Day 46 – I, For One, Welcome Our Latte-Drinking Computer Overlords

Seattle is a cool city.

That is not my opinion. I’m not the one who gets to decide if something is “cool” or not. If I did, Nickel Creek would be top 40 while Nickelback would be a struggling bar band; orange would be the number one color; and most current clothing retailers would go out of business.

But, Seattle seems to have the “cool” tag according to whoever has the power to assign such a label. It is trendy, hip, caffeinated, and a real threat to soon take over the world.

That last bit I made up, but it could very well be true. A common theme in sci-fi is that governments will soon be replaced by huge global companies as the most powerful socio-economic entities on Earth. And if you start thinking about which companies already have incredible power, mad-scientist cunning, and a propensity to take over things, what corporations come to mind? Microsoft, obviously, since the world already runs on Microsoft software—and for somewhat dubious reasons. Many past competitors produced better products, but were either forced out of business or bought up by Gates & Company. And Microsoft seems intent on taking over the electronics hardware market as well, mostly by copying competitors. They have lost billions selling Xbox systems, and seem perfectly happy about that fact, because in the process they also cost Sony and Nintendo billions in lost revenue. And Microsoft has more billions to lose.

Besides Microsoft, I would nominate Starbucks as a prime candidate for world domination. There just seems to be no limit to its growth. The company has so many locations, I would not be surprised to someday see a Starbucks inside a Starbucks. They will eventually be able to control us all through our frappuccino addictions, and persuade us to listen to Norah Jones and go watch something called Akeelah and the Bee.

What do a monopolistic software company and an omnipresent coffee chain have in common? They are both headquartered in and around Seattle.

Of course, any list of imperialistic mega-corps would be incomplete without Wal-Mart. Last I checked, Wal-Mart sells everything you could ever need for anything, except for lumber and automobiles—and they have tested selling autos at superstores near their headquarters. I predict they will someday sell lumber in Sam’s Club. However, the country’s largest non-government employer is based in Benton, Arkansas, and it is hard to imagine a world controlled by northwest Arkansas.

I drove to Seattle through some midday fog. Freezing fog, in fact, which coated trees and tall grass with a thick white frost. Freezing fog = frog?

The weather finally cleared up when I crossed the mountains and coasted down to the city. I drove around downtown until I found a parking spot near the Space Needle. I bought a ticket to the top, and got in line for one of the oversized elevators to take me there.

The Space Needle is not the tallest building in Seattle. Many of the skyscrapers in town are considerably taller. But, it is certainly the most famous structure in town, and still provides a great 360° view of the city and the bay.

The outdoor viewing platform that wraps around the needle protects people from themselves by having steel nets suspended both below and above the spectators. I am not sure how someone could harm themselves by jumping up and over the needle, so perhaps the upper netting is there to protect the Wheedle.

When I was a kid, one of the books that was read and reread and reread and reread was a story called the Wheedle on the Needle. The Wheedle was a furry creature with a glowing red nose—a cousin of Rudolph, apparently—who lived at the top of Seattle’s Space Needle. And…well, that’s all I could really remember about the story. So, I found a copy of the book in the Space Needle gift shop and allowed myself a quick refresher read.

It turns out that the Wheedle was a bit of a grouch, and the one thing that really ticked him off was, of all things, whistling. You might think that would not be much of a problem, but apparently the people of Seattle all liked to whistle, and would do so constantly, preventing the Wheedle from getting any sleep. They were just happy people, you see, probably because they were all early investors in Microsoft and Starbucks. Most of the story revolves around the Wheedle’s efforts to stop the whistling, including a diabolical plan to change weather patterns so that Seattle residents would stop being so dang happy. I don’t want to give away the surprise ending, but let’s just say that it involves earmuffs.

According to the book’s cover, the Wheedle on the Needle is supposed to teach kids that “cooperation can solve almost any problem.” That’s a nice goal, but all I remember learning from the book is that a creature with a blinking red nose lives on top of the Seattle Space Needle.

Though the real-life Wheedle is just an electric light that flashes a warning to passing aircraft, it was still nice to be able to see it in person. Now if I could only find Katie the Kitten and the elusive Wocket.

Near sunset, I stopped at Pike Place Market.

Among other things, Pike Place is home to City Fish Company, a fresh fish market where employees throw fish all over the place. Wanna buy a halibut? Go long.

City Fish is quite famous for this, since fish-tossing and the management philosophy that encourages it have been turned into a book and training video used at business seminars across the country. The “Fish!” philosophy includes such groundbreaking concepts as “be present”. “Be present” refers to simply being where you are, as opposed to being somewhere you are not. Such advice was revolutionary for people who were not where they were; people who were actually hanging out where they were not, usually because someone had moved their cheese.

No fish were flying when I visited the counter, so I had to ask whether I was in the right place.

“Is this the fish market where, uh, you throw fish around, and somebody wrote a book about it?”

“Yeah, but we’re about to close for the day, so there’s nobody around right now.”

I was a bit late. But, at least I was present.

I walked through the farmer’s market and down a street lined with small shops selling postcards, seafood, and even Turkish Delight. A street pianist—a street musician who carted his piano down to the sidewalk each day—played and sang while his piano advertised anti-Bush messages. I got the feeling that Seattle is very much an anti-Bush town.

I bought a chai latte at the Starbucks. The very first Starbucks; the place that was THE Starbucks before they started cropping up in grocery stores and hospital cafeterias and stacked 2-deep in suburban malls. The main difference, other than the outdated sign, is that most Starbucks stores I have been to have chairs inside. This one did not. They want people to get their coffee, and get out.

I got out, and then spent the evening driving around Seattle, with no destination in mind. I didn’t worry about having a place to stay for the night, because honestly, I just wasn’t a bit tired. Sleepless in Seattle is a common ailment, probably because of all the caffeine. The home of Starbucks is also home to more non-Starbucks coffee shops than any other place I had seen. Surely that would cause Seattle to have a higher-than-average rate of insomnia. That, and all the whistling.

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