Aurora Avenue

Seattle's north side hasn't been my turf since the late 1980s, and I didn't see much of it on this excursion. I only wanted to see Aurora Avenue, the city's long and ugly welcome mat for visitors who don't take the freeway.

It's surprising how little Aurora Ave has changed. Seems the same as 30 or 50 years ago — still nothing but chain stores and fast food and strip malls, interspersed with old-time but generally run-down motels and mom & pop businesses. It's a miles-long ribbon of asphalt that's occasionally repaved but has never been beautified in any way. It has narrow sidewalks, a few homes, a few trees, heavy traffic 24/7/365, stop lights at every intersection, and many, many hookers for hire.

Doubtless the cops make sex workers' lives miserable, but Aurora Ave is famous as Seattle's prostitution promenade. If you're looking for that kind of a good time, you'll see countless ladies of the morning midday and evening.

Drug deals are also available — I've seen enough of those to recognize what was happening in a few of the parking lots along my ride, when it wasn't about prostitution.

♦ ♦ ♦

None of that was what brought me to Aurora Ave, though. Wasn't looking for anything but the possibility of cheap housing, and maybe a job close enough that the commute would be quick.

I have cheap housing now, in West Seattle, but this neighborhood is too quiet and boring and white to ever feel like home. And the bus by my house goes noplace even slightly interesting, except downtown.

Aurora Ave might be more to my tastes, so I stepped onto the #99 bus one fine morning, and rode to skid row. Then I waited at a pungently urineriffic bus stop downtown, for a 'RapidRide' #E bus up Aurora Ave and back.

It was a hot day and the bus was air conditioned, so I mostly just looked out the windows. Only stepped off to catch the next bus and then the bus back, and to have lunch at Beth's Cafe.

Into my notebook all along the way, I jotted the names of hotels that looked ratty and rundown enough to perhaps be an affordable place to live, and also a few businesses of similar scurvy potential when I might find a job.

Aurora Ave has potential, I think. The RapidRide runs much, much more frequently than the #99 to West Seattle, and it actually is a rapid ride, at least during the non-rush hours when I was on board. It takes about half an hour to go from from downtown to Green Lake, and another half an hour from Green Lake to the end of the line. And unlike the #99, it connects with east-west routes all along the way, so all of Seattle's north side would be within a quick bus ride or two.

The #E bus ends in a sea of concrete called the Aurora Village Transit Center, a big outdoor bus station lots like the not-quite hellish but 'heckish' Burien Transit Center I've sometimes written about. Aurora Village has fewer bums, though, and a whiter clientele, and only two "transit security" guys leaning on their "transit security" sedan, instead of the three we get in Burien.

♦ ♦ ♦

The high point of my visit to Aurora Avenue was a late breakfast at Beth's Cafe, famed for their 12-egg omelets that come with endless hash browns. That's part of the deal at Beth's — if you're still hungry, they'll feed you more hash browns at no extra charge.

When I first discovered the place in the 1980s I was already fat, but Beth's made me fatter. It's the diner where I fell in love with diners.

Since moving back to Seattle, I've stayed away from Beth's because ① it's an hour and fifteen minutes each way on the bus, ② I need to lose weight, not put on more pounds, and ③ their menu online doesn't even list prices, which is never a good sign.

The bus goes right by it, though, so I rang the bell and got off at Beth's. And jeez, Aurora Avenue hadn't changed much, but Beth's is exactly the same, right down to the staff of extremely tattooed 20-somethings. It could've been 1983 again, with April on my arm, or 1995 with Sarah-Katherine.

The décor is hand-made, the walls completely covered with drawings by customers, on thousands of plain sheets of 8½x11 paper. Not being artistic I've never asked, but the waitress will bring a sheet of paper if you want to doodle, and when you turn it in, it goes up on the wall.

Same as 40 years ago, I sat at the counter, and looked at amateur artwork taped to a divider in front of me. On the divider's other side, the cook make my 6-egg (that's the 'small' size) Southwestern omelet, which comes of course with toast and hash browns.

It was as excellent as any omelet I've ever eaten, with homemade three-bean chili, ample sour cream, cheddar, green peppers, onions, tomatoes — utterly delicious. And since it's a six-egg omelet, twice the size of anything you'd find at an ordinary diner, when you'd ordinarily be running low on omelet you still have an entire omelet left! As a long-time overeater, I love that.

Also, there's fabulous non-Smuckers, apparently homemade jam for the toast, very good coffee with frequent refills, and Beth's terrific hash browns, also with refills.

"Would you be needing more hash browns?" the waitress asked me toward the end.

Oh, how I wanted to say yes like when I was young, but already my belly was so full I knew I'd be near-puking when I left.

I forgot to make a note of it, but the price was either $21-something or $23-something. That's a little expensive for an omelet and coffee at a diner, but remember, it's basically two omelets. Friendly service, great food and lots of it, pretty good price.

Also, the restaurant smells terrific. I remembered that, from the moment I walked in.

If I end up living on Aurora Ave or anywhere close, Beth's will be a daily temptation, and I will never not be a fat man.

♦ ♦ ♦

Back in my recliner, in this boring whitebread neighborhood, I've been Googling and phoning the Aurora Ave addresses from my notebook, and getting generally bad news.

The hotel that looked most promising, a dump called the Everspring Inn, was closed down by the city due to too many 9-1-1 calls, and re-opened with a seven-day limit for staying there. I don't care about the 9-1-1 calls, but I need something more long-term than a-week-and-be-gone.

The Georgian, the Marco Polo, the Crown Inn, and all the other hotels that brag of "monthly rates" on their signs don't actually have monthly rates any more. Or if they do, they're priced stratospherically. $1,450 for a month in a hooker hotel? Not unless it includes a hooker.

I will be broadening my occasional Craigslist daydreams to Aurora Ave, though. Hotels are out of the question, but in a neighborhood of drug deals and hookers, maybe a room for rent in someone's basement will be reasonably priced. 

By normal standards it's a far worse area than where I'm living now, so by my standards it would be a significant improvement. Aurora Ave offers more noise, more character, more filth and degradation and bums drunks and derelicts, and also Beth's Cafe, all within walking or easy busing distance.


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  1. Hold on, you live in West Seattle? I thought you were straight south, like, well... Burien, or even SeaTac?

    Also, I hear good things about Tacoma from friends who live there. Sounds like it can be just as expensive as Seattle, but it also has legitimate working class neighborhoods. I loved Seattle, but if we ever moved back, I think we'd look hard at Tacoma.

    As for Aurora, there's gotta be shared housing (in, like, real houses) off the main drag up there. Short of having a car to cruise the neighborhood, maybe google street view would help. There's gotta be other sites be sides Craigslist, too, for that sort of thing?

    Clearly the answer to your problem is... you need to become a pimp for all those hookers. You're a big man, you don't take shit.

    I once took the bus all the way out to Shoreline... I was the last rider, so I asked the driver when he turned around and headed back downtown... he didn't! Luckily he flagged the last bus across the street going back to where I started. Would been a long walk, shit.

    1. > Hold on, you live in West Seattle?

      I'm living midway between West and South Seattle, but being a man of few words some days I say West, other days I say South. Depends on whether I want people to think I'm swanky (West) or impoverished (South). Catch me if you can!

      Nothing against Tacoma, especially now that it no longer has its famous aroma, but I am too old and easily confused to learn another new city again. Seattle is what I know and where I want to be.

      Besides, moving to a different city way south in a different county is what both my living brothers have done, and I mock them for it.

      Yeah, seems I'm looking for a room in a shared house, though the sharing part is always a gamble.

      I need a place without a drunk extrovert who can't cook always talking about cooking and trying to burn the house down by forgetting the burner's on, and leaving cream & hair mementos on the toilet seat.

      Checking the schedule, it looks like there are no more "last buses" at night, at least not on the #E route. It runs 24/7, though only hourly in the wee hours.

      Good to know in case I ever do anything after about 7PM, but that hasn't happened since the 2010s.

  2. https://youtu.be/X4inTVEBcNo?si=tLliYIt8AvxLVcMP

    1. I'd never heard that, or heard *of* that. Who knew Leonard Cohen went instrumental only?

      It's also surprising how little I can find about that piece on line.

      Not surprising that it's beautiful, of course.

      I HOPE I have the couth to have liked it even if I hadn't known it was Cohen.

      Thanks, Claude.

    2. Especially considering that Leonard considered himself a very limited guitar player and frequently played the keyboard with one finger. I rather doubt that he soloed on that piece if he played at all. Leonard was a modest man, so somebody could convince me that he could play that well, but I'm a doubting Basket.


    3. Wrote the music and turned it over to his regular piano player perhaps?


      OK, here's the answer from the album's liner notes:

      Arranged By – Leonard Cohen

      Engineer, Mixed By – Leanne Ungar

      Producer, Programmed By, Performer – Bill Ginn

      Synthesizer [Synclavier] – Steve Croes

      So, Bill Ginn tinkling the piano quite well.

  3. Did you ever eat at Tommy's Joynt in San Francisco? That's the city's favorite diner, and mine too. No 6-egg omelettes tho.

    Your Aurora Avenue sounds like Capp Street here in San Francisco, or the Tenderloin, more civilized and less scary. Miles long you say? In San Francisco it's all kept within a few blocks, and it's hard to envision that street sex scene with fast food chains. Weird.

    I would not want to live either on Capp Street or in the Tenderloin, but it was a fun story and I hope you find the place you're looking for.

  4. If you're ever in Seattle, visit lovely Aurora Avenue. Get the souvenir post cards and t-shirt and discarded needles and fast-food wrappers.

    I was not a denizen of Tommy's Joynt. Too expensive, and I was poor and also cheap. Missed something good, eh? Not the first or only time...

    Never lived in the Tenderloin or on Capp Street, but I was Tenderloin-adjacent for a few years, and never found it the nightmare everyone wanted me to. Bums and hookers and addicts and street waifs is all.

    My wife worked in the heart of it for a while, and she said it was no worry long as she got off work and onto the subway by 4:30.


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