This entry is longer than any other in this diary to date – more than 4,500 words. It’s also perhaps the entry I’ve most enjoyed writing. I hope you enjoy reading it.
This past Monday, April 27, at 9:59 a.m., having tied my bootlaces, I stepped off my front porch and through my front gate in the Greenwood neighborhood, and set off downtown. My plan was to walk there, for no particular reason, which is the best reason of all. It was yet another beautiful spring day in Seattle. I had plenty of other things I could and maybe should have been doing. But I had nothing better to do.
Jenny and I are taking daily walks together, short ones from our house and sometimes longer ones in other neighborhoods for a change of scenery. But I miss my long urban hikes with my male friends (plus Eveline). The last one was March 8 on Bainbridge Island. When we settled on that date, and even on the day itself, I don’t think any of us had much real inkling what we were in for. I remember that on that day, March 8, I hugged Eveline, shook hands with Wally, and accepted a sip from Dennis’s beer at the bar afterward. Typically we’ve done a hike every six or eight weeks, usually on a Saturday. We’ve hiked in all weathers and all areas of Seattle and environs; over multiple hikes, we’ve circumambulated the entire shoreline of Lake Washington. We’ve walked across Lake Washington too, in both directions, on both bridges. On one hike we visited Jimi Hendrix’s grave. We’ve ambled through residential neighborhoods and woods and industrial areas and over the high span of the West Seattle Bridge.
At this point, we don’t know when we’ll be able to hike together again. So, in the absence of the companionship I’ve enjoyed on all those hikes over the years, and in its honor, this past Monday I set out solo. My original plan was to walk downtown, six miles or so, then catch a 5 bus home somewhere along 3rd Avenue. But last week, out running errands in Ballard, I saw buses flashing ESSENTIAL TRIPS ONLY, and then I realized that the total distance downtown and back was still well short of our gang’s usual fifteen to twenty miles. So I thought: Hey, the Space Needle is iconic, I’ll make that my destination. Then Jenny reminded me that the Pike Place Market is just as iconic – actually she just assumed the market would be my destination, which iconically makes sense – and that’s only another twenty minutes or so further. So that was my plan as I set out, at 9:59 a.m. this past Monday.
I walked east on N 85th Street, then south on Fremont Ave, east on 83rd, across Aurora, then diagonally down Green Lake Drive to the top of the lake. A digital sign in the middle of the street flashed, pointlessly now:
The single direction now mandated for walking around Green Lake is counterclockwise, so that’s the way I headed, south along the lake’s western shore. The grassy areas sported profusions of those little white English daisies that Jenny loves. In the distance, at the south end of the lake, I could see the concrete bleachers where in old-timey times they held bathing beauty shows and where Led Zeppelin played in 1969 and some guy who later wrote about it claimed to have smoked a joint with Robert Plant in a kayak behind the floating stage. I used to run around the lake when it was closer to home – or rather when home was closer to it – and I would run to the top of the steep bleachers, like Rocky.
I rounded the south end of the lake and detoured north along the east shore, to the crosswalk at 62nd Street, because I wanted to see our old house at 6206 Meridian Ave N, where Jenny and I rented for five years. We had been dating for maybe six months when we started talking about moving in together, then we began swapping Craigslist rental ads by email, then before we knew it we had found this place, specifically unit 3 (of 4, in a converted older house) on the second floor. My initial sensible notion was that we might move in together in the fall of 2007, after my lease expired and after my teenage stepson’s planned visit from England during the summer. As it turned out we moved in together in February, Stefan and my cousin’s son Will both visited in July, and they both got along great with Jenny. One day the boys and I went off to shoot hoops on the courts at the top of the lake, and when we returned we learned we had inadvertently locked Jenny out of the house. We found her happily trimming shrubs in the garden, and she greeted us cheerfully. For Stefan this was revelatory: “Wow,” he said. “My mum would have yelled at us!”
I was sold on that apartment the day I went to see it alone and witnessed a winter sunset behind the lake through the bay window over the alley. Jenny and I had our fair share of times and adventures there, and we enjoyed the lake in all seasons. It was in that apartment that I made friends with Cleo, whom Jenny had adopted as a stray kitten during her stint teaching English in Turkey, the greatest cat in all feline history. I got the management company fired after they told me, on a freezing cold Friday afternoon in December, that they would flip the circuit breakers in the basement apartment to restore the electricity on Monday, and then I learned the hard way that being resident manager of a rental property is a thankless job and not really worth it, even if you do get a break in rent.
Jenny and I ended up moving out in May 2012, because our nice landlord was selling the house – he had bought it at the top of the market in 2007 and was losing money every month – and it became possible for us to buy a small house of our own. Now I lingered for a few minutes to admire the new fence the new landlord had put in, and to note with pleasure that the front garden was still being well maintained. Plants we had cared for were still thriving: the fig tree looming over the sidewalk, the Daphne, the rosemary, the quince, the pink roses in the upper front corner. And the lilac that we had transplanted, next to the telephone pole, in the parking strip, from Jenny’s mom’s garden. I thought of Ulysses, our cheerful Filipino mailman, and of how convenient it had been to have an actual mailbox right across the street, until the Postal Service removed it for budgetary reasons. I reflected on how far from my current life this house had drifted, or rather how far my life had drifted from it, despite being only two and a half miles away.
I walked south, uphill, on Meridian, which jigs left and becomes Kirkwood en route to the little commercial strip called Tangle Town at the top of the hill. The venerable dive bar Leny’s Place was still there (in Seattle’s Best Dive Bars, Mike Seely gives it four steins and writes, “The trick to Leny’s is that while it’s added certain amenities, it hasn’t gone overboard to the point where it’s shed its well-worn skin”). I wended my way further south and east, crossed 50thStreet where a row of townhouses had replaced the down-at-heel convenience store I remembered, then hit 45th at 2ndAvenue NE, across from Dick’s Drive-In. I wanted to see where the fire had happened just the previous week, gutting the wooden frame of the multi-unit residential building under construction on the north side of 45th. It had burned early in the morning, and maybe it was a squatter’s cigarette or something, but the abrupt jolt just administered to the real estate market does force one to wonder about other possible causes.
Dick’s had barriers set up for social distancing and their staff, behind glass anyway, were wearing masks. They were doing a pretty brisk walk-up business, which made sense since it was now lunchtime. I considered getting a Dick’s burger – they’re famous in Seattle, and I’ve never actually eaten one – but my middle-aged digestive system doesn’t handle burgers all that well anymore, plus I had two sandwiches in my pack: sliced turkey, muenster cheese, and lettuce from our garden on toasted English muffins. Those would get me through. A panhandler who looked Native American caught my eye, and I nodded to him. Unusually, I happened to have $124 in mixed bills on me, and it crossed my mind to give him a few bucks, but then another thought crossed my mind: Should I be passing cash, by hand, to a homeless man, during a viral pandemic?
I walked on, south and west and now downhill through lower Wallingford towards Aurora Avenue and the high Aurora Bridge over the ship canal. I happened on a city park that had public restrooms that were open. I needed to pee but was apprehensive; the men’s room was small and had only one narrow door, one stall, and one urinal. But I peeked inside and no one was there, so I took a chance. I relieved myself as quickly as I could manage and exited without incident. Then I crossed the park to a bench where I sat and ate the first of my two sandwiches, some string cheese, and a bag of dried cherries, while young couples entertained their small children and dogs on the grass.
I hit Aurora Avenue at N 41st Street, a few blocks north of the bridge. Aurora Avenue is also U.S. Route 99, which runs from the Canadian border, about two hours’ drive north of my house, all the way to Mexico. The sketchy motels along Aurora north of downtown are vintage from the decades when American families used to see the USA in their Chevrolet. In recent years some of them, like the one at 125th Street near Lowe’s, have been converted into legal weed shops.
Until Interstate 5 was built, 99 was the main north-south highway through Seattle. From 1959 until early 2019, it ran through downtown along the waterfront on a double-deck elevated viaduct every bit as ugly as the Embarcadero freeway in San Francisco that was damaged by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and pulled down shortly thereafter. Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct was also damaged by a large earthquake, the 6.8 Nisqually quake of 2001, but, thanks to the city’s indecisive political culture as well as cost overruns and engineering snafus, it took nearly two decades to replace it. Finally, in early 2019, the viaduct was replaced by the new Highway 99 tunnel under downtown, a multi-billion-dollar public works project on the scale of Boston’s famous Big Dig. When the public was allowed to walk the length of both the viaduct and the tunnel, on a Saturday between snowstorms in February 2019, Jenny and I and our friends took part in the festivities. It was a fairly big moment in our civic life. Now it occurs to me that, if there had been just one more year-long delay in the digging of the tunnel, the pandemic would have delayed it even longer.
This day I wasn’t going on 99 as far as the tunnel, but I was reminded of how fortunate Jenny and I are, in a backhanded way, that the lockdown makes it impossible anyway for us to visit her parents on the Kitsap peninsula across the Puget Sound. Our route there is – was – south on 99 through downtown, exit onto the West Seattle Bridge, then through West Seattle to the Fauntleroy ferry terminal. I’ve made that drive many times. The return trip, northbound along the upper level of the viaduct, offered breathtaking views of Elliott Bay and the Olympic Mountains. Since last year, the viaduct view has been replaced by a viewless tunnel (although the waterfront itself is much improved by the viaduct’s absence). And now, since March 23, getting into or out of West Seattle is much more complicated. I was reminded of this as I began walking south toward the Aurora Bridge and saw an electronic sign above the roadway flashing:
The Aurora Bridge has one narrow pedestrian walkway on each side. If you’re walking across it, you face a choice between having a better view of Lake Union, Gasworks Park, and the Cascades in the distance to the east, or of the ship canal and the Olympics to the west. Actually you can see plenty of both views from either side of the bridge, especially on a day such as this. The sun and the pleasantly brisk spring air reminded me that it was this time of year when I first arrived in Seattle. I landed here from Heathrow via Copenhagen on March 14, 2006, in the aftermath of a miserable half-year spent wallowing in a crummy flat in South London and then a pretty good flat in Brighton, amid the flotsam of a failed relationship and what felt, at the time, like a lost decade in my life and career, roughly corresponding with my thirties. It turned out not to be lost after all, because the following decade-plus has been great overall, and Seattle and Jenny have had a lot to do with that. The attitude I try to sustain is that I would be fifty-four years old right now regardless, and I’ve had it a lot worse than I do at this moment. Bouncing back from the lowest of lows at age forty and, more recently – just last August – surviving major surgery and recovery with Jenny’s loving and staunch support, I can’t say I’m exactly prepared for the rug being pulled out from under my world yet again, but at least I’m familiar with what it feels like.
I first opted for the walkway on the west side of the bridge, but about a quarter of the way across I saw someone jogging toward me from the far end. I had a mask with me, but I didn’t relish passing a possibly unmasked stranger at such close quarters. So I retraced my steps, went down the stairs and back under the bridge – past the whimsical concrete statue of a giant lurking troll – to the east side, where I crossed the long span without incident. Then under the bridge again and up and over the spine of the hilltop neighborhood Queen Anne. Queen Anne is one of Seattle’s tastefully tony rich-liberal neighborhoods, where you can expect the front windows of some of the brick tudors and classic craftsmen to sport signs asserting “BLACK LIVES MATTER” and “Respect Our Existence or Expect ALL of Our Resistance.” And wouldn’t you know, just as I was mentally composing the preceding sentence, I saw, staked in the front lawn of 2109 Nob Hill Avenue N:
IN THIS HOUSE, WE BELIEVE:
BLACK LIVES MATTER
WOMEN’S RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS
NO HUMAN IS ILLEGAL
SCIENCE IS REAL water is life
In Religious Freedom
LOVE IS LOVE
KINDNESS IS EVERYTHING
And I thought: It’s easy to poke fun, but come to think of it, I believe all those things too. I just wouldn’t ever put up a lawn sign saying so, any more than I’d put an American flag on my mailbox. Which reminds me of the time my dad told his homeowners’ association that he was refusing to do exactly that, but that’s another story for another time.
I walked the full length of the summit of Queen Anne along residential streets, inadvertently bypassing entirely the commercial strip on Queen Anne Avenue. The south end of 1st Avenue N turned out to be a cul de sac, but I spied a walking path between houses and discovered that it led to a staircase leading down to Queen Anne Ave near the top of the Counterbalance, the south slope of the hill, so named for the weights and gears below ground that used to help the streetcar ascend the steep slope. I walked down the staircase then down one block as a light drizzle began to fall, and there before me, as I stood at the corner of Queen Anne and Highland Drive, stood the one and only Space Needle in all its glory.
I cut right to walk past the Queensborough, the eight-story building where I lived my first nine or ten months in Seattle, in a studio on the sixth floor that I chose largely for its view of the Space Needle. My next-door neighbor in that building, Tim Lynch, moved back to Anchorage a few months after I moved in, then surprised me with a phone call asking if I would help him drive a U-Haul filled with his belongings to Alaska. I said heck yeah, and those four long days driving the full length of British Columbia and over frost heaves across the Yukon, deeper into autumn each day until on the fourth morning we drove into a blizzard leaving Haynes Junction, became one of the great adventures of my life. We stopped at thermal springs and passed herds of bison basking on the road. And Tim regaled me with tales of Alaska’s offbeat community and political life. “We’ve got this girl governor,” he told me. “She’s pretty nutty. She used to be mayor of this one town. A lot of men like her, ’cause she’s good-lookin’.” That was September 2006. I kept up with Tim for a year or two after that, but then lost touch. He was one of those people who drift into your life then back out. He was a nice guy. I wonder how he’s doing now.
In the lee of the Bayview senior living building next to the Queensborough, along Queen Anne Driveway – which Jenny and I called “the curvy road” when we were first dating, when I would serve as her lookout from my window as she sought a parking spot – there were now several tents, a homeless encampment. The curvy road led down into Lower Queen Anne, latterly hopefully rebranded as Uptown but still just as scruffy, as far as I could tell. But the building across Roy Street, with a convenience store and a few motel-like apartments if memory serves, was now an empty lot, probably destined – at least pre-pandemic – to be rebuilt with condos or townhomes. That building was nothing special, no great loss, except that Kurt Cobain lived or rented space there, or something. At any rate the building had something to do with a certain friend’s claim to have “almost joined Nirvana,” which as far as I could tell meant he had heard Nirvana was considering adding a second guitarist, and he was a guitarist, and he knew a guy who knew a guy who knew Cobain, and he thought about offering his services.
I turned left, east, on Mercer. There on the left had been Easy Street Records, where my friend Eric and I had been part of a packed standing crowd to see Steve Earle in concert. It’s now a Chase Bank branch. Across 1st Avenue N was the Metropolitan Market, where Jenny arranged to meet the person selling her tickets via Craigslist for us to see Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers on their thirtieth-anniversary tour in 2006. That concert was one of our first memorable adventures as a couple, and Jenny got serious girlfriend points for scoring those tickets, especially since she wasn’t a big Petty fan (until, through me, she became familiar with his awesome body of work and how cool he was). On the southwest corner of the same intersection, Racha Noodles & Thai Cuisine had signs in its windows:
WE TAKE &
DO OUT DELIVERY
THAI ICE TEA
WITH EVERY CALL IN/WALK IN ORDERS
A few blocks further east I started crossing Seattle Center, the outdoor civic space built for the 1962 World’s Fair and home to the Northwest Folklife Festival every Memorial Day weekend and Bumbershoot over Labor Day. Surely at least Folklife had already been cancelled for this year. Key Arena is being expensively renovated to be the home of an expansion NHL team starting in fall 2021. I wonder what the status is of that, at this point. When I found my little studio apartment back in 2006, I thought it would be neat to live walking distance from the arena, then home of the SuperSonics of the NBA. Assuming I could afford tickets, I liked the idea of just walking down the street to see a game. But right around the time I moved into the neighborhood, that creep Howard Schultz sold the Sonics to those creeps from Oklahoma, and the team’s final couple of seasons were played amid a miasma of local recrimination.
I walked past the old armory, where I had been in the habit of stopping to buy a large bag of popcorn most days on my way home from the bus stop during my brief stint as a Microsoft contractor. That was six months of Orwellian hell, editing technical documents and writing Help content, being cheaply flattered by a manipulative manager for the “voice and tone” my international experience allegedly brought to the work, which was utterly pointless and soul-killing but brought me $45 an hour plus quite a lot of overtime at time and a half because of fluid deadlines and moving goalposts on account of endemic bad management. The experience cured me of any illusions I might have had about Microsoft Corporation, and that six months within the belly of the beast, near what can now be seen as the tail end of its ascendancy, did also help me quickly pay off about $9,000 in longstanding credit card debt. And it helped me find my footing back in my own country, after thirteen years living hand to mouth overseas. But ever since then, I’ve only rarely and unwillingly traversed the lake to anywhere near the Microsoft campus. Anyway, past the armory I came upon the Space Needle itself, looming over me rather magnificently, and next to it the terrific Dale Chihuly glass museum where I went with my mother, who likes that kind of thing, a few years ago on an April day a lot like this one. Atop the Space Needle in the strong wind flapped a large blue flag bearing the slogan:
On the other side of the Needle there was little traffic on Broad Street, so I brazenly jaywalked across it (after looking both ways). And from there I went the distance, through downtown towards the water, to the wonderful and famous Pike Place Market where they throw the fish, or used to. The market stalls were all empty, of course. And then I turned around and headed home.
The question was whether to go back up and over Queen Anne and across the Fremont Bridge, or around the hill to the west, either the long way to the Fremont Bridge or across the 15th Avenue Bridge into Ballard. Initially I headed north up Western Avenue, as the shortest route, figuring I’d make a decision when I reached Denny. But I glanced to my left and saw the water and thought: This is dumb. My dogs might be starting to bark a little, but I’m not in any hurry. So I turned on Wall Street and walked down to Alaskan Way, to the Edgewater Hotel, where the Beatles stayed when they came to town. Just north of the Edgewater was the dock for the Victoria Clipper, which Jenny and I rode – a gift from my brother and sister-in-law – to the charming capital of British Columbia for a weekend to celebrate my fiftieth birthday. That was four and a half years ago, but it seems a lot longer than that.
At the south end of the long, narrow Myrtle Edwards Park that stretches along the north end of the waterfront, I walked past a sculpture depicting a man and a prepubescent boy, both naked, stretching out their arms toward one another across a fountain. This day, the fountain wasn’t on. I’ve always wondered about that sculpture. I find it embarrassing, which is maybe the artist’s point, but still. I don’t know what it’s officially called, but I think of it as the NAMBLA Statue. I guess it’s Art, but it doesn’t seem especially well judged. Maybe I’m a philistine. Further north I found a bench facing the Sound and sat down to eat my second sandwich. A ferry was crossing the water in front of me, probably headed to Bainbridge Island. Behind me on the grass, a man threw a ball for his eager Australian sheepdog. Or maybe it was a border collie; I find it hard to remember which of those intelligent, energetic breeds is which. Either way, he or she was a very cute little dog and clearly was having a lot of fun.
I walked on, past the former building of the Post-Intelligencer, the venerable newspaper that went defunct after 146 years (except for a very vestigial website) in 2009. The big globe was still there on the roof, with the slogan: “It’s in the P-I.” Seattle was one of the last two-newspaper cities in America. The P-I was known as the scrappy paper for leftish people, whereas the Seattle Times was (and still is) the establishment organ, although I must say that I think the Times is doing an excellent job covering the current crisis. Or maybe I’m just older than I used to be. A few months after the P-I folded, I attended an event at the civic venue Town Hall Seattle, celebrating its legacy and bemoaning its demise. I made a point at that event of approaching Art Thiel, the paper’s fine (and very tall) sports columnist, and asking him to sign my copy of Out of Left Field, his history of the Mariners. I told him I had enjoyed the book very much, especially the parts about the arrival of Ichiro and the historic 2001 season. “Writing it was a high point for me,” he told me happily.
I walked across the bridge into Ballard, then up and along residential streets, north and east, towards home. At NW 67thStreet & 6th Avenue NW, I saw a printed sign stapled to a telephone pole:
TAKE OUT FOOD/BEER
206 782 2974
And I realized that the sign was promoting the Barking Dog Ale House at 7th & 70th, one of my favorite lunch places. I have to remember to order takeout from them sometime.
A few blocks further north I stopped to rest, a mile short of home, leaning against a tree and removing my boots and socks to air my feet. A couple of blisters were developing on a couple of my toes, but nothing too bad. I calculated that I had walked about twelve and a half miles. It was evening now, nearly six o’clock. I was happy but tired, in a reflective mood. I felt I had completed a self-guided tour of the last decade and a half of my life, through a city that had changed in ways I had never anticipated and still couldn’t quite identify, and that maybe both it and I had come to the end of something.
A few days later, our bunch of hiking musician friends had a short email thread initiated by Alison Craig, whom the others know but I haven’t met because she keeps saying she wants to join a hike but hasn’t yet managed to. Alison was changing email addresses and wanted to ensure we all remained in touch. My pal Wally Shoup, the sax player, replied to her, with a word for us all.
“Sure glad we got that Bainbridge walk in before the Corona Curtain fell,” Wally wrote. “Look forward to the next one … whenever.”