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OF MONORAILS AND MONOMANIA
Dec 28th, 2013 by Clark Humphrey

Back in 2003, after the first round of local dot-com crashes, former Seattle Weekly writer Fred Moody wrote a book called Seattle and the Demons of Ambition.

Moody wrote about instances when the city as a whole, or individual Seattleites, obsessively pursued grandiose schemes for power, money, or civic greatness, only to figuratively crash back down to Earth.

Moody didn’t include the Seattle Monorail Project (1996-2005) in his vignettes. But that failed dream of a better, cheaper, more futuristic urban transit system certainly qualifies as a sky-high dream that collapsed amid broken hearts and balance sheets.

And Dick Falkenbury, the sometime cab driver who helped to launch the project, is a major aspect of this tale. While he’d worked in minor roles on local political campaigns in the past, many saw him as the ultimate outsider.

To the local media, and to many of his supporters, Falkenbury was the civilian tinkerer with a great idea—an idea that would cure gridlock, make car-free living more feasible, and never get stuck in traffic, all without major government subsidies.

He was like Campbell Scott’s character in the Seattle-filmed movie Singles, whose drive for a city-crossing “supertrain” was promptly dismissed by the mayor. Except that Falkenbury’s idea, while snickered at by almost everyone in power, was loved by the people.

With the aid of local rich kid Grant Cogswell and a few plucky volunteers, plus some clever ideas for low-cost signature gathering and campaigning, the Monorail Initiative got onto the ballot—and passed.

Cogswell went on to a failed City Council run, as documented in Phil Campbell’s book Zioncheck for President and Stephen Gyllenhaal’s movie Grassroots. (Later, Cogswell declared Seattle to be unworthy of him and moved to Mexico City.)

Now, Falkenbury’s written, and self-published, his account of the Monorail dream’s life and death.

The book’s title, Rise Above It All, was one of the initiative’s slogans.

Just as the elevated trains were meant to run above snarled streets, the Monorail Project was meant to run above, and apart from, the city bureaucracy and the “infrastructure lobby” of contractors and construction unions.

That things didn’t turn out that way wasn’t just the fault of Falkenbury’s outsider status. But that was a factor. He made enemies. He nurtured grudges, even with allies. Without the skills or clout to manage the ongoing operation of planning and building a transit system, he was forced to watch it taken over by the “experts.”

What came out the other end of that process was, in many ways, just another bloated civic construction proposal, complete with an unworkable financing plan. After four consecutive “yes” votes, city voters finally killed the monorail on a fifth ballot.

But would the system Falkenbury originally envisioned, or something like it. have worked?

Would it have carried 20 million riders or more per year, in auto-piloted trains, on tracks supported just 20 feet above the ground on narrow pillars, with fewer than 100 employees, financed almost completely by fare-box proceeds and station concessions?

In his book, Falkenbury insists it could have, and still could.

But he doesn’t make a convincing case.

For one thing, he could have really used an editor.

He regularly misspells the names of even major players in his story, such as City Councilmember Nick Licata.

He makes the sort of wrong-real-word errors that Microsoft Word’s spell checker can’t find, such as when he mentions “rewarding a contract” instead of “awarding” it.

He rambles on about his personal distaste for several people, including ostensible allies such as Peter Sherwin (whose second monorail initiative kept the dream alive after the city council first tried to kill it).

And he defends the monorail plan as he’d originally envisioned it, without providing a lot of specific evidence that the engineers and planners and politicians were all wrong and he was right.

But he still could be.

If Falkenbury had been a more effective schmoozer and networker; if he’d gotten more politicians on his side; if he’d sold his plan as a supplement, not a competitor, to the tri-county Sound Transit organization; if he’d convinced ST to at least consider switching from light-rail to monorail technologies; if he’d been able to keep a tighter eye on the planning and money people, or had more allies who could; then, just maybe, we might have been riding in the sky from Crown Hill to the West Seattle Junction by now.

(Cross-posted with City Living Seattle.)

OBJECT LESSONS
Apr 16th, 2013 by Clark Humphrey

seatacmedia.org

Earlier this year, KUOW and MOHAI came up with a list of 25 “objects that tell Seattle’s story.”

They range from the obvious (a Boeing B-17, a poster announcing the Japanese-American internment, a Starbucks coffee cup) to the more obscure (an ancient, giant ground sloth).

A little more recently, SeattlePI.com ran a list of “25 things we miss in Seattle.”

These also ranged from the truly famous (the Lusty Lady sign, Frederick & Nelson’s window displays) to the lesser known (the Woodland Park Zoo’s nocturnal-creatures exhibit).

I’ve got my own list of Seattle pop culture icons. All of them are things I’ve personally seen or owned.

And yes, there are 25 of them. (Why break a routine that works?)

In no particular order, they are:

  1. A Frederick & Nelson shopping bag.
  2. A Dog House place mat.
  3. A J.P. Patches plush doll.
  4. A floppy disc of MS-DOS 1.0.
  5. A P-I vending box.
  6. Dr. Belding Scribner’s first artificial kidney machine.
  7. The Kalakala.
  8. Bud Tutmarc’s pioneering electrified pedal-steel guitar.
  9. A Neptune repertory-cinema calendar.
  10. A KJR “Fab 50” newsletter/record chart.
  11. A mascot costume for “Nordy,” the old Nordstrom children’s shoe department spokescritter.
  12. A first pressing of Nirvana’s Bleach on vinyl.
  13. A work of Northwest Coast native art; or, one of artist Preston Singletary‘s upscale “tributes” to Northwest Coast native art.
  14. A Space Needle ball-point pen.
  15. A set of Peter Bagge-designed “grunge rock pencils.”
  16. A first-edition hardcover of Sophie Frye Bass’s book Pig-Tail Days in Old Seattle.
  17. A Seattle Pilots pennant.
  18. The Pike Place Market mural honoring pre-WWII Japanese-American farmers.
  19. An Amazon.com shipping box with one of the company’s five early logos.
  20. A piece of Kingdome debris.
  21. An Ivar’s Acres of Clams kids’ menu.
  22. A Smith Tower elevator car.
  23. A Washington Mutual savings passbook.
  24. The prototype 747.
  25. A wooden miniature hydroplane.
RANDOM LINKS FOR 10/26/12
Oct 25th, 2012 by Clark Humphrey

amidst-the-everyday.com

“Amidst the Everyday,” a project by photographers-artists Aaron Asis and Dan Hawkins, aims to reveal “elements of the unseen urban environment.” You go to places around town, scan QR codes (etched in wood!) at various buildings, and receive images of their hidden treasures. (Above, one of the unoccupied-for-decades upper floors of the Eitel Building at Second and Pike.)

  • I’m not disillusioned by the news of a potential sitcom that would carry the title Smells Like Teen Spirit. (The show concept sounds more like a ripoff of Family Ties, which is also something we don’t need.) However, I am at least a little disillusioned by the news of a potential Kurt and Courtney stage musical, which would be licensed by Courtney Love via Britney Spears’ estranged ex-manager.
  • Lester Smith, 1919-2012: The Mariners’ original principal owner had, in partnership with Hollywood star Danny Kaye, a number of business endeavors. They ranged from rock-concert promotion to direct-mail marketing. But Smith (or Kaye-Smith) will always be legendary for stewarding KJR-AM during its 1955-80 golden age as Seattle’s Top 40 (or “Fab 50”) powerhouse.
  • The Seattle Times‘ free ads for Rob McKenna caught the LA Times‘ attention; not to mention a less-than-kind portrayal in the SeaTimes‘ own “Truth Needle” department.
  • The next step up from bicycle lanes: physically separated “bike tracks.”
  • Knute Berger reiterates what I’ve been saying about the waterfront development scheme. Let’s not let it be “sanitized by good intentions.”
  • Dominic Holden would like you to know the biggest reason for legalizing pot. It isn’t for the stoners (and it sure ain’t to shut up the stoner evangelists, which had been my reason).
  • Joe Copeland takes up the continuing legacy of Floyd Schmoe, one of the greatest people I ever met, leader of Seattle’s Quakers and hands-on advocate for peace and reconciliation.
  • The next hurdle toward getting the NBA back in Seattle has been overcome. That hurdle is Commissioner David Stern, whose butt will be out of that particular chair by the end of next season.
  • A major casual-games convention may be leaving Seattle.
  • UK film blogger Petra Davis looks back admiringly at the still-underrated Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, 20 years old this year…
  • …and, with the winding down of the World’s Fair semi-centennial, our pal Jim Demetre has some kind words for the (mostly justifiably) forgotten It Happened at the World’s Fair.
  • In other film news, the Columbia City Cinema is being reopened (yay!). The new owner has repaired all the previous owner’s not-up-to-code “renovations.”
  • Note to Amazon Kindle users: Buy all your e-books while you’re physically in the same country, lest you be targeted as a Terms of Service violator.
  • Today’s dire-threat-to-America’s-youth story comes to you from a California high school where boys and girls alike are invited to join a “fantasy slut league.”
  • Penguin and Random House are in merger talks. This is bad news, since book publishing is one of those industries that’s too consolidated already.
  • Today’s lesson in the folly of products marketed as “For Women” is brought to you by Fujitsu and its “Floral Kiss” brand laptop PC.
  • Among all the slimy, sociopathic, and bigoted things Republicans are saying and doing these days, add this overt racism by Sarah Palin.
  • Pseudonymous Daily Kos diarist “bayushisan” wishes gamer culture had fewer macho jerks in it. (The same, of course, can be said about athiests and “skeptics,” online comment threads, U.S. politics, and even atheists and “skeptics”.)
  • Paul Karr loathes the dot-commers’ worship of “disruption” as a sacred concept, and the Ayn Randian me-first-ism behind it.
  • The BBC notes that “creativity is often intertwined with mental illness“…
  • …and Simon Reynolds disses the “modern dismissal of genius” in today’s “age of the remix.”
  • Earthquakes can’t be predicted. That hasn’t stopped a court in Italy from convicting seven scientists who failed to do so.
  • Community organizer “B Loewe” believes you should not get into lefty causes to feel good about yourself, and you shouldn’t try to be your own, or your only, emotional “caregiver.” Instead, you’re to practice prosocial interdependence as both ideology and a way of life.
  • Someone says something nice about so-called “hipsters!” They’re credited with helping bring back Detroit (the place, not the car companies).
RANDOM LINKS FOR 9/24/12
Sep 23rd, 2012 by Clark Humphrey

via yowpyowp.blogspot.com

Having finally gotten the Boomerang cable channel, I’ve become re-acquainted with the early Hanna-Barbera cartoon shows (Huck, Yogi, Quick Draw, ‘Stones, Top Cat, Jetsons, Jonny Quest). They didn’t have fluid movement but they had great visual composition. They had pleasing character designs and cool semi-abstract backgrounds. They had funny dialogue. Then the company got too big and everything went downhill. This B.C.-based blogger explains it all thoroughly, including the links between the Jetsons look and the Space Needle (hint: ours came first).

  • Chris Ballew’s jaunty li’l song from the J.P. Patches memorial celebration is now a video.
  • Seattle’s Capitol Hill was rated America’s eighth “hippest” neighborhood in one of those questionable magazine surveys.
  • Good (media) news, for once: the Village Voice Media chain of papers, including Seattle Weekly, was “taken private” in a management-led buyout. This might mean actual newspaper people in charge again. And Backpage.com, VVM’s oft-criticized sex ad website, will not be part of the new Voice Media Group.
  • We’ve long snarked at TV shows that were set in Seattle but made in L.A. or Vancouver. Now, though, it turns out it’s the L.A. production community that’s worried about “runaway” shows. Of all the new hour-long dramas on the five broadcast networks, all but two are being shot somewhere else. Even one show about young actors trying to make it in Hollywood is filmed in Toronto.
  • Take out the highly GOP-biased Rasmussen poll, and Obama’s currently ahead (at least slightly) in every so-called swing state.
  • The Obama campaign released a fun little online commercial showing how campaigns take opponents’ statements out of context—using real sliced-and-diced Romney quites.
  • Romney’s son admits his dad cheats and laughs about it, then says “that’s what we need in the White House.”
  • What happens when a Koch Bros.-funded super PAC tries to stage a pro-Wall St. rally? It gets infiltrated by “satirical” anti-Wall St. activists in suits and dresses.
SHOOTING THE BUMBER
Sep 6th, 2012 by Clark Humphrey

As promised, here are my observations of Bumbershoot 2012, Seattle’s annual big culture buffet.

As others have noted, it was a sunny but not unbearably hot three-day weekend, bringing out strong-sized crowd despite the steeper than ever ticket prices. (It was either charge $50 a day, or go back to having no musical stars bigger than Hall & Oates.)

Behold, my first ever deep fried candy bar (a Snickers). Gooey. Messy. Yummy.

How are curly fries made? With good old American industrial knowhow, that’s how.

They may call it the Seattle Center Armory now, but to me it will always be the Center House and/or Food Circus.

In this post-record-industry age, live gigs are more important than ever to a band’s financial model. So are gig posters, as lovingly seen at the latest Flatstock exhibit.

The historic video games exhibit (still up) shows the young’uns what real entertainment was like, 8-bit style.

But amid all the fun there’s some deadly serious stuff. World Vision International would like you to know AIDS is still devastating much of Africa.

This “House of the Immediate Future” was named after a model home full of futuristic devices at the ’62 World’s Fair. The new one exemplifies affordable-housing designs that could be factory-built, then installed on small real-estate footprints.

A few inflatable rides are no substitute for the late, great Fun Forest.

The Toyota-sponsored “Whac-A Hipster” game. Hipster-bashing has become corporate,and therefore beyond passé.

The heart of the “Put the Needle on the Record” exhibit, a mini-recording studio where you can record your own music and/or voices for a time capsule, is this recording lathe that cuts real phonograph-record masters.

Today’s greatest ETA (“Elvis Tribute Artist”), El Vez, does his massive act with a massive in-house video production (like all the big music stages had this year).

An inflatable icon of the original Elvis stood over two exhibits.

To the right, the Record Store, a display of classic vinyl LPs with DJs and live small combos.

To the left, the Elvistravaganza. Marlow Harris and Jo David applied their kitsch curatorial touch to the World’s Fair’s most enduring celebrity visitor. I contributed my (quite modest) ETA talents at the all-day karaoke stage.

As I departed the Center grounds to the soothing strains of Hey Marseilles, I regretted the many acts I hadn’t seen but felt enlivened and revived by the ones I had seen.

THE SQUARE PRIDE PARADE
Jul 29th, 2012 by Clark Humphrey

The Seafair Torchlight Parade is more than a relic of “a simpler time,” or an opportunity for Seattle merchants and restaurants to make money from visiting suburbanites and exurbanites.

It’s an opportunity for all of us to get back in touch with the values and aesthetics that helped make this city great.

At a time and place where these values are often scoffed at, Seafair proclaims there’s still plenty to admire in squareness.

Squares gave us the Space Needle. Squares gave us Boeing (and, hence, the “international jet set”). Squares gave us computers and software.

Towns at at least a little removed from the metro core still understand the positive aspects of squareness, and revel in them. I come from one of these.

Remember: Square DOES NOT necessarily equal boring or white. Values of family, tradition, and togetherness cut across all ethnic and subcultural lines.

There are three special things to mention about this year’s parade. The first is the Seafair Clowns’ heartfelt tribute to Chris Wedes/J.P. Patches.

The second thing was something I’d previously noticed last month at the gay parade—spectators using cam-equipped iPads to get a better-than-the-naked eye view of the proceedings.

And finally, what was Grand Marshal (and Fastbacks drummer #2) Duff McKagan doing in a horse and buggy? Wouldn’t a bitchin’ vintage muscle car be more his flavor?

RANDOM LINKS FOR 6/18/12
Jun 17th, 2012 by Clark Humphrey

ford 'seattle-ite xxi' car display at the world's fair; uw special collections via edmonds beacon

  • In the revived Baffler, self described “anthropologist and anarchist” David Graeber has a long “salvo” of an essay that starts out by asking some of the questions a lot of folks have asked during the World’s Fair semicentennial: Where the heck are the flying cars, missions to Mars, or other techno-wonders we were promised back then? Graeber smoothly segues from that into a more general modern malaise, in which nothing seems to be getting better except info-tech—and that’s turned us all into serfs to bureaucracy, even in our private lives. His answer: a more egalitarian economy. (I know, easier to say than to make.)
  • Online Media Shrinkage Watch: The combo of Crosscut and Publicola turned out to be more of a springtime fling than a marriage. Crosscut’s cutting back. Not just on its new hires (Publicola founders and city hall insider reporters Josh Feit and Erica Barnett), but the site’s existing staff and freelance budgets. Three big funding sources are expiring around the same time. Crosscut founder David Brewster says a new funding scheme (and a reorganization, with Brewster stepping back from full hands-on management of the site) is on the way. And Feit’s talking about restarting Publicola with his own new reorg. Weezell see….
  • As Wash. state’s privatized booze biz rolls on, could people actually start drinking less?
  • Attendance at Occupy Seattle’s “general assembly” meetings has plummeted. Is the organization fading away? If it does, its range of causes has not and will not go away. Tactics change. Goals remain. Eyes on the Prize and all that.
  • While the alpha-male hustlers running most all of America’s tech companies (and the equally estrogen-lacking tech journalists and bloggers) weren’t noticing, Internet usage has become majority female. So are the usages of GPS, e-book readers, Skype, text messaging, mobile-phone voice usage, and more.
  • The Waterfront Streetcar might or might not run again. If it does, it won’t be for at least seven years.
‘THE FUTURE REMEMBERED’; A WOMAN FORGOTTEN?
Feb 25th, 2012 by Clark Humphrey

My pals at HistoryLink.org have put together a weighty historical coffee table tome called The Future Remembered.

It’s all about the Century 21 Exposition, the Seattle world’s fair that began 50 years ago this April.

It’s 300 pages of insightful prose and luscious pictures concerning what is still probably the single most important event that ever happened here in Software City.

It’s proof of what a physical book can still be—an object of desire. (And a handy blunt instrument, should you need one.)

It gives you most of the individual subplots of the fair’s story, from the miraculously perfect design of the Space Needle to the erotic puppet show (by the future producers of Land of the Lost!).

These sub-stories are woven around a main narrative line, about a cabal of squarer-than-square civic boosters who pulled off a staggering feat of a spectacle, something that melded both high art and mass entertainment into one vision of a sleek modern tomorrow (that mostly still hasn’t shown up).

And it even turned a small profit, and left a 74-acre arts-and-recreation campus in the middle of town.

You should all look it up, check it out, even get one for your very own.

Indeed, there’s only only one small mini-gripe I’ve got with the document.

There’s a two page spread saluting “Women At Century 21.”

It honors Gracie Hansen (the brassy small-town hostess who ran one of the fair’s burlesque revues), Laurene Gandy (wife of fair exec Joe Gandy and a tireless worker for both the fair and the subsequent Seattle Center), and the other male execs’ wives (billed collectively as “Our Fair Ladies”).

But one prominent woman is not mentioned in the spread. Or in the entire book.

Dr. Dixy Lee Ray (1914-1994) was a marine biologist, a UW prof, and a science-ed host on KCTS.

Ray worked as a “science advisor” to the United States Science Pavilion at the fair. In this role, she was the pavilion’s chief spokesperson to the local media.

She then became the first head of the pavilion’s post-fair entity, the Pacific Science Center.

From there she became the highest ranking woman in Richard Nixon’s Executive Branch (running the Atomic Energy Commission).

From there she successfully ran for governor in 1976 as a “flag of convenience” Democrat.

Then she proceeded on an anti-environmentalist agenda, alienated just about the entire state Democratic Party, and lost her re-election bid in the 1980 primary.

Ray left behind a lot of political opponents.

And, admittedly, her later role with the Science Center held more authority than her role with the Science Pavilion.

But she should not be written out of the fair’s history.

RANDOM LINKS FOR 2/20/12
Feb 19th, 2012 by Clark Humphrey

  • Not really a Seattle Times Shrinkage Watch update, but related: The Times website has posted the entire 152-page commemorative special section originally published at the Seattle World’s Fair’s opening weekend, 50 years ago this April. (And remember, newspaper pages were a lot wider back then.) All those puff-piece articles. All those now ‘retro’ photos and art. And all those ads! From supermarket chains down to commercial construction firms that didn’t need mass-market ads. Everyone wanted to advertise in newspapers then.
  • No, Amazon is not some giant ogre out to stomp on all things truly bookish, say a few truly bookish folks.
  • Rap n’ Opera, together at last. At least in this story.
  • Last week’s #1 TV show in the Seattle area: the Grammys. #2: Downton Abbey. Really.
  • Are we two years away from no longer being able to see films distributed on, you know, film?
RANDOM LINKS FOR 1/18/12
Jan 17th, 2012 by Clark Humphrey

myonepreciouslife.wordpress.com

As an entire region continues to impatiently await the promised, wondrous Snowtopia hinted at on Sunday but only teased about in the two days since, here’s some beautiful flakes of randomness for ya.

  • Knute Berger’s found some unused ideas for the 1962 World’s Fair, many of which were rightfully unused.
  • The state budget supercrisis is causing even the state ferry system to consider dropping whole routes. Buh bye, Bremerton. Was nice to know ya.
  • Eric Scigliano raises the battle cry: Save the Phone Book! (The white pages, at least.)
  • One proposal to (partly) stem the state’s fiscal megacrisis: A capital gains tax.
  • Another such proposal is to move all business-tax collection to Olympia, cutting cities and counties out of the action.
  • The city of Seattle wants to shut down outdoor homeless-feeding operations. Is this humaneness, or is it the “disappearing” of poverty?
  • Union-bustin’, vote-suppressin’, billionaire-coddling Wisc. Gov. Scott Walker is really, really unpopular.
  • Now that she’s sold her news-aggregation-site empire to AOL, is Arianna Huffington going to become a Republican again?
  • The fight against sweatshop-made sports merch spreads from colleges to pro teams, including the Dallas Cowboys.
  • Fond birthday wishes to perhaps the greatest living American.
  • If anyone here has ever had any doubts, the most recent race-to-the-bottom GOP debate shows it again: racist bigotry is neither clever nor cool. It’s just stupid.

And finally, I will have a new product announcement in this space tomorrow. It’s something all loyal MISCphiles will want to have for their very own.

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