Monday, April 30, 2012

The Shamans and Seattle

The thing with comparing two cities is that it’s dishonest. I can’t really compare them. I lived in Syracuse, New York until I was twenty-five years old. I especially can’t compare Syracuse to any other place because it’s where I grew up. That place is the benchmark and foundation of all my experiences. If I say Seattle is big, I mean bigger than Syracuse. My first few months of Seattle were eager discovery, whereas I refused to crawl over the dead body of Syracuse more than I had to. It might be for the best, actually, for all to start their life in quiet, little places. That way life can get better.

Seattle, as far as traveling major distances, is easy. Even when the speed limit is 65, there will be plenty of econocreates, decades old, chugging along at 40-45. Traffic hangs around in the right lane, discussing exits and seeing to the mergers. Seattle is gentle as can be for first-timers. Until the streets proper are investigated. Then the game becomes brutal . Devoid of reason for trial, though always patient to extinguish any new hope that comes along. The patient drivers save the day though. For when lanes start becoming Onlys through complex intersections or just in the middle of a stretch of road, the kindly wave of thanks becomes very heartfelt. Queen Anne is the very worst of all possibilities. The roads are overflowing with parked cars. They are the wise who abandoned the driving endeavor. While searching for apartments, I was lucky to find a spot, a single spot, only a few blocks away from the destination. That owner was showing another property he had right after and offered to lead me there. Yes, horrible, despite being lead there I still got lost. Called the guy and said “never mind”. Aurora seems to run right through the middle and is this unforgiving “end of the world” type of road. There is no option to cross from the North lanes to South, or I have not found it. I am sure, still, that it is an “it” because there would only be one. It is easier to go into downtown and turn around on I-5 or something than it is to navigate Queen Anne. Beautiful place, I hope to never find anything I need there.

But the drivers. The people. As soon as I got in to Seattle I met two wonderfully nice people. They had Dalmatians. I was yet to discover that everyone in Seattle owns a dog, though I haven’t seen any other Dalmatians, so this was classified as a cool thing. They were just walking. Incredibly laid-back. I could feel their comfort falling and dissolving like a mist off them. They had noticed my New York plates and easy –as-you-like started up a conversation. The only part of which I really remember is that once I pointed to the place I’d rented, they both did this quiet stare. It was a harder stare than normal. Of seeing a person get themselves into a situation they didn’t understand and wouldn’t want. But they soothed right over it, saying the previous owner was a writer, and hey, I was a writer, so how about that? In Syracuse, there wasn’t any animosity or friendliness between average people. People generally ignored each other. Though I was to find this a brittle layer indeed when my sister (who drove with me most of the way across country) partially wrecked her truck leaving town. People just pulled over and started helping. The nice kid who worked at Midas chatted like we were all great chums on a sunny day while he changed the tire. He shared a similarly low opinion of Syracuse. But it was a “what are you gonna do? This is my town” sort of attitude. Much fun as I derive from mocking Syracuse, mostly to tease friends still living there, it isn’t really possible to bash Syracuse. It’s not the greatest place on Earth but isn’t bad. That’s about how accurate you’re likely to get. Depends on the weather.

I didn’t pick up on it at first but Seattle is very intolerant of franchise restaurants. Which I love. I came here for life and character. I love to see the shapes and sounds of a personal aesthetic stamped in the real Earth. Barbershops with chairs, THRONES!, older than I am. Little Italian casas that could seat, maybe, a dozen people. “How do you make a ton of money without a ton of seating!?”. You don’t have to. You can meet the owner, or have your father call to setup a gift certificate which takes the form of a torn yellow piece of paper with the balance written on it, look at real history decorating the walls, then eat the best dish of your life. I was in L.A. a few months ago. I don’t recall seeing a one-of restaurant. For sure, the different establishments of various Brands had different character of a sort. This Toll House place validates parking! A good friend of mine described L.A. as “the end of civilization”. I’ve quoted her many times because that’s perfect.

Seattle feels like this collective of Woods People, who’ve technically constructed a city, but they don’t treat it that way. It’s their experiment. If for any reason, shit just started going wrong, they’d all happily hop in their station wagons and take off for their cabin on the side of some mountain. All the big cities I’ve lusted after have always shown themselves as a Great Metropolis. Building and road for so far you forget what dirt and hills look like. Trees are a cute decoration. “Remember those?”. Seattle People didn’t even bother leveling the land before building. I was showing my father my pictures of downtown, and this classy bus stop, and these multi-colored buildings, and people actually walking around their downtown area!, when he asked if everything was on a hill. Yeah, I guess it is. That way you can climb to the top of the nearest one to get a good look at Mount Rainier; remember where all these Seattle People came from. Be reminded of the uninterested forest that surrounds this city. And the sea not too far over there. You don’t gaze around Seattle, moved by the awe of man’s ambition, you gaze with a small sense of “this is how the world fits together”. I don’t feel a message blasted into me from the Great Past, the Inherited Present, or the Boldly Unknown Future. I feel a tentative, anxious, wave sweep over my eyes and through my stomach. Of opening a great door to find a world unfit for my stock of sense-making metaphors. An honest warning of the swirling danger with no bottom balanced by the welcome to make what you will. Seattle trumpets no claim, denies no rumors, but when asked what it is it reflects the question back to you. Everyone loves it here.

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