The location was Frink Park, one of those beautiful, foliage- jammed areas down the steep slope from the Central District to Lake Washington. To get there, follow Yesler Way east until it ends. Once you crest the Leschi ridge, you'll go past the illuminati hub (?) that should TOTALLY be a restaurant/cafe, past the elementary school, past cyclists puffing up the severe grade. At the very very very tail end of Yesler, you will happen upon a big dream-catcher sculpture and a rocky path that descends into a serious wood.
But wait—before you enter: The Rick Steves in me would like to tell you that if you are standing at this trailhead and not looking out across Lake Washington to the Eastside's suburbs, you are missing out. Raise your eyes and look, because there it is. The glittering Bellevue skyline.
Beautiful, isn't it?
Another thing: If it's dark, and you don't have a light with you, don't continue on. I repeat: Do not continue on. I don't want to sound condescending, but some parts of the city are safe during the day and dangerous at night. This is one of those parts. Frink Park, aka Owl Town.
One night recently, I foolishly entered the darkened ravine and continued on through Frink Park to the adjacent Leschi Park and all the way down to the lake, to my destination of Leschi Market, to buy bacon. Have you been to Leschi Market? It's a mom-and-pop yuppie corner store. They have amazing bacon, and if you tell them to cut it thick, it comes in steaks, basically. I eat the magenta parts raw. Is that safe? Probably safer than walking through Frink Park in the dark.
It looked a little scary, but I soldiered on into the dark anyway. After twenty paces—BANG! It felt like the back of my head had been punched with scissors.
I looked for a branch that could have thwacked me. Or a teenager with a pellet gun? Or a ghost?
"Hey, is anyone in here?" I said weakly.
So I started walking again. Twenty more paces and then BANG!—straight to the back of my head, the same punch/snip. I took off running. It was something in the air, something overhead, something flying. I instinctively knew I would not be able to outrun it, so I needed to protect my head somehow while getting the hell out of the park. I had a reusable shopping bag with me, so I waved it over my head as I ran. Are you picturing this? Me, terrified out of my skull, running through the dark, waving a bag over my head.
I got to Leschi Market, where in the fluorescent light I could see on my fingers that there was blood in my hair. I bought my bacon in a daze and walked home on lighted streets. That was no ghost. That was a living, breathing, thinking animal. Was I just dive-bombed by an animal?
I called a doctor (my dad) who told me to go to the emergency room right away, because it could have been a bat, and a bat could have rabies, and everyone with untreated rabies dies. But a bat didn't sound right to me. A little googling revealed that owls swooping people in the Seattle area is pretty common. KING 5 News reported in November that "aggressive owls are making people their prey in local state parks, prompting rangers to close off areas to the public for safety." A woman who was attacked by a barred owl while walking in Bridle Trails State Park near Kirkland said, "He grabbed both sides of my ponytail with his claw." A jogger who was attacked in 2009 in Discovery Park, also by a barred owl, told Queen Anne News, "I felt something hit me on the back of my head and knock my hat off." West Seattle Blog ran the story of a guy out on Alki who started wearing a construction hard hat to work because an owl kept swooping him every morning. Barred owls are huge and brown and scary-looking, and, according to the experts, aggressively territorial. They do their hunting at dawn and dusk. And in addition to habitually mistaking the tops of people's heads for small animals, they are also, for whatever reason, drawn to headphone wires and ponytails.
I had headphones on.
I called my actual doctor at his house (evening house calls: Doctors love this) and told him the story. He said it didn't sound like a bat. It was probably an owl, no big deal. But by then I was paranoid and didn't know what to believe, so I called for a third opinion from the head epidemiologist at King County Public Health. She said she'd go to the emergency room. But it could wait until tomorrow.
The next day at the ER, I got a tetanus shot, two gamma globulin shots, and rabies shots. Arms, thighs, butt. Rabies shots used to be administered in the stomach. Then the rule became: only in the location of the bite. Now, anywhere is cool. The doctor said I needed three more installments over the next two weeks, and that I should arrange to get them someplace other than the ER, which proved to be difficult. They were around $250 for a pharmacy to buy and had to be ordered from a place called "Auburn." Pharmacies don't stock rabies shots because nobody uses them. My doctor didn't want to place the order at the clinic. It's a hassle. He reminded me that his advice was not to get the shots in the first place.
So I went and got a fourth opinion from the UW Travel Clinic. They said yes, I needed rabies shots, so I called my doctor back and convinced him to order them, since his office is closest to my house. Once the rabies shots arrived, I found myself shirtless in the examining room, watching the nurses reading the folded paper in the box the vials came in, puzzling over the sequence of injections. The schedule I heard at the emergency room conflicted with the schedule on the paper.
"I've been a nurse for 13 years and never given a rabies shot," one of them said.
Coordinating the other two shots with my clinic required some more research of my own, gathering information from King County Public Health and UW Travel Clinic—such as, you can get shots late in the sequence and that's okay, but not early; and four shots is acceptable to complete the cycle, not six, like the packaging says. I explained these things to the nurses at my clinic when I went back. They took my word for it.
Long story short, I got the shots and I'm fine and don't have rabies. Thank God for health insurance: According to an Explanation of Benefits I just got in the mail, the ER quoted my insurance company $22,000 for some shots and a few minutes with doctors/nurses. (I'm going to let the insurance company fight over that one—imagine the hell I'd be in without them.) Friends say I'm part owl now. They call me "Owl B. Sure." They ask if I'm honorarily in Oldominion (the longstanding local rap crew with an owl logo). They don't understand how scared I was. But how could they know? Who gets attacked by owls?