Kate's Queen City Notes

Blundering through Cincinnati, laughing all the way


Planning in Uncertainty

I have an apartment rented on Main Street. I have all the details worked out about getting the keys. I have scheduled my insurance to transfer to back to Ohio. I sold the few bits of furniture that I collected here. I have the time plotted out to drive back.

What I don’t have is any sense of what the weather will do. Washington State DOT has an entire web page devoted to the conditions of Snoqualmie Pass. Idaho DOT has a web page dedicated to the tiny section of I-90 that passes through, what I will call the most intense mountain range I have ever driven through.

As of this moment, all the mountain passes in The West are all looking good. What doesn’t look good is a massive storm system ginning up in The Midwest. But, even though that will make for poor driving conditions, I will also be through all the mountain ranges, which will result is slow progress rather than the interstate shutting down. Drive back across the country… One… Two… Three… GO!



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.


Seattle Thoughts: Round Two

I wrote that book in November, and like the guy that clears out the all-you can-eat buffet, the book drained me of my words. More to the point, I have been rearranging a lot of things in my life, and I don’t have much to say about it right now. Or perhaps a better choice of words is that I lack coherent things to write about it. This will change on some sunny morning when I have the rear-view mirror vantage point.

In the meantime, I do have words and pictures of Seattle. Absence makes the heart grow fonder is ringing true for my relationship to Cincinnati.

  • I miss the random warm, sunny days that can appear like manna from heaven in the winter.
  • I miss Cincinnati’s food scene–turns out, it’s burning the house down with calorie-filled goodness.
  • I miss Findlay Market, OH GOD SO MUCH.
  • I miss Midwest craft beer.
  • I miss my friends.
  • I miss the bounty of old, gorgeous buildings.
  • I miss seeing the sun–it is dark by 4:15 pm here, and the cloud cover isn’t just overcast it’s mortifying in its bleak darkness. Every goddam day.
  • I miss not having to consider traffic as a serious barrier to almost everything. Want to go ten miles during rush hour? I hope you have MREs in your glove box; you will need them. Geography has the all the traffic in and out of the city narrowing down to two bridges. Poor city planning has all the traffic around downtown at a near standstill during rush hour. The result is traveling 3 miles in rush hour can take up to an hour.
  • I miss seeing brown people–Seattle is ~75% white were as Cincinnati is ~52% albeit segregated like Plessy vs Ferguson.

These observations require further discussion below.

  • I miss our boss as all hell music scene. Seattle’s scene is missing small venues that incubate new acts.
  • I miss Midwest nice.
  • I really cannot believe I am saying this, but I miss the aggressive drivers.
  • Wait… I’m choking on this a little, let me just get it out… I miss republicans.

Construction is booming in Seattle. Real estate prices have risen dramatically in the last several years. This has made it more lucrative for small venue owners to sell their buildings to developers than continue running their venues. It’s no longer financially viable for a free indie venue to exist. This has eradicated small venues that incubate new bands, and left the city with venues that ticket for each and every show they host. If a band cannot promise ticket sales they, can’t book. The net effect is that local acts have no place to grow and mature. It’s as though the bottom rung of the music food chain has disappeared leaving those at the higher rungs to die out.

The barriers to indie art in expensive cities is referenced in an article about Walk the Moon, Cincinnati band that made it big. Michael McDonald talks about the financial barriers that bands face in this article in Cincinnati Magazine about Walk the Moon’s ascent. McDonald says:

It’s places like Cincinnati where you have time to develop and mature. In larger cities and more expensive cities, you can’t afford to put a band together and pay for the rehearsal space and pay to rent a van and park the van. There are a lot of obstacles, and some of those are just financial.

I thought I understood Midwest nice prior to my West Coast experience, and like a Maury Povich lie detector test result this has been determined as a lie. I thought Midwest nice was essentially an synonym for polite with geographical reference. Seattle natives are extremely polite–see discussion about traffic. Midwesterners are polite and talkative. We ask questions of each other. We ask stuff like where are you from? Did you grow up here? Is that your tractor? The people of Seattle simply don’t do this. It’s a mystery how people make friends when no questions are asked.

The drivers here are very passive. Did a pedestrian just make a slight modification in their gait to indicate they want to cross the street with nary a crosswalk in sight? Seattle drivers: STOP IMMEDIATELY AND WAIT TO SEE IF THE PEDESTRIAN CROSSES THE STREET. For those of us who aren’t attuned to every minute change in gait of each and every pedestrian still on the sidewalk, this results in a litany of cursing and near collisions.

Cincinnati drivers are careless, and as a cyclist and pedestrian I have nearly been run over a number of times. I am all for avoiding situations in which a person could bounce across the hood of a car. BUT THIS IS WHAT CROSSWALKS ARE FOR.

But the proliferation of bike lanes, bike trails that lead to useful places, and protected bike lanes is spectacular. I am hoping to advocate for more of this in Cincinnati when I return. Aside from reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and the physical fitness benefits cycling delivers, it also enables people to put more of their paychecks in the hands of local Cincinnati businesses as opposed to funneling dollars away into a Honda exec’s bonus.

How can one miss republicans? Seattle as two dominant political groups, liberals and more liberal liberals. I thought I would enjoy being with like-minded people. There’s two unexpected negative side effects to having a city full of liberals. First, it seems because infrastructure projects, including those in service of additional public transit, face little to no resistance, they are beset by budget overruns and missed deadlines. The caption to one of my pics below describes the tale of Big Bertha. Long story short, there’s a billion dollar drilling machine burrowed under Puget Sound. It broke, and this event seemed to have no risk mitigation plan against it, because the only way to restore the billion dollar carcass to working order was to dig all the way down to it. Through The Sound. Because Cincinnati has to fight for every infrastructure dollar we get, our projects hew closer to their budgets and timelines, because project cancellation is a very real possibility if more money or time is required.

Secondly, the political knife fights that we engage in in The Queen City drive a sense of community and connection. The lack of resistance has made the liberals of Seattle lazy and disorganized. These two unexpected negative side-effects have me missing some good old COAST shenanigans or that flaming pile of poo, article twelve. Where are you Simon Leis, you bigoted ass-hat? Liberals need you so they can coalesce around a common enemy.

All of this seems to imply that I am not having a good time. But I am. The exploration necessary to develop these observations has been loads of fun. The city encourages me approach every day and every new errand with curiosity. On the surface, Seattle is revealing what I don’t want in a city, but deeper in, the city is cultivating a persistent attitude of humility, creativity, and flexibility in me that bears no price.

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Abandoned Mental Hospital? Yes.

I have been procrastinating writing my follow-up update on Seattle. Some experiences are difficult to capture adequately in words. Expressing my spiritual journey is among them. That will need to wait for a later date.

In the meantime, I went to an abandoned mental hospital. I suppose you could call that experience spiritual? Between Halloween approaching and my love of abandoned buildings I was eager to take this ninety-minute road trip up I-5.

The facility was built in the early 1900’s, and in a testament to they quality with which they were built, most of the buildings are still standing. The hospital itself is still in use but has been re-purposed by Washington state, so that building was unavailable for exploration. The state, satisfying all of the ghost hunters, designated the rest of the grounds as a state park leaving all the remaining structures open to the public.

The facility, like many of its time, was designed to be it’s own self-sustaining community, complete with farm land, crops, livestock, and utilities. Patients’ hands placed all of the bricks and poured the cement. Later, patients tended the crops and animals that nourished them. Most of the farming structures still stand with gaping holes for windows and doors.

With this context, I expected the energy of these spaces to feel heavy. Heavy with the toil of people soughed off by their family through no fault of their own. Heavy with the suffering that comes from state bureaucrats cutting funding and over-crowding as was common in institutions of this kind in the 60’s and 70’s.

But the land, the space was light. I can’t speak for the hospital itself, which was the site of many shock treatments and lobotomies, but the farm buildings seemed peaceful. Perhaps engaging with nature was a welcome retreat for the patients.

Shooting these places was an adventure. That these buildings are available for exploration in spite of the precarious structural integrity of a few of them is emblematic of the libertarian streak I’ve noticed out here. The West Coast refuses to hand-hold. Surprisingly, I felt at ease in these spaces regardless of how creepy the pictures are.

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No Joke, It’s Beautiful Here

I’ve finally managed to get my photo editing situation under control. I’ve been on two hikes since I’ve been here. I climbed a mountain. Behold the absurd beauty.

Ok this is actually from my apartment deck. It's not exactly nature, but it's still pretty great.

Ok this is actually from my apartment deck. It’s not exactly nature, but it’s still pretty great.

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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.