I had been in the US for almost a month before visiting Seattle. Although I had acclimatised myself with the ways of the first world, the ways of King County still took me my surprise. From the moment I stepped out of the train, and during my long walk along the waterfront, everything I saw still felt new and fascinating. There was something different about Seattle, something I couldn’t discern. As I walked down the streets, the city by itself felt more grand and more elite than Portland or Pleasanton had ever felt.
By the time I exited Pike Place Market, my awe at Seattle had only bounded manifold. Even in hindsight, it’s tough to point out one thing about the city that emitted such a romantic glow. Even the smallest things like an engraved staircase amazed me. What a nice way of teaching aliens about the various aliases for the city, I mused. Messy staircases don’t excite me, but Seattle’s did. And it’s for that exact reason that I explored further.
With my fingers wrapped around a gingersnap cookie — my first taste at a gingersnap (wow!) — I walked towards one of the greatest attractions of Downtown Seattle: The Space Needle. According to my friend although Seattle is the same size as Portland, it appears much larger in life. I realised the reality of that statement at my first glimpse of the Needle, from far away.
With my map leading me through the many walkways of the city, I stopped often to gaze at the architectural marvels that make the city what it is. Ancient buildings stood aside newer glass structures. Cranes craned overhead while men were at work, and pedestrians at walk. People followed traffic lights, and vehicles halted for me to cross. An inaudible hum hung above scattering vibes of calm all around. I heard no honking and no screeching, and yet saw so many vehicles. No one yelled at each other, because no one got in each other’s ways or nerves. It wasn’t the most silent of streets, but it was one of the most peaceful. There seemed no reason to rush, no bus to catch, and nothing to miss at the nick of time. All that was so surprising because Seattle is one of the most happening cities in the Pacific Northwest. Multinational corporates are galore in Seattle. Tensions can get high and consequences may come by, and yet the street I was walking on reflected none of that.
The closer I got to the Needle, the more of it I could see. As any other tourist, the sight of the iconic structure brought a massive smile on my lips and had me reaching for my phone.
All around me people went about their day as any other day. Taking their eyes of their phone long enough to cross the road, fixing appointments over phone calls, grabbing a coffee at the local Starbucks, settling on a bench and flipping the front page of the newspaper, sneaking a glance at their watch while waiting for the signal to change… No one seemed to be as thrilled as I at the sight the sliver of the building. It was, for them, nothing more than another building.
Amazing how something so valuable to me is negligible for those accustomed to seeing it every day. I couldn’t digest that they couldn’t appreciate the Space Needle, so unlike the rest of the world. Perhaps if I’d lived in Seattle for years altogether, I’d become like them, too. Perhaps it’s the same where I am. Although I don’t notice the subtleties that make my hometown worth visiting, someone stopping by for the first time would sing praises. And I’d walk by without a second glance.
By the time my wonderings aligned with my wandering feet at the Seattle Center, I’d arrived right underneath the Space Needle. Looking up, I couldn’t help but appreciate human intelligence. It didn’t last long, though. By the time I came face-to-face with it, it seemed like any other building. To me, every building in the city was magnificent and larger than any else I’d seen. So was the Space Needle. Besides, I realised, much of the tower’s beauty radiates after dark when it’s illuminated.
The Seattle Center, the home of the Space Needle, had much more to see. Aside from the Needle, the Center also hosted the Seattle Stadium, the Chihuly Garden and Glass, Museum of Pop Culture, Pacific Science Center, the Mural Amphitheatre, Seattle’s Children’s Museum, and plenty of gardens and shops. Even though the Space Needle trumps the rest of the cultural and architectural monuments in the Center, the Museum of Pop Culture stood out to me more than anything else. Not only was it too large for my range of vision, but the building’s shape itself challenges every rule in the book. From the outside, it embodied the sense of rebellion that echoes with pop culture. Thinking of Michael Jackson, for instance, brings his non-conforming style of performance to mind. His story is legendary, making way from ordinary to extraordinary by defying customs and set ways. It was the same defiance that the museum stood for.
Humouring myself I walked on. For the most part of my trip, I was discovering things in real time—visiting and seeing things without researching them beforehand. It’s only now, in hindsight, that I look for the stories behind the places I’ve been to. And so without a clue about what I’d find inside, I walked inside a large building that said Armory. I’d assumed I was going to experience a world of high-grade weaponry and machinery. I saw, instead, rows upon rows of food stalls and restaurants. About 25 stalls ranging from names I’d never heard of to the world-renowned Starbucks had business in the Armory.
Disappointed, I left the Armory and arrived on the other side of the Space Needle where the most excitement was afoot. Children, parents, and grandparents alike queued up for tickets to a ride up the Needle. Long before I’d arrived in Seattle, I’d decided not to do that one thing every tourist did. Not that I harboured a fear of heights, but don’t understand the hoopla around spending money on petty things. Moving along, I felt my lack of understanding grow stronger as I looked around the Space Needle gift shop. Businesses make mementoes of all that makes Seattle, Seattle and charge ridiculous prices.
Smiling to myself, I decided to call it a day. My first day in Seattle had been full of little lessons about the first world, and about myself and my ways of life. My first day in Seattle had been more than eventful, it had been educational and one that I’d cherish for the rest of my life.