I’ve always thought of Seattle in terms of grunge and the kind of urban culture I imagine could have created these angst-filled and flannel-clad young white guys, reflecting on their sadnesses, fears, and feelings of alienation to the tune of a sludgy, distorted guitar riff.
It’s a different city now, I’m sure, than it was in the 80s and 90s, but after a few days here, I wasn’t so much impressed by Seattle’s grunge-inducing urban grit. This isn’t to say that I wasn’t impressed with the city’s urban scene. We loved the Seattle vibe. The wholesome coolness of Fremont, where we discovered food-lover’s paradises like the Book Larder and Dot’s Delicatessen (must eat: the Spicy Pork Sandwich). The many miles of bike trails and sculpture-filled parks and gardens. The architectural eye candy of the Seattle Center where the Space Needle presides over Gehry’s EMP Museum. The nightlife delights of Capitol Hill—most notably The Unicorn with its twisted French carnival theme and the creative Prohibition-era cocktails at Tavern Law.
And then there’s the comparatively scant population of hipsters on fixies. Here, people really do wear outdoor gear as every day fashion. We fit right in in our touring duds! Seattleites display a confidently blasé approach to fashion paired with an equally confident and exuberant approach to home landscaping. Front yard gardens in every neighborhood are bursting with every unexpected color, texture, scent, and composition. And, contrary to popular belief, we found the people of Seattle to be incredibly warm and friendly (which, according to one new acquaintance, is only because we’re on bikes).
But what surprised and struck us most about Seattle: the water.
Puget Sound and Lake Washington, yes. But there’s also the Ship Canal, Lake Union, Portage Bay, the Montlake Cut, a handful of other lakes, a few rivers, virtually countless creeks and streams. The water is endless. It’s constantly moving. And it’s complex. It’s not like the San Francisco Bay, where you can pretty much call it what it looks like. In Seattle, I kept calling lakes rivers, bays lakes, the Sound the open sea.
All of the art and poetry and industry and history we encountered seem to flow from and to these bodies of water with an almost worshipful, or at least reverent, tone. The SEA’s Olympic Sculpture Park holds a few lyrical examples, including Richard Serra’s Wake, gargantuan, undulating, acid-washed steel that gives you the feeling of walking through a gentle but powerful current. The museum’s description reads: “Wake's powerful silhouette belies a complex configuration of parts: the whole cannot be known at once, only experienced with physical movement and progressively over time.”
This pretty well describes my impression of this part of the world. I can’t think of a better way to begin to know it than to move through it by bike.