Thursday, August 8, 2013

Little impressions

We've been Seattleites for a good six weeks now, which is crazy. I'm always amazed at how quickly I find new rituals and routines to settle into - it never takes long, but I'm undecided as to whether or not that's a good thing.

One of the first things I noticed here is the set up for receiving mail. In Los Angeles, we had the typical apartment complex lobby - near the underground parking - that was crammed with small post boxes in the wall. When we moved into our townhouse here, I couldn't see a letter box anywhere, so had to ask the leasing agent. "Oh, it's with a group of mail boxes at the end of the street", and she waved her arm in a vague direction. No big deal as we're on a tiny little cul-de-sac, so I wandered to the end to find it. Nope, nothing. I looked around, and could see various clusters of mail boxes from nearby houses and townhouses, but nothing on our corner. Turned out it was actually at the end of our street and across the road. Basically, it's a bit of stroll for the mail, or a pull-over to the curb in the car on our way home from wherever.

I suspect that collecting our mail is going to be somewhat of a bitch when the weather turns cold and wet - so, you know, most of the year.

There's nothing out of the ordinary about this set up in Seattle though. Once it had been brought to my attention, I noticed how all the homes in our area have their mail boxes grouped together with their neighbours', right on the street curb. Groups of three boxes, to groups of half a dozen - all clustered together in what looks like an effort to allow the postie to make drive-by-deliveries from the comfort of a van. This is pure speculation, though.

I don't know if this is a general North American thing (but not in Los Angeles - at least not where we lived), a specific Seattle thing, or even an Eastside Seattle thing. Feel free to enlighten me, if you know.

The other situation that's become painfully obvious to me these last six weeks is that the layout of streets - at least on the Eastside - is a What the fuck? kind of arrangement. Navigating these streets is nothing short of headache-inducing.

Keep in mind that this observation is coming from a woman who has always prided herself on her map-reading skills, excellent sense of direction, and overall refusal to rely on a GPS. In Los Angeles, if I was venturing somewhere unfamiliar, I was still able to do so with a study of the map before setting out, and leaving it at that. Cities with grid-like streets are a piece of cake to navigate.

Unfortunately, Seattle is not one of those cities. Well, the Westside is far more grid-like than the Eastside but the sheer volume of unexpected one-way streets there counteracts any good that comes from a grid arrangement.

I'd love to know which genius was behind the master planning of the streets in Redmond, Bellevue and Kirkland (in the Eastside). Streets twist and turn, with name changes often along the way. There is an unusually high percentage of dead-end streets, creating bottlenecks of traffic through the few routes that are possible to get from one side of town to the other.

Adding to (my) confusion is the way the streets are named. It feels like only a small number of them have actual names, but most of them are a mere number.

NE 80th St.
6th St S.
132nd Ave NE.
SE 42nd St.
155th Ave SE.
2nd Ave S.

You get the idea. It's a wonder there aren't more nervous breakdowns brought on from driving around in circles, unable to get from A to B without getting the streets mixed up, or the streets suddenly changing name or number... because it sure as hell is doing my head in. I once read somewhere that Seattle has been named in the worst ten American cities to drive around. It's early days for me, but I wouldn't be surprised.

On the flip side, drivers here are way more sensible and considerate than their L.A. counterparts. So, that's something, right?

Silly street issues aside, I am falling in love with this corner of the world. We've managed to explore Seattle even more, had a date night in the inner city, and squeezed in a weekend in Portland to catch up with old friends. Life has been good lately.

Time for a stack of photos, but I'll get to that next time I post.


  1. Wow - the street naming boggles my brain.

    I think there is something to that courteous driver observation. It has been my experience that in cities where navigation is easy, the intolerant driver ratio is higher. For some reason, easier driving equals less patience. Go figure.

    I love this mailbox thing! I always wondered what that was about. I have seen it in pics from other parts in the States and like you, assumed it was for ease of delivery. I agree, not so cool when it's cold and wet but dang, it is pretty. Particularly against that lovely verdant backdrop you have there. =)

    1. You know, that's an interesting point! I'd never even made that connection between navigation and general drivers' temperaments. I think there's definitely something in that, for sure.

      It's hard to make comparisons sometimes, because the area where we lived in L.A. was reknown for its huge population of a particular ethnicity (not the usual cultures or stereotypes that might come to mind when one thinks of L.A. though). I hate to make generalisations based on other people's appearances or culture, but guaranteed, every single close call I had with another car, the driver was from that demographic - particularly male and over the age of 50. Real arrogant fuckhead drivers. I haven't encountered that here... yet. Fingers crossed.