We were in Seattle last week, for Matt’s first week at Amazon. He had to come down for orientation and other meetings and I tagged along for a change of scenery. I came because I love Seattle and while I’ve been to this city more times than I can count, it’s usually only for a couple of days – a business trip or a concert or something like that. The opportunity to spend a week down there, working remotely and checking out neighbourhoods and cafes and wandering around was too much for me to pass up.
And I came because I thought the change of scenery would make the transition a little easier. Matt’s started a job, in an office, so that’s obviously a big change for him but it affects me pretty profoundly as well. We’ve been working together for almost 2 years now and for the last year that’s been out of our home. I’ve gotten used to sitting beside him at our desk all day so tomorrow when I sit down and start work by myself it’s going to feel a little weird. And then there is Adience, which I am running now. So much is different and a lot of things are up in the air. What do I do with my day? With my company? Do we move to Seattle? If so, when? Where? When can I pack? They have handlers for this kind of thing but who handles the handler? It’s in my blood (or at least my neuroses) to collect information and organize and plan. I’m looking at a spreadsheet of Seattle with the things I want to see divided up by Neighbourhood, Time of Day, and Rating. I’m good at this. What I’m not good at is waiting. No one ever called me patient and being poised to go in one of 16 different directions at any moment is a special kind of awful. Nevermind Caesar’s foretelling about the ides, what gets me is the uncertainty.
We’ll know more soon, we keep saying, but for now, we’re in Seattle. Or at least we were.
Seattle is so grey. Dishwater grey. Tom Robbins, local author and the envy of weathermen describes the sky as like “the color of Edgar Allen Poe’s pajamas” or “cottage cheese that had been dragged nine miles behind a cement truck,” or “passages from Les Miserables, threadbare and gray.” He’s so right – I’m from Vancouver and I’m telling you that this place is grey. Somehow I didn’t notice how persistent it was before. But at least it didn’t rain much, so I’ve been able to go running in the morning and explore some neighbourhoods that I’d previously only driven through. I like it a lot. It’s impossible not to compare it with Vancouver, as two large North American cities on the wet coast are cut from a very similar cloth but there are as many differences as similarities. It’s grittier, with more old neighbourhoods, old neon and ghost walls because they haven’t torn down all of their old buildings. There’s more art, but also more traffic. There’s lots of Mexican food, but not so much Chinese, Japanese or Korean. Our aquarium is better but theirs has a more awesome Great Pacific Octopus tank. Our music doesn’t compare with what happens in Seattle garages and oh, how I love Happy Hour.
- Downtown: Not a candidate for neighbourhoods we would live in (or even that are new to me, for that matter), but an area that I’ve spent a lot of time in because that’s usually where I’ve stayed. I went running through downtown a couple of times (and realized just how steep those hills really are) and visited the library quickly before checking out Pike Place Market, a place that I try to make a point of going to regularly – to check out what’s in season or to get a snack. This time I also went to the Seattle Aquarium for the first time and was a bit disappointed in the layout and some of the displays but as I mentioned above, they have a very prominent octopus tank with an octopus “crossing” and the most active Great Pacific Octopus I’ve ever seen, in captivity or out. I don’t know if that’s normal for it (they do do a public feeding there) but it was worth the price of admission and the migraine from the screaming children. We also ate downtown one night, at RN74, a Michael Mina steakhouse. The cocktails were some of the best we had all week and the food was good too but I think I’d rather just sit in the lounge and snack next time.
- Ballard: I spent the early morning walking along the water and visiting the locks before settling into a cafe on the high street. Ballard has a busy main street with a movie theatre, a Walgreens, lots of coffee shops and restaurants, etc. and then a historic area with boutique shops, restaurants and bars that reminds me a lot of Gastown. People were nice, although the wifi in the cafe was close to unusable and everywhere I wanted to eat was either closed for lunch or closed on Mondays (or both). I had lunch at Bitterroot, a BBQ and smoker restaurants and then Matt and I went back for dinner at Ocho which is a Spanish tapas place that makes their own amaro and absinthe and has a tiki cocktail party on Monday nights. Our friends from Canada who now live in Seattle called it “squeaky clean” in terms of crime but with its working shipyard and metalworking mixed in with both boutique and mainstream businesses, it felt more real to me than Gastown somehow. It’s pretty far from downtown over only one bridge, and not super close to the freeway either but I liked it the best.
- Capitol Hill: Grungy and gritty but lots of cool shops and restaurants. This is the neighbourhood that I’ve spent the most time in so I know it pretty well but that just means it has some of my favourite places in it; Quinn’s, Canon Whiskey and Bitters Emporium, Barrio and Tango. It’s full of art galleries and tattoo shops and an excellent bookstore. Because I’m usually here in the evening, I wanted to check it out in the daytime and went to Boom Noodle for lunch. It was my first foray into Seattle Japanese and not bad, but a pan-Japanese chain is only going to be so good. Afterwards, I took a wander through Melrose Market, which is as close a thing to something I think every neighbourhood should have – butcher, cheese shop, sandwich shop, flower shop, full-service bar and wine shop, cocktail bar and a small restaurant. I could totally live here. It seems unlikely that we would find a place with a garage in such an urban hood, but not impossible. Close to downtown and freeways.
- Fremont: Quirky and cool with lots of public art projects and a couple of good restaurants. It has one of my favourite restaurants in it – Revel – but I didn’t go there this time. Instead, I decided to continue on the Japanese theme and checked out Chiso for happy hour which was an actual disappointment. a gift from the chef of some marinated salmon and onions that was okay but not meant to be cold, followed by a roll and actual bite-size pieces of sashimi that I liked the idea of for a snack but the chef seemed drunk and no one thought it was unreasonable that it took 20 minutes for the gyoza to arrive. For dinner, I grabbed a sandwich from Paseo but I think I can only handle one giant, incredibly sloppy sandwich a week and I had already had a pulled pork sandwich and a cheesesteak by this point. Fremont felt a lot like Commercial Drive to me, there’s a used bookstore but not too many stores and although I didn’t see anything notable, I got the feeling that there is a strong sense of community here. Close to downtown and freeways.
- Wallingford: I’m sort of lumping Wallingford in with Fremont, except that it’s more residential and closer to the university. I didn’t eat there or do any wandering but I did drive through it a couple of times. Close to downtown and freeways.
- Montlake: A residential area pretty close to downtown that our friends recommended we check out. I only drove through it so didn’t see a high street but the houses were nice and didn’t seem too ostentatious, so that’s all good. Plus it’s close to the dive shop.
- Green Lake: Pretty far from downtown but a truly beautiful neighbourhood centred around a lake with lots of activity on it – boats, joggers, dogs, etc. It’s also close to the dive shop and freeways but I didn’t see any shops and the only restaurant I saw was a generic Chinese (i.e.: white people Chinese) restaurant in a pagoda-shaped building, so it might be too much of a transition for us (me).
- Madrona: I set out determined to like Madrona because it’s a cool name and the name of an excellent dive site in Nanaimo and also because they have a full-service wine bar and shop, which is another thing awesome about the America that we can’t have here, but it turned out to be very residential and moneyed. The streets are beautiful with large shade trees and shore access and I can’t wait to come through here on the Ducatis but I don’t feel like it would suit us at all.
- Queen Anne: Do not like. Lots of churches, lots of gift shops, lots of self-righteous stuck up women who don’t really work. Is it fair to say that? I had an awesome lunch at the Mezcaleria Oaxaca and then spent some time checking out the high street before settling into a cafe to work. The first gift shop was Christian and no one made eye contact. In the second gift shop, the owner and her staff were addressing how a pie cutter was the cutest thing they had seen in their LIVES but it was far too sharp to be in a drawer in case a child got a hold of it. The bookshop was full of motivational books – although they did also have a copy of Lucky Peach – and I was about to buy a couple of items but the woman working behind the counter kept complaining about how she had to move her car every two hours and had already gotten two $100 parking tickets that month (the free parking on the street is limited to 2 hours, for short-term visitors. There are parkades available for people who are willing to pay for them). Very steep hills (which means views) and nice houses. It’s ostensibly close to downtown and freeways, but only on certain streets. I got turned around three times trying to get there (albeit without a map).
- Belltown: We ate at Mama’s Mexican Kitchen with some friends which I’ve been to before and is decent. The decor is eclectic and fun and two grandfather guitarists were making the rounds singing to the crowd. Afterwards, we went to The Rabbit Hole for some whiskey and skeeball. Skeeball! I asked Matt before we left if I should change but he was too bagged from work to play so we’ll have to go back. Also, I want to take him to SPUR – a gastropub I love – and some of the other speakeasies around there. Close to downtown and freeways but it’s both a little too polished and gritty for my liking. We’re up to our ears in gentrification in Gastown and it would be nice to take a break from that for a while.