My Puget Sound Travelogue

Steve MerrymanCultural Rot2 Comments

The rotting carcass of the deer had been there for at least a month. Lying on a newly blacktopped shoulder of I-5 in Tacoma. The skin on top, baked in the sun, was beginning to harden, taking on a dark, leathery hue. It draped over the hip and ribs like a sagging sheet as the insides became desiccated and shriveled. Underneath, the decay, aided by maggots, was certainly going strong, as the smell indicated.

I know because I had plenty of time to study the carcass. After all, this was Interstate 5 in Tacoma, on a Saturday afternoon in July. Compared to traffic in this area, glaciers move faster.

It took us about ten minutes to move passed the dead deer. I was accustomed to the Aroma of Tacoma, historically brought to us by the paper pulp mills near the tide flats to the east of town. Most of them were shut down. But habits die hard in the Pacific Northwest. So we proceeded slowly by the decomposing deer, secure in our olfactory indifference with windows rolled up and streaks of aromatic menthol ointment under our noses.

Doesn’t everyone?

Also, avoid breathing out of your mouth, or altogether.

A Permanent State of Disrepair Despair

The particular traffic jam in which we found ourselves started in December, 1960. That’s when this particular portion of I-5 was formally opened. I wasn’t there, but I’d guess that after a day or two of relaxation and eggnog, cones and detour signs went up, and new freeway revisions were promptly begun. In my lifetime growing up in the Puget Sound region, I have NEVER seen this section of freeway not under construction or not moving at a speed of approximately -273.15°(F).

Interstate 5 in Tacoma is an ongoing public works program with the goal not to aid transportation, but to maintain a thriving highway worker industry and union, with the added benefit of pissing off every commuter.

That’s my opinion. Prove me wrong.

Beware of Green Dancing Girls in Bikinis

We had traveled south to Tumwater for my nephew’s “High School Graduation and Going to Bootcamp Combo Party” and were returning to south Seattle to pick up our dogs who were being entertained at The Missus’ cousin’s house, where we spent the previous night. Her house sits on the hill overlooking Lake Washington. She has a lovely view. Plus, during the annual summer hydroplane races, her house lies directly in the flight path of the Navy’s Blue Angels.

I grew up near there. Over the hill at the south end of 59th street. Our house had a not-so-lovely view of a swamp and powerlines. But as a kid I loved it because there was a swamp, frogs and trees.

I remember marching out there on important and dramatic inter-planetary missions with my best friend, Greg. We kept in constant communication via Star-Trek® Communicators.

Make your very own Star Trek® Communicator!

  1. cut construction paper into a long strip about 2” x 8”;
  2. fold in half
  3. draw futuristic dials and buttons using your favorite color crayon.
  4. watch out for creepy green dancing ladies in bikinis (I know, but we were seven years old).

As for the hydroplane races. Like all my friends, I cut a hydroplane out of a pine board, painted it in the style of my favorite boat, Miss PayNPak, and dragged it behind my Schwinn (red with a banana seat) for most of the summer.

We moved away in 1970. Dad wanted to get out of the area. There was a lot happening at the time. Much of it bad. Our new home was out in the REAL woods of Maple Valley. I loved it. Dad bought me an ax of my very own and I learned to split firewood, ride horses, and feed livestock.

A few years ago I went back to the old south Seattle neighborhood. Time has not been kind. It was much smaller than I remember, quite seedy and rundown. A prime location for a meth house or worse. But the powerline, the trees and, presumably, the swamp were still there.

There were no green ladies in bikinis.

I suppose that’s good. At my age, I’d finally know what to do, but I wouldn’t possess the ability.

I almost told her to get off my lawn, but thought, “Maybe she IS my lawn”.

The little things.

This particular weekend, I wasn’t thinking of green ladies, hydroplanes, or Blue Angels.

I was thinking how crowded the area has become. The Puget Sound I remember was one of small lumber towns in the middle of huge forests. A land of baseball fields and taverns with amazing burgers. Of quiet woods, lakes, and old homesteads. It was a place of down-to-earth, patriotic men and women who made things with their hands in, mostly, the aviation, forestry, fishing and shipping industries.

But it’s different now. Seattle and the greater Puget Sound belong to the world, as home to some of the biggest tech corporations on the planet. Looking only to the future, and ignoring the past, they sustain themselves on confiscatory taxes and a population that seems to all be on the freeway at the same time.

Everyone seems to live with an eye firmly fixed on a technological future and the coming socialist perfection, which always seems out of reach, a bit further, perhaps just beyond that homeless encampment, right next to the old ball field now strewn with discarded needles and God knows what else.

It’s a place where they can spend years funding homeless solutions that only make things worse.

The government there wastes millions of dollars each year on many feel-good projects, including permanent highway construction that pisses everyone off. And yet, perhaps tellingly, they can’t be bothered to clean up a dead deer rotting on newly laid blacktop.

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2 Comments on “My Puget Sound Travelogue”

  1. “Seattle and the greater Puget Sound belong to the world . . . ”

    Eloquent and evocative, as was the whole post.

    I made a communicator out of some wood, a hinge, model paint, and various parts – I actually still have it. It was the envy of the whole fifth grade.

    1. Wow! You had the “Sharper Image” version. I had to be content with the Walmart version, and it didn’t work quite as well at distance, because I remember we had to do a lot of shouting.

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