Gassed

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We’re going from punk to steampunk today, as steampunk is the impression you first get when you hit the impressive Gas Works Park in the Fremont/Wallingford neighbourhood – so-called, because the 9.1 acres public park is on the sight of the former Seattle Gas Light Company gasification plant that was in operation from 1906 to 1956.

 

There are tall towers, big pipes, valve handles, and it’s just a really cool piece of machinery that over the years since its closure, has almost taken on the appearance of being a sculptured piece of art work installed in the park. It is fenced off though so you can’t actually go in and climb all over the stuff. There are though some notable bits of graffiti on the valves and pipes, so some brave budding Banksy scaled the fence to leave their mark on the instillation.

 

Besides the obvious cool factor of the plant, this is really one of Seattle’s best and most unusual public park that, apart from the visually stunning gas plant, offers grassy hills for kite flying, sunbathing, picnics, and wide vistas of Lake Union and the city.

 

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As the home city of Glasgow gets ready to host yet another World Pipe Band Championship later this month, today’s picture shows Seattle’s finest either finally putting a stop to resident Westlake Park piper, Martin Brendecke (see blog Beecham & Bagpipes), or perhaps being just a tad overzealous in enforcing a rather strict new law that has hit bagpipers in the US.

 

The skirl of the bagpipes has been the war cry of we Scots for centuries – but now, according to a report published in the newspaper I sometimes pretend to work for, The Scotsman, bagpipers in the US have expressed fear of having their pipes suddenly seized – and that’s something that can bring a tear to a man’s eye. Apparently two US teenagers had their pipes confiscated by border control staff while travelling between Canada and the US, just a couple of days before they were due to fly to Glasgow for the World Pipe Band Championship, under the new Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, because they were made out of ivory.

 

I have to tell them it could have been worse. In 2001, at the height of the foot-and-mouth crisis, the US customs officers confiscated the haggis I brought with me to Seattle. They then took it out to the runway and shot it five times before dousing it with petrol (it has to be true – it was printed in a book and a newspaper). There are some that would argue – and I’m not one of them – that that would be a vast improvement to anyone playing the bagpipes.

 

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Only in the power of this blog can we go directly from Rap to the Blues. I’ve often thought that if blues musicians pressed the snooze button and just sleep in they would be happier. So many blues songs begin with “I woke up this mornin’…” only to be followed by a litany of frustrating events.

 

Of course, to be a blues musician one must have the blues and to have the blues I suppose you must get out of bed and face the world. Might as well get an early start. Unhappiness as a raison d’être may seem like an unhealthy exercise until considering the cathartic power of music. Perhaps blues musicians are on to something.

 

However I did meet this blues performer busking at Victor Steinbrueck Park at the Waterfront to eke out a living. His family originates from Wales, he goes by the name of Fleming, and he’s also half Cherokee – and boy, could he have done with pressing the snooze button. Several times, in fact. Turns out he woke one mornin’, found he’d lost his girl, lost his job, lost his apartment and is now homeless…and he also recently lost his big toe to diabetes.

 

I somehow don’t think that, after he told me his tales of woe and the toe, the $1 I put in his hat was going to help him much.

 

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Unlike our last blog entry, Here Comes Summer, it’s not just the kids who have a ritual of cooling off at the Seattle Centre’s International Fountain on a very hot day – this young lady spent nearly an hour doing her callisthenics in the refreshing cool of the fountain spray, all of which certainly made for the guys watching even hotter under the collar than they would normally be.

 

And for some reason or other, nearly all of this roll of film is devoted to her stretching performance.  I can’t think why.

 

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With their striking designs and colours, totem poles are bold statements of the identities, legend and culture of the Native American people who carved them – and one of the most distinctive comes from the Tlingit tribe of Klawock, Alaska. And you could well say they started the growth in popularity of Native American art. At the start of the 20th century, after displaying their poles at the 1904 St Louis World Fair, Tlingit totems became the first to be displayed in American public places and national parks.

 

There are several very distinctive Tlingit totems positioned throughout Seattle – each very different, and each a uniquely impressive work of indigenous art. The one shown today, is one of the newer one’s to be erected in Seattle: a 24-foot, 1,500-pound red cedar pole, located at The Center for Wooden Boats, in South Lake Union.

 

It arrived in 2007, buy way of a Native American cultural exchange of gifts. In 2005, Saaduts, a Seattle master carver and artist in residence at the centre, made a canoe as a gift to honour his wife’s hometown. In return, five young carvers from Klawock spent two academic years carving, cutting and painting the pole. It’s all part of the Tlingit heritage of ‘balancing the scales’. When somebody does something for you, you respond in kind.  They got a new canoe, Seattle got a new totem pole.

 

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We’ve all done it. Last night was just a bit too good (as per usual) and your head is sinking ever closer to your desk – you need a nap, but where’s the nearest bed, bench or comfy patch of grass? Enter Google Naps, a parody of the venerable Google Maps, that lets users share the best places in towns and cities around the globe to grab a quick bit of shuteye. Think of it as Nappster.

 

The site, built on top of Google maps, started as a joke by a group of Dutch users, but data points already cover London and many other cities across the world including the US, China, Indonesia and Brazil. Curiously, here in Seattle, one main location missing is the downtown Seattle Library, where – if you can avoid the telling sharp nudge from the spoilsport security guards – many tend to nod off.

 

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Many consider the Mecca Cafe in Lower Queen Anne to be something of a dive – but as dive’s go, it’s a cool dive! This Seattle Institution shouldn’t be passed by, no matter how bad you may think it looks from the outside. The diner is lined with vintage vinyl booths and most of the decor has remained unaltered since the cafe’s inception in 1929 – and where else would you find staff wearing t-shirts with the diner’s logo, “Alcoholics Serving Alcoholics since 1929”?

 

The food in here is actually quite good, and you get a very generous helping at a good price. The staff are superb and also know how to make great Bloody Mary’s; and their drinks tariff is very reasonable as Seattle economics go. Honestly, if this were a theme-chain restaurant, they would most likely pay a small fortune to get this throwback styling just the way it naturally is here.  

 

And who can resist the delights of the two-for-one Burger Tuesdays? This has become something of a Tuesday ritual for me – but don’t for one moment think I double up on the unbelievable cheese burgers and fries while there.  I tend to box one portion and hand it to the local Real Change guy outside of Safeways, as I do the shopping.

 

Take my tip and don’t just walk by this unassuming, yet iconic little greasy spoon.

 

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We’ve all heard the rumours, print is all but dead; struggling to survive against digital media. But many magazine editors are resisting this notion, including some of the lesser known niche magazines. So niche publications may be an increasingly important part of journalism’s future, as long as the niche is of reasonable size.

 

A niche, of course, according to its dictionary definition, is a “shallow recess, especially in a wall to display a statue or other ornaments”; “a comfortable or suitable position in life or employment”; or “a specialised but profitable segment of a market”, such as magazines and publishing.

 

And the young girl in today’s photo looks to have literally found her niche in more ways than one, by being almost hidden from view in a recess in Barnes & Noble in downtown Seattle, and surrounded by all those niche magazines.

 

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It’s been eight years now since I last owned a car, and also eight years since I last drove one. Doing my bit for the environment by reducing my carbon footprint has certainly been made a hell of a lot easier by living in downtown Seattle and utilising a combination of the Metro bus service and my trusty Brompton folding bike. And I can honestly say that you meet a better class of people travelling by bus rather than driving in your car – and even if you are alone in the car!

 

But, alas, Metro Transit has taken a political hit of late with reduced funding. First, just a few years ago, the downtown free ride scheme was abolished – what a great service that allowed you to travel on any bus from one end of downtown to the other, from Belltown down to Pioneer Square. But now there’s a more serious raft of fund-cutting coming after King County voters shot down Proposition 1 last month, a tax package that could have saved Metro bus service from 550,000 hours’ worth of service cuts. More than 150 bus routes will be affected, and dozens of routes are set to be “deleted” entirely.

 

Metro Transit carries 400,000 riders each day and is vital in transporting people to work and to colleges and universities in the Seattle area. Now they have outlined prospective cuts, from suburban feeder lines to much-used bus lines serving such Seattle neighbourhoods as the Central Area, Leschi and Madrona.

 

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Everyone has heard of the famous Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle – but another not to be missed, and well worth a visit, is the out-of-town Ballard Farmers Market on Sundays.  But no matter what farmers market it is, Seattleites take their organic foods to outlandish proportions, being the sort of people they are. I once offered to cook a turkey for a local family Thanksgiving here, and before we sat down for the meal, I almost had to show everyone the turkey’s full family tree, what it was fed on, what nice parents and friends it had, and how nice the local free-range farm it was raised on was.

 

It was all just a little too close to the neighbouring Portlandia chicken sketch, where two smugly enamoured couple sit in a restaurant, their hands clasped as they fret over the menu. The chicken, for instance: can the waitress tell them a little bit about its provenance? Of course she can, because this is the kind of cool restaurant in Portland, Oregon, where patrons regularly seek elaborate assurances about the virtuousness of their food. The waitress informs the couple that the place serves only local, free-range, “heritage-breed, woodland-raised chicken that’s been fed a diet of sheep’s milk, soy, and hazelnuts.”

 

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