QUIRKY SEATTLE

A light-hearted look at some of the cool and funny stuff around Seattle.

The Seattle Great Wheel and Space Needle on the Waterfront at NiThe Seattle Great Wheel is a new 175 foot ferris wheel on the waterfront, giving people a new way to view the city, in addition to the iconic Space Needle. For a time it had frequent colorful, multi-colored light shows that lit up all the spokes of the wheel as it rotated. Neighbors in the waterfront apartments and condos complained about the bright lights of the Big Wheel, as if they had never heard of curtains, so now the light shows are just occasional.  I photographed this from the ferry departing for Bremerton.

I recently devoted part of two spring days to photographing anything that caught my eye in Seattle, and I’ve included my favorites here. Some of the photos show tourist attractions that are also of interest to the natives, such as the famous Pike Place Market. Others are random signs or scenes that simply caught my eye or tell a story. Some of these are “classic” photographs I took over the last few years.

My philosophy of photography is simply to wander around in a zen state, open to anything that moves me or intrigues my photographer’s eye. Sometimes it is artistic, sometimes raunchy, sometimes funny, sometimes interesting to others.

Smokestack and Pipes Atop Seattle Steam Co. on Seattle WaterfronSeattle is thought of as a city on the edge of technology and the new urban lifestyle, with its headquarters for Microsoft, Starbucks, and Amazon. Here is a retro vision of the city: the Seattle Steam Company, on the Seattle downtown waterfront, which looks like it just popped off the pages of a steam punk graphic novel.

Seattle_Waterfront_2013-24Seattle has an activist mayor, Mike McGinn, who has long advocated bike lanes and routes in the city, giving him the moniker “Mayor McSchwinn,” though I believe he cheats by using a motorized bicycle. Here he is at the Pike Place Market for a news interview, dressed as casually as the rest of us in this city that takes “casual Friday” to “casual daily.” People who love fashion tend to hate Seattle!

Car2Go Car Sharing Smart Car on a Seattle StreetWe are green in oh so many ways, and little shared cars are the latest shade of green. Car2Go is a new venture by Daimler to provide flexible transportation to all the yuppies living in high-rise apartments and condos in the heart of the city. People can rent these little Smart Cars at 38 cents per minute, $13.99 per hour, or $72.99 for 24 hours. Just register for the service, find a car on your iPhone (they’re parked wherever people left them around the city), open the car lock somehow digitally, and take off. The company pays for gas. When you’re through, just park it in a legal spot along a city street. There are now something like 400 of these around the city; fortunately they don’t take much space.

Seattle_Waterfront_2013-43Flying fish are a staple at the Pike Place Market. In this case a huge salmon is headed into the arms of a waiting fishmonger. These guys have such a sense of fun and teamwork that there are whole books about their philosophy; in fact, everyone on the fish team signed a book bought by a tourist at the stall while I watched. Just beware of the monkfish, which bit my nephew!

Razor Wire Topping Chain Link Fence in SeattleThis is where they put Seattleites who don’t like coffee, rain, or liberal politics.

Seattle_Signs-2I love this sign, which is based on the Alfred Hitchcock movie starring Jimmy Stewart. It also reminds me of the opening sequence of Mad Men.

Seattle_Pea_Patch-5In the heart of the city, there is part of a city block devoted to a community garden, with lots of small plots for urban dwellers to grow vegetables and flowers–some to give to a food bank. This “Pea Patch,” as it is officially known, is located on extremely valuable land near the REI flagship store and the burgeoning offices of Amazon and biomedical research companies, and it is part of a system of Pea Patches throughout Seattle. The green space gives the eye a sense of relief from all the boring offices and condos. 

Seattle_November_2011-7Sometimes Seattle’s graffiti reminds me of my days in Ann Arbor, when students would do weird and cool stuff. Here the sign defacement apparently refers to a U2 song that I love (but I didn’t deface the sign; I would have done a neater job of it!).

Ivy growing on Support Column of Alaskan Waly Viaduct in SeattleSeattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct, built in the early 1950s, is a relic of the past that still carries thousands upon thousands of vehicles on two levels along State Route 99 over the waterfront. Damaged in the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake (which also cracked the foundation of our house), the massive concrete viaduct is not long for this world. It is being replaced by a tunnel that is about to be bored. And, speaking of boring, the tunnel will not be as beautiful an experience as the viaduct, but it will open up the waterfront on Elliot Bay, making a much more pleasant experience for tourists and other pedestrians.

Seattle_Waterfront-47Jumbo Shipping brought the cutter for boring the new tunnel all the way from Osaka, Japan; here it is being unloaded on the waterfront. The boring machine, named Bertha, will dig a 57.5′ diameter wormhole under Seattle that will carry some of the traffic now carried by the viaduct. The problem is, there is going to be a toll on the tunnel, so notoriously skinflint Seattleites will skirt the tunnel, massively clogging the city streets. Such is urban planning in the land of the cheap.

Seattle_Waterfront_2013-40Ah, the Dungeness Crab. Found in waters off the Washington and Oregon coasts, this ferocious looking beast is among the tastiest crabs anywhere. We sometimes get them and use a pair of nutcrackers and some cocktail stirrers to get at the meat inside the claws. For these dinners, Karen accuses me of making her work for her dinner. The crab, dipped in melted butter with a touch of lemon juice, is deep water heaven.

Seattle_Waterfront_2013-45Beneath the waters of Puget Sound lives the biggest octopus in the world–far, far larger than this one–the Giant Octopus. Ferry boats and sailboats use special radar to avoid these octopuses, which can pull a boat down into the depths with two of their giant, suction-cupped arms. Or so the legend goes …

Elephant_Car_Wash-2Urbane and sophisticated Seattle: the pink Elephant Car Wash stands near the shores of Lake Union, now the place where thousands of Amazon engineers write endless code to sell us stuff (I think most of their stuff is shipped to me!).

Sign for Trolley that Once Moved People along Seattle WaterfrontUntil several years ago there was a trolley that ferried people back and forth along the waterfront, so that people didn’t have to walk to get a bowl of clam chowder at Ivar’s or see the shrunken heads and two-headed lamb at Ye Olde Curiosity Shop. The transportation department apparently didn’t get the memo that the trolley was permanently parked. 

Seattle_Waterfront_2013-37Beautiful morel mushrooms at $59.90 per pound–that’s immorel! Plus there are fern fiddleheads at $12.95 per pound, and multicolored carrots and hedgehog mushrooms and so much more at the Pike Place Market. Dine on the bleeding edge, if your bank account can stand it.

Shadows on Union Stairway on the Seattle WaterfrontEven the shadows in Seattle are artistic. Some artist probably has a copyright on these shadows and will sue me for publishing them in my blog (Seattle has several artist/litigators who have sued the pants off photographers. Well, maybe not literally.)

Seattle_Signs-1Love the name. Alas, the Year of the Monkey must be over, because construction workers were remodeling the building’s interior when I sauntered by. It had been a store featuring imported furniture and home accessories from Asia.

Lusty_Lady-2The Lusty Lady peep show was a downtown fixture for decades, and its marquee featured witty sayings. For example, when the Seattle Art Museum opened across the street, with its huge iconic sculpture “Hammering Man,” the marquee said “Hammer Away, Big Boy!” Alas, all good things cum to an end, and this was one of the last clever sayings. Internet porn apparently killed the desire for real porn.

Seattle_Waterfront-657This looks like one of those giant octopuses under Puget Sound, but it is an early warning floating radar system that is normally anchored off Alaska. I hope that, after repairs, it is now back in place monitoring North Korean incoming missiles. Mount Rainier stands in the distance, ready to blow up at the slightest provocation, much like North Korea.

Hat 'N' Boots Seattle

Hat 'N' Boots SeattleHat and Boots served as an iconic gas station for several decades, with the hat serving as the office and the boots as cowboys and cowgirls restrooms. Alas, the boots of progress stomped out this business, but the heroic citizens of Seattle rescued the Hat and Boots, like John Wayne rescuing the madam with a heart of gold,  for use in a city park.

Seattle_Waterfront_2013-30Enough of my silly pictures; this one from the Pike Place Market can melt the hearts of all the girls; after all, who doesn’t LOVE tulips and the coming of spring?

The Seattle Great Wheel on the Waterfront at NightBig Wheel keep on toinin’ …

Seattle City Skyline at Night Viewed from a Washington State FerAlas, time to head back across the sound to where the little people live.

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com (just ask me to email you a small version of a particular photograph you like if you can’t find it on the site; my website is not up to date) 

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website.

SNOWFALL IN SEATTLE: Oh, the Humanity!

Seattle and snow blend about as well as slugs and salt. It just isn’t something that people here deal with very often, so Seattlites don’t have the infrastructure or the driving ability to deal with these snowstorms that happen every few years.

Pike Place Market, nearly deserted during a rare snowstorm

I was standing in the middle of the street, intently looking through the viewfinder at a neon sign on the roof of the Pike Place Market, when I heard a shout from inside the market and a fishmonger pointing at me:

“Look out!”

My first thought was: “hey, you talkin’ to me?”

Then my brain kicked in and I turned around to face the threat–a dark sedan sliding somewhat sideways down the hill directly toward me. Adrenalin pumping, I backed off the street as the car managed to slide into the turn successfully at the bottom of the hill. Death averted.

Seattle and snow blend about as well as slugs and salt. It just isn’t something that people here deal with very often, so Seattlites don’t have the infrastructure or the driving ability to deal with these snowstorms that happen every few years.

Seattle is so full of kindly liberals that people knit sweaters for the city’s trees (actually, this is part of Suzanne Tidwell’s wonderful exhibit of knitted trees in Occidental Park)

This storm brought perhaps 5″ of snow to downtown Seattle. If you come from a part of the country that experiences macho snowfalls (as I did, coming from Syracuse two decades ago), 5″ will seem puny–hardly worth dragging out the snowblower for. But Seattle has hills … really steep hills right downtown that cause your calves to scream with rage as you hike upslope. And there are few snowplows. During a big storm in the 1990s that took many days to clean up, I remember the mayor saying pitifully that “we only have seven snowplows!”

Cross-country skier commuting to work on 1st Avenue

There is also a Seattle aversion to salting the roads. In the last big snowstorm, several years ago, the city government expressed a horror about the environmental impact of salt and the salty runoff trickling down into Puget Sound. My first reaction was incredulity, as in: “Puget Sound is already … SALTWATER!” Fortunately, the old salts prevailed and the city now uses salt, though not really enough.

Snow affects Seattle politics. In December 2008, then Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels was the guy who refused to use salt on the roads, so they were icy from December 13-27, causing traffic problems and accidents for the whole two weeks. I remember barely making it to the airport that year for our Christmas flight, after getting ensnared in a traffic jam on back roads that were so completely coated with ice that they looked like skating rinks.

Cyclamens and ferns enduring the snowy day in Waterfall Garden Park

Seattle’s mayor had a second PR problem in the snows that year. I recall a media report that the city’s road maintenance department took it upon themselves to plow a road directly from the mayor’s home to city hall, rather than plowing out major streets first. Of course, citizens were outraged, even after the mayor exclaimed that he had nothing to do with that decision.  Largely as a result of the snowstorm problems, the mayor didn’t even make it through the primary elections the next year.

Hammering Man, a sculpture by Jonathan Borofsky to celebrate workers, works 24/7 through the storm

On the morning of the heavy snowfall this year, Karen and I trudged from our Bremerton apartment to the ferry bound for Seattle, wearing waterproof L.L. Bean boots, the parkas we wore on an Antarctic trip a decade ago, heavy mittens, and woolen hats from Kathmandu. Karen was heading to her job in the marble corridors of a law office, and I was going to spend the day documenting the Seattle snowfall. It was a cold and wet day, with constant light snowfall, but I was able to get the selection of photographs you see here.

Seattle was virtually deserted that morning, save for a few hardy office workers who were able to take transit of some sort, since ferries, light rail, heavy rail, and some buses were operational. The buses wore chains, as did most delivery vehicles. That night, when returning home, Karen had trouble descending the steep hills on foot, as the colder evening temperatures turned slush to ice. The problem?  Not enough salt to keep the sidewalks safe. So she telecommuted the next day.

The Smith Tower, once the tallest skyscraper west of the Mississippi, rises above one of the old brick buildings of Pioneer Square. The brick building has a faded ad for the Washington State Ferries that says “Have Lunch Over Seas,” which is a playful thing to do when crossing Puget Sound.

The homeless were still on the streets during the storm; after all, where else would they be? I asked one homeless man if I could take his picture; he was wearing a gray snowflake-covered blanket draped over his head, and he was smoking a hand-rolled cigarette, exhaling a cloud of blue smoke that hung in the air in front of his dark face. Alas, he said “No, I don’t think so.” I offered him money, and he said he didn’t need any. So, that one great picture will just have to stay forever etched in my mind.

Space needle with satellite dishes pointed toward space

Alaskan Way, nearly deserted of traffic on this snowy morning

Photograph I was taking while a car silently slid toward me down a hill

Snowboarders hoping to find a steep hill with enough snow downtown

The homeless have it especially tough in this weather; yes, there are warm shelters, but some people choose to sleep in doorways

A woman making her way through the sidewalk slush of Pioneer Square

People out and about in Pioneer Square, enjoying the rare snowy day

Suzanne Tidwell’s exhibit of knitted trees in Occidental Park, looking especially festive against the simple backdrop of snow

Tsonqua sculpture by Chinook Tribe artist Duane Pasco in Seattle’s Occidental Park, with a gull surveying the scene at the top of the totem

To fulfill their delivery mission, UPS trucks wear tire chains on these slippery and hilly streets

Cabs were a good way to get around the city, though it would have been a challenging job to be a taxi driver on a day like this

Cross-country skier on a pier, with container cranes in the distance

Snowman with pansy corsage I observed along the waterfront

Home of The Jetsons–actually, it is the monorail from the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair passing through Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen’s addition to the city–the EMP Museum (think Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana), designed by Frank Gehry

A sign preserved from the Skid Road era of Seattle

Witch Hazel blooming in January, in Waterfall Garden Park

Alley in Pioneer Square

By the way, here are a couple of not-to-be-missed videos of a skier launching off a high park in Seattle:

http://blog.seattlepi.com/thebigblog/2012/01/20/watch-skiers-somersault-off-cliff-at-seattles-kerry-park/

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com (Just ask if you see a particular photograph you like; my website is not up to date) 

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website

The Great (Gum) Wall of Seattle

The Great Gum Wall of Seattle, located in Post Alley near the Pike Place Market, is as gross a place as you can expect to find anywhere in the world!

A typically colorful detail of Seattle’s Great Gum Wall

“Abby and Ethan, do you know what’s on that wall?”

Stepping closer, the kids say in unison:  “It’s gum!”  And they run up to it.

Mommy, panicked, shouts “Don’t touch that, it’s germy!”

This conversation and countless variations on it are repeated daily in grungy Post Alley, just below Seattle’s famous Pike Place Market.  The market has a huge sign over it that proclaims “Sanitary Market,” but the details of life around it are anything but sanitary, as the Great Gum Wall illustrates.

I first learned about the Great Gum Wall in a recent issue of National Geographic, where a two page photo spread showed the wall in all its 26 megapixel detail and glory. As a regional resident, I should have known about the wall earlier, but I’m usually out of the loop on Seattle pop culture, having just learned to appreciate Nirvana and Kurt Cobain nearly 20 years too late. Now I dress daily in Seattle grunge style which, come to think of it, also puts me nearly 20 years behind the times. But I’ll catch up; I’m considering a big nose ring, except during allergy season, and a fierce tatoo of a chickadee on the back of my shaved head!

Anyway, it seems that in the early 1990s, patrons of the Market Theatre in Post Alley started to stick their gum on the old brick wall while waiting in line to enter. The theatre first tried to clean it off, but gave up and the tradition stuck.  To the wall.  One gob led to another, and pretty soon tens of thousands of gum wads were deposited on the wall, spotting and dripping and smelling and reeking in all their wondrous glory.  I mean, what more can you say about a wall of pre-chewed gum?

Actually, TripAdvisor recently named the Great Gum Wall as one of the world’s five top germiest attractions–second behind the Blarney Stone.  For that reason alone it is worth jetting halfway around the world to see it; I recommend a stay at the nearby Four Seasons Seattle. Or, if you are on a budget, you can carry your sleeping bag over your shoulder and ask a photographer–as one young man, homeless in Seattle, recently asked me–”where can I take a nap?”

To answer the question starting to form in your mind, “Is Seattle still a yuppie Mecca?” Yup! The great gum wall is plastered with only the finest gum from the tooth-whitened mouths of sterling and sophisticated young men and women. Nothing but the best in this town, I say!

Box office for the theatre

Personally, I have never chewed gum, so I don’t have a reason to visit the Great Gum Wall again, since I can’t add to the “art.” Aside from that, the sight and stench made me gag.  But if you’ve got a strong stomach and are looking for something creative to do with the kids this weekend, they would love a visit to Seattle’s Great Gum Wall. Bring your antibacterial wipes …

If the city provided a ladder, the gum line could be much higher

Up the alley, there is a wall of grungy and torn posters; I think this photograph belongs in an art museum

The lower alley entrance can be a dark and lonely place at night

A gummer, writing the name of his love, Sarah, shows a strong work ethic and persistence–just the kind of guy employers are dying to hire

An ongoing art project: the Gum Mona Lisa

At least the gum smell overwhelms the other stenches in the alley

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com.

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website.