I’ve had a complex relation to our “sister” city to the north, Seattle. The first time I visited it was 2001. I had already been living in Portland for a half-year, and was pretty happy with that. I may have had a better first impression if I had visited the Emerald City in the 90s, or at least visit before I moved to Portland. I got the vibe that Seattle was (and still is) a bigger version of the Pacific Northwest idea of a “city”, but one whose peak had just passed. The “it” days of the Grunge Era were over, there were just some lingering reminders that would soon close (The Sit & Spin, Fallout Records),1 and everything was just bigger and more expensive. (Still is.) Not only that, but I could feel resentment from people when I said that I was living in Portland, the then-ascending city. I’d be told by several people (including my hosts!) that they really didn’t care for the Rose City. I couldn’t understand why people would go out of their way to say this, but they seriously did.
Over the years my resentment over Seattle has softened, and I came to like the place. And I appreciated the fact that it was a relatively quick three-and-a-half hour train ride away. When I wanted to be someplace different but urban, somewhere a bit more urban than Portland, and didn’t want to venture to Minneapolis, Chicago, or San Francisco, Seattle was an easy getaway. I would often go several times a year.
But it’s been over two years since I last visited. My last trip was in March of 2020. This trip was based around business–a “pop up” at Swift Industries. And I was pretty broke. While I could cash in Amtrak Guest Rewards points for a free train trip and call in favors at the HI-Seattle for a free stay, doing stuff meant spending cash that I didn’t have. Since it was still winter, just riding around all day and hanging out in parks wasn’t going to be feasible. Once the event was done, I made the call to cut my trip short and head home that evening.
And the biggest reason why my last trip wasn’t that thrilling (which I didn’t mention at the time) was just the general weirdness right before the Official Start Of Pandemic: Seattle was ground-zero for COVID in the United States, and the town felt downright eerie and unfun because of it. I didn’t like what I saw, and hoped that this COVID thing wouldn’t get any bigger. Of course, we all know that would not happen, and just a few days after returning from Seattle is when the proverbial shit hit the fan.
Things have normalized a bit since then. Yet I hadn’t returned to Seattle since that fabled trip. I’ve gone to a lot of other places: California, Minneapolis. I’ve explored the Willamette Valley to the south of Portland to a greater degree than in the almost two-decades I’ve lived here. But I never got further north in Washington State than just north of the Columbia River until our San Juans Trip in early August. On that trip, we did pass through Seattle, giving me my first glimpse of its skyline in a long time.
Emee’s daughter goes to a camp in the forests to the east of Seattle, and we needed to retrieve her. My days of driving somewhere for four hours, then driving back the same day are years passed, so we decided to overnight. Seattle seemed like a good choice for a stay, so we booked a hotel room and drove up on Saturday August 20th.
While we would have preferred to stay in Seattle proper, all the hotels we looked up were way too much. We managed to find a spot in, of all places, the eastern suburb of Bellevue. I had barely spent time on the east side of Lake Washington, much less sleep there, so I thought it would be “interesting”. Unfortunately, it was not. Bellevue is one of those places that look impressive from a distance, with a very glass-tower high-rise downtown. But it’s very Edge City, and felt soulless, like a version of Century City or Stamford. 2 Downtown was full of wide boulevards and not much street life, even though there were things to do. That’s because downtown primarily functioned like a mall, with stores and restaurants inwardly facing into the middle of the superblocks.
As a result, we spent as little time as possible in Bellevue, beyond breakfast and one dinner. We did get into Seattle proper for things like sunset watching and nice dinners. But it was a pretty whilrwind trip, and I didn’t get to do much of the things that I like to do when I visit. Heck, I barely took any photos, either. I shot maybe a half-roll of Cinestill 50D on my XA2 and a roll of Fomapan 100 on my Ricohflex Dia. 3 I did get to visit the Shot on Film Store, where I managed to score a nice t-shirt and a hard-to-find roll of Fujicolor 100.
I did have a few hours to get a good bike ride in, though. While Emee and her daughter shopped. I did a fifteen mile out-and-back-and-out-and-back on the Burke-Gilman Trail. Yeah, it’s probably “basic”, “cliche”, or what have you to ride this popular rail trail. But I like it, as it stitches together some of my favorite spots in Seattle, like Gas Works Park.
If anything, this trip reminds me that I do like Seattle, and I need to get back sooner than later.
1 Hot damn! Fallout Record’s website is still up, even though they closed in 2003. That’s some dedication.
2 And very new, in the way that Edge Cities can be. While Bellevue the town is not brand new (founded around 1900), its rapid growth is fairly recent. A couple blocks from the high-rise district we were staying in was neighborhoods of single-family ranch homes. There was no transition zone between them.
3 And when I unloaded that roll of Fomapan, I stupidly forgot to “seal” it. The first half-dozen shots came out ok, as it was wrapped tightly inside the roll. The next four exposures were heavily fogged, and the last two didn’t come out at all. Live and learn.