You really should get to know your new hometown — although this might not be the most trustworthy primer. Ron Judd offers his advice to newbies for fitting in as well as some words of encouragement.
Trigger Warnings and Pre-emptive Corrections: This column contains intentional hyperbole, large numbers of semi-truths, and an analysis of the federal tax burden of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos that is based on pure whimsy and/or envy. The author does not regret these errors and invites those who do to consult with his junior-high football coach, who would respond: “Such is life in the Great Northwest!”
YOU COULD ALMOST see little wisps of smoke emanating from the subject line, so hot was the angst boiling up in the email.
“Pandering!” it charged.
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The writer, a person whose name shall be withheld to protect her ’86 Olds Cutlass from being keyed, was responding to my recent piece about challenging times for local media companies, resulting in a relative dearth of news reporters.
Like many people who took time to respond, this writer — let’s call her Penny, for her thoughts — blamed the ill financial winds blowing into the face of local publications on her own pet peeve: local editors’ seeming fixation on welcoming newcomers. We go now directly to the tape:
“As a longtime subscriber of the Times (1966), you can imagine my dismay at the state of journalism, newspapers, media integrity, poor editing, etc. I am aware of your challenges. But I am offended by your editors’ blatant pitch to the Amazonites: ‘How to climb Rainier.’ ‘A typical Seattle couple.’ Newcomers we’re supposed to identify with despite my latest property tax bill. When any of those parasites know that Belltown is actually a PR name for the Regrade, I’ll be a lot more welcoming. I’m angry. Want to do a story on that? I now understand how some Trump voters felt about being excluded.”
Wow. So, there’s a lot to unpack there from Penny. First, as a local native old enough to remember when Metro buses used to roll around empty — and stupid enough to admit it — this writer admittedly developed an instant (digital-only) crush on Penny, for just blurting it out like that. Second, her comments, while perhaps intemperate to some, also are likely to ring true with many local Legacy Citizens who, in the established passive-aggressive local tradition, have been similarly irked, but would never say so publicly.
And thirdly: What Penny calls pandering, some smart people also call necessary. The numbers don’t lie, Penny: For better or worse, a solid majority of people struggling valiantly to either fit in or get the hell out of the Seattle area are fairly recent arrivals.
Many of these folks, in fact, have not (and should not; another story) climbed Rainier. Some might even feel bad about soaring tax bills for the nonwealthy mossbacks. But many also will note among themselves that a lot of the loudest Legacy whiners are doing so while sunk to their eyelids in glass-blown, artisan hot tubs purchased with gigantic cash-out fourth mortgages.
So, look. Penny: We love you. But one person’s pandering is another’s survivalist instinct to enlighten, inform or even — gah! — welcome all the newcomers to our (un)fair city.
We say all this mainly to suggest that Penny and like-minded, multiple Rainier Summitteers might be best served by moving along, right now, to the magazine’s other excellent features while we offer a helping hand to those tens of thousands of newcomers who might best benefit from …
A Modestly Proposed Newcomer’s Guide to Greater Seattle! Let’s get to it.
Early Euro History
Native Americans have been here as long as trees and cannot be blamed for any of this.
On Nov. 13, 1851, a group of the whitest settlers in the history of white settlers (this is not a joke; the womenfolk, according to sources who asked not to be named because they are fictional, dead and thus not authorized to speak on the matter, had skin that was near-translucent, like shrink-wrapped chicken thighs at Costco) came ashore at Alki in present-day West Seattle and claimed the long-occupied shores in the name of Flanneled People From Ohio. Things have gone downhill around here pretty much ever since.
This group, known as the Denny Party, quickly built (with help from local natives, mind you) a cabin and, soon after, the first Starbucks. The Dennys immediately began bickering over a suitable place for their fledgling city’s proposed NBA arena — a process that appears to finally be nearing resolution.
Important historical note: Upon disembarking from the schooner Exact (presumably, a sister ship of the less-tidy Imprecise), women in the Denny Party were said to have “sat down on the loggs (sic) and took A Big Cry.” You could look this up. Public logg-top weeping thus became a cherished local tradition, now honored October through June.
More and More Euro History
Many of the early immigrants attracted to the Denny Party’s dark-walrus-leather-themed coffee-shop confines were Scandinavians, known for their affinity for pickled aquatic cuisine, bigass leather boots and old-growth chest hair. These hearty folks served as the societal backbone here until a 1950s scourge of societal scoliosis, at which point they slunk sideways into a Sons of Norway Hall in Ballard, where they continue to meet weekly to discuss hell, handbaskets and the “new Seattle.”
At some point not long after, residents frustrated by the incessant rain, trunk rot and *$%@! blackberry vines that encased everything in spawn-of-Beelzebub green barbed wire, decided to strike back at Mother Nature. They sluiced impressive hillsides in what now is downtown Seattle into a slurry that flowed into Puget Sound, named after the local electrical monopoly later established primarily to operate a gigantic disco ball at Lake Hills Roller Rink.
This established Seattle as the World Class City that it is today — one that, due to the cultural roots mentioned above, has never really stopped trying to dig itself out of the hole first started by its forebears.
German immigrant William Boeing in 1916 opened a factory on the shores of Lake Union and set about realizing his life’s dream of creating flying vessels capable of traveling great distances at high speeds, ultimately to transport billions of humans compressed to the size of Hormel canned hams by the cruel-and-usual practice of coach seating.
Later, ingenious, resource-extraction-oriented businessmen thought it would be cool to strip-mine the region of nearly all of its prodigious salmon and trees, which they did, then retired for a nice scotch and cigar at The Rainier Club.
The local brain trust unfortunately — and nobody could have seen this coming — ran out of salmon and trees, at which time they said, “Screw it; we’ll plant more!” Which they also did.
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Famous Former Residents
We could go on, but those that make interesting convo over expensive dry ciders in South Lake Union include Chief Sealth. Jimi Hendrix. Jim and Lou Whittaker. Herfy’s. Bobo the gorilla. Kurt Cobain. Bruce Lee. Ruby Montana. Elgin Baylor. Boeing.
Famous Current Residents
The list of globally relevant celebrity peeps inhabiting the Jet City region today includes Macklemore.
Notable Books About Seattle
“Skid Road,” by Murray Morgan. “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson, M.D.
Expansive Thoughts on Whether You can get Authentic Chicago Pizza Here
Famous Local Landmarks
The Space Needle, currently encased in a foam takeout container, will be worth visiting when reopened. Pro tip: Do so quickly, before it is deemed “in the way” of progress in South Lake Union, and moved to a place more in need of attention, such as Tacoma.
Also worth a stop: The Ballard Locks, where much of the region’s financial wealth, as well as surviving sockeye, is forced to slow down and squeeze through a funnel, providing for great public bemusement; the Museum of Pop Culture, aka MoPOP, aka The Wreck of the Partridge Family Bus, at Seattle Center; and the Gates Foundation’s adjacent Experience Misery Project.
Numerous Things You Should Realize
• Buzz-On Division: Pot has been smoked here legally since 2012, and illegally since the last ice age. People tend to drink heavily, a trend accelerated in recent years, when someone apparently passed a law requiring the installation of a craft still in every new or remodeled home in the three-county metro area. Humorous side note: Savvy Washington voters recently made history by passing a law that snatched liquor sales away from a price-gouging, monolithic government booze monopoly in favor of broader sales, at more outlets, at even higher prices to consumers. Way to stick it to the man!
• Personal-Finance Division: Yes, we have no income tax, which, long ago, thanks to the foresight of the accountants of our founders, was declared outrageous, un-American and possibly inhumane. Locals instead are taxed on several items and services, including cigarettes; mobile phones; booze; hotel rooms; old vinyl records; rental cars; toothpaste; professional services; shoelaces; real estate; automobiles; boats and motorcycles; forks, spoons and knives; gasoline; sugared drinks and sewage; state licenses for hunting, fishing, foraging and knitting; and anything else one might want, need or happen to possess for any reason of any kind, whatever, wherever and whenever.
Many newcomers say the state’s rare freedom from a tax on income was a major factor in their decision to migrate to the area — a belief ensconced each spring, when local Prime Shipping mogul/rocketeer Jeff Bezos reputedly uploads to the Internal Revenue Service a federal income-tax return showing a net tax of zero, along with the notation: “Scoreboard, Baby!”
Humorous meta side note: On their way back to their $4.6 million homes in the Somerset area, many of the region’s untaxed sub-billionaires surely listen to the acoustic version of Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic” on a lossless FLAC file while harping to themselves about unfilled potholes and other infrastructure insufficiencies.
Necessary. Bold. Overanalyzed. Seriously. The republic is on the brink, and … it’s coffee, people. Add milk and move on.
Don’t get us started. Too late. Nobody here knows how to drive. OK: overstatement. Actually, a couple hundred people do know how to drive, and the other several million local residents spend most of their waking hours making those people’s lives a living hell, by:
• “camping” in the freeway left lane for hours, days, weeks, even years at a time. One possibly apocryphal story is still making the rounds at the Northlake Tavern that a guy from Edison, Skagit County, recently got on the freeway at Mount Vernon, headed south, and maintained a steady speed of 54.6 mph in the left lane all the way to Tierra Del Fuego.
• merging onto the freeway with all the urgency of a sloth with a serious hangover.
• staring like monkeys with a bright red rubber ball, at either an actual bright red rubber ball or, presumably, a mobile device, on which they are conducting an important personal text conversation about walrus-leather pricing with a former classmate from Pepperdine who now works in acquisitions at Starbucks.
Seattle has several of note, including Laurelhurst; Hunts Point; and Various Other Collections of Sprawling Single-Family Homes and apartment buildings of bad Soviet-Bloc architectural splendor, the latter all occupied by those who work to maintain the Home-of-the-Month grandeur of Laurelhurst and Hunts Point.
Other neighborhood stuff of note: Gentrification is assumed and is to be celebrated as progress. It’s possible to drive to Madrona, but almost impossible to drive back out. Streets in the Wallingford neighborhood are wide enough to accommodate only vegan bicyclists of very slight stature — not that there is anything necessarily wrong with this — measuring less than 14 inches between their severely protruding shoulder blades.
Most of the real people who once lived in these neighborhoods have moved — due to financial considerations and the fact that their wardrobe is of insufficient organic hemp — to Burien, Greenwood, South Park or Carnation. Oh: A handful of other quitters have picked up and moved to Bellingham and cannot, for the love of all that is holy, shut the hell up about it.
Not so much.
No. Rather: layers. On top of layers. Not that people overdo the layers, but we know several local women who occasionally verify their age by disrobing and counting the numbers of rings of Patagonia Puffy tops clinging to their pale, wan bodies.
In terms of people, Seattle hasn’t had a decent mayor since Norm Rice.
In a larger view: The local political ethic, fondly remembered as “Seattle Nice,” in which matters were discussed literally to death in committees before a final recommendation to really do nothing, as quietly as possible, so as not to upset too many folks, was issued, has given way to a new paradigm best summed up as: “Enjoy the Fruits of the Lucrative Tech Economy While Publicly Advocating the Imposition of an Unyielding Socialist-Democratic Order.” The current hot political issues tend to be clustered around:
• Zoning. Many longtime locals regularly and vociferously defend their constitutional, God-given right to a set of backyard monkey bars and an acre and a half of dahlias. Many urbanist-oriented newcomers strongly disagree. In the course of pushing legislation to allow Quaker-Oatmeal-tube-sized “pod” dwellings in place of backyards, and over, under and adjacent to any other semiflat, semirigid surfaces, the urbanists — most putting their Ph.D.s in communications or urban design to good use as baristas — frequently engage in the thoughtful discourse of reasonable compromise, expressed through accommodating language such as: “DIE YOU NIMBY BASTARD SCUM!!! DIE, DIE, DIE!!!”
• Cars. Once good. Now bad. (Yes: even the Subarus.) Should go. Must go. Will be forced to go, even if that means prying the Olds Cutlass steering wheel from Penny’s dead hands. (Do you see now what you have started here, Penny?)
• Mass transit. Clearly needed. Long overdue. Will get you to Everett by 2047, at which point Everett, at the current rate of climate change, will be under 4 feet of water.
Old: smooth, lame. New: bitter, hoppy. Allegorical!
We’re a big, big sports region: Fans — many of whom, inexplicably, are compelled as adults to embarrassingly engage in the formerly sixth-grade-and-below custom of wearing a jersey bearing someone else’s name — enthusiastically root for a professional football team that, unknown to most, is an offshoot of a long-running social-engineering project by coach Pete Carroll. Other popular pursuits include rooting for a professional soccer franchise, the Sounders, adored by people who fancy themselves as pseudo-Brits; a delightful women’s professional basketball squad; and a performing baseball troupe, Your Seattle Mariners (motto: “Entering a Fifth Decade of Contented Mediocrity”), a Class A minor-league affiliate of the New York Yankees.
Higher Learnin’ and Stuff
Leading local academies of higher learning include the University of Washington, a world leader in the study of moss; Seattle University, specializing in the scholarly study of indentured adjunct-faculty servitude; and North Seattle College, a perennial winner of the North Seattle College Drab Campus Architecture Design Award.
Too fraught with peril to even approach. Seattle actually offers a broad appetizer tray of regional and international cuisines — one that has blossomed in the past two decades. But just know: We like mussels. Also fish — grilled, mostly, but also pan-fried, poached, canned, whipped, smoked, brined, candied, caramelized and vacuum-packed. We like talking about fish. We like disparaging other people’s inability to intelligently talk about fish. For the love of God: Do some reading on fish, already. If you can’t tell a chum from a coho on sight, you’re likely to be voted off Mercer Island — or named to head the National Marine Fisheries Service under President Donald Trump, whichever comes first.
TL; DR Summary
All of this is just to get you started. With apologies to Penny (why are you still here, Penny? Sheesh.), it literally is the least we can do to pander to … sorry, welcome all the newcomers to our shores. Make your own way, folks, and do it proudly.
Like those first intrepid souls stepping afoot at Alki, just remember two things: It can, and will, get better. And the gray funk really isn’t so bad once you just capitulate and abandon all hope.
Trust us. And if you can’t even manage that: Go ahead and take A Big Cry. It’s part of your new heritage.