Kate's Queen City Notes

Blundering through Cincinnati, laughing all the way

Seattle Thoughts: Round Two


I wrote that book in November, and like the guy that clears out the all-you can-eat buffet, the book drained me of my words. More to the point, I have been rearranging a lot of things in my life, and I don’t have much to say about it right now. Or perhaps a better choice of words is that I lack coherent things to write about it. This will change on some sunny morning when I have the rear-view mirror vantage point.

In the meantime, I do have words and pictures of Seattle. Absence makes the heart grow fonder is ringing true for my relationship to Cincinnati.

  • I miss the random warm, sunny days that can appear like manna from heaven in the winter.
  • I miss Cincinnati’s food scene–turns out, it’s burning the house down with calorie-filled goodness.
  • I miss Findlay Market, OH GOD SO MUCH.
  • I miss Midwest craft beer.
  • I miss my friends.
  • I miss the bounty of old, gorgeous buildings.
  • I miss seeing the sun–it is dark by 4:15 pm here, and the cloud cover isn’t just overcast it’s mortifying in its bleak darkness. Every goddam day.
  • I miss not having to consider traffic as a serious barrier to almost everything. Want to go ten miles during rush hour? I hope you have MREs in your glove box; you will need them. Geography has the all the traffic in and out of the city narrowing down to two bridges. Poor city planning has all the traffic around downtown at a near standstill during rush hour. The result is traveling 3 miles in rush hour can take up to an hour.
  • I miss seeing brown people–Seattle is ~75% white were as Cincinnati is ~52% albeit segregated like Plessy vs Ferguson.

These observations require further discussion below.

  • I miss our boss as all hell music scene. Seattle’s scene is missing small venues that incubate new acts.
  • I miss Midwest nice.
  • I really cannot believe I am saying this, but I miss the aggressive drivers.
  • Wait… I’m choking on this a little, let me just get it out… I miss republicans.

Construction is booming in Seattle. Real estate prices have risen dramatically in the last several years. This has made it more lucrative for small venue owners to sell their buildings to developers than continue running their venues. It’s no longer financially viable for a free indie venue to exist. This has eradicated small venues that incubate new bands, and left the city with venues that ticket for each and every show they host. If a band cannot promise ticket sales they, can’t book. The net effect is that local acts have no place to grow and mature. It’s as though the bottom rung of the music food chain has disappeared leaving those at the higher rungs to die out.

The barriers to indie art in expensive cities is referenced in an article about Walk the Moon, Cincinnati band that made it big. Michael McDonald talks about the financial barriers that bands face in this article in Cincinnati Magazine about Walk the Moon’s ascent. McDonald says:

It’s places like Cincinnati where you have time to develop and mature. In larger cities and more expensive cities, you can’t afford to put a band together and pay for the rehearsal space and pay to rent a van and park the van. There are a lot of obstacles, and some of those are just financial.

I thought I understood Midwest nice prior to my West Coast experience, and like a Maury Povich lie detector test result this has been determined as a lie. I thought Midwest nice was essentially an synonym for polite with geographical reference. Seattle natives are extremely polite–see discussion about traffic. Midwesterners are polite and talkative. We ask questions of each other. We ask stuff like where are you from? Did you grow up here? Is that your tractor? The people of Seattle simply don’t do this. It’s a mystery how people make friends when no questions are asked.

The drivers here are very passive. Did a pedestrian just make a slight modification in their gait to indicate they want to cross the street with nary a crosswalk in sight? Seattle drivers: STOP IMMEDIATELY AND WAIT TO SEE IF THE PEDESTRIAN CROSSES THE STREET. For those of us who aren’t attuned to every minute change in gait of each and every pedestrian still on the sidewalk, this results in a litany of cursing and near collisions.

Cincinnati drivers are careless, and as a cyclist and pedestrian I have nearly been run over a number of times. I am all for avoiding situations in which a person could bounce across the hood of a car. BUT THIS IS WHAT CROSSWALKS ARE FOR.

But the proliferation of bike lanes, bike trails that lead to useful places, and protected bike lanes is spectacular. I am hoping to advocate for more of this in Cincinnati when I return. Aside from reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and the physical fitness benefits cycling delivers, it also enables people to put more of their paychecks in the hands of local Cincinnati businesses as opposed to funneling dollars away into a Honda exec’s bonus.

How can one miss republicans? Seattle as two dominant political groups, liberals and more liberal liberals. I thought I would enjoy being with like-minded people. There’s two unexpected negative side effects to having a city full of liberals. First, it seems because infrastructure projects, including those in service of additional public transit, face little to no resistance, they are beset by budget overruns and missed deadlines. The caption to one of my pics below describes the tale of Big Bertha. Long story short, there’s a billion dollar drilling machine burrowed under Puget Sound. It broke, and this event seemed to have no risk mitigation plan against it, because the only way to restore the billion dollar carcass to working order was to dig all the way down to it. Through The Sound. Because Cincinnati has to fight for every infrastructure dollar we get, our projects hew closer to their budgets and timelines, because project cancellation is a very real possibility if more money or time is required.

Secondly, the political knife fights that we engage in in The Queen City drive a sense of community and connection. The lack of resistance has made the liberals of Seattle lazy and disorganized. These two unexpected negative side-effects have me missing some good old COAST shenanigans or that flaming pile of poo, article twelve. Where are you Simon Leis, you bigoted ass-hat? Liberals need you so they can coalesce around a common enemy.

All of this seems to imply that I am not having a good time. But I am. The exploration necessary to develop these observations has been loads of fun. The city encourages me approach every day and every new errand with curiosity. On the surface, Seattle is revealing what I don’t want in a city, but deeper in, the city is cultivating a persistent attitude of humility, creativity, and flexibility in me that bears no price.

4 thoughts on “Seattle Thoughts: Round Two

  1. I love this! Thanks for the update.

  2. I have rarely enjoyed reading something so much. Thanks, and don’t stop!

  3. Very cool to read your perspective on Seattle. I worked there on a project for about 9 months in 2011 and enjoy returning for a visit every few years. It’s one of the few parts of the country I could see myself living if I wasn’t so excited about what’s happening in Cincinnati these days. I agree that having a common enemy helps to rally the progressives in Cincinnati and it would be strange to not have that.

    One comment about the infrastructure — a lot of urbanists/transit advocates in Seattle opposed the Bertha highway tunnel project, which is, of course, riddled with problems at the moment. However their transit projects seem to go fairly smoothly, like the new light rail extension to the University District which is probably going to open ahead of schedule. It would’ve been awesome if the $4 billion spent on Bertha (so far) could’ve been spent on transit instead.

    • I like the city. I just don’t like it enough to pay twice as much to live there. Plus, agreed, Cincinnati is really fun right now. In all fairness, the only infrastructure projects I have read about are the expansion of the street car and Big Bertha. So, not a representative sample does that make.

      One other thing I failed to mention is that the city has clearly chosen to have walkable neighborhoods over traffic efficiency. And that’s actually a decision I can get on board with. So, it’s not like the city planners were just asleep at the wheel on the traffic issues.

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