On my 30th birthday, I decided to go to Seattle. By myself.
Traveling alone, you ask? Isn’t that dangerous? Now, for much of my life, I’ve always traveled with family. On two occasions, with band mates. It was my first time to travel to America by myself. And yes, it took some consulting with the ghost of a Suquamish shaman to find the courage.
I was living in Vancouver back then. At 4 in the morning, I was half-asleep, half-awake, on an Amtrak bus bound for Seattle. My body was mummified through layers upon layers sweaters. Mind you, February in the Pacific Northwest wasn’t so kind to the nipples.
Streaming past my window was the city’s backstage come to life: factories belching smoke from their stacks and truck drivers hauling the day’s cargo. It’s a wonder how the fog can turn the mundane into something otherworldly.
30 Going On 13
Seattle was fitting enough for my 30th year of dodging the Grim Reaper. It was a weekend to look back on my life, sure. And fittingly, Seattle gave the world the only cassette tape that mattered to me when I was 13. Hey, we’re just the products of our times, aren’t we? My father had Rubber Soul. My cousins had Songs From The Big Chair. I had Nirvana’s Nevermind as my oracle.
The timing couldn’t have been better. An exhibit dedicated to the grunge era had just opened at the Experience Music Project Museum. Color me like teen spirit.
Sunbeams warmed my cheeks. I woke up. We drove past a series of tunnels. Something told me I was not in Vancouver anymore. The architecture had changed. I parted the curtains. The high-rise buildings reminded me of establishing shots from ‘90s action movies. The people changed too—they turned out to be heftier. Maybe in these parts, yoga didn’t quite catch on.
Goodbye, Canada. Hello, America.
Walking Up The Streets
We were dropped off at King Street Station—a terminal straight out of the Edwardian Era. Red brick masonry and fancy marble floors took me back in time. My restroom pit stop was another story, however, encounters with hobos notwithstanding
I came out of the terminal and drew in a sharp breath. Now what did Seattle smell like? Like a newly opened bag of Doritos. Which was explained by a man eating Doritos beside me. Ha! I was famished from the bus ride, so I made a beeline towards a vending machine. All that corn tamed the acids in my tract.
Now I’m a guy who hates sitting and prefers walking, so instead of hailing a taxi, I decided to hoof it to my hotel.
A terrible idea! Seattle, a city built on a rocky coast, had so many inclined roads that I worked up a sweat in the February chill. My calf muscles sang. The soles of my shoes thinned. To add to the punishment, I was wheeling around a trolley bag—one that I had to fold up and carry like an infant in my arms.
Ilustrado In Grunge City
A sign on the street made me forget about my cruel trek. It said Dr. Jose Rizal Park. Come again? A Rizal Park in Seattle? I giggled. Visions of sorbetes vendors and horse-drawn kalesas danced in my head. I later found out in my post-trip readings that Seattle played a big role in sending soldiers to the Spanish-American War in the Philippines in 1898. And hence the tribute to the great doctor! I smirked. It was juicy stuff to tell the history buffs back home.
Like A UFO In The Daylight
After a much needed nap in the hotel, I put some pants on, ate a Subway six-incher (the only food this cheapskate would choose), and decided to visit the one tourist attraction not in the guidebooks: The Space Needle! (I jest. Forgive my being such an Asian Level 10 tourist. See the SLR dangling on my neck?)
You didn’t need a map. The Space Needle loomed up above the skyline, its observation deck like a UFO in the daylight.
After a walk through its sleepy streets—yes, unlike New York, the city was empty on a Friday, save for construction crews and baristas shuffling beans—I finally reached the Space Needle.
Everything around it screamed family-friendly, from manicured lawns to booths selling soft serve to a triceratops statue. It seemed like it was all in a day’s work for the locals. The tour guides were bored to a stupor, lost in the black holes of their iPhones.
As for me, a Third World Man who’s seen the Hundred Islands, but is deprived of man-made wonders, I was saucer-eyed! Seeing the tower in all its majesty was like stepping into the future. That is, if the future were thought up by people from the Sixties. Snaking around the complex and off into the city was The Alweg Monorail. Talk about Raygun Gothic. The place reminded me of The Jetsons.
A plaque on a wall spoke of the origin story: The Space Needle was built during the 1962 World’s Fair where all the world leaders convened in Seattle to discuss modern technology. After the expo, there were plans to tear down the Space Needle and the monorail, but the mayor realized that the structures gave pride to the city, so he decided to keep both of them standing.
A poster peddled a trip to the Observation Deck for 16 USD—where you can get a 360-degree gander of the city and the surrounding Pacific Northwest Mountains. Plus, you’d get a ride in the closest thing to a Wonkavator. I did some finger math. USD 16 was around PHP 800—which could buy me a cheeseburger and a graphic novel—so I just let footage on an LED screen take my mind to the top.
One of my guilty pleasures when traveling are souvenir shops. It’s embarrassing, yes, but the souvenir shop made my cheeks water. In the one hour I spent taking photos of overpriced postcards, t-shirts and snow globes, I learned more about Seattle than any trip to a museum could teach me. Gift shops made things simple. They encapsulated the essence of places through clever graphic design.
Humor me. Did you know that Elvis Presley shot a movie at the Space Needle called It All Happened At The World’s Fair? Did you know that Bruce Lee is buried Seattle’s Lakeview Cemetery? Did you know that one of Seattle’s local urban legends is the Sasquatch?
I knew I was alone, miles away from home. But despite the gloomy weather, I couldn’t help but crack a smile.
Well, Seattle, here we are now, entertain us.
Stay tuned for Part Two for more on the writer’s misadventures in Seattle.