This evening, lacking much better to do besides try unsuccessfully to work on the next post in my software testing series (you should be seeing that one sometime in the semi-near future,) I decided to wander over to Bellevue Square for a bit, something I haven’t done much of lately. As I was making the short drive over, it occurred to me that I hadn’t been over there in a while. For that matter, it occurred to me that I haven’t spent much time in Downtown Bellevue lately either. Admittedly, that’s kind of an odd thing to say considering the fact that I happen to live here and spend a good 12-15 hours a day here by default, but most days it seems like I’m either at work, commuting to and from work, doing stuff at home or off doing something with my friends in another part of town. As a result of all this, there seems to be a strange sense of disconnectedness to it all.
I suppose that a lot of it can be attributed to the fact that while I worked here in Downtown Bellevue I spent a lot of time walking around the neighborhood, both while walking to and from work and taking my customary afternoon stroll around the block, not to mention the occasional walk to and from the mall or elsewhere in the Downtown area. Although I tend to be thoroughly skeptical of most of the various ideas being pushed by the various proponents of Urbanism (which seems to mostly be a thinly veiled code word for “we hate suburbs and/or the people who live in suburbs” these days, but that’s another post,) I do have to admit that there is something to be said for having things within walking distance. Not only is it convenient, but it also has the side benefit of providing incentive to go out for a walk and get some fresh air (and/or get rained on, as seems to often be the case around here. You also tend to get a different perspective on things by walking to and from places than you would otherwise get by driving. As odd as it sounds, you become familiar with the little things you see along the sidewalk, and as you walk around the area. This doesn’t seem particularly significant, but familiarity tends to create some sense of connection, which seems to have a subtle but noticeable effect on one’s perception of their surroundings. I suppose that once the weather starts getting better and daylight continues getting longer in the evening it’ll probably be easier to get out and walk around a bit more, but the combination of the season, spending nearly two hours a day commuting and just generally not having much reason to go out tends to make it a bit hard to get out and spend much time outdoors around here.
That said, I’ve found that my “new” neighborhood of South Lake Union (where I work currently) is taking a lot more getting used to than I would have expected. When I signed on with Amazon again I was well aware of the fact that I’d be spending a lot more time commuting than I was used to, with most of that spent on buses. Basically, right now my commute consists of driving over to the Eastgate Park and Ride (about 4 miles away from here,) catching a bus from there which takes about 15 minutes to get to the International District tunnel station in Downtown Seattle and frequently tends to be standing room only by the time I’m on board, catching an Amazon shuttle from there to South Lake Union, where I then walk about a block to the building I work in. On a good day, I can get to work in about 40 minutes, and if the traffic coming back is particularly horrible it can be as much as an hour and a half on the way back. Aside from an occasional glance at Mount Rainier while crossing the I-90 bridge on the bus, the scenery along the way isn’t much to speak of. With the buses generally being too crowded with people to do much but stand around and wait, and most of the Amazon shuttles playing one of the two local NPR stations which always seem to be right in the middle of the Incredibly Depressing and\or Rage-Inducing News Hour* during the time I’m riding them, there seems to be a fair amount of incentive to find something suitably distracting to drown it out with. Basically, this means that the vast majority of the commute in either direction is spent off in my own proverbial little world. I do still try to get out for my now customary afternoon walk when the weather and workload permits, but even with that I’ve found it difficult to warm up to the neighborhood.
In a nutshell, South Lake Union is one of those neighborhoods that was caught in the historical limbo where most of what was in the area was old enough to look thoroughly dreary, but not old enough to be of much interest in terms of historical preservation. Aside from a couple of somewhat interesting Mid-Century Modern buildings, most of the area has been populated with various run down warehouses and erstwhile factories. For about the past decade or so Paul Allen and company have been in the process of knocking down a number of the old structures in the area and gentrifying the neighborhood, which has placed a number of shiny new office buildings amidst the decaying old warehouses, but hasn’t really bothered to give much of a soul to the neighborhood. As an office the particular building I happen to be located in is actually quite a nice place to work, but I seriously doubt it’s going to win any architectural awards anytime soon. Across the street, surrounded by the various other Amazon buildings, is an old warehouse structure, completely unremarkable in every way except for a somewhat interesting ghost ad that I see for much of the day from my desk. I suppose the fact that there’s a lot of vacant ground floor real estate isn’t helping matters much, but even the stuff that is occupied seems to be either the usual nondescript chain fare or assorted overpriced hipster bait. Not that the hipsters seem to be bothering with this particular neighborhood in any significant quantities anyway, not while Capitol Hill is just a few blocks away. As a side effect, the neighborhood does seem to be a magnet for food trucks of varying quality and/or overpricedness, but I haven’t tried enough of them to get an overall feel of how those contribute to the neighborhood. All in all, it’s the kind of place I can live with on a 9-to-5 basis, but I don’t think I could ever see myself wanting to live in a place like this (or much elsewhere in Seattle for that matter, but that’s beside the point.)
Still, with one neighborhood that I’m having trouble warming up to, and another neighborhood I’m having trouble finding enough time to feel connected to, it makes for an overall sense of disconnectedness that just doesn’t feel quite right. Hopefully with Spring coming and the weather improving this situation will improve, but it still tends to be just a little unnerving. Either that, or this is just someone’s way of telling me I really need to get out a bit more…
*Probably not the official name, but you get the point.