Sitting on the vacant second floor near the office’s west-facing windows in a rare moment of reflection during what is normally a hectic and nonstop workday, I am noticing for the first time what’s actually outside these walls. Across the street is a millwork facility, and behind it a new parking garage built for the Starbucks HQ that I’d never noticed before today. Behind that is the Burlington Northern rail yard and the northernmost reaches of Elliot Bay Harbor where the massive cargo cranes tirelessly juggle shipping containers like a never-ending Lego kit. One such container rolls by in the foreground atop an 18-wheeler’s specially-fitted trailer, the driver snaking his way through the orange cones and steel road plates littered down South 1st Avenue, remnants of a perpetual construction project that currently toils a few blocks further south. Across the sky a small private jet slices through the hanging clouds, descending towards Boeing Field’s southbound runway, and not long behind it a cargo transport flight on a longer approach, its silver fuselage glinting in the waning winter sun. It’s a very raw neighborhood, marred by no attempts to mask the purpose of the sprawling warehouses that are its trademark. Even as SoDo has seen some of its industrial tenants be replaced by stylish warehouse condos and shabby-chic loft workspaces this has only peeled back the neighborhood’s skin and exposed the meat and bones of the heavy industry that first made Seattle a boomtown and the blue-collar workforce that quietly keeps the city running despite a culture largely focused on the pleasures of white-collar life.
As one of those white-collar workers I have enjoyed this office’s proximity to the massive physical scale of America’s industrial machine, and as one of the high-tech laborers pushing the country into an era of electronic accomplishments rather than physical ones the honest tangibility of this largely-bygone impotus to America’s previous-century growth has been a valuable source of perspective.
On my last day in this office – the company is relocating to a more modern (and much more tightly-crowded and “efficient”) space near the financial/legal district and Chinatown – I can’t help but wonder what the next century of industrial revolutions will bring and what the littered past of my industry and the ones that come after it will look like to those that follow us. We won’t leave behind vast warehouses, complex machinery, massive infrastructure or huge environmental change. Just digital records, unfinished ideas, and a smattering of office furniture to show for all our efforts to change the world.