Kage Baker always felt that the best way to learn a new city was to drive around it. Aimlessly, if possible. Especially the edges and the old places; where the city’s identity was earliest formed and latest maintained.
She loved Old Towns and City Centres and Central Parks. She also loved the roads that ran out and around, with tell-tale names like Survey Point and Milestone and Baseline. Those names were evocative of city hopes sketched out on a blue print, and someone proudly surveying the view from an empty hilltop.
Kenmore, WA is rich in roads like that. It also has a really startling amount of numbered roads, most of them in the high 70’s and 80’s, and the low 100’s. Nothing in between … and they all have double compass headings appended to them, like NE and SW. I am informed by Linn-the-agent that there were two founders of the town, and they quarreled while laying out the streets – so they each named their half of town with no regard for what the other guy was doing.
Consequently, roads run wild and feral all over the place, intersecting (or not) with no regard for sense, reason or traffic flow. There are an unusual number of dead-ends, where evidently partisan streets refused to meet with roads from The Other Side. Plus, railway tracks run through the town, half the north-west border is water, and redwoods and blackberries are infiltrating every yard on the edge of town. There are Huorn woods up here …
Kenmore is a very interesting place in which to drive for the first time.
Luckily, I have decades of experience in identifying logos from the highway: I have successfully found a branch of my bank, a Safeway grocery store, and a drive-through Starbucks. AND found my way back to Linn’s condo again, aided by the fact that if you drive west until you hit swamp, you’re pretty much on her street … Her really very nice condo, which houses her, her darling dog and her office, is evidently built on the last solid ground between Lake Washington and the cement plant.
But, you see, this is the kind of residents’ view of a town that Kage loved best. She would be delighted if she were with me, skimming blackberry thickets as we rocket down narrow roads, admiring old houses and fascinating hovels on the lake’s edge. What she liked best was learning a town the way its children did – wandering, no agenda or plan, finding wonders by accident. Learning amusing old scandals by researching funny park names, and why there seems to be a section of NE 188th Street/Court/Place every few blocks.
I’ve ventured out every day, sometimes with Linn and her assistant, sometimes by myself in putative search of a coffee. Actually, I go out and drive around in various Great Circles, finding … things. If I ever come here again – as I suspect I will – I’ll be able to peg part of Kenmore as familiar. Then I can strike out from there and explore more of the wild country. This is a place to make my own map.
I owe it to Kage.