May 8, 2021

Dateline – Seattle, Washington

1970s Seattle with Safeco Plaza as the lone downtown skyscraper


Time to check in. All is well. I can tell that I’m pretty unplugged from life because I keep falling asleep if I sit still for more than about five minutes. Nothing terribly exciting has happened the last few days. I’ve had family time, a meeting with my editor (book is on track to be finished and available for purchase by late June), some time with friends, and a lot of napping. It may not be the most action packed of weeks, but I think it’s what I’ve needed. I have two more days here and then will depart on Tuesday for the trek back across the country. I’ve figured out the first two thirds of that based on time, distances, and weather. I’m going to leave the last third up to happenstance when I get there.


Seattle is home and also not. My relationship with the city is very much of the ‘You Can’t Go Home Again’ variety. The Seattle I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s no longer truly exists. It pokes through from time to time like a pentimento but newer trends and sights and people have long since transformed the small city of my childhood into something else. The Seattle of my past was a city of self sufficient neighborhoods, each a village of friends and neighbors who knew and supported each other. Each one had its own small commercial district where the majority of commerce was done. A trip to the mall or downtown was a significant event. The geography of the town – you could only go so far before running into a lake or a ravine – kept the various regions insular and small town feeling.


Downtown, when I was a child, was dominated by the Seattle Center and Space Needle, the old World’s Fair grounds, at one end and Pioneer Square and Smith Tower at the other. There wasn’t all that much in between – a few high rises dating back to the 20s and a lot of undistinguished post war stuff filling in the rest. The Pike Place Market was there, but had not yet become a fish flinging tourist mecca and there was a great deal of discussion about tearing it down as it had become rickety and in poor repair over the years. Things started to change in the early 70s and I can remember pretty much when all of the modern skyscrapers went up, starting with what was the SeaFirst Bank tower (now Safeco Plaza), joined by box after box of chromium steel and tinted windows going up routinely over the next couple of decades until they started to run out of room. Now, as the tech giants expand, more and more buildings are going up South of Lake Union and whole sections of town are unrecognizable.


The huge growth in tech has led to a huge influx of population. The city itself has about 50% more people than the city of my youth. The metro area is nearly twice as populous. As the city is hemmed in by water, it has minimal land area for expansion leading to increasing density, increasing real estate prices, and increased pressure on public goods and services. The neighborhoods of middle class homes are being bulldozed for multifamily dwellings and workingmen’s bungalows are being replaced my large modern homes, often in a horrifically unattractive boxy style that makes them look like a particularly ugly dentist’s office of the 1970s. The rapid increase in rents has pushed many of the poor out of housing entirely and many of the parks and public green spaces are sprouting tent colonies.


Maybe one of the things that keeps me in Birmingham is that the feel of the city is similar to what Seattle once was. When I go out in Birmingham in my part of the city, I am apt to run into friends and acquaintances (at least in non-Covid times). There’s a feeling of community among those of us professionals of a more liberal persuasion who choose to live in the city itself rather than in the suburbs. It’s an urban environment, but small enough to be manageable and for someone like me to feel connected to the life and health of the city as a whole so I can both feel like I can support it and it can support me. I’m not sure that Seattle could do that for me these days.


Seattle, as ground zero for Covid in the long ago days of March, 2020, continues to take things relatively seriously. Most citizens are wearing masks indoors without complaint. Outdoor dining is popular (and it’s warm enough now for it to be comfortable so I’ve been taking advantage of that). The majority of the citizenry is in process of receiving their vaccinations so I haven’t felt unsafe at all during this visit. Vaccination rates, in general, are starting to fall off significantly as those with interest and whom have been pursuing them have achieved their goals. Roughly 1/3 of the population is now totally vaccinated and we’ll hit about 1/2 over the next month as all the vaccinations in process are completed. I figure we’ll end up somewhere around 60%. Not enough for herd immunity by a long shot. What should we do as a society to increase that number? I am uncertain. There are significant ethical and other issues at play with any potential plan. I’m going to cogitate on this a bit and get back to it in another musing.


In the meantime, masks up indoors with others, wash your hands, and keep your distance.

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