We’re boarding a plane and heading to Seattle, Olympia and Portland in less than a week. We are really excited about this because It’s been exactly 2 years since our last NW trip and 2 years since we’ve been on an airplane (oh, and what do you mean we have to pay for luggage now? what, what, what??).
You know I’m a New York City girl through and through, but lately I’ve been day dreaming about Seattle and getting all kinds of nostalgic. In a lot of ways it’s like going back home, certainly for Mark since that’s where he’s from and where his family lives, but I think it’s partly because moving to the NW was such an important time in my life (see a few posts back). I’ve been waxing too nostalgic on here lately, but I have so little from my past in the way of photos and writings. What I do have are fading memories and I feel this intense need to record them before I start to remember less and less. We’re closing in on 20 years since I moved out the the NW, but sometimes it feels so much closer than that. I want to remember what it felt like getting off that plane in Seattle, to live through the early to mid 90s not in NYC as I had always thought I would but in the NW so far from home. Bonus for you for these old photos I’m going to post. Some twitter friends and I were talking about posting our hair styles through the years. Can’t believe I’m gonna embarrass myself like this!
During the summer of ’91, I was traveling and overheard 2 girls talking about a school called the Evergreen State College in Washington. They were talking about moving there because of the music scene in Olympia and Seattle. A few months prior I had quit art school 3 weeks before finishing out my third year at the Cooper Union. Even though I wanted to leave a year before, I hung on because I was afraid of what my parents might say, but I had reached my breaking point. I had no intentions of going back to school, but 8 months later I was on a plane headed out west to a state I’d never been in before and a school I knew nothing about except what I had overheard while listening in on someone’s conversation.
I’ll never forget that night time bus ride down the Evergreen Parkway in the dark headed towards campus. I couldn’t really see anything because there were only a few street lights on so I felt like I was riding into the unknown, which of course it was in so many ways. No expectations, no plans, a clean slate, excitement and butterflies. When I got out of the airport bus in front of my dorm, the air felt different. Everything was just so different. My first few days at school were spent alone. Kids were still on winter break and classes didn’t start for a few days so I mostly walked around the empty campus and sometimes laid down on the soccer field at night under stars, thinking about the fact that I knew not a single soul here. At that point in my life, it felt right.
January 1992, Olympia Washington. I had butt long hair I had been growing out from a pixie cut gone bad my freshman year of college. And yes, that’s a nose ring. Oh come on, you had one too, admit it. So did half of my classmates and all the boys had long hair and played in bands. Welcome to 1992.
You might recall that Mark was the first person I saw on my first night in Olympia. I was on the hunt for a phone to call my parents (no cell phones back then, folks, no cell phones) and he worked at the college deli. I bought a sandwich from him which he claims he doesn’t remember. We ended up in the same music program a week later. The next day, I took my first bus ride into town to buy some food. I spotted a supermarket, got off and bought a bunch of bananas, a box of muffins and a carton of soy milk and hauled it back to my dorm. I kept these in my room even though I was assigned to live in a 4 bedroom apartment with a common kitchen and living space. None of my roommates had come back from winter break yet. For lunch on my first day I ate a banana and a muffin. For dinner, I ate another banana and a muffin.
1993, Olympia, Washington. Mark was known as the “deli guy with long hair who played bass in bands” around campus. Because he worked such a “high profile” job, everyone knew him. When we show the girls pictures of Mark with long hair, they giggle and ask why Daddy’s hair is “broken”.
I probably don’t have to remind you what was going on with music back in ’91. Nine days after I arrived, Nirvana played Saturday Night Live on January 11, 1992 and I remember sitting in the auditorium for a lecture the next morning with the place buzzing like crazy. Nirvana used to play in the dorms at campus a lot and it was just blowing everyone’s minds around school that they were on live national TV. I was never a huge Nirvana fan, but I was into a lot of the other Seattle bands since the mid to late 80s (I had first read about Soundgarden in the Village Voice in 1984). I guess that’s where my curiosity about Seattle began. Mark was into the early SubPop stuff – Melvins, Mudhoney, the U-Men, though he did once own a Nirvana Demo tape as he was close friends with Kurt’s cousin which he subsequently LOST somewhere over the years (Mark! we coulda maybe been rich if you held on to that tape, Geezus.)
In the same way that I feel lucky to have lived in the East Village in the late 80s, it was a pretty cool time to be young and living in Olympia Washington back in those days what with all the music and Riot Grrrl stuff happening right there, but I was also there at school when it all started to end. I remember a classmate running into the recording studio while audio class was in session. He broke the news that Kurt had killed himself and we all just sat around for a long time, stunned. A month later we graduated and Mark and I moved down to Portland.
1995, Portland, Oregon. We always thought that this photo of our housemates would make the best band pic ever. That’s my friend and roommate Jason who came to Olympia around the same time I did from his years studying jazz guitar in NY the same years I was going to Cooper. I think the basis of our entire friendship was getting nostalgic about NY. We’d sit in his room and stare at an old subway poster and chat about those NY years. We didn’t know each other then, but we did conclude that we might have been at the same show once. He’s back in Portland playing music after a few years in Seattle and Northern California. Also, Mark and I got rid of the hair when we moved down to Portland and I dyed it black again with a box of hair dye I bought at the drug store, the first time it had been black since high school. Guys were cutting their hair short again and wearing black nerd glasses and those annoying keychain wallets. There was one scene in Portland and all the boys looked like this. And they all still played in bands.
1995, Portland, Oregon. I look pissed here. Like angry Riot Grrrl! Maybe I was pissed that it took 3 treatments to strip out all that black hair dye. The black dye wouldn’t die. Or maybe I’m just squinting from the sun because after 6 months of rainy misty winter, the sun came out that day.
1995, Portland, Oregon. I totally miss the front porch of our old house. It was a creaky old, 2 story Victorian 4 bedroom house. Our total rent was $950 split among 4 people. All the bedroom closets were huge and had windows. My roommate’s closet had a red staircase to nowhere. The house also had a dumbwaiter and a mysterious locked door on the middle landing of the staircase. We always wondered what was behind there. We swore the house was haunted. On stormy, windy days, the house sort of scared us and we often all slept in the living room.
My time in Portland was ok. I didn’t love it and I didn’t hate it. I got a job that was repetitive and tedious, working in the graphics department of a local publication, but I did like the people that I worked with. A lot of the Portland years were spent cooking food in the house, going to see movies with beer at McMenamins, going to shows, taking trips to the Oregon Coast, and eating lots of sushi. Mark and I started eating fish again by then and we took a lot of household dinner outings with our roommates and ate a lot of sushi. We also spent a lot of time on that porch. I think one of my favorite memories of the Portland years was the 4 of us trekking down a few blocks in the snow (it doesn’t snow much in Portland) to get our first ever Christmas tree. We picked out the most Charlie Browniest tree ever. I think we had a string of lights but everything else we improvised. We strung popcorn and cranberries and maybe even hung guitar picks on the tree. We had an Elmo doll that sat on top.
1996, Seattle, Washington. Sometimes I wonder if I would have never left the Northwest if I moved to Seattle instead of Portland.
I’m not really sure why I decided to move down to Portland instead of Seattle after we graduated. It was random really and I had always thought I’d move up to Seattle. Most of our classmates moved there and started working in recording studios, but Seattle felt too big, too gray. Portland had much more of a small-town vibe, but I remember feeling really apprehensive and unsure the day I moved my stuff in a U-Haul to our new house on NE Hancock. I wondered if I had made the right decision. Ironically, after I had taken a trip back home to see my mom who was sick at the time, I decided only a month after I moved that I would go back to NY in 2 years. Maybe that’s why I feel like my whole time in Portland was transitional. Sometimes I’m amazed that I didn’t waver on that 2 year plan. I stuck to that date, sold most of our things, shipped a few boxes and threw everything else into the silver Toyota Camry that I was driving at the time. Just as I’ll never forget the day I stepped off that plane back in ’92, I’ll never forget the day we pulled out of there in September 1996 and drove back East. My roommates and I didn’t have a drawn out farewell and they weren’t home the morning we left. I don’t think any of us could have handled it. I knew that I wanted to move back home and the decision felt right at every turn as I was really homesick for NY at that point, but I was heartbroken. As we drove off, I looked back and watched the cats who had jumped up on the hood of a car watch after us until they got smaller and I couldn’t see them anymore.
September 1996, somewhere in
the Southwest Mt. Shasta, California. I look like shit here because I felt like shit. Puffy eyes and messy hair. I cried driving through 5 states, including the total length of California. I was so sad. I’m trying to put up a brave front for this pic.
I think it’s totally weird that even though I never lived there, Seattle is the place I think about when I feel nostalgic for the Northwest. We were there often enough, but perhaps it’s because of the fact that I never lived there, I still romanticise it in the way I used to before I moved to that part of the country. Maybe it represents not the reality of daily life, which I experienced in Portland and Olympia, but the ideologies of youth and the possibilities of new beginnings. I’m so looking forward to going back.