Seattle postsWednesday October 23, 2013
Outer Space Needle
This could also be known as the “Suck it, Ward!” post, since our friend Ward is no fan of the Space Needle. Thinks it's ugly. Most of the time I dig it. Tonight? On the bikeride home? With a low fog and evening sun above glinting off the top? It looked like some visitation from another planet. This iPhone photo doesn't do it justice.
Letters from Readers
I got this email the other day as a result of this post from last year:
It is interesting to note your interest in the existence of lesser known residents of the SEATTLE area. One such personality was my daughter, Tracia, who taught school in Portland and Seattle, performed on stage throughout the Northwest, attended Ringling Brothers Clown College, joined Floyd Schmoe in peace-related activities including going to Tashkent with a group of Seattle residents dedicated to building a peace park, and now lies in her grave in Issaquah. A white marble bench stands in memorial to her life in Seattle's Peace Park near University bridge. This past weekend Tracia's stepfather and I visited her grave and the site of her bench. How pleased I am that although the park had been rearranged, a bench still stands, as it has for the 20 years since her untimely death due to the rare disease Creutzfeld-Jacob, the human form of Mad Cow, which developed from a tainted injection of Human Growth Hormone.
So I appreciated seeing your article some time ago and always value my memories of Seattle and Tracia.
Here's a shot of the bench:
The Fourth Rule of Seattle Traffic
4. When confronted with a situation requiring either efficiency or politeness, choose politeness.
The 13th Rule of Seattle Traffic
13. A long line of cars trailing behind a Seattle driver is a sign of the driver's patience and kindness and a testament to their moral superiority. You will often see these drivers, even with a long, impatient line behind them, waving cars in front of them to “go ahead” with a smile. In Seattle, this is known as “the long tail.” Drivers with short or non-existent tails are generally recent emigres from the east coast and should be avoided.
The 17th Rule of Seattle Traffic
17. The first person in line will be the last to notice the light has turned green.
Not to get all Ferengi here.
5th and Wall
I usually bike to work but I walked this morning. It's about a 45-minute walk through downtown Seattle, and I was heading north down 5th when I had to wait for the red at 5th and Wall. I'm no Seattleitie, by the way, I'll run that red on foot (or on bike), but there was a lot of traffic heading west on Wall, so there was no opportunity. Even though most of that traffic was turning left onto 5th.
In case you don't know: Seattle's famed monorail (cue: “The Simpsons”) bisects 5th, leaving two lanes on one side and one on the other, and I noticed a lot of the traffic was turning from the middle lane of Wall into the far, single lane of 5th. I wondered if they were allowed to do this. Then I saw the straight-or-left arrow painted on the street in the middle lane. So: yes. Still, it seemed slightly dangerous. What if the car in the left lane on Wall wanted that far lane of 5th? I imagined accidents happening.
Then I nearly saw one. Just before the light turned red (for them), an SUV in the middle lane on Wall turned left ... but into the near lane, cutting off a driver in the near lane on Wall who was about to turn into the near lane of 5th. Luckily that driver was observant. He put on the brakes, and the SUV kept driving.
That's capitalism to me. Being careful, observant, respectful helps you not at all. The dick move gets you ahead.
What to See at SIFF?
Some people have asked me what looks good at the 2013 Seattle International Film Festival, which opens this week. It's a question everyone in Seattle asks about this time of year. How do you choose between the hundreds of movies offered? It's tough. You research. You look on IMDb. You ask those who know.
That's what I did anyway. The other day, I was lucky enough to run into Seattle Times' movie critic John Hartl outside SIFF Uptown, where he was busy seeing too-many movies in anticipation of the festival. He recommended two docs in particular: “We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks,” Alex Gibney's latest; and “Dirty Wars,” Richard Rowley's documentary about Jeremey Scahill's investigation into America's covert wars:
After nominal research, I also bought tickets to the following with fingers crossed:
- The Deep (Iceland): How an everyman became the sole survivor of an icy shipwreck. Based on a true story.
- Frances Ha (US): Greta Gerwig in a Noah Bambach film. It's gotten good reviews, so I'll go despite last year's “Lola Versus.”
- Out of Print (US doc): The shift from print to digitial. Jeff Bezos and company. This shift is called “an exciting journey” so I assume it's all positive. It'll be interesting to see what negative the doc talks about. If any.
- The Last Sentence (Sweden): Jan Troell's look at an anti-Fascist writer in Sweden in the 1930s
- A Hijacking (Denmark): Danish freighter, Somali pirates. Will be interesting to compare with “Captain Phillips” in a few months.
- Muscle Shoals (US doc): A documentary on the small Alabama town that is the focal point of soul, R&B, and rock 'n' roll music.
- Go Grandriders (Taiwan): Elderly dudes cruise the island where I lived in the late 1980s. A box-office smash in Taiwan.
- The Trials of Muhammad Ali (US doc): Bill Siegel's doc on the heavyweight champion's refusal to serve in the U.S. military during the Vietnam War.
So five docs, three Scandinavian movies, one each from Taiwan and the U.S. Other suggestions welcome.
If you're buying tickets on the SIFF site and know which movie you want, the search function is in the upper right. Barely visible. They don't make it easy. Plus after buying the tickets you have two options: CHECKOUT or CONTINUE SHOPPING. The latter choice will take you back to the home page, where you have to start all over again. They don't make it easy.
Sifting Through the SIFF Schedule
I was glancing through the schedule for 2013 SIFF (Seattle International Film Festival), trying to figure out how they'd organized everything. The booklet lists a few traditional categories (LOVE ... MAKE ME LAUGH...) and some odd ones (OPEN MY EYES ... PROVOKE ME!). Mostly I was trying to find the country by country. In particular I was interested in films from France—although “Les tribulations d'une caissière” kinda screwed me over last year—and finally found, in the back, on pg. 49, a topic index. No pics, no synopses, just movies by topics. I read down:
- FAMILY FRIENDLY
- GERMAN LANGUAGE
Uh ... wait. Where was the French? I backtracked, looked again. Then again. I studied the other topics: ARABIC LANGUAGE ... ASIAN .... JAPANESE LANGUAGE ...RUSSIAN LANGUAGE... But no FRENCH LANGUAGE? Were they banning French movies or something? Did others complain about “Les tribulations d'une caissière,” too?
A few pages on, I found Country Index, where, yes, about 15 French movies were listed. Whew. Even so. Quel est le probleme, SIFF?
And what's with the logo below?
And has anyone heard what's worth seeing?
Starts May 16.
All the Pretty Cherry Blossoms
I went for a walk around Capitol Hill Saturday, First Hill to Volunteer Park, as temps climbed into the mid-60s. All the cherry blossoms were out.
I also like still seing these “Approve 74” signs still up. Because we did.
A Walk in Seattle
Last night I was going to meet my friend Vinny at the Grand Illusion Theater in the U district for a showing of Ozu Yasujiro's “Tokyo Story” (1953), which was recently named the third-greatest movie of all time by critics worldwide, and the greatest movie of all time by directors worldwide. Both groups were polled by “Sight & Sound” magazine, which does this kind of thing every 10 years.
I usually bike to work in lower Queen Anne, so I could've done that, then biked over, then biked home at 10. For some reason, maybe the late-night ride, I decided against. I decided to walk to work, walk to the U district, then catch a ride with Vinny after the movie.
It was a nice day for a walk, and I needed it. Last fall I was diagnosed with subacute thyroiditis, which messes with the thyroid hormones released into the body. First you're in a hyperthyroid stage (too much), then the thyroid shuts down and you go into a hypothyroid stage (too little), then you stabilize eventually. If you're one of the 85% who stabilizes. Apparently I'm one of the 15% who doesn't. So last week I began taking levothyroxine, a supplement, and yesterday, in the middle of the day, I developed symptoms that I associate with hyperthyroid: I got cold, my heartrate went up, and I felt a huge bout of anxiety, for no reason, about nothing.
So a late afternoon walk felt like a blessing. I stopped in my bank, stopped at Cinema Books, the best movie-bookstore in the world, owned by Stephanie Ogle, where I bought two books, then at Scarecrow Video, where I checked out its vast Criterion Collection. Then I met Vinny at Thai Tom on the Ave.
Some iPhone photos from the walk:
Mercer Mess, 4:15 pm. When I bike, I weave through this like the centipede in the old video game.
South Lake Union.
The I-5 bridge from the University bridge, late afternoon.
I'm interested in the lesser-known names in and on our public places. Here's Ms. Hagy's Seattle Times obituary.
Cinema Books, on Roosevelt Way, which is always packed in this manner. It's owned by Stephanie Ogle, who is always a delight.
The wall behind the cash register at Cinema Books. Ms. Ogle's photo (with ...?) is between and to the left of Marilyn Monroe's and Catherine Deneuve's.
The Grand Illusion was sold out for “Tokyo Story.” The movie fit my mood. But ... third-greatest ever? Greatest ever? No movie should have to live up to that.
What Seattle Means to Me
What is America to me
A name, a map, or a flag I see
A certain word, democracy
What is America to me
--Frank Sinatra singing “The House I Live In,” with lyrics by Abel Meeropol and music by Earl Robinson
What does Seattle mean to me?
Yesterday after work, I was biking home to First Hill from lower Queen Anne but was having brake problems. I'd had the brakes replaced about a month ago at Velo Bike Shop on Capitol Hill, and ever since the front brakes stuttered, and now they were squeaking noisily. Screeching almost. So I biked over to Velo, they fixed them on the spot, then I biked a bit around Capitol Hill before coming back via Madison. I was at the corner of Madison and Boren, first in line in the left-turn-only lane, with a motorcycle behind me, revving its engine, both of us waiting on the green arrow. But it didn't come. We waited out the cars traveling south on Boren, and north on Boren, and the moment before the east-west traffic moved, the moment we were supposed to get the green arrow ... didn't arrive. Because the system didn't register a car there. Because there wasn't a car there: there was just a bike, followed by a motorcycle, followed by a car. The system mostly registers cars. The motorcycle began to creep forward and we had this conversation.
Me: You should get closer. It's not registering me.
He: Yeah, sometimes it doesn't register me, either.
Me: Great, what do we do?
Then I saw what he was doing. He was going anyway. He was waiting for the eastbound traffic to dissipate, then he turned left against the red arrow. “Oh, right,” I thought. “We can do that.” I did the same.
That happens a few times a year, by the way, and it's not what Seattle means to me. Here's what Seattle means to me.
As we were turning, I heard a horn honking. Insistently. The motorcyclist's? To warn people what we were doing?
No, it was the car behind us. Admonishing us because we were doing something bad.
And that's what Seattle means to me.
The system is set up in a way to screw you over; and when you improvise, there's always someone there, someone who wouldn't normally talk to you, scolding you for it.
My Evening with Sissy Spacek
I noticed the movie first. “Hey!” I thought. “Terrence Malick's 'Badlands' is playing at SIFF!”
Only when I bought tickets (for $35/$40) did I learn that “Badlands” was an afterthought to one of the major events at the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival: “An Evening with Sissy Spacek,” in which the Oscar-winning actress accepted SIFF's lifetime achievement award and sat down for a two-hour Q&A with Time magazine's Richard Corliss. The screening of “Badlands,” which starred Spacek and a young Martin Sheen, came later, and, by the time it did, a third of the audience had left. Sad.
I had a good time at the event but questions arise. Why Corliss? Why not a local critic, like John Hartl or Moira MacDonald? One of the best, most entertaining interviewers I've seen is both local and a movie critic: Warren Etheredge of the Warren Report. Why not him?
The audience portion of the Q&A can be a drag—particularly in Seattle. The people raising their hands are generally the people who shouldn't be raising their hands: folks who don't want to ask anything but want to pontificate and blab and unenlighten and waste our time. Thankfully, we didn't get many of those. We got oddities: geeks bearing gifts. They spoke tentatively, then brought out some odd, hand-made doo-dad—a ceramic flying pig dangling on a string, for one—then brought it up to Ms. Spacek, who, to her credit, acted more graciously accepting these things than I do accepting a gift I want from someone I love. She showed her chops right there. She deserved her lifetime achievement award right there.
Did you know, under the name “Spackle,” that she sang a late '60s bubble-gum song called “John You've Gone Too Far This Time,” about how John Lennon in 1969 was no longer the mop-top we all loved? I didn't. Someone menioned that the song is hard to find online but it's actually pretty easy. And pretty awful. It should as least be catchy.
More catchy was this clip we saw as part of her career retrospective:
After the Q&A, but before the “Badlands” screening, Michael Upchurch, who, with John Hartl, has been covering SIFF for The Seattle Times, came up and mock-chastised me: “Where was your present for Sissy?” he asked. Exactly.
Here's a portion of the Q&A. Apologies, but we were sitting halfway back so the volume isn't the best and the hand-held jumpiness is like out of a Lars von Trier film. Hope no one gets nauseous.
Apologies, too, Sissy, for not bringing you a gift. Next time.
(TURN UP THE VOLUME FOR THIS ONE...)
I saw 10 movies at the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival and was pretty tired by the end of it. SIFF is billed as the longest film fest in the world, 25 days now, 450+ movies, but there are times, particularly when you're caught in the middle of it, when “longest film fest” seems less boast than threat. You want to wave the white flag. You want to go climb a mountain. If you going to the movies you want to see something loud and stupid and with supheroes.
Here are the rankings of the movies I saw, from first to worst, with links to reviews:
- Starbuck: Must-see French-Canadian comedy
- Under African Skies: Documentary on Paul Simon's “Graceland”
- Goodbye: Iran today
- The Revisionaries: Texas today
- Lola Versus: Girls today
- The Revolutionary: The Marxist yesterday
- Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Heroines: Doc on feminism and boobs
- Hello I Must Be Going: A mopey 35-year-old's big adventure
- A Checkout Girl's Big Adventure: Insipid French fairytale
I'd recommend the first three. Plus half of the fourth. “Checkout Girl” was physically painful.
My 10th film, in case you're wondering, was Terrence Malick's “Badlands” during “An Evening with Sissy Spacek.” More on that later.
None of my movies won any awards. Here's the rundown from the audience and the cognescenti:
2012 SIFF Audience awards
- Best film: “Any Day Now”
- Best documentary: “The Invisible War”
- Best director: Benh Zeitlin, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”
- Best actor: Alan Cumming, “Any Day Now”
- Best actress: Jamie Chung, “Eden”
- Best short film: “Catcam”
2012 SIFF Juried awards
- Best new director: Nicolas Provost, “The Invader”
- Best documentary: “Five Star Existence”
- Best narrative short: “The Extraordinary Life of Rocky”
- Best animated short: “Zergut”
- Best documentary short: “Paradise”
- FIPRESCI Prize for Best New American Film: “Welcome to Pine Hill”
I also heard good things about “Chasing Ice,” “Your Sister’s Sister,” “My Brother the Devil,” “The Fourth State” and “The Intouchables.”
Fun the first time I saw it.
David Ishii, Seattle Bookseller (1935-2012)
These days it seems I hear the news via Facebook more than any other source. The other day it was Jim Walsh's post (and then everybody's posts) about the death of Davy Jones. Yesterday it was Knute Berger with the sad news of the death of David Ishii, a long-time used bookseller in Pioneer Square, whom I interviewed for The Grand Salami, an alternative Mariners program, in the summer of 1998.
The interview is below.
Name: David Ishii
Birthdate: April 16, 1935 in Seattle, WA.
Evacuated: along with other Japanese-Americans to the Midwest during World War II. Although technically allowed to return in 1945, Ishii's mother kept the family in Milwaukee until the summer of 1948.
Owner: since 1972, of David Ishii Bookseller in Pioneer Square, where baseball memorabilia hangs from the walls and autographed baseballs sit on a shelf above the cash register.
* * *
What are your earliest baseball memories?
When I was in high school the Seattle Rainiers won the Pacific Coast League pennant. That was really fun. Every morning in the PI they'd have a drawing of a little man. If he was smiling, the Rainiers won; and if the Rainiers lost he was sad.
I learned how to score when the Pilots came to Seattle in 1969. I wrote in to KVI—they had two-sheet instructions on how to score—and that's when I got into the game. Because to score you have to pay attention. I went to about seventeen games that year and could hardly wait until the next year. But they left town. Even after, I would open up the paper to see how some of the ex-Pilot players, like Tommy Harper, had done.
What do you remember about the early years of the M's?
On days I did not have tickets, I would walk up to the ticket office, buy a ticket, and sit in the third deck, outfield, anyplace, just to see what the game was like from different parts of the Kingdome. That was fun. I remember they had Perry's Perch: Third deck behind homeplate. Very few people bought tickets there. Now it's impossible to get a ticket there. Impossible.
Do you have a favorite Mariner moment?
During the George Argyros days when the Yankees came to Seattle and Tom Paciorek hit two game-winning homeruns on Friday and Saturday night. For the Sunday afternoon game, this big limousine comes in from left field and out pops Paciorek's family. They did it as a surprise for him.
Griffey. I go to as many games as I can mainly to see him play. Because I know that maybe ten or fifteen years down the line, when I'm an old man, I'm going to say, “I saw that play, I saw that play, and I saw that other play he made.”
I saw it when he broke his hand; I saw almost all his basket catches. What a lot of people probably don't realize—in this last catch he made—is that as soon as he caught the ball he turned around and stopped the runner from advancing. That's what made the Willie Mays catch [in the 1954 World Series] so great. Mays was way out there; and as soon as he got the ball, he threw it in so the runner on second couldn't advance. That's what Griffey did.
It was fun to watch him go for eight homeruns in a row; but it's his fielding.
What about non-Mariners? I notice the autographed picture of Lenn Sakata.
[Laughs] He's the first Japanese-American to wear a World Series ring. I met him. A friend of mine, Frank Abe, worked for KIRO, and he called up Lenn Sakata and Sakata says, “Yeah, I've got some family here, come on down.” So we went to a hotel by the airport and met him. I was really surprised. Not a tall man, but, boy, he was strong. His legs, thighs: big.
Let's talk about some of the memorabilia in your store.
Well, this is a ceramic ball. The Lenn Sakata fans—of which there were three of us—we all signed a similar one and gave it to him.
A lot of these are autographed balls. Mac Suzuki. Lou Piniella. Johnny Bench. Griffey.
That's my high school first baseman's glove. When I went to Queen Anne High School, in ... I think it was 1952 when I bought this. After I delivered all the papers on my paper route, a bunch of us would go and play catch. This is a small (glove). See how small it is? I couldn't afford a big one. And it has plastic laces. So it's a cheap mitt. It's a Reach brand mitt.
A friend of mine, Phil Gallagher, he had a big mitt and I was envious of him. But I could still dig 'em out.
Photos of the Day
Hanging out at the Seattle Center's International Fountain on a sunny day in October can do wonders for your soul. Music by Pearl Jam and Nirvana.
Photo of the Day: Marion Strout Plaque at the Betty Bowen Lookout
On nice days, and even some crappy ones, I like walking up Queen Anne hill to Kerry Park, the famous spot that overlooks the Space Needle, downtown Seattle, and Mt. Rainier, and which is a popular tourist destination.
But more and more, I keep walking west along Highland Avenue to the Betty Bowen lookout at Marshall Park, which faces Puget Sound and the Olympic mountains. It's less crowded, quiet and peaceful. It gives me a moment.
Took this photo last week. Could've been today. Both were beautiful, crisp, cloudless fall days.
Betty Bowen was an assistant director at the Seattle Art Museum, who died in 1977, and who was herself such a patron of the arts that an award was named in her honor and given annually to local artists. Seattle Times story on her and the award here.
Can't find much info on Marion Faith Strout. Could she be the Marion Strout quoted in this article?
Day Hikes from Seattle: Bandera Mountain
The guidebook, or guide website, mentions a fork in the trail about an hour into this hike: one path heading to Mason Lake, the other up to the summit of Bandera Mountain. It also mentions that, on the Bandera Mt. path, things get pretty steep. They ain't kidding. On the way down, I noticed that the hill is so steep it's actually convex rather than concave. It curves, like the earth, and you lose sight of people on the other side of the curve.
Nice trail, all in all. Starts out wide and gently sloped, gets steeper past your first (and only?) waterfalls, opens into meadows and wildflowers. Then it makes you choose: a lake or that hellish ascent to the summit. I went latter. The summit, or false summit, is actually a bit of a disappointment. I was hoping for 360-degree views but no such luck. Rainier was way out, though. Bandera is actually one of those Mt. Rainier, peek-a-boo hikes. You go along a southern exposure in which you get the tip, then the top, then the whole of Mt. Rainier.
It's been a crazy month and I haven't made it to many Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) movies. Not like last year. Last year I felt tuned in. I saw eight movies, including what became my eventual no. 2 of the year, “Restrepo,” and I really only felt one of the eight (“Zona Sur”) was a waste of time.
This year I've only seen three, and, given my schedule, will probably only see one more before the whole thing shuts down in a week and a half. Of those three? One was a waste of time (“The First Grader”), one merely disappointed (“The Whistleblower”), and I'm still wrapping my mind around the third (“Black Venus”).
Each showing has suffered its technical difficulties, too.
- “The First Grader,” opening night at McCaw Hall, began 15 minutes late, and then we had to tack on another half-hour for all the corporate speeches. When the film finally began, it seemed underlit to me. Ten minutes in, the film abruptly stopped. When it came back on, we were five minutes earlier in the story and the film was, yes, now properly lit. Director in the house, too. Embarrassing.
- “The Whistleblower,” Sunday afternoon at the Egyptian, began 45 minutes late and seemed underlit.
- “Black Venus,” Sunday evening at the Egyptian, began more or less on time. But for some reason they couldn't show the digital film. Instead, in that big theater, we watched the DVD, which, particularly in far shots, was blurry, while for the entirety of the film the words PROPERTY OF MK2 PRODUCTIONS appeared in the upper right corner. Plus it seemed underlit.
I suppose we go through these kinds of technical problems every year. Doesn't make it any less bothersome. The opposite.
Opening Night at SIFF: Corporate Speeches, Technical Difficulties, and Another Seattle-Lite Movie
I first went to Opening Night at SIFF, the Seattle International Film Festival, in 1994. Acclaimed Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci had filmed parts of “Little Buddha” in Seattle a year earlier, and now his film, and he, would open the festival. Quite the coup. He spoke beforehand, talked about how much he liked Seattle, and Elliott Bay Books, and Scarecrow Video, where they categorized films by director as God intended. Then we all settled in to watch his movie, in which Chris Isaak and Bridget Fonda play the Seattle parents of a boy who may or may not be the reincarnation of the Lama Dorje. Co-starring Keanu Reeves as Siddhartha. One minute in, the film broke, and the screen went dark. One can imagine Bertolucci wasn't pleased. When the film finally started again, after a five-minute delay, I wasn't particularly pleased. It wasn't that good. But what the hell, it was Opening Night.
Last night, I went to my second Opening Night of SIFF, which they dubbed a “Gala.” (I“ll refrain from the Groucho Marx reference.) I suited up, talked with Nancy Guppy, who was interviewing people for the festivities, ran into a few friends. Then Patricia and I and a thousand-plus people settled in for the Opening Night movie, ”The First Grader,“ a British film about an 84-year-old Kenyan man, a former Mau Mau warrior, who wants to go to school to learn to read, and who, with the help of a kindly teacher, fights all the forces (bureaucratic, neighborhood) that get in his way. I was hoping it would be better, more complex, than the trailer indicated.
Except we didn't get the movie right away. First, the co-directors of SIFF made speeches. Then they introduced others who made speeches: this mucky-muck from Starbucks; that mucky-muck from the Seattle Sounders; the Mayor of Seattle. Everyone talked about how much the arts meant. Everyone congratulated each other and us for doing our part. This went on for 15 minutes, a half hour, 45 minutes. By the time the film started I was exhausted. The film didn't help. Was Gordon Willis the cinematographer? Because, man, it seemed really, really underlit. Ten minutes in, the screen went dark. A second later the movie started again, from five minutes earlier, lit properly. One of these years they'll get it right.
Will they ever get the Opening Night movie right? In ”The First Grader,“ good-looking people are good; scowling people are bad; the good-looking people win. Set it in America and it's Hollywood fluff. Set it in Kenya and it must be important. So the SIFF thinking seems to go.
What the hell, it was Opening Night.
”Let Maruge in." She must be right because she's so cute.
Anyone know the methodology the Washington State Ferry System uses for exiting the Bainbridge Island ferry (either the Puyallup or Wenatchee) once you hit Seattle? Most of the time, we're able to jog left and then head east onto Marion, through (and up) downtown Seattle, and straight toward our home on First Hill.
Occassionally, like this afternoon, we'll be directed to the right and onto Alaskan Way heading south, where there are no left turns for several blocks. We have to drive all the way down to King Street, nearly to Safeco Field, before we can turn left and head in the direction we want. And almost every time this happens, as with this afternoon, a Mariners game is just getting out. Which means all of us are being forced to drive toward a massive, cluster-f***ed traffic jam. We're adding to the problem rather than avoiding the problem.
So anyone know the methodology? Why sometimes Marion, why sometimes Alaskan Way, why sometimes both?
And why force us toward Safeco as M's games are just getting out?
I like riding it; it's the exit that can sometimes be a pain.
My Bike Ride: the 2nd and Broad Intersection
I live in the First Hill neighborhood in Seattle, work in lower Queen Anne, bike almost every day. Not a bad ride: 15 minutes. Bit hilly on the way back but hills are unavoidable in Seattle.
Case in point. At the beginning of the ride home, one-way streets and busy streets basically force me to go up that hill on Thomas near the Space Needle, only, a block later, to go down that hill on 2nd Avenue, just before Mercer. So: go up only to go down. That's Seattle.
When you bike up to 2nd and Thomas, you always get a glorious view of the Space Needle.
The true drag is the traffic light at the bottom of 2nd. It's long, and rarely green when I need it to be green, so increasingly I find myself stopping halfway down the hill and hanging by the curb for the green so I can get some benefit of the hill. So I can go: fooosh!
Or so I can go fooosh for a block. Then I run into the mess at 2nd and Broad.
Second Avenue, a one-way street heading south, is the only downtown street with a bike lane, which is cool, but this leads to its own problems. Whenever a car turns left on 2nd it's essentially turning into the bike lane, and 2nd and Broad is a popular left-turn intersection. Worse, the stoplights are timed so that, with or without the foosh, that light seems to turn green when I'm about 10-20 feet from the intersection. Which means I have no idea if the cars in the left lane see me as they're about to turn left. So invariably I have to brake and lose my foosh.
This would be less of a problem if people in Seattle actually used their turn signals. But many refuse to, almost stubbornly, as if this passivity is part of what makes them Seattleites—just as the passivity of pedestrians not crossing against the red when no cars are in sight makes them Seattleites. Too often I've had to stop completely at 2nd and Broad because a car, gloriously oblivious and turnsignalless, began its turn into my lane. As a final insult, it often turns on its turn signal then. When its intentions are obvious. When it does nobody any good.
On the plus side I'm still here.
Even the Google Maps photo at 2nd and Broad shows a turnsignalless car turning left. (And at evening-hour rush hour, this intersection is always busier, and, invariably, rainier.)
Memories of Junior
On June 2, 2010, Ken Griffey, Jr., “The Kid” when he came up, “The Natural” on his first Sports Illustrated cover, “Junior” very quickly and forever after that, retired from Major League Baseball. It wasn't exactly a Ted Williams-ish exit. Two days earlier, in the bottom of the 9th, with the Mariners down by a run and a man on first, Junior, pinching hitting for catcher Rob Johnson, one of the few players on the team with a worse batting average than his, grounded into a fielder's choice off of Twins' closer Jon Rauch. Then Michael Saunders, all of 2 years old when Junior broke into the bigs, pinch ran for him. And that was that.
I missed his beginnings. Junior signed with the Mariners about the time I graduated from college (June 1987), and he broke into the bigs when I was getting ready for grad school (April 1989), so I wasn't paying much attention. Plus I was in Minneapolis, or Taipei, or New Brunswick, and when I finally arrived in Seattle in May 1991 I maintained a Minnesota preference for Kirby Puckett. The first time I saw Junior at the Kingdome he went 0-4. “So much for that,” I thought.
I think I fell in love about '93. He made spectacular catches routine and hit mooonshot homeruns into the upper deck. During the homerun derby in Baltimore, wearing his cap backwards, Junior became the first player to hit the B&O Warehouse beyond the right field stands on the fly; there's still a plaque there commemmorating the event. In July he tied a major league record by hitting 8 HRs in 8 straight games, and for the season he hit 45 homers and led the league in Total Bases with 359, but he finished fifth in the MVP vote behind no. 4 Juan Gonzalez (who led the league in HRs with 46), no. 3 John Olerud (who led the league in batting, OBP and OPS), no. 2 Paul Molitor (who led the league in hits), and the winner, Frank Thomas, who led the league in exactly nothing but whose team, the White Sox, won the West. Griffey was still stuck over in Seattle, which had great, budding players, and a famously irascible manager, Lou Piniella, and the team finished over .500 for the second time in its shabby history but still finished fourth in the AL West with a 82-80 record. You look at the '93 MVP numbers and it looks like a wash among the top 5, so why not give weight to the Gold Glove in center field rather tha the lump at first base? But the Baseball Writers Association of America preferred, as it always does, winning teams and semantics over “valuable” to defense. The writers probably figured: Junior's only 23. He'll get better.
He did. I was at the game June 24, 1994 when Junior hit HR no. 32 and you couldn't help but add up the on-pace possibilities. 62? 70? Esquire magazine ran a short feature on him that summer called “Roger and Him,” all about The Man Who Would Break Roger Maris' Home Run Record, but Junior stopped at 40 along with the rest of the baseball season in August. When Newsweek ran a cover story on the baseball strike they put Junior on the cover with a broken bat. MVP SchmemVP, Junior represented the sport.
The sport returned in late April 1995 and so did he: a 3-run homer on Opening Day as the M's beat the Tigers 5-zip before a sparse crowd at the Kingdome. A month later he was gone again: shattering his wrist making an impossible catch against the right-centerfield wall. For three months we held our breath. Could he come back? Would he be the same? The wrist is so important. Think Hank Aaron and his early cross-handed batting stance, and how that mistake strengthened his wrists, and how he wound up hitting 755 homeruns. 1995 turned out to be a magic season for the M's, the “Refuse to Lose” season, and, though Junior helped spark it with a walk-off homerun against John Wetteland and the New York Yankees on August 24, other players dominated. Edgar won the batting title with a .356 average, Randy won the Cy Young award, going 18-2 with 294 strikeouts, and Jay Buhner ruled the September to Remember. Yes, Junior dominated the Yankees in the ALDS, with five homeruns in five games, but it was Edgar who killed them: 7 RBIs in Game 4 and the double down the left-field line that scored Junior from first in Game 5 and finally put the stake into their cold, cold Yankee hearts.
Junior missed another month in '96 (hamate bone) and still hit 49 homers, but in the new era that was only good enough for third place. In '97 he was finally injury free and finally won that MVP award but it already felt different. He wasn't even the Kid anymore, A-Rod was, and though he finally hit 56 homeruns, everyone, even Brady Anderson, was suddenly hitting 50 homeruns. Moreover, his team, the lowly Mariners, who stormed ahead in '95, and seemed, in '96 and early '97, on the verge of a dynasty, was already being undone by awful relief pitching and awfuler moves. Omar Vizquel for Felix Fermin. Tino Martinez and Jeff Nelson for Sterling Hitchcock and Russ Davis. In July '97, with Norm Charlton and Bobby Ayala forever blowing ballgames, M's GM Woody Woodward went out and got three relief pitchers: Bad (Mike Timlin), Badder (Paul Spoljarec) and Baddest (Heathcliff Slocumb). To get them he gave up what felt like the future: another Jr. (Jose Cruz), catcher Jason Veritek and pitcher Derek Lowe. It didn't even work short-term. The M's got killed by Baltimore in the '97 ALDS, three games to one, and from the right-field stands I watched Junior flub a chance at a great play. The ball went off his glove. I'd never seen that before. I thought: “What is that? He normally gets that.” The next season was worse. We lost Randy Johnson in July, and while Junior was blasting homeruns it wasn't at the pace of the two testeronic monstrosities, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, who ruled the summer. Junior was a diminished figure in the steroids era. The M's were a diminished team in the Yankees era.
In February 1999 I got to interview Woody Woodward for a local magazine. Afterwards the M's front office, who thought it would be a puff piece, called my editor to complain about “being ambushed,” but under the circumstances I thought I'd been polite. I hadn't sworn at him, for example. I hadn't threatened him, or yelled at him, or told him what he could do with his Healthcliff Slocumb. One of the Qs and As:
Is there a plan to keep Ken Griffey, Jr. and Alex Rodriguez after the 2000 season? Is it even feasible given the huge contracts that are being signed today?
Right now I’m going after it like it is. But...we also need to be strong enough as a team that they will want to play in Seattle.
They didn't. It was rumored Griffey didn't much like the House that Griffey Built, which opened in July 1999, and after the season he demanded a trade to one of three teams, then one of one team, the Cincinnati Reds, and like that he was gone and the sourness lingered until early April 2000 when his replacement Mike Cameron scaled the wall in dead center field to take away a homerun from Derek “Effin'” Jeter, and Safeco Field went wild: giving Cameron a standing O as he trotted in, giving him a standing O as he batted the next inning, giving him a standing O as he walked back to the dugout after striking out on three pitches. We thought baseball wouldn't be fun without Junior but that night we realized it might. And it kinda was, in 2000 and 2001, but it still wasn't the same. That presence was gone. Those possibilities were gone. There was still too much What Might Have Been.
Junior in the NL was like the Beatles after the break-up: Not bad, but you wondered what happened to the magic. Junior dominated the 1990s. Every year he'd won a Gold Glove. Every year he'd been elected to the All-Star team—usually with the highest vote total. Nine of the 10 years he'd received MVP votes and five times he finished in the top 5. He was named Player of the Decade and named to the All-Century team and one wondered where he would stop. The answer? Right there. In the NL he never won a Gold Glove, played in only three All-Star games, received MVP votes just once, in 2005, his comeback year. He was always injured, limping, overweight. After a time, after the bitterness went away, you silently cheered him on. C'mon, Junior! Lose weight. get in shape, come back. Phillies great Richie Ashburn once said, of the strategies devised to keep playing ball, “I wish I learned early what I had to learn late,” but you got the feeling Junior didn't even learn this late. When he returned to Seattle last year, a nostalgic afterthought, and put 18 more homers between him and the black mark of Sammy Sosa, he was an old man of 39. The same age as Mariano Rivera, who helped the Yankees win their first World Championship since 2000. Junior helped the Mariners think they had a chance—for the last time.
I wasn't there at the beginning but I was there at the end. Not Junior's last game on Memorial Day, but the first Major League Baseball game without Junior on a roster. As he drove home to Florida, M's management played the tribute video they'd probably had in the can for 14 months and the grounds crew created a “24” in the dirt out by second base, and me and my friend Jim watched this team, once mighty, once a potential dynasty, now as weak and characterless as the day he arrived to save them, eke out a win in extra innings. But there was nothing electric about it. There was no future in it. The M's are still a backwards-looking franchise that doesn't even have a definitive victory to look back on. In the 1990s they had three of the greatest players ever to play on the same team, Junior, A-Rod and Randy, and they couldn't get past the ALCS. Two of those players now have rings from other franchises. The last will go down as the greatest player in baseball history never to be in a World Series.
Godspeed, Junior. You deserved better.
The Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) ended a week ago Sunday after three packed weeks of movies. I saw eight of them. None of my films, not even “Restrepo,” wound up among the award winners (Golden Space Needle, etc.), which are listed on the SIFF site alphabetically. It's so like Seattle to list award winners alphabetically. We don't want to imply that one is better than another—even when we're saying that these are better than the others.
I'll say it, of course. Of the movies I saw, this is how I'd rank them:
- “Au Revoir Taipei”
- “Garbo: The Spy”
- “L'enfer d'Henri-Georges Clouzot”
- “The City of Life and Death”
- “The Tillman Story”
- “The Actresses”
- “Zona Sur”
As for SIFF itself? It's a great film festival, a local treasure, the largest film festival in the country supposedly (in terms of attendance? length? films? all?), and just getting all of these films here so we can see them in a theater (as opposed to on DVD or not at all), and ahead of critics in N.Y. and L.A., makes one a bit abashed about any petty criticisms one may have.
But here I go being petty:
- I saw “Restrepo” at the Harvard Exit, a group of us waiting outside in the semi-drizzle for nearly an hour on the off-chance of getting in. We got in. But just as we were buying tickets several people butted ahead of us to buy their tickets. But not to “Restrepo,” we found out. To “Les Secrets de sus Ojos.” Which was not part of the festival but was playing at the Harvard Exit nonetheless. I'm sure there was a reason a separate box office hadn't been set up for this non-festival movie, but I doubt the reason is worth the anxiety and bad feelings, for both “Restrepo” folks and “Ojos” folks, that the one line engendered.
- The next day I saw “Zona Sur” at Pacific Place downtown. A separate box office had been set up there, but it was a separate box office with two lines: one to buy tickets, one to pick up tickets. I was in the pick-up tickets line. Unfortunately the pick-up tickets line was the outer line while the pick-up window was the near window, and this meant folks trying to pick up tickets had to cross through the line of folks trying to buy tickets. Once again: confusion and anxiety. Those of us in line talked about how the lines (or the windows) should be switched, and I did my complaining perhaps a trifly loudly (I'm a charmer that way), and when I got to the window, the SIFF volunteer at the other window complained to me about me. Basically he said I should zip it. When I said that all they needed to do was switch the lines and everything would be OK, he interrupted with, “Sir? Sir? Please don't feed the chaos!” A funny line, but in the end it solved nothing.
But all in all my experience this year was better than my experience last year, when the movie I most wanted to see, the “Mesrine” two-parter with Vincent Cassel, was canceled at the last minute. (I think our print wound up in my least-favorite state: Texas.) I still haven't seen that movie yet. On Netflix, its arrival date is “Unknown.” On the plus side, Scarecrow Video in Seattle says they have it for region 1 players.
As for SIFF's Award winners? I'll have to check them out. But I wouldn't be surprised if they were a little too arty for my taste. SIFF listed “Restrepo” as the fourth-best documentary of the festival, and, for the moment, I refuse to believe that three other documentaries could be that good.
I think my friend Brenda, a competitive cyclist, told me about it first, and last week I saw it with my own eyes: the CounterBalance on Roy in lower Queen Anne is no more.
I've been going there since I moved back to Seattle in Sept. 2007. I work just two blocks away, so whenever I had a biking problem—flat tire, shitty brakes, odd sound, seasonal tune-up—there it was. Easy peasy. Guys were cool, work was fast. I'd bought my bike in August 2000 and ride every day, in all kinds of weather, from 5 degrees to 103, so problems always cropped up. It was the guys at CounterBalance, in fact, who told me last February that the frame on my bike had cracked. Gregg's confirmed it. I wound up buying a whole new bike. A new bike needs less work, of course, so I hadn't been back. First my bike goes, then the CounterBalance on Roy.
Shame. More than one million gallons of oil a day are spewing into the Gulf of Mexico and yet we keep driving and driving. We should be riding and riding. Places like CounterBalance should be opening shops rather than closing them down.
The World's Worst Hiker: Rachel Lake
Within five minutes of hiking to Rachel Lake in the Snoqualmie Pass, I lost the trail. Wait, it was worse. Saturday morning, Patricia and I drove east on I-90, then for five miles next to Kachless Lake, then four miles over an uneven dirt road to the half-full parking lot, where a few campers and their dogs milled about. Geared up, we saw a sign, "Welcome to Rachel Lake Trail," and headed down that road. "Down" should've given us a clue: It led to another parking lot. P: "I don't think this is the trail." Backtracking, P shouted to two campers: "You guys know where you're going?" and laughed. Generally I'm not shy about asking directions, but at that moment I felt about a gonad short of a pack. I'd lost the trail before I'd found it.
Eventually, after signing in at the trailhead, we passed those dudes and their dog, and five minutes later I stepped over a group of branches in the middle of the trail. Some part of me was thinking, "It's as if someone put them there on purpose," but the more insistent part of me kept going. About 150 feet later the trail diminished to nothing. More backtracking. Were we backpacking or backtracking? Oh right, the branches. As a warning. Now I get it.
Twice on one hike. Could I go for the hat trick?
Much of hiking, though, is pacing, and P and I are unfortunately ill-matched here. If I go at my pace, she gets left behind; if we go at hers, I get resentful, and even when I don't, even if I'm feeling magnanimous that day, she assumes I'm resentful and resents back. Or maybe she resents the magnanimity more. Who wouldn't? The loftiness of spirit to bear me calmly? Who the fuck do you think you are? We had that friction early in the Rachel Lake hike. Plus her threshhold of beauty is lower than mine. She's often stopping, arms akimbo, going, "My god, this is beautiful," while, slightly ahead, I stop, look around, shrug. "Isn't this beautiful?" she insists. "Yeah, it's beautiful," I say. I'm assuming she's stopping just to rest. She's pissed at me for going so fast as to miss all this beauty. Not to mention the trail. And that's how we hike.
But at some point, generally during steep ascents, she lets me off-leash and I go bounding up. Rachel Lake is four miles one way: a mile of gradual ascent, a mile a half of relative flat next to a creek, and a final mile and a half that takes you up 1600 feet over big rocks and huge, twisting roots like out of Tolkien. P let me loose early in the ascent and I quickly passed a couple that had passed us on the flat. "We downshifted to granny gear," the husband joked. I smiled and made a magnanimous remark about being less burdened with my half-full daypack, as opposed to their full backpacks, but it sounded overlong and hollow even as it left my mouth. (Lesson for the day: Magnanimity sucks.) A minute later, I was still ruminating on the idiocy of the line when I wondered: Is this the trail? I convinced myself, Yeah, it's the trail, but it kept narrowing and narrowing. I didn't want to backtrack because a) it still might be the trail, and b) if it wasn't, I'd be behind that couple again and I'd have to repass them, and I hated repassing people. Although in retrospect it might've been fun—like those old Tex Avery cartoons where Droopy Dog keeps turning up, impossibly, again and again and again, and, with a lugubrious "Hello," makes his antagonist's eyes bulge out and his mouth drop to the floor.
Then I heard the couple ahead of me. Which meant I wasn't on the trail. Which meant I'd lost it again.
But I kept going forward. I'm hard-wired for forward. Maybe, I thought, this trail hooks back up with the main trail. It was worth a shot. Until the trail disappeared completely.
At that point, 20 yards downhill, I saw Patricia's white shirt gleaming through the pine trees and yelled down to her. She looked up—but not at me. Ahead on the trail. Which is where she assumed I was. "Yeah?"
Even though it was a gross violation of hiking etiquette, I went off-trail—purposefully, this time—in order to get back on trail.
"Why am I waiting?" she yelled uptrail. A second later I came crashing through the trees to her right. "Oh," she said.
After that, we stuck together.
As tired as she was, Patricia kept complimenting the hike and its views, but overall I wasn't enamored. I don't need to do this one again, I kept thinking. Until we got to Rachel Lake.
I mean, c'mon.
As of last night, here's where the Seattle Mariners rank in the following batting categories among the 14 teams of the American League:
- Hits: 11th
- Doubles: 11th
- Triples: 12th-T
- Homeruns: 11th
- Total Bases: 13th
- Runs: Last
- RBIs: Last
- Batting Average: Last
- OBP: Last
- Slugging: 13th
- OPS: Last
It's been a fun summer. But we are first in the league in Sacrifice Hits with 53. Nothing like sacrificing.
The World's Worst Hiker: Granite Mountain
That would be me, by the way.
I live in Seattle, which is nestled between the Cascade mountains (to the east) the Olympic mountains (to the west). You can't not hike here.
I usually do day hikes, usually on Saturdays, usually with my friend Jim, who's been hiking these parts since he moved here from New Jersey in 1981. Jim's got a new girlfriend, though, who lives about an hour outside of Seattle, and they tend to spend weekends together. My girl, meanwhile, Patricia, was sore from volunteer work she did Friday. So Saturday morning I headed up the I-90 corridor by myself toward Granite Mountain.
Since Jim got me into hiking I've tended to follow his lead, and Jim's into the following: a 6-mile round-trip hike, with a 2,000-foot elevation gain, that begins in the forest, breaks through to meadows, and winds up on a mountaintop with great views. You eat lunch, you head back. Jim doesn't approve of hikes that end in lakes. Jim doesn't approve of hikes too close to Seattle, or to I-90, or to other people. He likes to get away.
This means that, though I've been hiking for 10 years, I haven't done some of the most accessible hikes in the area: Snoqualmie Pass hikes less than an hour from Seattle. That's Granite Mountain. Take exit 47, turn north for .2 miles, turn west for .4 miles, and, boom, you're at the trailhead. Beats 16 miles over a bumpy dirt road. Other cars can do that but we've got a '95 Honda Civic, low to the ground, and those dirt roads take their toll even if the U.S. Forest Service doesn't.
Saturday morning was beautiful—blue skies, warming Pacific Northwest air. I left before 8:00 and was on the trail before 9:00. To be honest, there are certain things I don't mind doing alone and hiking's one of them.
But here's why I'm the world's worst hiker. I learned about the Granite Mountain trail from 100 Classic Hikes in Washington by Ira Spring and Harvey Manning. It's a glossy Mountaineers guide, and Granite Mountain is hike no. 57, and it's called "Granite Mountain." For people like me it should be called "Pratt Lake/Granite Mountain." Or they should indicate, for people like me, in capital letters: "This BEGINS on the Pratt Lake trail; then you TURN OFF to get onto the Granite Mountain trail." They say as much, but without the caps, and so some part of me, knowing this is hike no. 57, called "Granite Mountain," assumes I'm already on the trail. I'm not. That's the first reason why I'm the world's worst hiker.
Here's the second reason, and it relates to the first: I'm a daydreamer. "You live the life of the mind," a friend recently said. Which means I'm hiking along, thinking about this profile I have to write on a lawyer, and that piece I have to do for MSNBC-Movies, and what would be the next best step in that profile, and should I include this scene or that scene in the MSNBC piece, and, wait, what's that on my face? A cobweb? Puh! And another one? Damn, there's a lot of cobwebs on this trail. Or are they silkworm threads? Because I don't see any... Oh, there they are. Shit, that's a big spider. Yuck. Remember Tarantula? Remember The Fly? "Help me! Help me!" I joked about it last weekend so of course now would be the time... The ironic school of storytelling. The O Henry ending. Of course there are no giant spiders, Erik. Ah, but there are cougars. There've been a lot of sightings lately—even in Seattle. Who's to say? What are you supposed to do if you cross paths with a cougar again? Run? Pray? Punch it in the nose? Jesus, I should've been in Boy Scouts. I should've learned something. Does Patricia even know what trail I'm on? Well, the car's at the trailhead. At least they'll know where to look. Puh! More spiderwebs. Man, where is everybody? And what time is it? 9:35? Wait... wasn't the turnoff supposed to be after like a mile? Did I miss it? Am I even on the right trail? Did those people at the trailhead distract me from seeing the real trail, and now I'm on this wrong trail that everyone else knows you don't hike at this time of year because of all the damn spiders? Because of the giant spider? Puh!
Fifteen minutes later I finally saw someone: a thirtyish dude who must've camped overnight because his sleeping bag was still on the trail. I stepped over it...and at the last instant realized that someone was actually in the sleeping bag. Boy or girl? Not sure. Just hair sticking out the top of the bag.
"Forgive me for asking a really stupid question," I began. "But what trail is this?"
He did a mild double-take. "The Pratt Lake Trail."
"Damn. Missed the turnoff for Granite Mountain."
"Yeah, that's like...about a mile back. It's right near this stream, you know? You were probably distracted by the stream."
"Thanks!" I'd crossed a few mountain streams on the way there, so on the way back I look at each one carefully, searching for the trail up. Didn't see it. Until the fourth mountain stream. Then on the far side (the near side during my first pass) I saw a narrow trail. I remembered seeing it, too, and thinking it was just another scabby trail that would dissipate after 20 feet. That it was a dead end. I thought: "You know, that Mountaineers book should really emphasize that the turnoff isn't that prominent. That it's easy to mistake for a dead-end trail." I was thinking this as the trail dead-ended after 20 feet at the mountain stream. It wasn't the Granite Mountain turnoff, after all.
I found the Granite Mountain turnoff five minutes later—or about 20 minutes from the trailhead. It's big and open, with a wood sign reading "Granite Mt.," and an arrow pointing up. All that's missing are the flashing lights and the carnival barker directing you.
I sighed, paused, calculated. I'd already hiked three miles and still had three to go just to reach the summit. The original hike was arduous enough—8 miles roundtrip, 3800 feet elevation gain—and I was turning it into a 10-mile hike with a, what, 4300 feet elevation gain? 4500 feet? Plus the brunt of the hike has a southern exposure and they recommended making it there early on hot sunny days. My daydreaming had cost me a crucial hour. But I figured I didn't have to summit. I could just hike until I got tired, grab a spot with a view, eat lunch, come down. Easy.
I hiked with a sense of urgency—as if I were trying to catch up with someone—and passed all the hikers that should've been behind me in the first place. When I hit the sun I stopped to put on sunscreen and a Mariners cap. When I hit shade I stopped to drink water. Soon I began to run into descending hikers. One woman, after she passed me, said to her friends: "God, can you imagine trying to go up at this time of..." Thanks, lady. On and on. Up and up. The fall colors of the blueberry bushes were beautiful, and the trail began to diverge on rocky slopes until it was hard to tell where the trail exactly was. But I kept choosing the most obvious path up. As it neared noon, I kept thinking, "This looks like a good spot for lunch," but kept going. At one point the rocks got huge and the trail leveled off and it finally felt like I was summiting. But I remembered from the book that there was something extra to do. What was it again? Then I turned a corner and saw the extra: an old fire lookout atop Granite Mt.: 400 feet almost straight above me. I stared at it, found shade, plopped down. I thought about lunch again. Then I thought the thought that always keeps you going: I've come this far...
In the end that extra 400 feet went quickly and I stumbled rubber-legged over the giant rocks in the shadow of the lookout and chose a spot facing south: a large flat rock worn smooth by the number of hikers who had chosen it before me. After the long hot summer the Cascades to the left and right looked strangely brown and denuded, but Mt. Rainier, straight ahead, was still gloriously capped with ice and snow. Then I looked below. Way way down, cutting through the woods, lay the thin ribbon of I-90, with cars moving east and west. Could I even hear them? After all this work? How annoying. Jim was right.
Then I laid back against the warm rock and closed my eyes. Even so.
The author, unable to find the turnoff. Unable to take an iPhoto.
Last night P and I and Courtney and Eva checked out the town hall madness at Meany Hall on the UW campus. U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott hosted. He was a gracious host. Some in the audience were not gracious guests.
It didn’t get as bad as health care town halls I’ve seen on television. The naysayers, who mostly seemed of the Lyndon Larouche camp, simply tried to disrupt things. They shouted comments while Rep. McDermott was mid-sentence. Initially the rest of the folks in the audience turned toward the noise, curiously, but when it continued, when the guy in question wouldn’t shut up, they shouted him down. There was an adamance to this that was refreshing. The best shoutdown, a quiet but poignant shoutdown, came from Rep. McDermott himself. He was talking about a particular universal health-care-coverage proposal and then asked rhetorically, “Where did this idea come from?” One of the rabble-rousers yelled “Communists!” McDermott cocked his head, put his hands on the lectern, and enunciated distinctly: “Richard M. Nixon.” Laughter and applause.
There was a lot of applause last night. There were a lot of questions. A lot of people’s concerns were my concerns. This is Seattle so most in the audience wanted the public option if not a complete single-payer system like in Canada. They’re worried they won’t get the public option. They’re worried the Dems will fold. They asked: “What can we do to make sure the public option, or public choice, gets through?” McDermott mentioned showing up, as we were showing up, and letting our voices be heard. He said show up at the rally at Westlake Thursday evening. He said write your Senators. Let them know how you feel.
For Washington-ites, you can e-mail Sen. Patty Murray here.
You can e-mail Sen. Maria Cantwell here.
It’s Google time people. It’s easy to contact these folks.
Here are some other resources. T.R. Reid, a foreign correspondent for The Washington Post, and the author of The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care, hosted a Frontline special last summer, that you can watch here, at the end of this Q&A. (It’s worth it.)
Reid also has a good Op-Ed in The Washington Post: “Five Myths About Health Care Around the World."
It continues to startle me how xenophobic this country remains, and how much our xenophobia is used against our better interests. “Communist!” when someone isn’t, “Terrorist!” when they’re not. “Kenyan!” when someone’s American, “Socialist Medicine!” when it’s generally not. And even if it is a socialist system, like Great Britain’s, well, it’s socialist in the sense that our education system and police force and firefighters are socialist. What do these things have in common? They’re essential to our well-being. Isnt health care?
Other countries’ health care systems are always used to stifle debate in this country—it’s gotten to the point where merely mentioning it is disparaging it—but who’s happy with our system? We’re locked into our employer’s heath care package (and thus fear getting fired or changing jobs), we waste everyone’s time with “gatekeepers” (and thus have to go through general practitioners to get to specialists), and 20-22% of our heard-earned money goes toward administrative costs rather than, you know, actual medical costs. This compares with 6-10% in other countries. And the nutjobs say we have the best health care in the world? We may spend the most, in terms of GDP, but the World Health Organization ranks the U.S. system 37th.
Time to get better.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to write my Senators.
I arrived in Seattle in May 1991 after spending most of the 1980s pursuing a degree and a girl—I got the degree and lost the girl—and after having spent a significant amount of time abroad in baseball-less Taiwan. Hell, even in Minneapolis, where I lived most of the 1980s, baseball didn't feel the same as when I was growing up. My childhood stadium, Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minn. (now the Mall of America), saw its last professional baseball game played on September 30, 1981 (I was there), and it was replaced, the spring of my freshman year of college, with a domed stadium downtown. Grass became turf, the sky became roof, the distinctive “TC” on the caps of the players became a fat, generic “M” (because, literalists proclaimed, it was the Minnesota Twins, not the Twin Cities’ Twins), and I drifted elsewhere. Yes, this kid Hrbek was better than most in a long line of “next Harmon Killebrews,” and, yes, this kid Puckett coming up in ’84 was fun to watch, but overall I stopped going. I lost track. Hell, when the Twins finally won it all in 1987 I was on the other side of the world. I still considered myself a fan but I was, at best, fair-weather.
In Seattle in ’91 and ’92 I went to a few games in the Kingdome—which was, impossibly, even uglier than the Metrodome—and things improved in ’92 when I got glasses and could finally follow the ball again, but I didn’t become a true fan until ’93, when two friends from University Book Store, Tim and Mike, and I, would often, spur of the moment, take in a game. “Who’s pitching? Randy? Let’s go.”
Here’s an entry in my diary, from when I wrote a diary, from April 21, 1993:
I got rained on three times today: biking to work in the morning; as Parker and I were waiting for the bus to take us to the Mariners game; and finally returning from the Mariners game. The game, by the way, went well: Mariners: 5 Red Sox: 0. Randy Johnson with a 4-hit complete game shutout; Ken Griffey Jr. with two homeruns. This is his second two-homerun game in the last three days.
The next night Chris Bosio pitched a no-hitter and I wasn’t there, and I always lamented the fact that I went to the first two games in that series with Boston and it was the third game that was a no-hitter. But this second game wasn’t bad, either. It was career victory no. 51 for Randy (no. 51). That’s 249 victories ago. And counting.
God, he was fun to watch. He’s fun to watch now, but then? In his prime? For your team? Unbelievable. That year I saw him strike out 15 Kansas City Royals—twice. I watched him give John Kruk a heart attack at the All-Star game. Jerry Crasnick has a list of the top 9 Randy Johnson moments and I was only at the park for one of them—no. 9, the McGwire homerun—but, possibly because it’s too similar to his no. 4, Crasnick left out the most indelible moment for most Mariners’ fans, and I was there for that.
In 1998, along with Edgar Martinez, Jay Buhner and Jamie Moyer, the M’s had three superstars on the team—RJ, Junior and A-Rod—and thus three huge contracts to fill in the near future, and in attempting to juggle this dilemma they wound up losing all three. RJ went first, mid-season 1998, and I covered his return to Seattle, and to new Safeco Field, on July 20, 1999 for The Grand Salami, an alternative program sold at the stadium. His return, by the way, wasn't the most indelible RJ moment for most Mariners' fans. That came three years earlier. Here's the piece. I called it "Unitless in Seattle":
M’s fans have grown bitter these past few seasons, witnessing, at they have, so many late-inning losses, so many bewildering trades, so much opportunity and talent gone for naught. Worse, RJ’s departure was acrimonious. He pitched poorly with the M’s in the first half of ’98, and then cut a swath through the National League in the second half, so some feel he tanked it here.
“I listen to sport radio quite a bit,” Artie Kelly, 41, of Seattle, said outside Safeco, “and (fan reaction) is pretty mixed.”
Kelly, known as “Ironworker Artie,” bears a slight resemblance to the Unit—tall, lanky, and long-haired. He wore a t-shirt with Johnson’s name and number on the back, and stuck posters on the outside of Safeco, which he helped build. “Gone But Not Forgotten,” read one. “The House That Randy Built,” read another. “I’m out here to enlighten fans who are being brainwashed by M’s management,” he said. “You don’t lead the league in strikeouts by tanking it.”
Indeed, Johnson’s 329 strikeouts last year, a number lost in the hubbub over the McGwire-Sosa homerun parade, were the seventh-most in modern major league history.
“The question back then was whether Randy deserved Maddux money,” Kelly continued. “Well, now the question is whether Maddux deserves Johnson money."
Inside Safeco it became apparent that the anti-Randy talk on sports radio was mostly a vocal minority.
“I like Randy, he didn’t do nothing wrong,” said Ed Claxton, 34, of Bothell.
“Cheer?” asked Brian Conrad, 31, of Kenmore, who basked in the sun along the first base line. “Hell yeah. He’s responsible for us having this stadium.”
When asked about favorite RJ moments, the response was surprisingly widespread. Some mentioned the no-hitter against Detroit in 1990, and the one-game playoff against California that gave Seattle its first division title in 1995. What came to Darren Arends’ mind was the 1993 All-Star game when Randy sailed a pitch over the head of the Phillies’ John Kruk. Kruk stepped out, an amazed, dazed smile on his face, fluttered a hand near his heart, then promptly struck out on three pitches—his last swing hardly catching homeplate he was so far back in the bucket.
But by far the favorite Randy moment—in this admittedly unscientific survey—was Randy striding in from the bullpen to the strains of “Welcome to the Jungle,” in Game 5 of the 1995 Division Series against the Yankees.
“The best sports moment of my life,” said Brian Conrad.
“That was a pretty imposing sight,” remembered Sean Linville, 28, of Bellingham.
And I was there. Six years later—during which the national sports press, forgetting '95, kept implying that Randy "choked" in the postseason—I watched on TV as Randy, now with the Diamondbacks, did the same against the Yankees in the 7th game of the 2001 World Series. He was the true Yankees killer—though both games required comebacks from his teammates.
Getting that comeback, getting that team support, was kind of a rarity for Randy—at least in his Seattle days. That’s what I kept thinking during this long, drawn-out pursuit for 300. If it wasn’t for that lousy, mid-1990s M’s bullpen, how much sooner would he have gotten there? I recall tons of blown ballgames—the worst, the most laughable, coming in April 1998, when RJ dominated the Red Sox (again) through 8 innings at Fenway, and left with a five-run lead. The M’s bullpen—horrible in ’97, disastrous in ‘98—promptly gave it all back, and more, as Mo Vaughn ended the game with a walk-off grand slam. The four or five pitchers Lou trotted out that inning didn’t even record an out.
So make no mistake. Randy deserves that 300. He’s the best, most dominating pitcher I’ve ever seen. And—with Junior, Edgar, Omar and Jay, as well as Mike and Tim—he helped bring me back to baseball.
Edward Hopper's Quiet
Patricia and I finally got down to the Seattle Art Museum to see “Edward Hopper’s Women,” a small exhibit, limited to two rooms, that has been on view since mid-November. I’m of the “I don’t know much about art but I know what I like” school, and I love Hopper. He may be my favorite artist. His paintings feel quiet. There’s a stillness to them, often a sad stillness, but I’d still like to be in them. My favorite in this exhibit, which included maybe a dozen paintings, was “Automat.”
A few years ago, reading Milan Kundera’s“Ignorance,” I realized that the saddest thing in the world to me is loneliness — particularly female loneliness. If men are lonely I often view it as their own damn fault. But the loneliness of women kills me. Here’s the paragraph that did it. Re-reading it now, it doesn’t seem like much, but back then it brought tears to my eyes:
Standing at a bar, she slowly sips a beer and eats a cheese sandwich. She does not hurry; there is nothing she must do. All her Sundays are like that: in the afternoon she’ll read, and at night she’ll have a lonely meal at home.This graph could be describing an Edward Hopper painting. It could be describing “Automat.”
Patricia, meanwhile, loves “New York Movie”: the light on the woman and how lost in thought she is.
The exhibit does a good job of describing how weighed-down she seems, reminding us that, though most of us go to the movies to escape, it’s reality, sometimes grim reality, for those who work there. Me, I love the sliver of black-and-white — the 1939 film — on the left side of the painting. (It’s much more noticeable in person.) It didn’t strike until now but it’s fascinating that the black-and-white world is the escapist fantasy, while the world full of color is the one where we’re heavy with burden. That feels so right (in the painting) and so wrong (in the world).
Afterwards, Patricia and I walked home via Westlake Center in downtown Seattle. It was a beautiful day for the last day of January — low 40s, the sun out, less gray than usual. We passed panhandlers, street performers, black kids selling candy bars. More than usual? It felt like it. It felt like the beginning.
Escape from Sea-Tac
You know that scene in "The Empire Strikes Back" when Han Solo and his Millennium Falcon crew run away from x-wing fighters and land inside a hollow meteor, which they soon realize, as it rumbles, is not a hollow meteor after all but some kind of space creature, and so they zip out to safety just as the thing snaps at them and nearly devours them? That's how Patricia and I felt Sunday getting out of Seattle. Just with a lot more downtime.
Merely getting to the airport was an adventure, and involved a friend's 1961 Land Rover, several steep hills that were supposedly "closed" but weren't blocked off and which we went down anyway, a broken windshield wiper and a broken cable. But we made it...
Except you heard about Sea-Tac that day, right? Waited in line an hour, checked luggage, through security, drink at that sad little African-themed bar that has nothing at all to do with Seattle, then to Gate A14. Which showed no signs of our flight. Departure board said A11 and we went there. Voila. Except another flight, to New York, was loading. Just as it was leaving we were told, "Go back to A14." But there was another flight there that wouldn't take off for another hour. Meanwhile it kept snowing. Meanwhile all Alaska and Horizon flights were cancelled. Meanwhile our flight, which was "on time" and scheduled to leave at 4:10, disappeared completely from the Departure board because, I suppose, the flight was "on time" and it was now past 4:10.
Finally we got the news: "Go back to A11." Where we were told that our plane, which had landed two hours earlier, would finally deplane at Gate A2, but we couldn't go there because that gate had no computer to check us in. Eventually it showed up, at A11, and, as snow swirled in the darkness outside, we boarded. About two and a half hours late.
Then we waited. And waited. For the de-icer. There were three planes ahead of us and two de-icers. (For the entire airport?) One broke. The second ran out of fluid. When they got the fluid, its pump broke. Meanwhile it kept snowing. Meanwhile the plane kept getting hotter. Meanwhile our pilot informed us that if this process took longer than 90 minutes, federal regulations stipulated that this flight crew couldn't continue and would be forced to take a sleep break. Meaning the flight would be cancelled? That question was left unanswered. Meanwhile, according to the Seattle Times Web site, which I checked via my iPhone, all hotels in the area were booked.
And still it snowed.
About 45 minutes later, our plane was finally de-iced. Then we sat in the darkness for half an hour. No word, no nothing. Finally, without a word, our plane began to move. People applauded. At approximately 10 p.m., or six hours late, we were airborne.
The awful thing about the entire process, like everything these days, is the lack of accountability. Yes, the snow, and, yes, Seattle is unprepared for the snow, but why the constant stutter-steps with the gates? Why was our flight unable to find a gate? Why did they run out of de-icing fluid? Etc. But who to call? Sea-Tac? Port of Seattle? Our tickets were purchased online and the entire horrible process felt that way. Like there wasn't a person at the other end.
The punchline? Airborne now, the pilot came on and announced: "We will be arriving in Minneapolis at approximately 2:50 a.m. Current temperature there is...eight degrees below zero."
Merry Christmas, everyone.
The Reductive Headlines of the Seattle P-I
The NY Times, though, is a piker compared to the Seattle P-I, which is increasingly fond of reductive "X or Y" headlines. Their latest from Saturday: BICYCLES OR WILDLIFE? Apparently you can't have both. At issue is the widening of the Burke-Gilman trail for safety reasons, from 8-10 feet to 12 feet. A last-minute argument against widening the trail is the effect this will have on salamanders and wetlands.
The headline is reductive because it's not just cyclists who use the Burke-Gilman, it's all of us. In fact, the primary battle isn't bicycles vs. wildlife, since most cyclists will continue to use the Burke-Gilman no matter what happens. The primary issue is: Safety vs. Wildlife. Or Safety vs. Salamanders. Or Safety vs. Shade. All are less divisive, and thus less jazzy, headlines.
But the P-I got the headline it wanted because cyclists are thought to be pro-environment, and yet, lookee here, when it suits their interests they don't care about the environment at all. If, in fact, that's the issue. And if the issue is looked at myopically.
Because you could say: Well, if the issue is quality-of-life, or safety, or wildlife on the Burke-Gilman, what are the alternatives to widening the path? Is there a way to relieve some of that traffic? And there is. Give bicyclists their own lane on most roadways. A lane with a concrete barrier so they feel safe. Of course that leads us back to the real debate, which is bicycles vs. automobiles. That's "vs.," by the way, not "or."
But that's if this last-minute argument against widening the trail should be taken seriously, and my gut tells me it shouldn't. It's just another argument for doing nothing, which is what Seattle is famous for.
My Election Day
One day I'll live blog one of these things (World Series, unprecedented presidential elections), but here's the retroactive version:
5:30: Woke up, showered, coffee, etc. Read Andrew Sullivan. Wrote a bit.
6:30: Left our place and walked in the rain to the T.T. Minor Elementary School to vote. My first time voting there. Usually my polling location is within five or six blocks of my home but this was over a mile away. Seems a bit screwy but Seattle often seems a bit screwy. Got wet despite the umbrella. Rain forecast for the entire day, with thunderstorms in the afternoon.
7:05: Arrived at the school to find a line of about 100 people. Again: new. Usually it's just me and the old ladies in the basement of the church. The school is a sweet elementary school (Andy's daughter goes there) and has kids' names on all of the lockers. The woman in front of me commented on what great names the kids had — not the dull Marys and Davids of our childhood — and I pointed out one name and said, “Yeah, when I was growing up, 'Isis' was just a heroine on a Saturday morning TV show.” She then surprised me by repeating the whole “zephyr winds” line and we got to talking about “Shazam” and “H.R. Puffenstuff” and how the creators of the latter must've been high while making it (a magic talking flute?), and how the star of the show, Jack Wild, had played the Artful Dodger in the 1968 musical Oliver! and may have been the best thing in the movie. I was pretty sure he'd been nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actor. He also sang the film's most memorable song: “Consider Yourself.” This woman then began to sing the song to herself. Consider yourself...one of the family.
7:45: Voted. (Psst. Barack.)
7:55: Walked to Broadway on Capitol Hill. The rains had stopped. Passed a garage on John Street between 12th and 13th where the owner had painted the famous “Barack Hope” poster on the door. Painted it well, I should add.
8:05: Arrived at Starbucks ahead of the precinct captain, Stuart. Phoned him. He said he was still at campaign headquarters on Pine — that there were tons of people there — but he had our packet and would meet me in about 10 minutes.
8:05-8:15: Sat in the back of Starbucks on a couch. Starbucks was giving away free coffee to anyone who voted and the woman at the table in front of me, overhearing the barrista talking about it, said to her friend, who was sitting on the couch next to me, “Oh, is it election day?” I thought: “And that's why we have a GOTV effort. Some people just don't know.” Then the woman asked the man who was gonna win:
He: Well, Obama's ahead nationally but the electoral college is close. It might come down to Hawaii.
Me (butting in): If it comes down to Hawaii, Barack wins. Hawaii always goes Democrat and he's from there. No way he's losing Hawaii.
He: No, I'm just saying it might be close.
Me: Uh huh.
She: I've heard he might have trouble anyway. Because he's against the second amendment and all.
Me: He's not against the second amendment.
She: (Exchanges meaningful glance with the man as if to say, “Lookee here who's been brainwashed.”)
She (to He): So how long have you been hypnotizing people?
He: Oh, about 45 years.
They then went on to have a serious talk about hypnosis.
8:15: Stuart arrives. Hallelujah.
8:15-9:15: Stuart and I walk the precinct that he's walked four times in the last month, usually alone, getting out the vote. We only had about 20 names left on his list, and a couple were his neighbors with whom he'd just spoken. They'd voted. Off the list. Getting down to the bare nub. The goal.
Stuart was from Chicago, had lived in Seattle for...8 years or so? I'd met him the night before and given him shit about his Chicago Cubs cap. “You know, Barack's a White Sox fan,” I said. He smiled and said, “Well, I think we have room in the party for both Cubs and White Sox fans.”`Some part of me was actually worried about that Cubs cap: That it might transmit its losing ways into the campaign. I wondered who the Steve Bartman of the Barack campaign might be.
9:15: Stuart and I finished the packet, we said our goodbyes, and I walked the packet over to Obama's Capitol Hill headquarters on Pine. It was getting chillier but the rain wasn't coming back. In fact, the sky was beginning to clear. Nice.
Campaign headquarters was packed. I'd arrived planning to phone-bank into the early afternoon but looked at the second floor, where phone-banking was supposed to take place, and thought it made more sense to split. They had more volunteers than they knew what to do with. Again: Nice. On the walk home, ran into our neighbor, Laura, who was on her way to vote.
10:00-4:00: Got our place ready for what I continually called a “gathering.” Didn't want to jinx us with the word “party.”
4:00: First results. McCain leads in the electoral college 8-3: Kentucky vs. Vermont. Damn!
4:15: Andy and his girls arrive. Mathilda, the youngest, wears wings. I ask her if that was her Halloween costume but she says, No, she went as Dora.
4:30 and on: More people arrive. Jeff and Sullivan, with two kids. Chasing games ensue throughout the condo. Charges of “schnookering” are made. Balloons are blown up. Balloons are played with. All evening.
Around 25-30 people show up. At some point we order Indian food. I drink: beer and saki and red wine and champagne. By which time the gathering has become a party. I began to use the word: party.
You know the rest. I was worried about Virginia, initially, but when Pennsylvania broke early and clean for Obama, I thought: Good sign. By the tme Ohio broke, giving Obama 207 electoral votes, Jim and I did the math. The three western states, California, Oregon and Washington, would give him 280. It was all over but the shouting. Then came the shouting.
Today: A new day. Welcome.
And the winner is...
...Hope Putnam! All of 4 1/2 years old. She — with perhaps a hand from Dad, Mike — won our annual Oscar pool with 16 of the 21 categories correct. (We ignore the short subjects.) I came in second with 15, Brenda got 14, Tommy and Patricia 13, etc. etc., on down to Tim with 3. He picks with his heart.
It was a nice night. About 25 people, a lot of kids running around, a lot of crushed crackers on the floor afterwards. Wine, beer, bruschetta. At one point Rico threatened me but you know how architects are. I suppose I shouldn't have made his wife, Jolie, stricken with laryngitis, repeat herself unnecessarily but it seemed funny at the time. Now, too. It was great seeing Sullivan healthy and looking great. Mr. B kept score, as always. Tommy showed up in a porkpie hat, which not many people can pull off but Tommy can. Jeff S. remained pretty funny for a tall guy. His riff on the hot chicks (this year, Jessica Alba) always presenting the sci-tech awards was spot-on.
Our consensus — and despite Alessandra Stanley's opinion — was that Jon Stewart did a helluva job. He was funny, loose, stayed on message (movies, movies, movies...with some politics) and brought back the Once chick to complete her acceptance speech. That brought the house down. Our house anyway.
Looking over the list of acting winners it's all western Europe: Spain, France and two Britains. Loved all the French and Spanish — along with Jon Stewart's translation of the latter. Happy with all the choices. The movie that should've won, won. The actor that should've won, won. Wish the Coens could've gotten past their Minnesota upbringing and reveled in their moment of triumph a bit more. Or at all. Somewhere between them and Roberto Benigni lies a happy medium. Happy to see MN girl Diablo Cody win for best original screenplay and loved her shout-out to the other writers.
The women at the party loved themselves some Javier Bardem, the men loved themselves some Cameron Diaz. Everyone agreed that Helen Mirren looked stunning and sexy.
All in all, a fun night. Thanks, everyone. Let's do it again next year.
My Oh My!
One of my favorite people I don't know personally, Dave Niehaus, the voice of the Seattle Mariners since 1977, was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame earlier this week. About effin' time, I say. He's real baseball. He's given me more moments of pure joy than most people I do know personally. Fans in the Pacific Northwest know what I'm talking about. Below is an article I wrote about him in 1996. It's partly nostalgic — Kingdome, Junior's 199th career homerun — but most of it is still true:
THE VOICE OF THE M'S
Between the second and third decks of the Kingdome, up a flight of stairs from the press box and surrounded on all sides by luxury suites, sits a narrow, blue-carpeted, three-tiered room. Because each tier holds a thin table equipped with headphones and swivel chairs, the room is reminiscent of a tiny lecture hall. Except no students are present, while the would-be professor sits at the bottom tier with his back to the room, looking out over the artificial green of the Kingdome's vast interior. He wears headphones and talks into a microphone held in place by duct tape.
“It's been a wild, woolly, Pier 6 brawl, and the bullies so far have been the Kansas City Royals,” he bellows.
It is from this enclave, in these unassuming surroundings, that Dave Niehaus makes Mariners baseball come alive for 400,000 radio listeners.
“He's the best broadcaster in baseball,” Rick Rizzs, Niehaus' broadcast partner for 10 of the last 13 years, mentions before gametime. “He can set the scene, he can bring you in, he can make you feel it, smell it, touch it, and be a part of it.”
Tony Ventrella of KIRO-TV concurs. “He's got such great knowledge and — the thing is — stories. He's got a story attached to everything. And he's a great storyteller. Some people know the stories, but they don't tell them as well.”
In conversation it doesn't take long for Niehaus to reveal these talents, whether he's talking about Gaylord Perry's 300th win or his preference for outdoor baseball.
“You go to Fenway Park in Boston — which is my favorite park by far and it was built in 1912 — and you can smell it, you can smell the baseball. You look at the ladder that comes down The Monster, you look at the Yawkey's names written in Morse Code right by the ladder, you look at that seat 502 feet away in right field where Ted Williams hit the homerun off Freddie Hutchinson. There's so many things there for a baseball nut like I am.”
On the air Niehaus often recounts his childhood in Princeton, Indiana: sitting on the porch, sipping lemonade, catching fireflies and listening to Harry Caray broadcast St. Louis Cardinals games. Yet as a child he never thought of becoming an announcer. “Subliminally maybe,” he says, “[but] I was going to go to dental school. And then I woke up one morning in college and said 'I can't stare down somebody's throat at nine o'clock in the morning the rest of my life,' and I wandered by the radio and television school there and changed my major.”
He worked for the Armed Forces radio network, broadcasting baseball and basketball and hockey. From 1969 to 1976, along with Dick Enberg and Don Drysdale, he was the voice of the California Angels. Then came an offer from a nascent Seattle organization, and Niehaus was on hand to help launch The Good Ship Mariner on April 6, 1977; it almost sank off the dock.
“Frank Tanana shut us out,” he recalls, “and Nolan Ryan shut us out the next night. I was beginning to wonder a) whether we would ever score a run, and b) whether we'd ever win a ballgame.”
It wasn't until 1991 that the Mariners even finished above .500 for the season. Meanwhile, Niehaus, his reputation growing, was getting offers from bigger markets with outdoor stadiums, but he didn't budge. He liked the Pacific Northwest. And he wanted to be here when Seattle baseball turned around.
Last year he got his wish.
The story is familiar by now. Thirteen games back in August. One exciting come-from-behind victory after another in September. The one-game playoff with California to clinch the A.L. West title. Losing two games in New York and then coming back to the Kingdome to win three in a row. It was some of the most exciting baseball people had ever seen, and much of it was imprinted with Niehaus' voice: the smooth, low tones that tend toward capital letters when the action heats up:
“And Junior right down on the knob of the bat, waving that black beauty right out toward Pavlik; has it cocked and Pavlik is set. The pitch on the way to Ken Griffey Jr. and it's SWUNG ON AND BELTED! DEEP TO RIGHT FIELD! GET OUT THE RYE BREAD GRANDMA, IT’S GRAND SALAMI TIME! I DON'T BELIEVE IT! ONE SWING OF THE BAT, THE FIRST PITCH, AND KEN GRIFFEY JR. HAS GIVEN THE MARINERS A 6-2 LEAD OVER THE TEXAS RANGERS. MY OH MY!”
This mixture of adult professionalism and youthful enthusiasm has helped turn Niehaus into a local icon. He is so popular that in Seattle's first ever post-season game, he — not the Mayor, not the Governor — but he threw out the first pitch. He is so identified with the Mariners that in the book A Magic Season: The Year the Mariners Made Seattle a Baseball Town, his profile is included among the players. Fans leaving exciting games wonder how excited Niehaus must have been during this or that homerun, or this or that astounding catch. Some don't have to wonder; they bring their radios with them.“He's a fan of the game,” says Mark Bitton of Aberdene. “He's not just being a broadcaster. You can hear it in his voice. He's excited about it, too.”
“I brought the radio because I came with my son and his four friends,” Peter Maier of Seattle mentions, gesturing to several boys roaming the third deck aisles while the Mariners fritter away another lead. “So Niehaus is my adult friend.”
Almost directly below Maier, in the broadcast booth, Niehaus holds nothing back. “This is an ugly, sloppy ballgame,” he tells his listeners. He confers with producer Kevin Cremin. Both keep score. Cremin hands him notes, advertisements, and Niehaus smoothly segues into them between pitches. His observations are quick, his word choices evocative. Speedy Tom Goodwin hits a “soft, little dunker” that he turns into a two-base hit when Buhner merely “lopes in on the ball.” He finds humor in the Kansas City catcher involved in a hit-and-run: “Big Sal Fasano was just lumbering down the line toward second.” Between innings he shows off the sealed envelope in which Ken Griffey Jr. has predicted the day he will hit his 200th homerun. “Knowing Junior's sense of humor I'll probably open it up and it'll say 'Today',” Niehaus laughs.
An inning later, Junior hits number 199; but the game is lost, part of a disappointing homestand for the M's. Niehaus, however, is as philosophic about such losses any veteran player.
“I've done well over three thousand games — and that's just for Seattle — and I've never seen two games alike. Of course you want the club that you work for to win. But I just enjoy the aesthetics of the game, the artistry of baseball. I look at one game like it is: 1/162 of a season.
”There are times when you get in an eight or nine game losing streak and you think 'Will this ever end?' It will. Sometimes it doesn't seem like it, but it will.“
Sure enough, the next night the M's pitching settles down, the big bats come out, and Dave Niehaus' voice rises as quickly as the trajectory of Paul Sorrento's latest homerun:
”The pitch to Sorrento BELTED! DEEP TO RIGHT FIELD! UPPER DECK TIIIIIME, YES! A two-run homerun by Paul Sorrento and the Mariners are up 7-0! Fly Away!"
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