Strange But Cool

If you think of Washington, typically your mind may flip to DC and its shining white monuments, but you should also remember the state of Washington and its biggest city, Seattle.

It occupies quite a strange place in my view of the States. It’s west coast, but you don’t really visit for the beaches; it’s a huge city, but you never hear so much about it. Probably the only thing I knew about Seattle before going there was that it was Seattle that started the grunge movement and Nirvana (and a host of similar groups) all came from this city in the North West.

Now, I have a lot of pressure on me about this post. I have some good friends in Seattle, and I know that if I say one thing they disagree with then my email box will be full of complaints. That’s not because they are precious (quite the contrary; natives of Seattle are notoriously laid-back) but they don’t want to be misrepresented.

While here we learned that if we don’t have the car then we need to be real close to the town center. We stayed in an area that, while it wasn’t a ghetto, was just one huge long road full with nothing except cheap motels, fast-food dives, and hookers. Just to get to the center cost us 25 dollars in a cab. We actually thought we were close to the center when we booked online — the hotel advertised itself as being in “Midtown”…. “well, ‘Midtown’ sounds kinda like ‘downtown’, doesn’t it? They must be close.” We thought. But no.

However, this is a place with many things to recommend it. Architecture, food, the country-living lifestyle, but most of all the people are the thing you come to see. On my first trip here (about a year ago) I heard somebody say, “that’s sooo Seattle!” But what the hell does that mean? Finding the answer became my mission.

When I asked people they mostly gave me elusive answers, but I’ll try to create a picture. A strange fact to begin with: this is one of the few places around where men frequently have beards. The percentage of men with beards is probably 40% higher than in any other major US city.

The city is probably quite rich (or at least well-off), though the residents choose not to show off their wealth. Everything is very down-to-Earth, and people are also quite “of the Earth”; they are very active in sports generally and the outdoor sports particularly: riding, climbing, cycling, jogging, hiking. Probably a natural consequence of the beautiful land within the reach of a short car drive; mountains, lakes, fields, forests… they have everything.

They are green and seem very liberal; they are open minded and accepting of others: others’ religion, tastes, styles, ways of thinking (they even put up with hordes of really crazy people who roam around the streets), but there is one ingredient to add to the mix. Libertarianism. You get the feeling that people in Seattle, while willing to engage politically, just want to be left alone to get on with their thing. They have their lives and want the government to leave them alone while they get live them. This creates a very middle-ground political situation where there is very little partisanism — in a sense, it is the most open-minded city I’ve been to so far. You could say that all Americans share the “small-state; big-freedom” ethos, but in other places this is tied to one or other political ideals, Democrats in New York don’t want a war, Republicans in Mississippi want less taxes. In Seattle it’s different. They have ideals, sure, but are far more open in terms of who they’ll vote for to represent those ideals. Seeming lefties will vote for the Republicans, and gun enthusiasts will vote for Obama. A real eclectic and individual mix.

I’ve tried hard to avoid talking about politics in this blog so far: it’s not what interests me about the states. It’s strange that a state which is so, not apolitical, but “political-agnostical” should bring me to write about it.

Other items of curiosity about Seattle: the original Starbucks — small and unlike what you’re used to with the chain, but cool; and directly across from there is the Pike Place Fish Market, which is famous for fish-throwing! You order a fish, the counter-clerk calls for the fish you want, another guy throws the fish through the air, where it’s caught and wrapped and given to you to take home. Strange, but cool. That’s Seattle.

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Filed under People, Places Visited, USA Trip

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