Repioneering Pioneer Square

Seattle, About Town

“You look like true Seattleites.” My friend and I, engaged in a spirited conversation about the book I was reading that takes place in early Pioneer Square, stopped dead in our tracks. We both turned to the woman who said this to us as we were passing her.

Dark-skinned with honey-dyed hair turning black at the roots, she was exotic and lovely. Standing twenty yards from the iconic square’s pergola, waiting for the bus with her male companion, I wondered aloud if she was a tourist and what exactly a “Seattleite” looks like. “Oh, I am from Saudi Arabia,” she said, “and my husband is from here.” He looked hesitant during the exchange, uncomfortably grasping an aging bouquet of Stargazer lilies wrapped in green tissue. Now they live in Wallingford.

Though she couldn’t quite say in words what it was that made us look like we were from here, she implied it was something about our attire, exuberant conversation with boisterous gestures, and ultimate willingness to stop and be friendly to a stranger on the street. My friend and I have indeed spent our adult lives in Seattle.

After walking my friend to her happy hour date with her husband, I decided to grab a cup of coffee and circle back and revisit in the triangular park that is the heart of Pioneer Square. I couldn’t remember ever just sitting in the square.

The iron rails that break up the wooden benches connote an intolerance to sleeping vagrants. But it doesn’t deter the homeless from mingling amid the tourists waiting in line to hop on the street car or do the underground tour. Phone in my pocket, I sought to observe life — not through the lens of my camera or distraction of the internet. I calmly appreciated the fading sunlight, the leaves dotting the roof of the pergola, and the unfamiliar accents in conversations swirling around me. Behind my bench, a foul-mouthed woman was complaining to her friend in a sailor’s language I knew a little too well.

Much of my recent reading (both professional and personal) has been about the historic district and it has made me consider my own history in this city. When I was young, Pioneer Square was where the over-21 crowds played at night. For illicit pleasure in my late teens, my friends and I would cruise the strip on 1st Street and ogle the club goers, aching to join their ranks. When I finally reached my twenties, the same square I was sitting in was the site of my first pepper spray experience.

Things were crazy in the winter of 2001. Leaving what was then Doc Maynard’s, my friend and I stepped outside and our lungs immediately constricted and our eyes began to itch and burn. We turned back to the bouncers at the door, pleading through the glass for them to let us back in, but they refused. Around that time in Pioneer Square, 20-year-old Kristopher Kime was killed in the early hours of morning, right in front of police. When the Nisqually earthquake struck later that same morning, inflicting the heaviest devastation to the city’s aging district where Kime was killed, my youthful sensibilities were shaken to their core. What was happening in this world and in my city?

Sipping my coffee in the square yesterday, it struck me how you can fall in love again and again with a place. Like a love, you sometimes forget what drew you to them in the first place and perhaps your eye wanders as you contemplate other options, but when you get still, reflect, and appreciate – you can suddenly fall head over heels all over again.

I have lived in this gorgeous place since 1989, and I continue to find new things to love about it every week. To my friends who blessed me with their companionship and discovery through this new, old city this week – thank you.

“Together, we became investigators of the ordinary, considering the block — the street and everything on it—as a living being that could be observed. In this way, the familiar becomes unfamiliar, and the old the new.” –Alexandra Horowitz

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