I met W, a friend of now 20+ years. We've kept in touch over the years, but hadn't spent any time together in an awful long time. So, we agreed to put our lives on hold and split the difference, meeting halfway between our respective homes. We pretty much stuck to the well trodden tourist path. We poked into Seattle's alleyways, looking for rats and meals.
We sought out Seattle's famous rusty and dank plumbing.
An elevator operator regaled us with stories of a giant octopus, purportedly housed at the Seattle aquarium. We can't be sure we actually ever found the aquarium. It is a certainty we never found the octopus, and the fish we did see were frankly not doing so well in captivity. I don't think the collection was worth the admission we paid the attendant (who, by the way, smelled like cheap whiskey and two weeks of hard living).
We spent long hours studying Sanborn insurance maps from the late 1880s.
We were mesmerized by the geometric symmetry that the city's building code has imposed on ALL structures within the city's historic core.
Like we used to do as kids, we stared into elevator shafts.
And, since Seattle is really a city of neighborhoods, we spent a full afternoon exploring the Pickle District, tasting our way through artisan crafted barrels of dills and bread and butters.
Of course, you can only taste so many pickles before your teeth start to float in brine and your attention turns with ferocity to base biological functions. So, we also got to visit the city's public restrooms.
There is actually a funny (and true) story about public restrooms in Seattle. For some reason, it starts in Amsterdam. I was in Amsterdam for the first time in 1989 with another old friend and his dad. Much like W and I did in Seattle, we spent our days in Amsterdam as tourists, and, after delighting in Amsterdam's own Pickle District, were in need of bathroom facilities. Public restrooms in Amsterdam really ran the spectrum. At one end were small tombstone shaped slabs of concrete tucked within a spiral of 6-foot tall sheet metal at the side of a canal that, quite literally, just gave you something to aim at. I suspect these restrooms were more popular with the men than the women. What they lacked in sanitation, however, they more than made up for in affordability. At the other end of the spectrum were space aged yellow pods. These cost a pretty guilder (this was pre-euro, mind you) to enter, but used the very height of bathroom sanitation technology to completely scrub each and every surface clean upon each exit. A little behind the curve, Seattle choose to purchase and install a number of similar (but free) toilet pods throughout its downtown in the mid 2000s. The city abandoned the project when the toilet pods were co-opted by prostitutes and junkies as temporary office space.
All of the above is well and good, and represents a typical itinerary for anyone visiting Seattle. I mean, who among us hasn't spent an afternoon in the Pickle District? Heck, any Lonely Planet Seattle since at least 1992 dedicates a number of column inches to pickle tasting (prior to 1992, the District hadn't yet felt the gentle touch of gentrification, and there was little there to draw a visitor). The real surprise came in that we went to a professional football game, and a playoff game at that.
Much like some people find religion, it turns out that W had found football in the years since high school. Or maybe just returned to the flock after 20 years of sport free living. He proposed the game, I was curious, and there were still tickets available less than 24 hours before kick off. So we joined 67,000 new friends, learned the local call and response rituals, and thrilled at the production that is modern sport at its most commercial. We had a blast, helped by the fact that the home team triumphed in a close game that became a high scoring upset over last year's Super Bowl champs. Throughout the game, wave after wave of sound came pounding down from the upper sections of as the local fans demonstrated why they have the reputation as loudest in the NFL. It was bruising but infectious.
P.S. - Anyone who wants to read up on the Seattle self-cleaning toilet experiment, here is a article from right after they were installed: http://www.seattlepi.com/local/162784_toilets02.asp. And here is an article about the end of the self-cleaning toilet era in Seattle: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/17/us/17toilets.html. Favorite quote from the later: “'I’m not going to lie: I used to smoke crack in there,' said one homeless woman, Veronyka Cordner, nodding toward the toilet behind Pike Place Market. 'But I won’t even go inside that thing now. It’s disgusting.'" You know things have gotten bad when a space is no longer usable for smoking crack.