Now is NOT the Time to Panic, Seattle.

This is definitely not the month you want to be living in Seattle.

Because of our geography, pinned in between Puget Sound and Lake Washington, with mountain ranges on either side of us for added complexity, we are already too many people in too small an area. We only have three major north/south traffic arteries, and one of them, the viaduct, is going to be closed for the rest of this month, until the tunnel that is replacing it opens up.

They’re calling it the Seattle Squeeze. Others are calling it Viadoom. Think about that for a second. 90,000 commuters use that viaduct every single day. Now they’re going to have to find other routes. And their options are going to be extremely limited.

Buckle up, ladies and gentlemen, and prepare for a cluster of epic proportions. It reminds me of that scene in Monsters Inc. in which the reporter says, “It is my professional opinion that now is the time to PANIC!!!!”

And as a Seattle Department of Transportation employee, I’ve seen a lot of panicking going on, indeed. I think if the general public really had any idea just how much the City is freaking out, they’d be a lot more hysterical themselves. You’d think the apocalypse was nigh.

Yeah, it’s going to suck. People will be late. Road rage will skyrocket. Everything is going to be a lot harder than usual.

But you know what? Breathe. We’ll survive. The world will keep right on spinning. February will come. We’ll all look back at this and laugh the laugh of survivors.

I really don’t think panic will do us any good. Yes, I’m glad people are doing their best to prepare for worst case scenarios. I’m thrilled that many companies are making an effort to adjust their schedules and will be allowing their employees to telecommute when possible.

I think we just all have to hunker down, gird our loins, and try not to lose our tempers. If you know anyone in the Seattle area, give them a virtual hug. Maybe send them some cookies. But for heaven’s sake, don’t come to visit until at least mid-February. We have enough problems at the moment. Please and thank you.

seattle map

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Used-to-Be-Mountains

Just about every day that I work on one of the drawbridges that crosses the Ship Canal here in Seattle, I open my bridge for a 2000 gross ton gravel barge. That’s a lot of gravel. If it were being transported by semi truck, that would be an average of 186 trucks per barge. Every day.

Island Chief Ballard

That had me wondering where this gravel was coming from, and where it was going. Well, the answer is, it comes from Dupont, Washington, which is south of Tacoma, and it is carried up to Kenmore, which is at the northernmost tip of Lake Washington.

There are several pits and quarries in the Dupont area. One is shown below. I’m amazed the entire region isn’t one massive hole, based on what I’ve seen float past my window.

When it arrives in Kenmore, it is taken to CalPortland, the largest producer of sand, gravel and quarry rock in the Pacific Northwest. They make products such as ready mix concrete, corrugated pipe, assorted building materials and asphalt.

There’s no question that this region is booming, and I suppose that most would consider this a good thing, but I look at those barges with a certain level of despair. What I see is “used-to-be-mountains.” And according to this article in Science Alert, the world is actually facing a sand crisis that most of us haven’t even noticed.

When the world’s population increases, the need for building materials increases. But there’s only so much sand and gravel to go around. It’s getting so bad that organized crime groups are actually selling sand and gravel on the black market, and violence has  broken out over sand. Sand!

We take it for granted, because we walk down beaches and feel it between our toes, but sand is actually a limited resource along the lines of water. Without it, we will see increasing erosion, and that’s compounded by the fact that sea levels are rising. Barrier islands and wetlands that protect communities from tsunamis and flooding are starting to disappear.

Many species that depend on sand as an important part of their habitat, such as crocodiles and turtles, are starting to be endangered as well. Further, the standing pools of water that are created when you remove sand are breeding grounds for mosquitoes and bacteria that cause a variety of diseases. This is a problem that we need to take seriously.

We are raised to believe that progress is good. We try not to think about what disappears as a result of this progress. We don’t think about limits. We don’t think about the end of things. We just take, take, take. One barge load at a time.

Kapowsin Quarry

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The Ultimate Seattle Evening

Recently, my friend Ian Reilly invited me for another ride on the Mallory Todd, one of my all-time favorite vessels. This concrete-hulled, double-masted schooner is absolutely gorgeous inside, full of teak, a bathtub, a fireplace, and some amazing amenities. I’ve written about her before, so I’ll hold off on my rhapsodizing about the boat and focus on the journey.

Normally, the Mallory Todd roams the Ship Canal here in Seattle, going from Ballard through the drawbridges to Lake Washington and back, but this time she went from Ballard to Shilshole Bay Marina, to be pulled out for her 5 year inspection. This was a unique opportunity for me, as it meant we’d be transiting the Ballard Locks and going out into Puget Sound, two things that I had yet to do.

The weather was amazing. No rain, for a change, and the seas were flat calm. And there were only seven of us on this glorious journey, friends old and new, and Bonnie the Black Lab who took turns cuddling with us all.

As we passed under the Ballard Bridge, I thought how wonderful it was to have a drawbridge open for me for a change. And when we approached the locks, I got really excited. I’m nerdy that way. My very first lockage! We had the lock to ourselves, and the crew was pleasant and professional. We even drew a crowd. I got a sense of what it must be like to be on a red carpet. It was fun sinking down to sea level and marveling at the engineering involved.

As we entered Puget Sound while the sun was setting, it took my breath away. The water was a perfect mirror that reflected the snow-capped Olympic Mountains in the distance. A few vessels passed by us, also reflected in the water, looking like works of art. Suddenly my heart swelled with pure joy. I felt so lucky to be alive, in this place, at this time, with these people. I knew it would be a memory that I would carry with me for the rest of my life.

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And then, to make things even better, we heard barking in the distance. It was seals, resting on a buoy. (Or sea lions. I can never tell the difference.) We cruised right up to them. They didn’t seem to be very concerned. I was fascinated.

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As it got dark, the full moon still lit our way, and we passed Ray’s Boathouse Restaurant, which clearly has stunning views. I was told the food is really good as well. I hope that I get a chance to eat there someday.

Looking back at the city lights from the water was spectacular. You could see the space needle and the wheel, both lit up amongst the sky scrapers. I wish my camera did it justice. I kept thinking about how much I love this city, and how I can’t imagine living anywhere else now.

Someone pointed out Discovery Park to me, and I remembered sitting high up on that bluff when I first arrived in Seattle. I looked out over that vast expanse of water and mountains and I wondered where my life would go now that I was on this new and glorious adventure. 2 ½ years later, I still can’t answer that question, but I’m more excited to find out than ever!

You want to hear some fantastic news? You can charter the Mallory Todd yourself! It’s perfect for weddings or bachelor parties or retreats or… anything, really, as long as you want to have a wonderful time! Contact them here.


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Cruising on the Mallory Todd

On each of the nine drawbridges I’ve operated in my career, there has always been one vessel that was my favorite to open for. Sometimes it was because the ship in question came through like clockwork and signaled the end of my shift. Other times it was because I’d always have some very pleasant banter with the captain on the radio. But most often it was because the boat was pure eye candy to my very soul. (I must confess I have a thing for teak and mahogany.)

On my current bridge, my favorite has always been, without question, the Mallory Todd. A double-masted schooner, she is, in my opinion, the most beautiful vessel that plies the Ship Canal here in Seattle. She takes my breath away. If it were possible to have a love affair with a sailboat, this would be the one.

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But I’ve always found her to be a bit out of my league. You can charter the Mallory Todd, but for that you actually have to have money. And even though I started off my career as a bridgetender suffering under the delusion that I’d be offered lots of free boat rides, it has never happened. Ever. That is, until about a year ago, when the Mallory Todd actually offered such a ride to all the area bridgetenders! I was so excited! This was a dream come true!

But my employer shut that down. You see, we work for the City of Seattle, and there are certain ethical issues related to accepting gifts when you’re a city employee. You don’t want there to be even the rumor of a quid pro quo. That makes a lot of sense. But I have no idea what someone could have accused us of giving the crew of the Mallory Todd in return. Opening the bridges a few seconds sooner? But there you have it. There was to be no cruise for us.

What a crushing disappointment. But it did make me feel appreciated that they even offered. That says a lot about what a decent group they are. Bridgetenders are so often overlooked.

After that, I resigned myself to gazing at the Mallory Todd from afar. There’s nothing as bittersweet as unrequited love. When she passed through my bridge, I’d always whisper, “Hello, you…” And then she’d sail off into the sunset. But eventually she’d come back. And then sail off in the other direction. As one does.

I’d pretty much accepted the fact that I’d never be formally introduced to the Mallory Todd. Then, to my shock, this past Friday I got an invitation from one of the online meetup groups I’ve signed up for. A cruise the next day on the Mallory Todd! An opportunity to go through the ship canal and up Lake Washington to listen to the Christmas Choir sing on the Argosy cruise ship.

There are very few things that make me roll my office chair back and shout, “Holy crap!!!!” But this was one of those things. And then my rational mind kicked in. This was awfully short notice. And it was 40 dollars, which I don’t really have. And it would be after a day at work, and it would mean not getting home until very late at night, and I’d have to get up the next morning at 5:45 to be back to work. And I wouldn’t know anyone. And it would be cold, and most likely raining. All good reasons to give it a pass.

But ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I mean, seriously, opportunities like this just never, ever crop up. And if I didn’t go, I’d regret it. So hell yeah, sign me up!

I scraped up the money. (So I’d pass up on eating out about 4 times, maybe I’d put off getting my oil changed for a month longer than I should, and there’s ramen noodles in my future. Big deal.)

And before I knew it, I was boarding the Mallory Todd! I played it really cool, I think. No one realized how monumental this was for me.

First impressions? It’s a lot bigger below decks than I ever imagined. There’s even a fireplace, a sunken tub, and one of the berths has a queen sized bed. And I was in absolute teak and mahogany heaven! (So much so that I forgot to take pictures of the interior. Sorry about that. I’m sure there are some on their website.)

And I got to meet the captain, Ian Reilly. I would love the opportunity to sit down and talk to him for hours on end. I have no doubt that he has some fascinating stories to tell. (He did imply as much.) I’d really enjoy getting inside his head. He’s the only person I’ve ever met who has an even cooler job than I do. And I’m sure he can relate to working weekends and holidays. (He also has phenomenal taste in music. He introduced me to Jack Johnson, and now I’m addicted to his mellow sound.)

I also got to ask him a question that I’ve been dying to hear the answer to. The Mallory Todd has a concrete hull. Why doesn’t it sink like a stone? Ian pointed out that steel ships float, too. Now, why hadn’t I thought of that?

I was also gratified to hear that Mallory Todd does quite a few fundraising cruises. A beauty with a generous spirit. Better and better.

It was amazing to be able to cruise through the ship canal and have my drawbridges open for me for a change. (My coworkers waved.) I took some pictures, but it was after dark, so they didn’t come out very well, as you can see. I tried.

Seeing all the vessels lit up for the holidays and gathered around the Argosy choir was amazing. It was the first whiff of the Christmas spirit I’ve had so far this year. I’ll be working on Christmas and New Years and my birthday, so this boat full of good people whom I had never met before didn’t know this, but this was my holiday. And it was glorious.

On the way back in, the steady rocking got me a little sleepy, and I longed to curl up on that queen bed and take a luxurious nap. But I didn’t want to take advantage of the chemistry that I knew was going to be there all along. I wanted to treat the experience with respect. And not look like a total nut.

If you ever have an opportunity to charter this amazing vessel, I highly recommend it. I’ll probably even open my bridge for you. And I’ll try not to get too jealous.

Thank you, Mallory Todd (and Ian) for a night I’ll always remember. Let’s do it again some time!

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How Rumors Get Started

The other day I saw something really strange go under my drawbridge. It looked like a sailboat mast, only… there was no sailboat beneath the mast. Maybe a really, REALLY tall periscope? An optical illusion? I’m just going to have to accept the fact that I’ll never know the end of that story. And maybe I need to get more sleep. Or update my eyeglass prescription. Or perhaps, like Scrooge, I was digesting a bit of underdone potato.

And then a friend sent me a link to a website about Willatuk, Seattle’s equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster. Jeez, glad I didn’t know about that before I went kayaking a few weeks ago. I’d have been rather creeped out.

Willatuk

While I always have and always will view stories about sea monsters with a healthy level of skepticism, the Willatuk website did suck me in for a second. Not in terms of believing the creature actually exists, but in terms of believing that other people believed it.

But then a few red flags popped up. First of all, the website mentions a Wonkatilla Tribe, which I’d never heard of, and couldn’t find on line except in relation to this website. It also mentions a tunnel 5 miles beneath the surface of Lake Washington which lets out into Puget Sound, and is supposedly the passage that this creature takes. Uh… Lake Washington is only 214 feet deep, folks.

And one couple supposedly saw Willatuk transiting through the locks. I think the people working the locks would have noticed that. And shut him in. And made a fortune off of him.

Upon further investigation, I discovered that the timeline of Willatuk sightings is a purely fictional creation of the guy who made the film Willatuk: The Legend of Seattle’s Sea Serpent. He also happened to make the website. This kind of gave me a giggle.

But it also irritates me a little, because not everyone will follow through the way I did. So I suspect that we’re now going to hear about the occasional Willatuk sighting, and eventually people will forget that it all started off as a work of fiction, and maybe 200 years from now fiction will be viewed as fact and… well, you know, that’s how rumors get started.

I leave you now with the (really bad) Ballad of Willatuk, which was also created for the movie. Because I love you, dear reader, I actually sat through the movie myself for research purposes, and it’s an hour of my life I’ll never get back and will always regret. No one has even bothered to rate it on the Rotten Tomatoes website, which is kind of a distinction in and of itself.

Floating Out of My Comfort Zone

I have a confession to make. Until last week I had never been in a kayak in my life. That seems really strange to me because I watch them almost every day from my tower on the drawbridge. I’ve always thought it looked like fun. I just never quite got around to it.

That probably has a lot to do with the fact that every time I’ve been in a canoe it has been a disaster. Once it required minor surgery and pain meds that caused freaky hallucinations. Another time it involved being covered in dozens of large hairy spiders. I try not to think about canoeing very much.

But my nephew was coming to visit, and I’ve always tried to be the cool aunt. I’ve even ridden roller coasters for him. Me. That about says it all.

What made me most open to the experience was the fact that I was taking a week’s vacation and not leaving town. Sacrilege. I’m all about travel. New horizons. A change of venue. So I figured that if I was going to confine myself to the well-known, the least I could do was look at it from a brand new angle. So a-kayaking we went.

Here in Seattle, you can rent kayaks from the Aqua Verde Restaurant for 18 dollars an hour (as of this writing), and cruise the ship canal from the locks all the way to Lake Washington if you are so inclined. We stuck to Portage Bay and Lake Union, which suited me just fine.

We opted for two single kayaks, so that if one of us fell in, the other wouldn’t have to suffer as well. This turned out to be an excellent idea, because I nearly went into the drink just trying to get in the kayak. It turns out that kayaks are quite tippy. My heart went into my throat on more than one occasion. And I had no clue how I’d have gotten back in if I had slipped out. Fortunately I never had to find out.

And after gazing at what I thought was very calm water for two years, I learned that Lake Union is actually pretty darned choppy. It was my nephew’s first kayak experience as well, but he took to it, naturally, like a duck to water, despite the waves. I was tempted to make him go for a swim just on general principle.

But I have to say that once I kind of got the hang of it, I really enjoyed myself. There is something to be said for changing your point of view. It’s really amazing to be in a huge natural setting right in the middle of a big city.

I got to float under my bridge, and fell in love with it even more by doing so. Its art deco embellishments just seem to speak to me. I also got a look at the Fremont Bridge from a distance. And Seattle’s skyline is even more spectacular from water level.

Even though I hadn’t left the city, I did feel like I was seeing things for the first time. That always renews my spirit and refreshes my soul. The first time you see something (or someone) forces you to really, really see it. (Or him. Or her.) You take in every ounce of beauty. That’s kind of like getting away with eating the frosting before devouring the cupcake. What a gift.

Here are some of my pictures from the adventure.

 

Exploring Seattle – Part 10

Just a few short miles from my house sits Warren G. Magnuson Park, a former Navy airfield that takes up 350 acres on the shore of Lake Washington. My dogs are thrilled that I found this place, because it includes a 9 acre off leash dog park that is without a doubt the coolest facility of its kind that I’ve ever seen. It’s like doggie Nirvana. There must have been 150 dogs romping around, of all shapes and sizes, which is the largest group of canines I’ve ever experienced, and yet there wasn’t a single fight going on.

My dog Blue, skittish at the best of times, wasn’t quite sure what to make of this. He spent most of the time walking a pace behind me, shivering in my shadow, with a few brief moments of irresistible exploratory jaunts.

Devo, on the other hand, has never met a stranger, and he made a point of introducing himself to every human being in the park. I had to keep a close eye on him, because he would zoom off to heaven knows where at every opportunity. A couple of times he was almost adopted, but who could blame them?

At the end of a long path we found ourselves at the lake’s edge, and the big dogs in particular were having a blast chasing balls into the water. The little dogs mostly hung out on the periphery and shook their heads condescendingly. Devo, not to be outdone, promptly lay down in the mud and soaked up the sun. Blue, who doesn’t even like to get his paws wet, sat on the bench beside me and looked around in amazement.

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The only negative about this park is that there don’t seem to be any water stations for the dogs. At least I didn’t see one, and not all dogs venture all the way out to the lake. There was a whole lot of panting going on. I can’t imagine what it’s like in the summertime.

Right next to the dog park is the NOAA research facility, on whose campus are housed several art installations, including something called the sound garden, which consists of pipe organs that catch the wind and make haunting, natural music. It was also the inspiration for the band of the same name, which is kind of awesome. I was looking forward to checking the sound garden out, but naturally I picked a day that didn’t have even a breath of wind. I’m sure I’ll experience it one of these days. Until then I’ll just content myself with this Youtube video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4Z2fqxkdvk

After an hour or two of total sensory overload, the boys were happy to go home and take a nap, and so I dropped them off before heading off to my second adventure, which falls under the What’s WRONG With You People??? category.

Simply put, these crazy Seattleites seem to have something against really bad Americanized Chinese food. In Florida, you find a Chinese Take Out joint on every other corner. Here, up to this point, I had only found high-end authentic Chinese restaurants, and even those seem to be as rare as hen’s teeth. And yet you can’t turn your head without spotting a Vietnamese or a Thai place. Don’t get me wrong. Those are wonderful and I love them. But every now and then, a girl wants to tuck into a plate of soy sauce-drenched lo mein and make no apologies, you know? And I was starting to experience egg roll withdrawal. I was thinking of moving back to Florida, I tell you.

But then what to my wondering eyes should appear but a coupon in my mailbox for a place called Super China Buffet in Shoreline, right across from the Central Market, which is a cool high-end grocery store along the lines of Whole Foods.

My mouth is watering even as I describe this buffet of abundance. I wanted to get naked and roll around in the lo mein. I was that happy. But I was afraid if I did I’d be asked to leave and never come back, and that would be tragic. It was bad enough that everyone was looking at me askance due to the stupid grin I had on my face.

Along with the standard Chinese buffet fare such as chow mein and lo mein and egg rolls and general chicken, it also had some unexpected delights, such as eggplant in garlic sauce, sushi, crab, fried zucchini, pizza and crispy chicken wings that nearly made me swoon. I have to admit that I ate so much that I left feeling slightly sick, but I had 6 months of Chinese food deprivation to make up for, after all.

Oh, yeah, I’ll be back. And the best part is I don’t have to move back to Florida after all! Yay!

Exploring Seattle — Part Six

It was a beautiful day, and probably the last one for a while, so I wanted to do something outdoors. Feeling like a bit of a broken record, I went to visit yet another park. As I was driving there, I was feeling a bit ambivalent. Parks here are gorgeous. I mean, absolutely gorgeous. Kind of an embarrassment of riches. But I’ve seen several. I’m starting to feel jaded by all this beauty. I couldn’t imagine that this one would present me with anything more spectacular than the others.

On the freakin’ contrary.

Upon my approach to Seward Park, I was treated to a sweeping vista of Andrews Bay. Two things you miss out on in most cities are distant horizons and the feeling of open spaces. This view was fabulous. I sat on the rocky beach where swimming is allowed and I fully intend to take advantage of that next summer. The water is crystal clear.

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After feeling my blood pressure drop considerably, I decided to wander over to the alpine-like building that houses the Audubon Center. There I had a nice chat with a gentleman who gave me some great advice about attracting more hummingbirds to my feeder. Hummingbirds live here year round. Something that’s pretty obvious but that I never thought about is that hummingbirds can’t walk. They expend a great deal of energy having to hover and fly at feeders, so it’s better to get one that has a perch that they can stand on and rest. So there will be a new feeder in my future. I enjoyed my chat with this guy. I was tempted to ask if he was single. But I chickened out, which is, if you think about it, rather apropos when talking to an Audubon guy.

After that I headed over to the Lake Washington side of the park to begin the 2.4 mile waterfront loop. And when I looked up I gasped audibly, which is what I always do when presented with Mount Rainier. I’ve only seen it three times since I’ve been here, and when I do, it stuns me every time. You don’t expect a volcano to sneak up on you like that, but somehow it does. BAM! There it is.

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I sank down to the grass, which turned out to be wet but I didn’t care, and just gazed at this magnificent spectacle. I’ve seen a lot of gorgeous sights in my life, but this is right up there in the pantheon of magnificence, if you ask me. I was almost reluctant to start on the loop road because I knew it would eventually swing back around to Andrews Bay and the mountain would go back to where ever it is that mountains hide.

Incidentally, I’m itching, absolutely aching to get out into the mountains around here, but that would be no fun to do alone. Some day.

But I soldiered on, gazing at the million dollar houses that line the far shore, and briefly visiting a land of make believe where I actually some day get to live in one and wake up every morning to a view like this. How could anyone who lives in a house like that not be grateful every single day? I would be.

What I absolutely adore about this park is that this loop road is flat, flat, flat. Glory, glory hallelujah! I could walk it without having a coronary. But for the more athletically inclined, there are hilly, woodsy paths in the interior of this 300 acre park. For that day, at least, I was quite content to hug the shoreline.

Half way around, I passed an attractive older gentleman who said, “Lovely day for a walk, isn’t it?” Indeed it was, I said. I wish I could have said more without looking like a nut. He looked nice. Ah well. One has to hike before one can hunt, I suppose. 🙂

Seward Park is my absolute favorite so far. I have no doubt I’ll be back. As added incentive, there was a Baskin Robins on my route home. It wouldn’t do to burn off too many calories, after all. It was a delicious afternoon all around.