I consider myself an expert at making snap judgments. I am not saying they're ever accurate. I'm just saying I'm good at being judgmental on a time crunch. Additionally, we get asked to judge what we've seen all the time while on this trip. "What did you think of Blablahsville?" "Is Such-and-such-istan really so liberal/conservative/pretty/relaxing/boring/cold/dusty?" And really, these posts are meant to record our impressions (read judgments) of a city. It can be fun, but seeing so many places has made me reevaluate my super judgey approach to travel because no place is ever one thing. Our time in Seattle was quite a pinball machine of different opinions and helped me to step back and realize that this roadtrip can't be painted in black and white (or red and blue as the case may be). I'd like to use this experience to illustrate what I mean. So let's get our snark on and make some snap judgments, shall we?
We took a nice little car ferry across the bay from Bainbridge Island to get into Seattle. We ate some of the last contents of our cooler on one of the decks while listening to two guys talk about trying to find time to cut their next record and where they wanted to tour. They definitely thought they were a big deal so we played New Yorkers by ignoring their attempts at attention pretty successfully. After that Sam tried to take some cool pictures of the Omimobile on her first voyage on this trip. My impression? Glad we took a ferry in for the novelty of it. But Seattle musicians clearly thought too highly of themselves. They get an eye roll. Seattle was Kanye.
When we arrived in Seattle proper we cut into the downtown grid just a few blocks and soon enough we were near the city market, the bustling tourist center of the city. To our slight horror we discovered our hostel was one block away from this tourism mecca. Central is good. Smack dab in the crowd is a little overwhelming. Ok, so Seattle is really touristy like Times Square, or worse yet, Macy's.
I ran up to the front desk to ask them about parking tips since there was nowhere to park on the busiest block in the city. We then found out we could park the car in a protected garage one block away for *just* $18 a day! We consulted an app to see if we could find better within a mile or so, but no dice. We had to backtrack to the "cheap" garage and it took awhile during rush hour. The traffic also rivaled Times Square. As we traced boxes on the GPS we realized how steep the hills were. Believe it or not these put San Francisco to shame! Sam just kept his foot on the gas at a few red lights because the car would roll backwards if he only used the brake. Seattle is a seriously big hill!
As we got closer to our parking garage Sam mentioned that he thought the homeless population seemed more prevalent than we had seen in other cities. A moment later I looked out the window to see a girl staggering across the street wearing a pajama tank top with disheveled hair and a hospital bracelet who was sporting the most remarkable track marks I had ever seen. And they were all over her arms. She yelled to a guy who looked like his mind was a million miles away. They both seemed lost in their own world. I shuttered and suddenly felt very sad. How could drugs, mental illness, and homelessness be so bad that they were more noticeable than in any other place I had ever been?
We parked the car, loaded ourselves up with clothes for the next two days, our overnight bags, backpacks with valuables and made our way downstairs to confirm with the garage security guys that the hostel's discount would apply. At first they closed the booth's window as Sam approached in his hoodie and started to talk to them. He tapped on the window and they looked at the two of us in a concerned and alarmed way. Did I mention we hadn't showered in two days because there weren't showers at Olympic National park? We could hear people incoherently yelling at each other around the corner, mumbling, could see them walking back and forth. Suddenly I realized the security guys thought we looked like a part of the homeless population Sam had mentioned. We walked out into the street and passed at least 10 people who seemed deeply mentally ill or deeply drug addled on the one block walk to the hostel. Seattle was totally strung out.
I spent a good amount of time searching for explanations and articles that would discuss the problem. The question has come up in the Seattle subreddit and the community there was generally defensive, mentioning that the problem seemed just as bad or worse in San Francisco, which was far from my impression. I did find a good article that discussed how the city is trying to address multifaceted problem of homelessness and it gave Sam and I something to turn over in our minds a bit as we were there.
We bathed so we would look brand new and then went to have a beer at Pike
Place Brewery, home to some gorgeous beer label designs. The beer was good too! After that we headed to dinner where we brought our seafood kick to an end with mussels and salmon. Sam swung by a park on the waterfront for a few pictures and it was inhabited by people who seemed to plan to stay the night there.
I was still feeling very sad and confused about Seattle's homeless population and kept trying to understand what the heck made it this way. We went back to the hostel for a night of serious blogging. Seattle, how could I like you if you had so many people living in misery all over the place?
I wanted to see what it was that made so many people like this city and I woke up the next day determined to get away from the tourist district to see a few different neighborhoods. There is no way I would have liked New York or New Orleans if I had only spent time in Midtown or in Bourbon Street. Maybe Seattle was the same way. We took a bus to a bakery and coffee shop in Phinney Ridge and I started feeling nostalgic for Cafe Madeline, my favorite coffee shop in Brooklyn. We had some tasty coffee and lots of fresh-baked carbs with sugar on top (our favorite!). The coffee thing is true. It was tasty no matter where or how we had it in Washington State.
We walked along quiet streets with nice little houses and spectacular gardens. Everyone who was coming and going seemed so happy and very distant from the intensity of Pike Street.
We decided to walk into Green Lake Park so we could make our way to Schmeltzers Sporthaus soccer store to get ourselves some world cup schwag. You see, we remembered to bring almost everything on our trip except for our Germany jerseys, which are the required uniform for fans of Die Mannschaft (in case you aren't aware, the world cup is going on and we'll still be on the road). We debated about what to do and how to properly show our team spirit. We knew that for years now the Seattle Sounders FC has had the best fan base in the MLS so we placed a safe bet that we could find a soccer store in Seattle. Luckily Schmeltzer's was perfect (and shares the surname of one of my favorite – albeit currently injured – German defenders*). When we arrived at the store a soccer game was on and Sam realized it was the champions league final! We had made sure to watch live from the beginning last year – planned our entire day around it, actually – because two German teams (and really most of the star power on the German National Team) were having a showdown for champion of commercial European soccer. This year two teams from the Spanish league were playing for the same title. We picked out some slick looking DFB (Deutscher Fußball Bund) t-shirts and hightailed it to a bar to catch the last 3/4 of the game between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. Did I mention they are not only from the same country, but the same city? Yeah. That would be like the Yankees vs. Mets in the world series. We asked the young guy at Schmeltzer's if he knew of a bar nearby that would show the game. He said any of them probably would and when pressed, didn't have a favorite. I now realize that he was likely underage, so he wouldn't be able to offer a good tip. We walked down the Street, back towards the park and came across Über.The bartender was welcoming, the wall art was clever and original, and it was a fun place to catch a game. So glad to know that Seattle is a soccer city!
After the game we knew we needed two things: a stroll through the Seattle market and a nap before beginning or evening activities. The market was as crowded as you would expect on a Saturday but the produce looked beautiful and fresh. There were tables and tables of gorgeous flowers, booths of fruits and veggies, and a fresh handmade pasta booth in addition to the famous fish. I had been prepared for a market chock-full of tschochkies and was surprised to see so much fresh food. We arrived at an Italian dry goods and wine shop at one end of the market and looked for a nice bottle for the night. The clerks were so well informed on every region and type and were super helpful and friendly. I thought the market would be purely a tourist trap, but I am pleased as punch to say that isn't the case at all. If I lived in Seattle I would brave the crowds to get some of my groceries there. Seattle's tourist center still served its original purpose.
So after the aforementioned nap it was time to get our night on the town started. We walked at a lively pace to Honey Hole, which was supposed to be a bar with food. We were short on time but knew we would need to eat. Little did we know Honey Hole was having its 15th Anniversary party, complete with huge crowds, cheap craft beers, all sorts of decorations, and the highlight if it all: The Country Lips.
We squeezed into a table next to a few other people and ordered our food and then remained transfixed by the band as they played. You can hear them on their website, but the live act was a few magnitudes better sounding and more entertaining to watch. They had the energy and the sound of the band at Robert's in Nashville, but the room was much, much smaller so the music wasn't as amplified and was thusly easier to hear. Seattle really did have a music scene and we didn't have to even try looking to find it!
Before we knew it, we were done eating and it was time to head to the Oddfellows building to see Bring It!, a fundraiser show for the Seattle Burlesque Hall of Fame competitive team. Sam and I are both pretty big fans of burlesque, having spent many a night in Coney Island USA for Burlesque at the Beach, the Parkside Lounge, and the Slipper Room when we lived in New York. It is definitely one of the things I will miss most about living there. We've dragged many people to shows, even my mom! Burlesque (or neo-burlesque) nowadays is closer to performance art and has really gained popularity all over the country. I've seen acts about bedbugs, Plaxico Burress, cheese, surviving cancer, the Grinch, an entire show about the Marx brothers, and a number of other things too weird to describe on this blog (I'll gladly go into it over beers though!). I think a little part of the increasing interest in neo-burlesque is due to A Wink And A Smile streaming on Netflix. A Wink And A Smile is a documentary about Miss Indigo Blue's burlesque school in Seattle, so naturally I was psyched to go to a show that she was hosting. It was in effect a fundraiser to help their burlesque team fly to Las Vegas for the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend, where acts from all over the country perform and compete against each other. That meant that the performances we saw at Bring It! would be the acts that the Seattle team was doing for the competition. The show itself was really fun and it was enjoyable to compare and contrast the style of acts and even the burlesque community in Seattle vs. New York. The costumes in Seattle were of a quality beyond anything we had seen in New York. Amazingly gorgeous. The acts themselves tended to be much more tame conceptually and less about clever humor, though Ernie von Schmaltz did an interesting Lord of the Dance act and Scarlett O'Hairdye and Bolt Action did one of the best robot acts I've seen (youtube!) (and I've seen many) while managing to have subtle and well-timed humor. Beyond that, the show took itself fairly seriously. I've always loved New York's ability to laugh at itself, particularly in that community. Overall though, the show was a great way to spend our evening and Seattle's burlesque scene was more than I'd imagined. We walked back to the hostel and I felt like I had a much more varied impression of the city of Seattle.
Our last morning was spent getting groceries for the next few days and then we went to Nollie's for a tasty breakfast and to tie up a few loose ends. Our next few days would be in Montana and we knew we wouldn't have cell phone signal or access to wifi so we called family to let them know. This is an important part of road tripping because once or twice we've come back from having no service and received concerned voicemails from loved ones. In this case my sister, Mary, was due to have my nephew over those next few days and I wanted to make sure all was well. I also started to iron out details on some freelance work that was offered a few days prior (the slow pacing of the blog posts lately has been because I was hogging the laptop to do some actual design work for this project!). After that, we strapped ourselves in for a full day of driving. Our next stop: Flathead Lake, Montana.
So, at the end of it all, there were things about Seattle that were tough to see and things that were really great. It lands on a spectrum just like anywhere else. But if this were a buzzfeed quiz what would I say about Seattle? It's Portland's strung out, yet justly self-assured, artistic older brother.
*Not exactly correct: The store is actually named "Schmetzer's Sporthaus", thus loosing the similarity to the authors darling player (red).