Early this week, I was late leaving the office, so I hopped on a Jump bike to make up for lost time. A few blocks later, a van pulled up and the man nearest me rolled down his window. “Are you a gangbanger,” he asked, feigning fear, pointing to the bike’s black mudguard tagged in white spray paint. Then we laughed.
“Have a good night,” we wished each other. I rode away feeling blessed by a few words of nonsense shared with a stranger. What does it matter if we never meet again?
Since I moved here about a month ago, people keep asking about the Seattle Freeze. Have I noticed it? Does it bother me? They seem honestly concerned. Truth is, I’d never heard of the Freeze before, and now that I’m here, I’m not sure it’s all that scary. The people I’ve met have been extraordinarily kind and genuine, if not exactly gushing. Anyway, isn’t it a cousin to that whole Western, mind-our-own-business stoicism? I think it’s fine.
I spent the past two years in the Caribbean. Back on Grand Cayman, everyone was in everyone’s business. Advice and observations flowed freely. My daily bike ride to work was punctuated by jokes and pleasantries, or, at minimum, a simple “good morning” exchanged with every living soul I passed. Don’t get me wrong, it was truly lovely, but I can see how trying that here would take all day.
The Cayman Islands are not perfect. The territory struggles with rapid growth, astonishing inequality and difficult decisions about how to preserve the things that make it special while reaching for something more. Global warming, population and tourism pressures are placing Cayman’s identity and rare and precious ecosystem at risk. All these important questions resonate here.
Back on Cayman, in some circles, business could begin only after a few minutes of courteous chitchat. I tripped over that rule before I learned it, my Northern tongue stumbling over my “sirs” and “ma’ams.” But once I figured it out, it was like knowing a secret pass code. I pitied the poor fools trying to elbow their way through transactions only to see their desired outcomes silently slipping away.
That’s the thing I love about exploring new places: It’s a sort of psychic housecleaning, uncovering unexamined habits of mind. That the Freeze is even a topic of discussion tells me it isn’t rooted in some deep-seated misanthropy. It’s just a style.
These mornings, I wake early. I sip my coffee and slather my toast with homemade raspberry jam from a new co-worker. When I take a bite, it tastes bright and sweet, and I feel blessed.
It’s a risk, reaching out to each other. The word “authentic” gets thrown around a lot these days. I think that’s an important tell. When we have to label the real stuff to distinguish it from the everyday, something’s out of balance. So, I don’t mind if it takes a while for us to get to know each other, Seattle. In the meantime, you know where to find me. I’m always up for a chat.