Friday, January 15, 2010

Seattle: 14 - 18 January

The train wound around the edges of Puget Sound, dumping its restless passengers at King Station, Seattle, around 10 a.m. on the fourteenth. "Welcome to the Emerald City, folks. The train's stopped, you must get off! Forecast calls for a high of forty-nine degrees, with scattered showers." I grabbed my pack (it weighs around 37 lbs, I learned - not too bad, but it could definitely be lighter. Maybe I should mail home some stuff.) and headed off in the direction someone told me was Pike Street.

After about a mile, I stopped to grab a coffee in the Victrola coffeehouse, on Pike, right east of Capitol Hill. Walking in looking like a wet mouse, I was met with some curious stares but nothing judging. I liked the city. The coffee was roasted on-site, and was thick and creamy even black. Victrola ended up being my favorite in the four days I was there. (Thanks to Peri D. for convincing me that black is better.)

I found the home of Nate, my host, for the weekend in short order. It was a Thursday and he was still at work, so he had left me a secret key. Once inside, I tossed my bags in the living room and went for an hour-long jog around the downtown area (the "Retail Core," the guidebooks call it). I explored Chinatown (aka the "International District") and the famously smelly and crowded waterfront as well. There was a communal garden, in a Japanese style, that had a beautiful series of steps through it. The waterfront was exciting; the smell of the breezes off the Sound were invigorating. I missed being near seas.

Seattle's downtown is the hilliest I've ever been in. From the waterfront, it is a steep, steep climb to the nearest level point. No one would ever want to pedal a bicycle up it, no matter how small the gear. For me, this was one of the most aesthetically pleasing parts about the city. For being technically just barely above sea level, the integers that make the low-lying mean are quite extreme. Seattle's ripples and folds are exciting to walk through; the crest of every hill offers something new.

That night, Nate and I went for drinks and dinner in Capitol Hill, the area which I gathered was the hippest and most happeningest in Seattle. Twenty-somethings lapped up drinks amid the rain showers. Everyone seemed to be curious about everyone else - I certainly was. Bleu's two waitresses are stellar characters, and the drink menu's to die for even if the mac and cheese is only passable; Linda's atmosphere and happy hour specials was my favorite - pub-style, with a stage just-in-case and a good brunch scene. ChaCha's crowd, activity, and layout reminded us of the Vid in Bloomington. Big Mexican tissue-paper flowers hung from the ceiling by the bar, and reddish lighting around the edges make the basement bar's dark corners ripe for imagination.

Over the four days I stayed there, I did a good bit of exploring by foot. I jogged to the Washington Park Arboretum, in Capitol Hill area. It's a really lovely oasis in a city of green; the roads to get there are mostly urban-suburban with beautiful old houses and friendly people. There were a lot of fellow joggers and dogwalkers, knolls and small churches. Walking around, I noticed a great number of bookstores and odd shops loitering behind corners and between apartment buildings. I stopped in Twice Sold Tales and the owner, an engaging and well-read woman, talked to me for twenty or so minutes about Dickens and birth control and British-Indian imperialism before I paid.

Seattle's technology industry was built on the fact that electricity there is cheap, being that it is mostly hydroelectric. Young, tech-savvy people move to the area with jobs for Microsoft; many members of the generation are transplants from other areas of the US - mostly the Midwest. The money they make and the cultural tastes they express are making Seattle legitimately cool.

The city's vibe is so much better than that of New York or Chicago. People are genuinely nice and will take the time to chat. Midwesterners I think make easy first friends. The city isn't expensive, competition isn't dire, there's space to move and breathe, and I like the camaraderie of those who live in Seattle. There's a pride associated with it, which I can see as being distasteful to some. I like it, though - it's a city to be shared.

I felt like I didn't spend enough time there; if I return I hope I can stay longer - perhaps even move there. I felt satisfied and comfortable while there - I'd love to be a part of the city.

Nate very kindly and patiently drove me to the train station the afternoon of the 18th, where I caught the 2:20 "Cascades" train to Portland.

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