This week, I’m infected with an intrepid disease. It has me thinking it’s a good idea to do something I swore I 'd never do again: Return to explore the used car capitol of Western Washington and the culture it has managed to cultivate over the course of its seedy history. I’m speaking of course, of Aurora Avenue, Seattle, Washington.
It’s a dim, dirty strip of road, home to so much deplorable behavior you barely need to leave your car to witness it.
Either side of the Ave is sealed off by a nearly endless barrage of well-polished junk slingers, staked nearly wall to wall like low-income government housing for car dealerships. Each is fairly uniform with twenty or more cars pushed together in the mad arrangements of a valet parking garage.
If you cruise by several days in a row you’ll find the solid automotive blocks have been rotated around like a rubrics cube to circulate the goods and keep the allusion going that the deals are going quick, but new ones are always coming in.
Yet, for all the pushers on Aurora, there’s no shortage of buyers. When Kurt Cobain was slipping into the grips of serious heroine addiction the last several years or so of his life, he made a habit of traveling to Aurora where he would hole up in one of his favorite no-tell motels, to shoot up, eat potato chips and watch TV.
Perhaps not so coincidentally, if you travel far enough along Aurora Ave, you’ll wind up at the George Washington Memorial Bridge, more commonly known as the Aurora Bridge. It’s a popular location for suicide jumpers. In fact, since it’s completion in the early thirties, over 230 people have successfully taken their lives from its fatal height above the water.
It’s become such a notoriously handy spot to off yourself, in 2007, Washington Governor Christine Gregoire allocated $1.4 million in her supplemental budget to erect an 8-foot high “suicide prevention fence” to keep the jumpers from jumping.
With a preponderance of shady used car dealerships, hard drugs on demand and an ever-popular suicide destination, Aurora rounds off your visit with a liberal dose of fugly prostitutes.
Ah yes, the prostitutes. I fondly recall my first encounter with the Aurora Avenue working class ladies. Actually, it was the first time I made the trek to the strip with the intention of actually stopping there.
It was high school, a time of exposure and exploration; in my mint condition ’79 Cherokee, packed to the door-handle ashtrays with three of my best buds from the school’s offensive line.
We trolled down Aurora in hopes of finding a half-debunked muscle car and a used car salesman just drunk enough off his lunch hooch to let us take her for a test drive.
Outside of “Exotic Tan,” a small business better known for its quality happy endings than tanning services, a large women in desperate need of a boulder holster and several more teeth beckoned to us,
“Hey! Hey! You guys wanna party?! Whooo!!”
As high school kids looking to grip the rickety shifter of a Dodge Charger, we were in a way, but not that way. Not with the walking embodiment of Roseanne Barr, had she failed to hit it big with her own sitcom and receded to the corner of the Exotic Tan on Aurora.
“Get a bra!!” One of my friends yelled back as the traffic light of the cross street dropped to green.
The woman was outraged at our tactless rebuttal to her friendly query. To voice her distaste, she lumbered after our car with frightening speed, fueled by whatever street drugs her last patron had tipped her with, spewing a frenzied slur of what we supposed to be profanities but could not clearly decipher.
It was awfully traumatic for us, and we dared not venture from the relative safety of the Jeep and into the lots where we might have actually been able to get behind the wheel of a vintage high-powered ride.
Now, more than half a decade wiser, clean shaven, with my hair cut down from a rebellious white man’s afro to the tidy cut of a working class gentleman, it’s time for me to return to Aurora Avenue and finish the job.
I’m going back to test-drive a muscle car, dammit, one of the last great American artifacts. Will I return with a drug addiction? Herpes? Will the Aurora Bridge vex me to the icy waters below?
I can’t honestly say. But I’ll take my camera and fill you in later this week if I’m able. Stay tuned, it could be good.