Wherever You Hang Your Hat

Whew! It’s been quite a week. I’d intended to post a Valentine wish … but I was stuck without a computer in Seattle. Computerless in Seattle … where’s Nora Ephron when you need her?!

I’ve been swamped since my return, getting ready for Operation Read My Book. Y’see, my ARCS (that’s short for Advanced Reading Copies) will be here by Friday, and I’ve got to get them out to reviewers, bookstores, media and libraries. And readers — I’ll be giving some away on Dorothy-L and a few other lists, so look for the notice.

All this sudden injection of reality hit me like a wet fish upside my head. And speaking of fish, I felt a bit like a salmon when in Seattle, since I was born in Tacoma, and hadn’t been back in mrruhs (hand over the mouth) years, since I was seven. So I returned to the Pacific Northwest, and saw Mt. Ranier again, and it felt like home.

It was wonderful to have early childhood memories flood back, and I received a great welcome from three Seattle legends: the Space Needle, Byrnie Utz Hats and the Seattle Mystery Bookshop.

The Space Needle was always my favorite building as a kid. I mean, Astro lived there! (I never cared much for the Jetsons–I preferred the Flintstones, go figure–but I did love Astro). That soaring architecture of hope, circa 1962, complete with working monorail … well, there’s nothing like it anywhere. It’s from an era when people still remembered what it was like to have beauty in their environment–architectural beauty.

Not just glass boxes. Not just fake Santa Fe shopping malls. Not a Starbucks on every corner. Not the ubiquitous “mixed use retail” environment that is slowly destroying the individuality of every American city.

OK, I’m bitter in my nostalgia, but really … cities need to preserve their architectural history. Thank God Seattle has its Space Needle … and the Valentine’s Day menu at the Sky City Restaurant was jaw-droppingly terrific. I’d write about it, but I don’t want to make you too hungry.

On 310 Union Street in downtown Seattle (between 4th and 3rd Avenue), not too far from the Space Needle, is another tribute to beauty … the beauty of hats and how to sell them. Byrnie Utz Hats was established in 1934, and not much has changed about the store since then except the stock. No website, alas, but they do mail order. Pay ’em a visit.

Glass and wood cases line the walls, a hat steamer and applicator for marking your hat band with gold-leaf initials rest on large wooden counters that have seen their share of coffee and cigars.

And the hats … well, you can tell from my photo that I’m a hat person. I collect fedoras, and rejoice in wearing them. And at Byrnie’s, I found two exquisite wide brim Dodds with low crowns. Glorious, luxurious hats that felt like they, too, stepped out of a 1937 time machine.

I’ll be wearing them to Left Coast Crime and other conferences and signings this year … they are my debut fedoras. Thank you, Byrnie Utz!

(By the way, the fedora in my author photo is a vintage Paramount from the 1940s, complete with thin satin ribbon on the brim. I don’t travel with it, or my other vintage hats — they’re too delicate).

After partaking of a delicious latte at the Tully’s flagship store around the corner from Byrnie’s (I don’t do the other place), I visited another wonderful business in the city … one near and dear to my heart as reader and writer. The Seattle Mystery Bookshop, on 117 Cherry Street near Pioneer Square, is one of the best specialty shops I’ve seen — a must-visit if you like mystery, thrillers and crime … and who doesn’t?

With a staff of the nicest people in Seattle, including JB, the owner, and Fran, Book Keeper extraordinaire, you’ll find yourself whiling away the hours and discovering new gems. My timing was great on Saturday, because I got a chance to visit with my Killer Year pal Bill Cameron, author of the Rocky-nominated gem Lost Dog, and meet the wonderful Gregg Olsen. If you’re going to Seattle, this store is as much of a necessity as looking up at the Space Needle!

Next time: more noir (film and literary), a review of Elizabeth: The Golden Age and why Helen Mirren needn’t worry, and more observation on the road to Left Coast Crime in March, when Writing in the Dark will be featuring its first ever guest blogger!

Until then, may your coffee be hot and your noir be ice cold …