I love to keep a running Bucket List of places I long to visit. Visiting a destination and crossing it off my list usually brings me great joy and satisfaction. I hate to say it though, one place was recently crossed off my list but didn’t bring a great deal of joy. I’m looking at you Seattle. The Emerald City. Pike Place Market. The Space Needle. The Pacific Northwest. All fabulous, right? In my case, wrong.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m so grateful I got to visit Seattle this summer and loved my travel roomie and time spent with her, but I gotta say, Seattle was a bit disappointing. Thankfully, I breathed a big sigh of “I’m not crazy” relief when a dear friend of mine just told me this week that she was not loving Seattle on her trip there.
I so wanted to like Seattle and have been holding off writing about my travels because I didn’t want to hurt its feelings (so current, right?) and kept thinking maybe I was just off-base. But hearing that my trusted buddy felt the exact same things made me man up and proclaim in print that IMHO, Seattle is not a must see.
So what is it? Or better yet, what is it not?
For me, there were two major disappointments: Pike Place Market’s fish mongers and the fact that there are homeless everywhere. And I mean everywhere. I’d heard about the documentary “Seattle Is Dying” literally the week before my trip and watched in horror as a Seattle journalist discussed the city’s demise. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect as I felt somewhat prepared for the tents and camps and yet I was still shocked by the multitudes of them beginning with my Uber ride from the airport to our hotel. On the freeways I saw tent cities under overpasses and along wooded areas. On the city streets during our stay I saw a mom nursing her baby holding a sign right outside our hotel and witnessed a guy shooting up on a major street as we walked around touring sites. Our hotel doors locked at 9 p.m. and we were told by a very honest concierge it’s because they need to keep the homeless out. Good to know.
As for the fish market, I guess my wish list was bigger than reality. I was expecting rows and rows, booths and booths of fish mongers and fish selections, but in the main area there is really only a smallish section devoted to them. And the flinging of purchased fish and the daily catch was nowhere near what I’d been led to believe. I’d also read the Lower Arcade was filled with unique shops. I suppose, but again, not impressed. What I loved most about the “fish” market were the flowers and the produce. Now they were remarkable!
Other than that, Pike Place Market was not my favorite. I’m also not a Starbucks fanatic so that aspect of the city didn’t fill my cup. It was kinda cool to see the oldest (not original cuz it’s gone) Starbucks location but after taking a photo, I quickly moved on. I will say Seattle does photograph beautifully. It’s a bit like all those filtered Instagram photos though in that the picture is prettier than the real deal. You could call it the Kardashian of cities with San Francisco joining its snapshot sisterhood.
Surprisingly, I liked the Space Needle way more than I thought I would and my favorite Seattle site was hands down The Chihuly Garden of Glass right next to the needle. It was amazing and I couldn’t get enough of it. But what about Mt. Rainier? Very impressive and very cool. When you can see it. But Pioneer Square? Eh. The Waterfront? Meh. Belltown? Bummer.
Like many urban areas, I’m sure the surrounding parts of Seattle are beautiful. Pretty sure Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos don’t live anywhere near what I saw. I’m also aware that the parts of Seattle I saw are mainly its downtown area but that’s what tourists see. It’s where businesses thrive. In a way, a city’s entertainment and downtown districts are its calling cards and the call I got in Seattle is one I won’t rush to answer again. Fix the problems or don’t put them on your brochures and websites.
It could also perhaps be that I’m just wearing on big cities and much prefer smaller and quainter small towns. If you’re not New York or Paris, I’m out. And yet, weeks after visiting Seattle I was in New Orleans and I still love the Big Easy. I remember thinking, if New Orleans feels cleaner than Seattle you know there’s a problem! Both my girlfriend who just returned from Seattle and I left Seattle feeling like it was just a big dirty place. I’m glad I went, but I don’t ever need to go back. And don’t even get me started on San Francisco, what used to be America’s most beautiful city.
My fear is that Austin is becoming more and more like Seattle. Population wise, the Texas capital is actually bigger than Seattle and it’s facing more and more of The Emerald City’s woes. Our City Council recently passed an ordinance that basically allows public camping as long as the person is not endangering themselves or others…or in front of City Hall. The edict is currently being reviewed and possibly revamped due to public outcry and an influx of tent cities across the city and hopefully it’s not too late. I was in shock this morning as I listened to one mom call in to talk radio and express her fears and frustrations that her freshman daughter at the University of Texas lives mere feet from countless tents along the university’s main drag. I would die knowing my child was walking to class amidst such decay and demise.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m a homeless advocate and am married to a man who, for years, has gone downtown to feed the homeless once-a-week. But, there is no denying it’s getting worse and worse across our great land. I’ll never forget when my daughter and I were in Paris last year and were talking to a group of non-Americans who had recently visited the States. We asked them their biggest takeaways and they mentioned how surprised they were that everything is drive up in America: food, banks, prescriptions, etc., and how patriotic we are; which they said they envied. They don’t, however, envy how many homeless they saw and can’t believe it’s so rampant in America. Let that sink in for a bit.
But what to do, right? In “Seattle is Dying” a program in Providence, Rhode Island is profiled. They are doing things right there and perhaps other cities should take a look and listen. Instead, Austin’s mayor went to LA. Go figure. Granted, Providence is way smaller than LA or San Fran, but the concept could very well be implemented with a larger budget on a larger scale.
Many things need to be addressed in order to take care of our own, including mental health, addiction, and even the cost of living in some cities. This is not a blog about answers sadly, as I am not an expert in any of these fields. I’m merely a traveler who wants to feel safe and a human being who is empathetic and concerned. In the meantime, places like Newport and Naples, Charleston and Chattanooga are looking better and better.