A friend of mine once lamented that though he lived in Chicago for years, he very rarely went to the theatre. Now he lives hundreds of miles away and regrets never having taken advantage of one of the things the city is famous for. It's easy to have the same regrets. When we're traveling, we set up our schedule to fit in the famous things we pass along the way... but in our everyday lives, we are often too busy living to stop and see the Mona Lisa.
When I moved to Seattle, I resolved to halt this tendency in my own life. First on my list: the Space Needle.
You can't get a more recognizably Seattle icon, but surprisingly, many of the Seattle residents I spoke to had never been up in the Space Needle. Undoubtedly the price is a factor: $18 a head for adults and $11 for kids is pretty steep, and even a small group's bill becomes large rather quickly. But this is an opportunity to take a fairly unique gander at the city we all love and climb inside a structure whose outside is intimately familiar.
We begin by taking an extra-speedy trip from ground floor to top floor -- 518 feet above -- in a glass elevator, with the tour guide precariously perched against the glass doors. My mother feared for his safety and he calmly explained that the doors were securely locked during the trip and to prove it he hit the "open door" button and gave us all heart attacks. That must be his favorite part of the job. You get a brief history of the Space Needle on the way up before you're turned loose onto the observation deck.
When you get to the deck, on the inside, you'll find food for the hungry, drinks for the thirsty and chairs for the weary. Outside, you'll find a terrific view of everything, but only a few hard benches to sit on.
At various points around the deck, guides get up on little boxes to give 20 minute "tours" of the viewing area in that particular quadrant. I would place these people in their late teens or early 20s and their presentation is uneven at best. The information, though, is interesting and helps you to get perspective on what you're seeing, to place yourself in the big map in your head.
One thing I loved to see that you don't see on ground level is how much the city and the water are enmeshed. Especially since I had recently moved from Las Vegas -- in the middle of a desert -- and it was almost a miracle to see so much water curled around the houses and businesses I walk and drive around every day.
And then there's the never-gets-old joy of perceiving things as being much closer together than they appear on the ground. You feel as if you could do a cannonball into Lake Washington. Some things, too, were just meant to be seen from the air. The EMP in the Seattle Center has an abstract guitar across its roof and its bright colors and odd shapes are better appreciated from above.
Best of all, I got to think about the history of the Space Needle and how long it has been reaching for the sky. I thought of when it was first built, and I imagined my mother as a young woman -- younger than I am now -- attending the World's Fair and gazing at a younger Seattle. She was a tourist then, and I am gladly both tourist and resident today.
I don't think that "tourist" is a very bad word. To me it implies a desire to see, to take part and to take a little bit of something into your soul. So, get out your camera and see all the things that make people want to come to Seattle. You don't even have to buy a plane ticket to do it!
CityGuide: Family Activities in Seattle, Washington
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