Seattle is a very cool place! I’m staying with my very close friends Tim and Truly, who moved out here two months ago when Tim got his dream job as CEO of the Seattle Children’s Theater. They live on Bainbridge Island, across Puget Sound from the city, and it’s a really neat community (and a really lovely ferry ride)!
Some random notes before I start discussing events. First, there is a definite Seattle aesthetic. It’s most noticeable in 20-something men, who have almost uniformly short hair cut straight across the forehead and sideburns that come down to the bottom of the ears. Among older men there are a lot of long-haired guys in ponytails and suits, which is interesting to see as a trend. There are a few clothing cues as well, but the hair is the big thing. Women tend to dress more eclectically than in some other places, but it seems a more generally urban and less local phenomenon. Extensive travel in Italy, not to mention years on the road with the Aerial Angels, has sharpened my fashion observational skills.
Another thing that struck me is that this is the very obvious birthplace of Starbucks. Not because they’re everywhere (though they are, being only slightly less prevalent than they are in the City of London), but because everyone is drinking coffee at all times. Walking down the street with a cup-o-joe is almost a badge of assimilation, it seems, and there are small coffee shops everywhere (which is pretty cool considering the clout that Starbucks has).
I spent the majority of yesterday wandering through downtown, doing my usual exploration stuff. I tend to approach new cities pretty much the same way, in getting myself deliberately lost (although with a map on hand) and then finding my way unlost. In the process I tend to discover cool stuff and get a pretty good feel for a place.
It was really neat to read, in print, The Stranger, Seattle’s alternative weekly (most famous for its syndicated sex advice columnist Dan Savage, of whom I am a devoted fan). I’ve read a lot of alternative papers over the years – it’s a great way to get a feel for an area – but this one is truly unique. I always thought that they posted their most quirky pieces online in order to accentuate their difference over the internet, but the whole paper is that way. An essay exploring similarities between Nathanial Hawthorne and Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, for example, is still making my head spin.
I was wandering through Pike St Market, as one must, when I noticed a medieval fiddle in the window of a shop. This caught my attention, to say the least, and thus was I introduced for the first time to one of the retail shops of Lark in the Morning. I don’t do a lot of shopping with them these days (I’ve found some pretty good catalogues closer to home), but I got my start with Lark products and accessories. Plus it was really cool to see and touch and hear various of the strange instruments I’ve coveted for years, most notably a five-course Fylde cittern that I’ve been drooling over for ten years but had never before seen in person.
I had a great conversation with the proprieter, who solved a nagging problem for me (“to transport a dulcimer stand as checked luggage you might want to use the carrying bag for a camera tripod”), recommended some places to try for gigs in January,
and told me to come back a little later to meet the famous Kat Eggleston. I’d heard the name, and was fairly sure I’d met her, but every time I mentioned my profession to anyone in Seattle I got the response of “I know, like Kat!” It was kind of humbling.
When I did come back later it turned out that the person I had been thinking was Kat wasn’t (I was misremembering a group dinner with Caroline Crusu several years ago), but that we had almost certainly met at the Bristol Renaissance Faire about four years ago. We both vaguely recognized each other, in that annoying way where you can’t quite place things, although it might have been at least partially because I’ve cut my hair since then. She was really cool to talk to, although I only had a little time, and I’m looking forward to dropping in to say hi again on my next visit!
In that vein, I also had a conversation with a busker playing at the Market which let me know what the procedure was for busking there as well as what city policy was towards busking in the city in general. Being able to perform in public is a first amendment issue, and when buskers go to court they generally win, but it doesn’t stop harassing behavior on the part of city authorities in most American cities. You will be acquitted, but you can still end up arrested and spending a night in jail if the cops don’t like you, and buskers with good lawyers willing to escalate through the court system aren’t exactly common. Seattle police, however, aren’t that way at all from what I heard, and I saw several buskers on streetcorners throughout the city. The sentence that clinched it for me was “I’ve even sold CDs to cops”. That is a sign of a cool city! I don’t know if I’ll have cooperative weather in January to take advantage of, but it would certainly be a fun thing to try.
I met Truly after she got off from work so that we could do some shopping. There’s a Nordstrom Rack (Nordstrom’s discount outlet) near where she works, and it is probably my favorite store anywhere, ever. Whenever I’m in a city with one I have to go by, and Truly and I have had fantastic shopping experiences in the past, so we made an outing of it. It was incredible fun, and I have two new shirts to show for it (as well as an enhanced palette to choose from based on her recommendations).
As we were walking from her work to the store, however, came the most dramatic point of the day. I looked up the street to see some guy pummeling another guy who was on the ground trying to protect his face, bleeding from nose and mouth, with a crowd of onlookers watching anxiously. I’m still stunned that I didn’t think, didn’t hesitate, but waded in and pulled the guy off, standing between him and the prone guy until he gave up and stalked away.
I’m still marveling at my response, and the way I felt afterwards. I think the reason I acted so quickly was because I saw a guy get jumped twelve years ago and, other than interposing myself between the fight and the girl I was walking with, I did nothing, and have regretted it ever since. Once the fight was over we made sure that the cops had been called and that the guy wasn’t in immediate need of first aid (though he was pretty high on something) and went on our way; I wouldn’t be able to identify the assailant and figured I had nothing more to offer the situation. In hindsight part of me is worried that it could have gone worse for me, part of me is disappointed that after all my city-time I’m not quite as jaded as I might think, but mostly I’m kind of proud of the way I acted by instinct, and the instinct that I acted upon.
Hijinks aside, I am having a fantastic time visiting friends and exploring a new place; this is a fantastic city to enjoy!