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When you're doing a series like this — all about places in Seattle you've loved — you try to not hit the obvious spots. No Space Needle, yet (although I did write about the Monorail), and no Pike Place Market. Why? That place is one of the richest story producers our city has ever seen, from the history, to the business owners, to the senior housing and pre-school. Avoiding the Space Needle is avoiding the obvious tropes, but avoiding the Market is more difficult: it's that I just don't know where to start.
Until today. I was looking at a photo I took of the main sign at the Market — the one at the intersection of Pike Street and Pike Place, with the tall neon letters and the clock — that I had taken from the amazing patio of the apartments in the heart of the market. A friend who lives there was having a barbecue, and I was struck by this unique view of such an iconic sign.
The sign, erected around 1930, was obviously built and designed by someone who understand typography. The condensed low-waisted letters, elegant and iconic, spelling out "Public Market Center," feel both modern and old, and elegant in a gorgeous, homey way. It's very familiar. The sign is a bit like a word that you repeat over and over until it becomes alien: imagine the sign not being there, and then imagine being the person looking up into that vacuum between buildings and knowing that the right way to fill that space is big letters and a clock.
It's a stage — and not in the "all the world's a" sense — or, at least, was turned into one on a gorgeous summer's day in 2015 when Mike McCready, Duff McKeagan, Barrett Martin, and Mark Arm performed a tribute to Iggy & the Stooges in front of the sign.
And think about all the family vacation pictures it appears in. Thousands. Home 8mm movies from the 50s, Polaroids, Instamatics — all of those photos sitting in albums in homes around the world. Then we enter the digital age, and pictures are everywhere.
But we already know it's an iconic location, important to our city, the authentic heart of Seattle life (and, during the summer, an exhilarating and annoying tourist trap, especially when you just want a bag of mini doughnuts made by punks from Daily Dozen, or a loaf of bread from Three Girls, or even to drop in and buy a pint of milk from Nancy Nipples at the Pike Place Creamery. What we don't know is — what kind of stories happened right there that we don't think about? What kind of stories can we imagine looking just looking at this sign?
His mom would have killed him to know he snuck away at night to look at the neon sign reflecting on the wet cobblestones, but Stanley Mouse loved the sight too much to obey her. She was busy with the new litter, anyway. So he ran up the inside of the wall and exited through the drain opening, sticking his nose into the night air, sniffing, watching the men wash the sidewalk clean of the day. Then, Stanley was being lifted, and a massive face — pierced cheeks and a nose ring — was looking right into his eyes. "Oy, check it out! I found a cute little mousie. Think he wants to join our band?"
Dad left thousands of photos, unorganized in boxes. The other kids went for his books and the paintings, but Jo asked if she couldn't have the photos. He was not a great photographer, but he had a trusty Canon AE-1, and spent their childhood capturing odd moments. It was the Seattle pictures that captured her most, the last trip before Mom died, the last time they were together — must have been '77 or so. But something in the background of the family standing in front of that sign in the Pike Place Market struck her. What was that guy doubled over in the background doing? She grabbed her loupe, and looked closer. Another man facing him, holding what appeared to be a knife. And was that blood? Did Dad accidentally capture a murder on film all those years ago?
It was supposed to happen like this: they'd get dropped off by the black car out front of the Market, and he'd get on his knee and bring the ring out when the light was red and the whole intersection at 1st was open. He had friends on the corners all set with cameras, and a drone flying overhead to capture everything. She'd been hinting for months, so he was sure of what the answer would be, and with videos and pictures to share with her family in Viet Nam, it would allow them to share the moment with her, even if they couldn't celebrate in person. That is what was supposed to happen, but of course, that was before the protests broke out that morning ...
"So, the bad guy has one weakness, and that's bronze, so he ..." The marketing director, Pat, looked up from the mockups of the comic book. "Wait, his weakness is bronze?" The artist was unphased by the sarcasm in her voice. "Yeah, bronze, so Seattle Man picks him up and slams him down in front of the market." Pat rubbed her eyes. "I don't know if I can get past this name 'Seattle Man'." The artist didn't skip a beat "I need you to suspend your disbelief, because this story is perfect. Seattle Man throws the bad guy against Rachel the Pig, and he explodes in a huge sucking vortex of energy ..." Pat nodded. Looked at the clock. "And what was the name of this bad guy, again?" The artist looked her right in the eye. "I'm thinking of calling him: the Grunge."
They had to turn off the neon at night 'cause the Japanese might decide to fly over and bomb the city, so lighting a cigarette felt downright clandestine. But tonight the moon was large behind the sign in the Market, so she didn't think too much about it. Her connection was running late, whatever the case. She pulled her collar up, and stepped closer to the Sanitary Market entrance, to shake the chill. She saw him, or rather, saw his fedora, crossing the dark street. But then, she saw the other figure approaching from the side. Then a flash in the dark, and the report of a gunshot bouncing around the cobblestones.