The recent trip to Seattle went off with out too much excitement. Sure there were definitely some ups and downs along the way, but the over experience wasn’t terribly unpleasant. The really short version is that Seattle is largely a combination of unbridled beauty and mind-numbing stupidity – everything you’d expect from the major city in a state whose official gem is petrified wood.
Many thanks to everyone who helped out with their suggestions. I’ll spare the gory details up here, but if you’re really interested in my exploits, observations, and digital photography, feel free to read on.
The purpose of this whole excursion was to learn the inner workings of Onyx Software‘s CRM. The company is located in Bellevue, but thankfully I was set up in Downtown Seattle where there is at least something around. More on this later.
Most of the hotels downtown were filled up due to conventions, but VTS Travel found a room in the La Qinta Inn which apparently is Spanish for “not the greatest on the outside but perfectly servicable on the inside”.
Plus they had a really friendly and helpful staff. Not only did they patiently provide directions, but the morning person even let me look around the kitchen to confirm what in their continental breakfast was kosher.
Work also set me up with an avis rental Pontiac Sunfire – a nice little coupe with decent mileage. It still took a little getting used to considering how infrequently I drive.
And then of course, I had to get around a city that was evidentally designed by drunken lemurs.
From the top view of the map the commute and city look fairly standard. However, a closer look shows that the numbered streets don’t actually go in sequence and change in the middle. Oh, and then you have to deal with streets changing from NE to SE at some arbitrary interval. The roads themselves are equally confounding as you have random lanes becoming “turn only” without indication, street signs are genrally obscured – if they’re even present – and there are virually no street numbers on the buildings.
The highways aren’t much better with exit only lanes and merging on the right *and* left side of the road. Incidentally, when you’re not sure where you’re going, seeing signs pointing to Portland in one direction and Vancouver B.C. in the other is not exactly comforting.1
Basically it took me almost 2 hours the first day to do what should have been 25 minute drive. Downtown Seattle isn’t much better since the numbered streets don’t always go in sequence and the exit I needed off of I5 was on the other side of a divider and it took me 2 hours driving downtown to find the hotel.
Simply put, that Monday was not a pleasant day.2
Thankfully, while I was figuring out my way around this mess I was able to listen in to some of the most eclectic collection of music in a metropolitain area. They have the basics of rock, oldies, hip hop, country, and even a Jack FM station. For more local flavor, there’s also the prestigious dance station which is unbelieably run by high school kids and The End – an alternative station which actually plays The White Stripes. But what I really found impressive was the station that played real Mountain Man Western music about coal mine tragedies. Now there’s some good music.
Although I got several suggestions for kosher food in Seattle, but there really isn’t all that much there. Most of the resources out there are either spread out (and I wasn’t in the daring mood to drive around) and even then there are few sit down restaraunts anymore since many closed or turned exclusively to catering. Fortunately, I was in walking distance of Bamboo Garden, a kosher vegan chineese restaraunt which is absolutely amazing. I ate there nearly every night – mostly by default – but the food was really that good. If you ever find yourself around, I’d recommend the best Won Ton Soup anywhere or try the dinner or lunch specials and get a variety of the menu.
I spent Shabbat with the friendly people of Seward Park. The location is beautiful, just a small walk from Lake Washington and a great view of Mount Rainier. People-wise this is a really special community. Most of the Jews who live here either came because work demanded it, or their spouses were from the area and decided to move back. The end result is that the community is somewhat tight-knit. Jewish Geography still reigns supreme – I stayed by the familly of someone I dated a while back, and had lunch with the in-laws of someone I knew from the old NCSY days.
In between getting lost and unpacking lines of asp code, I did have some time to check out some of the sights. The first Sunday I came in I walked over to the Space Needle. Wouldn’t you know it, the first people I meet were a cool group of Israelis spending that liminal stage between army and the rest of their lives RV’ing across the west coast. The needle itself reminded me of Chicago’s Sears Tower – a glorified tourist trap whose claim to fame is simply that it’s “tall.” Thought not spectacular, the sky views of Seattle were still nice to see.
After getting homesick for Washington Heights, I stumbled on to a random Jazz concert in support of victims of Hurricane Katrina. Let me tell you, it doesn’t get much better than sitting outside on a warm fall afternoon listening to a 16 piece jazz orchestra.
Very, very cool.
Taking a Hike
I wasn’t able to get out much during the week. Work was keeping me busy and the city shuts down earlier than I’m used to compared to New York. Sunday, however, was completely free. I had a day off, a rental car, and plenty of options. Since I’ve barely gotten any exercise since I came back from Chicago, and I really missed hiking I looked into doing one of the trails around the city. My Shabbat host is an avid outdoorsman and upon his suggestion I to the Paradise station at Mount Rainier.
The first thing you need to know about Mount Rainier is that it’s really really big. So much so that there are hiking and visiting stations at different sides of the mountain. Second, is that it’s about a 2.5 hour drive South of Seattle (past Tacoma if that means anything). Third, is that it is absolutely stunning. Anyone who has a free day in Seattle when the weather is nice should really make the effort to head down there.
While they have a few trails at the station, the longest, most scenic, and most intense is the skyline trail. I should note that “intense” here is purely relative to my complete out-of-shapeness. On the way up I saw whole families – including a birthday contingent of 9 year old girls who were absolutely schooling me up the trail. Once the ‘ol ticker got going, the hike became significantly more enjoyable and invigorating.
The trail is clearly laid out, but just in case you’re thinking of veering off, there’s a sign at the beginning warning you to stay on the path written in various languages including Hebrew.3
Of course, the real sights are on the trail itself.
There were a couple of other sights on the trail itself. For example, there was the occasionally deer sighting:
And to commemorate previous expeditions, a memorial stone sofa:
And some final shots of the mountain:
You get the idea. And to think I almost spent the day indoors doing work and watching football…
To Market, To Market
No trip to Seattle would be complete without a visit to the world famous Pikes Place Fish Market.
As with any fish market, you’d expect there to be, well, fish. Fortunately, you would definitely not be disappointed.
Of course the real significance of this seafood isn’t the size as much as their air speed velocity. These guys aren’t just the ones who made fish flying fashionable, but they’ve even marketed themselves into several books as well.
These guys aren’t just fond of flinging flounder, but they’ve made quite the business out of it. Not only are there the aforementioned books, but you can even order stuff online, where your orders will be processed by their resident techie.
Apparently, they have a specialized method of packing their product such that it stays fresh over FedEx and for the long plane ride home.
Since few people were able to catch Lew Zealand’s act in person, seeing ordinary people thowing fish is quite the spectacle and the tourists line up for the big show. Every now and again someone asks, “when do you throw the fish?” to which the answer is invariably, “when someone buys one.” Yes, we tourists are a cheap and miserly folk, choosing instead to wait with baited breath4 and cameras drawn only to hear the magical words:
Ah, dance of nature…
In other respects, downtown Seattle is very much like New York. They have their own version of the TKTS booth,
as well as their share of street preachers and musicians. However, since everything is on a much smaller scale, all entertainers need to share the sidewalk.
I suppose they all get along at the end of the day.
As you could expect from a downtown area, there are many upscale stores lining the streets. In fact, just a few doors down from a Sharper Image is one of the most serious pawn shops I’ve ever seen. Just take a look at the sign:
Any loan store which proudly displays a friggen shotgun as part of their sign has got to mean business.
Finally I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the monorail.
I didn’t get caught up on Seattle’s public transport system, but I did find that Seattle has a monorail which only goes between Seattle Center to City Center.5 The entire ride takes all of 1.5 minutes, just enough time to hum the monorail song. Actually the city council recently voted not to expand the monorail, so we can continue to mock them for some time to come.
There’s No Place Like Home
Once you get used to it, The Emerald City isn’t all that bad. The people are generally friendly if not short and that wizard dude is really helpful but he didn’t tell me anything I already didn’t know. Seriously though now that I can get around, I may like to go there for a real vacation at some point.
Of course, that would require I actually take a vacation, but that’s something else entirely.
1. The signs for Spokane however elicited thoughts of “she don’t lie, she don’t lie, she don’t lie.” And yes, I know I need help.
2. On the plus side, I did get a nice Elul/Rosh Hashanna vort out of it: Being lost isn’t about not know where you are, but not knowing where you’re going. Insert mussar here.
3. I’m not sure if they intended the sign to say “sim lev” because it looks more like “sim lech” to me without the final khaf. Although in context, I suppose either one works.
Pun not intended here. I mean it. Seriously. Upon further review, the pun stands.
5. You’d think that if Seattle is the name of the city then Seattle Center would be identical to City Center. But like I said earlier, drunken lemurs.