It's a whole different breed in the Emerald City.
I was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. Some of that was spent in a small town, some in Portland for college. I left the PNW to attend Berkeley and live in Oakland. Then I ended up in Seattle about three years ago. Surrounded by the same types of people for most of your life you tend to forget that there is anything odd about them. But when you spend enough time in various other places, you start to realize some pretty strange things about yourself and your home environment. Things you'd never expect. Like, in some places, people actually talk to you when you're out walking. Or, I shit you not, Styrofoam cups still fucking exist! And there are places that don't have individual bins for recycling, compost, and trash! There are even restaurants in some areas of the United States that don't offer a gluten-free or vegan option. Unbelievable. Of course, it's easy to poke fun at parts of the country foreign to me, but what about the people in my neck of the woods? Who are these lovable and quirky characters that choose to call Seattle home? It's a legion of residents that may drive me nuts, but also makes me certain I would never be happy calling anywhere else home.
Seattle is famous for its temperate (or shitty, depending on who you ask) climate. So outdoor sports are rather popular since you can easily take part in them year round. Or, at least, when it's only mildly shitty. That means when I hit the sidewalk at five or six in the morning, I'm bound to encounter a handful of people out there running too. I guess they must be embarrassed to be out there exercising, or something. Perhaps they want to maintain the impression that they effortlessly stay thin on their diets of espresso, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and e-cigarettes. These kids are constantly dressed in dark colors, complete with hats and gloves, and are nearly invisible in the still-dark gray morning. I know most Seattleites are allergic to color, but I would consider running to be the one of the few times when it's okay to put on something other than black. I'm out there on the sidewalk running with you and can't even see you until we are feet from each other. Do you actually think that any of the still half-asleep drivers out there stand a chance?
The world must be a really big, terrifying place for the people of Seattle. A vast majority of them seem to have this really bizarre inability to listen to their natural environments. You'll see them out walking their dogs, on the bus, even in the fucking grocery store with their earbuds in. I get the desire to listen to music, or books, or whatever the hell you're listening to while you take a stroll to clear your head, but it's like we've lost the ability to just be anywhere without our choice of audio-filtration. What is so awful about the sound of the city? It's not particularly loud. People don't yell here, and drivers don't use their horns. Maybe you just don't want anyone to talk to you, but come on now! Have you forgotten where you are? No one will bother you anyway. (Because they've all got their headphones in.) Go ahead, give it a try sometime. Listen to the rhythm of your footsteps, to the murmur on the bus, to the person standing behind you in the produce section who just wants to get a fucking zucchini, but can't get your attention.
"Oh, Go Ahead"-ers
She lurks in every doorway you might pass through. Near every line you'd like to join. Driving her Prius through a crosswalk you're standing in. On foot while you're behind the wheel of your car while doing your Lyft shift. She constantly insists that you, "Oh, go ahead." It doesn't matter if she has the right of way. It doesn't matter if it will take him seconds to drive a distance that will take you at least half a minute to cover. What is an honest attempt at being polite quickly becomes just plain obnoxious. Every time you encounter her in the doorway of your apartment building, letting everyone in before her, you just kind of want to grab her shoulders and push her through to get traffic moving again. Maybe he just needs to gain some self-worth, or could use a pep talk or something. I'd like to sit her down and explain that being polite does not mean that you must let every single person go ahead of you constantly. We've already stopped. Telling us to go now is just slowing everyone down. As evidenced by the Portlandia sketch, "No You Go" this problem is spreading across the whole of the PNW. Assert yourselves, goddamnit!
Those allergic to eye contact
You can see these folks coming a block away. They can probably see you coming, too, but they'd never want you to know that. It's not just that they're not looking at you, it's that they're trying impossibly hard to look anywhere else. Look at that building, look at the sidewalk, look twenty feet ahead and don't you dare fucking shift your gaze to any passing pedestrian. No one knows what might happen should these people accidentally look at another human being. Horrible things, I'm sure. Someone might smile at them, for example. Not likely in Seattle, but it might happen. Or, even more terrifying, someone might say, "Hello," or, "How are you?" I suppose it's a similar condition to the deaf-by-choicers:making eye contact involves acknowledging that you share this great city with other great people, and something about that just does not fucking appeal to the residents of Seattle. We just want to pretend the gorgeous skyline and lush environment were created for our own personal use.
These kids are trying. At least, I think they're trying. They might be trying. I have no idea, really. They've managed to get over the hurdle of making eye contact, and now they're upping the ante a bit by doing the unthinkable: smiling at a stranger. The thing is, it's been so long since they've attempted something of this emotional magnitude that they're not quite sure how it all works. As a friend of mine put it, "They have all the right muscles doing all the wrong things." Instead of curving up at the edges, their lips pull tight straight across their teeth and almost disappear inside their mouths. Not a wink of teeth, not a sparkle or crinkle around the eyes. It's as if the very act of attempting a smile is causing them physical pain. I can't say that I know why these people don't just smile, you know, regularly. But I can say I sometimes wish they hadn't fucking bothered granting me the pleasure of such an awkward exchange. I smile extra big at them.
My spouse and I live in the type of high-rise apartment complex that's commonplace in the downtown area of Seattle. We have communal areas with televisions, couches, computers, fire pits, barbecues, and a fitness center. Everyone that lives here takes the same three elevators, or two flights of stairs. Everyone goes through the same front door. We've lived in the same apartment, surrounded by the same people, for over a year now. And no one ever talks to anyone. Silent elevator rides, passing in hallways without a word, only holding the door on select rare occasions. Everyone living in this small space, stacked on top of each other, and not so much as an occasional acknowledgment each other's existence. Maybe we're just embarrassed of how much we're all paying in rent. But I just can't get over how weird it is to live this close to so many people and not know shit about them. I understand that, sometimes, you don't really want to know, but isn't that even stranger? In a world where we are constantly plugged in to photographic evidence of every meal our friends eat, shouldn't we at least want to know the name of someone we can hear having sex on a regular basis? Okay, maybe that would be weird.
Walking billboards for The North Face
Weather in Seattle sucks. There, I said it. I know I said it was "temperate" earlier, but in reality, nine months out of the year it is raining. No, we don't get substantially more inches of rain over the course of the year than your average northern city, but we do get it in a constant light drizzle. None of your clothes are ever really dry when you live here. So I understand the need for good raincoats and shoes that don't soak up precipitation like thirsty sponges. However, it seems that the people of Seattle not only need to be able to walk from their apartment to their office in comfort, but be ready to hit the Pacific Crest Trail at any fucking moment. These people don't own a pair of shoes that aren't Keens or Vibram Five Fingers. They live in their tech pants and moisture-wicking layers. As I overheard a tour guide describe it recently, "And to your left you'll see The North Face store, where the locals get their formal wear." Here's a hint: if the name of your garment includes an activity other than the one you're doing (e.g. yoga pants, hiking shorts), go change.
This is a tech city. The South Lake Union area downtown is basically its own city built entirely for Amazon. And all these tech people love their gadgets. Everyone knows that. What boggles my mind is how many of these gadgets they (claim to) need. It's not just a computer and a phone. Its a desktop, a laptop, an e-reader, a tablet, a phone (or two), a smaller laptop, a bigger tablet, a different e-reader... it's really quite impressive. The most impressive part, though, isn't that they have all this stuff. Or are able to afford it all. It's that they actually use each and every device. These guys (and yes, girls) have managed to make all of more things than I can even figure out the specific purpose for. This one is best for books, this one is best for tech books, this one is best for watching movies, this one best for watching movies while at work, this one is best for texts, but this one can call an Uber. So they carry them. All of them. On their person all the fucking time. It's really quite incredible, especially to someone who regularly leaves their phone at home. Holy shit. Did you know you can do that?
I don't think a single thing has happened in Seattle without being captured by the camera on someone's phone. At least since phones started being designed with cameras. Probably from several different angles and in both video and still-frame. Every plate of food served, every street crossed, every single fucking time the Space Needle comes into view. I'm sure it's a common theme everywhere, but it seems especially bizarre to me here. We live in a city where no one really wants to talk to anyone or acknowledge that they aren't singular beings doing their Seattle thing, but they also want to capture every moment they witness to share with other people. Talk about a juxtaposition. I hope all these pictures turn up on Instagram or Facebook or wherever with sweet captions like, "Look at all these people ignoring each other!" or "Check out the city that I live in, but refuse to be a part of!"
First-time escalator riders
There are a lot of small towns within an easy day's drive of Seattle, so maybe a lot of visitors really haven't ever ridden on a escalator before. Somehow I doubt that, though. So why the fuck is it that no one in this city understands that you ride right, walk left? Maybe we're all just too fucking chill to ever need to walk up an escalator. Maybe no one has any meetings to get to, or trains to catch. But get on any escalator anywhere downtown and you will be surrounded by groups of people standing shoulder to shoulder so as to continue their conversations, or keep holding hands or some such shit. And no, when they notice you come up behind them, they do not move promptly to the right side. They let you walk up to the step directly below them, and then they let you stand there, waiting to get off, staring at their shoulder blades, or their scalp, depending on which direction you're going. I'm not a particularly impatient person, but this just isn't okay. Stop it.
We take food seriously in a completely different way here in Seattle. It's not that we just enjoy a good meal, it's that we are complete suckers for where that food came from, how it was prepared, and exactly how each of these things was certified. Organic, vegan, paleo, gluten-free, soy-free, GMO-free, directly traded, recycled, local, raw, hand-picked, pasture-raised, artisan, craft. There are whole restaurants in this city based around having as many of these certifications as possible assigned to each item on the menu. It's not the actual labels that are ridiculous to me--I'm a total freak when it come to eating organic food that didn't have to travel very far to get to me. But the thing that seems funny is that most of these labels are slapped onto shitty processed products. Listen, Seattle, I don't care if your cupcake is free of every major allergen, or hand-crafted in the heart of the city using only ingredients grown in the neighborhood pea patch, or totally vegan, or packaged in up-cycled Christmas sweaters, then blessed by the Sasquatch-Good Fairy lovechild. It's still a fucking cupcake and it is not fucking good for you.
Reusable bag snobs
In 2012, Seattle passed a ban on plastic bags. Meaning that everyone had to figure out something else to line their bathroom trash cans with. It also meant that, to avoid the five-cent charge at checkout for large paper bags, a lot of people started bringing their own reusable bags everywhere. No matter how anyone feels about the lack of plastic bags, it's hard to ignore the weird new breed of social shaming that has been spawned by it. Like if you don't bring your own bag you are single-handedly responsible for the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. In grocery store lines you will now loudly hear customers declare to no one in particular, "Oh no! I forgot my bags!" as they turn a little red in the cheeks. The five-cent charge comes with head-shakes from fellow shoppers and a slight sigh of exasperation from the cashier. Or, to avoid all that, we find ourselves just buying another fucking bag to add to our collection of forty canvas totes piling up in our closet to be forgotten or neglected when we decide to just stop by the store on our way home from work. And no, we can't just leave our bags in our cars all the time. Who the fuck has a car anymore?
Summer brainwash victims
Oh, Seattle summers. Those two days to (optimistically) three weeks of beautiful weather. Perfect temperatures, blue skies, and happy people everywhere. People in Seattle live for the summers. We take to every patch of grass available with shoes off and shorts rolled up, trying hard not to spend a single moment inside. College kids cut class and software development engineers call in sick. Everyone is friendly and happy while they share their beers in every park the city has to offer. Beautiful. Flawless. Movies are made about summers like ours. And everyone somehow forgets that the rest of the year blows. We all forget that we dropped a grand outfitting our house with broad-spectrum lights to try to beat our seasonal affective disorder. We all forget that we've been popping 10,000 IU of vitamin D every day for the past ten months and still felt like shit. We all forget about the rain and the cold and how much we swore that this year we were going to make it to Hawaii for Christmas, but never fucking did. Seattle summers are the promise your shitty ex makes you right before you pack up your things and go. "Come on, baby, I swear I'll change." And we believe it just enough to make it through another winter. Again and again.
Ruby writes about the fine art of existence at Becoming Wildfire.
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