Reggie’s Grill is a classic, stylish establishment located in a quiet neighborhood just off Lake Washington Boulevard in the Leshi neighborhood of Seattle. The dark wood paneling, dimmed lighting, large, potted palms, and servers dressed in black and white, add to the chic feel of the restaurant. The cozy bar filled with comfortable, overstuffed couches and wing back chairs upholstered in emerald green with lavender accents, is situated next to large floor-to-ceiling windows with an unobstructed view of the lake. This bar is for sipping, quiet conversations, contemplating, there’s no bacchanalian revelry here. Often a guest or server is caught staring out the windows, enthralled by the color the light creates as it dances on the surface of the water, a mixture of sepia and ultra-marine blue in winter; bright, sparkling, cerulean blue in summer.
In business for over twenty years, Reggie’s was opened by an innovative and talented chef named Luke Sinclair. He named it for his grandmother Regina, who loved to cook and shared her talent with her beloved grandson. When she passed, she left her large estate to Luke, and in her will, encouraged him to open a restaurant. Over the years Reggie’s became a Seattle institution, popular with locals who are not concerned about paying premium price for a creative and delicious meal.
Luke is committed to using local, organic ingredients from farmers concerned about the environment and the welfare of their animals and employees. He uses only grass fed meats and wild caught, sustainable seafood, eggs from pastured rather than caged hens. There are no GMO products in his kitchen. He knows that people who use these ingredients are often considered “elitist”. He often wonders how treating animals and farm workers humanely can be considered elitist.
Reggie’s has an extensive wine cellar managed by sommelier, Jack Hooper, aka “Hoop.” Hoop, a Seattle native, lived in France for several years while studying his trade. He has over twenty five years experience in the wine industry, and has worked at Reggie’s over fifteen years with no plans to move on. He enjoys working with Luke and the other young chefs that pass through the kitchen while gaining the training and knowledge to follow in Luke’s footsteps. Luke gives Hoop much leeway with purchasing wines, stemware, and other items he needs to ensure customers have a unique experience and delicious meal while dining at Reggie’s.
The restaurant is situated in a quiet, secluded residential area with a forested feel due to the thick foliage, under-brush, and native trees along the shore of the lake. Not far from the restaurant, hidden in the brush is a place that has been cleared over time. Hoop often sees movement there and knows what is going on. He has seen it before, a sojourner who happens upon the secluded place and feels as though he or she has stumbled into a sanctuary, a place where they can rest for a bit, catch their breath, and escape the peril of the homeless camps. He watches from the window above as an inhabitant brings various supplies, struggling with larger objects and bits of rubble that might be useful, as they hurry down the steep embankment before being seen. He knows in reality they are victims of the economic downturn made even more devastating by an unrelenting pandemic. Hoop watches the area frequently, and for some reason he can’t explain, finds himself drawn to the place. He notices there is only ever one person camped there at any given time. He wishes he could somehow help them, but isn’t sure how to start.
Hoop leaves his home on a beautiful Friday afternoon in June and walks one mile to his usual bus stop. He has a busy day ahead with several wine reps stopping by the restaurant with new releases. The pandemic is easing and businesses are opening up; there is hope in the air. He often sees homeless people camped on the sidewalks and other open areas on his daily commute, and today is no different. He stops in his tracks, however, when he sees a young couple sleeping in a hammock, hung in the corner of a chain link fence of a parking lot. They are completely sacked out, their belongings piled in the corner of the fence, and their dog sleeping soundly on the pile. He shakes his head in saddness, and tries to think again of ways to help the homeless.
At the restaurant, as Hoop tastes the wines brought in by the reps, he steals glances in the direction of the camp, indicating to the wine reps that he is deeply involved in the wine, and needs time to sort through the complexity of the flavors. He purchases several cases of the new vintages, and thanks the reps for stopping by, and continues preparing for the dinner service. He watches the camp from the window above as he polishes wine glasses. Captivated by the current inhabitant, a young man with sadness about him, Hoop thinks the young man may have been affluent at one time since he has a cell phone and lap-top computer. Hoop guesses he probably uses the electrical sockets on the outside of the building to charge his devises. Hoop doesn’t care; business has been good for the restaurant for many years, they can afford a little charity. There is something about this young man though that has peaked his concern, and he begins to think of ways to connect.
Hoshi Norris has an entrepreneurial spirit. A young man who lost his parents when he was a youngster, he learned early on to fend for himself. He was raised by his loving grandparents, who have long since passed away. He has one older sister, Sara, who lives in LA with her husband and children. They were never very close, and communicate only a few times a year.
After college, Hoshi started his own business detailing cars. His business design included traveling to customers homes or place of business rather than having the customer come to him. He had an ingenious set up in his truck of all the equipment he needed to make his customer’s cars sparkle. By keeping his overhead costs down, he was able to keep more of his profit, and his customers loved that he came to them. His business started off with a bang, and he was thrilled with the results. He had hopes of expanding; purchasing more trucks and adding a few employees. He felt confident and hopeful about his future. But his dreams quickly faded as COVID forced people to shelter in place.
Within a few months he had lost his truck, equipment, and his apartment. He never dreamt he would be living on the streets. He tried hard to remain stoic and strong, like his Japanese mother taught him when he was young, but he could feel the dread and despair settling in.
At one of the shelters, he overheard two men whispering about the place along the lake. He hated being in the shelter, so he quickly gathered his things and went looking for it. It wasn’t hard for him to find since he had dined at Reggie’s Grill on several occasions and was familiar with the neighborhood. Even though he was outside, exposed to the elements, he felt much safer along the lake than in the shelter or a homeless camp. It was hard to watch the customers inside the restaurant enjoying a delicious meal and fine wine, but he felt it would motivate him not to give up.
Every afternoon, before the dinner service begins, Luke serves the evening specials to the wait staff so they are familiar with them. As sommelier, Hoop is tasked with pairing the wine to go with each dish. A savory creme brûlée with a mixture of sautéed forest mushrooms and truffles, topped with a dollop of creme fraiche, dusted with finely grated dried cherries, served with crostini is the special appetizer on today’s menu. Normally Hoop prefers to pair appetizers with Champagne or cava to create a festive mood, but the earthy quality of the mushrooms coupled with the sweetness of the cherries calls for a fruity zinfandel from California.
Hoop pairs the fish special of grilled Lingcod topped with Dungeness crab, in a buerre blanc sauce served over rice pilaf with a vegetable medley on the side, with a light pinot blanc from Ponzi Vineyard in Oregon. The special meat entree, Sonoma County braised wild boar, topped with a cherry and fig reduction served with mashed potatoes calls for a bold merlot.
Business is picking up, but with the COVID requirements, tables six feet apart, it is challenging for Luke to know how much food to prepare. As the restaurant closes, Luke gives Hoop a bag of leftovers. As he heads for the bus stop, he pauses on the sidewalk above the camp. He knows Luke is busy in the kitchen taking inventory for tomorrow’s dinner service, so he won’t be seen. He calls to the young man.
“Hello down there, are you hungry?” Hoop calls out as he looks around nervously. There is no reply, so he tries again.
“I have some food from the restaurant,” Hoop calls. “If you would like to have it, I will leave the bag here by the tree.”
“Yes, thank you, I am hungry,” Hoshi replies quickly as he climbs up to the sidewalk where Hoop is waiting. “That’s very thoughtful of you, but I was hoping no one would notice me.”
“I’m probably the only one who noticed,” Hoop replies as he glances towards the restaurant.
“That’s good to know. I’m trying to keep a low profile,” Hoshi says as he takes the food, and steps back.
There is an awkward silence for a few seconds, then Hoop says, “I’m Jack Hooper, everyone calls me Hoop.”
“I’m Hoshi Norris. It’s nice to meet you. And thanks so much for the food, I’m really hungry. It smells amazing by the way.”
“Yeah, tonight’s specials were really awesome,” Hoop says awkwardly as he shuffles his feet. “Well, I’ll let you go and enjoy your dinner. Maybe I’ll see you again tomorrow.”
“Thanks, this is really generous,” Hoshi says as he glances down bashfully.
Hoop gives him a smile as he turns to walk to the bus stop.
At home, Hoop tells his partner, Joel, about Hoshi, and how he is so concerned about the young man.
“Maybe you should invite him to meet you for coffee on your day off. But please be cautious, the pandemic is lessening, but we’re not out of the woods yet, and I don’t want you to get sick.” Joel, an emergency room physician at Harborview Medical Center, is always concerned about Hoop’s health and safety.
“You always come up with the best ideas,” Hoop says as he smiles at Joel. “I’m off on Monday so I’ll ask him when I take food to him tomorrow. And don’t worry, I’ll wear a mask and maintain a safe distance,” he says reassuringly with a grin.
The next night, after the restaurant closes Hoop approaches Hoshi’s camp.
“Hoshi, I have some food for you,” Hoop says as he looks towards a rustling sound in the bushes.
Hoshi quickly appears. “Oh wow, thanks for much! The meals you brought last night were amazing, I can’t wait to try these.” Hoshi says as he takes the bag from Hoop, stepping back to maintain a safe distance.
“You are most welcome. Hey, I’m off on Monday, how about we meet for coffee, my treat.”
“Really? That would be so great. I have missed talking with people these last few months,” Hoshi replies with a smile.
“Yeah, it would be nice to get to know you. Let’s meet at the coffee bar, around the corner. Does 10:00 work?” Hoop asks with an inquisitive smile.
“Yeah, that’s great, I’ll see you then. And thanks again!”
Hoop feels fondness and concern for Hoshi and wants to help him get back on his feet. He never had children of his own, but would be proud to call this young man “son”.
Monday morning, Hoop and Hoshi meet as planned. Lattes in hand, and a breakfast sandwich for Hoshi, they settle at an outdoor table.
“So, tell me about yourself Hoshi, are you from the area?”
Hoshi feels comfortable with Hoop and opens up to him with many of his life events, his business and his recent losses.
“Have you contacted your sister?” Hoop asks.
“No, we were never really close, and she is busy with her family and career. She’s a physician, so she’s pretty busy,” Hoshi says as he sips his coffee.
“I get that, my partner is a physician. Perhaps she would like to hear from you, particularly with all that’s going on with the pandemic.”
“Yeah, I’ve been thinking about contacting her,” Hoshi replies as he glances down at his coffee.
When their conversation starts to wind down, Hoop takes Hoshi back into the coffee shop and tells him to pick out a few items from the case. He explains that he doesn’t work again until Wednesday, and wants to be sure Hoshi has enough to eat. Hoshi, being a proud young man, is hesitant to accept charity, but his rumbling stomach gets the better of him and he accepts Hoop’s benevolent offer with much appreciation. As they say goodbye, Hoop promises to bring a meal to him after work on Wednesday.
Their friendship grows over the course of several months. They settle into a routine of meeting for coffee on Hoop’s days off, and chat when Hoop brings dinner to him after work. They learn little details about each other that forms a bond of friendship. Hoshi is pleased to learn that Hoop and Joel have been to Japan and found the country to be warm, welcoming, and the people to be friendly and helpful.
Hoshi shared that when he was a toddler, his father, an army officer, was killed in Iraq, and that his mother died of cancer when he was only ten. He and his sister lived with their paternal grandparents during the school year, and spent summers in Japan with their maternal grandparents. By the time he was a teen, his paternal grandparents had passed leaving him and Sara alone. She was an adult, so they lived together, but when she was in medical school, and Hoshi was in high school, he was left on his own for long periods of time.
Hoop offered many times to help Hoshi find a safe place to live, but he insisted that he could manage. He told Hoop that he applied for several jobs and was hopeful that something would turn up soon.
On one of their coffee dates, Hoshi shared that he had contacted his sister and that she was relieved to hear from him. He did not want to tell her that he was homeless, but she managed to get him to open up and tell her everything. She insisted that he move to LA to live with her. She explained that she and her husband have a large house, and the kids are excited to have Uncle Hoshi in their lives. He would have to quarantine in the basement for several weeks, but she was insistent. She purchased a plane ticket for him and he was scheduled to leave in a few days.
Hoop was relieved that Hoshi would have a safe place to live, but would miss him and his friendship. They promised to stay in touch and get together once the pandemic was over. Hoop and Joel arranged for Hoshi to stay in a hotel for the next few days prior to his flight to LA. Hoop insisted on driving Hoshi to the hotel later that day and say goodbye.
As he approaches Hoshi’s camp, he sees an ambulance parked in front, with its lights flashing. He quickly pulls over and jumps out of his car.
“Hey! What’s going on?” Hoop calls to the paramedics.
“We got a call, someone found this guy unconscious on the sidewalk,” replies one of the paramedics.
Hoop takes a closer look and his heart falls. “Oh no, that’s Hoshi, a friend of mine.”
“Do you know his full name?” The paramedic asks.
“Yes, Hoshi Norris. I was going take him to a hotel. He is scheduled to fly to LA in a few days to live with his sister. He’s been homeless for a few months.”
The paramedic shakes his head in sadness; “the only place this guy’s headed is Harborview,” he says as he turns back to Hoshi.
Hoop stands in a daze for a a few minutes, as he looks at Hoshi, unconscious on the stretcher, while the paramedics load him into the ambulance. Hoop grabs Hoshi’s back pack, which is laying on the sidewalk and calls Joel, who is on duty, he picks up right away.
“Hey, good timing, I was just between patients, what’s…”
“It’s Hoshi, they are bringing him in, he’s unconscious!” Hoop cries out so quickly that the words run together.
“Slow down Hoop, I can’t understand you. What’s wrong with Hoshi?”
“Someone found him unconscious on the sidewalk and called the paramedics. They’re bringing him to Harborview right now.”
“Oh Hoop, I’m so sorry,” Joel replies. “OK, I’ll watch for him and will keep you posted. But Hoop, don’t come here, they won’t let you in.”
Hoop reluctantly agrees to stay away from the hospital, but is overcome with grief, anxiety and tries not to imagine the worst. He paces for a few minutes before getting back in his car to drive home. At home he is unable to concentrate on anything, he gravitates between sitting, pacing frantically, or staring out the window. He texts Joel, but has not received a reply. He knows Joel was busy working on Hoshi, and as much as he wants to know what is going on, he knows he needs to wait. He feels completely helpless. Then he remembers Hoshi’s backpack and hurries out to his car. After retrieving it, he finds Hoshi’s cell phone and Sara’s number.
“Hello, is this Sara?” Hoop asks.
“Yes, why are you calling on my brother’s phone?” Sara inquires.
“I’m Hoop, a friend of Hoshi’s.”
“Yes, Hoshi is always talking about you and about how kind you have been to him. Is something wrong?”
“I’m afraid I have some bad news; Hoshi has been taken to Harborview, he was found unconscious earlier today near his camp. My partner, Joel is an ER doctor there and just happened to be working when they brought him in.”
“Oh no! I have been so afraid for him, living rough and being exposed to the elements.”
“I know, me too. But he was insistent on staying there rather than a shelter.” Hoop replies.
“Yes, he has always been very proud and independent. You said he’s at Harborview?”
“Yes, I’ll let you know when I hear from Joel.”
“Thanks. I will check with staff there. But please do keep me updated,” Sara replies as they end their call.
A while later, Hoop receives a call from Joel, “I’m afraid I don’t have the best of news. Hoshi tested positive for COVID and is in ICU, on a ventilator. I’m sorry to say that it doesn’t look very good at this point.”
Hoop lets out a heavy sigh and drops his head in defeat. “I need to call his sister.”
“I’ve already talked to her. She’s flying up later today. Also, we need to get you tested ASAP. I’ll send you the details on where to get tested today,” Joel says.
Hoop wasn’t scheduled to work for a few days, but given the situation with Hoshi, and his possible exposure to COVID, he had to tell Luke ASAP. This could be disastrous for Reggie’s. Luke was understanding as usual.
“OK, well thankfully we’re closed for the next few days. I guess I better contact the health department,” Luke says.
“I’ve already been tested and should have the results back soon. I don’t have any symptoms though.” Hoop pauses for a moment, “I’m really sorry Luke, I hope this doesn’t mean the restaurant will have to close again.”
“We’ll survive if we do; we’ll deal with it.” Luke pauses and says, “I’m guessing this has something to do with the young homeless man?”
“You know about him?” Hoop asks.
Another pause then Luke says, “You didn’t notice you’re the only one I give food to at the end of the dinner service?”
Hoop smiles, “Thanks Luke. Hoshi is a talented and gifted young man, it pains me to see him in this situation. And now he’s deathly ill. I have only myself to blame for this.”
“No Hoop, we’re all to blame. We should never let someone suffer when we have so much to share.”
Joel and Sara stay by Hoshi’s side for three days, doing everything in their power to help Hoshi survive the vicious, unrelenting virus. The anxiety becomes a thick fog that completely engulfs Hoop; he’s sick with worry and exhausted from insomnia. His COVID test was negative, so Reggie’s didn’t need to close, but Luke told him to stay home. Luke told the restaurant employees about Hoshi, and they are all deeply saddened and desperately hoping and praying for a complete recovery.
On the fourth day, Joel texts Hoop and tells him to meet him in the parking lot behind Harborview, Sara wants to meet him, he says. Hoop parks his car behind the hospital and waits for Sara and Joel. They exit the building together and their body language leaves Hoop feeling desperate. He jumps out of the car and hurries towards them.
“We did all we could Hoop,” Joel says with tears in his eyes.
“I cannot thank you enough for all you did for my brother,” Sara says as she looks at Hoop from six feet away. “You were a true friend to him, and I will always be indebted to you for your kindness.”
“Wait, Hoshi’s gone!?” Hoop says as he looks at them in desperation.
Yes, he has passed,” Sara says quietly as the tears fall.
“I should have done more!” He looks at Joel, his every muscle tensed. “He could have stayed with us, why didn’t I try harder to help him!”
“No Hoop, Hoshi never would have done that, he was very proud. You did so much for him, don’t ever blame yourself. You were a true friend to Hoshi, and for that I will always be grateful.” Sara says.
Hoop looks at her and then to Joel incredulously. They all cry, six feet apart, wanting desperately to hug, but knowing the cruel reality that doing so could put them all at risk.
Joel returns home later that day. He follows strict protocols and strips before entering their home; his clothes go straight into the washing machine and he goes straight into the shower as Hoop watches dishearteningly from a safe distance.
“This totally sucks,” Hoop says as he watches Joel disrobe.
“I know. Ten minutes.” Joel replies as he heads to the shower.
Hoop is standing outside the bathroom door; it takes only seconds after the door opens for him to fall into his Joel’s arms, bury his head in his chest, and let loose a heavy stream of tears. They hold each other close and cry for Hoshi.
Six months later:
“Are you ready?” Luke asks Hoop.
“Absolutely! Let’s do this,” he replies as he rolls open the window of the truck.
The food truck parked on Stewart and 5th reads:
Writing this story was therapeutic for me, since I find the homeless crisis to be so sad and disturbing. Homelessness has become a crisis in Seattle, with as many as 11,000 people living on the streets at any given time. Homeless camps popped up all around downtown and along the highways, beginning in the early aughts, and are now a common site. I spent 40 years working in and around the downtown Seattle area, and since my bus stop was there, I came face to face with them on a daily basis. Seeing people sleeping on the sidewalks, staggering into the lanes of traffic, sitting on the wet pavement rocking, muttering or yelling, are concerning sites to witness.
The part in the story about the young couple sleeping in the hammock is true; I witnessed that myself. I wanted to help, so I donated to charities that work with the homeless. I stopped carrying cash so I could honestly say that I didn’t have any, and started carrying gift cards to local coffee and sandwich shops to give out when someone asked for help. Some were appreciative of the gift card, others were not. One woman even told me she could accept a credit card in lieu of cash.
I had many unpleasant and downright frightening encounters while waiting for the bus. I was waiting in a bus shelter one cold rainy day, when a woman came up to me, called me a f&#@ing bitch and to get the hell out of her shelter. In the next shelter was a man laying on a narrow, steel bench with his hands down his pants. This same man would, every fifteen minutes or so, let out a blood curdling, ear piercing scream, leaving everyone around nearly jumping out of their skin. It’s a difficult situation, the city council is working to solve the crisis, but it seems insurmountable at this point.
On a happier note, the Jack Hooper character is based on a head purser on a transatlantic flight I took with theTravelsketcher and our daughter about 15 years ago. Jack (not his real last name) was absolutely delightful, he had the other attendants serve meals and beverages, while he served only wine. Wandering through the cabin, wine bottle in hand, chatting about the various wines, offering a taste or a glass; he was quite entertaining and made the flight a lot of fun.
Special thanks to theTravelsketcher and our daughter for their help and suggestions for this story.
As always, please leave a comment, I would love to hear from you.