Thursday, July 10, 2008

Coming into Seattle: 1987

Oh, man--Seattle. I mean, I love Seattle. It's one of the best cities in the USofA and probably my favorite. I mean, I spent part of my childhood in Vancouver, WA and we went to Seattle a handful of times and I knew of the city, of the Space Needle and monorail and Pike Place Market, of Puget Sound and Mt. Rainier--of Patches the Clown and the Pink Elephant Carwash--by the age of seven. When I came to Seattle as an adult, though, I was not a happy man. It wasn't the city's fault and I had a strange affinity with the gray raininess, the bleak nights and downtown bars and cafes, the winter-to-spring time of year in the Pacific Northwest. I had a good time and some of that good time was linked to the bad times, to the self-pitying, drinking, chaotic down-and-outness of my own existence at that period. Even getting there was a lonely travail.
I'd been back in Florida--Walton County in the panhandle--living with Tee on the beach in Gulf Trace. Before that, I'd been back in Iowa City in grad school (the Iowa Writers Workshop) but had quit to move back to Florida and to live with Tee. Which did not work out. My best friends Matt and Brock were in Seattle--Matt having scrunched off from Iowa City not long after I did and Brock because that was his hometown and he had returned there after a long trip--after living in Key West and then Grayton Beach a few years earlier. So, after the sad disaster which was my life with Tee, I took off in my ugly blue Ford, headed for the Northwest.
My plan had been to go to Eugene, Oregon. I had had other plans to go to Eugene--home of the University of Oregon, a school I liked--that had never panned out. So this time, I was going to do it. I left Walton County and drove to Pensacola, stayed with Tommy for a night or two and he checked out my car. Then I drove westward to the Texas border and spent the night at a motel--in Beaumont--then across wide Texas (did I sleep in my car one more night in that state?) to El Paso and into New Mexico where I stopped in Las Cruces. I watched the Super Bowl in a motel in Las Cruces--but found that I could buy no beer because it was Sunday and Las Cruces was a Catholic town (as the name might suggest). The whole way--the long lonely driving--I was heartbroken and full of remorse: for Tee, for leaving the Iowa Workshop, for being praised for my writing yet being unpublished; for being an idiot. I drove on, not making the extra trip to Santa Fe like I'd promised myself, not making the trip to Bisbee when I got to Arizona (like I'd promised myself). I'd taken the southern route on the Interstate and did stop near Tucson, spent a night in my car at a rest stop near the California border. I hit San Diego, where Doug from Grayton was living, but did not look him up as I had promised myself. I did go to Los Angeles, did look around at some of the old haunts from 1985. I think I called Mike, but he was out of town and I did not linger in L.A.
All the while and during this solo driving, I was as miserable as a dead duck.
I headed north and it wasn't until Northern California that I gained some sense of excitement--driving through the Mt. Shasta area, hitting deep snows with a clean highway around Castella, then the drive over the border into Oregon--that I felt like my old self somewhat, interested in my surroundings and looking forward to a new life in Eugene.
The rolling valleys of Oregon were nice. I pulled into Eugene and got a room off the highway. Went into town, walked the University. It rained and rained and rained. I used the Motel Six telephone to call Brock and Matt in Seattle. I told them I was coming up.
I was down. Depressed. Screwed-up and screwed-over. Most of it of my own making.
I did not stop in Vancouver to see my childhood home, did not stop anywhere--I was on a mission now, a mission to reunite with old pals and get settled somewhere for a while--until I hit the traffic and confusion of the Emerald City.
It took me a while--driving around, stopping to call Brock and get directions--to find where they were living. And they were living in Queen Anne, in the upstairs apartment of a house that was owned by Brock's father right next door to Brock's father's print shop on First Avenue West, a couple blocks from the Seattle Center and the Space Needle itself. It was evening when I parked in the slanted street and got out and went through the door and walked the narrow wooden steps up into the odd little place where Brock and Matt had been living. They greeted me with open beers and cigarettes--telling me that they had for weeks been living clean and sober and tobacco free (having made a two-man bet that they could last a month) but since I was in town they "invoked Missouri Rules" and now were drinking and smoking.
I joined them. Later they took me around the neighborhood, to The Mecca, The Ginza, The Otter, Sorry Charlie's and other pleasant dives. We drank and laughed and told stories, but things weren't as funny as in years past. But I was glad to be with them, glad to have a place to sleep--even if it was on a camping mat in a sleeping bag upon the floor. Glad to be back out west.
That first week, wherever I went, people would say, "I like your tan." It was February and I had been in Florida, but I didn't think I was tan. But I fell into the routine. Matt got me a job at Duke's--a restaurant--where sometimes the pro-basketball Supersonics players would come in to eat (they still played at the Seattle Center back then). I wandered the gray streets, made plans to see the gray mountains, the gray sea. But I was low and misbegotten. I drank too much, smoked too much, felt sorry for myself too much--but also reveled in the too much in my own perverse way. But that's getting ahead of myself.
I love Seattle. I came to Seattle. I saw Seattle. 
But I did not conquer.

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