Strolling thru Seattle

Been very busy the last ten days, but I wanted to pause long enough to post about my (latest) trip back to my home-away-from-home: Seattle.

Due to per diem constraints — if I am up here, it’s almost always for Army stuff these days — I had to stay at the motel closest to Ft. Lawton and which I could get covered under travel expenses. The Travelodge near the Space Needle isn’t the worst place I’ve ever stayed, and it’s not the best either. For three days and two nights, it will do. And it’s got the essentials: nice big clean bed, free wi-fi, and a functional bathroom. Oh, and a cube fridge. There must always be a cube fridge.

It was a cool, dry night tonight — gotta take advantage of that combo while it lasts — so I went out for an extended stroll. Wandered over to the old monorail route, walked along it until I got to Westlake shopping center, then went up Pine Street until I got to the Barnes & Noble store.

I’m no stranger to this particular Barnes & Noble. It’s a swanky two-level affair that has a well-stocked and well-groomed science fiction section down on the second level, where a skiffy buff could positively get lost for days admiring and/or picking up all the paperbacks. Tonight I was hoping to score the latest issue of Analog, which has my fellow WOTF winner K.C. Ball’s story that Stan Schmidt bought from her after she won Writers of the Future. K.C. is currently doing Clarion West at the U of WA campus — had I more time, I’d be tempted to sneak over and poke my head into whatever night time activities they’ve got going on. Maybe I will e-mail K.C. and just see? Maybe not, since I have only tomorrow night, and no idea if I will be up for anything.

Sadly, B&N did not have any issues of Analog on its shelves — had K.C. and crew already depleted them? — so I browsed through the nearby mags. Is anyone else bothered that all the skiffy mags are stuck down in the boring section with all the lit mags? Thankfully I ran across two things I can never find at my B&N back in fly-over country: Fantasy & Science Fiction and InterZone. Now, I buy F&SF as often as I can find it — not often — and I have never seen InterZone openly displayed on a rack in the States. So I snatched them both up. Then dallied down to the reference section.

One rule I established a few years back: throw out and/or do not buy any books on writing that are not specifically written by or about a well-known and/or very-successful writer. So I skipped over everything that didn’t have a Name on it, almost picking up a catchy-looking, quote-filled volume that was something like, 101 Hot Tips from the Big Pros, but then I saw a modest little volume called, Terry Brooks: Lessons From A Writing Life. I’ll be honest, I have never read a single Terry Brooks story or book that I can remember. Sue me, I just don’t have the time to read as widely in the skiffy genre(s) as I’d like! But Brooks is a Name I sit up and pay attention to, regardless, so this looked interesting. I adore Stephen King’s On Writing, and will be curious to see if the Brooks’ book is similar in tone or content?

Headed out of the Barnes & Noble, I went back down to Westlake — my goodness, there were a number of attractive ladies out this evening — where I went up to the third floor food court and ate some Chinese food from a Chinese place I frequented when I lived here before. Food was as spicy as I recalled, and made for pleasant dining as I sat down and carefully read the first few pages of InterZone. Rumor has it that InterZone is still considered a “semi-pro” pub back here in oh-so-serious U.S. skiffydom. But this issue has excellent production values — U.S. science fiction hasn’t had a full-sized fic mag of this quality since Science Fiction Age — so I will give InterZone the benefit of the doubt. Production values count for a lot. To me, it says the publisher treats the verbage with respect, as an artwork deserving of quality paper, printing, fonts, and complimentary cover and interior artwork. Which InterZone appears to have, in spades. I am impressed. I am also glad I started sending them stories as of last month.

Dinner over, I went back along the monorail route — the new surface street trolley track is done, and the trolley looks like a carbon copy of the one in Tacoma, save for the bright orange wrap that cloaks Seattle’s version. Along the way I passed an apartment complex where an old friend used to live — I remember lugging his very-heavy desktop computer from One Union Square all the way to that apartment, no cart, no wheels; whew!

Lo, here comes the Sound Transit route 594, which used to get me to and from downtown Tacoma and downtown Seattle every day! Hard to believe it’s been almost three years since I last rode that route. I had the urge to trot up to the stop in front of the theater — and hop on.

Memories, memories, memories…

I worked (and lived) in Seattle from 1998 until 2007 — a period for which I am very grateful, because it allowed me to have bona fide exposure to the, “Bright lights, big city.”

In many ways, it was every bit as wonderful as film and television — and popular culture overall — make it out to be. At the same time, it was a reality check: astronomical living expenses, claustrophobic urban congestion, crime, weirdness, and the cultural and political stupidity that comes from too many like-minded people all rubbing up against one another and patting one another on the back for being oh-so-like-minded — and believing deeply in their hearts that anyone who lives north of Edmunds, south of Renton, or east of Issaquah is a yokel.

And people from Utah? Utah?? Pew! Les barbares!

Okay, maybe that last bit is an exaggeration? But then again, maybe it’s not. You didn’t hear the jokes I heard told — about those of us from fly-over country — when the esteemed and educated Seattleites thought only esteemed and educated Seattleites were in the room. (smirk)

Seattle is definitely a city person’s city. The place never sleeps, is practically open for business round the clock, with the usual benefits of progressive cosmopolitanism: highly diverse, highly multicultural, highly liberal, with several colleges, a fairly ‘out’ gay population, and a funky retro-modern chic sensibility that has been intensifying since the Grunge Rock period of the early 1990s.

Business-suited execs walk past floral-patterned punk rock girls and shadow-faced transsexuals, while geriatric Democrat couples window shop next to hip-hop gang-bangers, and those ubiquitous two middle-aged white men strolling together, making you kind of wonder if they’re… well, it doesn’t matter. Half-crazy panhandlers shake their cups next to pretty-good street musicians and toothy-grinned chalkboard prophets, while the cops on bikes just kind of watch it all from behind their sunglasses with a bemused expression that says: there isn’t anything you could possibly do that we haven’t seen before.

Intoxicating, and disquieting, both at the same time.

Back home, Salt Lake City is not nearly as big, and there is hardly anyone downtown after 6 PM. Not sure if that’s standard for interior cities? In SLC the suburban spread has allowed much of the youth scene to bleed out into the surround. Hardly anyone lives downtown because there is no social or economic incentive to do so. Certainly it keeps SLC quiet most nights, and a Seattleite plopped into the middle of SLC on a Friday night would be hard-pressed to find any action — of any sort.

Partially, it’s a result of SLC being a much more family oriented place. Most Utah adults go home to their spouses and children when the work day is over, not out on the scene. They have yards to care for and chores to attend to, and ‘urban’ isn’t a state of mind so much as it’s a label on the music racks at the mall’s resident F.Y.E.

Seattle, by contrast, is crawling with the childless. DINKs, one Seattle co-worker called them: Double Income No Kids. Coming out of your ears! All that money to spend — assuming they have any money to spend after forking out a small fortune each month to pay for their high-rise condos — and nobody to spend it on but… themselves.

Plus time. No kids means the morning and the evening are free. It’s almost a civic duty to patronize the local coffee bar — there is one literally on every block corner in downtown Seattle. You don’t even have to be with your friends. Just park at your favorite table (CB2 or Ikea issue) with your shiny Apple Mac laptop — every proper Seattle liberal owns one — and your grande java, and stare out the window at… whatever you find worth staring out at.

About the only time downtown SLC is hopping is when people are at work, or when there’s a Utah Jazz game going on at the arena. Otherwise, it’s positively peaceful compared to the chaotic bustle of a place like Seattle’s Pike Street or Pioneer Square. You have to wander up the hill to the University of Utah district to find anything even close to what Seattle’s got happening anywhere in its hip-urban nexus.

Alas, my wife and I never lived in Seattle’s cultural epicenter. Our first Seattle residence was a three-story, too-expensive townhome in a sub-city of Seattle called Northgate. We used to take long — way long! — walks down to, and around, Greenlake. I also had to direct-bus or take the park-and-ride to work every day, and when I worked swing shift, I was out on the streets near the One Union / Two Union / Convention Center complex — often at hours of the night which weren’t advisable.

You can truly say you’ve seen something in the city when you’re sitting at a bus stop waiting to head home, and a young man and woman come up and sit on one of the benches just ten feet away, the man undoes his fly, the woman gets on her knees, and… well, funds — and other things — are exchanged as a result. Yup. City life is entertaining, if nothing else.

Our second residence was a one-bedroom apartment on Lake City Way — funds were tight after our daughter was born. Again, direct-bus to work, and Lake City Way was a lot like the Highway 99 stretch that runs through Greenlake: too many people wandering along it at odd hours, doing and selling things the cops don’t necessarily like you doing or selling.

And Tacoma was worse in this respect, because Tacoma’s downtown has all of Seattle’s crime and dereliction with none of Seattle’s shops, businesses, or redeeming cultural uplift. So that by the time my wife and I left Tacoma, bound for the hinterland known as north Davis County, Utah — site of scenic Hill Air Force Base and rock-bottom house prices — we considered it a major step up.

If all of this sounds very mixed, it’s meant to. Seattle, and the Pacific Northwest in general, was an experience I both adored, and disliked.

Maybe this is true of every place a person lives? Certainly I could expend several blog posts kvetching about the peculiar cultural backwardness of my home state — where mothers routinely keep all aspects of sexual relations secret from their daughters, such that grown women cower in the bathroom and lock the door on their wedding night, because they have no idea what to expect and nobody has told them otherwise: good or bad.

But the PNW had its own weirdness and its own aftertaste. Such that I think I can truly say that, while Seattle is a terrific place to visit — with terrific memories — I truly do not want to live here. And am glad I don’t.

Perhaps I’d feel differently if you didn’t need half a million dollars to afford a crummy fixer-upper in one of Seattle’s turnover neighborhoods? I am sorry, but I don’t know how any young family does it in this city anymore. That’s just way too much money for a home that will require — on average — an additional $50K or more to bring up to base minimum standards. I’m PO’d enough that I’m having to slowly gut and fix up my $150K rambler from 1962 in Utah. I can’t imagine having paid three or even four times as much for a 1920s-era house, just to have all the same problems, or worse. And a smaller lot. And less square footage. And more crime. And more traffic congestion.

Anyway, like I said, love to visit, don’t wanna live here. Will understand if any Seattle residents or fans want to thwap me upside the head with a rolled up copy of The Stranger. Living and working here really is something that I consider valuable. In fact, for every teenager back home, I always highly recommend doing what I did: move to a big coastal city and live there, work there, and go to school there. Just to have your horizons and background broadened. It was an experience that grew me up and grew me out, as a person, and you can’t put a price on that.

But, I also left Seattle and the PNW without regrets, and while the city and the area brings mostly fond memories, it doesn’t make me homesick the way Utah used to make me homesick, when I lived here, and went to visit back there.


2 thoughts on “Strolling thru Seattle

  1. Cool post on Seattle, Brad. The city really came alive in my mind and I’ve never been there. Makes my want to go it sounds like an interesting place and no not because of the prostition. πŸ™‚ I live in Phoenix, I get plenty of that. I actually heard a prostitute talking to a client on the library once. Sheesh.

    About the Brooks book: I read that one years ago and it was pretty good. It was like the King book in that it was a combination memoir/writing book. It was great to look at how he works.

    The only problem I had is that he pushes outlines pretty heavily in the book and I ususally can’t outline. Every now and then the story leaps from my mind like Athena from the mind of Zeus but usually not so much. But other than that a great, fun read.

  2. I’m hoping to visit Seattle sometime in the coming 2-3 years or so. At a little place called CLARION.

    At least, that’s the dream anyway. I’m sure it’ll be doable, so long as I plan far enough ahead for the expenses. And landing a pro sale, or a few semi-pro ones, beforehand would certainly help.

    A lot of great music came from Seattle — Nirvana, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam…but I’m sure you’re well aware of that. πŸ˜€

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