Sightless in Seattle


Seattle waterfront

Being in Seattle for the first time I think it’s a bright idea to hop aboard a city tour bus. The pamphlet assures me that I’ll “experience the local point-of-view on this fast-paced tour of Seattle’s fun, unique neighborhoods”.

Well, I readily admit that it’s dead accurate about the pace of the tour. But as for presenting a “local point of view” all I can suggest is that it must be an extremely blurred vision.

The coach I choose lunges around the city centre and through various inner city suburbs at a hectic rate, powering up and down Seattle’s steeply inclined streets and offering hardly any chance to view any landmark long enough to register exactly what it is or where it’s located.

We zoom up Pike Street to Capitol Hill, whizz around the neighbourhood and then plunge back down Pine Street to the waterfront. There’s a fleeting view of a long, low-slung building that has a burst of garish neon above one entrance. This is Pike Place market, says the tour guide, assuring us that “it’s the the soul of the city”.

As we speed across a bridge – with Lake Union beneath us rendered as a shimmer of blue – our guide further tells us that “Seattle’s famous glass artist Dale Chihouly has his studio on the shores of the lake below”, then adds,  “but you can’t actually see it from here.”

Not actually seeing anything is the recurring theme of this whistle-stop orientation. The on-board commentary includes priceless statements such as:

“Down there, just beyond the bend but hidden by that building on the right, is the floating house made famous in the film Sleepless in Seattle. You can’t actually see it”. And then, a few moments later:

“Bill Gates has his amazing high tech house on the shores of Lake Washington, but we won’t go there.” In compensation there is a fleeting distant glimpse of the lake. 

After 90 minutes I’m back where I started from with only the vaguest idea of Seattle’s general layout. I’m left with mixed feelings of resentment and bewilderment. I look once again at the tour pamphlet and it’s now that I notice the disclaimer: ‘‘Tours are non-refundable”.


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