Over thirty years ago I trolled the “Ave” of Seattle’s University District, about a mile from where my family moved when I started eighth grade. At Budget Records, I flipped through bins of bootlegged albums in white sleeves. I still have my record of Joni Mitchell singing early songs like “Urge for Going” (“I get the urge for going…when the meadow grass is turning brown”).
At the Continental Cafe, Greek men smoked on one side, and I spent my allowance on feta cheese sandwiches on the other. Lefties smoked and drank espresso at the Last Exit on Brooklyn, while my high school friends and I ate warm apple pie, dripping with cinnamon sauce.
Those friends — Maryanne, Vanessa, Morgan, and Kale — and I called ourselves “the infamous five.” One weekend we split up and made a game, planting clues around the neighborhood for the other team. My team left a clue under a wastebasket on an upper floor of the art deco hotel at 45th and Brooklyn.
The Neptune Theatre ran “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” for years, and it was a big deal for me to get permission to stay up late for the midnight show.
I bought candies wrapped in rice paper at Shiga’s, slices of pizza at Pagliacci’s, and all of Anne Sexton’s poetry at the University Book Store.
But I got the urge for going after high school. I went an hour south for college, then points east: Washington, D.C., Boston, Minneapolis. When I returned to Seattle in the early 1990s, the neighborhoods around the University District were too expensive for community college teachers, and besides, I was a different person. Arline and I bought our house in the gentrifying neighborhood of Columbia City, and I felt at home, as I had in the diverse, eclectic neighborhoods of Jamaica Plain in Boston and Loring Park in Minneapolis.
But this year, Arline and I are selling our house and moving into a co-op apartment just a few blocks north of the building that once housed Budget Records (long since raided for its bootlegs and gone out of business). It’s a different University District, scruffier; the money has moved away from the Ave, leaving mostly hole-in-the-wall eateries, thrift stores, and copy shops. But the University Book Store is still there, and the Continental Cafe. A great farmer’s market occupies the playground of the old University Heights Elementary School, now a community center.
It’s odd to come home to the neighborhood where I was an adolescent. I can almost see myself, hunched from self-consciousness, my growing-out curly hair whipping around my face, my diary in my rain jacket pocket, as I walk past the building where I now live. I had just turned fifteen when I wrote, “Three more years and I will move out. I mean it.” I calculated that there were 1,070 days until my eighteenth birthday: 25,680 hours! 1,564,800 minutes! 92,448,000 seconds!
And I did leave. And I didn’t look back nostalgically on my old neighborhood, didn’t feel homesick, didn’t miss high school. I was out in the world, learning how to be myself and still survive.
In the last verse of “Urge for Going,” the narrator is the one staying, lighting the fire and pulling up the blankets, while summer wanders away. It’s an exaggeration to say I’ve entered the winter of my years, although time has frosted my hair. I stand in the bay window of our new apartment and look down at the people walking along the edge of Cowen Park. They walk the same sidewalks, beside the same trees that were there over thirty years ago. That’s when a girl not yet of summer, still of spring, shuffled along, yearning for escape. She wouldn’t have thought to look up at the window, to imagine the woman of autumn watching over her.