Places In My Heart

Space NeedleMonica and I found ourselves in Seattle in mid-November. It rained.

The reason for our visit is too silly to relate (though I may do so someday). But we made the best of it. We rode the light rail from the airport. We ate lunch downtown at our favorite restaurant, The Brooklyn. We walked across the street to the Seattle Art Museum and saw some Chihuly glass and a display of contemporary art from India.

As I related a couple of years ago in Seattle, 1977, I went there after college for three years, and found my first love, first job, first apartment, and first (and to date, only) foray into big-city life. Even after that startup magazine closed down, I was able to return to Seattle for both business and pleasure many times over the years – for press checks, visits to Microsoft, and visits with my ex-girlfriend’s family. Her brother had introduced us, and I stayed close to both him and her parents even after we broke up; it was as if we’d gotten divorced and were awarded joint custody of her family.

In my time there, I became accustomed to the rain. I learned that if you let the rain stop you from doing something, you’ll never do anything. But in fact, New York City has a greater annual rainfall than Seattle; the latter’s bigger problem is its gray skies. The guy who hired me at that first job once told me that, growing up there, he thought the sky’s natural color was gray, rather than blue.

I also became accustomed to other things. For a city clustered around lakes and a sound, it’s remarkably well-organized. Beyond downtown, the city has six quadrants (northwest, north, northeast, southwest, south, and southeast). Most of the east-west streets are numbered, so that if you are looking for 4500 NE 65th Street, you have a general sense of where to find it. And when you get close, it’s pretty safe that NE 65th Street is going to come after NE 64th Street. And if the street had a name rather than a number, like 4500 NE Ravenna, it was pretty safe that it would be near the intersection of NE 45th Street and Ravenna. I loved that kind of clarity.

All the things that Seattle is known for now – Microsoft, Amazon, championship football teams – blossomed after I left. It’s no longer that forgotten place in the upper left corner of the United States map that connotes lumberjacks and jets; Boeing isn’t even based there anymore. Today, Neil Simon wouldn’t be able to get away with the line in The Goodbye Girl (1978) where Marsha Mason says, “Seattle? Don’t they have wolves there?”

But like someone discovering a singer in a lonely cabaret who goes on to become a superstar, I fell in love with Seattle before everybody else. I’m still in love with it. My fantasy retirement involves a wooden lodge on Puget Sound, with a dock and a kayak.

It’ll never happen, of course, because I married someone who hates rain. When Monica and I went up for the Stanford-Washington State football game last year, it rained. (Notice a pattern?) We had ducked into a coffee shop near Pike Place Market to get out of the downpour. As we sat sipping, my wife looked at me and said, “You really want to live in this?”

I pointed to a cluster of condos above the market. “Sure. A view of the sound, a good book, a fireplace. What’s not to like?”

She admits that she doesn’t have emotional attachment to the place that I do. Who wouldn’t have one after all those wonderful firsts in one’s twenties? When it comes to places to live, Seattle is – as I wrote in a farewell newspaper column when I left in 1980 – like buried treasure. Once unearthed, you can never have the thrill of discovering it again. It remains a beloved memory. I only wish that everyone could have a city like Seattle in their heart.




About middleagecranky

The Middle-Age Cranky blog is written by baby boomer Howard Baldwin, who finds the world, while occasionally wondrous, increasingly aggravating.
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