I’ve honestly lost track of how long the shelter in place order for the state of Washington has been in place. The concept of being able to venture freely outside without concern of contracting a vile disease has been distant and nebulous for some time.
The is a certain emotion between agoraphobia and wild yearning that I grapple with as I sit on an ottoman and stare out the window. I’m a reverse voyeur. There are all the pleasures of the late Seattle springtime as its bends into summer. Just on the other side of the glass. The other side where people don’t wear masks and breathe out the possibility of the plague with every tidal breath.
I felt this keenly during the recent standoff between the Black Lives Matter protestors and the Seattle Police Department outside the Eastern Precinct. The local blog, capitolhillseattle.com, has been covering the standoff as it has progressed so there is no need to give a blow-by-blow account of that time.
The precinct isn’t very far from my apartment. It sits on the corner of Pine and 12th. Pine is familiar enough to me that I have every change in elevation along its length mapped out from past bicycle commutes. Crawling up Pine from downtown is painful. I couldn’t give you the exact grade of the hill as beyond a certain point all numbers blur into one figure, bullshit.
The hill is bullshit. Its bullshit degrees steep, there are a bullshit number of potholes along it length.
The corner of Pine and 11th where the barricades were set up holds a special place in the muscle memory of my calves. At Broadway you’re treated to a short respite from the climb, a gentle downhill which ends sharply as the block between 11th and 12th shoots up in front of you.
It was that incline that hosted the week long standoff between BLM protestors and the Seattle PD. The line of cops in riot gear were stationed just above 11th. They had the high ground on the protestors as they crowded the metal fence that marked the No Man’s Land.
We live close enough to that location that the crackle of flash bangs rebounded off the building next door. The police megaphone was a distorted snarl just far enough away to twist into incoherence. We knew the instant that things had degenerated in the standoff.
Then there were the marches that wound past our corner. Some you could hear from the drums as they approached, others from the chants. I sat in the window and watched a white SUV slowly drifting down the street amidst the marchers. A man stood on the roof of the SUV, directing the march through a megaphone.
And I stayed home, watching it through the various video streams covering the event from above and ground level.
Subconsciously we consider events we watch on the TV or laptop to be distant. Untouchable. Elsewhere. The people fleeing when jets of pepper spray followed by clouds of tear gas aren’t people you’ve stood behind in line at the nearest coffee shop on a low, slow, hungover Sunday morning.
Except the flashes of light of from the gernades are echoed milliseconds later. Its not somewhere else. These aren’t other people. They’re fighting over a hill I had stared up at enough times over the handlebars of my bicycle.
Even now that the police have withdrawn from the precinct and we’ve watched the rise of the Capitol Hill [Autonomous Zone|Occupied Protest] from our apartment, I haven’t showed up in person. A familiar space has been transformed and I can only see it through aggregated feeds on a Twitch.tv stream.
One thing I didn’t expect to discover during the plague was how it transformed all but the most immediate and necessary points on my personal geography into foreign lands. I could see, I could hear, I could read about, but I couldn’t experience directly. Through fear or caution these formerly accessible places have faded into otherness.