Looking back to last month and re-hashing our snow stories is still a big topic here in Seattle. I bumped into a neighbor in the grocery store yesterday and we had to exchange our tales. Anyone from a truly snowy winter climate would be laughing their tuchus off at our wussiness, but for us the nearly two-week siege of sub-freezing temps and unseasonably immense snowfall really shut the area down for quite a spell. The city of Seattle’s snow/transit response is currently being questioned quite heavily – the Mayor at first gave the city a B grade (when most citizens would agree that it deserved more like an F-), but is now admitting that there needs to be a better system in place for next time something similar occurs.
During that time (late December), schools were canceled, bus service slowed to almost nothing, roads were iced over, and people like me who live on steep hills were basically trapped. Even walking was treacherous, as many home- and business-owners did not clear their sidewalks and nobody knows to salt or sand.
Normally, I would have just stayed in our nice warm house and come out only to build an occasional snow creature with my kid. But, as it happened, I had a previously contracted music gig that required me to head into the city center every day for the four worst days of the blizzard of ’08.
Never a great snow driver at the best of times, having to head in with a borrowed musical instrument in the back of the car added to the stress level quite a bit. And when I got to the bottom of our hill and hit the brakes oh so gently and found that I had hit ice and was slooooooowly sliding against the light into a major intersection just as a bus was coming down the hill towards me (the car finally stopped before it got to scream time, but it was closer than I’d have liked for comfort!)… well, that didn’t help my nerves too much either.
As the days went by and musicians’ stories piled up (hours waiting in 25 degree cold for buses that never came, buses that wiped out and had to be emptied of passengers, car wrecks, long frigid walks from miles away), I started to wonder why we were all risking our lives and limbs to provide what seemed like a non-essential service. But the concert presenter was adamant that they had never canceled a show for any reason, so they were not about to provide that option to us.
One evening, heading home as the passenger of a Michigan native who was totally unphased by all the weather/driving, we went right under the aftermath of a really scary accident, a bus that had skidded out and punched through the retaining wall, leaving it hanging out over the freeway. Miraculously, nobody was killed, but seeing that struck a chill into my soul and I decided at that moment that I would have to figure out how to avoid driving home the next night after the concert at 11:30pm in the blowing snow and darkness.
My solution was to find a discounted rate at a hotel near to the performance site, so that I would only have to walk two blocks after the first concert, and two blocks back the next afternoon for the repeat performance. Yes, it felt a little ridiculous to pay for a hotel just a few miles from my own home, but these were crazy times and crazy methods were necessary!
As it happened, my hotel room was fairly low to the street and right on the corner, so it had one rather unlovely view of the freeway, but out the other window it overlooked Freeway Park, Seattle’s 1970s attempt at city beautification through use of gigantic concrete blocks. I’ve always found it kind of ugly, but in the snow it looked lovelier than usual.
Pre-dating the official park is the Naramore Fountain by George Tsutakawa, a Japanese-American artist and sculptor who designed many pieces of public art and is most known for his fountains. For images of some of them, click here. I really enjoyed having it right out my window.
After installing myself in the hotel and admiring my snowy view for a while, I had to get ready to go play some music. I strapped my big boots and gaiters on over my concert clothes and tromped through the falling snow to Town Hall, one of Seattle’s most venerable buildings. Formerly a Christian Science church, the building was repurposed in the late 90s as a civic center and concert space. Its programming spans many genres and it is well worth a look at their calendar if you live in or near Seattle (or even if you don’t). My snowy night-time walk over was kind of magical, the streets were deserted, it was like wandering around a dream city.
This is turning into not so much of a “mini” write-up of my small saga, so I think the rest will have to be a Part II. Suffice to say, I still have all my fingers and toes, no frostbite tales here!