Monday, April 19, 2010
A Trip to the Forbidden: Seattle’s Skid Road
After visiting the Seattle-King County Morgue, my 17 year-old curiosity was peaked about Skid Road, the place where they’d found the unidentified body I’d seen. My father, not wanting me to go there alone, offered to take me.
We set out early on a Saturday morning. Dad parked the car in a safe place, and we started our adventure. It was a whole new world. I was suddenly transported from a nicely manicured middle-class neighborhood to sleazy, dirty surroundings. People aimlessly roamed, or staggered around. Many people talked to themselves, some shouted to no one in particular. A fight broke out on a corner–my dad steered me clear of that. It was as much of an adventure for my dad as it was for me–he was a pretty straight fellow.
In subsequent years, they have cleaned up the area, now called Pioneer Square, but in the days of 1953 the Skid Road district was still very tough.
A bit of history: The area previously called Skid Road centers on Seattle’s Yesler Way. The road was said to have been a “skid road” in the literal sense, where they actually skidded logs to a saw mill owned by Henry Yesler. In the 1800s the term also referred to logging camps and saw mills. The term “Skid Road” was used in other parts of the country as well, but it is believed to have originated in Seattle.
So, there we were. What does one do on Skid Road? There were lots of taverns, which was out of the question for us. Not only was I underage, but my dad was a teetotaler–I’d never even seen a bottle of beer in our refrigerator. We came upon a pawn shop. We entered and got many curious stares from other customers and the pawn broker. My dad pretended to be looking for a watch...for me! I was mortified, but couldn’t come up with a better reason. I asked some questions and the pawn broker explained the purpose of pawn shops and how they worked.
Outside, we stopped at a theater. The pictures on the outside, though not as explicit as they would be now, definitely told us they were not our usual entertainment. The movie house did a brisk business though.
As we crossed a street, I saw a woman sort of hang into a car window at the intersection. I slowed down to hear what she was saying. My dad gently took my arm. “Just keep walking. Don’t slow down.”
“I wanted to hear what she was saying. Do you know?”
“She’s trying to line up her business, get a customer.”
“For herself. She’s selling herself.” His voice was so low I could hardly hear. He closed that conversation with “Let’s talk about it later.”
But I was beginning to get the picture. The recent lessons about VD at the Health Department began to fall into place.
We saw a drunk fellow in a doorway, passed out. I remembered the morgue and wondered if the man was dead. My dad shook his head. “No, I don’t think so–just drunk.”
“Why would anyone want to do that?”
“I don’t know–I don’t understand it either.”
We were fairly grossed out by the end of the day, but it was truly a worthwhile trip. I knew right then that the sleazy kind of life was not for me. That day was among the most valuable lessons I received from my dad. He didn’t judge anything we saw, he simply showed me one way of life and let me draw my own conclusions.