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Sunday, April 07, 2002

City Life Bliss

This section of Seattle is referred to, rather prosaically, as lower Queen Anne. Queen Anne is a big hill overlooking downtown Seattle. We live at the bottom of that hill. A couple of businesses in my neighborhood use the name uptown in their titles but that designation has never really caught on and we remain lower Queen Anne. There is nothing to distinguish this area; it is just a lot of commerce, a bunch of apartment buildings, and a few free-standing homes--which they can’t tear down fast enough, as far as I am concerned. Most of the houses are complete eyesores and the real estate could be better used—like for a bar or something.

The one architectural distinction of this area is the Space Needle, which looms over the Seattle Center. Cool people are supposed to hate the Space Needle but I don’t know why because I'm not cool and they won't tell me. To me, it gives Seattle’s skyline a defining stamp. When you look at pictures of Seattle it looks unlike other places( of copurse, Mt. Raineer helps), which is more than you can say about most American cities. I have never actually been to the top of the needle but that is only because I don’t want to pay the $11 fee. I had never been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris until my last trip and that turned out to be a minor disaster. I wrote about that painful episode somewhere else. Now I have this thing about not going to the top of the needle. I like looking at it, though.

The surrounding Seattle Center is a big park fringed by the opera, the repertory theater, the science center, the basketball arena, and the Center House. The Center House is a big open building that is like a mall food court without the annoying mall part. Several of my posts have been inspired by what appears onstage at the Center House. It is a block or so from my apartment so I go there quite often to get a cup of coffee but mostly just to get out of my apartment.

My apartment is in one of the more charming buildings in the area, a five story brick affair constructed in 1926. From my kitchen window I can see the snow-capped peaks of the Olympic Mountains and from my living room I have a nice view of the Puget Sound. I can sit on my couch and watch the inter-island ferries running back and forth—it’s better than TV. On the down side there is a night club behind my building and late at night I am often rocked out of bed by car alarms and the teeth-loosening bass of kids blaring rap on their car stereos. Note to self: purchase sniper rifle.

The greatest thing about this neighborhood is its total self-containment. Here is a very partial list of the things within a four block radius of my front door: an art house movie theater, three live theater houses, two (soon to be three) grocery stores, a post office and postal center, two copy places, a drug store, five coffee shops, a video rental joint, an office supply store, a used bookstore, two record stores, and at least 20 restaurants of every make and ethnicity.

What my neighborhood lacks are strip malls, malls, 4 lane highways with median strips, franchise places (there is a KFC and a Mac’ on the fringe—unavoidable I suppose) and other charmless landmarks that make up so much of the American landscape.

All of this is in the modest enclave of lower Queen Anne. If I walk south one block from my apartment I enter the more trendy and urbane neighborhood known as Belltown. The boundaries are pretty arbitrary and I don’t need a passport or anything to go to Belltown but there isn’t much reason for me to go there for anything other than entertainment (the bars and restaurants are better there). Almost all of my day-to-day needs can be met without venturing out of my neighborhood. My car is parked on the street in front of my building; a veneer of dust so thoroughly covers the windows that I’ll have to wash them before I drive it. That won’t be today as there is nothing calling me away from this four block sanctuary.

If I do leave this area my car isn’t my first choice of transportation. To go downtown I usually take the monorail—a curiosity from the 1962 World’s Fair that actually works as mass transit if you live where I do. For lots of other trips I ride one of my bikes. I have paid enough in traffic tickets to pay for a trip to Paris so I avoid driving at all costs.

Very few people in the USA know what it is to live in a city, to live without the automobile. I don’t get road rage, I don’t get stuck in rush hour traffic, I don’t have a car payment, I buy gas once every two months or so. This sort of lifestyle is possible because I live in an area of relatively high population density. What I give up to live this way I give up without regret. My apartment is small but big enough for my needs, everyone I know goes out almost every night, anyway. Privacy is sometimes an issue if you live in an apartment (see my post of Feb 23 when the cops raided my place) but this sort of living beats the suburbs all to hell.

Check out the blog of the day.

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