Seattle ’90s Flashback

Originally written : September 21, 2005

Perched cautiously on a ledge atop Mount Rainier, I waited for a flash.  I had been staying with my aunt K——, my uncle B—-, and my young cousin C—-.  It was the longest trip I’ve ever taken, and all three weeks were enlightening.  I experienced many new surroundings, views, and vibes; some I noticed then, but most I noticed over the years to follow.  A percentage of these new perceptions are still frozen in my mind, like the six feet of snow that surrounded us far above sea-level in mid-July.

My life up to that point had consisted of simple living in Northeast Ohio, a trip to Niagara Falls, and annual vacations to South Carolina.  I had wrongly assumed the only difference in climates (in the United States) was temperature.  I used to envision the top half of the country as Ohio was and the bottom half as the tropical atmosphere I enjoyed in Hilton Head; I couldn’t have been more mistaken.  The diversity of different regions smacked me in the face as my aunt, my sister, and I rode home from Seattle to a suburb called Issaquah in the carpool lane.

The first thing that I noticed was that it was raining, and the dreary conditions influenced me to find other focal points.  I recall asking my auntie about the diamonds spaced evenly in the middle of our lane.  Her response was detailed as they always are, “It’s the carpool lane; it encourages our drivers to conserve gas by riding with people when convenient and possible.”  This first difference spiked my over-consuming Ohioan mind with a more “earthy” feel.  I found it odd but good that multiple adults from different families were riding around together. 

The rain stopped and the sun came out.  My eyes were drawn with great ease to the oh-so vivid plants and scenery.  The distance wasn’t blocked by buildings, instead it was embellished by the countless foothills lying short of the powerful mountains- some so tall the crowns were in the clouds.  Never had I witnessed views this breathtaking.  We pulled into her development and traveled up curvy roads to the place she called home.

Once I adjusted to the time change, I woke up early with my aunt to accompany her while she shopped.  We drove up to a little building that looked like a fast food restaurant but I didn’t recognize the name.  This struck me as odd because aunt K—- wasn’t the type to pull in to a Mickey D’s this early.  She spoke in an unfamiliar tongue at the speaker box and pulled around.  I was still half asleep, and could not figure out for the life of me what was being ordered- something tall with shots and cream? What?!  She pulled up and paid somewhere around 4 bucks for something in a cup.  She said it was a good deal and that she goes there every day- she also something about a Flar-chucks being a lot more expensive.  I sat there pretending to understand.  What had this crazy women done with my aunt and what was she talking about?  Then I recognized the steamy scent-coffee.  My parents never drank coffee but I knew what it smelled like.  This coffee however didn’t smell quite the same.  Starbucks hadn’t been a household name over on the east coast yet, it was just starting out and Seattle had them everywhere.  The weird thing was these people drinking new peculiar flavors, at all times of the day.  Back at home, they had coffee in some gas stations but it was prominent to morning drinking.  Little did I know then that Starbucks (and shops of the like) would drown our countries’ towns with flavored gourmet, and once-thought to be overpriced coffee.   

My aunt took my sister and me to downtown Seattle a couple days later.  It was much different from Cleveland, which was flat.  This quant city in Washington was full of inclines and downward hills, almost like a condensed country side that was overwhelmed by large buildings. It seemed like they walked up and plopped themselves down on the endless foothills of the landscape, which had too much character to be flattened.  Instead of a city bus system, they had an above ground subway, the track set on tall supports and the train above you as you walked down the street.  My interest to see what this would be like was apparent and we rode it to our next destination.  The train ride was equivalent to our rapid transit in Cleveland, but the view as amazing.  I had never rode midpoint through the sky in a city, until then.  We went into a mall and did some shopping.  The styles were differed greatly from those back home and I couldn’t find anything that I liked.  When we came out I remember my aunt saying that there was an earthquake while we were inside.  I hadn’t felt anything, but the few I had experienced were only slight shudders and we usually only 2 or 3 seconds long.  Auntie K—- told me that most of the buildings near her had something that absorbed the shock so the buildings wouldn’t have weak foundations after the many earthquakes they endure.  She called home to see that nothing was broken and went on with her day, not thinking twice about it.  When I felt an earthquake in Ohio I talked about it for days and it was a rare occurrence but here in Seattle it was part of their everyday, coffee-suckling lives.

One of the last days of our stay my aunt and uncle took us up to Mount Rainier for some sight seeing.  Earlier that day my sister and I swam in a neighbors’ pool because it was quite warm.  I  was getting ready to go to the mountain which I pictured as a place that would be covered in trees, mostly pine and would have winding trails all throughout, just like one of my favorite movies, Homeward Bound.  So I chose attire that would be appropriate in this setting.  It was hot outside so I put on soccer shorts, a big T-shirt so I would be comfortable if we walked around, folded socks and tennis shoes.  My sister got in almost identical attire.  We got in the car and my aunt looked at us like we were nuts.  I realized later that she probably was going to yell that it wasn’t warm enough up there for the clothes we had on.  She didn’t say much though, we didn’t know what it was like up there- and she let the upcoming events be a surprise.  I had noticed the white caps on the mountains as I took about four rolls of pictures of them, I don’t know why I didn’t put the two thoughts together. 

As we drove up the road to the top of the mountain she gave us gum to chew so our ears wouldn’t pop.  I noticed a familiar white winter friend sparingly lying on the ground about halfway up.  At this point my only thought was that I came underdressed.  As we went up the mountain I noticed the piles of powder becoming greater and greater.  When we got to a gift shop we stopped and got out to take pictures.  The snow towered my height at the time.  My aunt suggested my sister and I take a picture on a brick ledge that surrounded the parking lot.  The mountains beyond it seemed endless, dwarfing any hill I ever viewed, standing so proud.  I remember being scared that I would fall off the ledge but I sat there with my sister in our black shorts and scrubby looking tees, admiring the accumulation of snow behind my aunt in the middle of the summer.  Every time I look at that picture I think about how fresh Seattle seemed.  The climate was exotic, it rarely snows down where my aunt lives, yet there was more snow then I had ever seen a couple miles up. 

The styles I had the chance to buy crept over to Ohio slowly in the next few years.  Gourmet coffee houses popped up everywhere, but I had gotten a sneak peek.  Traveling there made it seem like I entered the future of the upcoming fads.  The airlines were my portal and my memories from that trip will not be suppressed.  I have rolls upon rolls of film from that trip.  Most of the pictures I took had at least some of my hand in them, or were out of focus, had poor composition, or had half of bodies and heads.  Collected with them though, is the one with my sister and me on the ledge- that I obviously didn’t take because you can see us both, fully.  I remember feeling like Johnny 5 with all new “input” on that trip.  I see how young I was and it’s like a time machine into the past, seeing myself from my aunt’s eyes as we sat in our shorts on that cold July day.