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All it takes is $14 to get hoisted 175 feet in the air in Seattle. You could do it for cheaper in different locations — an elevator, say, in the middle of a building without a view except of the numbers as they rise — but to do it right on the waterfront with a view takes $14 and a little patience, depending on how busy it is, at the great wheel.
Pier 57 is full of amusements, some of them faded in the glory of their carnival ways, but the wheel is new, opening in 2012. One day there was no wheel, and the next, there it was: the LED lit exterior, which is themed to whatever event is going on around our city. At least that's what it felt like from the outside, but to pier owner Hal Griffith had been dreaming about the wheel for thirty years, the inception probably felt much slower. Now he wants to build a gondola aerial tram down Union street.
Have you ridden the wheel? Have you done it alone, or with family when they're visiting from out of town? Did you look down and see the water below, a ferry going by? See the cars on the Viaduct? Did it feel like you were in a model of a city, instead of a real city? Did it feel both removed from the city and, also, at the same time, like you were in the city in a kind of serious way that only a tourist might usually experience?
The wheel is smaller than the London Eye, which raises 443 feet above the sinuous Thames. But Seattle is not London. We're a bustling growing city, but we're still a colloquial one. Our ferris wheel is big, but not the biggest, and that's okay with us. We're a people that let other drivers in, when we can. We take pride in our buildings being "tallest west of the Mississippi", not tallest in the world. The Seattle way is about exuding a certain modesty, in an extravagance sense, not in a moral sense. It's the Scandahoovian in us. Don't make too much of yourself. Put your nose down and get to work.
So, $14 is a modest price for a modest ride in a modest city, with immodest beauty. $14 to sit on a seat and rotate in the air for a few minutes and wonder about your place in the world. If that's what you want, and you're not scared of heights, it's waiting for you.
It was perfect when they got stuck, not at the top, exactly, but at the 2 o'clock position if you were to look at the wheel from the north. That meant they had a stellar view of the sunset and the peninsula, the Bainbridge ferry passing right nearby. The gondola stopped, and he dropped to one knee, and reached into his pocket to bring out the little velvet ring box. He only regretted he didn't have some photographer capturing the moment with a telephoto lens. As he dropped, the gondola swung, a bit, and his soon-to-be fiancée slammed her hands to the sides of the swinging container, and shouted "I'm so tired of being scared. I never feel safe with you. I need to break up with you" before she reached up and pressed the emergency button on the ceiling.
Nothing excited Baby Boy mouse more than the idea of riding inside a gondola in the Great Wheel. "You are never to go near that thing!" said his mother, pretty much every day when they would scurry along the roof line to go foraging for food. Baby Boy would stop, the rain wetting his fur, and stare at the glowing wheel until his mother would come to nudge him along. And again, at night, tucking him in "You are never to near that wheel. It's too dangerous." She would make him promise, but he always crossed his claws when he did. It was a cold December day when he finally had his chance.
"You have to decide," he said to his son. "We can't wait here all night." They'd already gone to the front of the line, then bailed out, twice. The dad could see how badly the boy wanted to go, but he was running up against his fear. The choice was to be brave and do it, or to feel bad about chickening out, no matter if the dad gave him a shoulder squeeze and said it was okay. The boy would be worried about his choice impacting the whole family. The dad knew all this, but also knew the only thing he could offer was pressure to put the boy in the corner, and let him decide. Hope he picked the brave choice, and be kind if he didn't. "And if you don't decide in five minutes, we're just going to leave without doing it. I think we should. I think you'll love it, but it's your choice, buddy." They stood at the rail and watched the wheel, and the dad wondered what was going through the boys head, and watched his watch, hoping he wouldn't have to force them away.
They say there's one car on the wheel that's haunted. Nobody remembers which one — maybe they enter saying "Oh, I'm in car 5" when they climb up to the wheel, but when they leave, they forget as they walk away. They always forget. Some say the ghost came from the pier, a stevedore who was drunk and incautious at work, and so was crushed by a falling crate when this pier was commercial, after it was built in 1902, some say it's a young girl, a tragic figure from a neglected home who died in a way so sad that just to speak of it would cause rain to fall. Some, even, say both visited them when on the wheel, that the gondola was filled with crackling energy and presence, these two figures keeping each other company in the afterlife. But whether the ghosts are him or her or both, those that experience the haunting all report one creepy fact in their telling of their stories....
It was a slow day, nobody in line, and so they let her ride. Nobody knows who told them, exactly, but somebody said it "that's the woman, her husband was just killed." So the widow came alone, and politely asked if she could have a car to herself, and they let her (even though they weren't supposed to), and then when the gondola came around, they asked if she wanted to ride again, and she nodded yes. The third time they didn't even open the car, the attendant saw her tears, and just gave her a sign that he was gonna let her ride again, and she nodded. After that, they just ignored her, knowing when she was ready, she'd let them know. Until then, she rode, and everybody turned their focus to loading and unloading the tourists.