August 23, 2018
I walked by a nighttime pickup basketball game last night, not far from our place in Oakland Chinatown. Seeing the balls bouncing under the yellow sodium vapor lamps reminded me of a different pickup game I'd seen, years before.
It was 2010, and I'd rented a place in the basement: OK apartment, good building, but great neighborhood. At $850/month, the place was for everyone; I still remember the the woman who worked at the deli counter down the street with more piercings than I could count, to the guy who used to show up to the games with his Comcast installer bib still hanging off his chest. This was notable because most of my friends lived in Beltown, First Hill, or Queen Anne, in high-rise buildings with doormen and parking garages; I've always been too cheap for that kind of luxury.
Elliot Bay Books had just closed, I think around 9pm. I walked out and saw it across the street: dodgeball. Maybe 20 people, teenagers up to guys in their 40s, hurling rubber kickballs full-force across the tennis courts. There were at least as many people watching, some who'd gotten knocked out, as well as a few tennis players with rackets, feeling pretty salty as the dodgeball people brought the numbers, taking over their court.
And the thing was, the dodgeball players were surly. Friendly if you got to know them, but the vibe was definitely "Fight Club", with ripped T-Shirts, unkempt hair in headbands, and water bottles. I remember bringing a friend once, maybe either Niket or Sergei, and it was a little much for them. The players were good; lose focus and you'd get blasted in the foot within a minute of the game starting. I think a lot of onlookers wanted to play, but were too intimidated!
I loved this. It was a cheap way to get outside, meet my neighbors, and have some fun, under the sodium vapor lamps of a public park. The tennis players tried to shut it down, but I was a signatory to the Alternative Use Petition, ensuring many more people would be able to enjoy it as I had.
They even have a website now, and the photos are awesome: Seattle Dodgeball. I'm a little disappointed they got rid of the word "street" in the name, though. 😊