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Seattle's Wonk Concierge

Now, Boeing HQ has eloped to Chicago, the Internet bubble has burst and black-clad anarchists laid waste to Seattle more than a year ago in a nihilistic five-day howl against globalization. ("That was all rabble from Eugene, Oregon," Kinsley says. "The latte didn't stop flowing for a minute.") Understandably, the city is shaken by its run of bad luck, which included a 6.8-magnitude earthquake in February and twice-daily backups on the commuter bridges.

Still, whatever its current livability rating, a drive through Seattle remains a slide show of lovely vistas. Top out on one of the city's rolling hilltops and Elliott Bay opens up to the west, subtitled by the neon signs of Pike Place Market and the waterfront. Another rise features the houseboats and kayaks of Lake Washington to the east. Sometimes, legend has it, Mount Rainier looms huge to the south. (Seattleites say just knowing it's there behind the clouds is enough.) There's a pleasant low-rise feel to intown neighborhoods like Queen Anne Hill and Capitol Hill, lots of trees and frame cottages lining side streets paved with rain.

We're heading downtown. Sure enough, Kinsley received a last-minute call from a visiting Easterner -- journalist Carl Bernstein -- and has invited him to join our tour. But first, there's time for the mandatory stop at Seattle's flagship REI store, the Disneyland of outdoor gear.

Kinsley makes a quick turn against traffic to reach the store. ("That's a very East Coast maneuver," he says. "When I first got out here, I felt like the king of the road.") A glass-enclosed climbing wall rises seven stories over Interstate 5, and the building is surrounded by an artfully constructed mountain creek habitat, a place to test hiking boots and mountain bikes. Inside, there's a walk-in-sized stone fireplace; massive timbers soar over the racks of boots and boats. The crowd is a mix of genuinely weathered outdoorsfolk and slim urbanites hanging out at the in-store coffee bar. Seattle is a hiking and paddling town for sure, but you shop at REI even if the only walking you do is along the aisles of Larry's Market or one of the many other gourmet groceries. The North Face parka is to Seattle what the little black dress is to New York.

"I hadn't been camping for 20 years when I got here and I spent several hundred dollars right away," says Kinsley. "It's required, whether you use the stuff or not."

Indeed, an hour later we're seated in Wild Ginger and the crowd looks more like a party of affluent mountaineers than diners at Seattle's top-rated restaurant. The pan-Asian cuisine, though, is very indoorsy: ahi bruschetta, rabbit satay, salmon steamed in Shaoxing rice wine.

"The food everywhere here is good," Kinsley remarks. "It's sort of migrated north from California, with lots of fresh ingredients and a fair number of ethnic influences."

Sated on satay, we move across the street to Benaroya Hall, home of the Seattle Symphony. The $118 million, block-long hall throws a rich glow along Third Avenue from the glass-fronted gallery paid for by Boeing. Inside, as part of a concert series sponsored by Starbucks, the jaunty melodies of Benjamin Britten fill the wood-paneled, shoebox-style auditorium. Next on the program is the kind of "challenging" second piece that concertmasters love and general audiences endure. "It's time for our spinach," Kinsley whispers as George McKay's Violin Concerto begins. In the balconies, older patrons in beige raincoats watch the performance through birding binoculars.

Seattle prides itself on being a place where your weekend can include both a world-class concert and a wilderness hike. So in the morning -- after a crab and egg brunch at Kinsley's beloved Etta's Seafood at Pike Place Market -- we board the ferry and sail off for the Olympic Peninsula. It's a day-tripper crowd this morning, but on weekdays these huge ferries -- with onboard cafeterias and, of course, espresso stands -- are filled with commuters from around Puget Sound. "The first time you take the ferry you think, 'This is incredibly cool,' " says Kinsley as we pull away. "The third or fourth time you think, 'This is a pain in the neck.' They're like the trains in New York. Everybody strategizes about it. Everybody leaves dinner parties at the same time."

Once on the peninsula, though, it's easy to see why people put up with the ferries to live out here. The roads, when not arching over and along the water, cut through increasingly dense temperate rain forests. The land rises up from the Strait of Juan de Fuca to peaks high enough to house glaciers. According to the radio, it's snowing up there right now. "Incredible," says Kinsley.

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