From Sutafed to Seattle

I got an email the other day from someone in Australia, who was looking for an old Sutafed commercial and happened upon my Trip East travelogue. It’s a strange coincidence, because I’ve been thinking of Seattle lately, for a lot of different reasons. Part of it is that tomorrow will be the 7th anniversary of when I left Jet City and headed out here to New York, and nice round numbers make me think back. And I think part of it is also the weather here, how it’s jumped from a steady 30 to some days when it’s actually light jacket 50s. Hell, I just looked down at my weather widget, and it’s saying 62. That’s almost a solid spring day.

Something about spring always pulls my brain back to Seattle. A lot of natives tell you the winters are mild, but they’re only half right. You won’t see feet of snow, but that persistent darkness and muggy gloom really sits on you after a while. After about 100 days of 40 degrees, rain, and dark, you really start thinking Kurt Cobain had the right idea. I guess when I lived there, I didn’t really have the means to fly down to Vegas for the weekend or otherwise escape the grasp of the PNW. Maybe it would be different with my current worldview. I don’t know. But I do know that once the sun crawled back out and spring hit, I really LOVED Seattle. I loved driving around in my car, going everywhere and nowhere, when the sun was out and it was a crisp fifty degrees, and the air had that fresh smell that everything had been showered down for six months, and in a couple more, it would be summer. Spring anywhere makes me think of Seattle.

Every once in a while, someone will ask me if I miss Seattle, or what I thought about it, or why I left. It’s a hard question to answer. I do miss it a lot sometimes. There are certain albums that instantaneously transfer me back there faster than a Star Trek transporter could. One of them is Queensryche’s 1997 album Hear in the Now Frontier. I listened to these fourteen tracks so many times while driving around the city, they’re inseparable from that year of my life. I first heard the title cut when I was stuck in Longview, Washington on a Monday. This was when I dated Karena and before she moved north, and we used to trade off weekends for who had the 100-mile commute. I was heading back late Sunday night, and got a blowout in my Escort. I only had the baby spare, not rated for 100 miles of highway driving in the rain, so I called off work, borrowed her Saturn, and spent the next day getting a new tire fitted. When I was driving around this tiny town hidden in the evergreens of southwest Washington, the new Queensryche song came on the radio, and I made a mental note: “go buy that album.” A couple days later, I went to Silver Platters, my old CD hangout, and picked up a copy. I made a dup on tape for the car, and played it 200 million times.

When I think of that whole story, there are so many great nostalgic things to pick up on. First, there’s all of these trips to Longview. Now, things with Karena didn’t end on the greatest of terms, and I’m not longing for her or anything. But there was a certain charm to when I went down there. The place was about as big as Goshen, Indiana, for those who know my hometown, and it’s the kind of place where we ended up going to the Red Lobster that shared a parking lot with the Target a lot. The biggest shopping experience in Longview was driving a half hour to go to the mall in Portland. Otherwise, we rented a lot of videos, bought a lot of Papa Murphy’s premade but not baked pizzas, and just hung out. It was nice. And the story makes me think about my old Escort, which I hated so much when I got it, but now I’d pay cash on the barrelhead for a car just like it now. And man I miss going to Silver Platters, going from A to Z through the racks, and dumping a c-note on double coupon Tuesday, because I was totally locked into their little coupon scheme to get free discs, even if it meant I bought way too many CDs I didn’t need.

That kind of nostalgia kills me. And it makes it hard to answer the simple question: would I go back? I haven’t even visited Seattle since I left in 1999. And I don’t know that I would move back. I mean, I think about when I went back to Bloomington last for more than like a lunch or an evening, which was probably back on that 1999 trip east. I was writing Summer Rain hardcore when I left Seattle. I spent three or four months basically poring into the draft full-time, doing nothing but thinking about Bloomington. Then I drove halfway across the country, opened the car door, and basically stepped into my own book. Yeah, a lot of things changed in the seven years since the book took place. But I remember walking from the Union to my old apartment on Mitchell Street, and probably 95% of everything I saw in the spring air around me was identical to what I saw in 1992. It really freaked me out. But then I got hit with this really heavy “you can’t go back” vibe, when I realized that I didn’t know anyone on campus anymore, and everyone that was there looked like they were about twelve.

So yeah, you can’t go back. And I’ll be honest: I’m not going to stay in New York forever. There will come a time when we will bug out of here and go to the next big stop down the road. And I know my relatives automatically assume the next and last stop for me will be when I “grow up” and decide to move back to Elkhart and buy a house right across from my parents’ house and spit out some kids and come over every Sunday for dinner. And of course, that’s all shit. It’s gotta be something new for me on the next stop; I can’t have a do-over. I’m not saying I want to zip all over the country like I’m following the Dead, but I wouldn’t mind trying something else someday. It would also be nice if they had real grocery stores. But there’s Trader Joe’s now, so that’s huge.

Speaking of, we’ve booked our next vacation, and will be going to Alaska at the end of May/beginning of June. Sofar, we’ve got airfare, a week of hotel in Anchorage, and a rental car. From there, we’ll drive around, see some glaciers, take a lot of pictures, eat some food, and who knows what else. I’m going through Frommer’s now. There will probably not be any above Arctic circle exploration, and given my knee condition, I doubt we’ll be climbing Mount McKinley. But I’m hoping for some flightseeing, and it would be absolutely golden if I could get in a flight lesson while we’re up there.

Alaska also has a weird Seattle connotation, too. Seattle’s always had a tight bond with the 49th state. A lot of people that fly up there end up with a plane change at SeaTac, but even back in the old days, Seattle was the last big outpost before you headed north. Some of the culture of Alaska is second-tiered in Seattle in some weird way; salmon’s big because of the fisherman bringing it down. Lots of commercial boats winter down in Seattle, too. There are a lot of street names and other places and buildings in Seattle that are named after Alaskan cities, features, or explorers. And the whole time I was in Seattle, I thought hard about making the jump up the Alcon to get up there. I’d sit in bed with my Rand-McNally, tallying the miles and trying to find the shortest route, the number of hours and days it would take me. Growing up, you look at the big map at the front of the classroom and it looks like Alaska’s just one state’s worth of Canada up from Washington. Really, you have to drive like 24 hours straight through the mountains of British Columbia to get to the most remote southernmost point on the tail of Alaska. If you wanted to get to a city that was actually in the meat of the state, add another 24 hours of solid driving. It’s basically like driving across the entire United States, but up, and on much worse roads. So I never made it further north than Vancouver, and I’m glad I will be able to do it now.

Not much else. Still working on the book of Bloomington stories. It’s getting there, slowly. I should get on that now, actually.