The Real Purpose of This Place

May 7, 2010

For the past quarter century, this thriving city has served as a springboard for my adventures. Whether it was a summer excursion in Europe, living in Asia, or riding a bike across the western U.S., Seattle helped prepare me. For example, Rick Steves — an Edmond, Washington native — has written a number of travel books which were both an inspiration and invaluable guides. In particular, I’m indebted to Europe Through the Back Door which sold me on the virtues of traveling light and with a flexible itinerary. Another way that Seattle has proven useful was when I began contemplating taking a couple years off from my career to live in Japan. The University of Washington, located here in the city, offered First Year Japanese night classes. And the innumerable hours spent riding along the bicycle trails helped build my cycling stamina in preparation for my bike trip to Iowa. In these respects, Seattle has been a near-perfect place for me. Now there is one final campaign awaiting. One last odyssey from which I shall not be returning.

Where will I be heading off to? The main attractions right now, disparate as they may sound, are Oregon or…Thailand! For the former, I’d been initially reading some conversation threads on the internet about the city of Eugene. In a couple of them, Corvallis (just up the road on Highway 99) received a few compliments. Curious, I did some research and found myself wanting to pay a visit. Of course the climate would be but a minor improvement over Seattle’s, but other factors weigh in — perhaps more on these later — to put this small city at the top of the list of places I might like to retire to. Think I’ll venture down there this summer.

But why Thailand? Well, during both of my previous two overseas trips, I spent some extended time there, always wishing I could stay longer. It’s such a delight to be wearing only shorts and a t-shirt in January when much of the U.S. is under the siege of Old Man Winter. And then there are the ladies, who are not hard on the eyes at all. If I ever want to try living in the country (the logical next step), now’s the time. While I still have the, shall we say, appetite for new experiences.

Whatever I decide, this will be the end of the line for the Emerald City. If I end up relocating to Corvallis, all my meager possessions will of course accompany me. For Thailand, my things will remain here in my storage unit, but I’ll only be returning for short visits. Never again will I be a resident. For numerous reasons, this has become a place I no longer have much affection for.

Striking Down A Conversation

May 8, 2010

The waif-like Asian who sat in front of me on the bus had already made a good impression by letting an older fellow enter before her. Noticing she had a pine needle lodged in the hair on the back of her head, I pointed it out and removed it after she’d made a few fruitless swipes. Handing it to her, I joked that maybe she could now use it as an accessory.

By coincidence, we ended up getting off at the same stop on top of Queen Anne Hill. Since I was heading to Trader Joe’s, I decided to ask her for directions. I of course knew the way, but wanted to exchange a few words. To my surprise, it turned out she was going there too!

Things should have taken off at this point. After a couple of cold mid-week days, the weather had turned springtime perfect. It was a Friday afternoon. No reason why a guy and a gal could not have had a nice, three block chat. Instead, my escort began walking at a blistering, almost Olympian pace, not saying much of anything until we turned the corner after the first block. There, she explained how I could catch the #2 Bus that would go closer to Trader Joe’s. That turned out to be her only real contribution to our conversation. As we reached the store and walked in, I artfully disengaged, saying “I’ll let you get to your shopping. Thanks for your help.” Then I bought my snacks and left, walking down Queen Anne Hill to my hotel. (I am at present paying a monthly rate at the Mediterranean Inn on Lower Queen Anne.)

It’s clear my little would-be friend was uncomfortable for some reason. Was PBS airing that special on Pacific Northwest Serial Killers again? Gosh, all I was trying to do was talk with her for a few minutes. There were no murderous or even lascivious intentions on my part. Honest.

My Out of Vogue Values

May 10, 2010

I took the #13 Bus this afternoon up to the top of Queen Anne Hill again to use the Q. A. Library Branch’s computers. Along the way — the next stop, in fact — a pair of homeless men importuned the driver to let them on even though they didn’t have the money. Later, they claimed, they’d have enough for a fare and would pay on their way back down. Sort of a ride now, pay much later scheme. Amazingly, the driver let them on.   

I was at the library for an hour and a half doing research on Corvallis and Oregon State University, which is located there. When finished, I always like to walk back to my hotel rather than taking a bus. The neighborhood up atop the hill is quite picturesque and there’s a place along the way (Kerry Park) that has a panoramic view of the city and Elliot Bay. In the background on clear days one can see majestic Mt. Rainier. But when I arrived today, those same homeless fellows from the bus ride were there, playing an iPod at full volume. (And how they can afford one of those but not the bus fare is a mystery to me.) One of them also struck up a loud conversation with a couple sitting nearby. Because the park is really no more than a narrow strip, it was impossible to ignore the music and the bantering. Standing as far away as I could, I attempted to enjoy the view, but gave up after a few minutes.  

Later on, crossing busy Mercer Street, I encountered another Seattle unpleasantry as a cyclist zoomed by in front of me. I was startled since I had the green light.

In none of these situations did I say anything. It’s become clear that if I try to argue my values in this fine city — paying when riding the bus; not playing loud music in public places; not recklessly running red lights — I could end up spending entire afternoons caught up in a series of quarrels, if not fisticuffs, from which at my age (early fifties) I would not emerge victorious.

At least I’m not upset. Two months ago, a series of encounters like these would have left me stewing. But now, with the discovery of new places to relocate to, I’m beginning to look ahead and be less concerned with local aggravations.

The Homeless: Partial Solutions

Jun 10, 2010

They meander about Lower Queen Anne, panhandling at the Seattle Center, urinating on the street corners, and scavenging cigarette butts from the flower pots next to my hotel’s front door. They can be found dozing in the stuffed chairs at the local Starbucks. Or sleeping in the hotel’s stairwells like the one I found this morning. Closer and closer they get. Someday I’ll open the door to my room and one of them will be sprawled out in the hallway.

What can a person do to help these people? One possibility is to give to the United Way of King County, which encompasses a number of worthy charities. During my working days, I was at one point contributing over one thousand dollars a year from my paychecks. But a funny thing about this: the problems never seemed to diminish. In fact, every year during the Fund Raising Drive we were practically scolded at how many more people now needed our help and that we should dig ever deeper into our pockets.

So what about the free market (if I might borrow a page from the evil capitalists)? Surely that should provide people with opportunities to get ahead. Well, yes and no. I was living in Seattle in the mid-1990s, a time when the nation’s economy was in arguably the best shape of the past forty years. Undoubtedly many individuals found work who before had struggled to land a job. Yet there remained a hard core of transients unaffected by the booming local prosperity.

To me, this suggests that a lasting solution cannot be brought about via the charities or the “magic” of the free market. There needs to be a new direction. Over the past three decades, America seems to have come to the conclusion that it is somehow better to be sleeping in the gutter with your individual rights intact than to be forced to get help. Perhaps it’s time to rethink that.

Avoiding Real Change

Jul 16, 2010

The challenge yesterday — and every day seems to bring one in this city — was dodging the Real Change Vendors. A classic example of a good idea gone awry. Letting homeless, or down-on-their-luck people peddle a bi-monthly newspaper and keep any profits is a noble way of providing them with a bit of work and modest spending money. However, the individuals in charge have gone overboard in granting vendor licenses, flooding Lower Queen Anne with individuals attempting to sell papers. Because I’ve long since grown weary of the never-ending encounters, I now sneak around these people in any manner that I can. The scorecard from yesterday goes as follows:

Early Morning: Keeping low to the ground, I scurry though the garage and down the car ramp in order to enter the Safeway store from the basement, avoiding the woman selling outside the main door.

Mid Morning: I jaywalk 1st Avenue so I would not meet a rather loud fellow crossing in the opposite direction who was attempting to get anyone within earshot to purchase a paper. (Best guess here is that he’s not an officially licensed seller.)

Late Morning: I again break the law by jaywalking to get around a woman vendor who often stands on the corner next to the movie theatre. By cutting across the street, however, I end up getting panhandled. Nuts!

All these maneuvers took place within a block of my hotel. Again, I don’t have a problem with the program in general and in fact there’s a vendor who sells outside of Safeway in the evenings that I bring a sandwich to when I buy a paper. But enough is enough. Give me a f*cking break.

The New Bite

Jul 19, 2010

It was a quarter century ago, during my first summer in the city, that I made my initial forage to the Bite of Seattle. I recall a sprawling, rather laid-back event with a choice of many exotic cuisines. Believe I ended up sampling some Ethiopian-style food.

Unfortunately, like seemingly all Seattle traditions, the Bite has become more commercialized and slick. Though now touted as the “Northwest’s Premier Food Festival” (brought to you by Comcast!), many selections are hardly worthy of the name, catering to such run-of-the-mill American tastes as steak sandwiches (two booths), barbecue (two locations), pizza, hamburgers and hot dogs. Instead of Ethiopian fare, present day visitors are encouraged to explore a “Taste of Chicago”. Wow, what an ambrosial experience! And what will it be next year, I wonder. A “Taste of Tacoma”?

Despite the shortage of foreign dishes, I nevertheless made the most of the three day affair (conveniently being held in the Seattle Center just a few blocks from my hotel). I began Friday afternoon with some passable jambalaya and a dessert of strawberry shortcake. Saturday, while waiting for friends to arrive, I snacked on an interesting “Korean Taco”, then an ear of sweet corn before doing a lunch of (ho hum) salmon and rice. Sunday I succumbed to the mundane with a barbecue sandwich, though I livened up the lunch with some tasty Russian potato dumplings that were perhaps the highlight of my culinary adventuring.

All things considered, it was a pleasant enough finale to an event that has been a small, but regular part of my years here. All those Fridays at work when I’d take an extra long lunch with a fellow employee and stroll over to the Center for an exotic meal enjoyed under summer-perfect weather.

An aspect of Seattle I’m going to, at least in some ways, miss.

The Soul Mate Dental Hygienist…Well Maybe Not

Jul 24, 2010

It’s now official: I’ve definitely decided to make the move to Thailand! Strangely, there was no anguished soul searching or any drama involved; it simply feels like the right thing to do given my situation. My dentist became first to find out when I instructed him to search for any tooth troubles that might rear their ugly heads while I’m overseas. (And I am happy to report that everything appears OK!)

Included in my joyous dental visit was a teeth cleaning done by a woman named Denise. She has lived in France and has a real appreciation of the benefits of travel. My ears perked up when she said she wanted to someday do a trip around the world. I liked talking with her — not that I was able to do much speaking as she scrapped away at the stubborn tartar.

Now, some people (my grandmother comes to mind) might suggest that maybe I should get to know Denise since we share a passion. This will not happen. Denise is average looking and it wouldn’t hurt if she lost a few pounds. She also has a high school-age daughter. Not very enticing since I know from experience I can find a woman complete with child in Thailand who would be both slimmer and cuter. And because of the different culture and language, I would not be expected over there to play the starring role in (Step) Father Knows Best.

The other reason for my lack of enthusiasm is Denise’s comment about finding a man with money to pay travel expenses for the aformentioned world trip. Yes, it was uttered it in a lighthearted manner, but the thought is obviously there. Maybe she’ll run into one. As for me, if I’m going to be opening my wallet for a woman, I think I can find better value on the other side of the Pacific.