Monday, October 30, 2006

A Tourist, Trapped

Today was my big tourist day. Up to now, Mrs. Evan has been diligently attending conferences. I've done a lot of walking and people-watching, and checking out the local scene, but I wanted to wait for the tourist thing until Mrs. Evan could join me. She took the morning off from lectures, giving us a brief but greatly appreciated opportunity to experience some of Seattle's attractions together.

We started our morning by walking downtown, where we could catch the monorail to the Seattle Center, home to the Space Needle and Experience Music Project. Unfortunately, things didn't work exactly as planned. When we got to the monorail station, there was a big sign saying that it was closed for maintenance. We took the bus instead. The next grand disappointment was discovering that the Experience Music Project is closed on Tuesdays during the winter months. WTF, didn't these idiots know that I was coming?!? Apparently they missed the memo! With the morning starting off on a slightly disappointing note, we headed up the Space Needle. Since this is the grand tourist trap of Seattle, I had low to moderate expectations for the place, despite the fact that numerous people -- tourists and locals -- told me that I needed to do it.

I am happy to announce that the Space Needle is definitely worth the trip. Apparently there are days where it's too windy to go out on the outdoor observation deck, and there are (ostensibly rainy) days where the view isn't as good because you can't see as far, but we went on a calm, sunny day, and the view was truly spectacular. You can easily see Mount Rainier, Puget Sound and the city of Seattle.

Once I was in the Needle, and got my bearings, I was able to figure out how to find it from other locations after my trip had ended. This picture was actually taken a couple of days ago from the docks, but it should help you understand that it's a landmark that's visible from just about everywhere, except for the middle of downtown, because of all of the skyscrapers.

The Needle is full of cool facts about where the idea came from, how it became a reality, and about the engineering. For example: The Needle is designed to withstand 150 MPH winds, and a 6+ earthquake.

I also had a couple of misconceptions about the Needle. I figured that the whole thing rotated. That's not true. Only the floor of the restaurant turns. And not even the whole restaurant... only the area where the patrons actually dine. Despite the fact that the restaurant is one floor below the observation deck, I like the restaurant's view better. The observation deck has a safety system built in, chock full of safety glass and cables. (I suppose it's designed to prevent idiots from jumping.) The restaurant, with its large panes of (safety)glass offers a better view, despite being one floor lower. Add in the fact that it rotates, and the realization that the shape naturally keeps you from direct sunlight (no glare), and you should be able to understand why I like the restaurant's view better.

There were a couple of minor things that detracted from the restaurant. It doesn't open until 11:00 (so we got there too early to try it out), it's a little cramped (but not too bad) and the decor is a little tacky. (It seems as if it hadn't been updated since its original 1960'-era construction.) On the cool side, they start spinning the restaurant about an hour before they officially open for service. With all of this in mind, I recommend that you get there about an hour or so after they open, and catch an early lunch. Based on my understanding, they validate your elevator ride, so if you eat there, your elevator ride is free. (I can't speak for this firsthand though.)

Taking a minor detour back to yesterday's post, here's a picture of me in semi-grunge mode. Seriously, do I look like somebody that's looking to score some weed? Okay, maybe that wasn't the best question to ask, but for what it's worth, I'm going to reiterate that I was NOT looking to score any illegal substances.

Okay, back to our regularly scheduled program...

After we finished at the space needle, we went back downtown and hit the market. The market is nearly impossible to describe, but I'll try. The market is a multi-story, semi-open-air area that contains the most eclectic collection of shops I've ever experienced. The first floor and some areas on the other floors (located on lower levers) are covered, but they are open-air, meaning you can walk in from the street without opening any doors and there are no windows or walls. The main floor focuses on fresh, perishable items, mainly fish brought directly in from the Pacific, fruits and vegetables, and flowers. The other stores are either incredibly high-end collector-type stores, or giant garage sales crammed into the space of 200-odd square feet. There are also a couple of great restaurants, some super-duper high end, and some cafe-style, all facing the bay.

You may have heard of the Pike Place Fish Market. They were the subject of a motivational corporate-style video put out around ten years ago. The basic idea of the video is that you may have a crappy or difficult job, but your job (and your life) is really what you make of it, no matter what your lot in life. I got to see these guys in action, and I must admit that I was truly captivated by them. They love their job, and they have a great time interacting with the customer and gawkers. I'm so wowed by them that I'm still considering having them ship some stuff to me at home.

My last entry for today is discussing a personal pilgrimage. I mentioned earlier that I couldn't pay homage to Cobain or Staley, and that I missed the EMP. I did however, find out that there's a Harley-Davidson store in downtown Seattle. So I did what any loyal Harley owner would do... I dropped by and bought a patch to sew onto my jacket. I also snapped a couple of pics while I was there.

This will probably be my last entry about my trip to Seattle, unless you have any questions. We're heading home tomorrow. I hope you've enjoyed reading about my trip. I've certainly loved the experience, and enjoyed relaying it to you. Tonight we're going to hit a local restaurant that's famous for its fresh seafood and view of the Sound. Maybe I'll give you a review. I will be posting all of my pics on my flickr account soon. Oh by the way, speaking of restaurants... we hit the local Cheesecake Factory the other night. Their daily special was salmon. One guy in our party was thinking about getting it. He asked if it was local and fresh, to which the waitress sheepishly acknowledged that it was Atlantic Salmon. How tacky is that?!?

Are You Alright?

The exploration of Seattle continues. I've been doing more walking (I'm sure I've passed the 35 mile mark by now), more exploring and a lot of eating.

I must be really convincing with my Seattle grunge look... Walking around in jeans, a T-Shirt, a heavy wool button-down flannel, my leather trenchcoat and shades, and sporting a goatee plus several days of razor stubble. I've had one tourist ask me for directions... oddly enough, I knew how to get there, and I recommended that they put away their map, lest they be overrun by people begging for spare change.

What really convinced me that I must look local though, is that three people have asked me if I want to buy drugs. The first two, which occurred yesterday, were really subtle, and I didn't catch on until a little while after the second time. In each case, the guys started by asking me for some spare change and then asked me if they could chat after I said no. They chatted about nothing in particular, but they both asked me if I was shopping, and they both asked me if I was alright. A half hour or so later, I was walking through the pedestrian park and smelled that unmistakable scent of burning rope. Once I caught a whiff, I understood why those two guys were so curious if I was shopping and acutely concerned about my well-being. I couldn't help but laugh over the fact that it took me so long to get what they were talking about.

Today's experience wasn't quite as subtle. A guy just walked up to me and asked if I wanted to buy some morphine. Ummm.... let me think about this... NO!!

Walking around town during the week is significantly different from early mornings on the weekend. The city was up and running before I was, and there was more of a businesslike atmosphere. People were a little more dressed up, more cell phones to the ears, and people seemed more focused. The market was up and running earlier too. Stay tuned for the next chapter of Seattle in Review.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

...Of Fellowship and Warmth

I'm not really sure where to begin with this... I've been sitting here for several minutes trying to organize my experience thus far into a coherent thought, and I haven't had much success. I guess it's time to give up on trying to formulate a congruent story and just go with a stream of consciousness approach. I hope you'll bear with me if things get a little disjointed, but I've seen a lot in a very short period of time.

Everything I've experienced up to now has been on foot, and it's all been downtown and at the waterfront. I haven't yet done the Space Needle or the Experience Music Project... that's coming later. The walking has been extensive. I haven't measured exactly how much distance I've covered, but based on my average walking speed and how long I was out and about, I estimate that I've covered roughly 25 miles since arriving. I'm a moderately active guy, but I wasn't quite prepared for this. My legs are sore as hell. I'm only here for a few days though, and I may not have another opportunity to see this incredible city, so I won't let a little thing like sore muscles slow me down.

Seattle is like a woman... beautiful, complex, enigmatic and a little bit self-contradicting. Seattle is also a very clean city, and people seem to take pride in that. Each morning I see workers emptying the garbage from the waste containers, and cleaning the sidewalks. Early mornings are quiet and peaceful, belying the vitality that the city shows later in the day. This picture was taken around 8:30 A.M. on a Sunday, in the middle of downtown, and Saturday was just as deserted.

There is a lot of money in this town, but little conspicuous consumption. The architecture is clean but not glitzy, the prices in the stores are urban but not outrageous, the cars are clean and well-kept, but not ostentatious, and people dress well but casually.

At the same time there is a lot of poverty in Seattle. There are many homeless here. Young... old... male... female... white... black. The poverty in this town is as diverse as the wealth, and it's interesting to watch the two groups interact. Yes, they interact. Those who are fortunate are compassionate towards those who go without. The destitute are not looked down upon with disdain. In return, the homeless are respectful and appreciative. They don't jump in your face and ask for things, and they express genuine appreciation for what they are given. Many even offer blessings to random passers-by.

I have seen my share of poverty, and I have seen my share of scams. I know that some of the panhandlers in this city actually make a decent living by begging. One guy had a sign asking for help for him and his dog, and both of them had enough extra weight on them that there was absolutely no imminent danger of starvation. Some vagabonds use humor to get their daily bread. One middle-aged guy had a sign that said "My father was killed by ninjas. Need money for karate lessons." I saw numerous people give him a dollar just because the sign was clever. These specific drifters provided me a strange sort of amusement. I know that they were living this way by choice to some extent. They were living hand to mouth, but they also had an air of freedom about them that almost made me envious.

Others tugged at my heart strings. I saw a group of four teenagers sleeping in a drained water fountain, huddling together to stay warm. I saw a man covered in a single blanket, next to a suitcase... ostensibly his only remaining possessions. I saw the man in this picture.

Giving directly to the homeless is an act of faith, done strictly on an emotional basis. Some I can look in the eye and feel nothing. Others, I gaze in their general direction and nearly end up in tears. I saw this gentleman from above, and nearly a block away, while taking pictures of the cityscape. Looking downward, he held his sign, imposing himself on nobody. After taking my photographs, I walked toward him. He didn't ask for money. With a slight shiver, he asked me for coffee. I had just taken a couple of sips out of my cup, so it was nearly full. Without batting an eyelash, I gave him mine. "What about you," he asked?

"Dude, don't worry about me." The guy is begging for coffee, and when I offered him mine, he asked what I was going to do. This is the kind of quiet dignity that moves me. Yeah, it's possible that he was playing the system, but I highly doubt it. The hobos and vagabonds have a different air about them... almost gypsyish. This man didn't ask for money, and when I offered him all of what I had, he expressed concern for me.

Shortly after this, I ran into another guy who did hit me up for money. We walked and talked. I don't give money as a rule, and I declined in his case as well. He asked if he could walk and talk a bit, and I agreed. We didn't really talk about much, just small talk. He asked where I was from, and if this was my first visit to Seattle, welcoming me when I acknowledged that I had just arrived. He said that he was released from prison a couple of years back and had trouble finding a job. Not much more, just a passing conversation. When we parted ways, he thanked me for talking to him. God touched me this morning. I felt that I was able to help two men in some small way. One man, I gave fellowship, and one man I gave warmth on a cold Seattle morning.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Stop Playing Tag, You're Scaring Me!

I just finished reading a story stating that an elementary school in Attleboro, MA have "banned kids from playing tag, touch football and any other unsupervised chase game during recess for fear they'll get hurt and hold the school liable." According to the principal, Gaylene Heppe, "recess is a time when accidents can happen." Fortunately, not everyone thinks this is a good decision. One parent lamented over the school's micromanagement of the kids and realizes that playing tag is part of being a kid. On the down side, Celeste D'Elia said her son feels safer because of the rule, and says that she's witnessed enough near collisions. These aren't actual collisions mind you, just near misses.

WTF!?! Let the kids play tag. If you're scared for your child, then send a note to the school saying your kid can't play, or compromise and get the kid a bubble wrap suit for playtime. Or maybe the school should send a waiver home with parents explaining that kids sometimes get hurt at recess. But come on, don't ban kids from playing.

This is absolutely assinine! For years we've been dealing with the expanding waistline of Americans, and the deteriorating health that accompanies our collective weight gain. This problem has been partially attributed to our lower levels of activity. So what do we do? We restrict our kids' activities even more. If this happens at my kids' school, I think I'll sue the district for contributing to my kids' poor health by restricting their physical activity.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Teen Questioned for Online Bush Threats

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Upset by the war in Iraq, Julia Wilson vented her frustrations with President Bush last spring on her Web page on She posted a picture of the president, scrawled "Kill Bush" across the top and drew a dagger stabbing his outstretched hand. She later replaced her page on the social-networking site after learning in her eighth-grade history class that such threats are a federal offense.

It was too late.

Federal authorities had found the page and placed Wilson at the top of their most wanted list, despite the fact that the dagger depicted a stab wound to the hand, an obviously non-fatal injury. “Any speech or action that doesn’t completely and blindly support the Bush administration is taken seriously,” an anonymous secret service staff member was quoted as saying.

They finally reached her this week in her molecular biology class. An uncited FBI spokesman was overheard saying “We’ve made tremendous strides in finding these dangerously vocal teenagers by hiring former representative Mark Foley, an expert at using the internet to find youngsters.”

The 14-year-old freshman was taken out of class Wednesday and questioned for about 15 hours minutes by two Secret Service agents. The incident has upset her parents, who said the agents should have included them when they questioned their daughter. “It’s our fault,” her mother said, “and if the Secret Service agents had questioned us as well, they would have known this. Our daughter is too young to make up her own mind. It was our fault for filling her mind with wrong-think. Mr. President, if you must take someone to the secret CIA prisons for more questioning, please take us.”

On Friday, the teenager said the agents' questioning led her to tears.

"I wasn't dangerous. I mean, look at what's (stenciled) on my backpack — it's a heart. I'm a very peace-loving person," said Wilson, an honor student who describes herself as politically passionate. Then, her eyes glazed over, her voice became strangely monotone, and she continued, saying "I'm against the war in Iraq. Er, I mean I was. Now, I totally support the administration’s efforts. I'm not going to kill the president."

Her mother, Kirstie Wilson, said two agents showed up at the family's home Wednesday afternoon, questioned her and promised to return once her daughter was home from school. “At least I think they were Secret Service agents. I don’t think they’re members of Mark Foley’s administration, because he’s a gay pedophile. Isn’t he?”

After they left, Kirstie Wilson sent a text message to her daughter's cell phone, telling her to come straight home: "There are two men from the secret service that want to talk with you. Apparently you made some death threats against president bush. Run! Run, or we may never see you again!"

"Are you serious!?!? omg. Am I in a lot of trouble?" her daughter responded.

Moments later, Kirstie Wilson received another text message from her daughter saying agents had pulled her out of class.

“I can’t believe she was able to get that text to her mom with that black hood over her head and her hands tied behind her back,” the capturing agent stated. “We tried capturing her by offering her candy, but she was too smart for that, so we had to don the hoods and burst into her class with weapons drawn. You know how dangerous free-thinking children can be.”

Julia Wilson said the agents threatened her by saying she could be sent to juvenile hall for making the threat, and that she was a very naughty girl who needed a spanking.”

"They yelled at me a lot," she said. "They were unnecessarily mean, and their voices seemed a little creepy when they talked about spanking me.”

Spokesmen for the Secret Service in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., said they could not comment on the case, but several of them had Wilson’s pictures as screensavers on their personal laptops.

Wilson and her parents said the agents were justified in questioning her over her posting. But they said they believe agents went too far by not waiting until she was out of school. “Mr. Bush, I understand that your enforcers needed to fix our wrong-think, but this task force isn’t supposed to exist, is it? When they burst into class like that, everyone in the whole school saw your ‘non-existent’ goon squad. Now, they’re going to have to do the same thing to everyone that witnessed it. Oops, I shouldn’t have said that.”

They also said the agents should have more quickly figured out they weren't dealing with a real danger. Ultimately, the agents told the teen “we were never here.”

Assistant Principal Paul Belluomini said the agents gave him the impression the girl's mother knew they were planning to question her daughter at school. There is no legal requirement that parents be notified. “And even if there is, this is the President. He’s not subject to the laws of the land.”

"This has been an ongoing problem," said Ann Brick, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union in San Francisco. Former Govs. Pete Wilson and Gray Davis vetoed bills that would have required that parents give consent or be present when their children are questioned at school by law enforcement officers. A similar bill this year cleared the state Senate but died in the Assembly.

Julia Wilson plans to post a new page, this one devoted to organizing other students to protest the Iraq war... “er, I mean, devoted to our beloved President.”

"I decided today I think I will because it (the questioning) taught me that our President is totally right," she said.