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Thursday, October 17, 2002
Updated: October 21, 12:22 PM ET
Lonely days in the Emerald City

By Jim Caple
Page 2 columnist

People back east probably wonder whether it's difficult being the last man still living in Seattle, but really, it isn't all that much different from before.

Lou Piniella
Safeco has seen its share of Lou Piniella hat dances.
Oh, the mail plane bringing supplies and the Sears Roebuck catalogue only flies in once a month now, instead of every week, but really, that's a minor inconvenience. It just means that now I have to haul enough beaver furs and dried salmon to the dock in order to cover an entire month's worth of trade. It's more of a burden for the dog team, but they're usually up to it. I always check the Old Farmer's Almanac before heading out, though.

I must admit that I do occasionally get a little misty eyed thinking about the old days when the city seemed to be the center of the universe. Boeing was the globe's leader in aviation and defense, Bill Gates was the world's richest man and everyone was going to retire early on Microsoft stock. And best of all, the city was home to the greatest baseball players in the world -- Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez and the rest of Lou Piniella's Mariners.

I suppose the population drain began in late 1999, when Junior demanded a trade to the metropolis of Cincinnati, the fabled City of Light, in order to be closer to his family. Some of us wondered why he didn't simply have his family live here year-round, but that's us. Having been so isolated from the rest of the world and its modern conveniences, we just assumed everyone enjoyed living that way. We thought Junior was happy. After all, his home was only a couple of blocks off the trolley line, and it had indoor plumbing recently installed.

But I guess the straw that finally broke the camel's back for him was the party line phone system. He said he got tired of having everyone in the city listen in to his phone calls with Jay Buhner. I guess you can't blame him, seeing as how he was from a big, cosmopolitan city such as Cincinnati, but out here we didn't mind that sort of thing. We relied on our neighbors too often for barn-raising and midwifery to worry about them overhearing us talking about whether we were voting for the Whig or Bull Moose candidate this fall.

So, Junior left. And we got by.

Jeff King
Seattlites learn to cope while waiting for their transportation system to be modernized.
Then A-Rod left, saying he wanted to play for a proven winner with a proud tradition. Like Texas. And who could blame him? The Rangers owner even met him at the airport and carried his bag, something we never would have thought of way up here. Up here, a man carries his own bags, whether his luggage is Louis Vuitton and he's on a $252 million free agency tour or whether he's loading up his backpack with Eddie Bauer mukluks for the long trip to Skagway to join the gold rush.

So, A-Rod left. And we got by.

Then, Boeing moved its corporate headquarters to Chicago, saying it needed to be closer to its Eastern markets and away from the notorious Seattle traffic. And again, we understood. We only wished there was a company somewhere that could manufacture a contraption capable of carrying people long distances in a short period of time. Plus, we had heard the tales of how Chicago's mass transportation was the envy of the world, with broad, open freeways connecting its citizens to every point of the city within 15 minutes via nonpolluting "horseless carriages." How could Seattle compete with that when our horses were still slipping in the mud and backing up buggies along Skid Road?

So, Boeing left. And we got by. We still had Lou and the Mariners to entertain us in the summer and the vaudeville circuit and the Chautauqua tent preachers during the winter rainy season.

And then Lou left so he could manage closer to his home in Tampa, Fla.

Ken Griffey Jr
Seattle couldn't prevent Ken Griffey Jr. from being lured away by the bright lights of the big city.
Oh, we understood his concerns. It isn't easy getting from here to Tampa. Any time there was a family emergency, Lou had to take a wagon train down the coast, board a clipper ship in San Francisco, wait for the weather to clear while trying to sail around Cape Horn, resupply in the Falkland Islands and hope he could reach Florida before scurvy set in. You do that a couple of times and, pretty soon, even managing the Devil Rays sounds good.

The problem was that once Lou left, everyone figured maybe he was right, maybe Seattle was a little too isolated, and maybe we all should get out when the getting was good.

Of course, Rick Neuheisel was the first to go.

Soon, everyone followed. The city lost 1.2 million residents the first six months and another million by the end of the year, and it just got worse from there, until all but a stubborn and hardy handful of Microsoft employees with stock options remained. (It got so bad, some people even moved to Tacoma). Amazingly, despite the population flight, homes on Queen Anne Hill still went for $780,000 and the state highway 520 floating bridge still was backed up to Redmond at rush hour.

But then, eventually, even the failed dot-commers left and everyone was gone. Except for me.

So, here I am now, the last man living in the former great city of Seattle. Yes, there are inconveniences. Yes, I miss the Mariners. Yes, I long for the good old days. But I do all right for myself. I may be the only man left in Seattle, but I have a house with a 360-degree view of Mount Rainier and the Olympic Mountains, and I still make a very comfortable living.

After all, I run the Starbucks.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at cuffscaple@hotmail.com.