Few new arrivals to Seattle will get a more gilt-edged presentation of the city than the personalized tour I received Wednesday from former 20-year cab driver and 2003 city council candidate Dick Falkenbury.
After learning of my newbie status, the lifelong Seattleite and Puget Sound gadfly offered to show me around town, and I eagerly accepted. The nearly three-hour outing left me with butterflies in my stomach.
But my assumption that I would reap the benefits of his encyclopedic Seattle knowledge exclusively that day was shortly dispatched as Falkenbury repeatedly paused to help random glassy-eyed tourists who’d lost their way.
These were my first clear indications that I was travelling with Seattle’s unofficial version of Ed Koch, the late New York City mayor who gained notoriety for walking his streets and querying city dwellers: “How’m I doin’?”
Falkenbury wasn’t asking, but plenty of folks treated him as though he was “da mayor” of the city despite his slightly disheveled appearance and proclivity to speak rather than breathe.
Such recognition about town, his undeniable passion for the city, and the eccentric twinkle in his eye was hard to resist. But more was to come.
For every block travelled, the Seattle stalwart proffered nuggets of history and cultivated observations.
I was dubious of his claims that Seattle gave “skid row” to the American lexicon. But a post-tour Google search found he may well be right. My skepticism of his bombastic claims ebbed as I realized I’d been gifted an unsanctioned key to the city.
Our first stop was Seattle’s Pike Place Market, where Falkenbury celebrated how the market offers cheap spaces for small businesses and provides low-income housing above the shops that feature millionaire vistas.
It wasn’t my first visit to the market, but his insights turned vague curiosity into a firm determination to explore it again and again. I’m now convinced it offers far more layers of gratification than its out-out-of-state reputation suggests.
When we inched through afternoon traffic into Pioneer Square, Falkenbury introduced me to one of the city’s hidden gems, known nondescriptly as Waterfall Park, Waterfall Garden, or UPS Park.
The secluded oasis at the intersection of 2nd Avenue South and South Main Street – the original UPS headquarters site – was built and donated by UPS founder James E. Casey. Through his Annie E. Casey Foundation, the garden has been maintained and staffed with a lone security guard since it opened in 1978.
“Unless you live across the street, you’d never know it was here,” Falkenbury said with glee while basking in the serenity of the parks’ two-story waterfall.
I found myself thinking it was the kind of place where you could play hookie from work, or in completely different stage of life, propose marriage.
We then rolled east into the Chinatown International District, where he said a restaurant there sold $5 entrees and $2 sandwiches. Normally I’d be skeptical of such outlandish claims, but with
each bigger Falkenbury boast, I found myself more convinced of their veracity. So it’s a near certainty the Chinatown International District will get a detailed site inspection from me in the near future.
Further along South Jackson Street, he pointed out the block where he said guitar impresario Jimi Hendrix grew up, and after venturing north of Leschi Park, Falkenbury singled out a house he claimed legendary composer Quincy Jones once lived in. Later he also spoke of the difficulty of locating Bruce Lee’s grave site in Lake View Cemetary.
These spots, I mused, are the kind of landmarks Seattle should draw attention to, not allow to languish in obscurity, or disappear altogether under slick new developments.
By the time he directed me to stop along a hedge-lined stretch of Madrona Drive, where there were no obvious attractions for the naked eye, my cynicism returned and I wondered if anything Falkenbury had said was true. I didn’t realize how wrong I was until he strolled into a slightly obscured walkway that opened up into what felt like a mini rainforest.
He called it the Leschi Reservoir. I called it terrifyingly captivating. I haven’t since been able to find an official designation, but the wood bridge walkway stretching over a
luscious layer of untouched overgrowth possibly 60 to 80 feet straight down was the stuff postcards are made of.
I’ll definitely show it off to anyone from back east who visits.
The next part of the tour took us to a flooding overflow outlet landscaped into eye-catching public space along 30th Avenue East between East John Street and East Denny Way.
“I didn’t realize it was this nice,” Falkenbury said when we ventured to inspect it closer.
Even after we traversed Aloha Drive, Broadway and Denny Way on our way back to The Times building, Falkenbury was still talking.
Though his banter had brought me one minute shy of missing an arranged conference call, I found it hard to walk away.
My general curiosity for a new place had mushroomed in just a few hours, all thanks to the deep civic affection and gregarious boosterism of “da mayor” of Seattle.