Kate's Queen City Notes

Blundering through Cincinnati, laughing all the way


Seattle, That Rent Tho

When the clouds part and the sun streams through there isn’t a more beautiful city than Seattle. The salty air is bracing, but the tender warmth of the sun is comfort alive and breathing. The sea gulls register their complaints for insufficient food, but the city with its wealth promises a bounty.

As long as you have money. Without it there is a shanty town under I5. Some make-shift enclosures and tattered tents can keep out the insistent rain, but they provide little protection from the smell.

This dichotomy is part of why this place isn’t my home.

I discovered The Butcher and The Baker some weeks ago with Jeannine. I had a reuben so good that I will suffer comparing every future reuben with it and find them lacking. The experience was only partially remarkable because the food was excellent. I also saw three black men in the same vicinity for what I believe to be the first time since moving here.

It’s not just that the city is lacking in brown people, but it’s lacking in many types of people. The working poor, although clearly in the city as who else cleans all those hotels, are completely invisible as are any restaurants or bars that cater to anyone without a wad of cash in their pocket. And along with their absence they’ve taken with them corner bodegas, liquor stores, and greasy spoon ethnic places where English is the second language.

Although hipsters have gotten a bad rap, I enjoy the quirks that they bring. I enjoy the uncomfortably high-waisted pants paired with a crop-top Def Leopard tee and vintage glasses. They have all hopped on their double-decker bicycles and ridden off, perhaps to Portland.

Not just a stab in the dark, this is verbatim a conversation I overheard in Portland following an inquiry of the shop owner’s friend. “Oh, yeah, she doesn’t make it into the city, because she’s taking care of her old cat. I guess she’s living in a yurt on a commune, and she doesn’t trust her fellow commune members to look after it.” And although I personally don’t need to live in a commune, I knew I was getting a little closer to my people, the weirdos.

It’s not just what Seattle has, homogeneity in spades, but also what it lacks. Local music venues here have steadily closed as land value has shot through the roof. Running a venue is tough work, and when a developer makes it rain, venue owners gratefully retire. Although many acts stop here, the years of acts being born here are probably in the past.

The apex of my reasons to leave is the cost of living. My 500 sqf apartment, although nicely outfitted, is $2300 a month. I have a view of The Sound, and a number of other lovely amenities. But for reference, my apartment in Cincinnati, with a view of the less than glorious Ohio River, had similar amenities and was twice the size for $1100 a month.

Twelve hundred dollars a month buys lots of stuff. Namely it buys flights out here for visits. It also buys vacations in Europe–every year. It buys new camera lenses, concert tickets, and road trips. I think visiting here will do just fine, especially when 3 months later I can visit Spain.

I only scratched the surface of the cost of living here, as there are other aspects. This is more thorough. Although this was written about Vancouver, you can simply sub Seattle in there to the same effect.

Even so, I have loved my time here. This dream needed to be explored for me to move beyond it. I lived my twenty years in Cincinnati with one foot in and one foot out, always considering an escape. From a distance, I see it for what it really is. It’s a city in flux. It’s a city with big problems but also big opportunities. It’s a city with rich history and stunning architecture. It’s a city where some of the best people on this planet live–my friends. It’s a city with artists, musicians, and start-ups. It’s a city that I put my sweat into. My hands cleared out those lagering tunnels that people will stroll through at Bockfest this year. My feet carried petitions to finish the work to complete the streetcar that will start operations this fall.

I did that work years back because I believed the city could be so much more than what it was. I was right. And now I want to come back home.

Seattle and Mt. Rainier

Wide angle view of Eliot Bay, Seattle and Mt. Rainier

Downtown with a good view of Mt. Rainier.

Downtown with a good view of Mt. Rainier.

Safeco Field and Century One Stadium, home of the Mariners and The Seahawks

Safeco Field and Century One Stadium, home of the Mariners and The Seahawks

Downtown with Mt. Rainier.

Downtown with Mt. Rainier.

Seattle Late Washington, from the I-90 bridge

Seattle, Lake Washington, from the I-90 Bridge

Seattle Sunset over looking Eliot Bay

Sunset over looking Eliot Bay

Seattle with Mt. Ranier

Seattle at night, you can just barely see Mt. Rainier beyond the buildings.

Seattle sunset over Eliot Bay from the Space Needle

Sunset over Eliot Bay

Seattle, Eliot Bay from Space Needle

Looking over Eliot Bay at sunset.

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On the Road – Day Three

I woke on Sunday morning to discover that I was not kidnapped and forced into sex slavery regardless of my oh so creepy motel experience. As stated in yesterday’s blog, I declared success without seeing the status of my vehicle. I also noticed that Henry had eaten all of the ample amounts of food and water that I left out for him. I was pleased to know my little guy, while displeased with his current station in life, was eating and drinking even if in secret.

While I was suffering through the trauma that was wrought on my sinuses, the clerk gave me a voucher for a free breakfast at the diner across the street the night before. I dressed and headed in that direction. On my walk I was relieved to see that my car was unmolested in the night. And to my pleasant surprise, the diner made all of their baked goods in house. So after wolfing down excellent greasy spoon eggs and bacon, I took a slab of sour cherry strudel with me for the road.

I was feeling relieved to get away from my Twin Peaks experience. I was even more relieved to know that if all went as planned I would be sleeping in my destination city that evening. With that I started my day seeing Montana in the daylight, which looked like this.

Montana was lovely.

Montana was lovely.

Something seeped into my awareness as I was driving the long hours across Montana. South Dakota and Montana have some of the most naturally beautiful landscapes I have ever seen. With such a glut of natural beauty, I was dismayed to notice how little care seemed to be given to keeping it that way. Abandoned industrial and farm equipment littered the fields in view of the highway. Dilapidated structures were left to rust in place. Industrial garbage was allowed to sit where ever it was last left.

Before I continue with my observations, a word about something nerdy. Cities often have areas that are dedicated to a particular use. Industrial parks are allocated for warehouses and factories. Residential areas are allocated to private homes. Business areas house store-fronts that provide services and goods to those that walk in off the street. That’s what zoning is for. It’s to set up parameters on what land is to be used for.

As I was wondering about the lack of stewardship in keeping the land beautiful, I considered one of the unappealing aspects of Billings. While I intellectually understand the purpose of zoning laws, I didn’t truly appreciate their application until I witnessed a complete lack there of. Billings was configured in this way; take all of the structures in a city, shake them up together and scatter them haphazardly in no particular order. Residences were sprinkled among, warehouses, and bars. The local hardware store was flanked by a defunct printing facility, rail road tracks, and a four lane highway.

This looked awkward, but there are other negative effects aside from ugliness. Because walk-up businesses were separated from each other by long stretches of highway and industrial buildings, running errands could only be done easily by car. Based on the socioeconomic details I noticed, there are a lot of people living in Billings that don’t need to spend a whopping 30% of their minimum wage income on a car and all its trappings.

The libertarian in me was pleased by this freedom from regulation; the progressive in me was dismayed (that I have views in both camps makes all people hate me equally when talking politics). And that’s where I think both of these things are rooted. A lack of regulation due to valuing freedom over social responsibility. And this is what you get. Confused, illogically laid out cities, and industrial equipment left to rot, marring beautiful landscapes. And this brings me to the problem that libertarians often dismiss, and it’s that all of us, operating according to our own self-interests, can be unholy dicks. *steps off soapbox*

I drove though a hot minute of Idaho, and it was gorgeous. I wound through mountains covered with ancient conifers. I regret that I failed to get a picture. But I was only in the state for less than an hour, and at this point I was anxious to end my three days of driving.

I don’t know what I expected Washington to look like, probably Idaho, all mountains and pine trees. What eastern Washington state actually looks like is some alien land. The desolation there breathes and has teeth. And it gave me the most magnificent sunset I have ever seen as a welcome.

Eastern Washington state was just amazing.

Eastern Washington state was just amazing.

The sun was so crisp and the sky so blue.

The sun was so crisp and the sky so blue.

Driving into this sunset was just spectacular.

Driving into this sunset was just spectacular.

Henry and I powered through the last couple hours of driving with a little help from George in the form of pleasant conversation. When I finally rolled into Seattle Stef and David were ready to catch me with air mattress made up, pizza, and beer. It never felt so good to be in someone’s home.

I have thoughts about the journey, but I think I’ve done enough writing for one day. So those will wait for another blog entry. And just a note about the pictures, or lack there of – I decided not to get my DSLR out on this trip. Thinking with my photographer brain takes me out of the moment, and I wanted to be fully present for this journey. So all the pictures were quickly taken with my cell phone. However, I did take my DSLR up the mountain this past weekend, and have stellar shots to share in the coming days of the lush forests of the Cascade Mountains.

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On the Road – Day Two

I left Mason City, Iowa with a full belly, gas tank, and twelve hours of driving ahead of me. I made a reservation at a pet-friendly Best Western in Billings, Montana, so I had no choice but to clock the hours across South Dakota. I gave little consideration to the location of my hotel aside from the time calculations that indicated that Billings was in the general vicinity of my driving goal for the day. This turned out to be unwise.

After wrestling Henry back in the crate, he settled into peering at me warily from his crate in the passenger’s seat. We roared through what remained of Iowa and the southern section of Minnesota. Most of our time was spent slogging across South Dakota, a state that is a little less than 400 miles across. Luckily, the state is also beautiful.

This is a tourist trap. But they make their own ice cream, and it's pretty good. The trip was not wasted.

This is a tourist trap. But they make their own ice cream, and it’s pretty good. The trip was not wasted.

That is the Missouri River. It seems a miss to me to not have a place to pull off the highway and take a picture, but it seems South Dakota isn't so great at recognizing its natural resources.

That is the Missouri River. It seems a miss to not provide a place to pull off the highway and take a picture, but it seems South Dakota isn’t so great at recognizing its natural resources.

Tail end of South Dakota before heading into Wyoming.

Tail end of South Dakota before heading into Wyoming.

This panorama shot in South Dakota was intended to show how big the sky is. But I'm not convinced it achieves the goal.

This panorama shot in South Dakota was intended to show how big the sky is. But I’m not convinced it achieves the goal.

We roared into Wyoming. I regret hitting that state at sunset, because what I did see of it looked gorgeous.

And Wyoming was stunning.

And Wyoming was stunning.

I had to snap this picture shortly after crossing the state line. There was precious little day light left.

I had to snap this picture shortly after crossing the state line. There was precious little day light left.

By the time I hit Montana, like the couple hours before close in a crappy bar, it was too dark for me to assess it’s attractive attributes. The dark drive to Billings was accompanied by Henry’s complaints. It only dawned on me then that he only got upset in the car after dark. I don’t know what offends the persnickety little man about night driving, but he is decidedly not a fan.

As I navigated to the hotel I learned that Billings is a larger city than the little town I had imagined. I also learned that Billings has a downtown that is less than appealing, and that my motel was located there. And this is when I was plunged into an immersive Agent Dale Cooper experience.

The odor that greeted me upon entering the motel office made me wince. It was though all the intensity of a Yankee Candle warehouse focused itself on this very small room. The receptionist was irrationally excited to see me at any time of day, but especially so at midnight. The check-in process seemed to take an eternity, but I am sure that is just my perception due to the sinus raping that was happening to my face. I fled the office with my key card feeling unsettled.

I pulled my car close to my room to unpack. While doing so a middle-aged man leisurely rode his BMX bike past me as though he had no particular place to be. At midnight. With his knees up in his armpits while pedaling because the frame was so small. He gave me a neighborly enough greeting, but this did nothing to remedy my unsettled feeling. It was at this moment that I noticed what seemed to be another motel guest lounging in a lawn chair intently watching me unload. I made eye contract several times thinking he would recover himself and attend to something else. Not so. The unsettling continued as I hurried to finish unloading.

The parking lot of the hotel was full. I had to park my car, loaded to the gills with stuff across the street in the less than desirable downtown of Billings. In and of itself this would be ok, but while walking away from my PLEASE-BURGLE-ME vehicle I noticed a couple screaming at each other at the end of the ally. Upon closer inspection the couple looked like crack heads (thanks OTR circa 2004 for helping me spot that) having a throw down, with a person … spectating? I don’t know what other word to use for this third, as he contributed in no way but his body language suggested he was in rapt attention.

At this point, my attention is drawn to the other end of the ally to see a trio of men. Two men are carrying a man between them. It seemed the man in the center had consumed a too much booze. The peculiar thing about them was that the incapacitated man was in a tux while his assistants were in shorts and T’s. They also waved at me as though I knew them. At this point the unsettled feeling is developing into alarm.

On the way back to my room, I run into another crack head couple arguing. They had the decency to pause their fight to greet me, a nicety that didn’t make me feel any better. At midnight. Once safely in my room, I felt compelled to search for a? What? A camera? A dead body? I don’t know. I didn’t find any of those things, but I did find what appeared to be blood stains on the carpet. My thought while falling asleep?  If I don’t get kidnapped into a sex slave ring or worse tonight, I will call it success including if my car has been looted.