For a while at least, we were semi-nomadic. Not long after we gave up our home in the United States in 2009, we began spending our summers in different spots to get away from the heat of Baja California, places where Alex found work that would provide us with shelter and amenities and a free rental car. That first year took us to Eugene, Oregon; and each succeeding year we enjoyed exploring a place at least somewhat new to us, coping with the uncertainties or excentricities of each living space, showing up in a new neighborhood, gathering necessities and the containers to keep them in, becoming confident and then efficient in our new temporary lives, and then slipping away from them without ceremony. Though we had a permanent base, we became remarkably footlose: in September 2011 we found ourselves and our belongings spread among four cities in three different countries.
I believe that this mode of existence offers valuable lessons about our relationship to worldly goods. Alex, meanwhile, independently concluded that retirement isn't so much fun if you have to work all the time; and so this last summer, on our way to Seattle for a stint at her old office there, we began to look at real estate again.
Wondering if it might not be possible to afford a year-round residence in California, we paused on our way at what we thought were the most likely places: in San Diego, Dana Point, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Cruz. In most of those spots we found a single condo that we thought at least for a moment we might buy (a commanding view at Pacific Beach, a nostalgic surfer's cabana at Pleasure Point, a sort-of faculty residence near Cal Poly); but back in the Northwest, and despite an early arrival and a late Spring, we decided that we're principally Seattleites after all.
From our temporary address at the
Archstone Elliott Bay
we looked at several possibilities, at varying distances from the water, but after a little hesitation settled on a modest apartment on the tenth floor of the Mosler Lofts, a fairly new building just south of Denny Way. The project is the first LEED Silver certified condominium in Seattle; and besides, we were glad to get something like our old waterfront view back. In addition to the features that Seattleites will recognize in the panorama below, our current vista includes parts of Mt. Rainier, a sports stadium or two, and the new giant Ferris wheel at Pier 57. True, all of those bits are scheduled to disappear with the construction of a new apartment building south of us, next to where you see the bus; but it should be fun to watch, and the view down Third Avenue and the one straight out toward Duamish Head and Alki Point should be around for a long time.
In some ways this location is even better than we imagined. For years we had used the bike path along Elliott Bay to avoid downtown traffic. Our new place is still just a few blocks from the trail, but up a fairly steep hill, and we dreaded the daily trip. But shortly after Alex began her commute from the new loft we discovered the efficiency of using the recently designated bike routes along 2nd Avenue, southbound, and Fourth Avenue northward. They are much faster, far less work, and, except for the occasional car turning left into a parking garage on Second, probably safer too. Once the seasonal rains slowed down and Alex got her new bike, a Cannondale Quick 2, we started venturing further afield.
This territory looks surprisingly flat for Seattle, for the reason that, a century ago, in an early marriage of urban planning and gold-rush technology, the hill that used to stand here, roughly the height of our balcony, was simply removed, then used to plump up the city's narrow shoreline, leaving this, the Denny Regrade, named after the Old Settlers. It is the fashion now to call all of this area Belltown (having a nicer ring to it), though William Bell's old plat lies entirely beyond the centerline of Second Avenue, a block toward the water in the view above.
Even with its new moniker, the Regrade mostly resisted gentrification until the 1990s, providing cheap rent in low-rise buildings for people and businesses. But living here was the closest thing to living downtown and it began to catch on -- about the time that Paul Allen and others formulated their grand vision for South Lake Union, just to the north of us. That's where the action is today, the place for biotech firms and the new home of Amazon.com.
A pause in development would not be a disappointment for me, because I liked the Regrade the way it was and besides, the trendy new spots are just a short walk from here. In fact, you can see them from the roof our our building (picture at right).
Fourth Avenue is becoming a shady boulevard. Second is getting to have some really good places to eat. Third Avenue has long made its name with transportation, and that's a plus for those of us who like to get around by bus. Further downtown, Third is the alternate to the Transit Tunnel and for much of its day it attracts buses and discourages automobiles.
Even for transit fans though the picture isn't all rosy. At the latitude of the tourist-magnet Pike Place Market, Third is currently thought to be a hot spot for drug dealing. Improvements to the area are planned, perhaps with the idea that drug dealers prefer a seamier ambiance, and I'm hoping that beautification will extend toward our neighborhood. Some new, shorter, green lamp posts have been installed nearby already. This is of course a delicate process, as there's some danger of merely depositing the problem at our new doorstep.
There's another, more certain change in the air for downtown Seattle: the end of the ride-free zone. For nearly forty years, since before I first showed up, if you got on a bus anywhere downtown, you didn't pay until you got off; and in fact, if you didn't leave downtown, you didn't pay at all. This caused a lot of confusion for first-time riders and those who had not yet had their morning coffee, but it meant no fumbling for change while hurried commuters looked on, and it meant a lot less car traffic downtown. The City of Seattle always subsidized this plan, but in an amount that had not changed since its inception. Post-September-29 Seattle promises a whole new dynamic for those living, working or shopping downtown. (We do have our own car for special trips -- Snowball made the journey north with us this year.)
Besides these changes, there's one more amusing traffic-engineering story to relate. One of the big reasons we chose to stay initally at the Archstone -- besides their nice facilities, great staff, and a rent-to-own policy that lets you out of your lease if you buy a place using their designated realtor -- was the proximity to the new West Thomas Street Overpass for cyclists and pedestrians. We had discovered evidence of this project in 2011 while straying from our place at the Olympus Apartments. There was tell-tale spray paint on the grass at Myrtle Edwards Park and then an area closed for construction. We traced the intended bridge across the railroad tracks and across Elliott Avenue to the block west of the Archstone, and decided to try to stay there if we came back, for the convenience of getting to the bike path. But what with construction delays, and difficulty getting handrails, and a lawsuit from the folks at Hempfest, which is held in the park, and one thing and another, the bridge, which was scheduled to open in the Spring, and then in June, and then every subsequent month, may not be open by the time we leave for the winter. At the very bottom of the page is a slightly wobbly panorama showing the bridge from the site of a venerable piece of public art along the Elliott Bay Trail.
Autumn came to Seattle right on schedule this year -- a total surprise, since the drought customarily lasts through the first week in October. But we woke to rain on September 21, so we started thinking about migration again. We're just snowbirds now and no longer nomads, but we're glad to have another place to go.
Here are some links to the other parts of our lives: