Sunday, May 13, 2012

Truth In Advertising

Pop quiz: If someone mentions Seattle, what do you think of? Rainy days? Natural beauty? Coffee? Fish tossing? Grunge music?

It’s all true.

I can vouch, as I just returned from a business trip to The Emerald City (the city’s nickname, as voted on by the residents in 2007). Except something odd happened – it was sunny all three days I was there. The locals assured me that was an anomaly. A quick check of Wikipedia seemed to confirm, as Seattle is said to average only 79 sunny days a year.

Weather aside, it was a fantastic trip. Just to get the business out of the way, I was there to meet with their public transit executives on a technological project they implemented a few years back. However, that’s a great segue into one of the great positives of the city: Awesome mass transit. Unlike its west coast brethren Los Angeles and San Francisco, a car is not a necessity in Seattle. 1,500 local buses, 225 routes, express routes, a light rail line, streetcars, ferries…even a monorail that runs from the Space Needle to the light rail station in the heart of downtown. That was a remnant from the 1962 World’s Fair, but it is far from a tourist thing to do – it is a vital link from the north end of downtown. This network sets the framework for an urban/urbane environment the locals love.

Seattle sits between two large bodies of water – Lake Washington to the east and Puget Sound to the west. Beyond the water are snow-capped mountain ranges. The city itself is rather hilly as the shin splits I am nursing can attest. The downtown area is quite compact, which makes getting around convenient. Getting in and out of downtown? Different story. You got I-5 and I-90, and they’re packed.

So…ride the bus. Everyone else does.

Pike’s Market is the focal point of downtown. Down by the water (meaning downhill from the city – wear good walking shoes), Pike’s seems to be the social gathering spot, a great place to pick up some fresh flowers, crabs or fish. And yes. They do toss the fish there. Gladly. The locals revel in the attention they get and like to put on a show. In fact,  I asked Brandon, one of the tossers, if he would throw one for me while I filmed it. He asked, ‘Are you ready for it?’ Now, I’ve been in a lot of cities. When I hear a phrase like that, I reach for my wallet, as being ‘ready for it’ is code for, ‘Slip me a twenty and I’ll toss fish all day, Tourist.’
But that’s not what Brandon meant. He meant ‘Is your camera ready?’ It was, and he was. There went the fish. And back at him. Fun stuff.

We took the ferry ride from downtown to Bremerton, a bucolic hamlet on the other side of the Sound. And again, this isn’t a tourist thing – the ferry is a mode of transportation, as many downtown workers live on the other side of the Sound. Eight bucks round trip. Twenty minute ride. And awesome views the whole way.

Most everyone knows Starbucks started in Seattle. It also seems to end there as well, as there is a coffee shop on damn near every corner- - many of them Starbucks, but also upstarts like Seattle’s Best, have infiltrated the market. Without a doubt, the drink of choice in Seattle is a double latte.

I mentioned the Space Needle earlier. If you go, you must do the Space Needle. The only thing better than seeing the city from the water or Pike’s Market is from 520 feet in the air. On a clear day you can see Mount St. Helens over 200 miles away…so said Jay, the bartender at the restaurant at the top. But as it is you cannot beat the view. I planned to hang up there for a half hour. I stayed four hours.

Seattle is a heavily taxed city. Gas was $4.39 a gallon when I was there, in comparison to the $3.59 back here in Orlando. Sales taxes are high as well. Funny…I didn’t hear a lot of grumbling about that while I was there. Maybe it is because the locals know what they’re getting for their money.

Or maybe it’s because they know they are living in a beautiful city with wonderful urban amenities. This is reflected in their attitude, as they, or at least the ones I came in contact with, are a happy, contented, caffeinated bunch.

I could so live there.

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