RETURN OF THE “R”ARR
When I was 10, Boeing transferred my dad to Seattle from Kansas, where our family had been settlers since the 1800s.
As my mom, dad, Sam and I crossed the Cascade Mountains in our 1970s red diesel Peugeot, we collectively marveled at waterfalls pouring out of mountain sides, deer gingerly grazing in pastures, and lakes glistening beneath fir forests.
I believed – no, I knew – I had entered the most magical place in the world. Unlike the endless dry flatlands of Kansas, this new world felt like something spun from the genius of Walt Disney. This was the kind of place where squirrels could sing, deer could dance, and coyotes could protect you from an evil witch.
And that was before we got to Seattle!
When we saw the city that would become our home, it was like hitting the Oz jackpot: the Space Needle; Puget Sound; the Pacific Science Center; the Kingdome; Pike Place Market; floating concrete bridges; the Smith Tower; Sylvester the Mummy at Ye Olde Curiosity Shop; the ferries; and the crazy brewery with its big “R” flaunting its neon self over I-5.
I hate to say it, but what really ran through my mind was, “We’re not in Kansas anymore.”
Almost 40 years later, my initial love of this area’s charm has never waivered. I still feel like that 10-year-old in the back seat, eyes wide with wonder at the intoxicating beauty of the city that is Seattle.
But I’ve had moments of doubt. Around thirteen years ago, I drove past the iconic curvaceous “R” straddling the old Rainier Brewery, which had been unceremoniously replaced with a very sensible (Helvetica?) forest-green “T.”
I damn near crashed my car.
It was right around the time that the Kingdome had been so rudely imploded, and this just felt like an extra slap in the face to my kitschy, cozy, magical, misty hometown.
Much as I like coffee (it stood for “Tully’s") and support our local purveyors, this “T” discounted fond childhood (albeit corporate-inspired) associations I had with Rainier beer, like the old Rainier Derby ad and the Raiiiiiiiinnnniiiiiieeeeeerrrrr Beeeeeeeerrrrr motorcycle ad. I mean, I don’t know how many times I put on my best motorcycle imitation, lowered my voice, and hum-sang, “Raiiiiiiiinnnniiiiiieeeeeerrrrr Beeeeeeeerrrrr.” We all did. Their ads were cool, and they tended to run before Saturday Night Live, which was also very cool. As a child, Rainier, Saturday Night Live, oh, and TIGHT Union Bay Jeans and impossible-to-wear Candy’s shoes and Farrah Fawcett feathered hair, pushed my 1976 hipster buttons and made me feel privileged just to live in a world where this stuff existed.
So, every time I drove past that “R” as an adult, the vision pushed a little sub-conscious button that said, “This is your home. You are with family. Life is good.”
And then … it was gone. Like when your blue-haired aunt has an unexpected stroke or when someone buys your childhood home and gives it a generic Lowe’s makeover. A little piece of your life – pfft – into thin air. This felt like someone had ripped a page out of my memory bank without asking permission. I felt a little … unspecial, sanitized, white-washed.
I was pissed! And so were others!
But, ha! Guess what?
The boys at Pabst Brewing Co., which now owns Rainier Beer, came to the brilliant realization that when you have a market with more than 50 years of brand recognition in a product, you run with that. It’s practically free marketing when you tap into people’s psyches on that level.
So they’re bringin’ back the “R”!
Now, to make this all the more fun, our friend and accomplished neon artist Kelsey Fernkopf at Western Neon, crafted the new “R,” and as you can see, it’s fantastic!
Kelsey … I think we can safely say … through your artistry and skill Seattle is getting one of its beloved landmarks back with a fresh face and a glamorous glow.
I thank you. I know others thank you. And I will rock the Raiiiiiiiinnnniiiiiieeeeeerrrrr Beeeeeeeerrrrr now that my symbol, our symbol, your symbol is back to inspire.
Congratulations Kelsey on becoming part of Seattle’s history!
There will be a party from 4-9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 24, at the old brewery in the SODO area on Airport Way with photo opportunities with the “R” (once it’s installed, you’ll probably never get a chance to stand with it!); the Grazing Rainiers (remember those?) and of course, a beer garden. The party is free and all ages (well, the beer garden’s 21 and older, unless you have fake ID). Details here.
And if you want to see the old “R,” it’s at MOHAI on Lake Union.
Pictured above: The new R; Kelsy bending glass to make a small neon R; Kelsey on Evening Eff-ing Magazine heating the glass to fill it with gas; Tom (who owns Chungee’s Drink & Eat on Capitol Hill with wife Wen), moiselles, Jack and Ada (oh, and a Rainier beer).