Perhaps your terror is undercut by a vague feeling of political incorrectness. "Aren't we supposed to be accepting of 'the gay lifestyle'?" you wonder. Don't fret--the inhabitants causing this place to bristle with itchy desire are far from the happy homosexuals marching for your love and acceptance. In fact, most of them have wives, and kids, and homes in Burien.
Run. DAVID SCHMADER
KINNEAR PARKWhat we actually desire when we say we need parks in the city is far, far away from what nature really is. What we seem to want are manicured green spaces with overlooks and benches, free of the kinds of hiding places that encourage people unlike us to share in the idea of the idyll. What we get is chaotic, willful, deceptive, shadowy, public.
The upper section of Kinnear Park bears some resemblance to the idea of park-as-confection, although its narrow paths and dense foliage do somewhat obscure a demimonde. (I once found a couple having sex in the bushes, and didn't see them until I had stumbled over a leg that had strayed into the path.) But it's the lower "unimproved" section where things really get eerie. This area is under observation, having been identified by the parks department as the kind of place where a landslide might happen. This does nothing to lighten the mood of the place; nearly vertical walls of bare dirt tower above you, with threatening overhangs of root-balls and shaggy torn earth. The path down appears to have been hacked out of a jungle, and passes by a tennis court so surrounded by trees as to be virtually devoid of light.
It's hard not to project your anxiety onto your surroundings. The large-scale leaves are aggressively overgrown, the ivy is likely to strangle you. Extraordinarily fat squirrels chase each other from tree to tree (what could they possibly be eating?). The pile of white animal hair, the filthy stained Ace bandage are possibly all that's left from a to-the-death struggle.
And then the park dead-ends in a private back yard and the roar of 15th Avenue West just beyond it, a No Camping sign, and a tent city a little farther on, hidden in a cluster of trees. You have no peripheral vision, only an intuitive sense of go here/don't go there. If you stop and examine the stillness, you are likely to find a pair of eyes watching you from behind a tree, as you turn to haul yourself back up the steep hill, back to the safe organization of streets, to the asphalt that hides nothing. EMILY HALL
RETINA-SEARING SIDEWALKS OF DAZZLE
Sunny downtown strolls are not as uncommon to folks as those foreign to Seattle would have you believe. Still, it's not unlikely that out-of-towners congregating at the newly built convention center might venture out into the morning air for a cup of coffee sans sunglasses. Woe and agony to the man or woman who does! Only a clever joker with a mean grudge against tourists and conventioneers could have conceived of such a diabolical plan as to lay a block-long strip of sidewalk embedded with shards of decorative glitter so blinding that people exiting the Cheesecake Factory, Seattle Public Library, or Meridian 16 Cinemas become staggering fools, smashing into acclimated bystanders and rolling off the hoods of oncoming cars as they try oh so desperately to gouge out their own eyes. So horrible is the glittering assault that it takes down not only visitors, but locals as well, as anyone who has ever lumbered down Pike with a hangover can attest. KATHLEEN WILSON
RAINIER AVENUE DMVI've never been to a Department of Licensing office that didn't make me feel like I had just been committed into a creepy mental hospital. The gray walls, the monotone staff, the fluorescent lights casting a sickly glow on everyone--it can be quite frightening. But I needed to renew my license and I heard the Rainier Avenue office had the fewest lines, so on a gray afternoon, I bravely headed south.
After claiming a spot in the poorly organized and tiny parking lot, I turned to close the car door. A gush of wind shot through, swirling up the many dead leaves on the ground and slamming the door shut. The burst of cold air gave me goose bumps as I zipped up my hooded sweatshirt and headed toward the front door. The couple of kids leaning against the outside of the building stared at me nervously as I walked past--like they knew what was about to happen, but were too frightened to offer any warning.
I pulled open the door and had the urge to turn around running, but instead I took a spot in line. To my left, almost every chair was filled. The people were habitually biting their nails, kicking their feet under chairs, or twisting their hair. They all had a glazed, overly medicated look plastered on their faces.
"Now serving number zero four zero."
In unison, everyone looked down at the numbered piece of paper pinched between his or her fingers. No one stood up. No one spoke.
"Now serving number zero four one."
Again, no one stood up. No one spoke.
In the few minutes I stood there, no one came in and no one left. They all sat quietly, waiting. When I left, they were waiting. And something tells me they still are. MEGAN SELING
PEDESTRIAN UNDERPASS, QUEEN ANNEYou descend below street level into a ravine, and there you are at the base of a precipitous slope, where everything to one side of you seems to fall off quickly and altogether. There's a pervasive animal smell, and the sound of dripping. Cars appear around a tight corner, careening by and then disappearing, coming from nowhere, going nowhere, like a park thoroughfare: built to accommodate man in nature, and serving neither.
So much of this makes no sense. A field of columns, as solemn and anachronistic as a ruin. Garbage embedded in a bush. A steep path up a hillside crowded with trees, no real destination in sight, with an overturned shopping cart blocking the way. A mural painted in an underpass, celebrating other marginal spaces, the homes of the homeless, the Aloha Inn, and Tent City. All the indications of people, without any people at all.
You are happy to reemerge into daylight. EMILY HALL
AMAZON HEADQUARTERSDuring the booming '90s, Amazon.com was confident (or better yet, arrogant) enough to move into the massive, 16-story art deco building that's on the edge of Beacon Hill. Built in 1932, the building was a military hospital until 1981, when it became a civilian hospital. In 1999, it was renovated by then unstoppable Amazon.com. During this robust period, the building floated above our city with an Olympian dreaminess. But now that the e-economy is all but dead, the massive bulk no longer recalls Mt. Olympus or the magic kingdom, but a castle that houses vampires. People who visit and spend a night in that building risk seeing more than one ghost: They will see the ghosts of those who lost their limbs and minds to the Great Wars floating next to those who lost millions (if not billions) on the stock market. CHARLES MUDEDE
THE NORDSTROMS' HOUSEAcross Lake Washington, on a posh peninsula that's its own town, Hunt's Point, lies a mansion owned by the Nordstrom family. A few years ago I was inside their huge home, practically alone, late at night. A few of the Nordstroms' grown children were in town, grandchildren in tow, and the parents needed a babysitter for the little ones while the rest of the family went out to dinner. Somehow, I got the one-night job.
The kids were sweet--we watched a Disney video, and they went to bed early. That left me alone in the house, in the cozy family room and kitchen (its cupboards plastered with photos and letters from famous folks, like Oscar de la Renta and Harrison Ford). Large windows looked out past the garden, to Lake Washington. I settled in on a couch near the dark windows, waiting for the parents to come home--but I wanted a glass of water. The high-tech fridge, however, didn't seem to have a freezer, and I needed ice. Since the house was so large--the older child told me this part was the 'guest wing'--I figured there had to be another kitchen area somewhere, stocked with ice. A door in the kitchen led to the rest of the house, and I pushed it open.
Past that door, everything was dark. I could make out the outline of a dining table and chairs, but I was too afraid to go in: The whole room was filled with eerie piano music. As far as I knew, there was no one home playing the piano, but yet the dark room was practically a concert hall. Too scared to investigate further, I assumed the music was coming from hidden speakers. Apparently, the Nordstroms like to maintain a mood in their home, even when they're away. Freaked out--and conjuring up images of horror movies where the teenage babysitter dies--I quickly shut the door and ran to the couch. Turning up the TV loud enough to distract me from the mystery piano music, I drank my tepid water until the family returned. AMY JENNIGES
THE WOODS OF SEWARD PARKFirst, I must say this:
A forest presents a different kind of terror than a desert. A desert terrorizes us with its emptiness; we want to see something in it, but it offers us nothing. Ultimately, we are forced to fill this emptiness with our hopes and fears: Before our desperate eyes, Satan materializes on a shimmering dune, tempting us to jump into a canyon that has suddenly opened behind us; or we moan in agony when, after running to an oasis, we find our mouth filled not with cool water but hot sand. There is no truth in the desert, just optical tricks.
A forest, on the other hand, terrorizes us with its abundance. In the depths of the woods, with all its stinging insects, the thing that is watching us is always behind a tree or hidden in the bushes. When finally we see what it is that has been following us, the mysterious creature whose footsteps rustled dead leaves there, and shook live leaves here, it's too late: We scream, first in fear and then in death. In the forest, the moment of realization (the moment of truth) is always the final moment.
That said, let me say a few words about the woods of Seward Park.
The eeriness of this park is derived, first, from this paradox: It is in the city, yet once you are in the park you are not in the city. The city and its electric life vanishes and what remains are the crooked trees and the susurrous leaves. Second, because it's on a peninsula, it feels like the woods are on an island--an island of the dead. While walking through the park at dusk, one fears coming across a deceptive house made of hard candy and colored cookies; or, worse, getting lost forever like the damned students in that low-budget movie. CHARLES MUDEDE
TACO BELL ON BROADWAYBroadway's Taco Bell, the fast-food restaurant immortalized in Sir Mix-A-Lot's "Posse on Broadway," is possibly the scariest business on the Capitol Hill strip. One of the few restaurants open after midnight (unless you count the also-scary Jack in the Box, which keeps its drive-thru open 24 hours), Taco Bell attracts everyone, from hungry college students to late-night partiers to street folks who live in the area. While those customers don't necessarily make the place frightening, you still have to be brave to stop by after midnight for nachos or burritos.
Perhaps it's the eerie fluorescent lighting that casts a cold glow on the sidewalk, the less-than-friendly staff, or the frightening décor. Or, maybe it's the incessant feeling that this place is ripe for a late-night armed robbery. Whatever it is about this place, you wouldn't catch me there after midnight. AMY JENNIGES