious! I’ll remember that. And 100 countries, awesome! You are certainly a well-experienced country hopper by any standard.


    Actually, Portland is on the short list, in part because so many cool people from there have said hello recently. We visited earlier in the year and really enjoyed it. One way or the other, I hope to spend more time down that way.

  • antiSWer says:

    I’m surprised to hear that your food bank has enough of a surplus to give food away to people who can afford it. The food banks up here are suffering greatly because of the fear surrounding the economic situation.

    I wonder what the difference is.

  • Anca says:

    I’m pretty happy with the falafel at Zaina downtown on Cherry between 1st and 2nd near my office. I think I like it even better than the ones I had in Jerusalem.

    My boyfriend and I are also thinking of leaving Seattle (and possibly the country), especially depending on who wins the election. That’s why we’re going to Dublin — it’s one place we’re considering. I like Seattle a lot, but I’ve never lived for too long in one place.

  • Chris Guillebeau says:


    Yeah, I’m not sure what’s going on there, but there is definitely no shortage of some things at least. Twice a week they have so much extra bread that they leave it outside in the hall for anyone to pick up at any time. Next time you come down this way, feel free to take some back across the border. 🙂

  • PizzaForADream says:

    Wondering how you can justify going to the food bank and travel all over the world with your money. Whether you’re taking from needy/homeless or not isn’t the issue, it’s the principle of it. Spend some of your money at the local grocery store and support their business like you’re asking all of us in supporting yours. Got to admit, you disappointed me a bit quite a bit with that. If not making enough money yet, go deliver pizzas. Just seems a bit hypocritical to me. Look forward to seeing if you’re willing to post this and take some criticism.

  • antiSWer says:

    Ha, I just might do that! I’d also like to pick their brain about how to increase donations. My local food banks would love the info. 😉

    Oh, and I love the Origami guy. I aspire to that kind of greatness when I’m that age. And I have a leg up because I know how to make some origami pieces!

  • Chris Guillebeau says:


    I posted the comment in full. As mentioned, the food bank I visit is not only for the homeless or poor. If it was, I wouldn’t go there — and if they were beginning to run short on some things, then I’d probably back off anyway just out of fairness.

    But if they have surplus goods for the whole community, I don’t see a problem with going there, especially when there is free bread that goes to waste if no one takes it. They are the ones who set the rules and I follow them.

    Lastly, I am not asking you to support my business — if I sell something that will help you, you can buy it if you want — but I am not asking you to do so at all. I do not even have a donation link on this site any more.

  • Chris Nakafevo says:


    Yo, dude, calm down, I worked at a grocery store, you can’t imagine how much food they waste, if you see a little crack in a can they throw it away…instead of throwing it in the garbage most of it goes to the food banks and there’s plenty of food there. I can’t see any reason why not to take food from there and what’s the whole deal with Chris traveling around the world (sleeping in shelters and airports) pursuing his dream. The money he saves goes in the story next week that you read about a super exotic place. I don’t see why he wouldn’t save some money when they go for a far greater cause.

    Chris, quick question, what are your further plans? We’ve seen the two products we’ve been expecting and you’ve reached your year’s goal. So, what’s up with the book and what are the 2009 plans so far? Anything 100% planned?

  • PizzaForADream says:

    Many of us have too much pride to take a handout. It’s this type of mindset that will have us all living in a socialist state with “free” everything before long. In the process, every single freedom that each of us hold dear will have been taken away in the interests of “fairness” and “equality.”

  • PizzaForADream says:

    Not belittling Chris’ goals or his traveling at all. I’m here 3 times a week interested in reading what he’s up to next. He’s inspired me and got me thinking about lots of things from a completely different perspective. Just think that paying for your food should be part of the monthly budget (food and shelter) and if this means cutting back on a country or 2 each month then, oh well. No doubt that things are tough out there today and there are some who really NEED the food pantries to get by. My point is that just because it’s there doesn’t mean you should take it. It’s all about PRIDE. In my house (with 5 mouths to feed), you won’t ever find me taking a handout as long as I’m physically and mentally able to get out of bed and go work to earn my way.

  • Chris says:


    No worries, bro. I think we just disagree on this one. For me, if something is free and it doesn’t hurt anyone else, I don’t object to making use of it. There aren’t really any local grocery stores where I live, but I certainly spend plenty of money on food elsewhere.

    @Chris N,

    Further plans — yes, there are some. 🙂 The response to the new ebook was better than I expected, and that’s great… but my #1 priority is still getting the contract to write the “real” book. It’s taking a while, but I hope to have some news in a month or so.

    In December I’ll be making a series of posts where I outline my annual review and 2009 goal-setting process. That’s when I formally decide where I’m going the next year, what business projects to do, what non-profit projects, and so on. Since I started doing this a few years ago, I’ve had a huge boost in productivity and overall life alignment — so I’ll write more in December about exactly how I do that.

    Thanks again, everyone! I appreciate your time reading.

  • REnusn says:

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