Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Flannel, coffee and microsoft.

The first hostel in Seattle was located in a pretty ugly part of town. It was right at the start of Chinatown, but mere metres from the main train station. I decided to walk from the hostel to the downtown area half an hour away to see a band. The streets were filled with homeless people, train station toughs and drunks sitting on the steps of skyscrapers.

After stopping for cash I heard a voice from behind ask me for directions to a homeless shelter. Great. This guy had a sob story about how he was stranded in Seattle on his way back to Alaska, where he was born and raised. He told me how his bag was stolen and that he couldn’t stay with his family. He elucidated on his financial status – one dollar, one penny – and that he had only eaten 1 pack of ramen noodles for 3 days. I told him I didn’t know where the shelter was and wished him the best of luck. His reply was “I’ll be fine, Jesus has a plan for me and this will work out”. Not quite buddy. The fact that you’re waiting for this situation to be fixed by some divine intervention is probably the reason you only have one dollar and one penny.

In typical American fashion I went from extreme poor to riches in a few steps. I made it to The Triple Door, a venue that has a theatre/restaurant downstairs and a cocktail bar with strict dress code upstairs. The walkway that separated the two was filled with a giant aquarium, home to a black and white polka-dot sting ray. I went there to see Black Francis/Frank Black/The singer from The Pixies and for $25 I was sat at a table, three seats from the stage, while waiters scurried around taking orders and pouring drinks. The room wasn’t very large, and was decorated like most classic theatre. It was ornate and a beautiful place to see music.

The opening band was an acoustic group. Their songs were reasonably generic, though they did throw in a cover of ‘Streets of Baltimore’. For the show I was sat next to Ben, a 40 year old web designer from West Seattle. His girlfriend was out of town and he was on call for his job but decided to treat himself to the show. He spoke of his impending fatherhood and the time Peter Buck pissed in the urinal next to him.
Black Francis came on at 11PM, immediately apologising to the crowd. The concert was running late and he could no longer afford banter between songs. To get the set done he would have to play his songs fast, and with no gaps in-between.
Black Francis was joined on-stage by a bassist/organist and a drummer, whose kit was the definition of minimal. There was a snare, a floor tom activated by a kick pedal and a few cymbals. The set was informal, with Black Francis tuning his guitar during one songs outro. The band set cues to each other through nods, and the venue was so intimate that when the guitar amp was muted, you could still hear the strings of the electric guitar vibrating. There weren’t a  lot Pixies songs played, but he did throw in ‘Where is my mind?’, famous for its appearance in Fight Club.
After the show I had to walk down the same streets, but it was 1 am by this stage. I used to worry about walking down unfamiliar streets on my own at night, particularly when I know it’s not a great neighbourhood. However, in pretty much every city I’ve been to in the States it’s something I’ve successfully negotiated. It is not always without incident though. When I returned to the hostel a pimp had just tee’d up some business for his client. She was to be picked up from the corner of the hostel in 5 minutes.

After checking out of the hostel in the morning I made my way across town to check into the new one. I went to the Green Tortoise to check in and found I had no reservation there. The man behind the counter looked just like Jerry Cantrell – a Seattle native – and was helping me sort out the booking. After going online I realised I was in the wrong place and had to walk about 10 more blocks, with all my gear to get to the new place.
Once there I was able to drop off my bags and head out to the city. I walked by the water, checking out the giant cruises and views of Seattle’s industrial harbour on the other side of the bay. From there I went through the city’s markets. Naturally, they were packed with tourists, all led there by their guide books. The little market square featured the first Starbucks. I had done well to avoid the place in Seattle, and the giant line out the front ensured this would continue.
"Maybe you're just supposed to experience it. Because when you look at it, you're to feel something, right. It's like looking into something very deep. You could fall in" You all should watch Mad Men.

After escaping from the markets I went to the Seattle Art Museum. They had all sorts of great things including an exhibit on Japanese tea, a room full of tea pots, a Rothko and a Jackson Pollock ‘painting’. My experience with art is fairly rudimentary, but as far as I’m concerned every time Jackson Pollock sneezed paint onto canvas the world (and Australian Government) opened its wallet.

Upstairs in the gallery was a Kurt Cobain exhibit. It was an interesting take on his life and had as many brilliant pieces as it did shitty. The exhibit on him was a reminder to me of how far I’d come. A few years ago (well, high school) I would have done anything to be in Seattle. All I would do is listen to Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam and the soundtrack to the film ‘Singles’. Now that I’m here I don’t listen to those bands as much - I even turned down the Layne Staley tribute show that was on the night before – and subsequently I’m not doing as much hero worshipping at certain musical landmarks.

From the art museum I decided to walk a few blocks to the Bank of America building to check out the observation deck. It was closed. Shit. Instead I headed back up town and walked to the other side of the city.

Hempfest 2010 was on by the water so I decided to check it out. On my walk to the park I noticed all sorts of crusty and unwashed types were making their way to the park. The crowd was an amorphous tie-dye blob and by the time I made it to the festivals gates, I felt like I was going into Woodstock.
Here for the Renaissance room at the art museum.
Everyone was happy this guy made it.

My patience for the line ran out and instead of hanging out with the crusty, unwashed types I headed towards the Space Needle. It was a beautiful day at the bottom of the hill, but after walking to the  tower and waiting for the elevator, Seattle’s famous rain clouds began to make their presence known.

The view from the top was great, and even if the idea of an observation deck has been done to death by most cities, Seattle’s contrasts of harbour, downtown and historic villages made for some impressive viewings. I stood outside for a few minutes just watching the container-ships come in, ignoring every other tourist and photo op.

I was finally able to check into the hostel after my visit to the Space Needle. After going to the room and meeting Axel – a German law student – I headed downstairs to the free bbq the hostel was putting on. I met the hostel’s owner who told me it was their third anniversary. I sat outside eating a burger and drinking free beer in the sun, mingling with people from all over the world.

After three or 4 pints I noticed the cumulative effect was beginning to hit me. The beer was from a local brewery and after sinking a few I was told it had about 9% alcohol content. The bbq seemed to go by in a blur from there on. I met some more lovely Germans, Geoff – an Australian who had spent two weeks at guitar camp, a number of the hostel’s staff and some other random punters.

The bbq seemed to have gone by really quickly. By 10pm, 6 hours after I arrived, everyone had cleared out. I ended up going inside and met two random people, a Colombian and a girl from Birmingham, who both recognised me from the earlier trip to the art museum. I found it a little odd that I would be so recognisable, given that everyone else in the city was dressed up for Hempfest.

The next morning I woke up sore. It must have been about 3 am before I went to bed, with hazy recollections about what had occurred before. I desperately tried to shake off my hangover, even opting out of my beloved tea for the strongest coffee I’ve had for a while.
Donatello, my least favourite.

After a quick breakfast with David and Kathi, the loveliest of the Germans, I headed for the Experience Music Project. It stands for something music project and is in a building designed by Frank Gehry (more like Frank Garish #dadjoke).

Part of the ticket included entry to the adjoining sci-fi museum. Considering most of the stuff is donated by Paul Allen, I thought it was a bit of a let-down. Sure they had a Captain Kirk tunic, but for the most part it was shitty props, books and posters.

The EMP was a bit like a scaled down version of Cleveland’s Rock and Roll hall of fame. It was fairly Seattle-centric, but not as good as its Cleveland counterpart.
Hendrix's national anthem guitar

I went back to the hostel before joining Kathi and David for some doughnuts and coffee. I spent the next few hours with them as they were leaving the next day and were just looking for something quiet to do. When 8pm came round I said my goodbyes and headed for the airport.

It was sad to leave the West Coast. The next flight, a red-eye from coast to coast, represents the end  of my travelling/tourist experience for a while. The East Coast is where I will study, and over the last few days I have began to forget that is the reason I’m over here. I’ve had such a great time travelling overland and I’m glad that I was able to draw a simple path on a map and follow it through.

The flight itself was a bit of a non event. Three and a bit hours to Chicago with 1 hour of sleep, followed with 2 hours to New York with no sleep. I did opt out of a McDonald’s breakfast in Chicago when I saw a mouse/rat scurry across the waiting area by the restaurant.

Now I’m in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and have already gone for a bagel and giant cup of tea. I’m glad that I’ve been to New York before, having checked off most of the tourist things. It means I can spend my time the parts I missed last time. Still, it was great seeing that Manhattan skyline from the taxi, it really is a beautiful thing.

Tonight I’m going to a film premiere in a cinema not far from the hostel. The band Mogwai filmed three concerts there and now they’re playing the whole thing in the same venue. Très excited I are.

Song: I walked past Seattle's Moore Theatre and remember I pirated vhs I bought of a concert there. It was the band Mad Season, pretty much Seattle's junky collective. They made some great tunes and here is one of them.

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