Pacific Northwest | October 26, 2003Pacific Northwest MagazineOctober 26, home
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Glass Houses
Exploring how the other half lives has its rich rewards
Mrs. Johnston likes to take our dog for a walk after supper. Unfortunately, she insists I go with her.

Usually we walk around our neighborhood. We exchange greetings with the neighbors who are outside and wave at the ones we see moving around inside their homes. Because our dog likes to run after other dogs and anything else moving, Mrs. Johnston keeps him on a leash. She also keeps an eye on me in case I try to make a break for freedom.

Every now and then, to change the routine, the Truly Unpleasant Mrs. Johnston will have us drive to a different location for the walk. She usually picks a neighborhood near the water. This means we are walking in a neighborhood with houses on the lake.

These are very expensive homes. Property that common folk like me cannot even afford to make the down payment on, so the monthly mortgage on these mansions is out of the question.

(I must digress. I bought my first house in Seattle in 1974. I paid less for this house than I paid for a car I bought last year. I sold the house for four times the purchase price and used the money to buy another Seattle home.

(We sold that house also for four times what we originally paid for it, and we bought a home in Bellevue. Bellevue is a fancy-pants address to have — some folks call it "Swellvue" — and there are expensive homes around here. I'm talking about homes that sell in the seven- and eight-figure range.

(These rich folks live either on the edge of Lake Washington — think Bill Gates — or on top of one of the hills that loom over the hovels for peasants like us. Don't get me wrong. We have a lovely home, but it wouldn't qualify as a tool shed in some of the high-priced neighborhoods around Swellvue. I'm through digressing now, and will get to my point.)

Mrs. Johnston decided she wanted to walk Rex the Wonder Dog and her husband through a fancy-pants neighborhood where people not only enjoy a view of Lake Washington but also have large boats tied up to docks in their front yards.

While Mrs. Johnston was impressed with the gardens in the front yards and the lovely stained-glass windows, I noticed something that, frankly, I found disturbing.

It was about 7 o'clock on a warm evening, but there were no people around. I'm not saying there were no people in the yards of these fancy-pants homes playing ball with the kids.

There were no people outside or inside!

The big homes had lots of glass so you could look right through to get a peek at the lake. But I never saw one human being walking around inside. No one was making dinner and no one was reading or watching television like regular folks. Maybe there was a light on in a hallway or two, but the rest of these mansions were dark and empty.

I asked Mrs. Johnston if she didn't find it odd there were no humans in sight. I didn't even hear the occasional dog barking at us as we went by. When Mrs. Johnston said the people were probably still at work, I said I didn't think so.

"I think they are inside those fancy-pants homes," I said, "but I think they are actually robots who work for all these computer companies around here. I think when they come home, they go into a closet and plug themselves in so they can recharge for the next day."

"I think I'm ready to put you in a home," Mrs. Johnston said, "where no one will see you again."

I decided not to continue this line of reasoning but I think most people will agree about rich folks being robots.

Steve Johnston is a retired Seattle Times staff reporter. He can be reached at Paul Schmid is a Times news artist.

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