Winter in Seattle; come and gone

I’ve been meaning to wax poetic about Seattle’s epic 4 days of winter last week (yes, that’s right – winter lasts four whole days here) but am just finally getting the photos off my camera. Not that they’re anything to curl up by the fire with, but week-old news is at least slightly more interesting when there’s visual aids.

These are all from Monday night, the 27th, on my way home from work. It took me about 2 hours to travel the 11 miles from downtown, but I overheard people in my local grocery the next day claiming 5-6 hour commutes that fateful night. Granted, these may be the same people that caught a fish “this big” and are close “like this” with important Hollywood celebrities.

The whole thing was like a Bruce Willis movie, and I found it rather exciting and fun exercising some cunning and survival instincts and testing my knowledge of north Seattle’s backroads, all while “cut off from society” because the cell networks were too busy to be useful. I’m not sure many of my fellow travelers regarded the adventure with such enthusiasm, but (as Danielle and I keep reminding each other) what we regard with our Montana threshold for winter as the first decent snow of the season and a visible sign of the upcoming holidays must be for Seattlites who have never experienced it one of the seven signs of the apocalypse. The number of people who refused to leave their homes until the storm passed, who abandoned their cars on the freeway and didn’t return for them for days, and who bundled up their children and escorted them outside to snap pictures touching real, non-mall-Santa snow work to justify my exaggeration.

I toughed out the freeway long enough to cross the ship canal – there are only so many bridges, after all – before giving up on it. This may have been the 6-hour drive some people suffered:

I gave up on that mess at the first opportunity, putting my 4WD to work climbing into and out of a grassy median to the (relative) sanity of surface roads. Offramps were moving, but not much faster, so I still had plenty of time to look around, marvel at the ridiculousness of it all, and attempt artsy shots in between swaths of the wipers:

Highway 99 was working in my favor for a little while, until articulated city buses started repeatedly appearing in the ditch. In the first shot, notice how the rear tires are sliding as the driver guns the engine. This turned out to be not a great strategy (surprise!) as the rear end jack-knifed around a lightpole:

The news said 150 city bus drivers walked away their buses Monday, but local tv newscasters are *definitely* the kind of people that catch a fish “this big” so I’m assuming that number is more like 14.

I abandoned major thoroughfares at some point and turned down a side street I knew went all the way through; reference my knowledge of Seattle streets, as indicated above, which I feel confident in saying is above average even for lifetime residents. I guess I read maps, and I pay attention. Also, I drive around a lot. Anyway, tonight this shortcut was short-circuited by a FedEx-type truck sliding sideways down a narrow hill lined with parked cars. No place I wanted to be, thank you!

I don’t have any pictures after this, because this is when I got serious. 🙂 This was the last ten minutes of any good action movie, where the stuntmen take over and the bulk of the special effects budget is spent. There were shortcuts through shipping yards. There were parking-lot 4-wheel drifts. Curbs were scaled. Used-car lots were used as passageways. Hapless, dry-weather-optimized vehicles and their confused drivers were outmaneuvered. Ice, snow, slush, sleet – all were taunted for their ineffective attempt at keeping me from dinner.

In the end I rather enjoyed it, much like I imagine Chuck Norris enjoys standing victorious over a roomful of incapacitated masked assassins. Nevertheless, I opted to work from home Tuesday. After all, the sequel is never as good as the first one.

Tires, loose on the freeway!

Having a cameraphone means i can finally capture those ridiculous moments that i’m always trying to explain to people later and *prove* they actually happen as i describe, so people can hopefully begin to understand that i’m not crazy, i’m just tuned to a crazy frequency that allows me to notice and appreciate the crazy things that happen all around us, every day.

Today’s very shaky video clip (i was trying to drive at the time, apologies if it gives you nausea) of loose tires bouncing around the freeway is just such a moment. A couple dozen loose rubber donuts bouncing and rolling amidst morning rush hour traffic, on I-5 southbound approximately east of Safeco Field. As if controlled by an intelligent force, or perhaps motivated by their own desires (what do tires want, anyway?) they rolled between the lanes, bounced casually in front of moving vehicles, or lay sullenly on their sides, holding up commuters’ progress. I wish i could have captured the most hilarious moment, as i passed a Lexus creeping along at 25 in the right lane only to find that its minimal speed was due to the tire it was following, loping along at a leisurely roll, smack-center in the right lane. The Lexus driver looked amusingly confused, and seemed intent on following the tire until it took an exit or changed lanes. It was truly classic.

I took the 6th Ave exit, intending to weave my way towards my office, and was pleasantly surprised to find I’d caught up with the culprit: a Les Schwab Tire truck sporting a loosely-flapping back door. The driver was just climbing down to go check his load; sucks to be you today, dude!

tire truck with rear door open

Congestion Is Not Your Friend

I was going to wax poetic about some art today. I found you all some nice photography of crushed junk and industrial-type stuff (very cool), somesoviet architecture interesting Soviet architecture sketches that were never built (but were no doubt effective tools of propaganda – if they had ever built these i would have been impressed) and even some edible art in the form of coffee sculpting (just look at the pictures, it’s totally not in english, or you can try reading the automated translation but it’s so bad i could only laugh/cry).

But then i started thinking about how today’s wednesday, and i only have 3 more dayschalkboard mug after today at this job, and then monday i start as a software tester downstairs (side note: woo hoo!). Now although i haven’t even cracked any of the books i’m supposed to be reading (i’ve been busy, ok? plus it’s been sunny out, and i have t-tops that need to come off regularly!) and i pretty much have zero idea what i’m getting myself into, i have obtained a nifty mug for my future desk and i’m plotting my commute strategy for monday and beyond. So i’m feeling pretty prepared.

So let’s talk traffic. We all know Seattle has issues; i’m not even going to go there. I don’t really mind it – it’s just part of living in an urban area – but then, i’m an off-hours commuter and have always been either a weird-time or weird-route driver, so i’ve never really experienced the joy that will be a 9-5 northend-to-downtown I-5 shuffle. Maybe 6 months from now you’ll mention “traffic” and i’ll shiver uncontrollably and my left eye will twitch.

Anyway, let’s not gripe about it; let’s look at some solutions. Now if you’ve been following along since, oh, the inception of this little digital diatribe, you can expect that my solutions are not going to involve (1) crummy tv news people or (2) listening to AM radio until ‘X’ minutes on the hour but rather will focus on things with batteries, or buttons, or monthly subscriptions to some sort of telco operator.

I’d seen the TrafficGauge a couple years ago, andTraffic Gauge for $50 upfront and $5 a month i could carry around a little PDA-sized gadget with live (4-minute delay) traffic status. Clear spots are good, blinky spots are bad. It also makes you aware of home games in the baseball, basketball, and football areas, although it makes no distinction between Husky and Hawks games, which i thought odd, as they affect traffic in completely different parts of the city. Overall, though, it seems like a nice, self-contained way to peep the slowdowns and pick a bridge. My personal verdict is “no”, however; the last thing i really need is another digital whatzit to fill my pockets and another monthly subscription, and because my real decision will be between I-5 and Hwy 99 and – although they do tout future plans – there is no 99 coverage yet.

TrafficGauge gets its data from the WSDOT, who generously provide it themselves in a snappy webpage that will probably become my new breakfast buddy. This map is super, with little links to the various road cameras and color-coded blockage indications. They’ve got all the major roads on there, plus what little bits of the secondary routes are monitored, and even specialty maps for things like the Canadian border crossing and (something i really like) the estimated travel times between key points on the spiderweb. I’ve noticed lately the WSDOT is putting this travel-time-calculation info to even greater use, erecting new timeframe signs on the freeway in seemingly random (but probably highly discussed in cloistered committee) places. They feel all european and stuff, and appropriate for a high-tech city with a progressive approach to transportion issues (you can feel free to cough “monorail”, “light rail”, “seatac”, or your choice of buzzwords here and snicker disapprovingly. it’s ok, we all do it).

I don’t use this one super often, but i like how condensed and informative it is: the I-90 traveler page hosted by UW. Not only is that elevation-adjusted road graph just neato, but compiling all the pass cams in there, too, makes me just feel all warm and fuzzy, even when the passes are snowy and blowy (blowy ?).

I know what you’re thinking: “I haven’t installed my StompBox in my car yet to check traffic with my new 17″ powerbook whilst in mid-commute! And i’m not cool with a $5/month debenture for a one-function PDA that lumps the approbatable Dawgs and the forgettable Seahawks into the same traffic-affecting category!” I totally agree. That’s why there’s Wiresoft‘s free WAP traffic reports. It’s the nifty WSDOT color map in a pint-sized (or, depending on your device, teaspoon-sized) WAP version! Punch this in with your thumb – “” – and enjoy! Yay! Something else to do with my phone while driving! 🙂

An Italian feast, a Chinese one

Almost lunchtime, we’re headed out for chinese to celebrate Kevin’s bday. I barely ate breakfast, cause lunch will be good (and free!) and cause i’m still full from last nite! Luigi impressed us all with a great meal, and we were so incredibly full afterward. 😉 An appetizer i can’t pronounce that involved fresh mozzarella, garlic, olive oil and white wine… cioppino (a traditional italian soup) made with mahi mahi, salmon, albacore and shrimp… and finishing with a mind-numbing, mouth-melting bananas foster… oooh! So good!

Called my sister’s house to see what her plans were for the evening (maybe she wants to help me pack?) – called the landline cause her cell’s being tweaky and won’t turn on, or so says Mom. Her roommate said she went to canada for the weekend, left yesterday, according to the note they found. That’s odd, cause i saw her yesterday at about 5pm and she didn’t say anything about it. Don’t know what’s going on there…

Office is all a-flutter watching a traffic accident on the freeway right outside our building. There’s a ford explorer with it’s tires in the air blocking two lanes of traffic (what am i always saying about those things being top-heavy?) that has everyone pressed to the windows. I tried to snag you a good picture from the traffic cam. Hopefully this won’t interfere too much with my free lunch. 😉 … Oh, and i hope everyone’s all right, too…