Archive for May, 2010

Past the cottage next door, on the market for $400,000, after selling for $198,000 in 2002, the summer I moved into my apartment.

By my bus stop – scene of much past drama.

Past the three townhouses that stand where a cute old cottage once was, and from where the sounds of Fleetwood Mac might sometimes be heard.

Past the little MG Midget parked on the street, resisting the urge to open and then slam one of those little (probably unlocked) doors to once again hear that unmistakable sound.

Past the old house that stood empty in 2002, surely waiting to be condemned and demolished – only to see new owners with a vision go to work with crowbars and sledgehammers on New Years Day 2003 and pull off a miraculous renovation.

The killer pugs in the garden next door!
(Actually, they’re not out right now.)

Remembering the photograph I regret not having taken, of the house with the unfenced yard – but a fully functioning garden gate at the end of the path, the gate that the mailman actually opened and closed behind him, and which the occupants of the house took with them when they moved.

Up Admiral Way, where in early 2003, almost every house displayed a No Iraq War sign.

Past the prolific blackberry patches that I have enjoyed every summer, and the stucco house with the beautifully chaotic front garden.

Past the apartment buildings that currenly have vacancies, unlike three years ago when there was hardly an apartment to be had around here.

Waiting for the light to change at Admiral and California, where the newly -opened Heavenly Bakery sells a cheese-jalapeƱo biscuit called the Big Cheesy which is the tastiest thing I have enjoyed in a while.

Into the coffee shop at Metropolitan Market, where I place my order with Theresa, who was at the counter on my first visit in June of 2001.

Enjoying my coffee and muffin surrounded by flowers.

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One night this week, my bedtime podcast was an episode of NPR’s Hearing Voices from a few weeks ago.
It was about Juarez, Mexico, the sprawling city just across the border from El Paso, Texas.

Juarez sounds like the city from hell. Drug cartels and gangs have made this one of the most dangerous cities on earth, as dangerous even as Baghdad.
Numerous North American and European corporations have manufacturing operations here, prompting people to flock to Juarez from all over Mexico in search of work.
The housing supply is inadequate and factory workers live in crowded shanties – in dwellings cobbled together from cinder blocks and cardboard. Roads are unpaved and there is no sanitation. Drug abuse is rampant, and violent crime is frequent.

And corruption is the rule. You cannot trust anyone in a uniform. Confessions are extorted from innocent people via very violent means. Judges are intimidated and bribed. Crimes go “unsolved” and people go missing

It was a very disturbing program to listen to. We have our challenges in Seattle with crime, poverty, gangs, budget shortfalls, traffic, and so on. Some neighborhoods are worse than others. But people can generally leave their homes in the morning with a certain degree of confidence that they will return safely in the evening. It doesn’t sound that way in Juarez.

The next morning, I loaded Google Earth and zoomed in on the Juarez-El Paso area. I was struck by the lack of a “border effect” clearly visible from the air. In fact, were the international border not superposed on the image, one might assume to be looking down on one contiguous city. This is not surprising, as this urban area evolved as a functional unit over many decades.

I tapped on the Wikipedia links througout the city. Juarez is evidently something of a “seat of learning” in the state of Chihuahua, with many educational opportunities. You find dining, nightlife and shopping. Manufacturing has fueled high rates of economic growth. There is some mention of violence and the drug trade. But the view from Google Earth is rather normal.

“The illusion is always of normalcy.” (Doctor Who)

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This afternoon, my walk into West Seattle was held up, for the first time, by the opening of the swing bridge. It was during rush hour and so had traffic stopped and backed up for almost 20 minutes.

I kept on walking. The traffic on approach to the bridge was at a standstill and I had an easy time crossing over to the bike path. I walked all the way up to the barrier where a couple of dozen typically attired bicyclists were waiting.

I have never had such an up-close view of a swing bridge opening. It’s not as impressive as a drawbridge looming up
over you, but it’s cool to see all the same. And of course, the vessel that had traffic stopped was a sailboat whose mast was perhaps a mere 18″ too tall to make it under the bridge!!

We all just waited in silence. Usually, people strike up conversations while delayed. But not here. When the bridge was finally secured and the gate opened up, we all just went on our way. I let the cyclists move on first. No one had seemed anxious or irritated. I actually felt relaxed!

I realize that this disruption to my homeward commute has been good for me. No longer am I anxiously clock-watching in the last 10 minutes before I leave work. Between the freight trains and the swing bridge, buses are subject to long delays that cannot be anticipated. So there is often nothing gained by rushing to leave work. Most days I start my commute home on foot
– either through the Port to the swing bridge, or to the SODO Link station to go downtown.

I wait until a little later to worry about when the bus is coming. And by then I
have walked away most of the stress of the day:)

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For years I have been happy to ride the bus “unplugged”. I cannot read on the bus, but found it easy to entertain myself watching the world from my seat. My bus rides are rarely more than 20 minutes in duration, which is probably why I never felt I needed an iPod.

But when I got the iPod Touch (for on-the-go Internet access) I soon found myself at the iTunes Store and was drawn into the world of the podcast. This is now my primary entertainment!

Now I am carrying an iPhone. Downloads over 3G are limited to 20MB, but this has turned out to not be an issue. In the morning, I have a 20-minute bus ride, and select short podcasts to listen to. (I hate getting off the bus with a few minutes remaining.) So I have a bit of a division of labor going with my devices. Short podcasts are downloaded directly into the iPhone for bus-listening, while longer episodes are packed onto the iPod Touch for at-home listening. (I have docking speakers for the Touch.)

When I first got going with the short morning podcasts, my inclination was to keep up with news and current affairs with podcasts of The Economist, PBS Newshour, etc. I kept it up for a few weeks, but found it a rather unsatisfactory way to start the day.

I remembered how when I first got the iPod Touch, I enjoyed listening to chapters of A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain as I rode to work. It really made a great start to the day. So, last week I downloaded several chapters of Huckleberry Finn (which I have never read!!), and ditched the news in favor of the wit and wisdom of Mark Twain. The chapters (from Lit2Go at iTunes U) are the ideal length. Then, after I get my coffee at Starbucks, I listen to the latest from Garison Keillor’s Writers’ Almanac, after which I walk on to work.

This is something I have come to look forward to each morning – even Monday:)

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I mention occasionally that I write most blog posts on my iPhone. It’s because I do not have conventional internet access at home, and do not want to carry my netbook with me all the time.

I use the WordPress iPhone app. It does get the job done – but can be maddening. I have learned to save my work very frequently!! However, I rarely get to see what the blog looks like viewed in a regular browser, and so do not pay much attention to overall consistency of appearance. For example, some titles have The First Letter Of Each Word Capitalized, while Other titles have only the first word capitalized.

My tags are also somewhat random. I often cannot think of any and so just plug something in. I know what they are for. I just haven’t really paid attention to their use. I probably need to read “Search Engine Optimization For Dummies” so that I can do a better job:)

I am the kind of person who keeps a journal from time to time. It’s fun to have a record of your thoughts, experiences and observations to look back on later. This blog I write now is not that different. It’s just that it IS intended to be read by whoever might find it. Anyway, that is why I do not take it too seriously and spend a lot of time on its appearance. I just enjoy pulling out the iPhone when I have a moment, and tapping in a few thoughts. I do not mind if what I write goes unread most of the time. I really enjoy doing it.

Facebook is another thing altogether. I must be the only person I know who still is not on Facebook. I have tried getting started with it – but it bothers me a lot. I enter so little information about myself, that the whole purpose of being on Facebook is defeated. I think I just don’t want to be found – or friended:) I am a bit commitment phobic, and the Internet is no exception. (I also can’t imagine having an internet presence where you share with people where you currently work.)

I only use Twitter to follow what’s going on with transit and traffic in Seattle. And I learned that you don’t have to be logged into Twitter to do that. So I just bookmarked twitter.com/kcmetrobus and twitter.com/seattledot – and then deactivated my almost unused Twitter account.

I learned the other day that the Library Of Congress is archiving ALL of our tweets.

A while back, I tweeted a couple of silly tweets about my tapfish – just to test out tweeting from my iPhone. I’m mortified to find out that, alongside my doctoral dissertation and a short novel I had published, those tweets have been archived in my name.

So excuse the blandness of this blog… but I’m not sure I want to contribute anything online ever again:)

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Change ruffles me as much as the next person, for I am a real creature of habit.

For all my efforts bracing myself for the Spokane Street ramp closure, and the rerouting of several buses I use, I found it rather unsettling (even a bit upsetting) last Monday, the first time I saw a 22 turn off First Avenue onto Hanford Street. My world was being messed with!

But as last week unfolded, I realized that the worst-case scenario I had prepared myself for was probably not going to be a daily occurrence (although buses are occasionally being held up for as long as 30 minutes by trains blocking the way) and that getting home was not going to take me much longer. And I relaxed.

This afternoon, I walked into West Seattle, and it felt like I had been doing it for months. It was no longer strange to see buses running over the low bridge. They seem to belong there now.

I really enjoyed the walk, and once over on the West Seattle side, had to wait only a couple of minutes for a bus to go the rest of the way home.

It’s as though I’ve forgotten what my old commute used to be like. This new routine already seems familiar.

I don’t know why – but this is a nice feeling:)

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A wonderful pastime enjoyed by old farts in small towns everywhere. In some places, it’s allegedly the only thing to do!

I’m not waiting to be an old fart (I’m not yet even 50), and I no longer live in a small town, but this has to be one of my favorite things to do, especially on Saturday. And unlike those old farts in small towns with the single stoplight, in Seattle I am rather spoiled for choice:) There is almost always coffee nearby also.

Alaska Junction in West Seattle has to be the best light to watch. Once in each cycle, the traffic is stopped in all directions and pedestrians can “Walk All Ways”, including diagonally. This makes it a useful intersection for a peaceful demonstration. On Sundays, anti-war protesters carry their signs and banners across the diagonal. None of them appears to be under the age of 60!

Several bus routes converge on the Junction. Long before OneBusAway, I could have told you that the 22 was having problems, running around 15 minutes late all morning, but that the 54 was keeping good time. On weekdays it’s fun to watch the 53 navigate the tight turn at Easy Street. On Saturday you may see a Metro driver-in-training attempt to take a 60-foot articulated coach through this intersection – over and over again! Well, you’ve got to learn how to do it somewhere:)

On nice days, I like to sit outside with my coffee. I get asked a lot of questions – most of which I can answer. Lots of people want to know where the “French bakery” (Bakery Nouveau) is. Most of the questions pertain to neighborhood eateries, although someone just asked me if there was a Radio Shack nearby.

Many of the people walking by are eating. Husky Deli ice creams are a frequent sight. Not only is their ice cream just about the best I’ve ever had, but their so-called single scoop has to be the largest I’ve ever been served. People with ice cream always look happy.

Some people just stop to remark on how relaxed I look. I suppose when you practice a small-town habit in a busy, fast-paced city, you will stand out in that way:)

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Google Earth on my iPhone is still zoomed in on South Africa. I have been panning inland eastward from Cape Town and continue to be blown away by what I find when I “go down for a closer look”. (If you’re wondering why I don’t attach images, it is because I blog almost exclusively with my iPhone – and that has some limitations.)

Anyway zoom in on southern Africa so that the border of the landlocked country of Lesotho is displayed. Then look at Lesotho as though it were a clock, and zoom in to just outside it at roughly 7-8 o’clock position, and tap on links you find. There aren’t many.

If you go to Bell River you are greeted with a shot of a gorgeous trout stream that might just be somewhere in the Northern Rockies. But it isn’t.

The photo of Barkly East might just be a winter scene from New Hampshire. But it isn’t.

The real surprise comes right along the border between South Africa and Lesotho, at Tiffendell – where there is a ski resort!

One tends to forget that the African continent is huge, and that there is more to it than just desert, Savannah and rainforest. The Drakensburg mountains, which run roughly southwest to northeast through this part of the continent, top out at over 11,000 feet – hence the snow.

The other major ski resort in southern Africa is in Lesotho. It is in the far north of the country and goes by the name Afri-Ski. No kidding! At an elevation above 10,000 feet it is cold enough for snow, but winters here are obviously very dry, because much of the time the main piste is a ribbon of man-made snow running down an otherwise bare, brown and treeless mountainside – in stark contrast with the ersatz Tyrolean impression given by Tiffendell.

There are no YouTube links from Afri-Ski – but I like to think that there are mad snowboarders carving up that man-made slope at least some of the time:)

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I did not title this blog “Urban Bliss” because life in a city like Seattle is idyllic. I know it isn’t! But it is sometimes possible to attain a peace of mind that most people would only associate with small-town life.

I acknowledge that I am fortunate to live in a rather nice part of West Seattle and am footloose and fancy-free, as they say. So I try to be mindful of the fact that other Seattlites do not always have it is easy as I do.

The bus experience is a good example. In the morning, I ride the 37 which is a bonafide commuter bus (inbound for morning commute, outbound for afternoon commute). Bus riders are all working people, nicely dressed people headed for downtown, for the most part. The bus runs very close to schedule, is rarely jammed full, and everyone either reads or listens to an iPod. Hardly ever any problems.

The other buses I ride regularly (21, 22, 54, 55, 56, 57) have a more “representative” ensemble of bus-riders – and can have their moments on the downtown and SODO ends. But within West Seattle, the bus experience is usually pretty civilized. That is why I have no problem making full use of it and do not feel the need to have a car.

But in other parts of Seattle, making that commitment to bus transit involves being willing to get up-close-and-personal with a side of life that perhaps one would prefer to avoid. And I say that as a passing observation – not a moral judgement. (People take me too seriously sometimes!)

Anyway, there is nothing like a ride on the 358 to broaden your bus-riding perspective.
In Defense Of The 358 is a post from
a blog about life in part of North Seattle, and most definitely strikes notes of urban bliss – although many of the comments which follow do not:) Read for yourself and you’ll see what I mean.

I actually have ridden the 358, with my mother when she visited from England. Her husband has an aunt who lives in Edmonds and we paid a visit, planning to arrive shortly before lunch. I spent quite while with the online trip planner trying to find a way to go north out of Seattle in the morning, and connect readily with a bus to Edmonds, WITHOUT taking the 358. Don’t think it can be done!

Our morning trip north to Aurora Village was unevenful, despite the presence of some rather eccentric characters. It was just long, with lots of stops. Coming back in the afternoon was a different story. A drunk guy got on the bus with a half-case of beer. He sat behind us and I heard him crack open a can and start drinking. I figured he had just come out to buy more beer and would be getting off soon. But he didn’t. Instead he started on a babbling stream of consciousness that went on all the way downtown.

He used the “N”-word a few times. To her credit, a young black lady sitting across from him just gave him a very disparaging “what a moron” look, and returned to her magazine.

Then he did a round of “ha!”s. Didn’t know if he was laughing or just yelling. I could see that the driver was looking in the rearview mirror at this drunk. I didn’t expect him to take any action. On the 358, if you stopped the bus everytime a passenger misbehaved, you might never get moving again!

It started getting annoying, but the bus was full so we couldn’t move. I just hoped he wouldn’t puke over us. However, as we went past the Woodland Park Zoo, he started making remarks about zoo animals that made me laugh, not because he was funny, but just because he was drunk.

So much for my hoping he would only be on the bus for a short while. You see, drunks on buses in West Seattle usually only go the couple of stops from
the 7-Eleven to where they live. They don’t ride all the way into town! He was still on the bus when we got off! We reckoned he may have just lost track of where he was and had no intention of going all the way downtown.

We walked down to First Avenue and took a 57 back to West Seattle. The bus was clean and the driver had the A/C cranked. There were no drunks and the bus was not crowded. It was indeed like stepping into a different world. And I felt very fortunate that this is my more usual bus experience. My mother wondered what it must be like to ride to work everyday on the 358.

One of my coworkers at my present job rides the 358. It’s the only really useful bus serving the place she lives, so she deals with it. I have worked with several people who have commuted on the 358 at some time. Some of them even owned cars, but still chose to take that bus anyway! Wow! That means that the driving experience can hardly be great either.

North Seattle. Tougher than me:)

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Bus Luck

I felt overdressed when I left for work this morning. It was calm, mild and sunny, but I was inclined to believe the weather forecast (which called for windy conditions and showers by the afternoon) and so donned the trench coat and hat.

Glad I did! Torrential rain and high winds showed up just in time for me to leave work. And I decided I was going to ride all the way home by bus – something I rarely do. Even as well-dressed as I was, the wind would have made a walk almost unbearable.

The luck came in regarding a little errand I wished to make – one which required me getting off the bus, running the errand, and then waiting on the next bus. As luck would have it, the bus I was on was running 25 minutes late, else I would have missed it. And the one after it was right on time. I literally came out of the store to see the next bus just a block away.

Such luck rarely visits me. It WAS rather welcome on this afternoon:)

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