Thursday, August 06, 2009


My experience with the West was a little unexpected. I did have a good time and, since I spent a lot of that time on my own, I was able to do as much exploring as a I wanted to. I tried to sprinkle in everyday things as well as more traditional sightseeing fare.

I expected the pace to be different from the Northeast. As I think I've said, I expected it to be slower and I did try to adjust but never quite got there. I didn't expect it to be quite so aggressively slow. Not only do other people operate at the lesser pace but they insert things that require you to slow down, whether you are able or not. When I purchased my train ticket for Seattle it took the agent a long while to even notice me. When she did we talked about where and when I wanted to go and she took my debit card and my ID. First she input my ID information and handed me back my license. Then she halted the transaction process entirely to tell me a story. She didn't know that a friend was circling the block to pick me back up and I found out hours later that the train boarding process out there is entirely different so her story was meant as a cautionary tale but at the time it was just someone refusing to either process my request or to multitask.

Speaking of the boarding process, it's so not the same as it is here on the East coast. Here you buy a general boarding ticket and it gets you on the train. You choose a seat in a coach car and as the train pulls out the conductor comes through the car collecting tickets. When s/he takes your ticket s/he puts a little marker above your seat that lets other conductors know that you have paid and what your destination is. Out West you have to arrive early and wait in a line to see the conductor at a desk in the station. He assigns you a seat then based on the number of people in your party, the fullness of the train and, apparently, his own morals and values. I got an aisle seat at the front of car right behind the baggage. Then you wait in another line/mob for the train to be ready to board and you go find your seat. If you don't like it you can choose to spend your time in the club car I guess, which is what the guy in the window seat next to me did after he finished complaining about his assignment.

In Seattle I saw a lot of people, relatively late at night, standing on curbs at the edge of deserted streets waiting for the light to change so they could cross the street. I wondered if they also did that when it was raining, since I was lucky enough not to have even a drop of rain during my stay. Sometimes the lights were quite long. I didn't always wait. Talking with B, though, I learned of the steep jaywalking fine ($52!) and understood on some level why people chose to wait.

I got busted in the Seattle Art Museum for wearing my bag to the back, which happens here but usually only on crowded days. Also, the Eastern-based museum guards don't generally follow you to observe that you aren't surreptitiously swinging your bag into the forbidden position. Or maybe he just wanted to finish recounting for me The History of Bag Accidents in Museums (1995-Present) since I refused to let him complete even one sentence of it. The rules for getting into and out of the museum were also relatively stringent.

I remembered as I sat at dinner one night being told many years ago that Seattle has laws about serving alcohol in one's business, too. You have to, I think, devote a certain percentage of your space to the serving of food before you are allowed to serve alcohol in your business, so they don't have plain old bars. The bars in restaurants all seemed to be somehow delineated from the rest of the seating, often with at least a partial wall. I didn't research this so I can't confirm it but I remember being told about it a long while ago.

Parking regulations are apparently pretty rough. I didn't drive but TVMike drove me in Portland and Miss Rebecca drove me on our evening out and we spent a good chunk of time looking for a safe place to leave the vehicles in popular neighborhoods. They have the muni-meter system but, unlike here you purchase time and can move your car to another place anywhere in the city as long as it has the same parking regulations as the place you just left and you still have time on your card. I passed about 15 minutes of wait time at one point reading the instructions and regulations on a muni-meter machine.

I browsed a spice and tea store and would have bought a number of gifts but was out of cash and they only took cash. Before I remembered I was out of cash I did start the process. Then I noticed that the process had 5 or 6 steps and a clipboard and chart of minimum weight purchases by which I had to abide. It was then that I noticed the cash only, did an inventory of my bag and realized with relief that I didn't have to figure out how much of anything I could afford and if that corresponded with an allowed purchase amount.

Most of the people I know who moved out West, to Seattle in particular, did so in a bid for freedom. Now, I never quizzed them on what sort of freedom they were looking for. Freedom from what they knew, freedom from family, freedom from self-imposed restrictions were certainly among the reasons, though. So I expected a land of exquisite, limitless freedom, a glut of open boundaries and a chance to spin with my arms wide open wherever I wanted, metaphorically speaking. Instead I found a place with a lot of rules and a lot of rules in places I didn't expect to encounter them. I felt quite hemmed in which was the one thing I had thought for sure I wouldn't.

I can't tell you how glad I am to have gone on this trip. I had fun and I learned a whole lot. Even though it was a quick, domestic jaunt I think I'll be processing it for some time to come.


  1. I love traveling. Even when we're learning lessons and have that voice in the back of our heads saying "it's not like this at HOME" it's an amazing experience if we let ourselves loosen up and have it!

    and at the end?


  2. I had no idea Seattle was so...different. I wonder if Seattle-ites come here and are perplexed by our rigidity. What you know and are used to doesn't seem like such a big deal.

  3. I know it's silly but it was all the little things that kept popping my eyes open. The bathrooms at restaurants and coffee places and bookstores out there? HUGE! And not in the basement, like, EVER. So unlike peeing in NYC.

  4. I can probably explain the bathroom thing. In cities younger than New York, a much higher percentage of buildings were built after the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed. Hence, larger bathrooms that don't require navigating stairs.

  5. I was going to go with, "Manhattan is an island, all boroughs are crowded, we don't waste space on the shitter." and the one bathroom I was actually thinking of in Seattle specifically was UPstairs. But your explanation is more sciency and socially conscious so I think I'll stick with that from now on.