I had six hours to tour Seattle between light rail depositing me at Westlake Station and meeting my niece and her three boys for pizza in Capital Hill. The next nine days would be family-focused in a small town an hour from the Emerald City, but for six hours I got to confirm / confound stereotypes on my first visit to the Pacific Northwest. An architect on his own with a good pair of boots and a yellow slicker can see a lot of Seattle in that time.
1. It rains all the time.
Yes, it rained the entire time I was in Seattle. But it’s benevolent rain. It reminded me of Ireland.
2. Seattle is bigger and more affluent than I imagined, but hardly fashion forward.
I walked by Barneys, Brooks Brothers and Tiffany’s but I don’t know who shops there because everyone I saw wore baggy jeans, T-shirts and flannels.
3. What passes for counterculture everywhere else is mainstream here.
Guys wear wool ponchos, identical the one I wore as a costume at a Woodstock Party last summer, without a trace of irony.
The Comet Tavern is one of several bars that trumpet being open and accepting with more fanfare than a Unitarian church.
I ate a delicious BLT at a place called Honeyhole. In Boston, that would either be a specialty donut or X-rated video.
4. There’s a Starbucks on every corner.
True for starters. But there’s also a competitor midblock for the folks who can’t stagger a full block without a caffeine fix, like this line outside the Monorail Espresso at 2:00 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon.
And there’s the new Starbucks Reserve Tasting Room, which takes up almost a full block.
In between are awesome bakeries, in which I indulged.
5. People are incredibly nice.
When the elderly women next to me on the train from the airport didn’t have the correct fare card, the collector was so gentle and polite. After he scanned her ID against future lapses, he actually called her by name when he handed it back. At least three people told me to have an awesome day – one told me twice. That much awesomeness required more coffee.
6. People are also incredibly thin and pale.
They look like they drink too much coffee and get too little sun. But how do all those bakeries figure into the gaunt aesthetic?
7. The Seattle Public Library is a quirky bit of contemporary architecture.
It’s way more than that. It’s a terrific piece of urban architecture whose gravity defying cantilevers slip into view from blocks away in Seattle’s grid.
The interior organization is intellectually brilliant, which is not the same as being user-friendly.
The building is mobbed, but why is the fifth floor called the Mixing Chamber? It’s the computer floor – every human there is engaged in parallel play.
8. Seattle loves writers and readers.
I was afraid no one would show up for my reading at Elliott Bay Book Company, 3000 miles from home. But I had a solid crowd and over an hour of Q&A.
9. Residents of the Emerald City love the Seahawks even more.
I kept my Boston roots on the low-down. Even the churches were against me.
10. The only thing I wanted for in Seattle was – more time!