Dear Seattle: A Love Letter from a Native Daughter

18 Apr

I’m moving (back) to Seattle at the end of May. Back to the land of clouds and lakes. Back to where we say obnoxious things like, “My hometown is better than yours” and we really, really mean it.

Seattle is so beautiful even I can't screw up the photographs.

Search google for “Seattle tumblr” and you find (page one) long lists of tumblrs that do nothing but post pictures of Seattle (really?) and (page two) you find posts about all those tumblr authors meeting up. In bars. In Seattle. To talk about how great Seattle is. And presumably to compare the silk percentages of their favorite hiking socks and stroke each other’s facial hair and create a living Escher sketch with all that plaid.

Seattle-ites who are stupid or restless or ambitious enough to move to other cities have a reputation for being obnoxiously proud. Like: I was surprised other parts of the country were allowed to have salmon and crab. I’m still unsure about ordering it in restaurants here. Here. In San Diego. We aren’t exactly landlocked. 

My ex-boyfriend thinks he really loves Seattle, having gone to University of Washington, and having expressed a desire to live there for the rest of his life. I just smiled at him pityingly. It’s really cute that he’s enlightened enough to recognize its inherent greatness, but he just does not even know.

I mean, that’s the thing: we think Seattle is great, and we’re sort of amazed the rest of the world hasn’t caught on, but we don’t really want you moving there. You’ve seen the articles, right? About how Seattle natives are friendly right up until you actually want to talk to them or do something? In a lot of ways, it’s easier to move to New York and make friends. 

I’m hoping I won’t have that same problem as a Seattle daughter who’s returning, but to be honest: I’m a little nervous. And to be honest: my pedigree isn’t as watertight as it could be…

As in, my parents aren’t from Seattle. No one in my extended family has ever, in fact, lived in Seattle. My dad and mom moved to Seattle, following my dad’s job, in 1978. They lived in (don’t tell!) Bellevue for a few years (fun fact: on their street lived a very young Carrie Brownstein) before moving to a nice little neighborhood filled with doctors and lawyers by the University of Washington. 

home

So I’m not what you might call a Seattle purebred, not compared to the people whose grandparents and great-grandparents grew up in Seattle, went to University of Washington, and handed down their houses in that neighborhood to their kids. Not compared to the group of boys I went to grade school with, who grew up to pledge the same fraternity house at UW that their dads had pledged, after playing for the same high school football team their dads had played on– together. Not compared to the families whose cousins and second cousins and third cousins are all Huskies, whose basketball and football tickets have been in the family for generations. 

There’s a reason Bill Gates built Microsoft in Seattle. There’s a reason articles on Amazon always mention that Jeff Bezos is not from and has no ties to the city. Did you see that Dick’s Drive-In was named the “most life-changing burger joint” in a poll done by Esquire? It beat out In’n’Out, Five Guys, Shake Shack. It beat everybody, by a margin so large as to be laughable. Seriously. Look at the graph. For those of you who want to say that Seattleites are just really, really fierce about online voting: sure. But isn’t that the point? The poll didn’t ask for the best burger in America (not that Dick’s isn’t, put down the pitchforks!). The poll asked for the most life-changing burger joint. And for most Seattleites, native or not, Dick’s actually has changed their lives. Can In’n’Out say that? Can Shake Shack? 

Dick’s Drive-In is the first place you go when you get off the plane in Seattle, if you know. It’s where all the kids go after prom. I went there after softball games as a 4th grader. It was, even in the early 2000’s, when you would think all such places had died out in the world, the place where you could go on a Friday night and be guaranteed to run into people you knew– including, maybe, the guy you liked. I went there after a long day of moving into my first post-college house. Even now, as an adult who doesn’t live in Seattle, I always wonder if I’ll run into someone I know. It’s not an unreasonable thought. People go there after their weddings on the way to their receptions. Remember when they put the first bathrooms in? Sure you do.

most life-changing burger joint in America

You know what else is world-class in Seattle? The coffee. The bookstores. The parks. I know the parks system is Seattle is world-class because I’ve not only played sports in most of them, I’ve made out in almost all of them (I kid you not). (But seriously– a parks system good enough to lure teenagers with picnics of Dick’s Drive-In burgers and walks along the water and kisses under trees? Every city, every parent of every teen should be so lucky.) 

You know what makes me sigh and want to yell at the same time? Driving across Montlake or even the I-5 bridge over Lake Union on a clear day with mountains on all sides, views of the University of Washington, Gasworks, Mount Ranier, sailboats, Queen Anne, the Space Needle, bridges everywhere you look. Doesn’t that sound nice? 

Of course, the traffic gives you plenty of time to slow down and look. 

And there’s this: the story of my sister’s co-worker, who “said she often goes to Solstice but she’s too embarrassed to bring her travel mug because it’s from Starbucks and she’s afraid the hipster hippie snobs working at Solstice will judge her. So she gets a paper cup.” My sister asks: What is wrong with this picture? The worst part is, none of us are surprised. (PS- I love Solstice. It was hands down my favorite coffeeshop in college. Also: needless to say, Starbucks is a local business in Seattle. And Seattle has one of the best independent, local cafe scenes in the world. So let’s wrap that hatred up about how they ruin everything, because clearly there’s room for everyone. You don’t have to go there, but STFU.)

And there’s this, too, there is this terrible thing which is totally on me: I feel like people are smarter in Seattle, because

So great even the locals love the tourist traps.

they wear glasses and dark colors. I can’t see their bras. They don’t fake tan. So I feel like they’re my people. I feel like they read good books and have good conversations. But how do I know? I don’t. And I’ve met plenty of vapid hipsters in my day (points finger, names names).

Seattle’s filled with all kinds, like any good city. Yes, there’s something extra tricky about navigating its dressed-down, oh-so-casual social scene. But there’s also something exciting about what might happen next, who you might meet on the street.

A professor at University of Washington once very pompously and insultingly gave my class an impromptu (and unprompted) lecture about why he’d chosen to stay at UW when he “could have taught anywhere in the world” (self-proclaimed, natch). He said that the established places (Harvard, Yale, etc) are complacent. They’re at the top, and they’re so busy maintaining that status that they’ve forgotten how to work, how to strive. We (UW students, presumably) are second. We’re hungry. We’re excellent but not proven. We’re like the younger sibling, desperate for approval and willing to take risks to get it. We’re close, but not so successful that we’ve forgotten how to play (be playful, experiment, make a play for it). 

And, of course, we’re loyal. To a fault. I like loyalty. There’s something inherently stubborn about it. You need stubborn if you’re going to go out every day in the rain. You need loyalty if you’re going to wait through the gray for those rare, wonderful days, when the sun comes out, when Seattle’s the most beautiful city in the world. 

Am I unsure about moving back to my hometown, to my parents’ house, while I figure out what’s next, does it feel slightly like going in reverse? Sure. Am I smug and superior about it when talking to friends who can’t yet move back or haven’t yet decided to or possibly never will or even people who will never live there, never know? You bet.

Love,

MM

Photo credit: Rotten in Denmark

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10 Responses to “Dear Seattle: A Love Letter from a Native Daughter”

  1. Courty 19 April 2012 at 9:14 am #

    Is your house in Mt Baker!? It looks a lot like Cascadia Ave…

    • MM 19 April 2012 at 2:03 pm #

      I’m not telling you where I live on the Internet! Haven’t you heard? They let creeps on here. Tsk.

      • Courty 19 April 2012 at 3:19 pm #

        Oh right! Fair point. I only ask because that’s where I grew up.

  2. island_truth 19 April 2012 at 11:42 am #

    I’ve lived in Seattle for 22 years and am considering a move to San Diego. What do you like (if anything) about SD? Besides the sun? Which I have to tell ya, is a pretty big draw to me right about now. Seattle rocks but it’s really, really soggy.

    • MM 19 April 2012 at 2:10 pm #

      Oh, well. I like lots of things about San Diego! I love the weather (I needed some sun too, by the time I left). It’s a small city, easy to get around. Balboa Park is beautiful and central and a great, great public space. I love the beach. There’s a big food (organic, farmer’s markets, farm-to-table) scene here, which means good restaurants. It’s flat, which makes running/walking/bike riding easier, as does the lack of cold/rain.

      I’ve enjoyed my time here. But no, I don’t want to live here forever. There’s no real downtown, which means no centralized cultural life. Depending on which neighborhood you’re in, you might have to drive to get anywhere you want to go, which can be a shock to a Seattleite. It really is, in a lot of ways, the military/retirement community that makes up so much of its demographic. If you’re more of a bookworm than a beach bum, it can feel a little…lacking. I was in graduate school here, about as immersed in an intellectual/artisitic life as possible, and it still felt….less pervasive, less easy to find, than in Seattle.

      The sun makes it just too easy to sort of skim by, you know? It can feel like island-time here. Which based on your moniker, you might not mind 😉

  3. emmabrillhart 19 April 2012 at 9:22 pm #

    That view looks exactly like my view from Laurelhurst! Like maybe even the street below mine!

  4. Anonymous 24 April 2012 at 7:14 am #

    Oh hey neighbor! 🙂
    -Alexandra

    • MM 24 April 2012 at 9:19 am #

      *waves*

  5. Anonymous 25 April 2012 at 2:42 am #

    It’s pretty crazy how great Seattle is for the reasons you mention. Spot on, even capturing our grade school classmates’ choice of fraternity. That feeling of going in reverse is the only thing that scares me after school is over. Let us know how it goes for you. And congratulations on finishing your master’s degree!
    -M

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Dear Living at My Parents’ House Post-Graduate School: things are going to be weird around here for a while « Dear Mr. Postman - 25 May 2012

    […] a lot of reasons to stay in San Diego– it’s nice, I like it, it’s not my place, Seattle is my place– so now I’m back in Seattle. I don’t have a job, I don’t have a place to […]

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