Category Archives: seattle stuff

A love letter to my city

What does it mean to love a place?

In 1936, my paternal grandparents moved to Seattle. They were young and Black, fleeing the poverty and various forms of terror in their home state of Kansas. They would experience both (poverty and terror, that is) in their new home, but they did not know that then.

My Grandpa Marcellus arrived first, riding the rails west and then, eventually, north. He worked as a day laborer until he earned enough money to send my Grandma Bernice a ticket. She left behind her six beloved sisters—whose names I heard almost daily growing up—and everything she knew to travel to what might as well have been the end of the world.

Marcellus and Bernice married in Seattle. My dad, their second child, was born at Harborview in 1939. He knew a Seattle before the Space Needle, before I-5, before so many of the corporate behemoths that have come to define it.

I have always been simultaneously proud of my family’s deep roots in this place and ashamed of their participation in the colonial project that made it what it is. I understand that my grandparents were also victims of white supremacist settler colonialism, doing what they could to survive. They did not have the capacity to consider the impact of their presence on the original people of this land. I grieve for the Duwamish people and for my grandparents, whose own ancestral trauma required them to make their way in someone else’s homeland.

I hate what Seattle represents: genocide, Native erasure, Earth as “property” to be bought, sold, and exploited for profit. I recoil at the stories of razed hills and inconveniently meandering rivers filled with dirt to suit commercial aims. And yet, I am grateful that my family came here, and that they had some part in building the city that is my home.

What does it mean to love a place?

Like my father, I was born here. I have lived away—two years in Morocco as a child and eight years in Houston as an adult—but I have spent 38 of my 48 years within 15 miles of my first neighborhood. My family didn’t give me much in the way of culture or community or tradition or even a sense of self. But damnit, they gave me this place.

Alki Beach and Puget Sound. The Olympics. The 54 and the ferry. The 2. The Monorail. Air that smells of saltwater. Slugs and mist and mildew. Tahoma, mother of waters. Sword ferns and Oregon grapes. Supersonics. 1250 K-Fox. Chubby and Tubby. The Monroe Fair. Madrona Park. The Market. Gloomy Junes. Dark Decembers. Husky Deli. Cottage Lake. Roger’s Thriftway. The Fun Forest. The Facts building. Tahoma, Tahoma, Tahoma, the mountain that comes out.

What does it mean to love a place?

In the summer of 1990, right before I moved away for college, the Goodwill Games came to Seattle. For the first time in my memory, there was heavy traffic at all times of day instead of just during “rush hour.” Back then, I thought all those extra cars were temporary. They never left.

When I returned to Seattle eight years later, everything was different—not in a “change is constant, don’t get set in your ways” kind of way, but in a pollution and traffic, gentrification and displacement kind of way. Every day, as I drove to work, I felt uneasy. I felt like I was contributing to something brutal, to a mindless, self-centered death making. That was when I decided to stop driving.

What does it mean to love a place?

I never love Seattle as much as when I am on the ground, walking to, riding on, or waiting for the bus. When I ride, I am part of the living, breathing organism that is my city. I am invisible, unnecessary, and irrelevant. But somehow, at the same time, I belong.

What does it mean to love a place?

In November of 2015, our little family volunteered to plant trees in a wooded area near the kids’ school. I didn’t expect to enjoy it. (I suffer from Raynaud’s and am generally cold-natured, so I rarely schedule compulsory outdoor time on November weekends.) But I was hoping to connect my children to their community. I wanted them to put their hands in the dirt—to plant something that they could watch grow over the years.

Though I wouldn’t say I had a good time, I found moments of joy on that day. And my children had a blast. They named every single tree they planted. They remembered their locations and checked on them at least once a week. During the dry summer months, they hauled buckets of water from the faucet at the front of their school a full quarter of mile into the woods to keep the baby trees alive.

Years—and many trees—later, they still know all the names of those first babies, and they still check on them regularly. If my children are granted the gift of old age, and if the trees (and our species) manage to survive that long, I hope they will bring their grandchildren to admire them.

What does it mean to love a place?

We’re told that Seattleites love nature. After all, they’re always outside, hiking and boating and skiing and climbing and camping. What I see is a professed love that manifests as a need to consume, commodify, and conquer, not as reverence or gratitude or stewardship. “Nature” as entertainment, adrenaline, escape, instead of the source of our very lives.

What if loving this part of Earth meant that, instead of asking what it could do for us, we asked what we owed back? What if it meant accountability and not unfettered access?

What does it mean to love a place?

For at least 15 summers, I have felt uneasy. I don’t need scientists to tell me the climate is changing; I can see it with my eyes and feel it in my bones. Summers are hotter and longer. Mountains are barer. Madrone trees are stressed. Salamanders and slugs are a rare—instead of regular—sighting.

Other people celebrate the warmer summers, as if weather is some sort of ambiance that exists to please humans. But I feel every degree like a diagnosis. Seattle is dying, and not because privileged people can no longer make it through the day without being reminded of suffering. Seattle is dying because we have finally asked too much of the land that supports us.

The smoke that at this very moment surrounds us is our invitation to see clearly. What are we going to do about it?

Chicklet and Busling at Lincoln Park
Fourth-generation Seattleites, loving on Lincoln Park (August, 2019)
Chicklet and Busling at Lincoln Park
Chicklet and Busling at Lincoln Park

On poems and pipelines (or, We are water, part II)

You might already know that I am a fan of Poetry on Buses. I’ve loved the program in all of its incarnations, but the post-2014 version is the best yet. The 2016/17 theme, “Your Body of Water,” was so timely and compelling, it motivated me to sit my non-poetic self down, write an actual poem, and submit it. I am so glad I did.

Last month, I had the privilege of reading that poem at the Poetry on Buses launch party at the Moore Theater. WOW. What a powerful celebration of art, community, and LIFE!

There were “poetry buses” parked outside the theater, where attendees could read and listen to recordings of some of the selected poems. In the lobby, there were more poems, as well as an interactive display where people could pledge to protect water. (I didn’t actually visit that display; I was too focused on being nervous about my reading.)

The poems read onstage were presented in four phases to evoke the water cycle, with the Native Jazz Quartet improvising beautiful water sounds between readings. Several local artists also performed, including the incomparable writer/rider/rapper, Gabriel Teodros, who just so happens to be my bus friend from the 48.

A poetry bus! (photo credit: 4Culture)

Poets (including me) onstage during the “evaporation” phase (photo credit: King County Metro)

The entire evening was masterminded by poet planner Jourdan Keith, whose mission in life is to remind us that “we are all bodies of water, connected to other bodies of water.” If there were ever a time when it was critical for us to understand this, it is now.

In her sobering 2010 Ted talk, Jourdan asks, “If you know you are a water body: capillaries, creeks, streams and rivers, containing runoff from farms, rooftops, airports, and driveways — your bladder, an estuary. If you knew you were as contaminated as Puget Sound, or the Orcas that swim in our waters, what would you do?”

This is the question we must urgently ask ourselves, as greed and disregard for life threaten the water all of us depend on – in Flint and Evart, Michigan; in Louisiana, New York, and North Dakota; and right here in Puget Sound.

Right now, Kinder Morgan is preparing to build a pipeline from the Alberta Tar Sands to the Pacific Coast in British Columbia. Known as the Transmountain Expansion, it will be the second pipeline to travel this route, with more capacity than the original. The project was approved by Prime Minister Trudeau late last year, and if built, will increase tanker traffic in the Salish Sea sevenfold, further stressing our endangered Orca population and dramatically increasing the chances of a major oil spill.

And so much is at risk if the pipeline itself leaks, which they all eventually do. Thank God there are people with the courage to resist.

Would we allow rapacious, profit-driven corporations to threaten our water if we understood that they are also threatening our lives? If we understood that the damage we inflict upon the planet shows up in our bodies? I am not confident of the answer, but I am grateful to Jourdan Keith and Poetry on Buses for reminding us of what is at stake.

Over 300 poems about our connectedness — to water and to each other — will be displayed on buses and trains throughout King County until this time next year. I hope they will inspire you to keep riding.

Poetry on Buses (and trains), 2016

poetry on buses 2016

The folks at Poetry on Buses have announced their 2016 theme: “Your Body of Water.” Last year’s theme, “Writing Home,” was provocative — so much so that I thought it might actually inspire me to write a poem (it didn’t) — but props to the new poet planner, Jourdan Keith, for selecting this one. Wow.

“Your Body of Water” is a poetic exploration of our connections to water and how it is protected and cared for by Seattle Public Utilities and King County.

We are all bodies of water, connected to one another through the water web. Your body of water is connected to streams, rivers, lakes, tides, waterfalls, toilets and faucets, to present homes, childhood homes and ancestral ones by memory, by the water cycle, by stories. Come, tell your story through poetry.

Yes, please.

Respect to those who came before, part V (Or, Why we need Indigenous People’s Day)

Last Thursday, I heard a story on my local public radio station about the “remaking” of Seattle. The host interviewed geology writer David Williams about his book, which details a series of landscape-transforming projects — razing hills, filling in tide flats, and cutting a canal between two lakes — undertaken by white settlers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. According to Williams, Seattle’s forefathers chose the site for their city based on its useful deep water port, but they found the actual landscape — hilly, and covered with rivers and trees — to be unworkable for their purposes. So, they decided to change it.

During the interview, Mr. Williams described these settlers’ actions as “bold,” “naïve,” and “ambitious.” He even called them insecure, based on his belief that early Seattleites wanted their city to be considered “world class” but weren’t sure it quite measured up.

I paid close attention to Williams’s version of the story, because, only a few weeks earlier, I had seen the documentary Princess Angeline at an event at the Duwamish Longhouse. The film addresses these very same projects, but from the perspective of the Duwamish people, who were the original inhabitants of the land that became Seattle. Far from improving the “habitability” of their homeland, the landscape-altering projects completely destroyed the Duwamish way of life.

Canoe

But there was not a single mention of the Duwamish people — by Mr. Williams or by the host — in the entire seven-minute interview. There was no talk of violence, greed, or racism, despite the fact that the rivers the Duwamish had used for sustenance and travel for thousands of years were either filled with dirt from the razed hills or poisoned by all of the rapid “progress.” Instead, the interview encouraged listeners to imagine brave, industrious settlers taming an empty (and troublesome) landscape.

This kind of revisionist history, this kind of erasure, happens again and again in the ways we talk about our city — and our country. It reinforces the myth that the United States was founded by pilgrims and pioneers who discovered an empty, resource-rich land and built an exceptional nation. We rarely trouble ourselves with the inconvenient fact that the land was already inhabited when these adventurous, freedom-loving pioneers arrived. Nor do we consider that their descendants continue to live among us.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a talk by one of my favorite writers, Isabel Wilkerson. Ms. Wilkerson is the author of The Warmth of Other Suns, a history — viewed through three first-person accounts — of the Great Migration of former slaves from the American south to northern cities. The Warmth of Other Suns is easily the greatest work of nonfiction I have ever read, and Wilkerson is an extremely thoughtful and sensitive scholar and writer, attuned to the stories of people who are discounted and marginalized.

And yet, at the end of her talk, she emphasized that each of us in the audience, by virtue of the fact that we were in Seattle, were the descendants of migrants, people who had come from somewhere else in search of a better life. She was doing so to illustrate the parallels between the participants in the Great Migration and immigrants who came from other lands. But her statement involved a basic assumption: that no one in the audience (and by extension, no one in the city) was a descendant of the people who are native to this region.

When we receive — and repeat — these kids of messages, we are reinforcing the idea that Native people either never existed or are a people of the past. It is easier to believe this than to face the truth. But we must face it. We must learn as much as we can about what happened, what was lost, and how we can forge a more just path forward.

Duwamish people in canoes on the Duwamish River

So I am beyond pleased that we have decided as a city to honor, celebrate, and especially, to hear the people whose land we now occupy.

Happy holiday, everyone. See you at the celebration?

Multimodal Monday: Greenway riders

Until recently, I’ve have a complicated relationship with neighborhood greenways. Though I have always been supportive of the concept of making streets safer (and more comfortable) for cyclists and pedestrians, I’ve also been skeptical that minor changes to neighborhood streets* would make much of a difference.

Then they added a greenway to our neighborhood. OK, I haven’t actually ridden on it yet, but I have walked behind my budding bicyclists on a number of excursions. Folks, I’m a believer.

Riding on the greenway

Safe, marked, crossings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PLUS…

Greenway (7)

speed control (with speed humps and traffic circles)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PLUS…

Stop signs at intersections

stop signs at intersections,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EQUALS…

Greenway (5)

happy riders!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our neighborhood greenway just happens to provide an almost door-to-door connection between our home and our church, so we will be using it fairly regularly.

The little people still ride on the sidewalk (and will for the foreseeable future), but the changes still made a huge difference in their safety and comfort. One example: At all the intersections where there are four-way stops, we allow them to ride across the street instead of getting off their bikes and walking, which increases the fun factor and decreases the tedium by a lot.

When they are old enough, I would absolutely feel comfortable letting them ride in the street. And if I ever make good on my promise to get a real** bike, I will use the greenway (no, really) for kid-free neighborhood trips. While walking will always be my preferred mode of transportation, sometimes you just need to get there already.

***
*As opposed to building more sidewalks and adding protected bike lanes to major streets

**The one I have now is a folding bike I won at a transportation fair in 2007. I have ridden it less than a dozen times.

Hear my bus a comin’

If you’ve visited this blog more than a few times, you might already know that I am obsessed with (among many other things) bus shelters, art, and Seattle history. So, I was pretty excited to attend the unveiling of the Jimi Hendrix-themed bus shelter–at the northbound 48 stop at 23rd & Massachusetts–last November. (Yes, November. I’m still catching up, OK?) Unfortunately, thanks to a prolonged illness (and the whole new person in our family thing), I didn’t make the big event. The good news is, there’s a video.

Since the shelter opened, I have zoomed past it on the 48 dozens of times, but I have never had occasion to wait there. That is, until last Friday.

Fellow bus chicks, behold:

Hendrix shelter 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hendrix park 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hendrix park 4

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hendrix shelter 5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jimi Hendrix Park is just up the hill from the shelter and is currently undergoing a major transformation. The Northwest African American Museum is on the same grounds. Seattle folks: Might be time to hop on Metro’s Heavyweight and pay all three a visit.

Rider for life

OBC, n: Original bus chick. A person who has actively chosen transit over other forms of transportation for several decades; an extremely experienced transit rider.

Beulah's bus stop

A couple of years ago, King County Metro installed a bus shelter memorializing Beulah Dyer, a lifelong Seattle transit rider who passed away in 2011, at the age of 90. Born in Ballard in 1921, Mrs. Dyer started riding transit at a very young age. She never stopped.

She never tried to get a driver’s license, believing the bus was “always better.”

Dyer took up to six bus trips a day – to shop, visit with friends, attend classes, and volunteer – and was known as a “walking bus schedule.” Friends report that she could tell you, without having to look it up, which bus to take to any destination between Des Moines and Everett, and when you needed to be at the bus stop.

She raised her daughter, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to be bus riders. Every story she told seemed to begin with what bus she caught and how long it took her to get there, and ended with the buses she rode to get home.

Talk about an OBC! Young (and middle-aged) bus chicks, bow down.

On Tuesday, I finally had a chance to see Beulah Dyer’s bus shelter in person.

Bus stop memorial

 

 

 

 

 

Bus stop memorial - side view

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beulah plus one

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beulah solo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beulah with a bus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After visiting Mrs. Dyer’s stomping grounds and seeing the photos on the shelter, I wanted to know more about her: what her hobbies were, the hardships and triumphs she experienced, her favorite color and food. I searched the Internet but was only able to find this 2001 news story about her 80th birthday celebration, which was held on the 65.

Metro Transit and Dyer’s family threw a surprise 80th birthday party on the Route 65 bus. The guests included King County Executive Ron Sims and Metro General Manager Rick Walsh.

She guessed something was happening when her son, sister, brother, sister-in-law and two adult granddaughters showed up at her bus stop when she was leaving University Village.

“I don’t know what you’re up to but it had better not be a stripper,” she said.

Ten blocks before her stop, Sims led a parade of celebrants onto the articulated bus. Her favorite driver, Gregory Nash, carried the cake.

Metro leaders learned about Dyer’s loyalty when her granddaughter, Jahna Dyer, wrote a letter to thank them for taking such good care of her grandmother.

Sims and Walsh presented Dyer with flowers, a certificate, Metro commuter mug, umbrella and an insulated lunch bag. Metro’s uniform supplier threw in a green Metro cardigan sweater.

If I ride the bus for 40 more years, can I get a Metro cardigan? Seriously. I have been trying to figure out how to get my hands on one of those for at least a decade. And just to put it out there in the universe, I won’t be mad if there’s a stripper involved. Kidding! (Sort of.)

But I digress.

My grandma moved to Seattle in the early 1930s. Though her experiences—as a black woman living in the Central Area–were certainly significantly different than Mrs. Dyer’s, the two women shared in common a love of buses. My father, who was born in 1939, spent his childhood riding streetcars and trolley buses in this town and has many stories of the velvety seats, the sounds the vehicles made, and how the drivers would help his mother on and off when he and his siblings were small.

When I was growing up, I remember wondering why my grandma always insisted on walking and busing to get around, even when others were willing—would, in fact, have preferred—to give her a ride. Now, I am in her shoes: trying to explain that yes, I really do want to take the bus, and no, it’s not (usually) a hardship or an inconvenience; it is part of who I am.

If I am given the gift of long life, I hope it will remain so.

Thanks for the ride

It is hard to put into words how much our bus family appreciates the hard-working men and women who get us where we’re going safely, day after day. Our prayers are with Mr. Deloy Dupuis, the 64 year-old 27 driver who was shot in the face while doing his job yesterday morning. We also pray for the family of the shooter, Martin Duckworth, who was killed by police shortly after the incident—and for an end to the senseless gun violence that plagues our nation.

WTF, Olympia?! (or, Bye-bye buses)

UPDATE, 7/17/13: The rally has been rescheduled to July 27th. The original date conflicted with the National Day of Action for Trayvon Martin. For more information about both rallies, visit the STRU Facebook page. See you on the 20th and the 27th?

No bus cuts (photo credit: Transportation Riders United)
This session, the Washington State Legislature failed (again!) to authorize a funding source for transit, and now Metro is going to cut service by 17%. If you ride the bus in King County, it is almost guaranteed that you will be affected.

On Saturday, July 20th, the Seattle Transit Riders Union will host a rally to ask state legislators, “WTF?!” or, “WHERE’S THE FUNDING?” From the STRU site:

It’s time to get organized. As a first step, TRU and allies are organizing a rally and demonstration for Saturday, July 20 to ask the resounding question, “WTF, Olympia?” (This, as we all know, stands for Where’s The Funding, Olympia?) But we know transit riders aren’t the only ones who got the short end of the stick. We are asking all individuals and organizations who are fed up with these misleaders in Olympia to step forward.

Do you have a grievance against the State Legislature? Bring it along! We’ll be collecting a busload of grievances to send to certain state legislators. Together our combined voices will echo in the halls of power.

What? A rally and demonstration to express our dissatisfaction with our State Legislature
When? Saturday, July 20, 12:00 pm
Where? City Hall Park, 450 3rd Avenue (south side of King County Courthouse)
Who? Everyone with a grievance
Why? It’s time to get organized!

The Bus Fam will be there. Hope to see you.