And yet, its impending expiration gave it an extra layer of specialness. Induced me to leave my homework and go outside for coffee at 9:45 pm on a Saturday night. Prompted me to take a couple dozen pictures of things I’ve seen and not thought deeply about so very many times.
It seems like one of those feelings that should have a German term. The sudden poignancy that ordinary things take on when they’re assigned an expiration date. How last sips should be savored, even when the previous gallons or years or lifetimes were gulped down without much thought.
I watched this gutting happen with the Packard building, and it’s happening with the former poster building at the corner of 11th and Pine. In some twisted nod to preservation, all the innards are carefully scraped from the building’s skin, and a new building is shoved into it and behind it to appease the incredibly superficial “preservation” laws. Mutated architectural taxidermy. It never gets less weird.
I understand Paris has a version of this too, but it all stays within. People have to work so carefully in existing skeletons, so all the transformation is hidden, rather than looming behind or above the old shells. Is that better? I don’t know. But I saw so few cranes from atop Notre Dame and the Arc de Triomphe, and the sight, so different from here, inspired me to release a little sigh of… relief? Or just satisfaction at something different. Knowing that there are other ways. I don’t know that any of them are right, but I feel like the variety makes it a little more likely that some better approach will happen somewhere. Someday.
I did love that people were working in Bauhaus on Saturday, like there wasn’t a DJ about ten feet in front of this woman. Like sometimes you just need to get your laptop business out of the way on a Saturday night, and dammit, you want coffee. People were typing and drawing and being. Just as you do.
I wonder if these will be scavenged in the name of some dark reflection of preservation. A few weeks ago, I walked by a construction-type guy who was piling bricks in a pickup truck bed next to what used to be my mechanic on Pine and Summit. I heard someone ask him what he was doing, stacking the round-cornered bricks so carefully. “It’s to keep original elements of the building,” he told her.
“Oh, will all of these be integrated into the new place?”
He smiled. “Oh, some of them.”
What is new, what is old, and what is a natural amount of turnover before you feel no longer of a place? I think about this a lot, because the idea of home, what it means, and the unhealthy sway it can have has sat hard on me over the last twelve months. The curious weight that ordinary-but-liked things take on when they’re threatened or removed. How a once-casual baseline of existence – this store, that street, this person – begins to glitter like it’s responsible for all the continuity of your world when it’s threatened.
I’m sure it would’ve been different if they weren’t going to reincarnate just up the street in a few weeks. Instead, it was just a little more energetic than normal, but it was still easy to find a table for me and my farewell Americano and the only Seattle person I’ve known longer than Capitol Hill itself.
Bauhaus, along with the old Vivace that was displaced for light rail construction, is responsible for my conception of what a Seattle coffee shop looks like. The careful style of it, the hand-drawn menu, the Hall of Hipster Judgment positioned along their strip of sidewalk on Pine: these are the things I recognize in other coffee shops in other cities when my brain says, “Oooh, home!”
Their new place will be great, I’m sure. The former Capitol Club is an easy, logical fit for them. But there’s still a weird loss to it. One less regular backdrop of a certain part of my life, gone forever. Is this how aging always goes? Or is it accelerated in the last decade or two? Or faster in Seattle? I have no idea anymore.
I think it’s been normal throughout my adult life* for me to have a thematic question in my head. It’s just accelerated this year, between the divine mindfuck of turning 30 and the just-so timing of a lot of gestating ideas and catalysts for thought. The one that presses at me most right now, the one that inspired me to start this blog, is the question of where I should be. Within 2013, I’ve also considered, with a renewed and much expanded intensity, what I should be, who I should be, and who I’d like to be with, but it’s the location question that consumes the most thought these days.
I’ve lived in Seattle, specifically Capitol Hill, since late 2004. The old Bimbos/Cha Cha/Manray block still stood and would for a few more years; Pilot Books hadn’t even opened, much less closed; you could still get piroshki from dour Russians on Broadway; Bailey Coy was my very favorite source for books, and Elliott Bay Book Company was still inexplicably in Pioneer Square; and the old Safeway and QFC buildings were still standing at the north end of Broadway, though I missed seeing them operating.
Capitol Hill was shorter, a little funkier**, and much less cannibalized. It was a place you could move into when you were 21, unemployed, new to the area, and with about $4,000 to your name, and you’d end up getting along ok. Can you imagine doing that now? It’s not so long ago, but it seems unimaginable.
A question I’ve asked this year – to myself, to friends of various ages who have given some thought to their chosen geography – is, “How do you know when you’re done with a place?” I mean this generally, but I also mean this neighborhood specifically. Is it when more than half of the things that existed when you moved there are gone? Is it when you start feeling separate from the general population, as I did when I started looking at people on the street and thinking “Aw, the kids are all dressed up today” in a tone similar to your indulgent aunt? Or is it just when you realize that your mind and heart would benefit from a new challenge, and that you have different needs than you did when you first arrived? That you’ve grown and healed enough to be able to pull yourself up another level on the hierarchy of needs?
I don’t know. And part of why this is all so confusing is because, should or when I decide to leave, it will be in joy and desire, a graduation, rather than a deep, self-preserving flight. I left St. Louis to go to Boston for college, and because, deep down, I knew I could not continue to exist where I grew up. I left Florida for Seattle because it is inhospitable to someone like me. Both times, I was righter than I could have known in that moment. I saved myself, like so many of the people I know and love here saved themselves in their own times and places.
But Seattle isn’t toxic, so instead I get to examine in a clear-eyed, unhurried way if it’s nourishing me in the way I want and need at this point in my life. I get the privilege of deciding which is the best option of several attractive and relatively practical choices. It’s good, ultimately.
It’s just that I’m so used to making these decisions based on survival alone that I’m at a loss when it comes to comparing two or more pretty-good-or-better options. Funny, that.
Going to Hawaii made me realize that most of my travel for the foreseeable future needs to have a strong element of research to it. I need to go to Berlin to see if I love Berlin (as I’m told by several reliable sources that I will) and to see if my lingering longing for Paris is specific to that city or if it’s something several eclectic European cities will inspire in me. I need to go back to San Francisco to see if being drawn to it is based in reality, memory, or fantasy. I need to visit my best friend in New York again to see what it might hold for me at this curious point in my life. It’s such a big world, and I’m so ravenous for all of it. It hurts sometimes to stay in one place for too long. I’ve visited five different cities in three countries this year, plus trips to the Olympic Peninsula – a very good year for travel by any barometer. I’ve flown across two oceans, for fuck’s sake. And yet I still feel like I’m almost painfully stationary. I’m not sure of what to do with this, other than indulge it until I stop being so hungry.***
In the meantime, I watch building after building in my neighborhood being devoured and replaced by another shoebox in that sad Seattle-modern style. I wonder how much of your background can change before you’re in a new place entirely, and perhaps not one you’d choose if you were introduced today. At what point does one become a relic? I’ve never been a fixture in a bar or a regular anywhere. When does an extra make a graceful exit?
*Which I think of as starting when I was twelve. That’s when I first felt like myself. I’ve evolved, sure, but that’s when the brain chemistry came together to make me me.
**I hedge here because I missed Seattle’s heyday. I like listening to my friend who’s lived here since 1986 tell tales of the myriad wee storefronts of Capitol Hill, how it was an easy incubator for interesting ideas. She lives in Lynnwood now. She’s right to, I think.
***My frequently traveling friends hint that it will never stop, that it will only get worse. I’m not yet sure if that’s good or bad.