Friday, 15 October 2010

Bumbershot in Seattle

I love Seattle, and if it didn’t rain so much—I think I’d move there. It’s fine by the locals that I don’t—they count on their “bumbershoots” as shields to keep the masses away. The Bumbershoot Festival, over Labor Day Weekend, warns the weatherman that they even name their good times after the umbrella.
My first visit to Seattle as in 1962, to speak at a University of Washington academic convocation on communications, the professors’ contribution to the Space Needle World’s Fair then under way.
There was a nudie girlie show at the Fair, but the local professors were shy about showing up at the complementary ringside seats (if one of their students was shedding, what would it do to their bell-shaped grading curve?), so they blessed the visiting firemen with the burlesque show.
Thus, did I find myself sitting next to Mortimer Adler, the distinguished philosopher, wondering what scholastic philosophical points he might find in our grotty enterprise. He seemed singularly unmoved, especially when I accused him of being a peeping Thomist.
Many years later, I bumbershot with a young lady who was eager for me to go to the Willy Nelson concert that was the centerpiece of that year’s Fair. It was good. I hate crowds, but I love enthusiasm and skill, and Nelson and his musicians were at the top of their form.
But there was to be an ante climax (if I may pun crudely). Just as the lights went out in my pal’s bedroom, the phone rang. It turned out that Willie’s drummer was her high-school sweetie. And he wondered if they could—er-get together. Quicker than you could say Fort Worth Senior High, she had driven over to Bellevue, and I lay on the brink of sleep ruminating on how evanescent rockin’ and rollin’ could be.
Even worse things were in store for her: She rejected her loose life and became a born-again Christian. Our next visit was in her evangelical church, meeting the dour young man she had agreed to marry.
This is a great year to visit Seattle because the state of Washington is celebrating its centennial and trying especially hard to be attractive. The premier exhibit is surely the visual essay on the Pacific Coast Indian art at the U’s Burke Museum. But the way to not miss anything during Bumbershoot Weekend is to plunk down 75 cents for The Seattle Weekly.
It’s the Welcomat of the region—except that 32,000 customers pay for it. It’s good for more than its listings. I got so attached to it as an alternative weekly that I’ve been subscribing this year to read its first-rate lead articles on environment, politics, the sexual revolution, whatever.
There’s a downtown bus. Make sure you see these sectors, moving from Amtrak to Greyhound: An art gallery district, Pioneer Square, Pike Street Market (if you’ve only got time for one lookaround, make this it).
Then I’d go out to the Fair site, taking the monorail because it’s there—and because the intervening blocks are tacky. There’s a science museum, a kid’s museum and a fine old food-fair hall. I used to like the ethereal sci-fi Gothic architecture by Minoru Yamasaki a lot more than I do now.
I went up to the top of the Space Needle to see what its Sunday brunch was like. The view is much better than the vittles. I think I’d hold out for dinner (which can be pricey). But if you like breathtaking views, only the Top of the Mark in San Francisco is in the same league.
Finally, try to get out to Volunteer Park (there’s a Saturday / Sunday bus pass worth using). That’s where the Seattle Museum of Art is, an Art Deco job now in the throes of expansion.
Its permanent Asian collections are a perennial joy to me. There’s even a Philadelphia connection: Richard Fuller, the man who put it on the Asiatica map, was the brother of Virginia Fuller Atwood, Beaver College’s prime patroness. She gave many fine pieces to SAM also.
After stuffing my retinas with Asian art, I asked the friendly and garrulous head guard if he could recommend any good fish restaurant in the vicinity. He could and did—Boondock’s on Broadway.
Alas, I almost got booted out of Boondock’s for having the temerity to finish off a credible local Riesling left from the night before when I had stuffed myself with clams and sourdough bread at the Fisherman’s Wharf.
Seems they have a state corkage law—no brown bags allowed. You must surrender your BYO bottle to the management, which legitimates it by pouring the liquid into their glassware. (Some places charge a corkage fee. Boondock’s didn’t.)
I settled down to some serious bouillabaisse slurping. It was so stocky, in so sweet a sauce that when the waiter asked me whether I liked it, I pointed proudly to the gleaming white of the bottom of the tureen, so meticulously had I sopped up the soup with (gulp) several extra servings of sourdough bread.
Thus I commenced the final leg of my weekend saunter through Seattle in a sweetly beRieslinged condition at the Pike Street Market. The fish stalls are outdoor museums of great visual excitement, especially the humungous salmon.
Kitty korner from Greyhound is the Vance Hotel, where they have a King County Tourist Bureau—abandoned on weekends, the only fly in their tourist ointment. But don’t despair. The Emerald City publishes a quarterly pocket-sized events guide, where you can check out what’s going on in the KINGDome and other major entertainment venues.
And if you like to be led, rather than waterbug around the way I do, contact METRO (624-PASS) for their $2.50 ticket to all the sights in Seattle and King County.
Reprinted from Welcomat: After Dark - Hazard-at-Large, August 16, 1989

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