Simple rules for staying sane in Seattle

Ignore the neighbors. What's wrong with being distant? Don't dwell on the geophysics of catastrophe: What's the point in scaring yourself away?
Mount Rainier as seen from Seattle. (Chuck Taylor)

Mount Rainier as seen from Seattle. (Chuck Taylor) None

Sure, Seattle could go the way of Pompeii. But why worry? It might not be for a long time.

Sure, Seattle could go the way of Pompeii. But why worry? It might not be for a long time. Andrew Fogg/Flickr

1. Don't move here in the summer.

Year after year folks move here at the end of the school year. In July and August, their eyes twinkle, their skin tans, they wonder what all that rain stuff is about. By year's end, they are on the verge of breaking, transformed into vitamin D-deficient SADD-sacks water boarded by winter. Sadistically, you take pleasure in informing them that the rain will stop — next June. To avoid such agony, or the buyer's remorse that comes with the realization that the blue-skies of summer are suicide skies come February, newcomers should arrive no earlier than fall. Take the hit of dark, wet days up front, then enjoy summer's sweet mid-year lift.

2. Avoid your neighbors.

The Seattle Freeze is our famous social disease. Inoculate yourself. Don't try to make friends, better to embrace the solitude, the peace, the occasional remote wave to the unfamiliar figure next door as you both place your recycling curbside. You didn't move here for people, did you? Most everyone else moved here to get away from them. Socially, Seattleites will mostly disappoint. They're just not that into you. If you must reach out, use Skype or Facebook. That way, people come with an off-switch.

3. You can't be too utopian.

In Seattle, big ideas never die. Monorail? They're still working on it. A new waterfront? Underway. Greener than green? Oh, yeah. World class city? You betcha. Pick the candidate with the biggest ideals, the most inflated sense of mission and purpose: they usually win. We will change the world one city council resolution at a time. We prefer to hide our pragmatism behind the vanity of noble ambitions. That '62 world's fair? We leveraged our way onto the world map by selling a fantastic future, but we also sold plenty of cars, jets, and tourist trinkets. Utopia, it turns out, is good business.

4. Cultivate a superior attitude.

We're a smart city. We're home to the biggest charity in the world. We read more books. We're sustainable, serious, and hip. Portland? Stuck in the '90s. Vancouver? Hah, they're stuck in Canada. Tacoma? We don't even make jokes about them anymore. Bellevue? Where's that? Seattle is too busy, too full of big ideas to care about anyone else. Having your nose in the air is a good way to forget that the basics are so screwed up. Seattle's public schools? Ick. Our police department? Scary. The streets? They're better in Kabul. But all of these are mere details too petty for superior minds which are set on bigger things. Like curing malaria or going global with artisanal chocolate.

5. Forget the weather report.

Cloudy. Windy. Rainy. What else do you need to know? Ignore the weather reports. Read or listen to Cliff Mass for the why, not the what. Cliff can help you understand your micro-climate, but no one can tell you with certainty what will fall from the sky and when. If you seek predictability, move to Palm Springs. If you seek a fine meteorological forensic analysis of what the hell just ruined your ill-advised backyard barbecue, you can find the answers.

6. Don't buy summer or winter clothes.

Another tip: Go for the year-round Nordstrom suit, the all-season North Face jacket, the hoodie that looks soggy wet or dry, good boots. You don't need stuff you'll wear only two days per year, like wool overcoats or sunglasses. Dress in layers. When it's 65 degrees, you can strip down. Road trip? You can't take too many coats, sweaters or blankets. Every outing should be like you're loading the car for the Apocalypse.

7. Don't think about the Big One.

Speaking of the Apocalypse, Seattle is built at the foot of a volcano in a fault zone surrounded by water. Eruption, quake, tsunami, we could get any or even all at once. Someday, Mother Nature will gob-smack us big time. It could be tomorrow, it could be 500 years from now. It's best to be in denial, so forget I said anything about Seattle being one of the most dangerous places to live in America, a modern Pompeii-in-waiting.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, May 21, 6:01 a.m. Inappropriate

I know that this is intended as humor. I also know that Seattle is a pretty humorless place. Everyone is so darn earnest. So, while I am loathe to contribute to that culture, Seattle's public schools are not "ick". Nearly all of our schools are extraordinarily good. It's the school district leadership which has been "ick". Maybe the new superintendent can do something to improve the work done in his building, but the work done in all of the other school district buildings (the schools) is generally pretty darn good.

coolpapa

Posted Mon, May 21, 10:02 a.m. Inappropriate

One of your best, Mossback!

Posted Mon, May 21, 10:09 a.m. Inappropriate

Confession time. I'm an east-coaster who moved here for the green and cool temperatures. When I bought my house in a non-view part of Magnolia, I didn't think much about neighbors. That's good. I have yet to even meet my next door neighbor, but I've only been here 15 years. So there's plenty of time--assuming I don't die first. (I think I'm older.)

There is a part of me that wishes PDX had better weather, because I think I would be more comfortable/fit in better there.

Besides the Seattle Freeze, what I hate most is residents' inability to understand/get/even conceive of irony.

m-t-e

Posted Sun, May 27, 7:39 a.m. Inappropriate

Yes! If there is one adjustment I cannot make to the local culture, it is the irony-free zone around Seattle. Sarcasm is my first language, but around here it rates as low as animal cruelty.

coolpapa

Posted Sun, May 27, 3:03 p.m. Inappropriate

"Seattle's public schools? Ick."

I'm not sure most public school parents would agree with that assessment, no matter how tongue in cheek it is meant to be.

But it's that kind of drumbeat, "public education sucks" kind of talk that doesn't help.

westello

Posted Mon, May 21, 10:48 a.m. Inappropriate

I live in Meadowbrook and find my neighbors to be very friendly. We have block parties and a neighborhood email group. I know my nieghbors on both sides, across the street and across the alley. Maybe it depends more on the neighborhood. They are however not obnoxious in their friendliness like I have seen in Texas where everyone acts like your best friend even when they hate your guts.

Seattle used to also have a super funny show which I am sure you remember called Almost Live which made fun of lots of Seattle and Puget Sound stereotypes. Who can forget Cops on Mercrer Island, Ballard Driving School, Bill Nye the Science Guy, Grunge Rock proclaimers of all things lame, or the High Fivin' White Guys.

Rhonwyn

Posted Mon, May 21, 11:04 a.m. Inappropriate

Wonderful work, Knute. You can explain us in, what? one thousand words? all funny.

kieth

Posted Mon, May 21, 4:20 p.m. Inappropriate

And you finally have got 1962 back in perspective!

afreeman

Posted Mon, May 21, 12:19 p.m. Inappropriate

I had to laugh about your recommendation of Cliff Mass...did you clear that with Steve Scher? How can you work with him after he kicked Cliff off KUOW for joining you and the rest to talk about education?

Posted Mon, May 21, 12:37 p.m. Inappropriate

Great summary. Don't agree with the Seattle Freeze, though. There is a high level of elitism, but that's not the same thing. For real people it's a pretty friendly place.

Posted Mon, May 21, 8:13 p.m. Inappropriate

Your comments about eastern Washington reminded me of once meeting a fellow long ago who had a Texan-sounding accent... and the boots to go with it. Came to find out he was born and raised in Yakima!

s_calvert

Posted Tue, May 22, 12:31 p.m. Inappropriate

Knute, brilliant bit of local sociology. I'll just add a few supporting observations to what you have written...

Yes, the weather: I have long called July, August and September "The Amnesia Season." I've lived here my whole life, yet, in those sunny months, I catch myself saying things like, "You know, it really doesn't rain here that much."

The Freeze: I have a friend from New York who moved here 10 years ago. When I first got to know her, she complained about how she would meet locals who were so perfectly nice and friendly that she thought they were becoming her bosom buddies... then they would just disappear. I promised myself I would not do the same thing to her, but I guess nurture (or would it be nature?) kicked in and I failed to call her for a year. Luckily, she was persistent, in her New Yorkish way, and we have become real pals -- in spite of those times I drop out of contact for months at a time.

The other side of the mountains: I occasionally remind people there is a yearly rodeo in Puyallup, there is a great cowboy bar near Green Lake, going to Ellensburg is like visiting South Dakota and the Grand Coulee country could pass for Arizona. Seattle sits on the edge of the Wild West and has a cultural draw that goes deep into Montana. But when you are in this fabulously self-absorbed city, you could almost be in Boston (without all the history to trip over).

Superiority complex: Well, why not? This is the greatest place on the planet.

Posted Wed, May 30, 11 p.m. Inappropriate

I call August-September "California Sucker Weather." Californians come up to visit in the Summer, buy a house in September and attempt to dump it in February. I'm sure the best time for a native to make an offer on a house is the 27th of February at sundown (what, 4pm?).

DavidA

Posted Wed, May 23, 8:08 a.m. Inappropriate

Has anyone considered the "Seattle Freeze" as a sort of "donor-fatigue" syndrome? That is, Seattle as a do-gooder culture, with a high degree of civic involvement, non-profit leaders, social service organizers, and people who in one way or another spend their days connecting with people and building community. The last thing they want to do at the end of a long day of giving to others is spend more energy on people - they want to be selfish and solitary to recharge their batteries. I wonder if the Seattle Freeze could be seen as a healthy balance of solitude and self-space in a culture rich with community builders and social service.

SPT

Posted Thu, May 24, 8:07 a.m. Inappropriate

SPT: I've collected Seattle Freeze theories over the years, and this is a new one, and it fits our egos too! Good work.

Posted Fri, May 25, 11:31 a.m. Inappropriate

I feel the need to get a little dog, move to West Seattle, and write for a daily newspaper...

Abdul

Posted Wed, May 30, 10:57 a.m. Inappropriate

Wow, could you possibly be any more negative?

Caprice

Posted Sun, Jun 3, 12:27 a.m. Inappropriate

Knute, I think you got all eight right except for the sunglasses.

kelp

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