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?
Crosscut archive image.

Mount Rainier as seen from Seattle. (Chuck Taylor)

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?

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.

8. Peek through the Cascade Curtain.

The great, under-utilized sanity-izer is to flee the wetside for the dryside of the mountains sometimes. The other half of the state has things we don't have: sunshine, dust devils, big sky, stars, vineyards, Republicans. Hop over the mountains, and you'll find Montana in Cle Elum, wine country in Yakima or Walla Walla, rattlesnakes, magpies, cowboys. In the winter, there's snow and ice. You need to dry out your moss once in a while.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.