Sanelli
Sanelli

Walking along 6th Avenue today, I think: there is Big Oil, Big Banks, Big Pharma, and no other way to think of Seattle now without thinking Big Amazon, the BIG of our age.

I didn’t call it Big Amazon until I was shopping at Whole Foods and there they were, trying to make their way from the counter into my cart: crisp Fuji apples on sale.

The produce department makes everything look so inviting and unrestricted that I didn’t think I had to be a Prime member. I can even become unpleasant in the face of that question. But I was instantly reminded of the suppressive nature of membership shopping, a slight I have clearly never forgotten: I could forfeit my apples or pay double.

It was like a stone fell from my heart. Or a rotten Fuji apple.

It’s always been easier to manipulate people into believing they are being rewarded, rather than actually reward them equally; it’s also effective, or Whole Foods wouldn’t be the most expensive grocery store in America and one of the most crowded.

Whenever I walk from Belltown to South Lake Union, I feel like I am leaving one Seattle to enter another. It’s quieter in Belltown. Some people might say ghostly quiet. And the drug dealers are back in droves, since there’s a lot of new money being made by some, obviously.

The whole idea of Prime membership reminds me of a certain realtor I know. Ambitious and getting rich beyond her wildest dreams, she is not about to apologize for any of it. She is also arrogant, even at the post office, and most of the time I just want to pretend I don’t see her.

The thing is, I can walk to Whole foods. This is what I remind myself when I shop there, so I can forgive them. I am willing to tolerate their country-rustic propaganda that says, “C’mon, folks, we are free, open and classless” because of the store’s proximity to my home. I pretend the convenience is enough. There are many days I don’t have time to trek up to Trader Joe’s or down to Pike Street, so it has to be enough.

Am I crazy to want to see things that were here long before Big Amazon? Define crazy.

Fortunately, there are still a few reminders, through the blur of development, if you take the time to look, and I like to take the time to look; it’s what makes it possible to see. And once I do, I realize how difficult it is to fully appreciate the cleverness of a another era’s marketing strategies until it has passed.

Take the Super Elephant Car Wash sign that revolves over Battery Street. When you think about it, its survival seems like a small miracle.

And the red brick row houses on Third and Vine. I think they were built when a lot of downtown still looked like this, and they seem so quaint now that if I’m riding my bike in the bike lane and keep looking at them for a few seconds too long, I know that I’m going to hit the curb or a pedestrian, but I keep looking anyway.

Because that’s how desperately Seattle needs reminding of its past lately, before every trace of it comes down. I look because I not only want to grasp a time when architecture was considered the highest art form, I want to feel it.

For weeks I carried a New Yorker magazine around in my bag until I had the time to read a piece that compares development in present-day Seattle to the Cultural Revolution in China, where the hierarchy “robbed an entire generation of the concept of sentimental value.” Ever since reading that line, I mainly appreciate the Pink Elephant sign for reminding us there are still humbler businesses downtown at a time when there are few reminders left.

Another point the article made was that, like people, any city gets what it rewards.

Mary Lou Sanelli is a writer and speaker who lives in Belltown. Her novel, “The Star Struck Dance Studio,” is due out from Chatwin Books in 2019. For more information about her and her work, visit www.marylousanelli.com.