NerdGuy Fridays: Dispatches from a Writer's Brain - M. L. Buchman

NerdGuy #23: Holes Under Seattle

buchman paranormal romantic suspenseThe “Holes Under Seattle” that I describe in my upcoming novel At the Clearest Sensation (Shadowforce: Psi #4) are all real.

There really are watermains 6′ high. A lacework of steam pipes heat almost 200 buildings in Seattle’s core. (The University of Washington has a similarly extensive, if not quite as massive, system for the small city (almost 50k) that is it’s campus.) There are train tunnels underneath the city. And even an abandoned story or two of the old city now known as the Seattle Underground.

The Seattle Underground

I used to work in a Seattle theater, one of the ones that eventually helped launch the fringe movement (though it went under before it could benefit from that). A trapdoor under our stage lead to the Underground, a convenient place to lose old sets. 1. we couldn’t afford the dump fees, and 2. we were so marginal that we’d go down to salvage the odd bits when something broke on a current show.

Of course, being in the Underground, that gave us access to the rest. Well, except for little bits that had been walled off and repurposed, like Merchants Cafe (which is in the story and we used to go for dinner after closing the show each night–arriving through their front door, rather than the trap door in the floor). The famed Seattle Underground Tour shows some parts of the old city (they avoided the room that was our theater’s set “storage” for some reason).

There is one room worthy of note down there. It was set up by the tour and is a spacious enough area to stop and lecture a group. (I also attended an Anne Rice book launch there once.) Old pictures and artifacts have been screwed to the wall. The tour guides have given the tour so many times that they don’t have to look. “Behind you is a photo of the horse and buggy that drowned in a mudhole on the original 1st Avenue very near this spot.” Etc.

One day we dropped in with a couple of screw guns between tours and rearranged all of the images and displays. We didn’t take anything–nerds, not nasty. And yes, for Broadway show fans, I might have gotten the idea from Bobby of Chorus Line, “I broke into people’s houses. I never stole anything. I just rearranged their furniture.” The confusion was splendid and rippled through the tour guides hanging at the local bars for a couple days, though we never said it was us.

Newer Holes

There are a series of newer holes under Seattle. They actually trace their origin to a monorail for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. This fair was a huge deal, the first one after WWII, and they managed to preempt New York’s goal of being the first to bring them back.

A whole section of the city’s residents were evicted and the area razed (read as slums that the city fathers were sick of, so, “please leave…now!”), and the Seattle Center built in its place (including the Space Needle). Ten million people would visit this then tiny city of Seattle that summer.

World’s Fairs were to “show off the future.” As a part of that, they installed a monorail that ran above ground from the heart of Seattle (hotels and shopping) over the mile to the fairgrounds.

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Seattle Monorail near North Terminus (c) Klaus with K

The developer wanted a showcase for his product, and offered to sell the city an entire monorail system at cost. The city didn’t want  such nonsense cluttering up their skies, making Seattle a world-class traffic disaster ever since. (It can now take fifteen minutes to drive that same mile…and that’s on a good day when there’s no game or rush-hour traffic.)

Now, at HUGE cost, they are boring bus and light rail tunnels under the city that offer far less connectivity and convenience. However, they’re out of options in this geographically confined city placed on a steep hillside above a harbor far too deep to fill in (or even anchor in–it’s one of the deepest in the world).

However, there is one hole under Seattle that is particularly amazing.


The Alaskan Way Viaduct was built in the 1950s. Sort of a monorail for cars. It was a two-tiered, 2-4 laned, high-speed, twisty-assed bit of freeway that was the only relief from the disaster of I-5 once Seattle began to grow.

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Alaskan Way Viaduct (c) Waqcku. All that gray bit darkened by decades of greasy car exhaust fumes. It was creepy to even touch the concrete.

It shrouded one of the most beautiful waterfronts in any city under a semi-permanent gloom. Most of the area directly underneath was bathed in a constant roar from above, as well as a shower of dirt and litter. It was mostly cheap parking and homeless villages, and remained that way for the next fifty-plus years. (This from the same people who didn’t want a sleek, quietly electric monorail system.)

Then They Made A “BIG” Hole

The old Viaduct was never meant for the traffic load of eventually carrying 100,000 cars/day. There’d been no understanding of being built to survive an earthquake–and Seattle is definitely in an earthquake zone. Not a lot of little quakes there. But like LA and San Francisco, all three cities are expecting a “Big One.” So, Seattle drivers along the Viaduct often talk about holding their breath for the whole length of that 2.2 miles run. A small quake in 2001 proved that it was going to come down and come down bad if something wasn’t done.

Many ideas were proposed. My favorite was to move it offshore into a floating tunnel. Now that would have been a cool bit of technology.

Instead, they went underground. Deep underground. Two hundred feet below sea-level kind of underground.

Eight years later, it opened. Rather than trying to explain all of the wonders of the world’s largest (57.5′ diameter) tunnel boring machine named Bertha, I’ll point you to a couple of awesome videos.

A Decent Quick Overview (ignore the PR voice if you can)
I LOVE This One

Not because it’s exciting, but because it shows all of the underground planning and takes us on a ride through the virtually modeled space.

An Overview…right after it broke (for 2 years)
A Splendidly Tedious Look At How Bertha Works (too tedious? Not for this story nerd.)
A Cool Little Destruction Time Lapse

They had to take it down with businesses 20′ to one side and cars 20′ to the other. Slick.

And If You Want to Waste More Time

I certainly did in writing this book, visit:

Pre-Order Now for 9/29/20 Arrival:

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