Thank you Seattle! I had a great time!
(Written on July 10)
One day, I was walking for about an hour through the streets of Wallingford, Seattle. Then I reached the Gasworks park – one of the most interesting spots I found yet. People my age were hanging out all over – playing frisbee, volleyball, or drums. Sitting and watching the sunset. Or, in one case, having a picnic.
I spent an hour retreated to the shade, catching up with my friend Sarah. I tell you – those inline microphone/headphones are amazing. So much more comfortable than holding up a phone to your ear. Thanks to them, I spent quite a lot of time just walking down streets and chatting with old friends.
An hour later, though, the sun had set some more, and I could venture forward into the open ground. These fine people were having a picnic. Now, I noticed that I was scared of approaching them – they looked so happy! But defeating shyness is important so off I went “Hi! I don’t know anyone here. Can I join you?”
And so I did. These were a bunch of cool kids who all did an MA program that doubled as summer nature camp.
It’s funny – these were quality people I’d’ve enjoyed being real friends with if I stayed in Seattle. But if I actually lived there, I doubt I’d would have found them. Nor could I find these people through meetup, or other online “answers” to the “I’m lonely” problem.
Maybe having adventures like this takes a certain mindset. It’s easy enough when traveling – but takes effort when sedentary.
Anarchist spaces and hackerspaces
(July 9, 2014)
After visiting Black Coffee, I strolled down the street to visit the long-standing “Left Bank Books”. Thanks to a peculiar form of rent control, it was an oasis of bookish calm surrounded by the high-rent tourist destination of the Pike Street Market.
Of course, parts of the market weren’t bad.
Like this sign:
Or this chalk-graffiti pig:
Seattle has its own AT-AT style cranes too:
But eventually I had to travel back east to hang out at a(nother) feminist makerspace – the Seattle Attic.
I took to it from the start. Mercedes Lackey is awesome!
A look into the space:
The people here were, with a few exceptions, friendly and forthcoming. They were the sort people I hung out with in late middle school / early high school – earnest. Into knitting and books. Confident in an offbeat way. I felt at home
After the Seattle Attic (which the great Sumana tipped me off to), I headed to another space in Seattle – more of a hackerspace than a makerspace.
This was a quite different space. More men, of course. Seems like everyone there had a connection to Microsoft. A guy was showing off a project he was working on for over a year – a way to use the Kinect API to mix and remix sound instantaneously through hand signals. He called it Holofunk Danceparty. It was awesome.
Two different models: Mercedes Lackey vs Holofunk. Both felt comfortable, in their own way. But neither represents me or my aspirations any more. I still haven’t found a space or community that I’m truly at ease with. Onwards to more searching!
It’s pretty baller!
On my second day in Seattle, a friend of mine mentioned “Black Coffee Coop”, so I looked it up. Another anarchist cafe! Cool. I went and checked it out.
The outside has a cool little stand, and also chalkings like this:
You know how its hard to tell insurrectionary anarchists apart from the houseless sometimes? A dozen people like that were milling outside. The outside also had a great wall of fliers.
The inside is even cooler, but no one is allowed to be photographed inside. Bookshelves, tons of couches and outlets, an upstairs space. It’s a bustling cafe in the heart of town. Seems like business is going well, though I was talking to a worker-owner there and he admitted that he payed himself almost nothing in order to keep the place running.
You might remember the other color-themed anarchist cafe in the pacific NW – red and black cafe. Turns out that R&B gave Black Coffee a ton of advice when they started out. Cool!
(I’m told there is a big banner from a Rochester group (Metro Justice? Red and Black?) hanging prominently there. I didn’t see it, though I wasn’t looking too hard)
You might remember the other color-themed anarchist cafe in the pacific NW – red and black cafe. Turns out that R&B gave Black Coffee a ton of advice when they started out. Cool!
Even the bathroom was rad.
A strange conversation
I spent my first full day in Seattle mostly in front of a laptop. Yeah, I know. :-/
Went to a tea house, got a really fancy setup – teapot, milk, cup, special tea strainer, tea cozy, pot of hot water. I wrote about 15 blog posts, I talked to a friend in CT for her birthday, tried to figure out what to do next.
I was there all day. So I moved around to let people sit in my seat, said hello to strangers, met someone who writes for ReadWriteWeb. You know how I do.
THEN. A woman walks up to me – “Hey! I noticed how you were making friends and being helpful all day. I wanted to introduce myself”.
We ended up talking for an hour. About life. About boyfriends and commitment. How men in the US (in her experience) are looking for hookups instead of relationships. Her new-agey life coach business.
We ended up talking about me. How I tend to lead with the heart, and then get burned by it. Her advice was a bit hard for me to understand. As far as I can tell – “Let the haters hate. Lead from the heart and be genuine. But also make sure you trust someone before doing so.”
So which is it?
In talking to me, I suspect she was looking for long-term boyfriend material, so when it was clear that I’m not that for her (for one thing, I don’t live in Seattle), she moved on.
Weird conversation. Seattle is quirky!
The journey to Seattle
This handsome man was kind enough to rideshare/drive me to Seattle! I took a photo of his face and license plate, then sent it to my worried parents. (“Sahar! Riding with strangers! How could you?”) That way, if I ended up mysteriously disappearing, the detectives would know who did it. :-P
But along the way we stopped by Olympia, WA (because it’s just so great there!) and checked out their food cart lot. (Yes they have food carts).
I ended up grabbing some Assyrian (!?) food.
And then we posed in front of the Star Wars mural.
Life is good in Olympia.
The Center For Intercultural Organizing
Five minutes before my ride to Seattle picked me up, I dropped by the Center For Intercultural Organizing, which I’m told is the best community organization in Portland.
I really didn’t have much time – and I interrupted an all-staff meeting! So I just said hello, chatted for a few minutes, and left.
If I ever come back to Portland, though, I’m staying for longer. They’re cool people!
Portland has a lot of strip clubs
Strip clubs are everywhere here.
There exists a one in Portland called “Dancing Bare”.
Yes, it has a really cheesy sign.
Also this adult video store exists:
Fat Cobra Video. You can’t make this up.
The life and death of a feminist hackerspace
This is kind of a bittersweet story.
I checked out makerspaces/hackerspaces in Portland, and I found Flux. It was really cool – a nice space downtown, explicitly feminist, and complete with a zines library (even a comic by Susie Cagle!) Through the people I met at Flux, I ended up on the adventure that lead me to Right To Dream Too.
A few days after I first stopped by, however, I visited again to grim news. The new leadership of the hackerspace (who just joined up 3 weeks prior) just realized that they had a big operating deficit – and rent was due in just a few days.
There was not much to be done – they needed $800 just to keep the space, and more besides every month to get a good budget balance.
As far as I can tell, the original crew that set up the space had bailed earlier – they had wanted it to be a more “radical” space and didn’t want to deal with the hassle of recruiting outsiders to keep it financially viable. (Of course, I could be totally wrong on that. Just one story I heard).
After casting a sad look around the space, we went for pizza. I just checked their website a few minutes ago – looks like the end really did come for Flux:
What a shame.
Distillery tours in Portland
Portland is known for its local craft beers. But I don’t like beer! What is a fellow to do?
Distillery tours, of course!
We went on a walking tour of 5 different distilleries, each with a different take on what a “hipster distillery” could be.
- New Deal Distillery (the first photo) is clean, shiny, and into typography.
- The next was run by asian (Japanese) immigrants – a small room full of rice-based brews.
- Next, we went to a family-run distillery just getting set up, strangely enough, in a small office park. It was weird – you just walk down some normal-looking corporate hallways, and then BOOM! Vats, etc. It wasn’t fully ready yet, so we get a bunch of cocktails and learned about business from the friendly woman who set it up with her husband and daughter.
- This place had a biker vibe. Dark clothes, leather, whiskey.
- The last place (the later photos) was the original distillery around. The people behind the counter were really cool. I had the familiar problem of getting along well with a man, and then worrying I was accidentally flirting with him. I suppose I have that worry with women as well. Except often when I realize it I decide not to worry about it and “what if I’m flirting with them? That means we could go out maybe!” Whereas there isn’t that potential upside with guys. Anyways, thanks for listening to me ramble.
Hats off to Monique Teal for organizing a great trip!
P.S. Check out the sort of fliers that abound in Portland:
A list of lives I’d enjoy living
- Do things with the Harry Potter Alliance
- Mozilla / Firefox maker
- Linux hacker
- Write for an alternative weekly
- Make art installations
- Be king of arduinos
- Crunch data and give strategic advice to organizations
- Interview cool people
- Live on a kibbutz
- Work on cryptography and security
- Housing justice organizer
- Read all the books! (And review them?)
- Organize my demographic (the “occupy generation”)
- Write the best blog
- Travel the country and meet cool people
- Teach Computer Science / Organizing / Free Software
- Join Anonymous
- Create a small business
- Join and help run a small business
- Sociology PhD
- Computer Science PhD
- Create the next A Softer World
- Become an ethical landlord like my dad
- Be king of the FPGAs
- Join a startup
- Found a startup
- Be a local journalist
- Dean at a University
- Write for Jacobin/Dissent/etc
- Study Physics / Math/ Chemistry
- Take community college courses
- Travel [Europe | South America | North America]
- Move to Missouri and learn from Zack Exley
- Teach kids (kindergarten?)
- Camp Counselor? Maybe?
- Write Android Apps
- Write for an arts journal
- RPG playtester
- Game designer
- Game writer/programmer
- Live the radical underemployed barista life
- Rich Philanthropist
- Soup Kitchen Worker
- Berkman Fellow!
- Be a trial lawyer/advocate
- Run for office
- Own a bookstore
- Apprentice.IO or other bootcamp
- Camp in the woods
- Be a farmer
- Write novels
- Write nonfiction
Okay, that was fun. Still no idea what I want to do next.
Do you see a pattern or anything obvious here?
July 4th, 2014
On July 4th, I had no idea what to do.
I checked some email, woke up slowly, and generally was a slow loris until my phone beeped a reminder: “Arts BBQ? At That Gallery. In 1 hour”
Oh my! I grabbed my gear and headed out to the bus stop. I could check out that cool art gallery that I kept ending up hanging out at, and there’d be food. All by noon, when all my other plans started around 4ish.
So there I am, waiting at the bus stop, sitting next to this guy in a funny/classy hat. He’s loudly excited about the upcoming bluegrass festival, and loudly *not* a fan of the blues festival happening that night. “Blues sucks man. It’s just so easy to play. The same chords over and over again.”
“Okay guy. I’ll talk to you,” thought I.
What a character. So exuberant. So pleased with life. I want to get to that point – chortling over little jokes, slapping my knee of emphasis, just crackling with energy.
He’s a musician, but also an art manager. The guy who reps local artists, sort of thing.
Turns out he was heading the same way I was! I invite him to the art bbq. He comes! We check out the exibits – 50 different takes on the american flag.
That was fun. I get a vegan dog eventually, hang out with a few of the worker/curators, etc. Meet some cool people. Then it’s off to the next adventure!
Sumana, a friend from Wikimedia, says she has time to chat on IRC. Man, I love the Wikimedia Foundation. What a great bunch of people – and they stick to their guns and use open standards of communication as much as possible.
Hurry to the closest cafe that is open on the 4th and seems to have wifi.
The glare hides how classy this joint is.
Sumana has lots of interesting things to say.
You know, I might indeed enjoy life as a UU pastor! Or possibly even a Rabbi. :-)
Then I’m off again. To a party!
[Unfortunately, no pic here]
I meet up with Sarah, my host at the time, at the surprise birthday / not-at-all-a-surprise barbeque at her friend’s house. It was fun. I met a middle-aged libertarian, hearty, home-made-sausage grilling lesbian couple (the louder of which taught plus-sized yoga). They were fun. (“I bought the whole cow! Gave it to the butcher, and he made me 71 pounds of sausage!”)
Soon, everyone leaves for the park, and I walk over to party #2 at Monique’s. Most people have left, but I hang out with a cool handful of folks. We talk about life, being a lawyer, Portland, and the Oregon Student Association. Then eat an American Flag Cake:
And go to the park.
It was lovely!
And it’s pretty great!
On my first day in Portland, I walked due east, over the river. I was not impressed. There’s a strong “concrete wasteland” vibe right as you cross the river east, and the stores afterwards are often bars or stripclubs. Not my scene.
The first interesting place I found was an art gallery. The curator/worker/person there wasn’t doing much, so we chatted for 45 minutes or so about Portland, life, happiness, etc. I said I might stop by for the 4th of July Barbeque and art show they were going to put on. (Spoiler alert! I did).
Here’s what the gallery looked like:
Then ambled south. Being a man who takes my metaphores seriously, I stopped and smelled the flowers that were overflowing from a house’s garden plot.
They smelled heavenly. Amazingly heavenly. So, in full flower bliss, I walked a little further, saw the owner outside on his porch, and said “man, your flowers smell amazing.” “Thanks dude!”
We talked about Portland, community, and life for about 20 minutes before I kept walking. Before I left, though, I took note of something he casually mentioned:
“Yeah, there’s all sorts of interesting places around this area. We’ve got a makerspace just down the block. And an anarchist cafe”
So to the anarchist cafe I went!
The Cafe is pretty sweet. It’s completely worker-owned AND unionized to boot. (Which seems a bit like overkill, but rad nonetheless). It hosts all sorts of groups in the community. I’ve noticed the unhoused using its wifi, which stays on all day and night and is accessible from the outside. To top it all off, the cafe has legit nice beer and fun names for their food, like the Nihilist Cheesesteak.
As I walked in, I noticed a group of people hanging out in what seemed like a meeting. They didn’t seem to friendly so I went to the counter. After a lovely discussion with the woman working the desk, she introduced me to everyone. They were having a meeting of the local branch of Black Rose – the very same federation that Rochester’s Red and Black is a member of. Small world!
To make it the world even smaller, the people there (who ended up being super friendly) not only knew about Rochester Red and Black, but even knew Colin O’Malley from when he did his nationwide speaking tour.
Turns out that Red and Black also has housing above the cafe, and we all stayed up late into the night talking about the local political scene, radicals-as-subculture vs radicals-as-organizers, history, online organizing, reagan, you name it.
What a fun bunch of people. You should definitely check out R&B if you’re ever in town.
Portland is kind of awesome.
Portland is kind of awesome.
Their community radio station, KBOO, seems actually legit. They have staff. They have a budget. They have the feel of a college radio station, only for a city of 700k people. Plus they have awesome murals outside the walls.
When having the “should I live here” conversation with strangers, they often ask what I’m looking for. I tell them:
“I’m looking for a real community. Where people at least know of each other, where everyone is working on a cool project, and you can run into your friends on the street and pull them to lunch and plot.”
According to everyone who hung out there (and my own sense of the vibe), KBOO is a lot like that. I was really impressed. Plus, right next door was the worker-owned bike shop, which has a rocking mural of its own.
Life is good.
One day, I hung out at Flux, a feminist hackerspace/makerspace in downtown Portland.
Here’s what it looks like:
3D printers! Soldering irons! Etc!
NOTE: Sadly, it looks like Flux is having trouble making financial ends meet, so last time I checked they were possibly about to be evicted and feverishly looking for a solution. Sadface.
Back to the story!
At Flux, I met a man named Kevin. Kevin is intense. Kevin took me out to lunch at this place called “Sisters of the Traveling Road”. It’s a sort of soup kitchen, I guess. Lunch is a 1.50, and you can earn credit by doing chores there.
It was not cool to photo the people there, so I just captured a bit of ceiling:
During lunch, Kevin told me about how he worked with Richard Stallman back in the day at the MIT AI lab, how he’s working on a bunch of software projects to benefit the radical community in Portland, how he co-founded a huge hardware business in the 80’s before it was destroyed by the rise of the MIPS instruction set, and how he helped set up Right 2 Dream Too (R2D2), the tent village / houseless encampment not too far from here.
Kevin is pretty un-googleable, so I’m not sure how true any of that was. He’s definitely a smart, interesting guy though. And that spurred me to check out this R2D2 that everyone kept talking about.
R2D2 is actually super baller!
Again, I didn’t want to be rude and photo much of the camp, but here’s a peek at the entrance:
And an older photo I found online that don’t seem to violate anyone’s privacy:
(Note that the camp has changed since then. The middle tents are gone, replaced by large communal tents for “walk-ins”. New tents have gone up for the kitchen, computer lab, storage warehouse, etc)
The story, as I understand it:
Years ago, this guy had a property that he couldn’t use. The city wouldn’t let him give it away, they wouldn’t let him use it as a parking lot, and he didn’t have the money to build ontop of it. So in an offhand comment, he told a reporter, “I might as well give this place to the homeless and let them use it”. Right To Survive, a local direct-action group, saw the interview, called him up, and asked if he was serious. He was.
Early October, 2011, right as Occupy became visible in Portland, Right to Survive leased the lot from the owner for 1$, and set up a tent city. At first, things were pretty loose and flexible. Occupy was a godsend – they distracted the police, and were able to do visible and rowdy actions to save the camp if needed.
Eventually, Right 2 Dream Too became more established. They now have an elected board. Local police can’t search the city without a warrant. 108 former members have gone on to permanent housing. Walk-ins are welcome to stay in large communal tents, as long as they follow the camp rules (which include progressive language, like “no transphobia”, etc). After a walk-in stays around for a while, is generally liked, and does some chores, members can choose to accept them as a new member to the camp, with new privileges, a tent, blankets, etc.
People escaping domestic abuse are particularly welcome, and the camp has a strict policy of respecting people’s privacy from the outside. (If someone comes looking for “Jamie”, the person volunteering at the gate will refuse to say whether “Jamie” even stays at the camp, much less bring her forth.
It’s an amazing, friendly, resilient, and functioning community. And, like I said, people are using it as a way to escape being unhoused. It’s inspiring, it’s led by the homeless themselves, and apparently organizations from around the country are visiting to learn from the model.
The people I met at the camp were similarly warm and friendly. I learned about a woman estranged from her family and lacking government ID. Without ID, she couldn’t get a job. And without her family vouching for her, she couldn’t get an ID. At the time we spoke, she was seriously contemplating getting arrested, just so her mugshot could serve as enough ID to be able to get her passport back.
Another person I met was thoughtful, intellectual, and spoke like an organizer. He’s actually “graduated” from the camp to secure housing, but he hangs with everyone else at the camp from time to time. His main priority: finding ways to extend the camp to more people.
What a great time I had there. Hours after leaving, I still felt more connected to my fellow humans, more likely to say hello to odd and beaten-down-looking strangers, just more alive.