I don’t think I am natively stupid, but there are days when I just can’t do anything right. Of course, today I may be able to plead the case that I was in the grip of forces beyond my control.
I had a dental appointment this afternoon after work. Sadly, the clinic I go to is way, way down south on the other side of Seattle, which usually necessitates me breasting afternoon traffic on I-5. This often makes a trip that would take about twenty minutes without obstructions into a journey of close to an hour. Despite the traffic, however, I made my appointment on time.
When I was done (another hole drilled in my head, as if I needed more), I went to a nearby Starbucks and got a venti coffee, wanting to make sure I didn’t drowse off while driving home. I’ve done that occasionally on the interstate, which is always scary, to say the least.
Unfortunately, it had barely registered in my rather preoccupied brain that today, this very day, was the day that the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), in a burst of criminal negligence, decided it would shut down the Alaskan Way Viaduct, a major artery in the Seattle transportation system. The stated reason was that the boring of a highway tunnel underneath the Seattle waterfront might endanger the Viaduct, and WSDOT didn’t want to run the risk of having commuters on the Viaduct if it collapsed– an obvious moment of nervous nelly overreach, in my opinion. I mean, sinkholes happen all the time anyway. In any case, the result was to reduce the carrying capacity of Seattle’s already over-taxed road net and to make bad traffic far, far worse.
The upshot was that when I tried to get on I-5 headed north, I immediately ran into trouble. My first mistake was to not get at once into the correct lane to reach the northbound on-ramp. I then found that, in a profoundly Darwinian moment, no one already in the lane would allow me to cut in (“Yeah, sucks to be you, fella!”). Meanwhile people headed for the southbound ramp were honking at me and screaming imprecations as they dodged around me. In the name of self-preservation (not to mention a sense of profound embarrassment), I had no choice but to take the southbound ramp.
The positive aspect of this was that I was now moving at sixty miles an hour down I-5. The negative side was that I was headed toward Tacoma, not Seattle.
However, I formulated a cunning plan on the fly. I went about two miles and exited off the freeway south of Boeing Field. I cut over to East Marginal Way and headed north. This artery, although no freeway, was wide open, and I felt pleased with myself. I knew the downside was that I would have to wind my way through downtown Seattle, but I figured even that was better than fighting my way north on I-5, which by now resembled the world’s longest used car lot.
After three or so miles I cut over to First Avenue South, thinking that it would be the best detour around the Viaduct closure. In moments, however, I realized that I had miscalculated, on the level of Hitler invading the Soviet Union— because tonight was a Mariners home game night, and First Avenue South goes right by Safeco Field.
There is probably no metric comprehensible to the human mind to measure the degree of suckitude I now faced. Mariners fans number in the millions, and every one of them over the age of fifteen insists on driving to the ballpark, which means that traffic around Safeco typically resembles something out of The Road Warrior. I couldn’t turn east, as that would put me up against the clogged I-5, and going west might land me on Harbor Island, or worse, West Seattle. I had no choice but to man-up and fight my way through the chaos.
(An aside– what is it about baseball, anyway? A bunch of overpaid guys in uniforms hitting balls with sticks? How did this become our national sport? I have never been able to understand the attraction, unless it has something to do with the hot-dogs and beer…)
I finally battled through the terror and the gangs of rabid baseballites looking for parking and made it to downtown Seattle. You know things are bad when going up First Avenue in downtown Seattle is an improvement in your driving experience.
I got through the heart of the city, passing the Seattle Art Museum and Pike Place Market, without further incident, and made it to Belltown. At this point I had two options– go up and over Queen Anne Hill, or take Denny Way– both of which were possible routes to Highway 99 (or Aurora Avenue), aside from I-5 the only other major arterial leading north that I could access. I decided to take Denny Way, so I went up Warren Place and turned right on to that street.
Five minutes later, I moved ten feet.
Another three minutes, and I moved another three feet.
I had quite stupidly forgotten that, while Denny Way leads to Highway 99, it is also an alternate route toward Capitol Hill and and out of downtown, and at that moment was jammed with people desperately attempting, like me, to bypass the even worse jammed freeway. I would have started gnawing the steering wheel in frustration, except that it might have dislodged my new dental work.
At this moment, my bladder began to send signals to my brain regarding a certain impending necessity. My decision to down a venti coffee at the beginning of my odyssey was beginning to appear less wise than I originally thought. After some cogitation, I took the half-quart steel water-bottle I had with me in the car and emptied it out the window. Just in case.
In half an hour I moved probably less than half a mile. In the process I waved at the statue of Chief Seattle in Tilikum Place. Images of Chief Seattle always strike me as sorrowful. His tribe’s home would be unrecognizable to him now, and we don’t even get his name right, which properly should be something like Si’ahl. We gringos are sadly notorious for mangling Native American words.
I finally passed under the Monorail and got to a side street on which I could make a left turn. A quick turn back west brought me to Fifth Avenue North, down which I streaked at a whopping twenty-five miles an hour, right past the Seattle Center and the Space Needle.
This street took me up the eastern side of Queen Anne Hill, which I know less well than the area surrounding Queen Anne Avenue itself, which is further west. I turned left up a street, intending to cut over to the avenue. Unfortunately, the route I picked was Ward Street, apparently one of those numerous Seattle thoroughfares that is a relic of the Nineteenth Century. Even in horse-and-buggy days it would probably have been too narrow; it has a sheer drop-off on its left side. In addition, nowadays some very expensive cars are parked on the curb to the right. I spent a few tense minutes avoiding both the yawning abyss and scraping up somebody’s Mercedes.
I finally reached Queen Anne Avenue and turned north. I sailed along the Avenue, dropped down the northern side of the hill, curved through some side streets and finally reached Highway 99/Aurora Avenue. It was flowing freely– or about as freely as Highway 99 ever flows. Any Seattle resident will tell you that it is unusual, to say the least, for someone to enter this roadway with a joyous shout of liberation, but that’s what I did. I was so happy that I actually started waving at the resident hookers, until I remembered that the gesture might be misconstrued.
I went north at forty-five miles an hour, which was technically illegal but heady, past Woodland Park Zoo and Green Lake. My joy was marred, however, by the warnings from my bladder, which had gone from Defcon Three to Defcon One. I was now in serious danger of having an accident I had not had since the fifth grade, when my teacher told me, no, I had to wait until recess. Even so, I still did not want to use my water-bottle, so I gritted my teeth and tried not to think about bodies of water. I have to admit, though, that I screamed when the driver of the Honda Odyssey in the lane next to me decided that this was the proper moment to employ the windshield washer spray on his back window.
I finally, finally reached North 145th Street and turned west. I was now very close to home, but I was also very close to that certain accident. I roared up 145th, turned on to my street, and probably damaged my shocks screeching into my driveway. Unfortunately, my wife was in the doorway when I came in at breakneck speed, and doubtless there will be an accounting for that later, but I made it just in time. A journey of over two hours and much terror and confusion had come to a relieved (in more than one sense of the word) end.
This was my accidental, no good, epic tour of Seattle. In the end I guess I have no one to blame but myself. The moral appears to be that I need to pull my head out of whatever dark fundament it may be in and pay attention to mundane things like road closures. I need to take that much responsibility.
Still, there’s just one more thing I need to get off my chest– here’s to you, WSDOT.
Yep, I’m unreasonable. But I feel better.