PAX 2009 Day 0: Welcome to Seattle!

Thursday we left our mundane lives and traveled to the gamer-mecca of the Penny Arcade eXpo (PAX). Since it started on Friday we had to leave Thursday to beat the rush and we got into town with an open afternoon to check out as much of Seattle as we could handle. Let’s see how we did.

The flight was amazingly uneventful. We flew Alaska Airlines so we were not worried about making the seating cattle call ala Southwest, so we boarded second-to-last and took our seats very easily. We also had cram-packed to a medium size backpack and a small daypack so we could easily get on and off the plane. We had the forethought to bring an extra collapsible bag to haul all our wonderful gamer-schwag.

Julie’s sister Tiffany (whose house we were crashing at for the weekend, THANKS!) picked us up from the airport and we rearranged our daypack for deployment to the wilds of Seattle. She dropped us off on Capitol Hill.

We ate at Deluxe Bar and Grill on Broadway where I got the Fuego Burger (chipotle mayo, pepper jack cheese, jalapeños) and a nice chocolatey stout and Julie got the BBQ burger (bbq sauce, natch) and hmm… I think it was a pilsener. We strove to get local beers while on the trip, though unfortunately we didn’t write these down. A good lunch, and we got to watch a bit of rain, so it was a nice introduction to the city.

We walked down Broadway to Pike, then turned right through downtown. We made note of how big the convention center for PAX was… yet were still amazed the next day. Anyway, we got down near the water and stopped at Chocolate Box. Julie had been craving a cupcake after lunch, and they had a sandwichboard-sign out on the street with a cupcake on it, so of course we went in. I had an espresso and a chocolate dipped macaroon, and Julie had a mocha with a trio of wonderful little cupcakes before heading back out.

Next was the Pike Place Public Market which is a few blocks of booths of arts & crafts, clothes, food, and musicians (buskers!). Oh, and the famous fishmongers that throw huge fish from table to table. Also of note is the original Starbucks store (technically moved in 1977) with the original, boobier logo. Julie bought a CD from an a capella group that the performers signed as they sang.

We then headed out to the Experience Music Project / Science Fiction Museum which is a good number of blocks. The walk passes the Seattle monorail which appears to go inside the EMP/SFM ala Disneyland. The EMP/SFM is a really funky building; it’s all crazy curvilinear since it was designed by Frank Gehry. We hit the SFM side first checking over the galleries of memorabilia from various works of Sci-Fi representing all levels including space travel, aliens, robots, and my favorite: dystopian futures. One of the cooler bits is a spaceport-window that shows all manner of spacecraft gliding by in some space-traffic controller nightmare complete with X-Wings, the Enterprise, and Red Dwarf to name a few.

We stepped around to the EMP side and briefly ran around the galleries of guitars and mostly mementos of mostly Seattle bands, took a stop to enjoy a song by the live band playing in the very impressively set up concert space, then headed upstairs to what I was most excited about: the instrument demo space. I’d always loved the interactivity of places like the Exploratorium vs. the California Academy of Sciences (though I do love their new remodel). The EMP’s instrument demo space is like an Exploratorium for rock instruments. Guitar, vocals, keyboards, and drums all have demo stations and sound-isolated recording booths for playing around with instruments for 10 very, very short minutes. The most fun was had in the keyboard both learning hooks from songs note by note and trying to guess the song before it was revealed. There were a couple sections for DJs regarding beatmatching and turntablism, too. One thing we didn’t do was the “concert experience” station where you lipsync (or I suppose sing and play along if you can) to a song in their 11 simulated concert venue and you can get pictures or a music video afterwards. Might be fun with some friends. Then again, I do have Rock Band. Oddly enough that game isn’t acknowledged at all around the EMP, but I figure it’s a matter of time.

We only had a few hours to play around in the EMP/SFM since we came in on the All-Access day (First Thursday of the month) when it’s free admission from 5pm to 8pm. We spent about 2.5 hours in the whole thing, I think that amount of time is probably right for everything except the instrument demo space… where we would have spent all evening if we didn’t have other plans.

Tired of walking, we figured out the bus to old downtown as we had tickets to the Seattle Underground tour. We got down there early and stepped into the Utilikilt flagship store where I was sorely tempted to by another kilt. (Ask another time). With a few more minutes we walked over to a small exhibition of Tiffany’s friends’ at a nearby art gallery complete with wine, cheese, and hipsters. We wandered back and got our wristbands for the tour and headed out. The deal is Seattle (like many waterfront towns) has a lot of the streets built on fill to reclaim the water line. The tide plain of Seattle was reclaimed by building essentially a second story on top of the existing street level, walling it off from the tides as a seawall was being built concurrently. This made something on the order of 30+ city blocks that have essentially an underground level. The tour goes down into some of the area which has been preserved and goes into the history of the town which is really fascinating.

We actually went on the “Underworld” tour open to 21+ and got to hear a lot of very interesting facts and stories about Seattle and the Underground mostly in relation to con-artists, prohibition speakeasies, and… well, the oldest profession. A-mazing. We got our free drink included with the tour and then met Tiffany and her friend Noelle for a nice wind-down dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant.

We tucked ourselves into bed around 11 to get rested for PAX.

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