Armchair Traveler: Seattle, Wash.

[Well, with “Pomona A to Z” finished, my Sundays are now free here on the blog. But I like the idea of rerunning a past column.

For now, what with travel costs soaring and a lot of people planning stay-cations, I’ll satisfy the armchair travelers by rerunning a few past columns about trips I’ve taken. Let’s start with this Aug. 30, 2006 column about Seattle. Unanswered question: Does anyone read the Internet from an armchair?]

No monotony, and no monorail, on Seattle trip

Just got back from my first-ever visit to Seattle, the hip destination George Costanza once derided as “the pesto of cities.”

Seattle has always intrigued me, and it’s not the coffee, grunge music, flannel or rain.

What intrigued me was the Space Needle and the Monorail.

As you may know, they were built for the 1962 World’s Fair. The Needle is a 500-foot spindle with an observation deck at the top. The Monorail is an almost noiseless train that whooshes from the Needle to downtown on an elevated track.

At some point in my childhood, which was largely spent watching “The Jetsons,” gaping at NASA moon landings and playing with my Major Matt Mason astronaut toys, I became aware of the Space Needle and Monorail and decided they were awesomely futuristic.

Today they are awesomely retro. I know they were only built to impress the out-of-towners, but as an out-of-towner, I’m fine with that. In my mind, the Needle and Monorail were working examples of the shiny future we were promised, like flying cars and steak dinners in pill form.

So off I went. My first day in town, I read Seattle Weekly’s “Best of Seattle” results, which included “Best Place to Send Tourists.” Answer: “Elsewhere.”

Ha ha! I suppose 10 months of rain a year makes people bitter.

Somehow, though, my visit coincided with a stretch of dry, sunny, warm days. And even though I was carrying a guidebook and a map, the locals were friendly.

One evening, I walked to Safeco Park at game time hoping to buy a Mariners ticket. As I approached the ticket booths, a man walked up to me and said, “You need a single ticket? Here’s one for free.”

Thus, I watched the Mariners come from behind to beat the Red Sox 4-3 from a decent seat without spending a nickel.

Yes, my visit involved a lot of luck. But not all of it was good.

A poorly written sign at the Monorail station, which is at a downtown shopping mall, broke the bad news. “The Monorail is temporary out of service,” it read.

Can we get this thing running? C’mon, I’m leaving in three days!

Thwarted in riding the Monorail to the Space Needle, I took a bus. Ascending to the Needle’s observation deck cost $14, but this was no time to be cheap. In exchange, I got a 360-degree view of Seattle. I was so excited I almost bought a souvenir T-shirt.

(Later I got a similar view from the landmark Smith Tower for $6. The Smith tour guide dismissed the Needle as “a restaurant on a stick.”)

After the Needle I checked out the adjacent rock ‘n’ roll museum, the Frank Gehry-designed Experience Music Project, and its Science Fiction Museum, which has, among other cool stuff, Capt. Kirk’s chair.

Once outside, I was delighted to see the Monorail whoosh by right above me into the Seattle Center station. Employees, alas, said it was just a test run during repairs. No passengers allowed.

The next day I called the Monorail information line. “Good news!” the recording said. “The Seattle Monorail is back in service as of Friday, Aug. 11!” As this was Aug. 26, the recording clearly wasn’t in any better shape than the Monorail.

I had plenty of neat experiences — too many to list. Among them: browsing at bookstores and the Rem Koolhaas-designed Central Library, noshing at Pike Place Market, learning some bizarre and hilarious local history at the Seattle Underground tour, riding a ferry to
Bainbridge Island and grabbing a burger at Dick’s Drive-In.

My last day, I checked the downtown station again. The test runs must not have gone so well, because the Monorail was still broken.

So I left Seattle with only half of my personal “Jetsons” experience fulfilled. Too bad, but I’m philosophical about it.

After all, it makes sense for the Monorail to still be in my future, tantalizingly out of reach.

(David Allen writes Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, within depressingly easy reach.)

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