In December of 2011, I became the first of my immediate family to set my feet down on the soggy green earth that is the Pacific Northwest. I was there to take an advanced class on a wind power engineering software program, courtesy of work.
The quest begins at Oakland International Airport at the early hour of 10am on a Sunday. From there I hopped a bird north. Not being used to short flights, the hour and a half trip flew by (haha, get it?) and I landed at Sea-Tac shortly after 11:30. During the descent, I snapped this beautiful picture. It was December, but there was no snow to be seen. In fact, it looked like a late fall scene in New England with red trees and evergreens sparkling with fresh rain. The sharp peaks of the evergreens dotted the skyline in front of clouds growing out of the ground, a scene which placed my mind somewhere between New Hampshire and a version of Canada I’ve only seen in photographs. After disembarking, I hopped into a taxi and headed for downtown. Sea-Tac is unfortunately a 20 minute drive from the city but luckily cab fares look lovely on expense reports. I was dropped off at the Sheraton in the center of downtown and found my way up to my room. My beautiful beautiful room, with its marble tiled bathroom, king size bed, 36″ television (with Showtime!), and a stunning (as stunning as one can get on the 5th floor) view of the west. I spent no time settling in, threw my camera into my peacoat and hit the streets.
First stop, the Space Needle, of course. Being the spry young fellow that I am, I decided to walk there. After all, it was only a mile and a half and it was a beautiful partly cloudy day! 5 minutes into my stroll down 5th Avenue and it starts to drizzle. That’s okay, I packed my umbrella… but I did not bring it along with me. D’oh! I continued to snap pictures, though, and I caught a pic of this thing on my way. Someone else was walking towards me at the time, looking over at it as well, and he seemed just as confused as I was.
A few steps underneath the Monorail tracks later and I arrive at a street corner; something about the trees there reminded me of Troy in the winter. I found a pizza place and settled in for lunch. I ate my fill whilst watching some Sunday game of ‘Murican Football. The place is called “Zeek’s” and it was tasty. (That’s some good description there, chief) After lunch I sauntered on through a neat little plaza between two white buildings covered in very green glass to emerge at the foot of the Seattle Space Needle.
I filled up my camera with pics of this 60’s relic and meandered to the ticket line for my pass to the top. It was empty, which I’ve heard doesn’t happen much. I blame the rains. The walkway to the elevators is a circular path that slowly inclines as it spirals around the bottom of the inside of the tower. Very 60’s. The elevators are glass backed, which becomes a nice vantage point as they scale the Needle’s outside. Once at the top, I run outside and was immediately overcome with that horrible butterfly stomach feeling. See, the observation deck of the Space Needle is, as I just said, outside. It had just rained, so the deck was covered in water droplets. For some reason, and I don’t think it’s psychological, I swear the deck was inclined so I felt as though I was being pushed toward the edge. Wonderful! It was also freezing. (remember, December) At least the view was nice! Who am I kidding, it was incredible. You could see the sun breaking through the clouds over the port, the Olympic mountains beyond Puget Sound, the skyline of nearby Bellevue across Lake Washington, and of course, downtown Seattle. Mount Rainier, the glorious dormant volcano, was obscured by clouds. (annoyed grunt) I enjoyed the sights from up there for about half an hour before I headed down to do some random Christmas shopping in the gift shop. I walked out of the store with my pockets stuffed with Space Needle merch; I had a hard time not feeling like a thief as my peacoat bulged.
From the Space Needle I walked down toward the waterfront, for no reason but to explore. I stumbled upon the Olympic Sculpture Park, a nice manicured piece of land wedged between the city, the water, and with a railway running through the center of it. So many of my favorite things! Immediately a freight train barreled through and I was absolutely thrilled. I took a walk along the waterfront toward a train yard, taking a sip of the Puget Sound on the way. There was a nice big CN locomotive there looking like it was going to head off downtown at any second, but it did not. Growing bored and acknowledging that daylight in winter is fleeting, I headed back south along the piers that dot the harbor. Something about this part of town reminded me of a more temperate San Francisco or a springtime Boston. As I walked along Alaskan Way, I hear rumbling behind me. To my excitement, the aforementioned locomotive had found some friends and was roaring toward me. It slipped away down underneath the city somewhere, but I captured its soul in my point-and-shoot.
A short time later I came upon the famed Pike Place Market. The Boston feeling was very much alive here. Pike Place is a lot like Faneuil Hall, but longer and perhaps even more crowded. I stopped by the fish market to watch the men throw their fish, checked out the wall of gum at Post Alley, and walked up the longest single straight staircase I’ve ever seen. The shops in the area were wonderful; if I were rich I would decorate my house in Northwest Native American art, but alas I am not.
By now it was late in the day, so I retreated to the hotel. After dark I made my way over to a local bar and grille to dine on my company’s dime. Why yes, I will have a steak. mmmm delicious! To complete my Sunday I indulged in the penultimate episodes of two of my favorite shows: Dexter and Homeland. I was so very happy my hotel had Showtime. I slept in the glow of the city, the giant buildings glowing through my giant windows. I wish I could have had that view in my bedroom everywhere.
Monday and Tuesday were uneventful. I spent both days inside the hotel at my training class. There were only five other students in there with me, but they were much older and far more experienced in the world of wind energy. When class was over on Monday I booked it down to the waterfront. It was a gloriously sunny day and I didn’t want to miss the sunset. I didn’t, and it was perfect. I grabbed dinner at a nearby Vietnamese/Chinese place and spent the rest of the night exploring downtown. It was two weeks before Christmas and everywhere was lit with colored lights and bright displays. I spent the following night doing the same, this time trying some tricks with my camera. It was then that I snapped one of my favorite pictures.
Something about it seems to capture everything about my experience in Seattle. I get goosebumps just looking at it.
Wednesday rolls around and it’s time to mingle. With the class over, I was now going to be attending the AWEA Wind Resource & Project Energy Assessment Seminar, which happened to be taking place in my very hotel. What a coincidence! Being a wind energy rookie, I spent most of my time observing, chatting with a few people here and there who were manning booths for companies with which I was familiar. After a little while I took a seat in the back of the main hall and settled in to be seminar-ed. I really had no idea what anyone was talking about. The speakers were obviously very smart, very experienced in the field. The more notes I took, the more I realized I was missing some sort of fundamentals on the topics at hand. I gave up when they declared that the presentations would be available to download after. (And I did indeed download them). Not long into the second session however, I received a text from one of my coworkers that she was leaving the company. This hit me hard, especially since we had, in the previous 3 weeks, lost three others. I was a bit shaken and confused and was struggling to pay attention during the rest of the lecture. As fate would have it, this bad news was followed by one of the simplest, but most rewarding things I’d ever done.
We broke for lunch, and not one to jump to the front of the line for food, I instead headed up to my room to freshen up. I returned to find quite a long line, so I decided to take up a spot in the back of the queue. I was immediately joined by a young woman, someone who seemed to be almost a contemporary, closer to my age. Instead of being a socially awkward penguin bored in the queue, I struck up a quick chat with this woman. She seemed slightly confused, but the moment she responded I quickly realized that English was not her first language. She was, in fact, not from the United States at all. This was surprising to me; after all, we were at an AmericanWind Energy Association seminar. Her name badge revealed that she was in fact from Switzerland, and she told me how her company sent her here to learn about wind resource assessment. Awesome!
I don’t really know what happened after that, but we ended up eating lunch together at a table with a group of guys from Colorado. They were barely there though, just blurs in my periphery. The two of us chatted about Europe, ‘Murica, work, culture, stuff like that. I don’t even know why it was so awesome, but it was. We spent most of the breaks together, continuing this all-over-the-place conversation until that night when we headed out to dinner with some more new acquaintances. The next day is even more of a blur. There were more lectures about wind resources, including one by a hilarious British gentleman, but the science was all over my head. The young woman from Switzerland was taking copious notes, so I’m sure she’s far smarter than I am. The notes were even in English. Super awesome.
Eventually, the seminar was over. The awkward penguin overtook me, since I suck at saying goodbye to people. Somehow I found it in myself to
drag invite her to dinner with me, which ended up being one of the best dinners I’ve ever had. It was at the hotel restaurant and I ordered a plate of fettuccine alfredo with a glass of the house white wine. I didn’t even finish the pasta; there wasn’t enough time, even though we were there at that table for almost two hours. We were far too busy taking about everything: I explained why America has the greatest collection of geographic features on the planet, she taught me a bunch of words in Swiss German and told me stories about her family and her adventures abroad. There was far more to it than that though, but the finer points escape the delicate grasp of my memory. Too soon came the time where I had to pack up and fly to the airport. I drew it out as long as I could, but we said goodbye (in German, like a boss) and that was it. I have no pictures of her, yet sometimes if I try I can still see her face clear as day. Since that day I’ve become half decent at reading and speaking German, and we even keep in touch through email occasionally. Perhaps we’ll meet again some day. I hope so. I don’t think anybody I’ve known for just 28 hours has ever affected me so much. And it amazes me that all of this came from an innocuous chat in the queue for lunch.
So, thus concludes the tale of my time in Seattle. It started as I planned and ended in a way I could not have possibly anticipated. I’d like to go back someday, but I fear nothing could beat the experience of my first trip. It really was quite wonderful.