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.