A Midwesterner’s First Impression Of Seattle
Dearest Seattle ~
It seems so long ago, but it has been only a month since we first met. Hopefully, we both have had some time to cool off and learn some hard lessons. As I ponder what went wrong between us during our first encounter, I thought I’d be honest and lay it all out for you. Maybe, just maybe, we can make it work if we communicate and share our feelings with each other, ya know?
You see, I had heard all about how glorious you are surrounded by water, mountains, and forests of trees… that you are just pure bliss whether rain or shine. It seemed like utopia when I read or heard anyone who lived there describe you. I was so excited to see you, to get to know you, to determine if you would be my citymate forever and ever…
We kind of got off to a very heated start, though. I admit I was partially to blame with my high expectations of you. However, you brought out the sun and the 90° heat to welcome me, and I must say now, that was a bit overbearing and smothering. You graciously backed off the next day but when it seemed like I wasn’t immediately awestruck by your unique beauty and charm, you then retreated and unleashed morose tears of rejection. Tears that left me soaking wet and sullen.
And I’ll be honest… I came to a fierce decision quickly those first three days spent in your company, and I was ready to leave and not pursue a further relationship. However, I tried to keep an open mind, and I thought I should give you a second chance. I left you to sort out your temper tantrum for a couple days while I visited Portland. She was also a bit moody but had no qualms about baring her soul and putting herself out there. She’s comfortable in who she is. She basically told me “This is it. Sometimes, I’m cold, rainy, and gloomy. Sometimes, I’m hot and sunny. Sometimes, I’m a bit boring and laid-back. I’m always weird. You can take it or leave it.”
And ya know what? I appreciated her candor.
As I returned to you, Seattle, for a couple more days before heading back home, you gave it one last shot. You stopped pouting and crying and showed me the sun, the cooler weather, and the nicer parts of town where your people seemed friendlier and happier. There was no pretense. You stopped trying so hard to be weird, hip, natural and edgy… all at the same damn time. You even showed me what I must only assume as the best bar in the city. May I suggest breaking out that little gem earlier on in your next courtship?
At this point, I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt. We may see each other again very soon. If you feel so inclined, let me know your thoughts and feelings. However it turns out for us, I wish you much love and success.
Yes, I’m a little weird. I write love letters to cities I visit. ;)
***Update: As of August 2014, the husband and I live in Seattle! Whoa, right? I will probably in future posts update my impressions of the city and the Pacific Northwest once the husband and I have explored more. Stay tuned!
This is a general, overall first impression of Seattle from the mindset of “Would we like living here?”. The husband and I visited the area not solely as tourists on vacation but as possible future city residents. We spent a total five nights in two different neighborhoods of Seattle (a few nights with friends and a couple nights in an Airbnb) where we explored mostly on foot and via public transportation. I’m going to come down a little hard and quite nitpicky in my personal assessment, but that in no way means I don’t think it’s a great place to visit or a great place to live. To each his own, right?
- Weather ~ This will be on both lists. For the dislike aspect… I would love more distinct seasons and definitely more sunny days per year, especially in the Winter (if it is INDEED gloomy as I’ve been told). I like snow, and I love Autumn… and the sun. The sun is good.
- The Twisted Seattleite View Of The Weather ~ Considering we visited in May, I expected rain. It’s Spring. However, we read and heard it just drizzles or mists and doesn’t “really rain”. As in, “you don’t get wet”. Well, I call bullshit. We got fucking wet. In fact, we were drenched at times. There are a few Seattleites we talked to who owned up to the fact that their city can sometimes bring it when it comes to precipitation. They acknowledge it and wear the appropriate attire if desired. Others seem to be in denial or have a very different definition of rain. (If you don’t get wet, why do you wear rain jackets all the goddamn time!?) But let me tell you, my wavy Eurasian hair is visible evidence if it’s humid and whether it’s raining or not. And hey, climate change is real. Just because the weather has been a certain way over the years doesn’t mean it will continue that way. *Update: It does indeed rain in Seattle. It also mists in Seattle. I still get wet.
- Environment & Ambiance ~ So, with all the rain (if you believe it rains, mind you), you’d think Seattle would be a very clean and green city. Well, I beg to differ. In random pockets and mere steps outside the city, yes, it is very green and relatively clean. However, I did imagine Seattle more eco-friendly, yet we saw trash everywhere we roamed. It was unexpected. I understand tourism can have that affect in certain parts of the city, and the grimy feeling could be from all the construction and the industrial nature of the city itself. (Maybe we just picked a bad weekend?) I would love to see more greenery throughout downtown Seattle though. One thing is certain… the kids need to up their artistry skills and do some good graffiti art instead of the random tags that are everywhere!
- Unfriendly People ~ I had read about the Seattle Freeze going into this visit. I just assumed that only meant it may take a while to make friends. I did not realize that even people in the service industry would also be standoffish and/or rude. Or that random people on the streets, out and about, and on buses (except for that one bus lady who wanted me to take her John Grisham book or whatever) would just be… not friendly at all. You don’t want to shoot the shit with a complete stranger? That’s fine. Me neither really. But, saying “Hello” or “Excuse me” as you pass someone on the street is nice. You don’t want to take my order or serve me food? Then may I suggest a change in vocation? As with rain, politeness and friendliness also seems to be defined differently in Seattle than any other place I’ve visited. The interesting part, however, is that of all the people I talked to… those who have lived in Seattle for most of their lives were quite friendly. So, maybe the attitude of snobbery and pretentiousness is coming in from outside the area by the transplants? Hmmm. *Update: I have noticed certain neighborhoods are friendlier than others. Also, there are some establishments that are way friendlier when they find out you’re not just another tourist. Take that as you will.
- Architectural Upkeep ~ Another example of apathy we noticed was the shabbiness of the houses in a lot of areas in the various neighborhoods. Aside from new buildings and condos, older houses that are probably historically preserved, and fancy houseboats, every other building and house looked just… old and shabby. I can only assume this is because of the high amount of renters versus home buyers as well as the rainy weather taking its toll (keep that in mind if you plan to buy real estate here). Pioneer Square was basically my favorite area of the city in regards to appearance which makes sense as it’s one of Seattle’s most historic neighborhoods with its brick buildings and Renaissance architecture. I will say that Seattle seems to take pride in her unkempt image.
- Food Culture ~ This will also be on both lists. For the dislike aspect, I would have loved to see more gastropub and comfort food options. I know there are a few out there, but we basically came across none in the areas we were staying overnight which was kind of a bummer around dinner time.
- Homeless Population ~ When I think of large homeless populations, I think of California or New York. It just never dawned on me that it was such a huge issue in Seattle as well.*Update: We were even more surprised after moving here to witness how large the homeless population actually is in Seattle, but it makes sense considering the temperate climate as well as other issues like mental illness and ‘Amageddon’: How Amazon’s Culture Is Taking A Toll On Seattle’s Future. I also recommend reading What It’s Like To Black And Homeless In Seattle for further insight on this issue.
- Weather ~ Aside from a certain distinct lack of seasons and the foreboding dreary, cloudy days of Winter, I could be a fan of the temperate climate. I’ve never lived in an area of pretty mild weather, so it may be a nice change of pace. However, I’ve mentioned before I’m a huge fan of Autumn. So, if/when we end up living in the Pacific Northwest, we’ll have to pay Vancouver or Oregon a visit for a more proper Autumn experience. I assume that summers are brighter and clearer than what we experienced in May during our visit as Seattle is ranked at the top of the list of cities with the best summer weather. *Update: The summers are amazing! Blue skies, beautiful, and clear. I do foresee the dreary dampness of winter getting old for me real quick though. And, I insanely miss distinctive seasons and tree-lined city streets covered in snow. I also miss thunderstorms like crazy. AND, the constant sunshine all summer is actually kind of boring me. Needless to say, I need more variety in my weather.
- Water & Mountains ~ I love the ocean and the smell of salt air. As I’ve mentioned before, I yearn to live near the coast. I wish Seattle was a little more proper coastal, but I love how much water from the Puget Sound to Lake Washington surrounds the city along with the mountains. It is very unique and beautiful in that respect.
- Diverse Neighborhoods ~ This is tough one. I love the diversity of the neighborhoods. There should be no problem in a resident finding “the one” when it comes to neighborhoods. But, I can also see how that creates a division in the city as it seems a lot of people stick to their neighborhoods. I didn’t feel much cohesiveness to Seattle or a city camaraderie as I’ve felt in other large cities like New York or Boston. Maybe at certain times of the year Seattle pride is more noticeable? It could also very well be a byproduct of the younger tech generation moving into the city. *Update: Still not feeling that connection except for SEEEA!… HAWWWKS!!! Ugh, really? You football fans need a different chant.
- Dog-Friendly ~ Having two pups and being huge dog lovers, the husband and I want to find a dog-friendly city to call home. Seattle does not fail in showing its love for its four-legged companions from dog-friendly bars and such to riding on buses. We saw so many dogs while we were out exploring the city, and the people with dogs seemed friendlier. *Update: Seattle loves dogs more than kids. Enough said.
- Transportation ~ It seems most people bitch about their city’s transit no matter how good it is. But coming from Columbus Ohio and their severely inadequate public transportation options, navigating transit in Seattle via the light rail and city bus was very easy and convenient. Obviously, I didn’t drive while there, but I was a passenger while a friend drove. I would most likely avoid driving in the city as it seemed like a pain in the ass in the more touristy areas of the city. *Update: Please for the love of all pedestrians, bicyclists, and our four-legged family members, do NOT drive downtown or to Pike Place Market if you’re visiting our area. It’ll be a terrible experience for you, and you’ll be able to help us to stay safe and our city less congested by walking, biking, or taking public transportation. Also, if you’re a group visiting, don’t take up the whole goddamn crosswalk or sidewalk when roaming around. Pay attention to your surroundings and step out of the way to snap your photos. Thank you! :)
- Food Culture ~ The food we had the chance to sample while visiting was pretty good. It’s hard to say “best ever” because well, we live in Columbus Ohio, and we have some pretty damn good food here. The husband and I are not huge seafood fans, and I almost never crave Asian food when dining out, and I realize there are probably quite a few tasty choices for both types of cuisine. As such, I’m basing this on my love of comfort food which is probably considered the minority in Seattle food culture. A favorite in Seattle was Skillet where their thing is comfort food with a twist, which is quite funny because our favorite restaurant in Columbus is also named Skillet and they also do comfort food with a twist… eerie. I enjoyed the savory pies at Pie, and the fish & chips at Owl N’ Thistle ranked high on my list of good fish & chips. And Theo Chocolate… interesting concoctions and quite yummy. I’m sure this will be updated as we live here and explore the food scene more.
- Liberal Views ~ *Update: Coming from Ohio which is a swing state that is dangerously close to the Bible Belt (Southern Ohio is a part of that really), it is refreshing to be amongst people who feel the same way as I do about important social and economical issues. Change on certain issues is more embraced here. And, that is awesome. However, we still need to do something about that whole homelessness issue and the income/racial inequality in the city.
- Job Market ~ If your chosen career path is in the field of technology, this is the place to be that isn’t Silicon Valley with its insanely high cost of living. Of course, that industry is kind of taking over the whole city.
What I can’t really comment on, obviously, is the quality or quantity of events, museums and activities. I know it’s a very outdoorsy city with hiking, water activities and bicycling. They have their festivals and such as well as quite an array of marathons. I know beer is huge, and there are a lot of breweries. So when the weather gets you down in the winter, you can always drink. ;) Just make sure to take your Vitamin D!
So yeah, Seattle… I can see it being a pretty great place to live. Is it for us? Well, we’re not sure, but we’re keeping it open as an option. See #7 in the ‘Likes’ section? That applies to my husband. As much as we like Boston and love Maine, we feel at this point in our lives we gotta go where the jobs are (which are a bit scarce in Portland, Maine) and that also have salaries that increase with the cost of living (looking at you, Boston.)
Needless to say, it’s definitely an exciting and scary game-changing time for us right now. Stay tuned!
* 5/20/2015: Obviously, as I mentioned above, we moved to Seattle in August 2014. In a few months, we will have been living here a year. We still have so much exploring we want to do in the Pacific Northwest, but we still kind of don’t possess the “I love Seattle!” mentality as a lot of other folks do nor do we see ourselves settling down here long-term. We’ll enjoy it however we can though before wandering off to some other city. ♥
P.S. Check out my Seattle visitor guide for more information on navigating and touring the city.