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Sunday, December 18, 2005

Belltown A.M.

The sky is so clear that you think that your eyesight must have improved with the sleep you got the night before. Across the Puget Sound, individual houses on the distant islands seem to come into focus. On the other side of the Sound the snow from the Olympic peaks appears to slide all the way to the water’s edge. Although it is cold, the bright sunshine makes it feel a lot warmer. I pull on the gloves I keep in my pocket and coast through the deserted downtown street. At any other time of the day this area is a quagmire—even on a bicycle—but early on a Sunday morning I have the roads to myself.

The Belltown area of Seattle where I live is the center of nightlife in Seattle. New bars, clubs, and restaurants have been popping up like weeds in an untended garden. They seem to thrive in this ecosystem dominated by the huge construction cranes that are turning empty lots into 20 story apartment buildings. At this early hour, the only other people on the street are people walking their dogs. It doesn’t matter if you went to bed early with a good book or stayed out until last call, the dog needs to go out first thing in the morning.

The disposable coffee cup seems to have welded itself into the DNA structure of every Seattleite—at least before noon. The Belltown bars may rule for a few hours on Friday and Saturday nights, but coffee shops offer the drug of choice for most of the day, seven days a week.

On other mornings I wake up to total darkness. I don’t need to look out the window to know what the weather is like. I can hear the lugubrious bellowing of foghorns in the bay below my apartment. I grab a different kind of coat on these mornings. Something waterproof and maybe something warm to wear beneath it. I have never owned so many different kinds of coats as I have since moving to Seattle. Intelligent clothing combinations here are almost as infinite as moves on a chess board, and every bit as strategic.

The need for coffee on the cold and rainy mornings is even more desperate than usual, but after living here long enough to consider myself to be a resident finally, I have noticed something about the people who live here. As the days get shorter, colder, and wetter Seattleites don’t embrace their fate with a cold stoicism, they absolutely relish the gloom of the coming winter solstice. People don’t complain about the rain, they hardly even acknowledge its presence. During downpours most residents don’t even bother with umbrellas. You can call me a sissy, but I still shamefully use one in the worst of storms.

I won’t be needing an umbrella today. Maybe I’ll do something highly original like ride my bike to the top of Queen Anne hill and take a picture of Mount Rainier. Whatever I decide to do today it will have to come after I stop for a coffee.

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