Just Another Day in West Seattle

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My 2019 encounter in the grocery store with a young man wearing a Venetian plague mask is so uncanny.    Here we are in 2020 and I shop for groceries wearing a plague mask.   Hand-sewn, for COVID19.   It’s all funny in 2020.   I wonder if Venetian plague masks are on-line for ordering?  Here’s my sketch of the incident last year:

April 2019:

It is a lovely spring day.  As I approach Metropolitan Market, I spot girl students wearing sandwich board signs to Save the Wolves.  They want to add me to a list to endorse their cause.  I smile, desist from lecturing that wolves like to deceive girls such as them and belong in fairy tales.

A tall, slender youth strides by.  He wears a long, black leather coat, black boots with spurs.  His face is hidden by a Venetian Plague Mask.  It covers his entire head.

Huh?

Why the mask?  What or who is he hiding from?

This is West Seattle, not Venice.  The 21st century, not the Dark Ages.

Oh wait: maybe I’ve got that wrong.

He walks past the Save The Wolves girls into Met Market.

“Unusual, eh?” I call out to the girls.

“Maybe he is in a school play or something,” one of them says.

“Hadn’t thought of that.”

I had not thought of that.

No.  My first thought, as I enter Met Market:  is this guy packin’?

We live in strange times and what is this guy trying to say or prove with the Venetian Plague Mask, the dark leather coat, the boots?  It’s not Halloween.  Does he have a concealed weapon underneath the costume?   Should I even go into the store?

Maybe I need to lighten up.

I grab a grocery cart, brave going into the store.

Plague Mask peers at me from over a pile of fruit as I squeeze an avocodo.   He turns and walks down another aisle.  The echo of his boots rings in my ears.

Now I have been to Venice but have never been to their carnivals where 16th century Plague Masks are part of the festivities.  To my knowledge, Venetians would not be wearing them to grocery stores.

Again, I wonder:  is this guy packin’?  Will he pull out an AK47 and start shooting?

I better find the store manager.

“There’s a guy walking around here wearing a long, leather coat and a Plague Mask.”

The manager looks at me like I am daft. “A plague mask?”

“You know. Venice. Plague masks. Carnivals.”

“And?”

“Well, it’s weird.  Kind of wonder about him.  Hiding behind a mask.  And his long coat. Maybe he has a concealed weapon.  Just thinking about safety, community.”

“Maybe he’s an actor.”

“That’s what the wolf girls think.”

“The wolf girls?”

“Yeah. The ones that are outside the store.”

The manager shakes his head.  “Lady. Is that the guy?”  He points to the espresso stand.

The young man has removed the Plague Mask.   He holds it in his hand as he chats with the barrista.

“Huh.   OK.   Just another day in West Seattle.”  I smile at the manager and exit.

“Fairy tales,” I declare to the Save the Wolves girls. “That’s where wolves belong.”

It’s All Funny in 2020

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In 1908 in Seattle, a ship called “Corona” launched from downtown Seattle to West Seattle with a full deck of passengers. You can faintly make out “Corona” on the front of this ship which was one among others in the Mosquito Fleet.

The Mosquito Fleet ships were so nicknamed because they were small and quick, flitting from one side of the sound to the other.

While I never sailed on this ghost of the past, I did have a mosquito commute to work on the Sightseer which was pleasant.

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It took only 12 minutes to cross to downtown Seattle and was far preferable to 40-minute bus and car commutes on the West Seattle Bridge.   Less gridlock, less carbon footprints.

Before the Sightseer, I commuted on the Admiral Pete.  Pete was much smaller than the Sightseer.  He was the first water taxi when Seattle re-launched service in 1999.  I used to sit on an open seat in the back and feel the water’s spray against my skin.

But in 2020, things aren’t funny.  We are in lockdown now, with cities across the world in the same situation.

The haunting image of the Italian balcony singers of our Corona days presses me to get outdoors as often as possible.

My husband and I ventured out for a walk to Elliott Bay.  With Purell in our pockets and donning our disposable gloves, we visited the dock where the water taxis moor.

A water taxi was pulling in.   I was curious as to ridership these days, and so I spoke to the ticket taker.  Ridership is down 90%, he said, even though King County is offering rides for free.

Social distancing on the water taxi?  Of course, what was I thinking?  This is the new normal.  It just takes so dang long for me to wrap my mind around it all.

But wait, there’s more!  A few weeks ago, the City of Seattle decided to shut down the West Seattle Bridge for repairs.  There is no timeline for even temporary repairs.  We are in a pandemic and the most heavily trafficked bridge in Seattle is closed?  People are finding alternate routes, adding more time and requiring more patience, as they attempt to get to appointments, buy essentials.

I’d like to say things are funny in 2020.  I’d like to say “bring on the mosquito fleet” so we could all feel salt breezes and avoid gridlock on bridges.

Though I will never feel nostalgic for gridlock, I am nostalgic for mosquito fleets.  But also for bridges — which, after all, were first developed by the ancient Romans.

 

 

 

 

 

Love Rocks!

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Ah, the human spirit!  Witness the West Seattle rooftop dancer at sunset.  Who knows.  Maybe she will start a trend of rooftop dancers just as Italy has its balcony singers to  alleviate the loneliness of COVID-19 social distancing.

Let’s hope that it does not get as bad here as in Italy.  Il mio povero paesani!

In WA State, Governor Inslee and the State Department of Health declared that outdoor activities are recommended, as long as you follow the “social distancing” guidelines.

But how do entire populations stick to guidelines?

In West Seattle, spring fever hit Alki Beach and stirred up controversy.  Social distancing seemed not to be given a thought on March 19.  There were people everywhere, riding bikes, skateboarding, and playing on the beach.  Despite state-wide closures of entertainment, leisure, and “non-essential” services, bike rentals and Alki’s Wheel Fun rentals were still open.

I love bicycling.  I “get it” that all work and no play make Jack and Jill a dull boy and girl.  But COVID-19 is our new normal for awhile.  If we don’t want martial law, we need to behave.

The scene is better at Lincoln Park.  No businesses there, just Nature writ large with its old growth forest and Puget Sound.  Parents, kids on scooters, singles, dog-walkers.  There is a palpable feel of enjoyment, of slowing down and using our senses, smiling at our neighbors (from a safe distance).  Less attention to cell phones, more eye contact.

Wouldn’t it be nice if this became the new normal?

It touches my heart.  Kids are making chalk drawings, writing words such as “Be excellent to each other.”  This is Lincoln Park’s Love Rock:

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Yes.  Love rocks!  Let’s be excellent to each other.   We are all in this together.  We are all struggling to find a new normal.

Bellingham – City of Subdued Excitement

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Strait of Juan DeFuca along base of Chuckanut Drive

Chuckanut Drive, a winding coastal ride on the way to Bellingham, WA, is a gem.  It is Washington State’s equivalent of California’s Big Sur with jaw-dropping glimpses of the sea and mountains along the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The coastal drive to Bellingham and Fairhaven is one of my favorite field trips in WA State.  Evergreens ascend along the twisting road with glimpses of sea, sky, mountains and — what’s this? — a solitary and quaint old house perched on a cliff on the southern part of Chuckanut Drive.

The house belonged to the family of Edward R. Murrow, a WWII radio broadcaster and war correspondent (a predecessor to Walter Cronkite and the like).

Further north there’s Chuckanut Gallery, which allures with local art and a fantastic garden.

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Chuckanut Gallery

 

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Bellingham  is the last city in WA before reaching Vancouver, Canada.  When we moved to Seattle twenty-something years ago, we were intrigued by travel articles about this historical border city which in the mid-1800’s vied with Seattle for becoming the prominent port city.  Seattle, of course, won the title and is NOT subdued in its excitement.

(In fact Seattle’s excitement is more annoyance over crowded highways  and overdevelopment of real estate and Amazon drones and what happened to the Seattle we moved to? …  I could go on but I shall subdue.)

Bellingham, I sure hope you can maintain “subdued,” and keep your charm.

I reminisce…

It was a dark and stormy day — a Sunday — when we first visited you in the 1990’s.  We were on our way to your soup festival.  Hubby had been wise-cracking about the Strait of Juan de Fuca along Chuckanut Drive:  If there were a university here, would it be called  Fuca U?

Hahaha.  I turned to my friend Llana, also a soup fancier, who in fact was a former student at Western Washington University in Bellingham.  Was that the joke when you were here?  Did students call the place Fuca U?

But maybe I didn’t ask her that.  Maybe instead I was distracted by the thick, slanting rain, the charcoal clouds as we climbed Chuckanut Drive.

As we rocked down to Electric Avenue in search of the soup festival, we spotted the sign:  Bellingham.  City of Subdued Excitement.

We could see why.   Other than the community center where we had our soup, not many places were open that Sunday.  The only roadside attraction open was the Whatcom Museum.

They had…are you ready?…an exhibit displaying bicycle reflector art.  We strolled inside and the museum attendant handed us flashlights.

“What are these for,” I asked.

“You shine them on the bike reflectors,” she said.

That was trippy.

It’s not often that I get to Bellingham these days.  Nor the Fairhaven district in Bellingham, which was a popular hippie enclave in the 1960’s.

Here’s more about the city of “subdued excitement” on Bellingham’s Fish & Bicycles site.

Our rainy, Sunday coastal drive and the soup festival and museum seem sweet now.  I think I need a field trip.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Toto, I Don’t Think We’re In Chicago Anymore

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Tree Art I happened upon during a walk in lovely Seattle.

While temperatures in Chicago dropped to Antarctic levels this week, I recall the “good old days.”

When I was a working stiff earning  my livelihood as a Temp, I used to cross the Chicago River on below-zero days.  This gave a new meaning to “working stiff.”  It did not matter if you dressed in down from head to foot like the Michelin Man.  The freezing temperatures penetrated every bone and fiber of my being.

But the current polar vortex seems worse than the child’s play of  “lake effect” snow and winds I experienced several decades ago.

Chicagoans today report hearing “frost quakes” — loud booms that geologists call “cryoseisms.”  Think of a bottle of water in the freezer expanding and exploding.  But it’s the frozen Chicago River making the booming noises which some people mistake for gunfire, furnace explosions, or house break-ins.

Do I miss the City of Big Shoulders?

Well…sometimes.  I have family there.  They are hunkering down, making jokes about it:  “The Lake Street El is so cold they’re hanging sides of beef in it.”

When I hear their humor, I wish I could beam myself in with a plate of warm, homemade cookies.  (If instead of a “frost quake” we have one of our infamous Seattle earthquakes soon, I’m putting in my order for peanut butter cookies topped with a Hershey’s kiss).

Counting my good fortune not to have Chicago’s present weather, I break away and take a walk around Seattle’s Lincoln Park (a far cry from Chicago’s Lincoln Park) where I see Spring buds on the trees and…wait a minute…a face?

That’s right, Dorothy.

At first I feel surprised, happy by my discovery of Mr. Tree Face.  What a magical place Seattle is!

But then I recall how the trees in the enchanted forest turn on Dorothy and her friends, throwing apples at them.  I almost expect my tree to turn on me:  “You gloat that you are able to roam outside without getting frostbite while your big sister and her family are stuck indoors,” he admonishes me.

“I am NOT gloating.  Besides, my famiglia makes jokes about it.  We all love each other.  No more guilt trips!”

At least for now.