I’ve been in beautiful Seattle nearly three months—in just a few short weeks, it will be time to head back home again! It’s been good to be away; it’ll be good to be home.
In the [spirit](http://uwmike.com/articles/2007/11/03/sydney-adventures/) of [tradition](http://uwmike.com/articles/2007/02/27/nyc-cheatsheet/), here are a few notes on life and times in the Northwest.
**Coffee.** I’ve never been a coffee person. Until recently, I could tally my lifetime consumption of coffee, by cup, on a single hand; 90% of my caffeine intake has been cola products, with the remainder being whatever turns up in chocolate cakes and other confections. There are various reasons for this, but the most obvious is an association from earliest childhood of the word “coffee” with an *exceptionally* bitter, strong, occasionally double-steeped beverage that was ingested by my parents more in the manner of a narcotic than a light daily stimulant. In that environment, herbal tea and hot chocolate became my hot beverages of choice.
However, Seattle is the city of coffee. And some of *the* best coffee in the world is supposed to come from the coveted [Clover machines](http://electronics.howstuffworks.com/clover-coffee-maker.htm), one of which is installed in a Starbucks directly under my building. Is Clover coffee yummy? I guess so. It’s hot, anyway, and flavourful enough that I treat it more like tea and don’t immediately seek to drown the bitterness in cream and sugar. I doubt I’ll become a hard convert upon returning home, but for now, grabbing a mid-afternoon coffee with coworkers is fun bit of culture.
**Buses.** I’m a believer in public transportation: against my normally libertarian-ish views, I supported our campus bus pass at Waterloo. I’ve never owned a car, and at the moment, I don’t even have a license to drive. The future is a crowded place where people get around by mass transit. So I’m always curious to see what the bus and train systems in different cities are like. Unfortunately, Seattle has no train system (at all, not even regional rail), so the bus system is *it*. Like other cities where buses are the basis of the public transportation, Seattle’s bus network is complicated and intimidating to the uninitiated. Similar to Sydney, there’s no system-wide map; if you’re in a suburb looking to get downtown, you can jump on almost any bus to get there. If you’re downtown looking to get out, it’s a trickier matter.
Fortunately, [Google's transit planner](http://www.google.com/maps?ie=UTF8&dirflg=r&ll=47.562723,-122.146319&spn=0.227366,0.32052) is a reasonably capable tool. The most frustrating drawback is that it’s highly optimized for very specific A->B queries that involve a precise schedule. For a complicated bus schedule containing a lot of overlapping routes and other redundancies, it would be great if it could offer a fuzzier look. That is, for a particular from/to-pair, what are the possible sets of buses that can reach it, how frequently do they run over the course of the day, and which parts of the route are bottlenecks that really do depend on the schedule of a particular bus?
**Flights.** The last time I had to book airfare was about a year ago, and at the time, it appeared that Orbitz really was pretty much the only game in town. Now, however, there are several options that seem to fluctuate on who finds the best price—[Orbitz](http://orbitz.com), [Yapta](http://yapta.com), [FareCast](http://farecast.com), and for certain routes in the west, even just booking directly at [southwest.com](http://southwest.com). I got burned with an overpriced fare to Denver a few weeks ago from Orbitz; consider this a heads-up if you’re an easterner booking west coast airfare. (And the Orbitz price guarantee is totally worthless—it only kicks in if someone else purchases your *exact* itinerary, including both the departure and return. This dramatically reduces the likelihood of you being able to claim a rebate.)
**Banking.** My decision regarding banking for the term was to stick with Chase, and avoid getting a deposit account with a local bank. Due to ATM fees, I depend almost entirely on grocery store cash-back to get pocket money. This isn’t the end of the world, but it does mean I have to plan ahead a bit. And at least once I’ve bit the bullet and simply withdrawn a large enough quantity of cash that the ATM charge became negligible as a percentage.
If I could do it again, I probably would have put forward the effort at the beginning of the term to open an account with a local bank, make a cheque deposit from Chase, and use that one as an ATM source, while still retaining Chase as my primary US bank account. One day, of course, WaMu ATMs will be free for Chase account holders, but that day is not yet.
**West coast weather.** Gloomy, but not as bad as reports would have had me believe. It’s now the end of November; for several weeks, we’ve had two or three rainy days per week, one or two of mixed sun and clouds, and the rest kind of overcast.
Even the days that rain, though, do not rain hard. More often it is a kind of misty wetness or drizzle that comes and goes through the day. One Seattle resident pointed out that you can always tell the locals from tourists by who’s carrying an umbrella.
**Dancing.** Oh my. As promised, there’s tons to do dancing-wise in Seattle and the surrounding area. It is possible to dance here [nearly every night of the week](http://www.savoyswing.com/calendar/calendar.asp), and some do. Unlike Toronto and New York, the lindy hopping scene here is large enough that it really is broken up into several sub-scenes based on venue and night. I have not been a regular at any of them, but based on my assessment, the crowds at Century on Wednesday, Century on Sunday, Russian Center on Thursday, and Sonny Newman’s on Monday are all quite different. In some ways, this is great; in others, it is intimidating.
On the whole, I’ve found the blues scene in Seattle much more friendly and welcoming. I’m not sure if this is purely a function of it being smaller and more focused, or if it has something to do with the nature of the dance itself, but my only regular dance commitment here in Seattle has been [Burn Blue](http://burnblue.org) on Tuesday nights. It’s a sizable regular crowd, generally young-ish, with a great mix of skill levels; I’ve had a lot of wonderful dances there, met some great folks, and I feel that in general, the practice has improved my blues a lot over the course of the term. (I also hope to arrange one or two private lessons before I leave, for that additional push.)
New York gave me Balboa; Seattle has given me blues. Unfortunately, there is little to no Balboa here, but I will be flying down to San Francisco in two weeks for the SF Balboa Festival, and shall get a fix then.
**Getting to Vancouver.** I went to Vancouver the last weekend of September. Several intersecting factors made it an excellent time to go, including: a) meeting up with a Toronto friend, b) [Blues in the City](http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=10595330377), and c) the fact that I was mostly out of USD until the end of the month, so being in Canada was good for avoiding a few more meals worth of groceries purchased here. Anyhow, I expected getting to Vancouver to be easier, cheaper, and faster than it ended up being.
Excluding air, which is both slow and expensive, there are three options: you can take the train, you can take the bus, or you can drive. The train sells out several weeks in advance, so unless you plan a lot farther ahead than I did, it’s not an option. There are several bus choices, the most prominent of which are [Greyhound](http://www.greyhound.com) and [QuickShuttle](http://www.quickcoach.com/). The round-trip on Greyhound is $50 and takes 4 hours each way. The QuickShuttle price is $73, ostensibly, but if you’re a “commuter” (ie, returning within seven days), willing to buy 24 hours in advance, and a student, you can bump the price down to a much-more-appealing $37. Unfortunately, QuickShuttle is, I’m told—despite the name—even slower than Greyhound, as it functions primarily as an airport shuttle and makes hotel pickups and dropoffs. The promise of free wi-fi has appeal, but not enough appeal that I’d want to spend 45 minutes trolling around downtown stopping at different hotels.
In the end, I did [a ride-share from Craigslist](http://seattle.craigslist.org/search/rid?query=vancouver). The total cost was $35 round-trip, it took a little under three hours including hassles at the border, and I had enjoyable conversations both ways. Obviously, as with anything Craigslist, you place yourself at the mercy of strangers… not everyone’s cut of tea, but it seemed to work well for me. One other interesting thing to watch for is that there are actually *two* Vancouvers. The real Vancouver is in Canada, but there’s another Vancouver in the opposite direction, on the Washington side of Portland, OR. So be sure you’re hooking up a rideshare to the correct one!
**Groceries.** The main grocery stores in Seattle are QFC and Safeway, neither of which has a location that is especially convenient to Madrona (where I live) or the International District (where I work). Early in the term, I shopped several times at the QFC at Broadway and Pike, which was only slightly out of the way if I took a different route home.
Recently, however, I’ve switched to doing nearly all my shopping through [Amazon Fresh](http://fresh.amazon.com/), which is Amazon’s experimental grocery-delivery service available in the Seattle area. My only prior experience with a service of this kind was about 18 months ago, when I tried Grocery Gateway in New York. My experience then had been frustrating in several respects, but I’ve found Fresh really hits the sweet spot in terms of quality of goods, selection, convenience, and price. It really is phenomenal to be able to assemble a shopping cart over the course of a few days, adding things as I remember I need them or in service of a particular recipe I have in mind. It’s almost as if I have the discipline to maintain a real shopping list to take the supermarket with me.
One other honourable mention here is [A&J Meats & Seafood](http://www.yelp.com/biz/a-and-j-meats-and-seafood-seattle), which I discovered in Queen Anne while wandering around after church a few weeks ago. It’s a little spendier than I’m used to, but everything I’ve bought there has been *superb*. There was nothing wrong with the meat and fish from Fresh, but I’ve since switched to getting my steaks and sausages and fillets from A&J. There are some things that are great to talk with a knowledgeable salesperson about; meat and fish are among them. The image below is halibut from A&J with fresh carrots from the Fremont Market.
**Music.** Seattle is a city of music. Unfortunately, I have not explored it as much as I perhaps could. I did see Missy Higgins (with Joshua Radin) at the Market Showbox, and also took a ferry across the Sound to Bremerton to see Jami Sieber play cello at an art gallery there.
For Showbox at the Market, the door price was $20, but to buy in advance would have cost over $30 a person with all the fees. We ended up just grabbing a drink beforehand in the connected pub, and that put us at the front of the line when the door opened—we ended up with a table having an excellent view of the stage.
So there you have it; a quick overview of my everyday Seattle adventures.
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