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I don’t have much to say about Seattle, because my allotted time there was spent in profuse geek-out mode with Diana and Pierre, whom I thank profusely for their hospitality and good humour. When I grow up, I’d love to be them: in a house groaning with books, with papers on the boil and an anecdote always ready, with an affectionate and non-allergenic cat, in a cosy sprawling house perched by a park in an orgy of greenery and damp timber cheer. And fresh-baked apple pie. I have a sneaking suspicion that’s not where I’ll end up if I ever grow up, but at least I have a reference point to aspire to now.
Orgy of greenery and damp timber cheer. That’s Seattle. A pity I didn’t get to wander around it now, but it’s wasn’t the day for it anyway: I wandered for ten minutes in the autumn wind, and got a maple leaf in the face for my trouble. That, and a reminder of my acrophobia as a forest layered itself in glorious 3-D from the park bridge next door, its depths and deciduous dappling impossible to capture on pixels. So I didn’t even bother.
But the damp timber makes sense here, even as I look down on the dry timber of my home suburb. There’s something about the varied colours of the houses, and their gabling right out of Brothers Grimm, and the luxurious green of their temperate rainforest backdrop, that makes it all coherent.
I was in good cheer enough, I even engaged the convivial van driver in conversation. (He made it clear I didn’t have any other option.) We are a reserved people, we Australians; we don’t think so, because we compare ourselves to the British, but from the vantage point of Americans we’re indistinguishable. My tram-bound colleagues of the inner city assert to me it is not so in their tram routes, and they have wonderful conversations on the tram. Some of them don’t even involve junkies. This data point does not fit my thesis, so I’ll make like a Chomskian linguist and ignore it.
So when an Australian is in an American vehicle of group transport, and the friendly and open-hearted locals seek to engage them in conversation, the reserved and laconic Australian tries to Back Away From The Crazy, because no, we don’t want to share. But like I say, Seattle had softened me up enough that I humoured the friendly and open-hearted locals.
I see how you could pick up that way.
The trip to and fro was the standard series of misadventures: the Super Shuttle in Redwood City forgot I existed (there’s $20 prepaid I’m not going to see again), the shuttle services get you to the airport an hour before you have any business there (’cause they don’t want the liability), the airports look and feel like something out of Central Asia, only with vending machines selling e-Book readers.
There’s several things that make American airports tortuous. The ongoing farce of Security Theatre is up there, but it’s only one. In truth, it’s not the pointlessness and officiousness of Security Theatre that are the annoyance; they’re old hat now, and I got my Semtex joke at an airport out of my system before September 11 anyway. It’s the understaffing of the Security Theatre staff: the procedures are no more invasive or drawn out than in Australia, but the queues are three times as long, because anything involving the public sector in Seppoland is inefficient.
(Anything involving mass service, in fact: Greyhound buses are not state-owned, they just don’t have a market driver to do a good job. And unlike the socialist rest of the world, here it’s No Market Driver, No Service.)
But it’s several things beyond that. The dim lighting of airports, which was just as much a bad-mood–setter in 1999 as it is in 2009. The obligation to pay $20 extra for putting a suitcase on a plan, and the invitations at the counter to pay extra for legroom, food, water, video. It’s intended as user-pays exercise of choice; it comes across as extortion. I got a bag checker asking how it was in Australia, where we do not (yet) do any of that on Qantas, we just pay more upfront; and he wistfully sighed “those days are long gone here.”
And never again BLT. You’d think I’d have learned my lesson from the Sofitel “mini”-burger, but that’s the classic definition of insanity: keep trying, hoping next time it’ll be better.
No matter. Seattle, orgy of greenery and damp timber cheer. Thank you for existing.
Even if the Melbourne W-class trams are currently off the waterway tracks. Bring ’em back, good burghers of Seattle. The tourists love that kind of thing. Next best thing to actually having a functioning tram system.