Lower Case d / by Akira Ohiso


Saturday on 14th Ave NW is filled with weekend activities; families going to Gilman Park, dog walkers with coffee in hand and young people hopping from brewery to brewery.  The smell of food truck fare wafts amid the chemical smell of plastic and engine oil.  The industrial area has remnants of its past. Defunct railroad tracks cross 14th to the Bardahl loading docks.  Patina warehouses and factories, corrugated sheds, rusty barbed wire boundaries protect empty lots from the homeless and taggers.  IBEAM, SELD, SEAGUL, CHOICE.  Slowly zoning changes and townhouses, 5-story office space and eateries with 20 taps open.  Still, the quiet corporate redlining cannot hide used hypodermic needles, corroded campers, tents and human suffering.  Meth and “Heron” destroys mostly white kids around Seattle.  Pock-marked desperation, picking up used needles to use, packs of dusty kids with backpacks roam buses terminals, congregate meal programs, tent cities and the streets, doorways and alleys of Seattle.  Cocoon-like lumps sleep in midday sun, some die found days or weeks later in an REI sarcophagus.  

When I reach Leary I turn right towards the Ballard Bridge.  Java John’s, car dealers, Volvo garage, Quest Church.  Church sign: “Act Justly, Love Kindness. Walk Humbly.”


The Ballard Bridge is overshadowed by UW Medicine, a storage facility and Ballard Blocks.  It once harmonized with population and car demand.  The draw bridge creates traffic as more cars use 15th to commute downtown.  The future light rail will either cross the bridge or go through a tunnel yet to be built, but either way massive change is coming to the area in the next 20 years.  Along 15th, office space, apartments, townhouses, Amazon, Target are getting in early for an artery that will create convenience and mobility.  There is money to be had.

Under the bridge fencing has been installed to deter people from setting up tents.  I walk up an incline that merges back onto 15th Ave.  Couch cushions are thrown in the bushes for later.    Stash tactics give people on the street a modicum of predictability.  They can return to a familiar area for the night. 

The Ship Canal is timeless.  Fishing boats and bobbling masts can be seen from the bridge. Seagulls squawk and mew above opportunistic prey or food.  There are many names for a group of seagulls; a colony, squabble, flotilla, scavenging, gullery, wreck.  The circling gulls sound like “a squabble” to me, maybe “a wreck” above a jettisoned boat.  Michel Foucault said, “In civilizations without boats dreams dry up.”  Seattle still has dreams, they are just not the dreams of the locals anymore.

On NW 50th, I turn right past Les Schwab Tires.  A Craftsman with a ramp looks out of place next to a tire center.  The tire center once looked out of place next to the Craftsman.  I imagine an old woman who has lived in the house since World War II.  She refuses to leave to fend off dependence and real estate developers.  Around the corner, a giant shopping center changed its footprint to accommodate Edith Macefield’s defiance.  Her house still stands and,  while there were plans to tear it down, recent plans suggest that the house may be saved and repurposed.  The architectural indent that accommodates that small house is a symbol of hope whether the house remains or not.