Every webhead knows that when your browser tries to fetch a page that doesn’t exist, or has moved on, the server will return a “404 – Page Not Found” error. I’ve heard some overly hip folks say that the page has “gone to Atlanta” – 404 happens to be Atlanta’s area code – but “404” is generally recognized as code for “You got here, and ‘here’ ain’t where you expected it to be.”
So there’s a certain small irony, tucked into my intersection-of-two-freeways hotel in Seattle, one of the many cities I used to call home, to find myself checked into Room 404.
No, the city’s still here, and not as changed as it has been in the past for me. I’ve been back a few times this past year on business after a long time away. First time back was a shock on the surface – coming in at night, seeing the lights go all the way out to Snoqualmie Pass, where there used to be nothing but wilderness. The funky and dysfuctional U-Village replaced by big box stores, lined with Starbuck’s and Borders. It was a little rough, like running into your highschool sweetheart sporting a shaved pink undercut and lip-ring.
But a day’s wandering brought back all the reasons I loved this place from the word “go”. The urban landscape laid over a lush, green blackberries-out-of-control canvas that peers through in every spot where Man has turned his attention away for more than a moment. Water – everywhere. Puget Sound, the lakes, the canals with those maddening-but-endearing drawbridges (more drawbridges in Seattle than in any other US city!). Frozen on the mountain tops in three directions – jagged Olymics set to the west, Cascades to the east, and of course, the old dog, the glagier-set round-topped Rainier drawing all eyes south on a clear day. Water – coming from the sky, of course, in that endemic winter “Seattle spit”. It’s not quite rain (the Irish call it “soft day”), but down it comes, gently filling the gutters, coursing through the “rain dial” at hilltop in Gasworks park, and cheering on the blackberries, still groggy with the victory of their latest assault on the city’s asphalt.
Each day that I had a few hours, I’d seek out an old haunt: Shilshole Bay, chucking flat rocks at the meager waves, while watching ferries and Kenmore Air’s old round-engined Beavers lumber north for the islands. Capitol Hill, retracing the bronze-inlaid sidewalk dance steps Mary and I tried (in vain!) to follow. And even the Arboretum – those countless paths going nowhere through underbrush, coming out – seemingly at random – in Japanese gardens, secret lagoons, or sunny meadows that seem straight out of the 100 Acre Wood.
And so, each trip, each little exploration, became a conversation, or common touchstone with estranged city that I realized I still love. Beyond the weird tattoo and piecings that this place now wears, it’s still that same quirky place.