Photo courtesy of Laurie Miller
Laurie Miller, perhaps better known as “Silver,” knows her way around a scanner. But she's far from a shut-in.

At Large in Ballard: Not a 'Lone Ranger'

If you’ve seen a Volvo with a flame on the hood you’ve seen Silver’s car. If you’ve seen a woman with silvery bangs and ponytail wearing the most extraordinary leggings (yes that is the sign for Pi) then you’ve glimpsed Silver. If you’ve ever heard an above average number of sirens in the night, Silver has probably heard them too and may have an explanation.

You see Silver is the screen name of a woman who lives in Ballard, has a police scanner and knows how to use it. A former Capitol Hill resident she bought the scanner because knowing the reason for police activity and sirens give her a certain piece of mind.

Somehow when a woman with silver hair appeared in Thursday yoga last wearing a skeleton leotard I knew it was the infamous Silver from on-line forums and Facebook updates on local doings. In the women’s locker room this woman known for her ability to report on things gruesome, macabre and just plain bizarre is outgoing, open about her complicated love life and eager to discuss fox trot lessons.

Meeting her for an interview felt like winning a shopping spree in which you can throw everything in the cart. I could ask her anything! Was she an ambulance chaser like my own mother? But first the new owner of Aster wondered if Silver knew anything about police activity from the night before. Her barista had been stopped because his car fit a suspect’s vehicle description. Wearing black boots, patterned leggings, Sip n’ Ship’s Ballard tee, a sweatshirt with a boyfriend’s Burning Man logo on it and a knit yellow Crime Scene scarf Silver had to shake her head. She listens to the scanner less these days, is doing more dancing.

“I don’t hide anything,” is the first thing Silver told me, leaving me to determine what was “appropriate for a family newspaper.” After sorting out her relationship with two different men who also have other women in their lives we settled on describing her life as interesting/non-traditional. Prematurely gray-haired in her late 20’s “Silver” is a lifelong Seattleite with the given name of Lauri Miller. She has two cats, a condo, and ‘the last family car,’ known as The Flash.

She started dancing in front of a jukebox at Seattle Central and claims she’s never had what could be called a traditional job or family. But for 15 years she worked for the Seattle Public Library fixing their electronic equipment. “Twenty-three branches and Central,” she said. “I still have nightmares about not being able to get to everything that was broken.”

Back then she was living near Pike Place Market and walking to work. On her way home one night she heard crashes. Then a car came through the air; the upper level of a parking garage had been its cliff. “At first it was like watching a movie, until it wasn’t.” Another woman on the sidewalk ran screaming but Silver went to where the car had landed and reached in to the driver. She remembers that he was in navy blue and that his thigh was still warm. Three people died at the scene.

After that Silver moved to the more residential Capitol Hill, but there were still so many sirens. Perhaps inspired by the memory of a grandmother with a police scanner in her kitchen she purchased and programmed one. She learned the lingo of dispatch and what are called talk groups, quickly learning how the responders try to keep their distance through acronyms that partially mask the mundane and horrible. “The scanner helps me feel safer,” Silver explained. “I like to prepare and it helps me be prepared.” Sometimes she would look out the window after she had heard a suspect’s description, “To see if he was out there and I could help catch him.”

While living there she posted online about garage sales and various sightings in a prototype web log, even before there were these things called blogs. She moved to Ballard to purchase a condo and found she liked it more than expected. She’d thought she’d be “a little too freaky for Ballard,” but it’s less conservative than she’d thought. She likes the Farmers Market and the gardens. Her secondary boyfriend plays music at the Ballard Eagles. She shops at Classic Consignment, Buffalo Exchange and Trove for the ball gowns - because it’s partly the dress-up that makes ballroom dancing so fun. She’s won “Best Costume” two years running at the Polar Bear Plunge at Golden Gardens.

Reflecting on perhaps the most fun she’s ever had listening to the police dispatches regarding Ballard, Silver recalled the bear that ran through our streets. She posted updates as 9-1-1 reports came in about “bear in my backyard.” By morning the MyBallard blog had used her reports to make a map of the bear’s terrified meanderings. One night she heard a dispatcher’s deadpan call. “Six or seven naked gentleman on bicycles. Have pumpkins on heads.” A female officer responded, almost as if bored, “Roger.”

Perhaps the most unexpected thing about meeting Silver in person is that she is not a loner eavesdropping on the world. She’s an extrovert who happens to like the macabre. Silver turns on the scanner if she hears something out of the ordinary, just like any citizen…but with more resources. Her life is full, working for a family on Capitol Hill, interest in activities I only vaguely knew existed (and will not be Googling), yoga, dancing, music…“Life is good,” she told me, a woman who just happens to like to listen and share dispatches from the dark side.

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