This Seattle is not any Seattle I expected. My expectations were limited to knowledge of: a tv show I did not watch is set here; a comic book series I bought ten years earlier was also set here; a game company that published a game I had heard of but never played & also published a version of a game I had not played but had the same name as a game I had not played in probably eight years was headquartered here.
We had driven up from San Fransisco, and seen the smoking bombed out remains of the New Carissa. We had crossed the Cascades twice one day. The snow was taller than our Mountaineer, and the gas station closed while we pumped gas, because a storm was coming. The drive the day in question, when we arrived in Seattle, begins, in my memory, with us finding the people we came to see in their apartment. I do not recall the apartment. My memory of the hotel where we stayed is hazy, too. There was a swimming pool. This was important to my traveling companion. I do not frolic in the water, so that is also something I do not recall well, but I think I chaise lounged poolside where it was loud with joyous children and infants like bobbers.
What I do recall is this bar. It was great, and this bar is the center of creation, and this bar makes Seattle a real place. In this bar we met up with a fellow we had not seen in a few years. This guy is a great guy. When we knew him, we were the center of a storm, and this guy was always near this storm, but never drawn into it, and we were ever more fond of him because of that. The storm was a tempest in a teapot, as we olds say. But it was our teapot, and it was our tempest, and we cultivated it for a couple of years, then walked away. Tempests should die down.
Now years had passed, the tempest was past, and we met up with this guy who was now a research biologist in Alaska, who was in Seattle at the same time we were. It was great, and meeting up with him was not even the reason we were in Seattle.
This bar, though. There is nothing to set it apart from any neighborhood bar in any neighborhood in any city. The elevated monorail runs nearby. It is on a lot defined by the intersection of streets. The roads come together from several directions, so the front is long, and has an obtuse angle, and faces more of the world than a bar might be expected to.
The bar is a distinctive place. It is only itself, and it is my anchor in this city that had once existed as only a fictional backdrop, commercial address, or named nowhere of transience. We did not hang out in that bar like some home away from home. I do not think we even returned to it after we met the only person there who knew our names, our flowing waves of dark-haired long-missed pal with stretched ears, scarification, and so on.
The bar was a grounding. Our road trip had been going for several days, and though it included some time in Portland, the point of the trip was to reach Seattle, and there had been only time for movement. All the places were not the place, so they were no place. Once here we were to take a few days, and reconnect with some people. It was mostly people my traveling companion needed to see. Some were people I knew, like our ritually scarred friend. Others were people I knew better, like the friends in the apartment, to whom both he and I owed amends, each carrying the gap of his own wrongs. There were people who were in his family whose cute French bulldog lives on in my mind.
If you were to look at a map of Seattle that showed only the streets, you might say, “what is going on here?” Or you might say, “this looks like a city formed by a bunch of settlements that each laid out their streets oriented to the coastline where they started and barely managed to make their connections work.”
Seattle is not really difficult to get around in, but it does take some time to get a handle on the map. We used a laminated trifold map, and the various parts of town with their not-really-aligned streets were pretty clear. I imagine if you lived in Seattle, you would have a love/hate relationship with these streets. Love because it is very Seattle, and if you love your place, the particularities are what you love. Hate because it could get frustrating to deal with a bunch of not-right-angle turns just to get to a place ten or so blocks away, or if you have to go to a part of town you do not usually go, and the 3rd Street there does not go the same direction as the 3rd Street you are used to.
How you navigate is a set of decisions you make, but your options are constrained by decisions other people made. Often, you do not know who got involved, and almost always those decisions are made when you are not looking.
You are also constrained by decisions you made. Imaginary places, even when they are real, are easy to navigate. When these places become action, the truth is how you deal with how other people also live in the world. Among the ways other people also live in the world is how they navigate around your earlier decisions.
Navigation is difficult. Every compass is a magnet, and the orientation of maps change when they meet each other, or deep water. Heading out to sea does not make navigation easier, but only lonelier.
True places are places in space. Do they need you? Yes, as you need them. Being in them for even a couple of days will begin to incorporate you. Knowing a place takes longer, but finding a place real is first.
True people are as they find you. Pile upon each other, knots of time. Carry fractious maps and quarrelsome compasses. Yes, as you need each other, become real then known.