Olympia is baller, part 20 or so

Anarchist Bookstores, Sudden Friendship, and cod extravaganza.

Olympia, Washington has 3 bookstores. One deals with antiques. The other is more “modern”. The last is run by anarchists.

It’s pretty chill!

Complete with Zine collection:

And snarky signage:

I talked to the co-owner, Sky. He founded the bookstore with his buddies during college, and it’s been around for 14(?) years. It doesn’t seem like the store has ever been much in the black (har har), but lately business has been really slow.

As an aside: I say “Anarchist bookstore”, but I didn’t get a sense of what that means in practice. The shop definitely has an ideological lean, so you can buy radical books. It also hosts a few community events. (Three in the next week or two, even). But I didn’t get a sense that the bookstore was that connected with the wider community, or even “activist community”. Could be completely off-base here.

The shop was nice, and I chatted with the owner, a volunteer worker, and even bought a few books as gifts.

The whole encounter made me really appreciate Back Pages Books, the amazing local bookstore in Waltham, MA. Alex Green, the owner of Backpages, isn’t the sort to festoon the store with red and black flags. However, he does invite great authors to give book talks, and a deep relationship with some faculty at Brandeis University (he stocks their coursebooks, they send business his way). Lastly, through his perch at Backpages, he does a great job in “community organizing” all the small business owners on his street. They’re supporting progressive policies, he’s in meetings with the mayor all the time, etc.

Alex is actually a great role model in that sense. What a nice life he has – the autonomy and passion of running your own business, with the strategizing and good works of community organizing. Maybe I should look into doing something like that myself.

Okay, back to the story!

Sudden friendship

As Cece and I were browsing books to buy, Austin, the volunteer at the store, came over, and invited me out for a drink. I saw his drink, and raised him a dinner with Cece, and we all went out for tacos.

In Austin’s words:

Yesterday, as I was doing some volunteering at Last Word Books, I had the pleasure of meeting two really awesome people. We spoke of philosophy, meaning, and happiness among other things. This has literally been my fantasy for so long and it has come true. Cecelia and Sahar, thank you guys for being a couple of badass mofos. You guys rule!

We did talk about life, and happiness, and so on. I pretty much forget what everyone said. As far I can remember, I learned that:

  • I think this journey I’m on is easy (I exchange money I already have for travel and food, and also talk to strangers). But from another point of view, it’s brave and to be admired. (I’m still not convinced, but Austin was pretty adamant about it)
  • There are three types of good: stopping or slowing evil, building structural alternatives, and inspiration/ a shift in consciousness. I can, and should, find all 3 in my life, instead of just the 1st.

Cod Extravaganza

After all that, Cece and I bought a *ton* of cod. I cut it into thirds and made three types: cod spiced as if it were meat (red), cod spiced as if it were pizza (green), and cod spiced the way that the recipe said to (white):

Surprise! Following directions led to the tastiest fish.

Cece’s partner Aaron, and their mutual friend [aah how embarrassing I forgot her name!], were on hand to help cook / eat.

It was a good day.


More stories from Downtown Olympia

Olympia has a pretty large anarchist scene, apparently. They’ve got fliers all over town. When I first walked around though, I thought the anarchist scene was much larger and stranger than it really is, though.

There were these people walking downtown. You could see them all over. They all were wearing a button-down shirt uniform, and above their right breast was a stylized A. Kind of like this:

“Wow!” said I. “The radical left here sure is organized.” “And really civic minded, they keep picking up trash and so on”.


Turns out the chamber of commerce or something has a “downtown ambassadors” program to “keep downtown clean and nice”.


Most local stores had a sign up: “Another Business That Supports The People’s House”. The People’s House, I learned, is a homeless shelter of some kind. I tried to track it down, but it doesn’t have a physical location yet. Quite different from Right To Dream Too, which I would discover (to my delight) just a few days later…


Olympia, WA is so baller, part 2

(AKA that time I accidentally visited the Marijuana store)

The sign said they had an art show in this shop, so I went in and asked about the gallery. The guy behind the counter was confused.

Him: “Do you want some pot?”

Me: “Um … No?”

Him: “Okay. This is a Marijuana dispensary”

Me: “Oh. I heard there was art?”

Him: “Yeah, I guess. It’s these three paintings on the wall behind me”

Me: “Oh. Thanks. Uh, bye. ”

And that’s the story. I managed to snap a few pictures of the magazines and newspapers there, though. What a town!


Olympia, Washington, is so baller, part 1

I was in Olympia to visit an old friend, and during the day when she was working, I walked around downtown. It was awesome.

Part One: Coffee Connections lead to Chill Christians

We start off our journey with amazing single-source ethical coffee from Olympia Coffee Roasters.

See that photo hotness? I was trying out Google’s Lens Blur feature on their camera app.

Check out their backroom coffee operation:

The barista recommended I check out the Artisan Well, which is a natural spring that gives fresh free water to the whole town. Rocking!

Here’s the well:

Yep; it’s a pipe. As I got there, a woman (skinny, all-black clothes, tattoo-festooned, lives on a farm outside town) complained about how the city was trying to “develop the spring”.

“It used to be just a pipe! And that’s how we liked it!”

(Now, it’s a pipe with some mosaic around it. And a barrel)

She was pretty cool – she had many plastic buckets to fill, since she doesn’t get running water in her farm outside of town.

She leaves, I chat with a few other people, and then a couple about my age starts filling up a ton of plastic buckets as well.

After a few introductions, I ask that big question that tends to either get great conversation or confused looks:

“So! What makes you content in life?”

The man looks at me, sits down on the bench next to me, and says:

“Well, Sahar, what brings me joy is being loved by my lord and savior, Jesus Christ.

Five years ago, I don’t know how I would’ve reacted. Thanks to a pilgrimage to Missouri to hang out with Zack Exley, however, it wasn’t weird (or even that unexpected) at all.

Me: “Hey, do you guys like Rob Bell or Shane Claiborne?”

Him: “Yeah, I love Shane! And I *hate Rob Bell!”

Her: “Oh, silly! You don’t hate him. Hey, how did you know about Shane Claiborne?”

Turns out that the two of them are christians in a “loving, social justice” oriented sense. They build schools in Cambodia and so on. And their lives are fantastically happy! They have a purpose, they have a community that supports them, they know who their friends are and they are secure in teh world. We ended up talking about all sorts of things for over half an hour.

Olympia is a cool town.


The story of the magic school bus

This is the story of how I traveled from Portland Oregon to Olympia Washington with a crazy crew of characters.

The setup:

Cece, who is amazing, lives in Olympia, and I made plans to visit her.

“How do I get there, Cece?”

“Don’t worry, just get a rideshare!”

Okay, so I go on Craigslist and find a ride. I know I’m not the only passenger, so I assume we’re going in a van or something.


Yep, he pulls up in a schoolbus. A schoolbus full of WONDER.

Prayer flags. A Nyan cat. A table between a few bus seats. Quirky musician folks. And a bed rounding out the back.

The people on the bus were also characters. Eye-patch guy (a self-proclaimed asshole). Chuckling longhair fiddler. Intense older man who is designing a super-plane. And the driver, a late-20’s hip dude who brought us all together. He bought this bus and renovated it into a sort of RV for camping purposes.

They were all headed to a fiddling festival in Washington, and I was hitching a ride until Olympia. We talked about philosophy of mind, that guy’s idea for an amphibious, beautiful, egg-shaped plane, divorces, and Irish history.

Eventually they dropped me off at Cece’s place and I never heard from them again.

What a day!


Powell’s books

On my first day in Portland, I checked out Powell’s books. It’s as enormous and great as everyone says.

One thing that really impressed was the “local” staff picks section. They sold a zine called “A Guide to Living and Traveling in Portland”. Sure, it was exactly what I needed, but also. Wow! Powell’s sells Zines.


I first was skeptical of PDX, but this fact is what started warming me up to it.



Life moment

Right now I’m traveling the country, thinking about life, and doing a lot of blogging along the way.

You can find those posts at my tumblr: Persian Excursion — Sahar’s Adventure Log.

(If you’re visiting this from the future, this tag should cover the majority of the relevant posts: #PersianExcursion2014)

(Note from the future — it’s 2020 and I’ve imported everything back into this wordpress. You can find the tag here: )


A day in the life

I was walking “home” to my host’s house the other day. Just walking north 20 blocks with a backpack and a smile. Lately, I’ve been taking to putting on earbuds as I walk, and playing a mix of fun “theme song” music. Brightens the day. And, with the microphone attachment in new set, I can yell “Okay Google now! Call <person X>” at any time

So I’m walking along to the beats of Broken Social Scene and happy with the brilliant blue sky tinging with pink as the sun sets. And then there are two people on the sidewalk ahead. One woman with a suitcase, and one man agitatedly next to her.

I take out my earbuds, just to make sure if everything’s alright. The man gestures over to me, has me sit down. We just hang out, I introduce myself, etc. The woman offers me her food – and after a little protest I end up sitting on the side of the road, eating delicious donated fried chicken, hearing about the lives of these two strangers. How the woman flew up to Portland to meet a man from online, only to be dumped in a bar in the middle of nowhere. How the man was addicted to drugs, and found Allah in a rehab program. A rehab program, by the way, where he met Ibrahim, the guy who would later found Portland’s amazing tent city, Right to Dream Too.

Eventually, they end up arguing and I take my leave.

I love meeting strangers.


Adventure Time!


I’ve wrapped up my commitments.
No more job. No more apartment. No more girlfriend.

And now? Adventure!

Here’s why:

Over that last few years, I’ve done some really cool things. I’ve gotten a graduate degree, founded a real startup, worked at the Wikimedia Foundation, and did national and international campaigning with SumOfUs. That’s all things I thought I wanted to do – but something was always missing.

At a base level, something has been missing – fulfillment. Contentment. A sense of joy and adventure that I enjoyed so much back in the day. Even things that used to bring me joy: left politics, Brandeis University, programming, startups, even learning – they don’t seem to fire me up as much even more. Some even bring disappointment and pain (I’m looking at you, Brandeis! Stop being so awful to your people).

You know the impostor syndrome? I probably have that. But there’s another way I feel like an impostor. I’ve forgotten who “Sahar” is. He’s been buried beneath all this doubt, affirmation-seeking, and nervousness.

So I’ve decided to Figure My Life Out and Find Myself.

Or, in less self-mocking language, it’s time to reset a lot of my habits of thought and habits of being. To be intentional and self-affirming.

Travel! Just like everyone else!

I’m going to tour the country, reconnect with old friends, and meet new inspiring people. And since I titled this Tumblr as an “adventure log”, might as well use it as a diary of my adventures. I’ve already met a bunch of cool people and learned their stories. Turns out that people can be pretty cool!

Here we go!


What to do if you’re trying to run Heroes 3 on Wine and the screen flickers

Do this!

  • Run regedit
  • Go to HKEY_CURRENT_USER -> Software -> Wine
  • Then use Edit -> New Key to make a new folder called Direct3D
  • Inside that folder, make a new String value: DirectDrawRenderer. Set the value to gdi.
  • Voila.

Visiting the French Road Elementary School Library

The other day I visited my old elementary school’s library.

It. Was. Magical.

Shout out to the public school employees (librarians, teachers, custodians, everyone) who worked so hard to make places like a small library in the outskirts of Rochester a magical place to be.


Brighton High School and Sacco and Vanzetti

Now this is just impressive. The AP Art History class at Brighton High School did projects on, among other things, the Sacco and Vanzetti Trial.

Suburban, high-achieving students writing about the injustices done to early 20th-century anarchists.

I love it.


The Pittsford Library is kind of ridiculously nice

The Pittsford Library is kind of ridiculously nice. You can’t see it, but they actually have a chandelier!

And anyone, not just Pittsford residents, can go. The best, quietest, and fastest-wifi places are also tables that are meant to be shared. This means they’re great for running into old and new friends, as I learned when I visited last Wednesday and ran into an old high school buddy of mine.

The library is also right next to a great garbage plate place. It doesn’t just do gross hot dogs – you can get chicken breast, real fish, etc. I got chicken breast, finely chopped lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, and all sorts of sauces, then ate my picnic in the shade by the Erie Canal.

A wonderful day. Definitely recommended.


Every city should have a public market like Rochester’s

There’s only one place in Rochester where people of all social classes mix. 

I went today with my folks. Ran into two friends I didn’t even know where in Rochester. Wine and olive tasting.

I also noticed, for the first time, this “Edible Wall”, set up by Rochester Teen Court. The premise is great: use gardening as a tool of rehabilitation. The actual product – well, there’s a whole lot of brown and not too much green there.

The public market is definitely a thing worth doing in Rochester.


Field Observation 1: Boulder Coffee

In my quest to meet people in Rochester, I’ve been to two different Boulder Coffee locations. One on Park Ave, the other near the Exchange/Ford street bridge.

Boulder has some claim to indie cred. The music is eclectic, and while not indie in genre (A death metal single caused a bit of a stir), it’s clearly not Top-40 drek.

The clientele seems a split of serious “I work here this is my office” type folks (of which I was one), and late-teens to mid-twenties students.

Surprisingly, they had single source Kenyan coffee for only $1.60. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it came from a pre-made tap, and wasn’t french-pressed on the spot, as I was accustomed to during my stay in Missouri.

Furniture was a good mix of faux-antique plush and “let’s get this done” chairs, desks, and stools.

The biggest disappointment, however, was how people in both locations tended to stay isolated and impersonal. They’re not rude, there’s just a large enough space that no one really interacts with each other.

I would go there again, but I’m still on the lookout for a great place that lets me get work done AND meet cool and interesting people.