Unequivocally Ambiguous

Humorous Stories on Parenting, Culture and Life

Corten Steel Memories

by | Apr 14, 2023 | Travel | 0 comments

Photo Essay: Seattle, Salvadorian Coffee & Cynicism

I ordered the Salvadorian drip when I saw it.

It is one of the quick rules I have for myself. Whenever I see Salvadorian coffee on a menu, I order it, regardless of what drink I had my mind set on.

Photo by author. Seattle, Washington.

When I visited San Salvador, I learned that the country’s production output is minimal, and a handful of foreign companies typically buy it out. So it is rare to find it.

I love Central American coffee even more than I love Colombian coffee, and I’m Colombian.

Photo by author. Seattle, Washington.

That’s what I got at Herkimer coffee. This shop was a block away from where I was staying in Queen Anne, an area to the west of Lake Union in Seattle.

I walked outside into the snippy cold of the Pacific Northwest, and when I walked across the street, I noticed the corten steel planters embedded with Zen garden-like rocks bordering a building.

I thought to myself, “wow, those are beautiful!”

Photo by author. Seattle, Washington.

What is corten steel, you ask? It’s a fancy boogie word for rusted-ass steel. The steel does not start that way because it takes months or years for steel to rust. This steel is fabricated through a process of chemistry acceleration that creates a rusted look without compromising its structural integrity.

And these planters made out of it were beautiful. They are stunning against stark architecture that favors sharp angles, gray palettes, and concrete.

How do I know about it?

Photo by author. Seattle, Washington.

When I was a PM in construction, I procured and installed corten planters at a condo development at the Dogpatch in San Francisco — a gentrified area next to Potrero Hill.

When we quoted the planters, we couldn’t believe how expensive they were, the time it took to produce them, or that we needed to get them to the Bay from Utah.

The estimators and other project managers in the office talked about how stupid they were, how they were only rusted steel, and I went along with it. There were real issues with them, especially the fact that they were installed over concrete and not embedded and surrounded by rocks like the ones in Seattle. They were sitting right on the concrete, so when it rained, it stained it.

But that didn’t warrant my cynical response to it. I could’ve still appreciated how beautiful they were even if they weren’t my style.

Photo by author. Seattle, Washington.

Here I was in Seattle, and my unsuspecting honest response was that I liked them; I liked them very much.

Why do we do this? Pretend to be cynical and bitter about everything as if we were hipsters disliking what others like or liking them ironically.

Isn’t it much better to cultivate a sense of wonder and awe at everything in the world?

It reminds me of Alec Baldwin in an episode of Friends. He plays an overly optimistic person who, regardless of his situation, always finds the silver lining. Including when Phoebe, an optimistic person herself, fights and breaks up with him. She slams the door on him, he knocks, and when she opens, he asks her, “wasn’t that the best fight ever?”

We don’t have to go to the extreme, but we can’t stop being so cynical, especially when it doesn’t represent how we truly feel about things.

Photo by author. Seattle, Washington.

“But, goddamn it, Carlos, how was the coffee?” You say.


Light on the tongue with subtle hints of green apple, caramel, and brown sugar.

It was the best coffee I’ve ever had.

This essay first appeared on Counter Arts

No Sigma: (almost daily) ((always short)) (((NEVER long))) Reflections on risk, art, and creative recovery.

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