Saturday, January 15, 2011

On the rep road 2011: Seattle

Arrive in Seattle Tuesday, the Tucson shootings in the news and on the mind. Are people becoming meaner in general?

On the drive in from the airport, I wonder whatever happened to Seattle Nice. When I started selling here ten years ago, the civilized traffic always took some getting used to. On Chicago freeways, a ruthless ethos prevails. The confusing “you first, no you first” generosity of Seattle drivers, who couldn’t seem to work out the idea of an on-ramp merge, was charming and disorienting. People drove at or below the speed limit, something that would be considered insane or suicidal on interstates of the Midwest and east. But today I notice a kind of passive aggressive ruthlessness on I-5 that’s familiar and a little sad. It’s still not the Edens Expressway, which is a form of cutthroat, high stakes bumper cars. But it’s also not the sane, friendly, Seattle traffic my friends back east used to joke about and marvel over.

Four Pho places on one block of University Way. I pick Than Brothers because it’s packed. Delicious.

Alarmist predictions of a snowstorm on the way. In the event, a couple inches of slush. Feelings of Midwest winter weather arrogance rise up, though it’s all relative. The mid-fifties temperatures seem balmy.

I’ve always loved staying at the University Inn, for the great location, friendly staff, and charming, somewhat shabby rooms (in the cheap section.) The lobby was often filled with chattering international scientists or engineers, in Seattle for one of the frequent academic conferences. But now, my fellow guests are mainly here to visit the hospital across the street, and morning conversation revolves around tumors and prognoses rather than research.

So many people in public spaces and on public transportation reading books. Hopeful.

Catching up with a backlog of email messages. What do I think about a proposed book about a renowned porn director? How dirty can the pictures be? What do I think about the word “socks” in a working title for an important forthcoming work of post-fordist theory? And why are sales of one press so much better at a prominent academic store than sales of another press? I try to compose thoughtful responses to each of these interesting queries.

In light of Arizona, I decide to concoct a recommended reading list, but the whole thing is too depressing. (Though this is a good place to start). As I visit bookstores this week I don’t see any of the instant “issue” display tables that normally pop up around a news event.

I’m reading Mathias Enard’s Zone. Hallucinatory and a little addicting.

I’m listening to Matty Goldberg’s excellent “Best of 2010” mix CD, also a little addicting.

I wrote a fan letter to Nicola Beauman, founder and brains behind Persephone Press in London and the author of a biography of the British author Elizabeth Taylor (The Other Elizabeth Taylor), which I read a few months back. I got a lovely message in response.

Bought a copy of an old E.F. Benson book and a Molly Panter-Downs anthology at Twice Told Tales.

University Bookstore has a “Conspiracy” section. Someone complained that it was on the bottom shelf.

Unexpectedly, I teared up a little after my final meeting with the buyer at Third Place Books.

My only moving traffic violation in years occurred at the crazy intersection of 45th Street and I-5. I think about it every time I exit there, and still don’t exactly understand what I’m supposed to do.

I walked to my appointment at Elliott Bay Books, in the rain, in the early morning darkness, a couple miles. Climbed what has to be one of the longest staircases in the world from Eastlake up to Tenth Avenue. Near the foot of the stairs, under the freeway, there's a lone palm tree. Oddly, floodlit.

The New York Times reports that China has bulldozed the studio of artist Ai Wei Wei, whose collection of blog posts MIT is publishing in March (Ai Wei Wei’s Blog:Writings, Interviews and Digital rants 2006-2009).

Elliott Bay Books, Everyday Music, and Oddfellows café: is there a more satisfying trio of businesses on any urban block in America?

While presenting Cricket Radio: Tuning in the Night-Singing Insects to Rick at Elliott Bay, he remarks that “we don’t have crickets in the Northwest.” Still so many things to learn.

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