Snapshots from the Emerald City – Seattle, Washington, USA
22.01.2007 - 18.02.2007 13 °C
When we last left our intrepid hero (that’s me, by the way), I had just jetted my way back to Toronto from my fancy-pants vacation in Panama. After a short stint back in New Jersey to finish up my last project, I was loaded on a plane and headed all the way cross-country to land in Seattle, Washington. I’ve been up in Seattle for about a month now.
Seattle, Washington is a city of approximately 600,000 people sandwiched between the salt water of Puget Sound and the fresh water of Lake Washington. To the north is the Canadian province of British Columbia. To the west are the Olympic Mountains, to the east the Cascade Range including just off to the south-east is Mount Rainier, the highest peak in the Cascades, and easily visible on a clear day from Seattle.
Generally, I like my blogs to tell a little story, to have a beginning, a middle and an end. However, I’ve been pretty heads-down this past month on my project, and so my chances to get out and see Seattle have been sporadic. So instead of my usual story, I present just random snapshots of Seattle.
Seattle’s most famous landmark is probably the Space Needle. In 1962 Seattle hosted the world fair, and decided on a theme of Century 21, and wanted something futurist to be the visual anchor point for the fair grounds. Inspired by the Stuttgart TV tower in Germany, the architects decided on a tower, eventually topping the tower with a flying saucer to represent the Jetson-esque world that would await us in the year 2000. The fair also brought Seattle that 1960s favorite representation of “the future,” a MONORAIL.
Today, the Space Needle serves as a tourist attraction for Seattle, like many other towers around the world. Rubes like me line up to spend $14.00 to go up to the top, look around for 10 minutes, yawn and go back down. The Space Needle, at 605 feet, isn’t even the tallest structure in Seattle anymore. That honour belongs to the Columbia Center, a downtown office complex rising 967 feet into the air.
The same day I went to the Space Needle I had planned to go to the Music Experience Project, an interactive museum dedicated to all things musical, fitting for a city that brought us both Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain. However, it was a beautifully sunny day, so instead I choose to skip the indoor museum and spend my time walking down along the waterfront. Seattle has a number of piers jutting out into Elliot Bay, originally built to handle Pacific sea traffic, most of the piers now house tourist attractions or cruise ships. Seattle still is the 9th busiest port in the USA, though the majority of the cargo traffic is handled away from the downtown core nowadays.
Seattle and the surrounding area does have the largest ferry system in the USA, and third largest in the world, moving more than 11 million vehicles around Washington state per year.
South of Downtown are two stadiums – Qwest Field, where the Seattle Seahawks for the NFL play, and Safeco Field, where the Seattle Mariners of Major League Baseball play. One of the star players on the Mariners is Ichiro Suzuki, a Japanese import. When I was in Japan this last summer, the only two American sports teams that most Japanese would know were the New York Yankees and the Seattle Mariners, and the games of these two teams would often be on the television so the Japanese could see how their countrymen were doing playing in America.
Even though farther north than my hometown of Toronto, Seattle has exceptionally mild winters. Just beside the ball park is the Pyramid Brew House, one of Seattle’s many “micro-brews.” People in the Pacific Northwest seem to love their beer, and there are a number of fine micro-brews out there to enjoy. Pyramid is most famous for it’s Hefeweizen, an unfiltered wheat beer usually served with a lemon, but I can attest that the Apricot Weizen is also quite excellent.
I was smart to take my walk along the waterfront when I did, for Seattle was back to it’s usual weather the following day, cloudy and drizzling. Seattle has a reputation for being a rainy place, but that’s only half right. It has only really rained a couple of time in my month in Seattle, but most days are gray with a light mist of hovering in the air, not really raining, but not dry either. And on those cold, drizzling days it becomes clear why beer, while very popular, is not Seattle’s most popular beverage. That honour goes to coffee. Seattle is the original home of the world conquering juggernaut whose green and white signs appear everywhere from Beijing to Boston and from Cairo to Korea – Starbucks. The original Starbucks is still open, and serves as both a tourist attraction and a coffee stand. The original logo of a bare-breasted mermaid on a brown background has morphed over the years to the more bible-belt acceptable green logo without breast or belly button in sight, but you can still see the logo proudly displayed in the original store.
The original Starbucks is across from Pike Place Market, a 9 acre public market in operation since 1907, selling everything from produce to tourist kitsch. The most popular attraction in Pike Place Market, however, is the Pike Place Fish Market. The fishmongers at the Pike Place Fish Market don’t hand each other fish, they toss them full force at each other. The Pike Place Fish Market has been featured on many TV shows, and you are bound to see them on any TV show featuring Seattle tossing fish out into the crowds.
Starbucks is just one of many companies to get their start in Seattle. Another was REI (Recreational Equipment Inc.), a co-operative that sells outdoor equipment. I love places like REI and the Canadian equivalent, Mountain Equipment Co-op. Besides of being a great place to get travel gear like hiking shoes, backpacks and quick dry t-shirts, underwear and socks, it also makes me feel like I’m a lot more outdoorsy and sporty than I really am. I mean, it’s cool shopping with people who are buying kayaks and carabiners. REI’s flagship store is located just a block from my hotel, built of glass, wood and steel, the store includes a climbing wall, bike test trail and a number of clocks listing the time at various mountains around the world, including my nemesis – Kilimanjaro.
I was in Seattle on February 4th of this year, which was the day that Superbowl forty-one was played in Miami. Those who are regular readers know that I had a bit of a “thing” with this “Superbowls around the world” the past 6 years, when I have watched the Superbowl (or at least attempted to watch) in 6 different cities in 5 different countries on 3 different continents. And usually I would have posted a whole entry around the Superbowl, but frankly it’s getting a little tired, this gimmick, especially seeing as for the 2nd year in the row I watched the Superbowl in the USA (though it was on different coasts). So instead I’ll just cram it in this entry, and leave it at that.
I watched Superbowl forty-one in the Fox Sports Grill on 6th. Generally A nice sports bar, there is only one story worth telling.
I arrived too late to get a seat to watch the game, so instead I stood by the bar. I was joined by a coworker of mine, Alex. At one point, the man sitting at the bar right in front of us got up and went to the washroom, leaving his half empty glass of light American beer in front of his chair to hold his place.
As my and Alex’s glasses were empty and there was a space at the bar, I took this as a good opportunity to get another round of drinks. I placed my order, the bartender returned with the two glasses and I paid her. While the bartender went to get my change, I turned around and gave Alex his drink, leaving mine on the bar. As I was handing Alex his drink, the man who had been sitting at the bar returned to his seat. He sat down, and as I turned around I saw him pick up my full glass of dark IPA (which looked nothing like his light, golden beer) and take a big chug.
I was stunned. I had no idea what to do. The bartender returned with my change, and I stammered out, “that man just drank my beer.”
The man turned around, looked at me with unfocusing eyes and said, “hey, it’s my seat. I saw a beer there, I drank it.” He stared at me for a moment as I stood dumbfounded. Finally he turned around, picked up his half-full glass of beer, and started drinking that.
The bartender chuckled, and poured me another beer, and gave my now sullied beer to the drunken beer stealer. I guess what else was she going to do with it?
As is always the case, that night hours after I had left the bar and was already back in my hotel room in bed, I came up with the perfect comeback line to have said to the drunken beer stealer. “You might want to wander down to the clinic on Monday and get tested. While it’s pretty rare for someone to catch leprosy from sharing a drink, it’s been known to happen.”
Oh well, if it ever happens to me again, I’ll have the line already prepared.