Monday. July 22, 2002- Amherst, N.Y.
We were up and rolling by 5 A.M.. A 5:45 A.M. taxi delivered us to Buffalo International Airport. Although no one else was present at the American Airlines counter, we were pulled for a bag search. We resigned ourselves to thinking that it is the post 9/11 world, and we will all have to get used to these inconveniences when travelling. Afterwards, we had coffee at “Jakes.” The security screen was perfunctory, but I got “selected” for another scan at the boarding gate. Now I know what the felons and miscreants feel like when the constabulary pulls them over for a random frisk.
The run down to Dallas was 2 and 1/2 hours and uneventful. As we approached Dallas/ Fort Worth, I could see the flat Texas plain extending far onto the Horizon. The shimmer of heat, rising from the earth, promised another Texas-style scorcher. TheDallas/Fortworth airport was crowded with passengers heading everywhere. The hour layover passed quickly. We soon lifted off on AA # 2753 for Seattle- Tacoma. It was a
three and one half hour leg of the journey, so we settled in with books and read most of the way. The great jagged expanse, of the Rocky Mountains below, was mesmerizing as always. The geology of North America is much more apparent to the casual observer from 40,000 feet.
At SeaTac, we retrieved our bags, with little effort, and found a Gray line bus for the ride into Seattle ($8.50 each). So far, we had encountered no problems. The Crowne Plaza lobby was uncrowded as we checked in. The staff was both pleasant and helpful. It was sunny and 83 degrees, out, but we were flagging from the trip in. We unpacked and settled into our 29th floor aerie to
recharge. The one large room-window faced to the
Southwest and afforded us an ever-changing tableau of sun, sky and the mountains surrounding Seattle.
After a brief respite, we ventured forth to “see what we could see.” The walk down Seneca Street is precipitous. Seattle is built into the hillside of a bluff onthe ocean shore. A seven block section of it's streets, from Pine to Madison, traverses down to the ocean mud flats about 250 feet below. We are always amused when we see streets with such precipitous drops, thinking of our frosty abode of ice and snow in Buffalo, on the shores of Lake Erie. A descent with this steep a gradient would become a toboggan run after the first snow, sending hundreds of cars on a lickety-split, out of control run to the ocean flats, far below.
We later found out that Seattle had been founded on the Ocean mud flats as a small encampment. The surrounding heights had existed as 200-foot palisades far above. The enterprising settlers, with huge, high-pressure water hoses from mining concerns, had succeeded in eroding the high banks into a series of gradually sloping terraces, that descend on a 45 degree gradient, from Seventh to First streets. At each street level, a flat area for shops and the street and been leveled off. The last drop, from First, to the mudflats of the Oceanfront is negotiated by three “hill-climbs.” One in particular, the “Harbor Steps” is an artfully designed set of
concrete steps, lined with shops, flowers and rest areas. We compare it favorably to the Spanish Steps in Rome. It is an attractive place for people to gather, as well as a means of access to the flats below. As we negotiated the last slope down Seneca St., we came upon the Seattle
waterfront. I could see immediately that they had made the same planning errors that plague Buffalo. The early planners had inadvertently cut off their waterfront from the rest of the City. A set of railroad tracks, and an overhead highway, seperates downtown Seattle from the oceanfront.
In spite of the poor planning, the waterfront had thrived, principally because of the need to get to and from the surrounding islands and communities of Puget Sound by water. Several large ferry docks and restaurant-laden wharfs had been built on pilings extending out into Puget Sound. We walked about enjoying the waterfront and its busy activities. The 3-masted, Ecuadorian, tall-ship “Guayas” was moored along the Elliot's Oyster House wharf. We watched and admired the old, wooden, nautical beauty. She has five levels of sails on her main and mizzenmasts, and a large spanker, lateen-rigged on her royal mast. A band was playing something latin and fast paced. The ship' s company was tending to the grand old lady. Under full sail, she must appear cloud-like as she floats across the Pacific.
The hunger monster was summoning us so we decided to try Elliott's Oyster House for a late lunch. It was a good choice. The place is woody and nautical in appearance.
We enjoyed huge bowls of a delicious crab chowder and the “Elliott house salad,” all washed down by cold Corona Beer. It was wonderful. From Elliot's, we wandered along harbor- side, watching the profusion of tourists wandering busily in and out of souvenir shops, the
aquarium and any number of other food kiosks and gut stuffing emporiums. This area is a busy place.
Though tiring, we decided to push on along the wharf and explore superficially, the birthplace of Seattle, Pioneer Square. The architecture here is both eclectic and interesting. Most of it dates from the late 1800's. Our first impressions, late in the afternoon, were less than positive. Panhandlers, riff-raff and lay abouts seemed to dominate the squares and streets of the area. A large, leaf covered square, and adjacent pedestrian shop area, looked interesting. The small park boasted bronze statues of firefighters in action and other ornate metal work that we planned on returning to see. Lots of inexpensive ethnic restaurants and plenty of saloons also give color to the area. We returned later in the week to explore Seattle's “Underground,” but more about that later.
We were tiring from the day however, and decided that discretion is the better part of exploratory valor. We headed back to the Crowne Plaza to call it a day. A vodka martini took the edge off the travel weariness, as we settled in to read ( “Dropshot” Harlan Coben) and relax. We enjoyed watching the changing light tableau, from our hotel room, as it played across the mountains
around us. We were glad to be here. Morpheus summoned and we responded gratefully to his embrace.
Tuesday 7/23/02. Seattle, Washington
We were up early at 6 A. M., still on EST. We had coffee in the room and watched the early morning news. I called the office to make sure the vandals weren't looting the place and then we set out for an early morning visit to Pike's Market.
It sits on First Avenue, at the foot of Pike Street, and runs for three blocks, along Western Ave., with a commanding view of the bay. The first part of the market we encountered is a huge fish market, already abustle with activity. The workers performed for the small crowds by throwing fish to each other and carrying on. The display of fresh salmon, octopus, and all manner of Fruiti di Mari is appetizing. Along the corridor of stalls, several fresh flower vendors were setting up their display in a profusion of color and fragrance. The visitors were few at this hour, so we got to see and enjoy many of the tastes and smells of the market without the confusion of the usual throngs that crowd here daily. Two smaller fish markets, and tables for a flea-market sales, fleshed out the remaining space along Western Ave. On the floor below, are located antique shops and all manner of curiosity and gift emporiums. Most were still closed at this early hour. We found the original Starbucks coffee shop across the street from the market. We stopped in to this caffeine shrine to partake of the nectar from the original font. It was old fashioned, yet unprepossessing. A small brass marker in the store commemorated the company's founding date as 1971.
At the end of the market, overlooking the bay, sits a small park decorated with a few native totem polls. It also is the apparent nightly resting-place for a score of homeless and miscreants. We sat there for a time, uncomfortable as always around those who had lost their way. From the Park, we wandered back along the market street watching the rising activity levels as the morning waned. We stopped at “Panier” a small French bistro, where we had chocolate eclairs and café au lait, while sitting and watching the busy activities of the market.
From the market, we walked up to First Ave and the “Harbor steps.” They are a series of broad, ascending concrete steps with several terraces. Each level holds shops, shrubbery, flowers and places to sit and watch the flow of people going by, much like the Spanish steps in Rome. Backtracking to the “Elliot's Oyster House” pier, we were just in time to watch the aforementioned tall-ship, Guayas, unfurl her sails, raise anchor and sail from port. Her crew climbed the rigging and stood along the five levels of masts high above the deck, resplendent in their colorful uniforms. They unfurled sails at every mast to form a triangular, lateen-rigged fashion that produced a “row of diamonds” effect in the rigging. The ship's band was playing a lively salsa tune, as this white oak beauty drifted out into the harbor, headed for her next adventure. News helicopters cruised overhead and throngs of tourists, in a shutter clicking army, watched this slice of nautical history drift off into the bay. We were pleased that we had come upon her. Waterfronts are like that, there is always something interesting happening at all hours of the day.
Next to Elliotts, is a kiosk for “Argosy Tours.” We signed up for a two-hour cruise of Lake Union and the Ballard Locks. ($30 each) A bus ferried us over to Lake Union where we boarded the “Goodtimes III,” a fair sized, double-decked tourboat. As we left dock, we watched several small passenger seaplanes, from Kenmore Air, land and take off on the smooth waters around us. It was picturesque viewing the graceful craft land like oversized ducks on a pond. The surrounding lakeside property is filled with a mix of high-rise condos, some bio tech industries and a hodge podge of commercial activity. The sun was shining. It was in the 80's and a beautiful day to be out on a boat. We sat topside and enjoyed the ride. Through the Fremont cut, we saw commercial shipping, dry docks and marinas in a huge profusion of floating vessels of all types and sizes, both commercial and recreational. This city's lifeblood is the water.
We waited for a few minutes before we pulled into the Ballard Locks and began the process that would drop us 26 feet from Lake Union to the level of Puget Sound. It is interesting to watch the ship descend, with all manner of tourists on the walkways around us, staring curiously at the regular spectacle that locks have become. The barnacles and the slime covered walls marked our progress to the lower levels. Finally, the huge hydraulic doors swung open and we were out into the narrow causeway that would lead us into Puget Sound. Clusters of expensive homes marked the channel as a “place to be.” “Ray's” a popular seafood house stood mutely on the shore, waiting for its nightly horde of seafood chompers.
Puget Sound itself beckoned us, this long and narrow expanse of ocean that can run to 1,000 feet in depth along the Washington Coastline. We motored along listening to the narration of the City's founding and the corny jokes from the guide. The real attraction was the sea and the sky above as the waves rocked our passage. A lazy sea lion was perched on a channel buoy and clowned for an appreciative audience. The “west channel light” is picturesque, as were the surrounding hills and shoreline.
Seattle, from the water, if beautiful. The graceful Space Needle, its many hi -rise buildings and its brisk sea industry all sparkled in the noon day sun. Several large dry-dock cranes, each costing over six million dollars, stood like gangly orange-colored prehistoric birds feeding along the shore line. They attested to the commercial viability of the oceanfront. Seattle is an enormous port for the transshipment of sea/land cargo containers from the Pacific-rim countries. A huge array of Asian manufactured goods arrives here daily and is then shipped by rail throughout the United States. The Pioneers knew rightly that the seaport is the source of Seattle's wealth. How could they possibly ever envision Boeing and Microsoft, two industries and inventions as yet unborn at Seattle's founding.?
We docked wharfside at the “crab pot.” Several small restaurants and a children's arcade insured a continuous array of customers. We chose the “Crabpot” as less congested for lunch. Clam chowder and salad, with ice tea were welcomed, though not the quality of Elliots.
From the Crabpot, we walked up the Harbor steps to First Avenue, to the Seattle Art Museum. It was hosting a small exhibition of French, Impressionist paintings. The collection itself was of middling quality, but we enjoyed three wonderful Monet's. One depicted a fiery horizon, another a gray, pastel castle and the last more like his normal style, a bright pastel rendition of flowers. Another colorful Degas caught our eye. In a leafy green haze, a pretty danseuse drifted across a French stage. The man must have really enjoyed his subjects. The exhibit even held a passable (and intelligible)Picasso from his 'blue period.” We counted ourselves fortunate to see these works.
After the Art Museum, we drifted up Pike Street. The Pacific Center, City Center, Rainier Square and a core of pricey and hi fashion shops are interspersed with restaurants, coffee shops and all manner of commercial activity. The city is alive and bustling. We bought some decent Merlot and a good cork screw in Union Square and then headed back to the room for some R & R. It was sunny, hot and 87 degrees out.
A glass of Merlot and a one-hour nap, recharged us. We set out at 7 P.M. for a stroll along Sixth Avenue. It was awash with shoppers, people and vehicular traffic, attesting to Seattle's wealth and economic vigor. At 7th and Pine, we found and decided to try the “Oceannaire Sea Food Room.” It is nautical, pricey and comfortable. We settled in for a seafood platter and crab cakes. They were both delicious and filling. The place was crowded, despite the pricey menu. Microsoft and Boeing must draw them in by the throngs.
After dinner, we wandered along the shops and through the open expanse of the four-story atrium in the Pacific Center. The shops were open until nine P.M. and customers wandered in and out, even at this late hour. This is a downtown similar to New York or San Francisco in its commercial vigor. It was warm out at 85 degrees and muggy, as we walked back to our aerie to sip more wine, read our books and drift off to the sandman's call.
Wednesday, 7/24/02- Seattle, Washington
We were up at 6:00 A.M. read the USA Today, watched the television news and had coffee in the room. It was 64 degrees and cloudy out. I checked in at the office and the vandals had yet to realize I was away.
We walked amidst the hurried workers, along 5th Avenue, and stopped by the Starbucks in Union Square for a morning jolt and to sit and watch the busy tableau of downtown Seattle. FAO Swartz, Tiffany's and several other fashionable boutiques were already drawing in the trade.
Nearby, on the third level of City Center, we boarded the elevated mono rail that would take us out to the Space Needle and Seattle Center. It is a short ride of a mile or two and we enjoyed looking out over the surrounding streets. At Seattle Center, we walked through a large indoor arcade and food court. The graceful and towering Space Needle is the main attraction here, but there is also a Music center dedicated to Jimmy Hendriks, a Seattle native , an inter active Science Center for children and various outdoor rides and attractions for the Piccolo Mostri.
The Center area is really designed for families with children. We ambled about enjoying the cool morning air and the relative quiet of the park areas.. A new opera theater was under construction nearby. We passed on the ride up the Space Needle. People aren't meant to ride in glass elevators up tall needles, not without good drugs anyway.
We had hoped to explore the City's Fremont section, a lively Bohemian area of good shops and restaurants. We started walking in the general direction of the Aurora Ave Bridge, but soon realized that the walk would be several miles and we would be too tired when we finished. We reversed course to the Center and hopped the monorail for the quick ride back downtown.
The Fifth Avenue Café drew us in for coffee and bagels as the crush of noontime office workers swirled around us. The beauty of the Pacific Center attracted us and we wandered amidst the many attractive shops in its four-story open atrium, enjoying the hustle and bustle of the day. Barnes and Nobles was good for a browse and then we stopped by the St. John Knits store on fifth. It has beautiful clothes, but is pricier than ice cubes in Panama.
The traffic was busy along Fifth, as it heads out to Rte. # 5. It was warm and sunny out as we headed back to the hotel for R & R. We read some ( Body & Soul- Frank Conroy) and then succumbed to a one-hour conversation with Ozzie Nelson ( nap).
In the late afternoon, we walked back over Sixth to the Pacific Center where we saw “Road to Perdition” in its fourth level Movie Theater. The idea of showing movies, on a Tuesday night in the down town area, and then seeing lots of patrons there is novel to us. We enjoyed the movie and wished we could do the same at home.
After the movie, we stopped by the “Desert Fire,” a Tex-Mex restaurant in the mall. We had some pretty decent seafood taco dinners with Corona beer. We dined al fresco on their fourth level exterior balcony and watched the birds and the sky over head. Downtown Seattle holds many small treasures like this one. We were glad to be here.
On the way back to our hotel, we enjoyed watching the many dinner patrons and after hours commandos who populated the shops and cafes along fifth and fourth Avenues. The night was balmy and we reluctantly repaired to our 29th floor aerie to read and relax. We slept like dead logs in a swamp.
Thurs. 7/25/02- Seattle, Washington
We arose at 7 A.M., had coffee and read USA today as we watched the morning news and the riotous roller coaster of the stock market, as it caught the nation' s attention. It was cloudy and a cool 60 degrees outside.
Walking along First Avenue, we browsed
the ethnic restaurants and saloons that led into the Pioneer Square area. A sign on a lamp post directed us to “Underground tours.” A ticket kiosk, in an older building, signed us up for a tour. We sat in a gold rush era, western saloon and sat through an interesting, 20 minute talk on the City's history. The narrator made many humorous references to the lack of plumbing pressure and the reverse pressure in that system at low tide. That same problem, high tide, eventually forced the city's founders to begin constructing raised walkways and then raised streets. This process eventually buried the first floor sections of many of the older buildings, giving rise to the “underground city” of Seattle. The “underground” is a series of connected basements in pioneer district buildings that are linked together and rented from the various buildings owners to the tour operator. We saw and heard more of the humorous anecdotes about the city's early history. The many soiled doves, of that era, all listed “seamstress” as their profession in the early surveys of the city's history. It once boasted 650 fully employed seamstresses in Seattle, a very well dressed population for the frontier. The quality of the “stitching” apparently determined the price. Madam Lou was the premier entrepreneur of the era. Her “sewing circle” was both large and regionally acclaimed for its labors.
The guide gave us the genesis of the Seattle name. A local chief, whose name sounded something like “Seattle,” was paid $500 a year for the use of his name for the remainder of his life. It was a device to secure the good will of the local tribes. Most thought the elderly chief would pass on in a few years. The 65-year-old chief confounded the larcenous settlers by living another twenty years and collecting for every one of them.
As we walked through the underground, I thought that an engineer or an architect would much appreciate what I was seeing. Vaulted arches of bricks were the underpinnings for many of the areas outdoor sidewalks above us, some crowned with colored glass. Bracing and short I-beams held the structural walls both apart and erect from the constant threat of earthquakes. Finally, at tour's end, we wandered through the small museum and gift shop. A series of photos and displays detail the many anecdotes we had heard on the tour. The original mayors, saw mill owners and other notorious frontier characters are all duly set down in several works available for purchase.
From the underground, we walked along the streets of the Pioneer District enjoying the late nineteenth century architecture and looking in the older hops and restaurants. At “Terrafazlione Itaila,” we enjoyed some very good Panini's and mineral water ($16). We sat for a time in the pedestrian square and enjoyed people
watching. Further down First Ave., we espied a small Internet café and stopped in to send several messages, through the ether of cyber space, to friends and business acquaintances back east.
At First and Pike, we walked down the Harbor steps and across the crowded waterfront. People were eating, strolling and enjoying the nice weather. The Pike Street Hill climb led us back to the Public Market. It was awash with tourists and shoppers of every kind, shape and manner. We fought the stream of people for a time and then settled in for another chocolate éclair and café au lait at the Panier across from the market. We were glad that we had seen the market in the early morning hours
before the crowds descended. Walking North on Pike, we sat for a time in Westlake Square and listened to a bag piper playing “amazing grace. “ This area too was awash with shoppers, tourists and workers scurrying hither and yon. We browsed the Ann Taylor loft and then headed back to our room for a late afternoon conversation with Mr. Nelson.
In the early evening we headed out across Sixth looking for a place for dinner. The SeattleMariners were playing in town tonight and the rush of traffic and people was considerable. Most of the restaurants, including our intended stop, the Cheesecake Factory, were loaded to the gunnels with patrons. We settled for the much quieter “Pike Street Café,” in the Sheraton Hotel and had some decent shrimp & mussels over angel hair pasta, with a glass of Merlot. It was very good.
We wandered back along the busy streets, stopping in the West Gate Mall to browse shops and buy some trinkets for people back home. It was warm and in the 70's out. We were tiring with the day and so headed back to our Crowne Plaza aerie to read, sip another glass of wine and drift off to slumber land. It had been a very nice day in Seattle.
Joseph Xavier Martin