The Spokane-Seattle inferiority complex
The Spokane River runs through the heart of the city. Credit: Sea turtle/Flickr
I don't generally make a habit of taking to Twitter to announce snow conditions at Northwest ski areas, but that's what I did two days after Christmas. Traveling across Snoqualmie Pass from Spokane, I was surprised to see the paltry snow levels at the Summit. It was, of course, pouring rain, with no snow in sight.
I snapped a picture and posted to Twitter: "Reason 542 Spokane skiing beats Seattle. The scene today (closed, little snow, pouring rain) at Snoqualmie Pass."
I stoked the fire again a few weeks later, tweeting: "Hey, Seattle. Greetings from Spokane, where it's sunny, 40 degrees. I think I'll ski tonight at our nearby mountain that has plenty of snow."
It's no secret that the west and east sides of Washington have a cultural and political rivalry. That competition, if you can call it that, manifests itself all the time in conversations I have with Seattle friends.
"When are you moving here?" they'll ask, as if to suggest Spokane is no place for a young, college-educated person.
All those Twitter updates and defenses I hurl are meant to be playful, but also informative. Spokane and the Inland Northwest is a desirable place to live for numerous reasons — a relatively low cost of living and access to good outdoor adventure being two. (Outside magazine named Spokane one of its "Best Towns" for 2013.)
But the more passive-aggressive city promotions I hurl into the Internet ether, the more I wonder if I'm being too defensive. (The Spokanite doth protest too much, methinks.) Am I — and all of Spokane — suffering from a metropolitan inferiority complex?
That question wouldn't have percolated to the top of my meth-wearied brain (Remember, all Spokanites are toothless drug addicts living in squalor.) without the help of Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat.
In a column ahead of the Seahawks-49ers NFC Championship game, Westneat pondered whether Seattle had an inferiority complex of its own — toward San Francisco. He also couldn't help taking a passing glance at Washington state's west-east divide:
"So in a way we got our start as San Francisco’s dump," he wrote. "We are to them as Tacoma is to us. OK, that’s too extreme. How about this: We are San Francisco's Spokane."
The subtext: Spokane is not and will never be as cool as Seattle.
That made me think about my own defenses of Spokane, both online and in person. Does Seattle really have a superiority complex toward Spokane? Does Spokane have an inferiority complex toward Seattle?
Or, perhaps a better question: Am I the one with the complex? In constantly defending my choice to live in Spokane, am I feeding the proverbial beast?
For insight, I took to Facebook. (Indeed, we do have Internet in Spokane, though our 56K dial-up makes it a bear to load — even with 1,000 hours of free AOL access.)
Does Seattle think it's superior, I asked. Does Spokane think it's inferior?
The responses didn't settle any great debate. Spokane people, it seems, like a slower pace to life, enjoy more open space and want a friendly environment. Seattle is great too, if you can afford the higher cost of living. And, of course, if you're OK with rain and traffic congestion.
One comment from a friend seemed particularly spot-on:
"I've lived in Seattle, Los Angeles, Newport Beach and yet here I am willingly and consciously living in a small eastern Washington town, on a big clean river, where a tent, truck, boat and rifle are all you really need to be happy. Spokane has all pluses in those categories. I don't believe that makes me inferior, or Seattle superior, I think it means those pluses are different for me than someone else."
For many people, Spokane simply offers different qualities of life than Seattle. That doesn't make them rednecks, racists or any of the other stereotypes associated with the region. (Indeed, there are plenty of Subaru-driving, REI-shopping, organic food-loving people in Spokane. Count me among them.)
Nor does it make Seattle residents haughty with superiority.
What it does highlight are the qualities that make this region of ours, the Pacific Northwest, so desirable: The diversity of landscapes, ecosystems, geology, cultures and, yes, politics.
That's why I push back against the notion that Seattle is somehow "better" than Spokane, and why I'm careful not to come off feeling inferior to our western neighbors.
Perhaps if we start thinking of ourselves as Northwesterners rather than Seattleites or Spokanites, we would agree on much more than we realize. Like how good it is not living in Tacoma.
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