When the clouds part and the sun streams through there isn’t a more beautiful city than Seattle. The salty air is bracing, but the tender warmth of the sun is comfort alive and breathing. The sea gulls register their complaints for insufficient food, but the city with its wealth promises a bounty.
As long as you have money. Without it there is a shanty town under I5. Some make-shift enclosures and tattered tents can keep out the insistent rain, but they provide little protection from the smell.
This dichotomy is part of why this place isn’t my home.
I discovered The Butcher and The Baker some weeks ago with Jeannine. I had a reuben so good that I will suffer comparing every future reuben with it and find them lacking. The experience was only partially remarkable because the food was excellent. I also saw three black men in the same vicinity for what I believe to be the first time since moving here.
It’s not just that the city is lacking in brown people, but it’s lacking in many types of people. The working poor, although clearly in the city as who else cleans all those hotels, are completely invisible as are any restaurants or bars that cater to anyone without a wad of cash in their pocket. And along with their absence they’ve taken with them corner bodegas, liquor stores, and greasy spoon ethnic places where English is the second language.
Although hipsters have gotten a bad rap, I enjoy the quirks that they bring. I enjoy the uncomfortably high-waisted pants paired with a crop-top Def Leopard tee and vintage glasses. They have all hopped on their double-decker bicycles and ridden off, perhaps to Portland.
Not just a stab in the dark, this is verbatim a conversation I overheard in Portland following an inquiry of the shop owner’s friend. “Oh, yeah, she doesn’t make it into the city, because she’s taking care of her old cat. I guess she’s living in a yurt on a commune, and she doesn’t trust her fellow commune members to look after it.” And although I personally don’t need to live in a commune, I knew I was getting a little closer to my people, the weirdos.
It’s not just what Seattle has, homogeneity in spades, but also what it lacks. Local music venues here have steadily closed as land value has shot through the roof. Running a venue is tough work, and when a developer makes it rain, venue owners gratefully retire. Although many acts stop here, the years of acts being born here are probably in the past.
The apex of my reasons to leave is the cost of living. My 500 sqf apartment, although nicely outfitted, is $2300 a month. I have a view of The Sound, and a number of other lovely amenities. But for reference, my apartment in Cincinnati, with a view of the less than glorious Ohio River, had similar amenities and was twice the size for $1100 a month.
Twelve hundred dollars a month buys lots of stuff. Namely it buys flights out here for visits. It also buys vacations in Europe–every year. It buys new camera lenses, concert tickets, and road trips. I think visiting here will do just fine, especially when 3 months later I can visit Spain.
I only scratched the surface of the cost of living here, as there are other aspects. This is more thorough. Although this was written about Vancouver, you can simply sub Seattle in there to the same effect.
Even so, I have loved my time here. This dream needed to be explored for me to move beyond it. I lived my twenty years in Cincinnati with one foot in and one foot out, always considering an escape. From a distance, I see it for what it really is. It’s a city in flux. It’s a city with big problems but also big opportunities. It’s a city with rich history and stunning architecture. It’s a city where some of the best people on this planet live–my friends. It’s a city with artists, musicians, and start-ups. It’s a city that I put my sweat into. My hands cleared out those lagering tunnels that people will stroll through at Bockfest this year. My feet carried petitions to finish the work to complete the streetcar that will start operations this fall.
I did that work years back because I believed the city could be so much more than what it was. I was right. And now I want to come back home.