The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

August 7, 2013

A Twilight Walk Through Downtown Bellevue on a Fine Summer’s Evening

Filed under: Bellevue, Wanderings — Brian Lutz @ 11:18 pm

In case you haven’t noticed, around here Summer weather is a finite resource, and the time you’re spending reading this probably means you’re wasting it right this very minute.  Unless you happen to be reading it in the middle of the night or in the middle of February, in which case carry on.   After all, the climate around here provides no shortage of dreary 45-degree overcast days throughout the Fall, Winter and Spring, but the local meteorologists have taken to keeping track of summer weather (which they define as any recorded temperature over 80 degrees)  in minutes (in case you were wondering, as of the time this post is being written, the count stands at 4,537 and change for the year.)  Naturally, this means you need to take advantage of the nice weather whenever you get the chance.

With the way things have been at work lately, I’ve found that it’s been a little tough to find the time to take advantage of the Summer weather.  Sure, there’s (usually) weekends to go out and do stuff, and me and my friends have generally made adequate use of them when work doesn’t get in the way, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the week can be ignored.  A couple of evenings ago after I got home from work, the weather was just about perfect to go out and spend some time outside.  Lately in the evenings I’ve been spending time in the exercise room here at my apartment building, but since I managed to do 40 minutes on the elliptical trainer the night before, I figured I could get away with something a little less strenuous on this particular evening, and went out for a nice little walk right around twilight as darkness began to fall upon the city.

As I’ve alluded to in some of my previous posts, since I work over in Downtown Seattle these days and seem to spend inordinate amounts of time at the office lately, on occasion I find that I can feel a bit disconnected from the community I live in.  At times it seems like I end up going from home to work and back for weeks at a time, without much more than an occasional trip out for supplies or food in the evenings to break up the routine.  And yet, even if I’m spending all my time in this “disconnected” state, as soon as I return for a visit everything is immediately familiar once again.  Over time as you spend a lot of time in a certain place, you build up a mental map of it, to the point that you could be away from somewhere for years, and yet as soon as you return there you immediately know your way around.  Sure things can and will change over time, but ultimately things will still be familiar.  And yet, even if you think you know a place, you can still find things you never knew about, especially if you get a bit outside of your normal routine.

Sure enough, as I took my journey on this particular evening, I found a few surprises waiting for me in places I thought I knew well.  After the jump, follow along as I take a walk through Downtown Bellevue as nightfall descends upon the city.


June 3, 2012

Home is… Well, Somewhere Anyway.

Filed under: Bellevue, Random Stuff — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 1:46 am

Well, it’s that time of year again.  Well OK, it’s that time of year too, but it’s also the time of year when the lease on my apartment is going to be coming up for renewal soon, which means that I need to figure out where the heck I’m going to be living for the next year (or so.)  Thankfully the apartment management at my current place does a pretty good job of providing their renewal information well in advance so I have plenty of time to consider things, but the story is pretty predictable:  It’s not cheap to live in Downtown Bellevue, and it sure as heck isn’t getting any cheaper around here either.  That’s not to say it wouldn’t be doable under the right circumstances, but for as much as I enjoy living here, it’s pretty clear I could go just about anywhere (besides Downtown Seattle, but I have no interest in living over there anyway) and get a bigger apartment for less rent than I’m paying now.  And based on doing a bit of searching, it seems highly unlikely I’m going to find a better deal than I’ve got now in Downtown.

I also no longer have the advantage of being able to walk three blocks to work like I did when I worked here in Bellevue, and given the aforementioned lack of interest in living in Seattle, it means I’m pretty much looking at a daily commute of at least 45 minutes in each direction from just about anywhere I go.  Although the commute isn’t quite as bad as I thought it might be back when I took my current contract at Amazon, I have to say that the ability to easily walk to work and back spoiled me a bit.  And although I was never all that impressed with the lunch choices available in Downtown Bellevue when I worked here, it’s still a lot better over here than what’s available in South Lake Union where I’m working now.  It’s actually even been enough to get me to start bringing my own lunches to work a couple of times a week, and anyone who has known me for long enough knows that for quite a long time I’ve been the type of person who never brings his own lunch to work.  Sure, there’s the much touted food truck scene in the neighborhood, but with only a couple of exceptions (most notably the taco truck that parks in front of my building each day,) the overall impression I’ve gotten of the food trucks I’ve tried is that they’re trying to sell you $5 worth of food for $12.  Nonetheless, since I have no intention of ever living over there it’s all pretty much academic anyway.  In theory, while I lived and worked here in the same neighborhood I wasn’t spending anything on commuting, but it’s pretty clear that the ability to live that close to work was a luxury, and not a particularly cheap one at that. 

And even with as much as I’ve enjoyed living here, it’s not been without its problems, most of them being related to the plumbing.  Although I haven’t found myself with any major incident like soaked carpets due to a leaky water heater (given the fact that this building has a centralized water heating system, that would actually be pretty impressive and pretty disastrous at the same time) I’ve had a number of minor issues with the plumbing, which leads me to suspect that whoever did it when the place was built didn’t do a very good job of it.  There’s also the creaky floor underneath the bathtub, and a few of the cabinets and fixtures that have had problems that I’d think you really shouldn’t be experiencing in a building that’s only three years old.  Nonetheless, in the grand scheme of things it’s all been pretty minor, and it’s still a pretty nice place.  If I did move into a different place I think I’d also have a bit of a hard time giving up the air conditioning I’ve got here, but then again I do tend to be a bit of a wimp when it comes to the heat, and the big windows in the place mean that if I didn’t have the AC the place would be one big oven.  Ultimately, if it wasn’t for the impending increase in what’s already a pretty high rent I’d renew here in a heartbeat, but when reality gets factored in, it becomes a lot more difficult (albeit not completely impossible) to justify.

And then, there’s always the option of buying a house, which is what pretty much everyone I’ve talked about this with has told me I should do.  To be honest, I’m not sure that’s an option just yet, especially since it seems like quite a few other things in my life seem to be in a proverbial holding pattern right now.  As I’ve discussed in a couple of other posts, there are number of potential opportunities that I have going on right now where things could easily go in one of two different directions, but it’s really too soon to tell where any of them are really headed.  Although I am optimistic that ultimately things will work out in a reasonably advantageous manner, I’m not sure it’s a particularly good time to be introducing additional complications into the mix right now, and there are few things out there which are as good at adding complications to things as home ownership.  To be honest, I’m not even sure where I would be looking to buy a house, much less what I’d be buying.  I’ve looked a little bit at buying in this neighborhood, but even though I can afford to rent in this neighborhood, I think buying a place around here might be just a little bit out of my league right now.  Maybe I could swing it after I’ve written a bestselling novel and sold off the movie rights or something like that, but for the time being I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to look a bit farther out.  Either way, I don’t think it’s going to happen right now, although it’s definitely on the radar at some point in the not-too-distant future.

Ultimately, when I ask myself where I should be living when all this is said and done, I’m not sure there’s any answer that is completely right to that question.  I don’t think I’d need something like a big waterfront mansion or anything ridiculous like that, but I suspect that no matter what I end up deciding on there’s going to be some degree of compromise involved.  You can get something nice, you can get something affordable, or you can get something in a good location.  If you’re lucky, you might even be able to pick two of those.  At this point, all I know is that I’ve got to pick something, and I’ve got to pick it soon.

May 7, 2012

Sometimes You Just Gotta’ Have Breakfast

Filed under: Bellevue, Food — Brian Lutz @ 12:22 am


It’s often been said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  While I’m sure that particular statement could be put up for debate, I have to admit that I’ve never been all that good at the whole breakfast thing.  Most of the time I end up not eating until I make it into the office, and given the inherent limitations, that doesn’t leave a lot of options.  My previous employer provided milk in the drink fridge and bowls were readily available in the kitchen, so cereal was usually a viable option, and if that didn’t work there happened to be a pretty decent bagel shop next door.  When I was over at Microsoft, the cafeterias actually made a pretty reasonable breakfast (which was just about the only thing the cafeterias over there did well to be honest,) but given their limited hours I usually reserved it for the days when I got into the office really early (as in around 7am or so.) 

Unfortunately, my current employment situation has limited my breakfast choices somewhat.  Basically, unless I want to deal with whatever overpriced food-like substances happen to be peddled by the various coffee shops in the neighborhood (If you count the ones inside Amazon buildings I think there’s 9 of them within a 3-block radius of my office, and shockingly only two of them are Starbucks) I pretty much have to bring my own stuff.  I’ve already tried cereal, but it requires bringing my own milk and my own bowl, and I’ve found that the milk has a tendency to disappear from the fridge.  Somewhere along the line I’ve also picked up the apparently odd habit of bringing Cup ‘O Noodles to work and eating those for breakfast, and experiments with packets of oatmeal have provided reasonably satisfactory results as well.  For the time being this seems to be the way to go, but ultimately I find that most days I’ll just skip breakfast and grab an early lunch.  This isn’t a particularly good solution to the problem either, since an early lunch break seems to make the afternoon drag on for longer than it should.  Ultimately I’m starting to get the sneaking suspicion that I’m just not doing this whole breakfast thing quite right.

I’m sure someone out there could cite all sorts of  research studies that would tell me that my lack of proper breakfasting habits is going to cause all sorts of bad things to happen at some unspecified point in the future, but for the most part there just doesn’t seem to be time for it, and options for a proper breakfast (which would presumably be something like the toast, juice and milk that you see put next to the bowl of Frosted Killer Cocoa Bombs in the TV commercials to somehow turn it into a “balanced” breakfast) are few and far between.  Somehow I manage to get by on my questionable breakfast habits, but I do have to admit that every so often it just gets to the point where I just feel the need to have a proper sit-down-and-eat breakfast. 

Sure, there are the usual Denny’s and IHOP options for breakfast, but one of the best places I’ve found in Bellevue to go when you’re looking for some serious breakfast action would be the Lil’ Jon Restaurant just off I-90 in Eastgate.  This diner and its Googie era building has been a fixture in this particular spot for nearly 45 years.  Since it happens to be located next door to the Volkswagen dealership where I occasionally take my car for service, I usually find myself here while I’m waiting on an oil change or some other minor maintenance work, and it’s always worth the trip.

In stark contrast to the quiet solitude that I occasionally seek out with a late-night visit to one of the local Denny’s, on a typical Saturday morning Lil’ Jon is a beehive of activity, and you can get a front row seat to the action at the counter.  Handwritten orders come into the kitchen on one of the old-school spinny carousel thingies (I’m pretty sure that’s the technical term) that have largely fallen by the wayside in favor of electronic ordering systems,  and plates piled with food come out.  I can barely read what’s written on the guest check, but somehow it all works out and the food manages to find its way to its proper place.  And as you would expect with a place like this, there’s the usual crowd of regulars, some of whom I imagine have been coming here for longer than I’ve been alive.

On this particular visit I opted for what’s known as the 1-2-3 breakfast, which consists of a pancake, 2 eggs and 3 strips of bacon.  As you can see, I couldn’t even fit the whole thing into the shot when I tried to take a picture of it.  The pancake easily fills the entire plate, and seems to be roughly the size of one of the hubcaps off a ’73 Lincoln Continental.  And they don’t mess around with their bacon here either.  Unlike some of the slices of paper-thin disappointment with a flavor like it’s been rolled around in a campfire that seems to pass for bacon at a lot of the various chain places, these are nice crisp thick slices of bacon that can actually hold their own.  Sure there’s nothing particularly fancy going on with this meal, but that’s not really the point of breakfast anyway, in spite of what the overpriced hipster bait places over in South Lake Union seem to think.  After all, If you’re walking away from this place hungry then you’re clearly doing it wrong.

Although the prices at Lil’ Jon are quite reasonable compared to some of the other breakfast places around here, it is admittedly still a bit of a splurge, especially in the calorie department.  Even so, every once in a while there just seems to be a need to quit messing around with cold cereal and sugary pastries of indeterminate origin, and just sit down to a proper full-fledged breakfast.  And you’re going to find no shortage of it here at Lil’ Jon.

April 28, 2012

The Simple Joy of Playing in the Dirt

Filed under: Bellevue, Random Stuff — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 11:42 pm

As I’m sure is the case for a lot of people, my list of Facebook friends includes quite a few people with whom I made acquaintance over the years in the course of participation in various organizations, many of whom have gone off in various directions, mostly in the directions of getting married and starting families of their own.  This means that quite a few photos of their young children find their way onto Facebook, and even though I don’t think I’ve talked to some of these people in years, I still get to (sort of) watch their children grow up from afar.  Today on Facebook, one of these people posted a picture of their young son, who had apparently run off while on a walk in the park, and by the time they found him, he had waded knee-deep into a nearby pond, and left to his own devices probably would have managed to cover himself in mud.  Although I have no experience with being the parent of such a child, I suspect this is one of those things that seems pretty terrible at the time, but over the course of a few years manages to end up being funny.

Somehow, I get the sneaking suspicion that whenever the time comes that I have children of my own (a time that somehow seems a lot less distant than it used to)  it’s inevitable that I’ll find myself dealing with a similar situation somewhere along the line, and I’ll probably be just as horrified when it happens, only to think it’s funny later on.  Playing in the mud seems to be one of those thing’s that’s just buried somewhere in the Y chromosome, probably somewhere in the brain between the cooties and the disdain for vegetables.  Eventually most of  these traits manage to fade away.  At some point around puberty or so the whole Cooties thing manages to be conveniently forgotten, and eventually the combination of nutritional propaganda and the need to maintain some semblance of a figure manage to talk and/or guilt most people into eating their veggies.  In theory, as we grow older and become responsible adults we’re supposed to regard dirt as a necessary evil at best and something that should be avoided whenever possible.  And yet, regardless of where we end up and what happens along the way, this one never quite seems to go away completely.

Ominous, isn't it?

The place where I live in Downtown Bellevue could accurately be described as a reasonably high-end location.  After all, with neighbors with names like Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Choo and Tory Burch, it’s to be expected that the neighborhood should be reasonably nice.  And yet, in spite of the location, Downtown Bellevue also has a surprising number of empty spaces as well.  In fact, even the Bravern has a big empty hole between itself and Meydenbauer Center, space reserved for future construction.  I’m sure some ambitious developer envisioned another tower or two worth of high-end condos here at some point, but given the fact that it is highly unlikely such things could be built in a profitable manner at any time in the immediate future, what we have for the time being is a big empty field of gravel surrounded by chains on two sides and ominously large concrete walls on the others.  A couple of blocks away across from the Library, a 5,300 square foot lot smaller than some Downtown penthouses which still holds remnants of the foundation for a long since demolished single-family home was at one point earmarked for a 17-story residential tower where each story would be an individual residence.  The signs for that particular development came down months ago, and the lot now sits as another vacant hole in the ground, with no sign of the ambitious plans once laid out for the site.  Even Bellevue City Hall sits next to a vacant field which, for the time being, sits fallow.  For being a thriving urban area, Downtown Bellevue actually has quite a few holes.

And one of those holes happens to be right behind my building, in a vacant lot adjacent to the busiest street in Downtown Bellevue.  If I recall correctly, this lot used to hold a couple of single-family houses that had been converted at some point to businesses, and then eventually demolished in preparation for construction that never happened.  A couple of driveways to nowhere remain on the site, and currently the lot serves mostly as an impromptu parking lot presumably used by workers in the office building next door and retail customers for the various businesses downstairs in my building.  Because of the cars, only part of the lot is overgrown by whatever seeds happen to find their way onto this particular patch of ground.  A spurious footpath cuts across the lot, leading to the area where the cars are found parked during the day.  In recent days a sign has gone up announcing the impending construction of some sort of unremarkable mixed-use commercial/retail building starting at some unspecified point in the near future.  Aside from taking the occasional shortcut through the field while walking home from work at my previous employer, I’ve never had reason to pay much attention to this particular field.

As noted in my previous post, I have recently begun to take interest in my RC cars again after a lengthy hiatus resulting mostly from lack of suitable places to use them.  Now that the weather is getting better, I’ve been working on making a few upgrades to my E-Revo VXL to swap out some of the weaker stock suspension parts and replace them with more durable alternatives.  In the course of doing this, I found that it would be useful to have a location that I could test in, and it occurred to me that this field would be a decent spot to at least try things out and get a feel for how well things are working.  Trying not to look too suspicious carrying around an RC car in the elevators, I headed down to the field as it started to get dark one evening a few days ago and went for a bit of a test run… And immediately started kicking up a surprisingly satisfying cloud of dirt and gravel.  Not having had the space to properly run the thing for quite a while, I immediately wondered why it had never occurred to me to run it out here.  It also turns out that a small RC car blasting along in the dirt and kicking up big dust clouds is a surprisingly good way to attract attention from the neighbors.  I was actually surprised how many people stopped to watch, and how many “Where do you get one of those?” queries I have gotten while driving it in the dirt or doing some speed runs in the alley.

If there’s one thing I’ve gotten out of this experience, it’s something that I’ve known all along but largely forgotten:  There’s just something inherently satisfying about kicking up a nice cloud of dust or a big rooster-tail of mud.  Back in my younger days, I can recall a certain fascination with dirt, often scooping up handfuls of the stuff and throwing it up in the air just to watch the dust clouds drift along on the wind.  I can also recall finding clumped-up sand in the sandbox after a rainstorm and throwing it on the ground to watch the little “explosions” of flying sand resulting from the impact.  When I think back on those habits now it sounds kind of silly, but in the mind of a slightly precocious and easily distracted first grader I suppose it made sense in context.  Although I’m pretty sure I was never big on playing in the mud (my mother can correct me on this if necessary)  I can definitely see the appeal there too.  As responsible adults we’re presumably supposed to leave these things behind for the kids to deal with, but somehow the temptation remains, just waiting for some convenient excuse to indulge it in the messiest way possible.

April 6, 2012

In, But Not Of?

Filed under: Bellevue, Random Stuff, Seattle — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 12:13 am

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.

January 18, 2012

Scenes From a Snow Day in Downtown Bellevue

Filed under: Bellevue, weather — Brian Lutz @ 11:00 pm

Given the relatively temperate climate of the Pacific Northwest, even in the middle of Winter snow is a fairly infrequent occurrence around here.  During most Winters here we rarely get more than 2 or 3 snow events, and most of them are relatively minor (at least unless you’re trying to drive in them, in which case you’re pretty much dealing with a horrendous mess no matter how much or how little snow actually ends up on the ground.)  Every so often we do get a major snowstorm here, but these are relatively rare, with the last really significant one being back in December of 2008.  The one we’ve got going on here right now doesn’t seem to be quite that bad (at least not here in Downtown Bellevue, I understand most of the really big snow totals happened to the North and South of here,) but it was still enough to close down all the schools and make a mess out of the roads. 

Fortunately, living in a walkable Downtown area means that even in the snow it’s not too terribly difficult to get around, even while leaving the car safely parked.  Even then, given a recent unexpected change in my employment situation (not that big a deal really,) I don’t really have anywhere to be right now anyway, so I can just stay at home and not have to worry about any of this.  Even so, after a while cabin fever does start to set in a bit, so I did took the opportunity to go for a little walk this afternoon and see how Bellevue is faring underneath all the snow.  After the jump, a look at a few scenes from a snow day in Downtown Bellevue.


January 12, 2012

Things You Tend to Notice While Wandering Nonchalantly into Oncoming Traffic

Filed under: Bellevue, Random Stuff — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 12:50 am
Image credit: Flickr user Bill Kramme, Creative Commons

As I’ve talked about on a number of occasions here, one of the nice things about living where I do is the commute to work, or lack thereof.  I don’t have a commute so much as I have a ten minute walk between my apartment and the office.  In theory, this means that I’m not spending any money on commuting expenses (especially since I am no longer making a monthly car payment as of a few months ago,) but I’m pretty sure any money being saved by not driving to work and back is being swallowed up pretty well in the additional living expenses that come with life in Downtown Bellevue compared to what they would be living in a place a bit further out in the suburbs.  Even if I’m leaving the car parked at home all day, I’ve still got to pay the going rate for Downtown parking at home, which tends not to be particularly cheap.  So when it all boils down I’m probably not saving much money (if any at all) by living here and walking to work, but I suppose I’m at least getting a little bit of exercise in the process, right?

The walk that I make twice a day between here and the office comes out to roughly .4 miles in each direction and change, with very slight and ultimately insignificant variations in length depending on which of the several possible routes I actually take.  No matter which direction I go in, I will always have to cross the same three streets (NE 8th, 110th Ave NE and 108th Ave NE) although where I actually cross those streets may vary.  This means that quite often, I find myself waiting for walk signals at crosswalks.  Once you start crossing a particular street at a particular spot often enough, you quickly begin to learn the traffic patterns and stoplight timings, although it’s not like any of them are too terribly difficult to figure out in the first place.  Aside from a minor variation or two in patterns resulting from the presence or absence of cars in some left turn lanes, the stoplights all behave in a more or less predictable fashion.  This is, naturally, a good thing, the last thing you want when there’s several hundred very heavy objects traveling at high rates of speed is to have to guess what the traffic lights are going to do next.  Generally by the time you’ve crossed the street at a particular intersection enough times, you tend to have a pretty good handle on where in the cycle a light will be when you get there, and how long it’s going to take to cross the street. 
Or least that’s how it would work out if people were actually paying attention to this stuff.  If you wander around Downtown Bellevue (or Downtown Seattle, or pretty much any other major urban downtown I suspect) enough, it won’t take you long to find someone doing something they’re not supposed to be doing in a crosswalk.   Mostly it’s just little things like taking way too long to cross or starting to cross about three seconds before the light turns yellow, but occasionally you get the ones that just ignore the crossing signals entirely and just wander right into oncoming traffic.  Fortunately, it seems like most of these people at least have enough common sense to at least prevent themselves from finding new employment in the lucrative hood ornament industry, but sometimes you have to wonder.  Are they just too impatient to wait the 3o seconds it would take for the walk signal to show up?  Are they running to catch a bus?  Are they sick of playing Frogger as a video game and want to experience it in real life?  The world may never know.
While I can’t claim to know what causes presumably otherwise sane people to frequently throw caution to the wind and cross streets in lunatic-like fashion, one thing that seems to encourage bad crosswalk behavior is the timers on the crossing signals, a relatively recent addition to most of the stoplights in the Downtown area.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with these (which shouldn’t be a lot of people, as I’ve seen these become quite common around here over the past few years, and not just in Downtown,) instead of just a flashing Don’t Walk sign, these signals have a countdown timer telling you roughly how much time is left before the light is going to turn yellow.  If you’ve ever read one of those little guides you occasionally see on posts next to the crosswalk buttons, you’d know that you’re not supposed to begin crossing the street if a flashing Don’t Walk sign is on.  Apparently with the countdown timers on the lights, all bets are off on that one, and the flashing Don’t Walk sign has largely been downgraded to the level of a mere suggestion.  Sure, you’ve only got six seconds to cross, but you can still make it as long as you don’t mind inconveniencing the guy trying to make a right turn in front of you a bit, right?  After all, waiting for a second light builds character (for them, not you.) 
And yes, I know that this subject is putting me dangerously close to chasing-kids-off-the-lawn territory, but you have to wonder if people give much thought to the fact that they’re placing themselves into the path of multiple two-ton projectiles piloted by persons of unknown reaction time, which also happen to have the right of way at the present time, and expect to somehow not get smacked halfway to Renton if they happen to get themselves hit by one of the things.  Yes, I know it’s a pain to have to wait for the next light to cross the street, but at least if you do it that way you’ll usually make it across the street with at least as many unbroken bones as you began your trip with.

August 5, 2011

It’s the Most Artsiest Time of the Year: A Look at the 2011 Bellevue Art Fair Weekend

Filed under: Art, Bellevue — Brian Lutz @ 1:31 am

As a general rule, I tend to be skeptical of most things that get passed off as art these days, and the one recent visit that I made a few months ago to the Bellevue Art Museum didn’t do all that much to change my opinion.  As I’ve always understood it, the purpose of art is to make things that look nice, and maybe make you think about something a bit in the process.  Based on my experiences with a fair bit of what passes for modern art these days, it seems that a lot of so-called artists don’t care whether or not you think their stuff looks nice; just that you’re aware of how much more worldly and clever they are than cultural Philistines such as yourself.  Oh, and the only reason they’ve been working at Starbucks for the past three years is because people somehow refuse to acknowledge this irrefutable fact.  At the same time, there are also quite a few artists out there who do actually create interesting pieces that would look right at home in the average American living room (assuming you can handle the inevitably steep price tag attached to them) without trying to bludgeon you over the head with assorted pretentiousness.  Thankfully, most of the artists who come to Bellevue for the annual Art Fair weekend fall into the latter category, resulting in a weekend that provides all sorts of nice artwork to see (if not necessarily afford) throughout Downtown Bellevue. 

Over the years, the Art Fair weekend has become one of the largest annual events in Downtown Bellevue, attracting hundreds of exhibitors and hundreds of thousands of visitors over the course of the three days.  Rather than being one large art fair, there are actually three separate art fairs in Downtown Bellevue that run simultaneously;  The oldest and largest of the three is the Bellevue Arts Museum ArtsFair, which has been running since 1947, actually predates the establishment of the Bellevue Art Museum by nearly thirty years.  This one takes place at Bellevue Square, occupying most of the first floor of the giant parking garage behind the mall, and spilling out into the street, and also includes entertainment on the stage inside the mall, as well as other events at the museum itself.

Next door to Bellevue Square in the parking lots of several nearby businesses, the Bellevue Festival of the Arts takes place simultaneously with the ArtsFair.  This particular fair, put on by the Craft Cooperative of the Northwest,  attracts an additional 180 artists, with the requisite food and entertainment offerings.  Incidentally, that big cube sculpture you see back there?  It had a price tag of  well over $80,000 on it.  I’m not sure whether or not that includes the semi truck you’d need to haul it around with.  To be honest, I didn’t find a whole lot here that I found particularly interesting, but you mileage, of course , may vary on that one.  And probably will.

And finally, out on the 6th Street pedestrian corridor that runs through the middle of Downtown from Bellevue Square out to the Transit Center and along 106th Avenue, there’s the 6th Street Fair, put on by the Bellevue Downtown Association.  This is the smallest of the three fairs with only about 100 artists in attendance, but I actually found that this one seemed to have some of the most interesting stuff being offered.  There’s a bit of a different character to this one than you’ll find at the other two, with less emphasis on fine art type pieces, and more of the types of things you might use as household items rather than sticking them up on a wall and looking at them every so often.  It was from one of the vendors at this fair that I purchased a rather nice looking glass seashell to go on the knickknack shelf I have established in my front hallway.

One of the annual traditions at the ArtsFair is the chalk drawing on the sidewalk in front of the Art Museum.  As I’ve noted previously on this Blog, last year’s drawing of Botticelli’s Venus lasted a while lot longed than one would ever expect a chalk drawing to last, and in fact even as this year’s drawing (a rendition of Andy Warhol’s iconic portrait of Marilyn Monroe)  was actually drawn on top of the remnants of last year’s two chalk drawings. 

Walking through the parking garage where most of the ArtsFair takes place, you can find all sorts of different artworks in various mediums ranging from the standard paintings, photos and pottery to more unusual things like kinetic sculpture.  Jewelery and clothing in particular seemed to be well represented.  Since many artists requested that no photos be taken, I didn’t take pictures of any of the individual booths or artworks, but there were definitely lots of interesting things to see.  Virtually everything being displayed here was for sale, although with the price tags on some of these things, one would generally be more likely to walk away with sticker shock than anything.  Even so, there are still some reasonably affordable pieces to be found if you know where to look. 

Among the various artwork being offered, I also noted that there seemed to be quite a lot of landscape paintings and photos, most of which seemed to be mountain and forest themed.  And although many of these were quite nice (if a bit uncheap,)  I just didn’t see a whole lot of stuff that really interested me much.  In my apartment, I have a bit of a tropical island theme going with the artwork on the walls here, and to be perfectly honest, I don’t think there were more than two or three pieces at any of the art fairs that would match this theme at all.  I’m aware that art fairs in the Pacific Northwest are going to attract mostly artists who work in the local area (although you’d be surprised how far some people come for this, I bought some nice wooden kitchen utensils from someone who came all the way from Pennsylvania to attend,) but I get the impression that someone could bring some nice tropical landscape paintings or photos to one of these fairs, and could probably make a killing off people looking for a nice little change of scenery.  I might even be convinced to spring for one of those (well, a print anyway, not quite sure I’ve got the budget for an original at this point…)

Even as a longstanding skeptic of much of what passes for art in this day and age, I have actually found that the vast majority of what was being offered at the three Bellevue Art Fairs was actually quite nice, and I particularly enjoyed the fact that I don’t need to bother trying to find a parking spot in the mess that inevitably results from trying to cram an extra 300,000 people into Downtown Bellevue on a sunny Summer weekend.  I’ll probably go back to being an art skeptic for the next 11 months or so, but it’s nice to know that at least once a year, there will be something nice to look at around here, right?


May 29, 2011

Could You Live in Downtown Bellevue Without Ever Leaving Downtown? A Thought Experiement

Filed under: Bellevue — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 11:13 pm

Contrary to what seems to be popular belief around these parts, there actually are some parts of Bellevue that are not Downtown.  in fact, there’s quite a bit of Bellevue that isn’t downtown, and it’s rumored that if you look carefully, you can actually see some of them from here.  Well OK, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I suspect that there are some residents of this area (not necessarily residents of Downtown Bellevue) for whom Bellevue consists entirely of the roughly two-thirds of a square mile between I-405 and NE 100th on the east and west, and NE 12th and Main on the North and South, and anything beyond that is Here Be Dragons territory until you reach Seattle.  And speaking of Seattle, I suspect that by the same token there’s plenty of people  who think Seattle consists entirely of the stuff that happens to be between Safeco Field and the Space Needle.  In reality, there’s quite a bit more to both cities, but especially if you live in one of the surrounding areas and the only reason you ever come into Bellevue is to go to the mall, or if you only ever go into Seattle for Mariners games or the occasional visit to the Pike Place Market, it can be easy to conveniently forget that the rest of these cities even exist. 

Over the years, much has been said about the ability of major freeways to act as something of an artificial barrier that seems to limit the growth of urban areas.  As I’ve lived in Downtown Bellevue for what is now getting close to a year (and, at least for the time being, intending to remain here for as long as my circumstances warrant it,) I’ve noticed that not only does 405 seem to act as a barrier to the growth of the Downtown area, but at the same time, it seems to act as a bit of a psychological barrier as well.  During times when the weather is nice enough to allow it, I find that I have no problem walking to anywhere within the Downtown area, be it Bellevue Square, one of the two grocery stores in Downtown, even out to Old Bellevue or Meydenbauer Beach Park on the rare occasions that I find a reason to go there.  Yet at the same time, if I ever have a reason that I need to go to anywhere on the opposite side of 405, I always seem to think it’s necessary to drive, even though several of the places are even closer than the ones in Downtown.  Granted, even within the Downtown area on days when I’m feeling a bit lazy or when the weather isn’t particularly cooperative I might drive out to Bellevue Square or to the grocery store (it’s a bit less than 3/4 mile from my apartment to the QFC or the Macy’s entrance at Bellevue Square, and a bit less than a mile from here to the Safeway,) but at the same time the walking distance to the Best Buy and Home Depot stores out on the other side of 405  is just about the same (a bit less than a mile,) and yet if I was going to one of the two I’d most likely end up driving no matter what the weather was like.  Even on the (very rare) occasions I might go to the Whole Foods Market just on the opposite side of 405 from here, I’d probably be far more likely to drive than to walk, if for no other reason than the fact that it’s on the other side of 405. 

As I’ve considered just why it is that one side of the freeway seems to be car territory while the other side seems to be walking territory even with distances being roughly equal, it has brought up an interesting, if only tangentially related question in my mind:  Would it be possible for someone living in Downtown Bellevue to be able to meet all their basic needs without ever physically leaving the Downtown area?  To be perfectly honest I don’t think I’d ever want to actually try this (if for no other reason than the fact that I’m pretty sure I’d go stir crazy after two weeks of trying it) but the more I think about this, the more I start to wonder if someone could truly do this if they set out to do so.  Let’s just say that they don’t own a car (I do know some people who live here without a car,) but because of this somewhat irrational psychological barrier that I’ve been encountering, they just can’t ever cross 405, or even really go anywhere else into “car” territory.

As such, I am going to make a bit of a thought experiment out of this question, just to get some idea of the viability of doing just this.  Let’s say we have someone living in the following conditions:

  • They live in a Downtown Bellevue apartment;
  • They work in Downtown Bellevue, and thus would not need to leave the Downtown area for their job;
  • They do not own a car.  In fact, as noted above, they would rarely be venturing outside of the Downtown area for any reason (yet at the same time, for most items we’ll also consider what the effect of blurring the boundaries a bit would be, and allowing occasional trips outside of Downtown to other nearby areas);
  • When they move into Downtown, they wouldn’t be bringing a whole lot of stuff with them, so they would need to be able to get quite a few different things within the Downtown area they are limited to;
  • “Downtown” is defined as outlined at the beginning of this post; basically the roughly 36-block area between 405 and 100th Ave NE on the East and West, and NE 12th and Main on the North and South.  Some of the definitions of Downtown that I’ve seen do fudge on the boundaries by a block or two, but for most purposes, this seems to be how the Downtown area is defined.

So given these parameters, would it be possible for someone to live entirely in Downtown Bellevue without needing to leave to meet any of their basic needs?  In this post, we’ll take a look at a number of factors that would affect someone trying to live under these circumstances, and try to get an idea of just how possible this would be.  You’ll find this after the jump. (more…)

March 3, 2011

A Sampling of Items Found on Downtown Bellevue Sidewalks

Filed under: Bellevue, Wanderings — Brian Lutz @ 2:07 am

Between walking to work and back daily and taking frequent walks around the vicinity of my office during my afternoon breaks, I’d say that these days I almost spend more time on the sidewalks in Downtown Bellevue than I spend on the roads anymore.  And for the most part, the scenery along the way tends not to change all that much.  Sure. the mannequin ends up getting dressed in a new set of clothes every once in a while, and on most weekdays someone fills up the newspaper vending machines with the latest reasons why we’re all doomed in 72-point bold headline type, but for the most part, things pretty much stay the same as they’ve always been on the typical path I take to work.    The same alley behind my building.  The same vaguely creepy “Look Better Naked” signs on the health club windows.  The same nondescript sidewalk next to the same nondescript office buildings.  It’s easy to get stuck in a rut when you’re doing this twice a day every day.  But if something unusual appears along the way, there’s a pretty good chance I’ll notice it whether I’m trying to notice it or not.

Thanks to a little portion of the human brain known as the Reticular Activating System, there is a tendency in situations like this for things that seem out of place to command an inordinate amount of attention. which is probably why I’d end up laying awake in bed all night if I knew I left one of the kitchen cabinets open but was too lazy to go actually do something about it.    For better or for worse, objects that are out of place do tend to attract one’s attention.  Depending on the way one’s brain is wired, some people have no problem just continuing to walk on by without a second thought, but other people will see something on the sidewalk and have to completely drop what they’re doing and pay attention, at least until they can safely determine that it’s just another random bit of the cast-of detritus of an urban society.  Even for someone with a wandering mind such as myself I don’t necessarily think that this is always the case, but if something shows up that just happens to be bright and/or shiny, then all bets are off.

Given the fact that I have not found myself oddly compelled to wander aimlessly into oncoming traffic anytime recently, this probably turns out to be one of those harmless little habits, and for the most part, there really isn’t a whole lot to see anyway.  Most of the stuff you find on the ground while walking around here is the usual mishmash of wrappers, bottles, cans. cigarette butts (a LOT of cigarette butts.  Seriously, there are  piles of the things all over the place) and the occasional paper or two.  Every once in a while, something genuinely interesting does show up though, for a number of different reasons.  Sometimes something is just so out of place that you can’t help but notice.  Other times it’s something that you see at the side of the road and just know that it just has to have a story behind it, and on rare occasions you might even come across something of value, if not to you then to someone.  After the jump, you’ll find a few of the things that I have come across in my wanderings around Bellevue.


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