Sunday, January 20

Sleepless in Seattle...

I just returned from a business trip to Seattle, WA, my second trip there in recent months. This time I didn't rent a car, which encouraged me to walk and rely on public transportation. One afternoon, I spent what felt like one week using Seattle's Metro Transit after being given incorrect information by two bus drivers and let off by another one more than a mile from my destination. Another bus driver became a little agitated when I asked her where I should exit to get to Pacific Place, a popular downtown spot. She said, "I'm only familiar with my route--I don't know the best stop." Thus, I became lost at least once. But it really is the best way to see a city.

I overheard a number of people talk about how "cold" it was in Seattle. The temps stayed in the mid-forties the nearly four days I spent there. At the time in Chicago the temps were in the low double digits, like 10 degrees. One day I checked in on Chicago and it was 8 degrees with a wind chill that felt like minus 11 degrees! Comparatively speaking, Seattle was downright balmy. True to its reputation, the skies were mostly gray and cloudy with billowing cloud formation with the sun trying its best to peek through. It made for dramatic sunrises and sunsets that were nothing short of glorious.

While there I noticed that two wheel travel is the mode of preferred transportation, particularly around the University of Washington. Seattle seemed way ahead of other cities in "living green." Everywhere I looked multiple waste containers clearly marked what could be deposited inside. People diligently and patiently disposed of their waste according to the posted rules. Similar multiple receptacles can be spotted here in Chicago but not to the same magnitude IMHO--but we are a serious bicycling town too. Although I didn't make any resolutions to start this new year, I vowed to live far more consciously greener. I've always done some environmentally friendly things but like many people, I need to do more.

Motorcycling has led me to have a different relationship with my car. Living in a place where I could ride year 'round would help me eliminate the need to own one altogether. I haven't driven it in months. Seven months has been my longest stretch of not driving. I went the whole summer without touching it and last winter I rarely drove it either. And, I like driving because I drive stick shifts only. I can almost convince myself driving a stick shift is similar to riding a motorcycle--almost. In the city, I find that I don't need a car. It's suburban living that demands a car to go just about anywhere. Ultimately, I'd like to do without owning a car altogether. I can rent if I really need one. Or, join one of those share a car deals, where you pay a fee, requisition a car online, and you're directed to a nearby pick up spot. Problem is, manual transmission are virtually impossible to rent these days. I've been told that not enough people drive them to motivate a rental service to carry such cost efficient, less complicated vehicles.

My last trip to Seattle had me slapping the floor of the rental car feeling for the clutch and waving my right hand between the front seats searching for the stick. It took me half a day to keep my hands on the steering wheel and to stop driving with two feet--it was distracting. After getting the hang of it, I realized how completely sleep inducing it is to drive an automatic! It bored me silly, left me wondering if mind numbing tedium is part of the reason folks drive while reading newspapers, applying make up, eating Big Macs, and talking on cell phones. They've got way too many limbs free!

To see so many people in Seattle on two wheels, well, it was refreshing. I'm sure part of that stems from being in a college town. Still, Seattle seems a more environmentally friendly place judging from all the organic, green- and environmentally- friendly signs and establishments broadcasting their organic nature and eco-friendliness. Even my hotel was 100% smoke free. I had to sign a statement saying I agreed not to light up in my room or I would be charged an outrageous price for the cleaning and fumigating the place after my departure. I liked that.

When I travel, I always ask myself if I can live in that place. I feel I can now answer that question with a resounding "Sort of." The limo driver told me that Seattle is devoid of the weather extremes we have in Chicago. That's a good thing. Seattle also doesn't get much snow. Hmmm...I like snow. For me, winters would be difficult there because one hardly sees a blue sky for very long. Both trips, albeit they were less than a week each, transpired under cloudy gray skies. On the first trip, it rained each day, steady sometimes brief and light drizzles that didn't seem to phase the two-wheelers at all.

Yet, those cloudy skies produce some amazing sunrises and sunsets that look beautiful in a distance and over mountaintops. Great food is expected in Seattle. Seafood--they love it and claim the best fish chowder around. I never made it to the signature chowder place but I take their word for it. I ran into many eateries that rival the food dished up in Chicago--and we know food here is serious business. If you don't drink coffee--I do not--it might not impress you that Seattle is home of the original Starbucks. Coffee shops are ubiquitous. Tully's is another coffee shop that seems to give Starbucks a run for its money--not sure which came first. Woodland Zoo is just amazing! Seattle also has a downtown waterfront along Elliott Bay and, of course, there's Puget Sound. Both waters could lessen my certain pain at missing Lake Michigan. It's being able to ride nearly year 'round that appeals to me most...yes, I could live in Seattle. Purchase some winter riding clothes--I'd be set. Well...sort of.

The "sorta" part results from not having any extended kin there. The older I get the more I want to be near these people I spent the greater part of my life trying to escape. I want to be close enough to get to them when I want to or when they need me yet far enough away that I feel free to be me and feel unfettered by their proximity. In addition, I love residing in a place where I can anticipate the boundaries of a space, where I can visualize what's around a corner. In my mind's eye I can see just about any place in Chicago just by looking at an address. Such familiarity creates comfort. When I rented the car for my first trip to Seattle every street was new, every curve on the Interstate was novel, none of which I minded but it created a sense of discombobulation, a feeling of general uncertainty. I was often caught in lanes that went where I didn't want to go and I had to work my way quickly to another lane. Funny thing is, this excites me and adds to any adventure on a motorcycle. In a car, I felt stressed and it could have been the result of driving the automatic more than anything else.

In Chicago, long before a rode dips or dives or merges this or that way, I am prepared, I can anticipate ( and compensate for) every curve on the various interstate routes that intersect Chicago. To me that's something, something that has taken decades to master.

Seattle, I'm sure, is a nice place to reside. For me, it will have to do as a nice place to visit. I'd love to ride my bike out there and head to Vancouver, which is only a few hours away from Seattle. To rub shoulders with MT. Rainier, MT. St. Helens, and Olympic Mountains to mention a few is a huge draw. Traveling allows movement outside one's comfort zone.

Perhaps the question isn't, "Can I live here?" But rather, "Is this a great place to visit, or what?" Seattle is on my return visit list! Gotta figure out a motorcycle ride there. That limo driver said, August is the best time to come...

Monday, January 7

Weather report: BALMY!

Major snow melt here this weekend! Unseasonably warm weather propelled many folks outdoors. Yesterday's temp's reached above 60 degrees F! Chicago. January. Sixty-degrees. That's rarer than good thinking from the current political administration--IMHO. Had I kept Queenie a bit longer, this would have been a riding weekend like no other! Sunday was beyond warm! Some shoppers strolled the "Mag Mile" coatless while I sweated bullets in mine.

Blue skies, however, have been in short supply! Typically, the last few days have started with dense fog and tiny patches of blue trying to peek through as the fog dissipates. A blue sky, however, has failed to show its full self in days. Am I the only one looking this gift horse in the mouth? While I thoroughly enjoyed this miracle from Mother Nature, I can't ignore Mother Nature's heavy hand in other places. Look at what is transpiring elsewhere (e.g., parts of California, Nevada, Florida, the Pacific Northwest and in regions abroad). Weather-related problems are running the gamut too--from torrential rains, winds above 70 mph, and massive snowfalls. As Marvin Gayle croons, "What's going on?"

Number of motorcycle spottings this weekend: Two. A couple of lucky ducks in full bike-matching riding gear, sporting Suzuki crotch-rockets. I took their engine revving personally! While I had a camera with me, they were going too fast, it was too dark, and the unmistakable 'cycle sounds sent me into an an envy-induced paralysis. Seriously! I had assumed the pain of withdrawal was over. Nah. It lurks right beneath the skin, ever ready to spring forth (pun intended).