It was my last day in Seattle and I wanted to learn a little more about the city so I signed up for an underground tour. Meeting in downtown Seattle, the tour began in a basement of a skyrise. It was dark and had a setup like what you’d see during Halloween.
The tour had about 15 people and as we sat in dark pews, the tour guide started by giving us the rundown of what the next 90 minutes would look like. We began by going around the corner and seeing the old store fronts.
Seattle was originally a logging town and port city, but really started to boom when they realized they could take advantage of people flocking to Canada and Alaska in search of gold. Seattle became a place where people (mostly men) could rest, buy supplies, and eat.
Being mostly men coming through the city, Seattle developed a seedy underground full of booze and prostitutes. The police and government officials overlooked all of this as long as these establishments paid their “tax” – which was basically a bribe. This went on for about 100 years until the 1970s when the FBI did an investigation and put a stop to all of it.
The shoreline of Seattle used to be giant cliffs overlooking the ocean, so people couldn’t build many houses there. The city center was near the port on soft ground and the tide changed dramatically at the end of the day. The tide would literally come into the little town, wash things away, and flood it.
The roads were made of a mixture of sawdust and dirt (remember, it was a logging town) and when the horse and carriages would come through the city, they’d poop on the street. The tide water became a combination of many things, including horse poop. There were some sections that had a consistency of oatmeal, and were like quick-sand causing people would drown. People literally risked their life to walk down the street.
In 1889, the city had a massive fire (miraculously, nobody died) and it cleared out thousands of rodents that carried diseases. It gave the city the chance to rebuild in brick and stone, and fix the tide issue. They decided all new streets would be graded one to two stories higher than the original streets. During this construction, the streets were built first and the sidewalks later. Merchants stayed open during construction and used ladders for people to climb down to their store until the sidewalks were complete. Lots of people actually died falling off of these ladders.
Once the sidewalks were complete, the storefronts were moved to the 2nd story, and the first story now became the basement, and the underground was born. Buildings were not connected to each other underground, but it gave way to the seedy happenings in the city. They installed makeshift “skylights” using little glass tiles so light came through. You can still see the mosaic titles on the sidewalks in Pioneer Square.
In 1907, the city condemned the underground because of bubonic plague carried by rats. After years of most of the underground being abandoned, they restored a few sections and started giving tours. In 1965, Bill Speidel starting giving tours and still operates today (which is the tour I took).
The city also spent time regrading the other parts of Seattle and demolishing the cliffs so houses and roads could be built. They used high-pressure water hoses to make the cliffs more like steep hills.
The tour was fascinating and I was able to see a few underground sections, including the Comedy Underground club, where comedians perform. Learning the history helped me to understand why the streets were so crappy and full of potholes – they sink 1/8th of an inch every year because underneath them it’s still sawdust and dirt.
After the tour, I walked around downtown a bit and messaged a guy I had been talking to on Tinder, Jerry. I told him that it was my last night in Seattle (wanted to be clear I don’t live there as to not repeat the previous date I had when I first arrived to Seattle) and I was told I need to try the oysters. I asked if he wanted to go and he said he did and would pick me up.
I took an Uber back to my Airbnb to change into pants and freshen up. I thought it was nice he offered to pick me up. Most guys say they’ll meet you somewhere so this felt promising. Jerry arrived and I got into his car. He was about 5’11” – 6’ tall, with blonde/reddish hair, and was on the thinner side but fit. The wrinkles on his face made him look older than 32.
We decided on a place in downtown and Jerry had to parallel park. Backing into the space up a steep hill, he was nervous he’d mess up since I was watching. It actually felt nice for someone else to be nervous.
Jerry hadn’t eaten oysters in about 10 years so we didn’t know which ones to order. I said, “I’ll ask the waiter for help.” Jerry responded, “I’m usually embarrassed to ask and show I don’t know.” I explained, “Yeah, but my take on it is this. You ask and are embarrassed once. Then you know how to do it going forward and don’t have to worry about it again.” He smiled and said, “That’s true.”
We ate the oysters but agreed we don’t care for them very much. While eating, I learned a little more about Jerry. He has his master’s degree, was in the peace corps for two years, and is a project engineer for a nonprofit in Sierra Leone. He spent two years in Sierra Leone but told his company he can’t keep living there. They compromised and said he can do three months there and then three months in Seattle, as a rotation.
After oysters, Jerry asked if I wanted to walk around so we did. Lots of people were walking the streets as a parade had just finished. We walked for close to an hour and I noticed my hand kept hitting his. I thought my purse that was crossed over my shoulder must be bumping my hand into his hand. At one point, I quietly said, “Sorry”. But then I noticed Jerry kept looking at my hand. I thought, “Wait, is he trying to hold my hand. Crap. What do I do now??”
My problem is that I get very nervous at the anticipation of meeting someone, or holding hands, or kissing. It had been 2-1/2 years since I separated from my ex-husband after being married for 9 years. I hadn’t held hands or kissed anyone since my ex. Part of me just wanted to get it out of the way because otherwise, the more time that passed, the more anxious I became about it. It felt like a “build-up” and I would start to feel sick to my stomach.
Jerry and I arrived at a bar and he bought me a beer. Sitting close to me at the bar, Jerry became more flirtatious. Right after we finished our beers, the bartender asked if we wanted another one. As I was about to say yes, Jerry said no. Then he turned towards me and said, “If we’re going to have another beer, I shouldn’t drive so we should go to a bar close to my house. I can park in between my place and your place and walk you home after the bar and then I can walk home.” He lived about half a mile from where I was staying so it made sense.
As we left the bar and walked to Jerry’s car, he held my hand. It felt really nice to hold someone’s hand – it was sweet and genuine. Once Jerry parked near his house, we walked towards the bar and he continued to hold my hand.
We arrived at the bar, but it was closed. Jerry said he knew of another one nearby, but it was a dive bar. I was fine with that so we headed there. He bought us some beer and we sat across from each other at a small table near the pool table. I was holding my glass with my left hand and I noticed he kept looking down at my hand. So I grabbed my glass with my right hand and let go of the glass with my left hand. Jerry grabbed my left hand and held it. Then held it with both of his hands. I’ve never had a guy hold my hand across the table before and it was sweet.
We had a good conversation and it felt like Jerry was a good guy. When I felt he was going to kiss me, I got nervous and continued talking like a crazy person. Finally, we kissed! It was sweet and instantly I didn’t feel so nervous. It’s the lead-up that makes me feel sick. I hadn’t held hands or kissed someone in so long, I forgot how nice it was to have human touch. We are designed to have human touch – it’s one of the five love languages. I never realized how much I missed it until I didn’t have it for so long.
Jerry thanked me for asking him to get oysters and I thanked him for going with me. I knew I’d likely never see him again, but I was ok with that. He had spent a lot of time in Sierra Leone and I think he was in the same boat – we needed to connect with someone, even if it was just temporary.