The Big Bright Glowy Thing In The Sky

Seattle is a gray city. It just is. A good chunk of the year, the sky is dismal, dank, dreary, and any other adjective you want to look up in your Funk and Wagnalls.

That isn’t to say it’s a rainy city. In my experience here so far, there’s been a lot of rain, sure – but – it comes mostly in the form of drizzle and mild showers. There really aren’t any Midwest-style thunderstorms, and there sure as heck aren’t EF-3 or EF-4 tornadoes on our doorstep year-round.

However… when I moved up here, folks told me that the best thing would happen around this time of the year… the sun would actually start coming out on a regular basis. And, lo and behold, it has.

I caught one of the sun’s final appearances last year (in the fall, when I was apartment hunting) – I was driving from Bellevue to Seattle on I-90, after lunch with a friend, and the sun sparkled over Lake Washington in a gorgeous fashion.

The sun has finally made a consistent recurring appearance now – and it’s pretty darn nice. Accordingly, the temps are pleasant, the scenery is more pleasant to look at, and the people are more pleasant. (Not that they’re not typically pleasant anyway, but even more so now.)

I’m intrigued to see what late Spring / Summer has in store.

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Dealing With Disaster —

To put it nicely, the last month or so has not been pleasant. It started out pleasantly enough, with a trip to Kansas City to see Sporting Kansas City play, plus a chance to reconnect with friends and such.

The day after I got back home, a helicopter crashed in the heart of Seattle, right next to the Space Needle. It happened just before 8am – had it happened 2-3 hours later – or worse, on a weekend – or even worse, on a sunny weekend with thousands of tourists around… yeah. Plus, it involved media colleagues — admittedly, I haven’t been in the city long enough to know all of the people involved, but that doesn’t make it hurt less.

A few days later – a larger, deeper disaster – a ginormous mudslide north of town. The initial scare was awful – dozens and dozens missing or dead; since then, that number has dropped considerably, but these are folks who have lost their homes, or worse, their loved ones. And that hurts too.

Time has kinda made the disasters go off the front page – but that certainly doesn’t make them less sucky.

There are happier moments to talk about from the last few weeks – but I think, in this case, it’s better to be a little ponderous for a while.

And Where You Go We’ll Follow

imageGreetings from about 30,000 feet, where I’m on board an Alaska Airlines flight back to Kansas City to, among other things, see Sporting Kansas City’s home opener this weekend.  This after watching the team lose in Seattle last weekend to the Sounders.

First and foremost, this would be a really easy opportunity to take cheap shots at the Sounders and their fans, but come on, I’m not going to do that.  (I WILL say that a fan was ridiculously snotty towards me on a Metro bus home; I said “good game”, and she said, “Yes. It. Was.”)

I do want to bring up a couple of things… first, the fact that there were about 400 Sporting KC fans in Seattle for this thing.  3 years ago, you couldn’t get 400 fans into the Cauldron, let alone on a trip out of town, let alone a trip from Kansas City to Seattle.  That’s a testament to how this team is doing and how loyal the fans really are – and I had a blast not only catching up with friends, but playing tour guide of a sort for the folks who hadn’t been here before.  I also gotta give some major props to the folks at Gorilla FC for hosting us and for hanging out with us – it may not have been a giant number, but what we saw was awesome.

It was a surreal experience, sitting in a stadium in my newly-appointed hometown, cheering on the away team.  I’d been to road games before, but this felt really strange.  Win or lose, this was going to be odd to reconcile afterwards.

I’ve been invited to Sounders games for the rest of the season, and I’m sure I’m going to go, and I’m going to yell.  But, I’ve gotta say, I’ve been to the Pro Shop a couple of times, and come close to buying Sounders gear — only to get a sickening feeling (I exaggerate only a little bit there) and change my mind.  SKC and the Sounders only (usually) face each other once a year – at max, 3 times – because we’re in different conferences… but it’s the principle of the thing.

Sounders, you’ve earned my respect.  SKC has my heart, and way too much of my wallet – and I have no complaints at all.

This Selfie Matters.

Typically, I hate selfies.  I mean, I’ve taken my share of them, but to me, I’d much rather stop somebody and say “hey, could you please take a photo of me/us” instead.  I’m a stickler that way.  Plus, selfies always seem a little, well, self-absorbed.  “Hey, it’s a picture of me me me!”

Having said that, I took this selfie on Friday at Kerry Park here in Seattle.

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This selfie actually has a special meaning, and here’s why — my first visit to Seattle was in 2010, when I was flying standby everywhere, courtesy of a friend who works for an airline.  My friend Chris picked me up, and one of the first things we did when I arrived was to stop by Kerry Park, where he took this photo of me.

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So, let’s compare.

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There’s a lot less of me (about 35 lbs. less) in the “now” picture than in the 2010 picture.  And I couldn’t be happier.

The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow (Your Mileage May Vary)

20140306-164935.jpgYou may find this hard to believe, but it rains in Seattle.

Now, contrary to popular belief, it’s not pouring, soaking rain every day, although it sure as hell seems like it at times.  Nope it’s just a consistently blathery drizzle through what the locals are telling me is the “rainy season”, and that come summer, the city will explode in a sea of color and such.

And really, that was one of the selling points when I was considering moving here – I went to have lunch with a friend in Bellevue, and it was cloudy and gray — but when I was driving back over the water, the sun came out and shone over everything, and it was pretty darn nice.

Beyond the rain, though – the weather is actually pretty consistent.  No major snow storms in the city (the outlying areas are another story), no major ice problems, and temperatures that really haven’t been all that cold.  I consider that a win, especially with the polar vortex crud.  Something else to keep in mind – and I’m not quite sure why this is (and I’m sure some weather-minded person out there can fill me in), but walking out of the apartment at night, the skyline is crystal clear.  That’s a big plus.

We just need to get that dang rain thing over with soon.

A Quickie Guide to Seattle —

Next weekend, some friends from Kansas City are coming up to watch Sporting Kansas City’s season opener against the Seattle Sounders, and naturally, this will be a Sporting KC victory.  If you’re one of them, welcome to Seattle!  Let me give you a few do’s and don’ts, as somebody who’s had a 4-month head start adapting from Kansas City to Seattle.  Granted, your visit is temporary, whereas mine is more permanent – but – these tips should come in handy.

(These tips should also come in handy if you’re planning a visit ANYTIME of the year.  They’ve also been lovingly fact-checked by some Seattle friends to make sure I don’t sound stupid.)

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DO visit the Space Needle, but DON’T go up the thing, unless you really really want to.  Admission is $18 (if you’re willing to commit to a time) or $24 (if you aren’t).  Instead, hit the Columbia Tower SkyView; it’s cheaper ($12.50), taller, and you can see the Space Needle from there.  (Granted, it’s a fully enclosed deck, whereas the Space Needle is outdoor/indoor, but it’s your call.)  Keep in mind that, unless it’s a blue-sky day, you may not be able to see squat from up there. We do have fog.

If you do visit the Space Needle, DO also visit the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation across the street.  The visitor center is pretty educational and talks about the work they do.  Also, you may want to visit the EMP (Experience Music Project), which is a museum that combines rock-and-roll, science fiction, and pop culture.  (At the very least, grab a photo or two of it.)  Lastly, if you’re going to be staying downtown, I’m actually going to say DO take the Monorail to the Space Needle (and the Seattle Center, the name for the entire complex of things there).  It’s touristy, sure.  But the $4.50 r/t fare (cash only) gets you there and back in a direct route.  Sure, there are other ways to get there, but it’s simple, and if you have kids along, they’ll like it.

DON’T rent a car, unless you have a specific need to.  If you’re doing the basic touristy activities in the city, the light rail can take you from the airport to the heart of the city, Metro buses are pretty good at getting you to other places, and the entire core of the city is pretty walkable.  If you think navigating downtown KC’s one-way streets and construction is obnoxious, wait until you see what we’ve got — plus — you’ll have to figure out where to park, and how to deal with all the pedestrians / bicyclists / etc. we have… yeah, don’t bother.  DO sign up for Uber if you haven’t already, because compared to cabs, Uber can be a great way to get back to your hotel when you’ve had a few too many – you order a car on your phone, you know exactly when they arrive, you know how good your driver is (based on previous reviews), you don’t have to tip, and the amount is automatically deducted from your card.  And, by clicking here, you get $20 in Uber credit to use (and so will I).  Plus, you’ll already be signed up for when Uber comes to KC (and it’s gonna be soon).  Fair warning: if you try to hit up Uber during a very very busy period, you may have to pay more in “surge pricing” – so buyer beware.  (And don’t ask about the city council thing.)

DO stop by Kerry Park in Queen Anne if you want the “Frasier’s Apartment View” of Seattle (that view doesn’t really exist anywhere in the city, but it’s as close as you’re going to get).   If you’re looking for another great view, DO take the water taxi across to West Seattle; it plops you on the waterfront, with Alki Beach a short walk away.

DO ask the locals about Big Bertha if you want a good laugh.

001DO visit Pike Place Market.  I mean, you’re going to anyway, so why the hell not.  DO stop by Starbucks #1 in the market (it’s along the main strip of the market), but DON’T even think about trying to get coffee there.  It’s a typical storefront, and the line is ridiculously long.  Always.  If you must have Starbucks coffee in that area, hit the Bux at 1st & Pike instead.  It may be just as busy, but it won’t be quite as obnoxious a wait.  While you’re in the market, DO watch the guys throw fish (because they will).  If you want to actually buy fish, I’m told they pack it well for traveling.   DO visit Beecher’s cheese shop because the cheese is just that good.  But, for the most part, DO remember that a lot of the shops and restaurants in the market, as well as along the waterfront, are going to be touristy.  That doesn’t mean they’re not good.  That just means they’re going to be touristy.  As for the waterfront, there’s the giant Ferris Wheel, if that’s your thing, as well as some touristy restaurants.  (A friend who’s a local swears by Ivar’s, even if it does appeal mainly to out-of-towners; if you’re wanting the experience without the tourist trappings, consider the one on South Lake Union instead.)

DO be prepared to walk (because the city is walkable), but DON’T be surprised by all the hills.  I mean, we’re talking steep 45° angle hills here.

raincastDON’T freak out about how rainy it gets around here.  Yes, it’s typically gray and overcast, but really, we don’t get big, giant, humongous thunderstorms (and certainly no super-severe tornadoes).  If it’s going to rain, it’s a drizzly kind of rain.  DO pack an umbrella just in case – but really, a hooded coat/jacket is probably OK, and an umbrella screams tourist.  Also, DON’T be fooled by the temperature – 45° here is colder than 45° in KC.  You won’t need a parka, but bringing only a light jacket may not be a good idea, ESPECIALLY if you plan on going out on the water on a ferry or a boat tour.

DON’T worry about safety as much as you would in KC.  I mean, there is a crime rate, sure, this a major city.  But it’s still generally pretty low-key and friendly.  Having said that, DO watch your surroundings in some places after dark – Pioneer Square and the International District come to mind.  Most of our after-dark crimes have to do with the homeless / mentally ill, rather than drugs and gangs.  (A side note: DON’T freak out because of the folks with the tats / lip piercings / nose piercings / pink hair / etc.  They don’t bite.)

DO get out of downtown and visit somewhere else in town, if time and circumstances permit.  Anywhere.  Queen Anne, Capitol Hill, Fremont, Greenwood, Greenlake, Lake Union, West Seattle, some other neighborhood around town.  I mean, downtown is pretty awesome.  But you’ll find that the neighborhoods are a great mix of residential and commercial, with their own unique character and flavor as well – and it’d be a crime not to go outside of that zone.  DO ask around for suggestions – for the most part – the people in this city are ridiculously friendly and love to share their city with visitors.

No matter what – DO enjoy every last second of your visit.  Because it’s a great place to be – and – it’ll make you want to spend more time here.

YVR

Well, hello, blog.  Apologies for neglecting you a little bit.  You should know that it happens every now and then.

Last weekend, I had some free time, and a little extra cash, so I decided to head to Canada.  Obviously, in Seattle, Canada is not that far — roughly 2 hours or so from downtown Seattle to the border, plus a little extra time from there to get to Vancouver.  I rented a car, and off I went, on a Saturday morning.

20140225-140607.jpgFirst and foremost… I should point out that driving north on I-5 takes you through the northern suburbs (obviously), but also some pretty sweet country.  Like a lot of Washington state, there are quirks: where else are you going to find an Adopt-a-Highway sign claimed by nudists?  (I couldn’t get a great photo of this one, so trust me that it’s there.)

20140225-140554.jpgAs I approached the Canadian border, I was presented with a few options for crossing – either the I-5 crossing that had a 90 minute wait, the “a little ways away” crossing that had a 45 minutes wait, or the “state highway in the middle of BFE not that far away” that had a 15 minute wait.  And of course, I took the state highway, driving through the back country — only to be greeted with an hour-long wait anyway.   Customs determined that I’m not a wanted fugitive, and off I went to explore Canada, via some backroads.

For American drivers, the first thing to keep in mind is — everything is metric.  That sign that says “Speed Limit 100” is km/h, not mp/h, although I may or may not have gone a little faster with plans to feign ignorance.  (Yes, I’m kidding.  Maybe.)

The second thing is… give that it’s Canada, you really shouldn’t use your American cell phone — because that’s roaming.  And that ain’t cheap – sure, you can get around it with a Canadian plan or such, but for a day trip, I just didn’t think it was necessary.  That also meant I was at the mercy of road signs to guide me to downtown Vancouver (no GPS), some of which took me on ridiculous back roads and whatnot.

20140225-140625.jpgI eventually made it to Granville, a neighborhood in Granville with some high-end retail — picked up a nice coat by Roots (to replace the Old Navy coat I’d had for the last 7 years) — followed by a track jacket at Hudson Bay (the Canadian equivalent of Macy’s, also to replace a coat I’d had the last 7 years), and some things like Tim Horton’s coffee (Canadian Starbucks – they have a canned coarse roast that’s perfect for my French press) and Kraft Dinner (Kraft Mac & Cheese for those who aren’t Barenaked Ladies fans).

20140225-140542.jpgThe next day, before I took the car back, I took a friend’s advice and made a morning trip in the completely opposite (almost) direction, to Snoqualmie Falls – and you can see the result here.  This post isn’t giving the place enough justice, but suffice to say, I’ll be shooting more photos there soon and blogging about it more.