The Industrial Zone

Between SoDo and Georgetown, the Seattle area grows wild and inhospitable. As one heads south, the creature comforts of a downtown metropolis gradually diminish. When all that remains is asphalt and electricity, you know that you’ve reached the industrial zone.

Seattle downtown from the overpass

South of the stadiums, the railroads begin to dominate the landscape. Proud 17th century technology, they are the arteries that supply the modern industrial heart.

Towards the stadiums

Nerve center

Here, train tracks metastasize across the landscape, iron tendrils reaching out in a non-deterministic mesh, separating from oneness to multiplicity and merging back to singularity.

SeparationSeparation

The industrial zone is the nerve center of Seattle’s intermodal freight transportation. Containers arrive from the Port of Seattle, the gift of our efficient, flexible and diligent cousins across the Pacific. Here they find a new host to sustain them, fresh tracks to grind, fresh wheels to continue the migration.

Holgate Street train tracks

The wheels of progress

Bereft of natural ecology, artificial lifecycles establish a pulse. Habitat is reduced to primordial simplicity. Scavengers emerge, sustained by side effects. An alluvial plain becomes a paradise of crows.

Crow's paradise

Waste Management crates, reflected

The industrial zone is not a place for humans. It is a liminal zone where the things that make civilization civilized leave the womb and come into being. Defying entropy and nature itself, they are unpackaged, transferred, rebranded, remade, renamed, handed off, fulfilled, bought and sold. Reshaped, they find a new name and the beginnings of a purpose.

Civilization's road

Truck driver's lego set

Here also, the raw materials of the earth are digested, refined and made more useful. Stone is divided and polished until it is tile. Wood is treated until indigestibly strong. Limestone, sand and clay become concrete. Metal ore becomes chain links and fences. And everything is wrapped in plastic and transported by container.

Hanjin

Maersk

Long ago, in this place and in many like it, an archetype was born: the factory city. Greatly improved upon by more modern implementations in the far east, the shadow of the original aspiration still remains in this place.

Recycling scrapyard fence

For the builder in all of us, the taming of the world was never enough. In disorganized thrusts and tragically brief lives, we thirst beyond the survival of the moment for the omnipotence of creation itself. But only infinity can slake that thirst. So this is the dream: a perpetual motion machine that builds and recycles itself daily.

Georgetown recycling scrapyard

In the industrial zone we see our future and our present. Our civilization is no longer born; it self-replicates. It is constructed by the previous generation of machines, transported by kin, recycled by successors. It is powered not even by petroleum, but by market forces harnessing mass desire; by the hundred year plan of structured ambition; by gravity and inertia; by unplanned obsolescence and obsolete ideas; by the sociopathic thermodynamics of inevitability.

Graffitied truck on Occidental Ave

In such a landscape of mechanization, we cannot avoid searching for ourselves. We strain to discern the work of our own hands. We deface the purity of determinism with our unintelligible humanity. We focus on the ragged forms of beauty that remain.

Hawthorn leaf

And perhaps, some day, we will dream of something different.

Fremont Zombie Walk

On July 2nd, 2011, the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle set a world record and marked an important civil rights milestone: for the first time ever, over four and a half thousand Zombie-Americans marched openly and proudly through the streets of a major city.  There was no widespread violence, and most onlookers were either openly supportive or covertly terrified.

Reaching for the prize

The zombie rights movement, long an underground sub-current of the broader civil rights movement, has in recent years seen a groundswell of popular support.  The movement has three main premises: that zombies should be proud of their undead identity, that being a zombie is a gift, not a curse, and that a zombie’s hunger for brains is natural and should not be suppressed or intentionally altered.

Zombie portraitZombie portrait

After the infamous Living Dead riots of 1969, which originated (oddly) at a gay bar in Greenwich Village, many cities across the United States enacted anti-zombie statutes.  While many of these were struck down in the 1990s, this legalized form of discrimination has continued in some of the more conservative areas across the Bible Belt.  In order to establish a public presence in these locations, some zombies have been forced to identify and behave as orthodox dybbuks, which most evangelical Christians struggle to distinguish from human orthodox Jews.  This kind of closeted life is a leading cause of depression and suicide among the undead.

Pirate zombie portraitZombie portrait

As is often the case with zombie pride parades, anti-zombie squads such as the Umbrella Corporation were also represented in the Fremont zombie walk. While their security presence made itself felt at times, the Umbrella Corporation’s personnel remained on best behavior during the walk and took pains to avoid overt intimidation. Only one minor incident involving a cerebellum and a machete was reported.

Zombie portraitZombie portraitZombie portraitZombie portrait

Although some participants attributed a minor virus outbreak to the Umbrella Corporation, its effects were quickly contained and no zombie transformations were reported.  The Umbrella Corporation would not comment for this article, other than the following cryptic statement from their spokesperson: “we’re battening down the hatches for the zombie apocalypse here”.

BodiesBodies

Bodies

Much has been made of the presence of celebrity undead at the Zombie Walk.  Both John Lennon and (Sweet) Zombie Jesus made an appearance, each expressing support in their unique way for the zombie cause.

Zombie portraitZombie portrait

While these celebrities provided luster to an already spectacular event, the story of the zombie walk was really that of the anonymous, everyday zombie;  the zombie on the street.  The one that even today has immense difficulty obtaining even basic forms of healthcare to address her numerous lesions, cannot visit family members in the hospital, and is often forced to scrounge for brains in garbage cans.

Zombie portraitZombie portraitZombie portraitZombie portrait

One heartwarming aspect of the zombie walk was the unmistakable presence of humans, fraternizing and in some cases even dressing as zombies – presumably to signal their solidarity with the undead.  While it would be an exaggeration to say that days of fear and misunderstanding between humans and zombies are over, one cannot avoid feeling parallels with other famous acts of solidarity and defiance: JFK in Berlin, Gandhi on the Salt Satyagraha, or the anonymous civilian in front of the line of tank at Tiananmen.  And who among us has never woken up and said to ourselves “my god, I feel like a zombie.”

Headless zombie poseZombie portraitZombie portraitDouble zombie portrait

Another encouraging sign of integration was the presence of American flags and other signs of mainstream cultural integration among the undead.  After all, nothing says American small town patriotism like Uncle Sam and clowns.

Zombie portraitZombie clown portrait

Because of this, the Fremont zombie walk should be understood as a powerful statement that humans can coexist peacefully with the undead.  In addition to finding alternative sources of neuronal protein, it should be stated plainly that most humans hardly use their brains at all.  They would never even notice if their cerebral cortices were delicately removed and lightly sautéed with onions.  Add some chili pepper and fish sauce and…  But I digress.

Reaching for the prizeZombie portrait

When asked about the message they intended to send to the world, many participants spoke less about integration and more about celebrating the diversity that exists inside the zombie community itself.  In contrast to common societal misconceptions and portrayals in popular culture, Zombie-Americans are a diverse set of undead creatures with highly varied characteristics, interests, and injuries.  Seen among the participants in the walk were brides, geishas, nurses, knitters…  even photographers.  In a time of great financial crisis and economic upheaval, can our society afford to exclude such productive citizens from realizing their full potential?

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Despite the fantastic turnout for the Fremont zombie walk, zombies continue to face significant challenges in their daily lives, including discrimination in the work place, hunger, homelessness, pencils, and screwdrivers.

Zombie portraitZombie portrait

So if this reporter can leave you, living reader, with a thought to supplement this image gallery of vibrant zombies enjoying the best moment of their lives, it is that while they may be flesh eating undead creatures, their appetites and predilection for random destruction are not entirely dissimilar to our own.  Indeed, humans have been responsible for far greater environmental destruction and warfare than any of the various zombie apocalypses recorded to date.  If they are monsters, even fictional monsters, then they pale in comparison to our own reality.

Indeed, perhaps we humans have something to learn from our zombie cousins.  If we could only establish a common ground for dialog, we might find creative ways to put our brains to good use.  The Fremont walk has left me convinced that the zombies can help us with that.

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Lakeview Cemetery

At the crest of Capitol Hill, next to the beautiful Volunteer Park, we find historic Lakeview Cemetery. Founded in 1872 as the Seattle Masonic Cemetery, it quickly became the preferred place of interment for Seattle’s most prestigious pioneering families.

Over time the cemetery has grown organically to combine the heritage of different faiths and ethnicities. 

Alongside traditional Christian crosses, we find the rigid symmetry of the Chinese.

Oversize crossThey marched in line

Simple stone monoliths are accompanied by ornate offerings laden with hidden meaning.

BlethenOrnate carving

Classic formal designs offset graves with decidedly more iconoclastic representations of the departed.

Arthur Denny grave siteSaint Francis Wilson

Even a hoary chestnut of an epitaph finds at least one buyer.

Hoary chestnut epitaph

One grave appears to have replicated the deceased’s favorite bathtub. Another represents the great man in his best gardener’s jacket with his favorite tool and best friend.

Gravestone footHis wife always put him on a pedestal...

In a cemetery this old, the vegetation has had time to grow and add distinction to its surroundings. The Phinneys chose a Camperdown Elm to provide a shapely cover over their family plot.

Phinney family gravesite

They also appear to have hung a grave for a family member with feathers.

Phinney family gravesiteA bird's grave

An elegant Japanese maple adds its gnarled feng shui. A Mason sculpts an entire tree trunk and uses its to hang lodge symbols.

Japanese mapleMasonic tree gravestone

A well-placed azalea bush puts Sunday bouquets and plastic flowers to shame.

Flowery grave

The statue is an ever-popular element. Some uses them to express religious devotion, however peculiar its manifestation.

Madonna from the sideMadonna and Calvin

As the years pass, erosion and oblivion take hold. The lines blur between celestial madonnas, grieving mothers, and children buried by their parents. Perhaps that line was never actually clear.

Handless madonnaA young girl's grave

Others make simpler statements. This person liked birds.

Bird's eye view

Two large mausoleums stand as paeans to conformity, thriftiness, or perhaps run of the mill lives ending in 9-5 deaths. Flower receptacles distinguish the remembered from the forgotten. The fountain brings us back to life.

NichesLakeview Cemetery fountain

Among the commoners lies buried nobility. A menhir marks the resting place of Princess Angeline, née Kick-is-om-lo. There are many stories here: the daughter of Chief Sealth, friendship with several of the original pioneer families, a devout convert to Christianity, a Seattle resident even after her people were exiled to the reservation, a life in relative poverty, a laundrywoman and weaver of baskets sold on the city streets and eventually in another Seattle landmark, Ye Olde Curiosity Shop. Eventually a death in her seventies, a funeral with some public fanfare and a last burial near the family plot of Yeslers.

Grave of Princess Angeline

Lakeview Cemetery’s most famous resident, however, can only be found through Jeet Kune Do: flowing like water, plus a bit of luck.

Brandon Lee's graveThe grave of the great Bruce Lee

Bruce and his son Brandon are buried side by side, both victims of untimely deaths.

We were surprised to learn that Bruce finished high school in Seattle, and also attended the University of Washington and met his future wife there. It was in Seattle where he opened his first martial arts school and where he famously took down a black-belt karateka in eleven seconds. So while not exactly a native son, he’s more of a Seattleite than most of us.

Bruce LeeDon't know

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South Orchard Street

If South Park were the deep African wilderness, then South Orchard Street would be its heart of darkness.

Orchard & Occidental

We reach this unlikely intersection by following 2nd Ave until its bitter end at the Duwamish shoreline. Nearby, the highway 509 that brought us here traverses what was once a wetland. Acres of pavement and fill proudly announce the reclamation, utilization and civilization of land from wilderness.

We fly on asphalt friction until gravel grinds and rainwater splashes. Unpaved roads and pothole swarms are no obstacle to our momentum. Containers smile and point the way. Abandoned cars gesture caution to temper our exuberance.

South Orchard Street begins here and ends a few hundred feet down the road. No more is needed.

Vacant lot

The heart of darkness is a vacant lot across from a blackberry thicket. Behind the thicket, a riparian inlet where salmon spawned before the world began.

The vacant lot is river mud softened by rain and scored with large-tread tire tracks. A barrel pyramid looms in the distance. Cement blocks imply potential architecture as yet unborn. This place is not yet what it will become.

No man's land

The rusted container signals its mysterious command to trespassers. The abandoned lunar probe sits forever awaiting rescue. The earth wonders why nothing will grow.

Beside the alien container ten thousand cannons lie silent, a machine gun nest of retired metal. These are the pipes that carried the flow, the links that connected the graph, the launch tubes that fired the torpedoes that won the forgotten war. Here retired they must rust.

Rusted pipes

The barrel pyramid is formidable archeology, more colorful than Cheops and more useful than Chichen Itza. But its moment too has come and gone.

Barrel pyramid

This is the eastern side of the Industrial Container Services site, where the firm’s most battle-scarred and least attractive barrels are stacked. Veterans of toxic waste spills meet containers used at nuclear accidents. They are stained beyond repair, rusted beyond hope. And yet still beautiful.

Barrel pyramid

An engine’s roar returns our attention to South Orchard Street. A pickup truck laden with debris appears, and pauses at the sight of us. In this no-man’s land, no mission could possibly be legal.

A nervous energy fills every opening. Snipers take aim. The innocent hide behind containers. Hammers cock behind trembling fingers. The pickup truck advances, its cargo carefully balanced by slender ropes. The air is dense, unbreathable. A decision is being made.

Then the truck turns around and departs. Mission not accomplished. Perhaps a more legitimate destination awaits, or another moment when the tourists have gone.

The snipers relax. Lungs refill. Oxygen tastes strangely sweet. But South Orchard Street remains. Beside the river, debris was dumped yesterday and debris will be dumped tomorrow.

No place becomes worthless on its own. No place becomes worthless overnight. Perhaps no place is ever worthless at all, except to the unworthy. But day after day, year after year, neglect accumulates into scar tissue upon the landscape. The unwanted becomes unwelcoming.

And eventually, it is no longer the debris that does not belong; it is us.

Ghost pipes

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Barrels on West Marginal Way S, revisited

Terminal 115 Viewpoint taught us to feel a certain trepidation when revisiting a favorite location. But as our route took us down to West Marginal Way, we had no choice but to pay another visit to the land of the barrel pyramids.

West Marginal Way barrels

Unlike the fisherman’s shack, the barrel pyramids still stood proudly in place. While noticeably smaller than a few months ago, their essentially artistic nature remained unchanged.

West Marginal Way barrels

A pattern that emerged was the highly dynamic nature of the pyramidal composition. While the yellow pyramid had merely lost a few barrels off the top – from erosion, theft, or perhaps even business – the multi-color pyramid had seen its coloration patterns significantly altered.

West Marginal Way barrel pyramid

There were more blacks and silver barrels, fewer blues and reds, but all the oranges were gone. Clearly orange barrels are a hot item on today’s barrel market.

West Marginal Way barrelsWest Marginal Way barrels

A little investigation reveals that the barrels are the property of Industrial Container Services, the self-described largest provider of reusable container solutions in the United States.

Their mission statement? An industrial container in every home. (Or perhaps not, but this writer wishes it were.)

West Marginal Way barrels

One of the values ICS provides its customers is freedom from environmental concerns. This perk is provided thanks to regular system flow analysis and a giant insurance policy.

As we pondered the environmental impact of reusable industrial containers, we found ourselves in a surprisingly appreciative mood. After all, somebody should have a standard process for handling the containers that transport toxic waste. Best to leave it to the professionals, to the guys who eat cyanide with their breakfast cereals instead of almonds. This was like returning our used milk bottles to the supermarket – although only if washing out milk bottles were illegal and required a hazmat suit to perform safely.

West Marginal Way barrels

Then we noticed the water carrier truck parked in front of the ICS offices. Not content to contemplate the barrel pyramids, it was busy flooding its contents into the street. A small river filled the deep potholes along West Marginal Way, splashing high into the air as bemused traffic swerved and dodged the flood.

We avoided the spray, took our pictures and left the area. We hoped we hadn’t become first-responders at a toxic waste spill. We wondered whether the insurance policy would cover us. And we began to question the utility of system flow analysis.

All told, we were glad the barrels were still there. To serve a higher purpose, perhaps, but mainly to look pretty.

West Marginal Way barrels

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Seattle Gear Works, emergency exit

Some days the soul requests not botanical gardens but industrial grit. Not perfection but broken things.

On those days, a drive down the Duwamish into South Park brings satisfaction like no other local road trip.

Our route extends along barely paved roads. We splash through puddles that are small lakes. We dodge potholes deep enough to drown a cyclist. We drive by mountains of barrels, piles of crates, and idle machinery left to rust by the side of the road. We breathe in the chaos of an unregulated economy.

The Duwamish waterfront is a land of enterprise. It has the vibrancy of a third world city. It is the American dream waking up on a Superfund site and stretching its legs.

Cain Bolt & Gasket front door

And while bolts and gaskets may be a nice change from cultivating the land, the broken pallets whisper that sacrifice isn’t always sufficient for success.

Across the street, another brotherly endeavor is doing quite a bit better.

Back door landscapingEmergency exit landscaping

In the black and white South Park landscape, even a spot of color and taste catches the eye. In the back alleys of S Portland St, we turned away from Cain and were surprised by something beautiful.

Emergency exit landscapingBack door landscaping

The emergency back door with the fantastic landscaping belongs to Seattle Gear Works. A family-owned gear manufacturing and repair company, the Gear Works was founded in 1946 by Ingwald Ramberg. It is currently owned and managed by his two sons Roland and Sterling.

What began as a small garage business has grown into an international enterprise with over $20M in annual revenue and over a hundred employees. Gear Works gears are used in virtually every kind of industrial endeavor on the planet, from wind energy to military machinery. The South Park location facing us is actually one of the largest gear manufacturing facilities in the country.

Tulips

Seattle Gear works, we salute your attention to detail and your taste in landscaping. We’d love to see the inside of your plant.

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Terminal 115 Viewpoint, revisited

Consider the balance between the already seen and the unforeseen.

A place, once visited and photographed, is committed to memory; saved on disk; gently processed for public consumption; and ultimately presented to the internet for the entire planet to view, discuss, perhaps reference. It is caught in amber, stale data already seen and now forever misleading.

Naturally, reality moves on while the virtual stands still. Electrons move fast, but atoms faster still. As the ancients might have said, things change.

Consider Terminal 115 viewpoint, already seen. Its gritty post-war beauty came not from the stagnant river or the military overpass, but from the old fisherman’s shack with its sunken barrels and boarded windows. A surprise, a touch of the handmade in a manufactured world. Unforeseen.

Eight months later, the shack is gone. Taken by the river, or a victim of the messy, unpredictable real world? Perhaps both.

Derelict shack at Terminal 115 is gone

So a second visit converts a place that was, in a way, special into yet another rock pile next to the Duwamish.

Terminal 115 viewpointTerminal 115 viewpoint

To be sure, the 1st Ave S bridge still has its East Berlin chic.  It’s mostly the sniper towers.

First Avenue South Bridge overpass

There are still random things lying on the banks of the Duwamish, particularly at low tide.  The river is a liquid steampunk landfill, and you never know what it’ll decide to wash up.  This time it was somebody’s metal pipe.

First Avenue South Bridge overpass

On closer inspection, more things had changed. As it turns out, the previous occupants of 100 SW Peninsula Pl weren’t a marine diving company, as the previous note might have suggested. Instead, behind the fence was an eponymous outfit called Commercial Fence. They demonstrated their business acumen through an inordinate fondness for razor wire.

Barbed wire

According to a sign onsite, Commercial Fence has now moved to greener pastures on W Marginal Way S. The vacant lot has presumably been purchased by the Port of Seattle. The Port of Seattle, of course, remains its usual charming self.

Our friendly Port of Seattle

Not only that, their first act upon taking over the property was to take down the fisherman’s shack. No doubt the space will be used for something eminently practical.

Alas. Perhaps better to remember the already seen and avoid the location forever more, unless the unforeseen invalidate the memory.

Fisherman’s shack, you’ll be remembered. That is, if we can get ourselves disentangled from the razor wire.

Barbed wire

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