Joe Bar is truly one of Seattle's treasures. The little cafe, creperie, and art gallery in Capitol Hill's iconic Loveless Building is like your friend who is always perfectly dressed for the occasion. When it's crowded for an art opening, it feels intimate in a house party kind of way. When it's chilly out, the upstairs is the epitome of coziness. I am writing this now, after 50-odd days of no rain, at one of its lovely outdoor tables, which are never deserted in the summer. If you must work, why not do it al fresco?
Indeed, while I love the Joe Bar that is buzzing with life and activity and art, as it was at the awesome Food Art opening recently, I love it best when it serves as Capitol Hill's communal study. There is, in my opinion, no finer place to get some work done, despite what the ever present hordes at Little Oddfellows might think.
Part of its appeal, I think, is the infinitely approachable, effervescently light fare. They have all the beverages one might need to power through a term paper (or even the Thomas Pynchon novel you're reading to match your screen-printed tote bag), be that an espresso, a fancy tea, or a Duvel. I'm partial to the Pfriem pilsner, which is crisp and bracing enough to keep me both engaged and writing. However, the food is the real star, as the brain needs calories to function. Not a soporific amount, but at least some.
Joe Bar's smoked salmon crepe is that perfect amount. Paired with a bottle of Pfriem, and placed atop one of the cozy tables upstairs, it's my ideal working lunch. It might seem odd to pair smoked salmon with blue cheese, but it works so, so well. The slightly acidic ribbons of kale folded into the crepe's many layers anchor the star ingredients admirably, and their crepes are silky and always cooked to perfection.
I also love this crepe because every time I eat it, I am reminded of how I became a journalist.
You see, the smoked salmon used to be (and maybe still is) from Jeb's Wild Salmon. Jeb Wyman, the eponymous proprietor, is also a professor at Seattle Central College (also, a newly minted author!). When I attended SCC, back when it had an extra C for "community," Jeb was my English 101 professor.
Back then, he was also the faculty adviser to The City Collegian, the student newspaper, and he assigned his 101 students to write a news story. We didn't have to report it, we just had to pick some current event and write it. I cannot for the life of me remember what I picked, but I'll never forget Jeb pulling me aside after he'd handed that assignment back and saying, in so many words, "You need to take my yearlong journalism series and come work for me on the student newspaper." It did not sound optional.
I heeded his advice and the rest, as they say, is history. A long, tortuous history, to be sure, as I spent several years after leaving SCC parking cars, waiting tables, and working toward a coveted underwater basketweaving degree from Evergreen, but the seed had been planted. Were it not for Jeb's insistence that I sign up for that class, I would not be writing this today.
In The City Collegian's newsroom, I found my calling. It was my second home, and I think I spent more time there that year than in my actual apartment. Jeb's inexhaustible zeal for journalism, and his unflagging patience with us unruly student journalists, had a lot to do with that. He was also unabashedly proud of us, and reminded us constantly that the work we were doing was important, even if it was just a minor exposé on the student council's handling of activity fees.
It wasn't exactly the Dead Poet's Society, but it was something close. For the first time, I felt like I had a real raison d'être. It's not like the clouds parted and I immediately knew that I was going to be a journalist, but I at least now I knew that there was work in the world that I actually wanted to do.
Despite how much I liked working at the student newspaper, I still didn't think journalism was an actual career possibility for me. Then, after several years of noodling around, I randomly applied to be a Stranger food intern at the ripe old age of 26—mostly because I was tired of my girlfriend telling me I wasn't doing anything with my life. I was bussing tables at Monsoon and reading a lot of great literature, but apparently that doesn't count.
Against all odds, Bethany Jean Clement and Megan Seling decided that I "didn't seem crazy"—despite my application materials being just a photocopied skate zine with an feature essay about traveling to Sodo for malt liquor—and parked me in a corner to write capsule descriptions of restaurants. After the internship, Bethany encouraged me to pitch her (thanks, dude!), and I wrote an angry Slog post about how fucked up it is that certain restaurant owners were encouraging patrons to tip servers less because Obamacare was forcing them to give their employees health insurance. I got a check for $40 and realized I could maybe, possibly do this thing I loved for a living.
Then, after a semi-successful feature on gun violence, an article I wrote about irresponsible skatepark spending languished in editor Christopher Frizzelle's inbox for over a year. I followed up a couple times but heard nothing back, and resigned myself to a fate of food service. After a shift one night, I ended up eating alone at the bar at Le Pichet. Frizzelle happened there on a date, and he sat two seats down from me. We talked. He remembered me and my article. It sucked, he told me candidly, but I should rewrite it with more verve and submit it again.
"We say 'fuck' in headlines," he reminded me. "Don't be afraid to be angry."
I rewrote it. No response. Another year went by. One night, after getting booted from the one good place to skateboard late at night in this town, I was finally angry enough. I sat down and let loose, and I guess it worked. Since then, I've been rejected implicitly and explicitly many times. I've gotten comments back on pitches that made me want to cry and quit forever. But I haven't, and I kind of owe it all to Jeb.
Sadly, The City Collegian is long gone, but Jeb and some colleagues are trying to restart the college's journalism program, and I hope they succeed. We need robust journalism education at the community college level now more than ever, because journalism needs the stories it will produce.
We talk a lot about the lack of diversity in journalism—#JournalismSoWhite occasionally trends—but we don't talk a lot about the economic realities that drive that. You need cash to get through four years of school. After that, you need more cash to float yourself while you do unpaid internships. After that, you can maybe hope for a staff job, but more likely you'll end up freelancing, which pays abysmally. If you are poor, which people of color are statistically more likely to be (thanks, structural racism!), you basically can't afford to be a journalist.
Worse yet, you probably aren't even in an environment where you're encouraged to be one in the first place. I don't think Jeb can fix the very uncomfortable fact that our unwillingness to pay and hire journalists is why #JournalismSoWhite, but perhaps, if we're lucky, there are a few people in SCC's very, very diverse student body who will end up finding him as inspiring as I did.