Exploring at Home

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One of the most common pieces of advice travelers get is, if you can’t go anywhere right away, go traveling in your own town or city. There are reasons why people go to visit pretty much everywhere for the fun of it, from the wilds of Borneo to urban Seattle to small-town Iowa. Find the reasons why someone who isn’t from your city would go touring in your city, and do it yourself. Sounds easy, right?

Apparently it isn’t, because most of us don’t actually go see the tourist sights or do the activities that strangers enjoy in their hometown very often. I am not being critical here — I’m no exception. I loved certain of New York’s tourism centers when I lived there, from Broadway theater to Central Park, but I’ve lived a decade and a half in Seattle and there’s still a lot of its fun events that I haven’t yet tried… and some that I have tried, and like enough to go back to.

So this weekend, I dedicated to fun activities within Seattle. One of these was new to me and one was an old friend.

Seattle’s Pridefest is one of the better Pride events I’ve ever experienced, and I get there most years. In this case, I think it had been a couple of years since they even had one, due to the pandemic; certainly it had been a couple since I had any willingness to take the risk. I’m not sure if it was there or not, because either way I wasn’t going. But by this year, I felt reasonably confident attending — fully vaccinated and boosted and masked.

Saturday – Capitol Hill

Pridefest has a lot of different events, but since I was attending with my teenagers, we skipped the very adult-only stuff on Friday and Saturday nights. On Saturday, I took my son J to the Capitol Hill block party. Cap Hill is the queerest neighborhood in Seattle and it was where the Pride parade originally began in this city, but the parade outgrew the neighborhood and the city eventually took it away from Capitol Hill for crowd control reasons. This annoyed the residents of Cap Hill intensely — they understandably felt it was their event — and after a bit of political squabbling the upshot was that the formal Pride Parade would take place elsewhere, along bigger streets and finishing at the enormous outdoor space in the middle of Seattle Center… but that Capitol Hill would hold its own block party on the Saturday of the same weekend, one day before the parade and festival, on the same street where the old parade used to take place. It’s their way of keeping a little bit of Pride weekend for themselves.

So J and I set off, very dressed up in vivid colors and with my 16-year-old son in a dress (I love my kids), to Capitol Hill. Parking wasn’t as difficult as I had expected it to be, but was outrageously expensive to make up for it — we found a space in a lot very close to the block party but at $37 for one car. I decided to call that our event admission, which if you think of it that way wasn’t unreasonable for two people, and we took it and began walking.

As with many block parties, this one had two real pieces to it: booths, and people watching. The booths were run by everyone from HIV-related health care organizations to random small business people selling fun stuff they thought might attract some of this crowd. We quickly found a tie-dye artist and dove in. Our entire family loves tie dye. J found a brightly mottled red and blue shirt and I found a red and orange one in bands. There was another red and orange one that has the classic tie dye circle, but offset to one side. I loved it, but someone else had it in hand and clearly loved it as well, so I encouraged her to buy it even though it was a size big for her, because she clearly preferred it to the smaller one she was considering. She took it, and I was rewarded with a big happy smile.

From there, it took us about three hours to make our way slowly up one side of Broadway and down the other, stopping at any booth that attracted our attention. We didn’t buy anything else, but we accumulated a fair amount of literature regarding services, social organizations, and political action opportunities (there was a lot of outraged pro-choice stuff going on for obvious reasons, and I made a few donations). We also picked up some general swag. I make a game every year at the block party out of seeing how many bead necklaces I could accumulate from the booths giving them out. This was a fairly low year, at only three. (I’ve gone as high as twelve, but that did include getting more than one from a single organization before.)

The people watching was by far the best part of the occasion. There was an impressive figure who seemed halfway between a drag queen and a Disney character, with two-foot-high pink foam hair in cartoonesque curls. There was a guy riding a gyroscopic unicycle, and a lot of people with varying types of wings. The impressive things many people did to their hair was also a highlight. I’m a big fan of hair colors not found in nature.

A woman wearing a hot pink dress, with an enormous head-dress of matching foam curls.
A woman in a pink backless dress with a rainbow overskirt, wearing a pink feather boa.

By the time J and I got to the end of the fair, alas, I didn’t have the energy to stick around for the Dyke March, which was also scheduled in Capitol Hill for that evening. I was still supposed to bring all three kids to the big all-city Pride festival the following day. So we went home and I soaked in a bathtub for a couple of hours… I hadn’t brought the scooter, and that was more walking than I usually do.

Sunday – Seattle Center

We were much better equipped on the way to the Sunday festival at Seattle Center. We had sunscreen and frozzles (the household name for a trick I picked up while traveling in Israel: freeze a bottle of water solid and take it with you on a hot day. Drink it as it melts, and it will give you ice cold water for hours), and we wore swimsuits under our clothes, because the fountains in Seattle Center are open for playing in during Pride. Sadly, J wasn’t with us. Having gotten very little sleep the night before, he decided he wasn’t going to have fun if he tried to go out again. So I took the other two teenagers, and J stayed home to rest.

It took us a little longer to find a parking place this time, but we still got pretty close, and it was much less expensive — only $20. We stopped right outside the garage to sunscreen ourselves and then went off to the festival. The people watching here was even better, and I constantly had to make sure I could keep track of where the kids were, because all three of us were darting in and out of foot traffic to tell somebody, “I love your hair,” or “that dress is fantastic!”

The crowd at the Pride festival.

Not that I insisted on keeping the teens near me — in fact, I tried to wander off after arranging with them how to get in touch, but they wanted to hang onto me. I was the one carrying money, and they had stuff they wanted to buy. I covered the most expensive item for each of them as a gift, then was willing to advance them allowance money if necessary after that. M ended up with three items and K with two, plus bought herself a cotton candy with cash she had on hand. We all sat under a tree for shade and to get far enough away from the crowds to be able to take off our masks, and K shared her cotton candy with us; then M and I went splashing into the fountain for a little bit while K reconnected with a friend from school who’d showed up.

We were all running pretty low on energy by the time we were done in the fountain, but I wanted to stop in at the area with the organizational booths. Unlike at the Cap Hill party, they’re separated out from the merchants selling stuff, in their own area, and that’s where we ran into the Seattle Men’s/Women’s Chorus booth. K was thrilled and M pretty interested. I think at least one of them will be at the next audition for the Seattle Women’s Chorus (it goes by vocal range, not gender) and maybe both.

By that time, K was running low on energy and I was just about out, so we headed home. My lower back was not happy with how much walking I had done. I really should have taken the scooter to at least one of these events and maybe both, but I had left it in Steve’s car and it was all the way up on Whidbey Island by the time I set out… not going to happen.

Monday – Greenlake

By Monday, I was tired and sore. Water sounded like a wonderful idea. So when J asked me if I could maybe take him to the nearby lake to try out his new paddle board, I went willingly. This was the Seattle tourist activity that wasn’t already familiar to me. Even though we’ve lived within half a mile of Greenlake for six years, I hadn’t been there once since we moved to the neighborhood.

It’s a lovely little human-made lake in the middle of the city, with a small park surrounding it and shallow enough water to be warm even this early in the season. We got J’s paddle board inflated and he set off on it. I was a bit surprised to see how many paddle boards and kayaks and rowboats there were. I’ve always thought of Greenlake as small, and it is compared to the enormous Lake Washington or the like; but it’s plenty big enough to accommodate small boats and floats of many varieties.

After J had spent an hour or so paddling, I got a chance to try before we left. It’s a nice board; we did pretty well despite ordering without a chance to try out the board in person. The only problem was the paddle, the top piece of which wouldn’t tighten into the other two. We’ll need to take a hex wrench to that, and hopefully fix it. If that doesn’t work, he’ll need a new paddle, because without the top third he can use it from his knees, but not really standing up.

J on a blue paddleboard, wearing a multicolored bucket hat and gray life-jacket.
J on his new paddleboard.

I’ve really fallen in love with Greenlake. I ordered a float for myself so that next time, I won’t have to stay on shore, and I suspect that J can get me to take him out there pretty much any time he wants during the part of the summer when we’ll be home. It’s a beautiful little place and I am embarrassed that I didn’t know it until now… but that’s why you explore your own city, right? It’s even better than exploring faraway places in one respect: when you find someplace you love, it’s much easier to get back to, again and again.

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