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Leaving Seattle

At the table across the aisle is a stunning young woman in her early twenties with hair the red-orange color of iodine. She has amber eyes, pale make-up except for smoky eye-liner and rust-tinted lips. She wears a pale apple green shirt. She isn't beautiful exactly but the colors make her so. Her boyfriend has spiked bleached blonde hair and a beard shaved in an abstract design. I am on the train on my way back to Portland from Seattle where the Yankees with Roger Clemens beat the Mariners in an almost shutout, 9-1. I'm in the dining car with its large windows, drinking tea and eating a brownie.

I am avoiding the coach cars that are darkened for the convenience of those who would rather watch a movie on the closed-circuit TV monitors than see islands and shoreline, woods, pastures and rivers.

I look at the striking young couple and suddenly miss my old friends and the Seattle days when we were young and in our twenties and the world was full of endless possibility.

In those days, in the 1970s in Seattle, we knew we were in a special place at a special time. We could feel it. On the brink, before the city became trendy, before the influx of Californians, before Microsoft, and before the explosion of Starbucks Coffee which was just this little hole-in-the-wall place at Pike Place Market. We were all artists, or trying to be, and life was brimming. It was a funny sort of café society where many waited tables at new chic restaurants and where owners, chefs, and artists, all friends, would gather after hours to share stories, food and wine before heading home to apartments, lofts and studios or making that mad-dash to the last ferry.

We could imagine what Seattle might become in a decade or so when a painter, musician, sculptor, actor, writer or photographer could actually make a living in the city. But many of us without the time to wait, left for Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York. It was slump time for Seattle. A time when Boeing was in the doldrums. A time when billboards read “Will the last one leaving please turn out the lights…”

Seattle’s new again, still the spectacular city, the downtown skyscrapers, building- bespeckled hills, Puget Sound bustling with ocean going vessels, ferries, sailboats, and the Olympic Mountains as backdrop.

I used to take the train a lot, coming home to Oregon for family holidays and visits. Amtrak still takes you to King Street Station, within walking distance of downtown, the Art Museum, Elliot Bay Bookstore, the waterfront, Seahawk’s Qwest Field and Safeco Field, home of the Mariners baseball team, replacing the lumpy eye-sore Kingdome.

Safeco’s retractable roof is a wonder of industrial avant-garde design, and the night I met friends there, was open to the sky and the thrilling views of the sound and sunset and downtown skyline.

It's funny, even now when I leave Seattle, whether by car, by train or plane, I feel a twinge of that exhilarated yet frightening first leaving into a vast new world.

The Talgo speeds along the Columbia River toward Portland and I wonder if the young couple feels like they are on the brink of an exciting new life. I look at the woman in the pale apple green shirt and think of that time when I once had iodine hair—a henna mistake—but it didn't matter because it was fine to be stunning. Or foolish. Or young. Leaving Seattle.

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