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Messenger Archives - February 2010

ALEX R. MAYER is foiled by the Google Voice service
Debunking Belltown's Bad Reputation

Last Friday I set out with some friends to counteract all the bad press our beloved Belltown has been getting from folks who don’t understand what city living is like. And while seeking out Belltown’s reputed tossed salad of alkie crackheads and sexed-up weekend warriors, I spoke some of my thoughts about that into voicemails, which were then transcribed into text and emailed back to me by the new Google Voice service. An exciting new offering from Google. Perfect for someone like me who can’t type. (Note to self: begin dictating acceptance speech for the National Book Award into phone.)

I invited Clark (fifty-something), Elaine (sixty-something) and Ronald (indeterminate age) to join me (don’t ask) for a Belltown romp. Certainly not the typical neighborhood shiny-shirted chug-and-puke weekend clubber crowd, this group. Some of us have been making an appearance at the Two Bells Tavern (and before that the Virginia Inn) every Friday night for decades, long before the current herd of glossed-up Belltown club rats were born.

Belltown’s reputation is now being tarnished 24/7 in the shadowy world of neighborhood blogs. The new online-only SeattlePI.com has some unedited citizen-run blogs going at their Insidebelltown section, including stuff (often re-purposed from other blogs) from Cyd Gillis, Ronald Holden and Igor Keller. There’s one Belltown newbie who writes there, David Nelson, who is wary of leaving his house after 9pm, and that irks me. “The lack of sufficient police patrolling allows bad things to happen at night. Shoot, I’m at home by 9 pm,” he said in one of his many Belltown-related posts, perhaps implying that the SPD neglects the neighborhood. Nelson is a former Marine. He’s learned twelve different ways to kill a guy with his bare hands. Do you have to be a freakin’ Navy Seal to venture out on the streets and clear the way for the Marines? Do you have to be Delta Force? Or would Rambo himself get his ass kicked out there by those low-level crack dealers on the northeast corner of Third and Bell that we walked by several times throughout the night without incident? Many of Belltown’s 10,000 residents avoid going out after 9; is it really that bad out there?

Granted, the 1:30-2am scene in Belltown is often rough, but that’s not the focus of this article. When the bars let out and the booze and drugs that the clubbers have been sucking down throughout the night mix with cigarettes and testosterone and cheap perfume from Wal Mart, it’s a sure-fire catalyst for violence. We’ll save that for another feature. Maybe a police ride-along or something.

“Enough of this lollygagging, it’s time to get the Google voice-recognition software humming and head out on the town!” I barked into my cell phone as I walked down Pike Street. Just another distracted jerk wandering around interacting with a computer while shutting out the real world. One in a million. At least I wasn’t holding a latte, or wearing a corporate ID badge around my neck while walking with two of my identical buddies while holding a latte.

The first message I received after signing up for Google Voice was a political robocall which Google garbled from “Please remember to vote yes on both these levies” into “Please remember to vote yes on both Israelis.” A hot button issue: those Israelis increasing our school taxes and such. I’m assuming that the CIA or NSA or whoever is actually tracking terror suspects and other hardcore criminals has better speech-recognition technology than this. Google Voice is an English-destroying engine. Perhaps the Chinese have hacked the service and are mutilating our native tongue as a way of corrupting our morals. Or maybe the government censors over there are doing it strictly for kicks. There are other products on the market that almost certainly provide better service than Google Voice (see sidebar) but they are not free.

More distractions: Elaine and I stopped at Loving Hut in Seattle’s Little Vietnam to fuel up before meeting the other cross coots of our group. The Hut was known as Vegan Garden until recently, but the same Buddhist vegan owners run the place. I ordered the clear mung bean noodle soup and Elaine had the Lemongrass Tofu Vermicelli and we got the golden rolls and sip tea. I told my voicemail that I was getting a “spicy noodle platter”; it interpreted this for me as “spicy from google platter.” Corporate advertising has now so permeated every aspect of life that it informs me I referenced a giant corporation when talking about noodles to myself in a supposedly private conversation. No wonder the service is “free.”

We’re not learning anything about Belltown crime at Loving Hut way up on Jackson Street, so we head out into the night with bellies full of peppery animal-free goodness.



Then we inhale more vegan tofu noodle soup at Buddha Belltown, a dive bar which makes Thai food on the side. Elaine knows the lady who cooks in the back, and she does us up right. Now we have what my friends in the Navy call a “drinking base”: a belly full of food to soak up the night’s alcohol.

And so the drinking began, and the wandering around. People-watching ... eye candy ... the unwashed and barely-washed masses and the very clean, too ... all of them mingling and mixing and walking and having a good time. A city!

A night in Belltown and all the ambient noise that that entails provided for some fun Google Voice hogwash and garbled bullcrap (see “Google Voice is a Balderdash Engine” sidebar for complete transcript).

Actual audio message: “Umi Sake house – a line out the door.” Google Voice transcription: “Give me a sucky house line out the door.” You get the idea. Honest mistakes that any computer would make, because computers are idiots.

I notice that, as with any Friday night, most Belltown eateries and drinkeries are packed. Friday’s the money night, even in the off-season. Good for them. Screw the crime rumors, say their customers.

La Fontana on Blanchard was empty, though. Some restaurants run their course after fifteen or twenty years, yet hang on like ghouls. “That’s what you get for having 35 dollar entrees during the second Republican Great Depression,” I told my cell phone as we walked by, ignoring a throng of panhandlers.

Did I give Elaine any kudos yet for being a trooper? She suffers from cold weather-induced urticaria, and gets real uncomfortable when the temperature dips below 45 degrees or so. And there I was dragging her out of the Two Bells for a freezing journey through throngs of scented young girls in cheap low-cut cocktail dresses and spike heels. Sometimes fashion trumps comfort, and warmth is not an option when you’re the type of young lady who feels a need to trot out your giblets in front of a parade of leering, drunken louts. And that was the scene at the Crocodile. We ducked into the back of Via Tribunali for a pizza, where we could continue to watch the chicken-run from the comfort of a warm booth. Nice.

After enjoying many “Belltown Ringers” (vodka, tonic and cranberry on the rocks in a pint glass) and several MSE’s (meaningless social encounters), Elaine recapped our night with a final voicemail, saving me from the difficult chore of trying to wrap up this shamefully disjointed article. My style of writing reads like a series of seemingly unrelated paragraphs strung together by a madman held by a chain just out of reach of a clay jug filled with contaminated moonshine.

Thank you, Elaine, for putting all this hokum about Belltown being a terror-zone of pimps and pushers and defecators into perspective with one quick, blunt message:

“Yeah, we had a good time out in Belltown. It would be better if I was like thirty years younger ... forty years younger. But you know it was nice, people were nice, there were no problems.

“I mean you got the thuggies that hang out on one corner but no one even looks at you, nobody pays any attention to you. They’re just out trying to get their little hoo-ha on. You know, if you wanted some whores or something like that it’s good ... out in Belltown. If you want to just look like a whore it’s good, out in Belltown. You know, Belltown is where people go who want to have some fun. What’s the crime in that?

Yeah, we had a great time. So next time it will be warmer, since now it’s the dead of winter. We’ll have to do it when it’s hot and the girls that are (barely) dressed in really short short skirts and no sleeves and really high heel shoes will look like normal people.”

See more on speech recognition technology:
-Google Voice is a Balderdash Engine
-Be Very Afraid: Biometrics Expert Tells All
-A Garbled Word or Two About Google Voice

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