Don Davis

"Under The Radar" Seattle, Part One: The Kirkland Edition

Filed By Don Davis | February 27, 2010 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment
Tags: Kirkland, Seattle, travel, Under The Radar

So the plain fact is that this time of the year the all-pervasive gloom that is the Pacific Northwest is more reminiscent of the Moors of Scotland than Miami Beach; the last week being a most notable exception.

It's also a fact that some number of Bilerico Project readers wonder about Seattle and its environs without exactly knowing what the place is really like.

In an effort to hit two birds with one stone, over the next few months I'll be filing occasional reports that attempt to give you a view of the region that's not exactly what you might see in the tourist brochures.

Today's installment takes us a bit east of Seattle itself, to the smallish, but particularly lovely in the sunshine, City of Kirkland.

"...You see the consummation of your every hope, and what happens? The great house you built falls in, crumbles, buries you in the rubble of your dreams. The man who had no time to lose falls from his chariot and loses his time forever. The glutton chokes to death; the miser of his own stinginess. Why, if you calculate your chances in this life, what do they cry but death? Shipwreck is everywhere..."

--Gaius Petronius, "The Satyricon"

So before we can really talk about Kirkland, we need to take a minute and talk about the geography of the larger neighborhood.

Seattle itself is located between two bodies of water: Puget Sound on the west (which eventually leads to the Pacific Ocean if you go north to about Bellingham and hang a left) and Lake Washington on the east.

To cross Lake Washington you need to use one of the two floating bridges. (In the winter, this can mean not just dodging traffic, but literally dodging the giant waves that are crashing over the side of the road.) If you're going east on the more northern of the two bridges you can see Bill Gates' house (what can I say? we're a geeky city...), and when you get to the other side, you head about two more exits to the east, and you're at the southern end of Kirkland.

It's mostly a bedroom community--but it's a bedroom community with a surprisingly charming downtown and a tremendous waterfront.

Here's a 50-second walking tour of downtown--including a quick view of just about the best espresso anywhere, from my friends at Zoka:

Downtown meets the water (the same Lake Washington that we crossed over earlier on the bridge) at Marina Park, and we have a video of that as well, from Saturday, February 20th:

Did you watch the video? If you did, you saw a seaplane take off from Lake Washington. The land in the background used to be the Sand Point Naval Air Station, and it was from that exact spot that the very first around-the-world flight by airplane began and ended, a five month adventure that commenced in April of 1924.

Off in the distance you can see, first, Seattle's downtown core, then the City of Bellevue's.

The entire waterfront is dotted with miniature parks. Here's a quick example of what that looks like:

Now on the surface all of this looks quite prosperous, but the best description of Kirkland I've ever heard came from my barista the other morning:

"Kirkland...the city of the $30,000 millionaire."

What does he mean? Essentially that a lot of the residents are working for employers like Google and Microsoft; which means they are not so well paid, in cash, but they do have substantial stock options that may or may not be vested...and, even if they are, may or may not pay off one day.

The city suffered a significant loss of wealth as the tech bubble burst in 2001, and took another hit as real estate values softened over the past 24 months, but new construction is now under way, and a recovery seems to be taking shape.

So now let's get to the big question: where's the gay in all of this?

I had to go out and test this theory before I committed it to print, but the answer appears to be that there is no real gay in Kirkland, in the sense that there are gay bars, or a neighborhood that is gay-associated...but at the same time there seems to be no reason for such a neighborhood to exist, either.

By that I mean that an acceptance of gay culture is so well assimilated into the community that there is nothing to force people to want to cluster together for support. In fact, if you stood in the middle of town shouting "we're here, we're queer, get used to it" the likely result would be people coming up to you asking to sign the petition they would naturally assume you're trying to get onto the ballot.

The other big reason for a neighborhood that is gay-associated?
The handy concentration of bars and gathering places.

Seattle's very gay-associated Capitol Hill neighborhood (so much so that Dan Savage is a VIP resident) is less than 30 minutes away, and it is fully equipped with all the venues you might want--or at least, all that the fairly prudish Washington State Liquor Control Board will allow (read: no strip clubs that serve liquor, bars close at 2 AM...and no selling Mr. Slave in the back room on Bear Night to cover your bar tab).

There is one group who would not fit into the "We Accept Teh Gay" category: the local "God Hates Fags" church is located one town over, in Redmond (also the home of Microsoft)...but on that front, God seems to be on top of the situation.

We also need to make note of the presence of Northwest University, who say their mission:

" to provide, in a distinctly evangelical Christian environment, quality education to prepare students for service and leadership."

They do not admit persons who engage in premarital sex of any kind, and they would not be inclined to admit anyone reading this story today; as they have Biblically-based objections to those who are gay or those who might view gender in a way they don't (a position they've taken since 1934), which led to a fairly friendly visit from the Soulforce Equality Riders in 2007.

(By the way...does the Soulforce bus remind anyone of the Sodomobile?)

And with all that said, let's wrap things up for today:

Kirkland, the first of our "Under the Radar" communities, is an interesting contrast in boom and bust.

It's so gay-friendly that a gay community doesn't really exist as a stand-alone part of the culture; instead, assimilation seems to be the order of the day.

It's also a lovely place to spend a sunny day, with tons of open spaces and waterfront views.

And if all that wasn't enough, there is also one other connection I haven't yet made that takes us from the Petronius quote at the beginning of this story right here to the end: shipwrecks.

Lake Washington is full of 'em, as it turns out, and within the space of water you saw in that video with the seaplane are at least nine sunken objects of various kinds; either aircraft or ship, dating back almost 100 years.

So how about that? Shopping, galleries, great coffee, fabulous views--and a waterfront full of parks you can walk to...and shipwrecks you can dive on.

Not bad for a little bedroom community, eh?

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Lived there for a while early on in my Seattle Sojourn. Your descriptions are completely accurate. The thing that caused me to move back to Seattle? The morning commute. Ick.

ironically (again, for those who wouldn't know) the number of commuters coming from "the eastside" (meaning the bedroom communities across lake washington, including kirkland) into seattle is almost the same as the number of commuters crossing from seattle into those same bedroom communities; this mainly because of the large number of jobs in the tech hubs of redmond, kirkland, woodinville, bothell, and bellevue, and the number of boeing commuters that have to get to renton each day.

the combination of the bi-directional commute and the limited number of options for getting either around or over lake washington makes for a particularly heinous commute, and it's more common to be surprised at getting somewhere more quickly than you expected than it is to be surprised at how long the daily commute takes.

this is a subject that deserves a conversation of its own, and i think we'll end up doing exactly that before this series is done.

What a great article. You have it down pretty pat...The Seattle metro area is a place where LGBTQ persons are accepted by the majority of the population. Between Ingersol Center (Seattle), the Rainbow Center (in Tacoma) and all of the wonderful allies we have we are, for the most part, comfortable and happy.

Mela Malone
Seattle area LBGT Parenting Examiner for