Capitol Hill electric trolley, circa 1903
Capitol Hill electric trolley, circa 1903 Municipal Archives

This weekend, local blogs, broadcasts, news websites, and social media accounts were clogged with sentimental words and images for an urban tragedy called the Alaskan Way Viaduct. People were walking on it, taking selfies on it, driving for the last time on it. The madness did not end. How can a person, a real urban person, have such feelings for an elevated freeway in the city's core? The man or woman of the streets should surely be overwhelmed by melancholy when coming across the dead and rusty tracks of the lost age of trolleys. That sounds normal. What's bizarre is thanking the Viaduct for the years of its service. Or, as in the case of Crosscut, posting a whole poem in its honor.

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It's called "An elegy to the viaduct on the eve of its passing (1953-2019)." Here are its opening lines:

The procession of unfurled sails on Opening Day
For this we give you thanks

The unceasing march of ferry boats from harbor to bay to sea, and back
For this we give you thanks

Reading this kind of thing makes my soul crunch horribly like a ball of tin foil.



What all of this makes clear is how much work must be done to instruct standard citizens on the appropriate feelings for things like freeways and highways in cities. These are monsters. They are scary. They're like those nightmare-large lizards that emerge from the sea and destroy the city with their giant tails and crush humans under their gigantic feet. And if you have a Christian imagination, let me help you. I have the vision you need. First, replace in your mind the image of a viaduct with an image of hell. See the cars on it as nothing but devils with pitchforks. See the exhaust fumes as smoke rising from brimstone. And hear the honking and motors as the screams of the damned.

This is how Isolde Raftery of KUOW described the occasion of the highway's closing:

First came the honks – celebratory honks, but Seattle does not honk, so this put everyone on alert that this was gonna be a P-A-R-T-Y. Windows came down, and music poured out, daring you not to woot-woot.

Topless women walked northbound like no big deal … motorcycles popped wheelies … Lime bikes swerved … a fireworks show lit up from the center lane just before the Battery Street Tunnel.

There should be no celebrations, no dancing, no nudies, no sentimental strolls. The Viaduct is not even dead. It's still has life. So, the proper emotion for the Viaduct should be the intense dread one feels when, in a horror film, a supernatural evil buries a person alive.

Giovanni Bellinis Drunk Noah
Giovanni Bellini's Drunk Noah

To keep it Biblical, watching Seattle gush over the Viaduct this weekend was like the sons of Noah seeing their father drunk and naked. It is justified to consider this post as something of an averting of the eyes and a covering of the naked city. Seattle embarrassed me.