Seattle First Report

22 09 2013

I’m in Seattle. Gloomy clouds linger over the skyline. I have a perfect view from my friend’s flat in Capitol Hill. Ryan and I are former colleagues in journalism from my time in the Florida panhandle. Ryan did four years. I stupidly stayed 10. Glad to be reunited in Seattle. This is my first visit and the city is quite amazing, its terrain much like that of the hilly layout found in West Coast neighbor San Francisco. I have had no problem hiking this concrete jungle, rarely getting winded. Yellowstone has prepared me well.

Ryan has been taking me to some of Seattle’s unique nightclubs and already I have encountered interesting characters. The Queer community here is strong and appears to be well organized. Ryan usually spots a friendly face. I have experienced similar reactions during my daily patrols of the city. People here seem to strive to be nice. I have seen quite a few gestures of kindness and goodwill toward fellow man. While waiting for Ryan to finish work at a smoothie shop in Queen Anne (the rich neighbourhood) I saw this eldery man attempt to drive his vehicle the wrong way on a one-way street. He didn’t get too far. Thankfully. Another man came off the sidewalk, hands waving and yelling for the car to “Stop!”  It did, thankfully,  without incident and was able to turn around and continue on.

Walking in the city has been my mode of transportation. I am reminded of how Stephen Ambrose described Merriweather Lewis as a good explorer, writing that he had “long legs” which allowed him to cover much ground in one day. While not near the level of Lewis’ Oregon Trail journey, my time here is one of discovery nevertheless. My dear Ann is in Chicago, staying at a hostel at last word. I pleaded with her not to go to the south side where there is so much violence and death reported. She probably thinks I’m being an overcautious daddy. She might be right.

I have perused the Pike’s public market these last two days. Fresh fruit, chocolate, cheese and fish in abundance. From the docks you can take a scenic cruise into the bay or beyond with a chance of seeing whales. Everyone here seems happy. It is quite touristy, but the workers do a good job of entertaining. An old hippie playing a wooden piano in the center of the market earns a good living. Music is a major part of Seattle. While still a baby compared to its European contemporaries, Barcelona and Krakow, perhaps, Seattle is definitely an emerging travel destination. Rooted in a grungy style of rock & roll with favorite sons such as Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix, Seattle, certainly, has its place in sound. So far I have only experienced those talents of a record dee-jay although I hope to see a band perform soon.

Despite its socialist tendencies, Seattle does require money to live in as I’m finding out. Ryan works two jobs and lives in a fabulous neighborhood, neatly mixed with brick apartment complexes and wooden row houses. The locals call it Capitol Hill or “The Hill” for short. There are pretty coffee shops and retail shopping nearby as well as that big bank bastard BofA. I like the bus stop just a few blocks down le rue. Lots of cultures here as one bus ride will tell you and it takes a true talent to drive one of those things up and down some of these hills. On my ride down to the Space Needle our driver must have thrown at least five people off the bus. Just by his driving alone. He looked like a crazy mad scientist type, just back from resurrecting Frankenstein.

Gotta go. Write later.

Pike's Place

Pike’s Place

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Vans & Victory

30 05 2012

Arthur hadn’t made it out of Arizona before they stuck a new warm body in my room. My new roommate was another veteran, this one with a snowy white beard and a much friendlier disposition. His name was Marvin and there was no doubt in my mind that he was homeless.

“I’m going to sleep in my van,” he informed me after our first meeting. “Nothing against you, I just prefer it that way. I got all my stuff in there.”

I could tell right away this new guy wasn’t playing with a full deck. During my run for public office, when I decided to make poverty the central theme of the campaign, I became quite familiar with the plight of the homeless and mentally ill. One thing I was surprised to learn — it is a lifestyle some do indeed choose.

And Marvin was that way.

Like a lot of folks who work the National Park circuit out west, Marvin had bounced around from state to state, never settling too long in one spot. Park consessionaires are rewarded with government incentives for hiring veterans so Marvin was never too far from a paycheck. At the Grand Canyon, he found work as a dishwasher in the Bright Angel Lodge.

“For a lot of us, this is the last stop before skid row,” he quipped.

Marvin camping out in his van was just fine by me, although the Victor Hall proctor seemed slightly confused by the whole thing.

“It’s going to get hot in the summer in that van,” the proctor warned Marvin.

But Marvin didn’t care and probably had no plans of hanging around that long. Nevertheless, just two months into my Canyon tenure, I suddenly had a room all to myself. The only things Marvin kept in the room were the towels and washcloth provided by housing. Items he never used.

Occasionally, I would run into Marvin at the employee cafeteria and we would have a nice chat. Marvin loved to talk about mushrooms. I got the feeling he had ingested too many over the years.

Not long after Marvin “moved in,” I was presented with an opportunity to move into an apartment with a co-worker from Maswik. Although I had a pretty sweet deal going with an absentee roommate, the chance to get out of Victor Hall was all I needed to hear so I jumped at the offer and said adios to the Canyon’s Animal House.

No more fire alarm drills at three in the morning, no more drunken brawls over the remote in the TV room and no more funky aromas lingering throughout the dorm.  Initially, it was kind of fun to relive your college days. But the conditions got old fast.

Marvin took the news of my departure in stride. When I tracked him down in the kitchen of the Bright Angel Restaurant to tell him to expect a new face behind door No. 50, he didn’t seem to mind. He was having his own issues with Park Service. Apparently, the rangers were on to his game of camping out in the van.

“I parked up at the visitor’s center the other night,” he said. “There’s a nice big pinyon pine up there with good shade. So I parked there and, low and behold, I’m woken up at around four in the morning by a ranger knocking on my window.”

Marvin was the only one surprised by this development. He got off with a warning, but it sounded as if his days in the Canyon were numbered.

He was obsessed with the levels of bleach used to clean the plates and silverware and always talked as if there was a health epidemic about to be unleashed in the kitchen.

Meanwhile, my time at Victor Hall was over. Moving out … and moving on … or as they say in the Canyon — Victory!

Grand Canyon’s Animal House





Spring Broken

31 03 2011

The throngs of students is thinning along Florida’s Gulf Coast. I have just returned from a pleasant drive through Panama City Beach. There are still some young bucks and pretty fillies roaming the resorts, but for the most part, the college crowd has returned to their respective campuses. In their wake, is what, my partner David refers to as the “spring broken.”

These are the people who flock to the Beach to cash in on the partying with no intent on furthering their higher education. They usually go the way of the homeless.

Sitting outside of McDonald’s the other day, enjoying my smoothie drink and soaking up the sunshine, I was confronted by one of the Broken. My mistake was making eye contact, which gave him the green light to proceed.

“Hey Brother, can you spare a few dollars so I can get something to eat,” said the Broken man.

It always begins with “Brother.”

During my campaign, I encountered many homeless people. Such was the state of affairs in area crippled by a disastrous oil spill and weak economy. I made it a priority to shine the light on their struggles and to visit organizations dedicated to lending a helping hand.

Sadly, I also found that not every “Broken” person wants a way out of their situation.

“My wife and I are on the street,” the man continued, although their was no sign of this ‘wife’ and he didn’t appear to be starving.

I looked at the man again in the eyes — without uttering a word.

He read my mind and moved along, mumbling to himself all the way. I felt uncompassionate at first, but knowing the street life, I realized he had the ability to find shelter and provisions for his family, if they did exist, and my two cents would have little affect. There are those who are truly in dire circumstances and this man was not one of them. Broken maybe, but still capable of pulling up his boot straps.

Balancing compassion with security has become a major theme of Panama City’s municipal election. What voters need to hear now, more than anything, is a success story. We know the causes of homelessness — mental illness, substance abuse and poverty just to name a few. And we have seen the Broken walking the streets, gathering at the Mission and sleeping on park benches.

What we, as a community, need to see now is the ones who made it out alive. The ones who pulled themselves up by their boot straps and with a little help from Uncle Sam, the Almighty or an unsung guardian angel, graduated to a productive life.

My walk through humility forever changed how I view society. It gave me a unique perspective on the plight of the less fortunate. I can voice my observations and opinions confidently because I have walked in their shoes.

To me, the bottom line to getting out of the bottom of the pit is recognizing where you are.

There is help out there. The first step is seeking it.