Eight months ago, I stopped writing poems. It wasn’t a conscious decision, it just stopped happening, which was odd, since I’ve been writing poems pretty consistently since I was 15.

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Why I'm Leaving Seattle pt. 2

I posted a partial list of reasons why I'm leaving Seattle, my long heart's home over here, and then I thought of another one. This is just one more reason: not because the gym matters so much, though I've gone there (albeit not a frequently as I ought to have done) since the first week I moved here, but because it's indicative of the type of changes--all for the worse, it seems to me--that businesses in the city keep making on both large and small scales. 

My Gym Lost its Soul

For ten years, I've been a member of Rain Fitness. It's the most beautiful gym I've ever seen, though, it should be noted, I'm no connoisseur thereof.  There are 3/4 length windows looking out over Elliott Bay, past a stand of aspens on a little rounded hilltop that might have been arranged by the Olmsteads. When treading the mill, the weary animal gets a view at least: ferry traffic, seagulls, the play of light on water. Moreover, the machines are fitted with brown leather that accents the gorgeous 100-year old wood floors. I loved it. In the last few years though, they've made a number of changes, all for the worse. To wit:

They bolted the windows shut


I don't know from what sick impulse this decision springs, but it likely has to do with saving a few cents in heating costs (which they have to make up for in electricity costs since now the fans are always on). Remember the sea view I was talking about? That means we used to get sea breezes. There is a reason every health spa used to be built on the ocean: the very air itself is restorative. A tinge of salt, the smell of salmon running, brought a feeling of freshness to a place that might otherwise smell like a gym sock. One day, every opening window in the place was bolted shut. Now we have canned air (there never seems to be enough) and constantly-rotating ceiling fans, that make the place feel dry and irritating to glistening skin. 

They got rid of the tanning bed

Some might cheer this decision, since overuse of tanning beds is linked in some specious studies to skin cancer in the leathered elderly, but after a few months of a Seattle winter, 10 minutes in a warm place and a little light therapy went a long way toward spiking the serotonin levels and creating a sense of well-being. One day, it was gone and the space turned into a windowless office, which seems an odd exchange. 

They reduced the space by half

I understand about economic downturns and all that, but in a rent-saving move, the gym cut-off an entire room downstairs full of equipment, which was, incidentally, the stuff I used most. Gone the stretching area; gone the chin-up station. Meanwhile, they also dropped the number of classes by about 40%. Now there is one evening class most nights, rather than the bounty we once had.

They built a second location

This would be fine by itself, but they didn't invite us. Isn't the main benefit of having a chain that customers can visit several links thereof? I was thrilled when I heard they were opening another Rain Fitness in South Lake Union, closer to my house, until I heard--had I heard that right?--that members couldn't go to whichever was most convenient, couldn't mix-it-up once in awhile for the sake of variety, but had to attend the gym they signed up in.  Surely for a fee? I questioned. Oh yes, but not a small one, like the $5.00 a month it should have been, but for effectively twice the rate, which rather defeats the purpose. 

They re-branded

Importantly, most of these awful changes occurred under the original management structure, who deserves the blame, but just last week, as a kind of icing on the putrid cake, they "brought in some investment partners" who have stricken the cool and sensible "Rain Fitness" (we are in Seattle, after all) and dubbed the place "Soul Fitness." What does that even mean? Is it a temple now? Are there lectures in ethics? Gyms are exactly the opposite of "soul." They could have just gone with "Body Fitness," which, if unoriginal, would at least have described the function of the place. 

Anyway, it's stupid: the bellicosity of their financial policies, the way the desk people never know whether to greet people coming in or not, the fact that they don't give or rent out towels for people who have to go to work following their session and don't want a wet towel in the car all day.

And it's one of the reasons I'm getting out of here. 


Why I'm Leaving Seattle

My wife wrote a much more moving elegy about our time in Seattle here, but we deal with loss differently, and my mode has a touch of the grape fox.


I've never loved a city the way I love Seattle. I read books about it, most of them excellent, like those below (to name just a very few). I buy her music; I read her poets, I patronize her theaters and I tell everyone I know how great she is. And she is. But I'm leaving. Here's why:

My friends left

Not all of them, mind you, but ones I liked having around. Weirdly,

  • Nancy
  • Matt
  • Brian
  • Amber
  • Jeff
  • Nhadira, and
  • Devorah

all left within a year of one another. There are some super people still here, obviously, but this exodus really took something out of my social circle.

We had the best bookstore in the world and now we don't

The closure of the Elliot Bay Book Company ripped the heart right out of the city for me. Sure, it moved to Capitol Hill, and has spearheaded a revival of that already-flourishing area, but not only is the new location not the same, it's not as good. Gone are the meandering paths, the human-scaled rooms. Gone the sense of discovery. It is still a very well-curated bookstore, but the building isn't half so winsome, the neighborhood not so fun to walk around, the used book section removed, the reading room louder, and on and on, ad nauseum.

Sure, we still have Wessel and Lieberman (now the best bookstore in the city, for my money) but it too has shrunk from it's original light-filled space on First Avenue to the hind quarters of same. And we'll always have the Magus, headquarters of the surly, dismissive help, and even little places I love like Mercer Street Books, but the Mecca, the flagship, the anchor of civic literary culture dried up all but completely.

My favorite coffee shops changed hands

Muse. There and not.

Muse. There and not.

I used to know the owner of the place I frequented most (in walking distance to my house), the Muse Coffee Co. He was friendly and cool and made great coffee. It was a neighborhood joint, and one of my de facto offices. About two years ago, he sold it to a guy who had never worked in coffee before. I was there when the previous owner showed the new owner how to make an espresso for the first time. He's probably a good guy, but he doesn't seem to like people much. It's a depressing place to be anymore: nearly always empty, and always glum. The coffee isn't anywhere near as good and neither is the atmosphere.

One year later, the same thing happened at my second-most-frequented place: Cafe Zingaro. The previous owner, who was a joy to be around and who made everyone feel at home, left. With her, half the patrons left too, who don't appreciate shouted from the till a corporate, overly-theatrical "How can I help you?" upon entry.

And now my bet for Best Coffee in the City, Bauhaus is closing and re-opening somehwere else. Whatever.

The record store in my neighborhood became a Chase bank

R.I.P. Easy Street Records. You were one of my favorite places in the world.

The city cancelled my bus route

It now seriously takes me one hour door-to-door to traverse the 5.5 miles to the University of Washington on the newly created route #31. That is insane, especially given that an express (the #45), which only ran three times in the morning and therefore couldn't have cost the city much, used to make the trip in 15 minutes flat.

My church exploded

This I won't say much about, because I disapprove of many people's new favorite pasttime: Hating on Churches, but I used to belong to an edgy church that met in a warehouse and had great music. Now it is a multi-site conglomerate of 15 campuses across 5 states, that runs on video simulcasts, which I think is terrible aesthetically, but also socially, since there are so many people ready and willing to serve as leaders of those churches instead.

That's all for now, not because I'm out of reasons, but because I'm tired of typing. Also because I have to pack. I'm sailing on.

What it's Like Living in a 500-year-old Building

When my wife and I first moved to Germany, we thought we might live in Stuttgart, the main metropolis in Baden-Wurttemberg, and that I would commute to Tuebingen to teach classes.  Once we saw the sleepy, lovely, medieval college-town of Tuebingen though, we knew immediately that it would make a better home base.  Unfortunately, everyone else seems to have had the same idea and so the small town was experiencing an unprecedented housing shortage.  Students literally dropped out of the University because they couldn't find a place to live.
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