Saturday, June 15, 2013

The future was now at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair

Michael McGinn, the mayor of Seattle, was interviewed on NPR's "Science Friday" today. He rides his bike to work and wants to make his city the greenest in the nation. During his remarks, he mentioned that the city was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Seattle World's Fair and was looking ahead to city's next fifty years, which includes significant threats from climate change. 

I was a bit shocked to realize that the world's fair, subtitled the "Century 21 Exposition," was 50 years ago. In the summer of 1962 (that's actually 51 years ago, but Seattle likes long parties), my father and mother bundled their six kids into a Ford Falcon station wagon and drove us from Moses Lake in eastern Washington to Seattle. We were taking the long way to a new home in Wichita, Kansas. Dad was a builder of ICBM missile silos and apparently Washington was full up with missiles so we were now moving on to the wheat fields of southeastern Kansas. We needed more nukes lest a missile gap develop with the Soviets which would threaten our American way of life, our precious bodily fluids, and so on.

In Seattle, we rented an apartment a few miles away from the fair. If I had only forecast how hip Seattle was going to become, I would have stayed right there. Alas, we were only in residence for a few days, long enough to go up in the Space Needle, ride the monorail and eat some Swedish food that made me sick.

I'm not sure what possessed me to eat Swedish food when there was all sorts of good American grub around every corner. My parents may have wanted to give me a taste of a foreign country, expand my horizons. That way, when I turned 18, I would feel the urge to flee my homestead for foreign lands, thus opening up another place at the dinner table for the three additional siblings that soon would join us.

I got sick. It wasn't food poisoning, I don't think. It just didn't agree with me. I had recovered sufficiently the next day to eat a burger and fries at the American pavilion which was located a long way from where the Swedes were hatching plots against Americans.

It was a fun trip. We left Seattle via a ferry that took us by the Bremerton Navy Yards where we viewed hundreds of mothballed World War II ships. We cruised the Olympic Peninsula and ended up at a beach where I got my first glimpse of an ocean. As we ran barefoot into the cold Pacific, little did I know that in a few years I would be living by another (much warmer) beach, this one in Central Florida, while my father worked for NASA to get some guys on the moon.

I visited Seattle in 1972, ten years after I was almost poisoned at the world's fair. I was 21, hitchhiking cross country with Sharon, my 21-year-old girlfriend from Massachusetts. We were both college dropouts, footloose and fancy free. The Selective Service System lads had sent me a nice note earlier that year. Three years as draft bait was long enough and they were moving on to younger targets.

We stayed in a hostel near the university. We went to the world's fair site, rode the monorail and went up in the Space Needle. No Swedish food for me this time, thank you. I probably couldn't have found it if I wanted it. Seattle was still working on becoming a hipster enclave. Now it's probably lousy with Swedish food and Turkish food and Peruvian food and all the rest, although the portions are probably smaller.

I send my best wishes to Seattle. Global warming and rising sea levels are not going to be kind to this storm-tossed outpost on the Pacific Rim. Your air may also be fouled by coal dust from the myriad coal trains Wyoming soon plans to send to the West Coast. The coal is destined to shipping to China which will burn it, adding to the CO2 levels which in turn will fuel global warming which will send waves crashing into the base of the Space Needle. I live in Wyoming, by the way. But don't blame me. I'm on your side, Seattle. In case you have to flee the raging seas, there's plenty of room out here in the Wide Open Spaces under The Big Sky. Just be sure to bring along your blue politics (we few Wyoming Dems crave company) and some of those funky food trucks --Big Boys Filipino Food Truck, Kaosamai Thai Cook Truck or Tuk Tuk Mobile Feast. And don't forget the seafood, although the salmon may be swimming a lot closer to Cheyenne in fifty years.

Surf's up!

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