These post-trip Bleats we suffer through together usually begin with something about the start of the trip, which I usually discard when it comes time to post the story. Who cares? It’s not as if anything happens before the ship pulls out of its berth. It’s not as if yout phone rings, and it’s the neighbor, telling you the massive storm the previous night took down the fence, and the power’s out, and the alarm system and exterior lighting is all out whack.

That didn’t happen until after we were underway.

Wonderful. Sitting on the ship, watching the world flow by, and my phone rings. It’s like being an astronaut exploring the moon in a rover and you see a guy running after you with a telegram. This can’t be good.

Well. Nothing I can do about it.

These entries also begin with notes on the city from which we disembark, because we always arrive a day early. No European capital this time, though: it’s Seattle, and if it’s a series of architectural details and broad, uninformed first-impressions you’ve come for, then you’re going to get it good and hard, because after this it’s just water in various forms and perhaps a whale. Let’s get the cliche shot in first.

It’s a funky place, as every tourist knows. The fishy smell does a nice job of overriding the bum smells, which spring out from doorways and alleys.

Speaking of which. Saw just one hobo-brawl while we were there: a man was strutting around bouncing on the soles of his feet having been damned proud he laid that MF’R out for stealing his bleep. He looked at least 30 years older than the grey-haired man prone on the sidewalk, who was staring at the sky with blank eyes as if beholding a vast mystery whose contours he had only glimpsed in dreams, and now here it was in its full majesty. From the muttering of the onlookers, it seemed the old man had attempted to take the young man’s cigarettes. This resulted in the MFr being laid out, as the code no doubt requred, as well as an ambulance call and no doubt an expensive stay in a medical facility. Yes, yes, any day in the big city, I suppose, move along. I never felt unsafe - they were a parallel population completely uninvolved from the ones with shopping bags and ice cream cones, dressed for winter weather, carrying huge stuffed bags, muttering and stumbling. Reminded me of Washington DC in the early 90s, without the aggressive panhandling.

Buskers galore. One trio looked like they could have stepped out of 1970, what with the granny-sack dresses and beards and general deshabille and the Seegerism of their musical stylings. It’s like being in 1945 and finding people dressed like it was 1905 on a corner, playing the music of that era. They’d be regarded with amusement and curiosity; here they fit right in, because you expect it to be 1972 for some reason.

There was a busker playing very complicated songs, like “Bingo was His Name-O.” He was not well received. When he lurched into Wooly Bully - again, a song you really want to hear shouted out in a tiled room - some fellow wandered up and started to screech the “watch it now watch it” part, to the mild consternation of everyone. But when it became apparent they were entertainers, not lunatics, the crowd went back to ignoring him.

After dinner we went to the Very First Starbucks. Lourdes gets less traffic.

The next morning I walked around while wife and daughter shopped. Went to Pioneer Square, which has some fine old buildings. Again, the smells. But such sights:

The American Luxfer Company. These things fascinated me as a child: blocks of glass set into the sidewalk like square gems. Why?

The company’s website says:

1881—James G. Pennycuick, a British-born inventor living in Boston, Massachusetts, receives a USA patent for “a new and useful Improvement in Tiles for Illuminating Purposes. . . in pavements, vault-covers, and in other situations.” His new glass tile design features a pattern of light-refracting prismatic ridges to direct sunlight into dark areas.

The key words: Vault-Covers. When you saw these things in the pavement there was a good chance there were vaults down below. Furs. Money. Gold.

The Arctic Building. Built for the Arctic Club in 1916, a social organization for remnants of the Gold Rush.


The club closed down in 1971. Notable facts: A Congressman jumped out the window.

Zioncheck died after plummeting to the sidewalk from a window of his office on the fifth floor of the Arctic Building, at 3rd Avenue and Cherry Street in downtown Seattle, on August 7, 1936.[1] He struck the pavement directly in front of a car occupied by his wife. A note was found; it read (ungrammatically, perhaps from being hastily written), "My only hope in life was to improve the condition of an unfair economic system that held no promise to those that all the wealth of even a decent chance to survive let alone live.

Okay. Wikipedia also notes:

His tireless work on behalf of the New Deal often was overshadowed by his many personal escapades, which included dancing in fountains and driving on the White House lawn. Beset by the press and by critics of Roosevelt's policies, Zioncheck became depressed and hinted that he might not seek reelection to a third term in 1936.

I think he did more than hint, poor fellow.

Merchants cafe. If that’s not the original sign, it’s at least 90 years old.

Just because I love it and they don’t have paranoid, frightened lions roaring from the archways of buildings anymore:

Here's one of his neighbors:

That's one of the most frank and unadorned early skyscrapers I've ever seen. Not a sentimental bone in its body. LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: RENTABALE SPACE. I admire that, in a way; it was one of those happy moments when a new architectural style satisfies both the modernists who reject the messy old 19rh century styles AND the businessman who doesn't want to pay for a lot of frosting, or just can't see the point.

It's the Smith Tower, named after Lyman Cornelius Smith. As in Corona. As in Wesson.

Toured the library. I was pretty sure it was a library from the outside, because no building that looks like this is anything but a public structure. It looks like the box for some sort of alien device that consumes human life and extrudes it into small diamond-shape lozenges the aliens use for nutrition.

Bare concrete inside to welcome you, and a narrow claustrophobic series of elevators lofts you up top. Narrow stacks. Great top floor with a nice view.

Twenty-eight seconds:

It’s an interesting space, but whether it works as a library I can’t say. Whether it needs to work as a library I don’t know. As a place for people to sit in tank tops radiating spiky waves of accumulated aroma, sure, it’s that. I’m serious: there was a fellow in the lobby in a tank-top with open sores on his arms, and a guy in the elevator so rank the glass in the mirror began to flow. You can’t help but think this was the normal aroma for cities for most of human history. But still.

Oh, this silly thing:

What could complete such a structure? Of course, an underground shopping center. I've known of this building for years, and always thought it violated an agreement between citizen and architect: thou shalt not make people below feel as though the building will fall over on their heads. There are plans to build something next door, and the new building appears to be based on a late 70s disco boot.


Back to the hotel - the Sheraton, by the way. The Sheraton-Generic, to use its full name. Checked out, and headed to the bus to the pier. Passed a fine old sign that made me smile:

Long may he revolve.

Checked in, got our cards, up the ramp. The usual Photo Opportunity, where you stand in front of a background and grin like fools. Everyone does it. They're all printed off. Hundreds of pictures, all arrayed on the walls a few hours later for purchase. I've no idea how many people buy them, but I'm pretty sure the price includes the cost of printing all the ones no one buys. Usually I breeze right through, but this time I was with family - including father-in-law and his wife, so this was something to commemorate. Everyone smile!

On the ship and up to our stateroom: nice.


The aft pool, of course. What ship, you ask? The Westerdam. It's smaller than the other Holland America vessels I’ve been on, and I like it. Slightly more compact. Everything’s just a bit more cozy. I’ve no problem with huge ships; I’ve no dispute with smaller ones. In either case it’s you and the balcony and the sea, the long line of the horizon waiting for whatever sentence you wish to write.


First night cocktail reception; then dinner; then, as ever, the Crow’s Nest to shout and rumble and laugh. I expect a good trip, even though there’s only one excursion and a succession of small rainy towns to visit. But it's a cruise ship, and that means there are people on message boards who take time out from combing and oiling ther neckbeards to comment thus on a story about aerial shots of ocean liners:

I love the sniveling-Renfield who comes along to say yes master! I too envisioned despoiling of the beauty! Heh! Heh heh!

So don't and that's prob fine. But it's not enough to decline to participate. He wishes they would be eradicated. Banned, presumably, by global law. Until that day, though, I will continue to enjoy visiting different places via mass transit - I mean, find me a mode of transport that's more dense and massive than a cruise ship. I will enjoy contributing to local economies and learning about other ways of life. Those are good things, right? Even if the other way of life consists of pretending that your visit to this port town coincided with a 40% reduction in the price of smoked salmon?

They are good things. And now: North! To Alaska! At least its southernmost dangly parts. We continue tomorrow.