Sunday Songs: Courtney Barnett – “Pedestrian at Best”


A while back—a few months I think, but I can’t be sure—I had a dream about a record store. When I was in college, University Way, better known in this city as The Ave, was peppered with them, a couple of used or new stores per block. But that was a while ago.

Some remain, a few used stores, but long gone are the days of Tower Records: The original location on The Ave is now a Earthbound Trading Company, and the second location, which contained the gaming store that played a role in my move to Seattle before it was a Tower, is now an Urban Outfitters. What was once my lifestyle has been replaced by “lifestyle” brands.

This dream record store was wonderful and implausible, perhaps inspired by an article I’d read about a place in Brooklyn (of course) where a million disorganized records are available for $2 each. My dream store was next to the University Book Store, inside a narrow storefront that led directly up a set of stairs before revealing an unimaginably huge collection. My dream store was practically Tardis-like in its dimensions.

This weekend, I thought I’d check it out while I was in the neighborhood. There was only one glaring problem.


I’ve gotten a different perspective on the University District in the months since a light rail line opened between my current neighborhood and my first one in the city, where I lived so long ago. That’s true in a literal sense—getting to the Ave involves taking a path through the UW’s campus I rarely took in my younger days—but also in a figurative one, now that I’m finally processing the changes that have swept through the area. Newer buildings are taller than the ones they replaced, the city’s development boom having encompassed student housing as well. Chains left, others moved in. And the businesses that remain have gone through changes of their own.

Despite some setbacks in some areas, I felt a sense of progress during my two trips to The Ave this week. Fourteen years ago, while a reporter at the student newspaper, I watched as the street was torn up, block by block, over the course of nearly a year and a half, for the sake of pedestrian and transit-friendly improvements. It was supposed to improve the street, but the economic consequences were dire. It seems only now to be what it was promised to become then.

That’s something. Strange as it might be to once again feel comfortable wandering the college street I frequented all those years ago, it no longer feels exclusionary. I’ll keep self-excluding, to be sure—Wednesday night’s encounter with a pack of drunk students on our way out of the Nada Surf show reminded me why that’s a good idea—but at the very least, I no longer feel unwelcome in a place I once called home.


I remember one vivid dream from my childhood, not long after my sister was born, though it was really a nightmare. I was sitting in a yellow chair with a picture of a bear in a captain’s hat on the back, driving it down a neapolitan ice cream road as it melted, disappearing behind me with rapid intensity. I didn’t know what that dream meant then, and I still don’t now.

But that was a rarity; I forget most of my dreams before awakening, and even more in the minutes after. Not long ago, I had (what I thought to be) a great idea for a science fiction short story in my final moments of sleep, which is forever lost to the ether.

That record store dream stuck somehow. I knew it was a dream, even as it happened, it remained in the back of my mind, a virus corrupting my internal maps. When I made plans to attend the University District Street Fair yesterday, I figured I’d roll up a little early and look around the store, searching for some elusive album or another. And then I remembered the store didn’t exist.

I had that same pair of thoughts at least three times.

My mind’s tricks had no consequences in the end, though. I didn’t waste any time fruitlessly searching for a place that didn’t exist, or embarrass myself asking strangers on the street for the location of an imagined place that my brain never even thought to name. I only fooled myself, and nobody had to know.

We all have our dreams. Mine might be more grounded than most.

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