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Notes from Seattle

For those who don't know, I've spent the last few days in the Emerald City up north visiting family.  Since we in Portland are sometimes accused of being provincial, I thought I'd take the opportunity to clue you in to the character and state of things up here.

Seattle is a beautiful city.  Its most imposing natural landmark is Mt. Rainier (literal translation from Native American: "more rain"), nestled a few dozen miles to the southeast of the city.  Seattlites are quite proud of their mountain grandeur, which distinguishes the city from most.  Outside of half the towns in Oregon, of course.  And Northern California.  And Colorado.  And Wyoming.  And parts of Utah.  In any case, they're happy to have Rainier, as it allows them to describe their city as "scenic", which is a fancy way of saying "slow to drive through".

Seattle's other obvious natural treasure is Puget Sound.  You may wonder how a body of water is designated a "Sound".  In this case it's because other than sight, that's the only sense you can employ while interacting with the water in question.  It looks like an ocean but it lacks modern conveniences like...ohhhh...any discernable beach or access to the shoreline.  This tends to cut down on those annoyingly stereotypical waterfront activities such as Frisbee throwing, kite-flying, sand-castle building, volleyball playing, and of course swimming.  You can listen to the water lapping up on the land, but that's all you get.  Well, except some days when there's an air inversion.  Then you're treated to Puget Smell.  But that didn't look as good in the visitor brochures.

But fear not!  Even if you can't touch the water or get within ten feet of it without negotiating your way through an industrial wasteland you can still get the maritime experience by taking one of the ferries which regularly depart from Pier 52 on the water(less)front.  These massive ships could easily fit 800 walruses on their sun deck.  That is if the walruses wanted to pay $7 a pop to have a constant 30 mile-per-hour wind drive them under cover of the enclosed deck even on the sunniest of days.  And if the walruses didn't mind getting stampeded by tourists rushing fore and aft to snap pictures of things far too tiny to see.  Every hour or so a ferry awaits to sweep you away to an exotic destination.  You can choose a small, artsy island that's so overdeveloped that you can't access the shoreline there either...a place where locals will be happy to charge you $20 for a fish and chips basket that would have run you $8.99 on the other side of the water.  (Culture!)  Or you can debark near a naval base where wandering sailors will chase anything displaying any remotely feminine quality.  (62 ways to itch in one convenient package!)

Leaving nature aside, the Emerald City's most distinctive man-made landmark is, of course, the iconic Space Needle.  The impressively-named structure reaches 605 feet into the air, which leaves it only 384,836 feet short of the boundary of actual space.  But, you know, that's still pretty good.  The Space Needle was constructed for the 1962 World's Fair, a gathering where representatives from all over the globe share corn dogs and funnel cakes and wish earnestly for a cure to heart disease.  For the mere price of $60 a family of four can ride an elevator to the top of the Space Needle and enjoy the same view of the city that can be seen for free on any of the approximately 6,000 hills that ring Seattle's perimeter.  Or they can dine at a revolving restaurant where that $20 basket of fish and chips will cost you $40.  Per french fry.  (Haute Cuisine!)

If you're into spectacle there's nothing like the fish market at Pike's Place Market.  OK, I'm lying.  I admit it.  I'm not that impressed by people chucking smelly dead animals at other people all day even if it is an obligatory part of any video montage of Seattle.  Now if they were selling doughnuts...mmmmm...

One apple fritter for the lady!

ONE apple frit-TER!  (chuck!)

There you go m'am.  And you sir?  Don't be shy!  One old-fashioned glazed!

Old FASH-ioned glay-YAZED!   (chuck!)

Yes, miss?  One Bavarian Cream!

One Bah-VAR-ian Cr...ooops.

Uh...sorry.  That happens sometimes.  Napkin?  And would anyone care to purchase just a Bavarian?

No discussion of Seattle would be complete without covering the coffee scene.  There are 800,000 coffee houses in Seattle plus about 1,200 Starbucks.  Somehow each one of the 800,000 smaller shops has staked out the exact six Hallowed Coffee Trees from a particular third-world country that make their coffee the most flavorful, aromatic, and luscious of the bunch.  They tend to write their offerings on dry erase boards, not because the menu changes but because the names of the source countries keep changing with each new coup or revolution.  Last week the Sacred Six Trees were in the Democratic Federation of Ulakawanda.  Now they're in the United Confederacy of Hatutupala.  But never (NEVER!) do these fluctuating conditions lead to any exploitation of the coffee growers, their laborers, or the earth.  That would be a travesty indeed!  How could you possibly spend $6.75 on a self-indulgent, over-caffeinated, hyper-sweetened, ultimately fattening delicacy (while children across the world can't even get access to clean water) if you felt that anyone, anywhere in the process of getting your drink had been exploited?  No...each of these shops personally sends baristas to the Hallowed Trees to overpay the producers and their workers by a factor of at least 50 for their produce and labor.  While there they happily pitch in so that nobody has to work more than 20 minutes in a day, eagerly give foot massages to anyone who asks, and invoke ancient rain-bringing rituals so no artificial and potentially destructive irrigation methods are used in the growing process.  Well, all except Starbucks that is.  They just use the Force to choke people until they give up the beans.

But perhaps you're more interested in the arts.  You're in luck.  Every person in Seattle is required to be in at least three bands.  It's a rule.  Sometimes these bands get together and play actual concerts.  There are always three bands to a concert.  The accepted form is "BAND A with BAND B!   Special Guest: BAND C!!!"  Bands A and B are usually the same guys switching places between sets.  Band C is Band A's drummer's little brother's group.  Even though "Special Guest" sounds like an important role you don't want to be in that band.  They're the folks who get sent out to play before people are sufficiently drunk to recognize the True Artistic Talent inherent in every single band that comes from Seattle.  The cover charge to see this collection of bands is always $6.  No more, no less.  But since everyone from Seattle is in three bands already the only people with the time and energy to come and see these concerts are those related to or currently sleeping with band members.  The motto of the Seattle music scene is "Impoverishing your Loved Ones $6 at a Time."

You know all of this because of the signs.  Even more than musical talent, a superior set list, or functional equipment the make-or-break factor for all small bands is their poster.  In addition to the time, date, and location of the concert you have to list all of the band names next to a Provocative Picture.  Then you have to plaster the sign everywhere possible.  So all around town--on phone poles, brick walls, dogs, pigeons, small children--you'll see

 FRIDAY, OCTOBER 6TH at SALTY PETE'S:  Drekgärten with The Flaming Sulus  

Special Guest:  Grandma's Dirty Knickers! 

$6 cover

accompanied by a picture of a rabid dog or a wood fairy or a disembodied pair of wrists chained by handcuffs.  Anything that doesn't move fast enough gets covered with these missives.  In ten minutes that old lady at the bus stop is going to become the default search engine for neighborhood concerts.  Sometimes it gets so bad that walls run out of space.  Then you see an old-fashioned Battle of the Bands wherein Evangelical Hostility pastes right over the poster for Fluffy Munchkin and then the dude from Fluffy Munchkin comes back and rips down Evangelical Hostility's offering and replaces it with their own again.  If they catch each other in the process you could even get treated to a lead-singer slap-fest right there on the spot!  Handbills are sacred, man.  You don't cross that line.

But for all of these joys, attractions, and quirks, I found Seattle also lacking a couple things.  There remains an utter paucity of green and gold around town.  For the first time in my life I failed to see a single Sonics shirt while visiting.  More than that, I wore my red and black shirts all over town for the better part of a week, making my rooting interests more than obvious.  In years past this would have invited several questions about the legitimacy of my parents' union when I was conceived.  At least I would have gotten some flack about how we stole Brandon Roy and Martell Webster and how they were coming back home after they apprenticed in the hick town down south.  Instead three separate girls asked me about my shirts and said they were awesome.  Ten years ago I would have thought that was probably due to some sexy-cool Dave thang going on.  But I'm 40 and I haven't shaved for five days.  It was the shirts.  It was actually the shirts.

That ain't right.

Whatever else you think of Seattle a Blazer fan shouldn't be able to ride the Bainbridge ferry without at least one knucklehead threatening to pitch him overboard if he doesn't lose the gear.  Even this far on, the loss is still there.

What happened to you, Seattle?  There are fewer reasons to hate you now.  And that's not a good thing.

--Dave (