Sun 23 Sep 2007
By now we have all heard about an unfortunate but hilarious acronym that has been used for a certain Seattle trolley. I work in the very neighborhood that is the topic of so much discussion. Yes, we’re suffering from loud construction, streets being closed, a pipe burst sending gallons of water down Mercer St. (and into local businesses), cyclists were hit by a dump truck, and worst of all: they took away any and all free street parking and replaced it with two hour paid parking (aaarg!). BUT, public transportation, is, well, public transportation and despite how dinky, self-righteous and Paul Allen funded it might be, we need more of it.
Right now it takes about 30 minutes to get to my job by car and less then that returning home (I use I-90 on the way in and I-5 on the way out). In 2009 when the light rail starts I have been told that it will take 24 minutes from my nearby light rail station to downtown; add the 10 minutes it will take to get to the station, and the ten minutes it will take from downtown to work on the trolley and you have a fairly nice 45 minute commute. It currently takes me an hour and fifteen minutes to get to my work in south lake union by bus. (This also doesn’t account for the years off my life; south Seattle’s buses are notorious for on-board drug use, crying schizophrenics, and crime–just ask my sister). I would take a 45 minutes public transported commute over a car ride for obvious reasons: less gas, less pollution, less ‘contributing to the problem.’ Besides, once a month there is the commute from hell where, for whatever reason, the city has imploded and it takes me an hour to get to my job–bridges are backed up, the Battery Street Tunnel is closed, multiple accidents bring the commute to a stop. These are the trips where I put my head on my steering wheel and curse Seattle for its shitty transportation system.
The other issue with the new street car is the obvious change it is lending to the neighborhood. What was once an industrial, largely untapped part of north downtown, is now being made over as a condominium dream. Everywhere you turn parking lots, old buildings, and vacant lots are being ripped up and condos are being built up in their place. There are high end apartments, retirement condo living, and even ‘family’ condos being erected left and right. Sure, this brings in more business, better parks, and new life into a once dilapidated neighborhood. However, there are certain times when old south lake union collides with new south lake union. Example: all summer long I took my 3-6 year old campers to Cascade Park up the street. Cascade Park, once a typical seedy urban park has now been transformed into a kid friendly, plastic coated play structured, grassy knoll play space for many of the nearby pre-schools to visit. It is complete with a pea patch, an open field for sports, and scary restrooms. Every week 8 or so campers would cling to the walking rings and Kevin, my co-teacher, and I would make the trek to the park. We dodged bulldozers, narrowly avoided freshly dug ditches, and shielded the kids from overwhelming construction as we made out way to the park. We wound our way through the pea patch (called the “Magic Garden”) and admired the pumpkins before heading our way out to the park’s fresh lawn. “OK, kids,” I instructed. “Everyone run out and touch those 3 trees at the edge of the park.” The kids took off scrambling toward the trees only to have me realize that there was a bum passed out underneath one of them. Kevin sprinted ahead of the kids and quickly tried to redirect them. He was too late, and many of the kids jumped over the sleeping transient to get to the tree. Another time we were playing a game I made up called “Bubble Masters” (I blow bubbles, the kids try to pop them, after 60 seconds we reconvened and the kids told me how many bubbles they had popped). At some point during the bubble popping I noticed a transient had suddenly joined in on the game. I sent Kevin out to be a ‘bum buffer’-a friendly buffer between the bum and the kids-and the game continued. This may sound overly paranoid, but try putting 8 strangers’ children into your care and take them to a city park–I’m pretty sure you’d be equally concerned about their safety. This is also precedent with some pretty rough park history: Kevin and campers have witnessed a vicious dog fight, prostitution, and a full on brawl between two bums–one of them wielding a large rock.
This all being said, I felt compelled to buy a t-shirt at the local coffee shop that has been profiled in every major newspaper across the country–from CNN to NPR (most recently on Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me as part of the quiz show). The coffee shop isn’t even a shop, but a converted open garage. Customers walk into the garage and order only to stand around in the tiny space or continue on their way. When I arrived there was quite a buzz with people lining up to order shirts, pick up ordered shirts, or buy drinks. One of the owners actually got into a debate with a public transit official who started out by saying, “Do public transit workers get a discount? And by the way, we never called the street car a ‘trolley.” This stirred up a heated debate: “Yes you did,” the t-shirt guy said, “I have multiple articles from local papers referring it to a trolley, even Greg Nickels referred to it as a trolley on the news last night.” The transit worker grumbled but put his name down for a tee.
What ends this story is a case of deep flattery on my part. To order a shirt one had to pay in advance. I promised to return with cash, “I just work up the street, I’ll come back after my shift…here let me write down the name of the business I work at.” The tee shirt guy asked me to (nod, nod, wink, wink) put my phone number down there too. I haven’t been asked for my phone number in over ten years. When I returned he was giddy to see me and after accepting my money actually walked me to my car. I told him to have a nice day and he said, “Out of curiosity, is that a wedding ring on your finger?” When I confirmed he said, “DAAAMMMIT! Well, I think you’re really cute, tell your husband he is a LUCKY, LUCKY man.” This propelled me to say something silly like, “Thanks, you made my day,” and off I went feeling massively weird, but yes, a bit flattered: the creator of the South Lake Union Trolley t-shirts thinks I’m cute!