Thoughts of a lone traveler (Seattle)

16 03 2014

B17, B17, B17… I repeat in my head as I traipse through the airport terminal trying to find my gate. B13, B14, B15, B10? I spin around with an uncensored gesture of confusion and annoyance, march back to the last sign I saw, and look perplexed at the map telling me gate B17doesn’t exist. I rummage through my pockets trying to find my boarding pass. Boarding group B, position 17, gate B12. Damnit, I mixed up the B17 boarding position with the B12 gate. What kind of UI designer would design boarding positions to resemble gate numbers?  Boarding positions could start with a number and be suffixed with a letter to avoid mixing them up, or they could use letters that are larger than the largest gate number, or they could use roman numerals, or be prepended with… I find gate B12 and stop muttering to myself about how airports are designed all wrong.

The bathroom sinks at this airport are these strange Y shaped contraptions. You put your hands under them, and water comes out. You hold your hands vertically in front of them, and it blows air to dry them. It’s the little things you notice when you travel.

Here I am, writing about travel again on my software engineering themed blog. I’m tempted to create a new blog, one for writing about the adventures of life outside of engineering, but why partition and segregate the areas of my life? We show too many different masks to too many different people; I’d rather transcend than encourage that habit.

This time I’m sitting in the Seattle Tacoma International airport, in a giant open room three stories tall with a beautiful wall of glass overlooking the runways and asphalt outside. It would be a wonderful view if not for the solid grey sky sprinkling down rain in a gloomy manner. I’m from Arizona, so in general I love it when it rains, but Seattle weather still doesn’t appeal to me much. In Arizona we have storms: dark clouds and strong winds with the occasional monsoon or dust storm (we call them haboobs). They’re powerful, beautiful, and rare. Here, the sky is solid grey, there’s no wind to be found, and cold rain boringly sprinkles down onto the raincoat covered city goers.

This trip was a bit long and tiring. It started out arriving Monday night with a coworker, followed by three days of death by PowerPoint at a work related conference. Some of the talks were actually interesting, but sitting in the same place for 7+ hours, 3 days straight, will make even the most interesting talks seem to drag on forever. We went to some local restaurants every night, but in general I didn’t get to do any site seeing until Friday. I set up the trip so that I could stay Friday-Sunday on my own time and actually get a change to see a bit of Seattle this time (second time I’ve been here for work, first time I’ve gotten to see anything).

Friday, I slept in, recovering from the PowerPoint induced mental coma of the days past. I got up in the morning with a vague notion of seeing the Space Needle and beginning my use of the Seattle City Pass I purchased (entry to the Space Needle, EMF museum, science center, aquarium, and a harbor boat tour). However, I decide to wander to the south side of Lake Union first in the morning. The lake wasn’t anything particularly noteworthy, but I did run across the Museum of History and Industry, and spent some time walking through there. I stopped at a Goodwill on the way back to the hotel and made the completely random purchase of an orange turtle lamp, beginning the collection of odd souvenirs I’m bringing back from the trip. Hah, turtle lamp! I smile a little every time I see it for no determinable reason, followed by fearing that airport security will complain that it could be used as a bludgeoning instrument, as the turtle is made of a surprisingly hefty chunk of metal with an  orange frosted glass shell.

My energy was already running low when I got back to the hotel, and I decide to pull out my laptop and see if there were any local bands playing that Friday night. Seattle is a city obsessed with music. Posters for local indie bands are tacked onto every light poll and bus stop you come across downtown. Looking online I find not one, but dozens, of local bands playing in various venues. Of all my impressions of Seattle, the best thing I found was the local music. I one by one plugged the addresses of venues into Google Maps, narrowing down the list to a half dozen places within reasonable walking distance from my hotel. I finally settled on a place called the Crocodile, which was featuring Jamie Nova, The Pink Slips, and Into the Cold.

Music! Just what I needed to get my energy levels back up. As an introverted engineer with almost no musical talent, I have the utmost respect and love for singers who go on stage and pour their hearts and stories out. I fell in love with the music by the first singer, Jamie Nova, and ended up adding one of her CDs and a flask to my collection of odd souvenirs.  The Pink Slips featured the pop singing of a 16-year-old girl, and the night was finished off with the more surreal and dark sounds of the 4 women choir in Into the Cold.

Saturday morning I put on my tourist hat (figuratively, though later in the story there is a hat) and started in on the stereotypical Seattle tourist attractions.  First thing in the morning, take the elevator up to the top of the Space Needle and look around. It was a bit disappointing, since in my opinion, Seattle is sort of an ugly city. Seeing more of it at once doesn’t make it any prettier. Too many of the buildings around here are dull colors, reflecting the colors of the often grey Seattle skies.  Looking off in the distance I see rows of perfectly square buildings with the same bland colors and placements of perfectly square windows. Half of the city also seems to be under construction, with cranes sprouting out of every other building like mechanical yellow trees.

I stop by a random shop and pick up a chain/necklace with a pirate themed guitar pick hanging off it. Another item for the pile of souvenirs, one that fits in quite well with computer security conferences, and might become a permanent feature of my everyday attire. When I try to throw away the packaging I’m greeted with the usual trio of trash cans around Seattle: recycling, compost, and garbage. I still haven’t figured out which cups are supposed to go into compost and which ones go into recycling. Sometimes they call compost “food waste” too. Or maybe that’s different than compost. I dread throwing things away here.

Next, I wander over to the Experience Music Project, a music themed museum. My spontaneous timing works out well, and I enter the museum just in time to see a few songs performed by a local high school chorus. Once I get to the main part of the museum, I’m greeted by a breathtaking cone shaped tower of guitars that stretches two stories high. Over 500 instruments are attached to this tower of music. Many of them are wired to motors, which actually play them. Standing next to it you can barely hear anything, just the occasional flicks of motors and strums of an instrument. The microphones on the instruments pick up the sounds though, and putting on a pair of headphones lets you hear the amazing symphony of the tower. Not just a graveyard of instruments, but an electromechanical giant alive with music!

Sunday, I check out the Seattle aquarium and take a 1-hour boat ride around the Puget Sound. I’m greeted in the morning with solid grey skies and a constant trickle of rain. I’m utterly annoyed at walking in the rain with glasses after a mere ten minutes, and dart into the nearest store looking for a hat to help keep the rain off my glasses. Add a blue and bright green Seattle Seahawks baseball cap to my collection of souvenirs.  I shiver on the top deck of the boat, fighting the rain and cold to snap some pictures of the fog and cloud covered Seattle skyline. I picked the wrong day for a boat ride. Alas, it made for an authentic Seattle experience I suppose.

I finish the day by wandering around Pike Place and seeing the wall of gum. Yes, there’s a wall, covered with gum. Without a doubt the most chewed gum you will ever see in one spot.

Now I sit, typing away at the airport, waiting for my plane home. I’m not sure I like Seattle much. A nice place to visit, but I’m not sure I’d want to stay. Perhaps my mood has been dampened by the long week, grey skies, and delayed flights, but I’m looking forward to being back in Arizona.

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