Jack Perry Memorial Shoreline

As night falls you find yourself somewhere along Alaskan Way, near the hulking ghost of the viaduct, writhing along an endless coil of street-level train lines.

A sign calls out to you and you head west through a landscape of parking lots, chain link fences, and buildings designed for bureaucracy. The road ends at a small rocky patch of waterfront at the mouth of the Duwamish East Waterway. It’s the Port of Seattle’s gift to you, a nicely wrapped box of required public shoreline access.

In front of you is Terminal 18, the largest container processing facility this side of Los Angeles. The sprawling scale of the operation evades comprehension.

Jack Perry Memorial Viewpoint

The terminal glows under a canopy of incandescent light. The sky resonates with infrared, but you only see pitch black. The crane stoops like a giant to gather containers. The work of a thousand men, performed in a fraction of a second. What is human here? What is machine?

In the distance you see a homeless man shuffle through bushes. You hear voices mutter on the wind. You consider the risk and realize it belongs to another world. What is human?

You hear the water splash against rotting piers, as the terminal dulls the air with bass and snare drum repartee. Containers rise, swing, and fall, transferring endlessly from ships to shore, shore to ships. The source code of the global economy, actions repeated as instructions, caught in the infinite loop of commerce. Empty or full, copied and pasted, repeat business. German ships with Chinese goods unloading on American shores.

Jack Perry Memorial Viewpoint

You are in someone’s favorite park, a small viewpoint born of unspeakable tragedy and the fortuitous availability of a hundred-and-twenty feet of unpaved shoreline. You are paying tribute to the life of Jack Perry, beloved son and father, someone just like you, someone not even the internet could identify.

The viewpoint is something small, less than promised, an inadequate tribute to a better man. It is also a window into something far greater than photography, than any still image. It is a honeypot for eyes that cannot close. It is an industrial elephant and your camera is blind.

This cannot last, you think. As the night deepens you will eventually tear yourself away and sleep, while the terminal remains standing. It will hum and snarl through the days and nights, a colossal perpetual motion machine bent on forever, until someone finds a way to disconnect it, or until the Earth itself breaks under its feet.

The complete Flickr set.