Everyone has their own way of traveling for pleasure. Some do it with their entire family. Some do it with a friend or significant other. Some opt for lodgings with room service and concierges; some carry their shelter on their backs. Some plan it out well in advance, and some throw a dart at a map and drop everything. Some jam-pack their itineraries with an exhausting whirlwind of activities, and some just let the day, hour, and minute take them where it takes them.
I am a Johnny-come-lately to travel. For years, when the cash flow was good, the time wasn’t available. When the time allowed it, I was half-broke. This past winter (a season where I take on a bit of extra work hence improving said cash flow) I put my foot down, did a little airline and Airbnb shopping, and booked myself a solo jaunt to Seattle about seven months in advance.
The first question many asked upon learning of my trip was, “who are you going with?” The second was, “do you know anybody out there?” My answers at the time were simply, “no one,” and “nobody.” (Turns out I DID know people that lived there, but more on that later.) Granted, some found it strange that I’d fly 2500 miles alone to a place where I knew no one, but I’m not wired like everyone else. Make no mistake, I greatly enjoy the company of good people, but I’m an introvert to a fault (and yes, if I see one more clickbait listicle about introverts vs. extroverts I’m gonna… contemplate how played-out that whole bit is). Traveling with someone for too long a period would honestly try my patience and leave me seeking out my own space, no matter who I was with. So, solo trip it was, and what a trip it was.
Traveling from Boston to Seattle is an arduous process for some, given the lengthy flight (not to mention a two-plus hour bus ride to Logan Airport from Portland in my case.) Not for me. Having not been in flight for a good decade or so, I’m not so jaded to the ways of air travel. In this case, the journey was part of the destination for me, having never been on the other side of the Continental US. I ensured that I would have a window seat on both legs of the journey to see the show where clouds allowed. Instead of reading one of the many books I brought along, I spent far more time looking out the window in childlike wonder at sights I’d never seen with my own eyes before: Toronto, Lake Huron, Lake Superior, Red Lake, Minnesota, Lake Sakakawea, North Dakota, the checkerboard plains of all the flyover states, and appreciable snows on rocky Cascade peaks in mid-August. I first caught a glimpse of my destination, Seattle, as a tiny collection of toy skyscrapers on an isthmus as the setting sun reflected off Puget Sound.
I was there for four nights and I really only had a small checklist of things to do while there: see a Mariners game, check out Pike Place Market, take the ferry to Bainbridge Island, visit the Experience Music Project museum, and ascend either the Space Needle or the even higher Columbia Center observatory tower. I crossed off most of these bullet points, save for the observatories, as there was enough haze to render the Cascade backdrop invisible.
For me, travel isn’t so much about doing things, but about being places. Being present. Enjoying the fact that I’m in a ballpark I’ve never been to before. Drinking a beer I’ve never tasted before. Savoring the wind in my face as the Seattle skyline comes closer on the return voyage from Bainbridge Island. Listening to the conversations on buses, in bars, and coffeehouses. People watching on Capitol Hill.
Each neighborhood has a different vibe to it. Downtown had the hustle and bustle from nine to five and was relatively quiet in the darkness. Pioneer Square was a bit rough and tumble at 11 at night. Belltown had the perfect balance of trendy and friendly, and Cap Hill came off as a bit cliquey, but no less interesting.
I had three great conversations in Belltown one night: one with a lovely young lady about European travel, the Astros, and Bernie Sanders, another with a beloved local street musician named Pops who performed one of his song-poems for me on his empty water jug, and yet another with a gent who goes by the name of Smokey, where we discussed Pete Carroll, Gil Scott-Heron, his basketball playing days in Finland, and whether or not I wanted to smoke some weed (legal in WA, but I politely declined.) Conversations with people I’ll likely only ever see once always fascinate me.
Yes, there were plenty of encounters with strangers, but to my surprise, I found out well after I booked the trip that my old college friend Kyza had recently relocated to Seattle. We got together in West Seattle at a taco place right on the water, and spent some time catching up. As we get older and spread out across the nation, it’s all too easy to lose touch even given the various social media options before us, so it was great to reconnect after a decade and a half.
My only regret was attending Monday’s baseball game instead of Wednesday’s, as Hisashi Iwakuma threw a no-hitter. I even did a half-hearted ticket lookup Wednesday morning, only to say to myself “nah, go someplace else today.” Oh well, Keith Olbermann has never been in a ballpark for a no-hitter either.
Had I gone on this trip with a companion of some sort, I know I would have enjoyed Seattle still, perhaps in a different way than I did on this jaunt. But I would have missed out on the random conversations, the aimless wandering, and the introspection that makes me tick. Twenty years from now, I’ll probably remember the feeling of being in a certain place and time more than I’ll remember the (intriguing) collection of vintage guitars at the EMP Museum. That’s what made this trip fulfilling for me; the experiences, not the souvenirs (of which there is only one, the t-shirt I bought from Belltown’s Lava Lounge.)
I was a little bummed that I didn’t get a clearer view of the mountains, but I quickly forget that fact when I remember my visit was bookended by two plane-window viewings of Mount Rainier: one as my plane was taxiing on arrival, as the mountain was drenched in the sunset, and the other shortly after ascent on the return trip, with the peak towering over the surroundings.
I’ll be back to see you someday, Seattle. Next stop next year however, will take me to Helsinki in my ancestral Finland. I’ve got the travel bug, so back to Travelocity I go.