Monday, February 10, 2014

My How Things Change

When I was living in Seattle in the 90s for a while I resided at the vintage but rundown Jensonia Apartments on First Hill right next to Freeway Park and the backside of the structure that created the Freeway Park parking garage. On a block forgotten about, blocked in by an overpass, almost butted up against the back wall of the convention center and left for dead in the urban planning of the 60s and early 70s that all started with carving a freeway through downtown Seattle.

By the time I lived there in the 90s you can imagine what it was likely to had become. A jewel of the 20s (I think) was a shell of its former self, sitting at the bottom of a dead end hill and next to the dark alley created by the wall of the parking garage.

The tenants living there were an odd mix of, well, odd. Druggies, working-class stiffs who sat out on the stoop every day drinking beer or whiskey, transients who hadn't really figured out what there life was supposed to be about at that point. I suppose thinking in retrospect I was one of the latter. Though at the time I likely saw myself as the starving undiscovered artist. I mean hey, I was working in the theatre. For no money, so I also had a day job. I needed cheap rent and the Jensonia - with its stained hallways, ripped and stained carpets, odd smells in the hall, temperamental ancient elevator, cobweb-filled laundry basement - was perfect for me. $425/month to live, by myself with about 600 square feet, a short walk through Freeway Park to my downtown office job. I could actually light a cigarette as I was walking out of the building and be at the entrance to my office building before I finished the smoke. And I had a Murphy bed in the place. I was on top of the world.

It's odd how you measure your life at 27.

A while back I wrote a long four-part story about my time at the Jensonia Apartments (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4) - which before I left would become the Jensonia Hotel, officially a transient building with weekly rates and the eventual drug raids and at least one O.D. death and one murder.

Yes, a murder. Right in the lobby of the building. And we knew the guy. Drunk Bob. Sat on the stoop and drank cheap beer and got surly under his middle-aged beard.. Had a shit blue car - from I think the 70s - full of tools. And now he's dead on the lobby floor apparently from a single punch to the face.

Thing is, even as creepy as it was becoming at the Jensonia I loved living there (I think that four-part story linked above represents some of my better writing, certainly some of my least cynical).

Fast forward from 1997/98 to 2014 and this is my wife and I when we look for a place today:

"No, they don't have in-unit washer/dryer, just a laundry room three feet away"
"Off the list"
"The second bathroom is only a half bathroom"
"Nix that garbage"
"This one has three bed/two bath but is only about 1400 square feet"
"Scratch that one off"
"No bike storage in this one"
"Those monsters!"

I'm not saying life was easier when I was poor. Looking back I think my life may have been in danger while I was still in the Jensonia during my final months there. So it was good I got out. Especially good since a few years later it burned down.

But decisions were certainly easier. I have x amount of money I can pay for rent. This is a list of places I can afford. Take first one that doesn't suck too bad. Move in after having bribed friends with pizza and Henry Weinhard's Private Reserve. Done.

And I may have had to deal with drug dealers, winos, guys strung out on smack, Schizophrenics, and all around weird people. But I never once had to have a conversation with a passive-aggressive asshole condo association president with overdeveloped sense of self-importance and pretend power.

Boy, do things change.

Some pictures of the Jensonia:

From the 1920s

 From the late 1990s, around when I lived there. Taken from the 8th Ave viaduct, not the 8th Ave that goes under the viaduct to get to the building

 And a Google street view, however recent this might be. Gone. I heard Virginia Mason will be expanding onto the site.

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