text by Opus - September 2008
I'M SITTING with a grizzled Seattleite by the name of Vernon Jackson at the Canterbury on Capitol Hill. We're in the "Game Room," so named because of the pinball, pool tables, shuffleboard and various arcade games that occupy it. I don't play pool or Big Buck Hunter and frankly, the shuffleboard makes me cringe every time some schmuck slams his puck. No, we're here for the large windows covered by iron grates that are bleakly lighted from the outside of yuppie drenched 15th Ave.
The bar is my usual spot, but the regulars look so aged and pickled that I just don't feel qualified enough to join them. Anyway, Vernon and I have come to talk about something that seems to come up often nowadays. He's giving up on Seattle.
Yuppers. Vernon has lived in Seattle on and off for 20 years (with periodic jumps to Eugene, fun loving capitol of the Northwest). He's seen Seattle thrive and die in a matter of barely two decades. He tells me about places I'd never seen but heard of. Places like the Off Ramp, Mo's, Graceland, Last Exit, and Rock Candy. But also, institutions that are still here but are just vague shadows of their former selves (like The Stranger and KCMU).
I transplanted here 10 years ago and I can remember old haunts now turned haunted. Velvet Elvis (where I cried at Kerouac,) I-Spy (where I saw The Ruins hang upside down from the ceiling and bang on human-size drums,) Ilene's (where I got drunk and did lord knows what,) Coffee Messiah (sigh,) HI-Score (where I won 6 free games on Rocket to Mars,) Foxxes (where I strutted on stage with the drag queens and fag hags,) 2AP!, and the OK Hotel (with an open mic hosted by Jason Tractenburg,) and so much more.
We both remember them fondly, choosing to forget whatever negatives they held. Hell! We recalled even the bad points with personal pride.
"Why now? And why Portland?" I ask Vernon. But, I know the answer. Portland holds the promise that Seattle just didn't live up to. Good public transportation that encourages commuters to bus and bike. Good neighborhoods that aren't being torn down for glitzy, over-priced 5-story multi-use condos. And what seems most to matter - Good People. Portland people possess enthusiasm and all-around acceptance that I barely remember Seattle having.
Remember when we supported our undiscovered local bands instead of whoring out to national acts at our local venues and festivals? Remember when we didn't say things like "I really like Peets' coffee!" Remember when our streets spontaneously closed down for pirate pyro performances and practices? Or when we nourished small indie scenes with our sweat and screams (when all we can muster now is Pabst and whinging)? Remember when art walks were grungy and gritty? Well all that is going on south of the border. P-town. Where you can live in an affordable house with a yard and still be walking distance from some awesome haunts. Sure, they've got the McBeer chain and lots and lots of tedious laws and ordinances, but they make up for it with a strong independent spirit.
Vernon and I are up to our second pitcher of Old Seattle and I can't taste the bitterness of missing the past anymore. We offer a toast to the Canterbury and rejoice that it is still here with its worn-but-hanging-in-there alcoholics. I imagine them pouring out onto 15th Ave, which is overrun with yuppies and miniature poodles, breeders and baby strollers, and hipsters and iPods. I know the Old Seattleites are hopelessly out numbered and in real life they cling to the shadows by the brick building when they step outside the Canterbury. But in my hazy imagination they march forth with their chests raised high and they chant things like "Bring Back Seattle!" with beer soured breath. In the end, I'm just glad they are still here.
On our last pint I taste pure gold, just like the golden times we had years back when we lived here. I'm just not sure if that sweet taste is Old Seattle or New Portland.