in list, seattle, travel

Ten Things I’ve Learned About Seattle

Shortly after I moved to Seattle from Boston, I wrote up a brief “Things I’ve learned so far” post. All that stuff is still true.

That being said, I’ve been living here for nearly two years now. Today, I’d like to supplement that post with a few things I’ve learned about this city, which I have come to love.

1. The traffic is comically terrible – Traffic in Seattle is a Kafkaesque nightmare from which you can scarcely hope to escape. Traffic patterns are almost completely unpredictable; one day you can cruise easily down the 520 bridge, and the next day, during that exact same time period, you can be backed up for hours. It doesn’t help that Seattle drivers seem to be terrified by snow, rain, and mild curves in the road, prompting them to slow to a crawl anytime they encounter any of the above. One of my most maddening Seattle experiences is being stuck in awful traffic for 45 minutes, only to arrive at the origin of that traffic: nothing. No root cause. Just people slowing down because they don’t like to drive too fast on the highway around curves. That being said, the Washington state’s Traffic Twitter account is amusing and useful. It provides a window into the madness that commuters face every day.

2. This place is frickin’ beautiful – Hopefully you can glimpse some of this beauty from my photos, but yeah, the Puget Sound area is gorgeous. I can’t remember any other time in my life, other than my brief trip to New Zealand, during which I could witness postcard-quality images on a daily basis.

3. The income inequality is significant and stark – I don’t think tensions here have grown to San Francisco-esque levels, but in Belltown, the inequality is as obvious as ever. Homeless sleep under storefront awnings every night. As I was leaving my garage last night, I saw some dude foraging in my apartment’s garbage container. Meanwhile, luxury apartments are shooting up left and right. It’ll be interesting to see how the whole thing plays out.

4. The food is still amazing, but… – Spending more time here has definitely made me appreciate the food scene here even more, especially compared to the food scene in Boston, which I can’t help but look back on with disenchantment and disappointment. The food here is just better, and you can get more per dollar than in lesser cities. But it’s not all great. While many styles of food are well-represented, the BBQ is pretty lacking in the city, as is the Chinese and Korean cuisine (although there’s some great Thai, Vietnamese, and Japanese to be found). For some quality Chinese/Korean, I often need to head into parts north or to the East Side.

5. Construction is everywhere – From where I sit right now as I type this blog post, I can see (unassisted) no fewer than six construction cranes in my field of view. The real estate market here is about to explode, helped in no small part by Amazon’s plans to dramatically expand its workforce and urban footprint. This place is going to look and feel dramatically different five years from today.

6. There is no infrastructure to handle snow – In Boston, fleets of trucks dispatched by private towing companies would roam the streets at night, making the roads navigable for regular cars. Here, that just doesn’t happen. When it snows, the city shuts down, schools are cancelled, a State of Emergency is declared, etc. Beware snow’s ability to totally mess with your plans. On that note…

7. Seattle makes you soft – I lived in Boston for my whole life, and while it’s not at at all the most challenging weather environment, I went through dozens of brutally harsh winters and scalding hot summers. Seattle, despite its constant spritzy rain, is fairly temperate throughout the year. As a result, experiencing actual extreme temperatures after staying here for awhile can be a more jarring, unpleasant experience than usual.

8. Christmas just doesn’t feel the same – My brother brought this up when he was visiting me in Seattle for Thanksgiving: the one thing you really can’t get on the West Coast is the “feeling” of Christmas. How to define that feeling? I’m not sure. It’s the feeling of freshly fallen snow on the ground outside, silently coating the nearly-empty streets. It’s the warmth of a fire in a brightly lit house with a freshly chopped tree, and some hot soup or hot coffee waiting for you. It’s the smell of pine needles and wreaths and fruitcakes. It’s the sound of expertly-sung Christmas carols echoing through the halls. It’s the feeling I get walking through the white streets of Harvard Square on a December evening. I can’t really fully define the feeling of Christmas. But it’s not the feeling I get when I see families gathered at the Pacific Place mall to enjoy the fake snow that falls from the top floor of the atrium.

9. I love the dress code – People basically wear whatever they want. On the East Coast, if you dress business casual or wear a suit, you are professional and appropriate. Here, that kind of dress is considered formal. It’s fun to work in a part of the country where people are allowed (encouraged?) to wear jeans and flip-flops to work.

10. There’s something happenin’ here. What it is ain’t exactly clear – Between Macklemore being poised to sweep the Grammys, Microsoft making one of the biggest acquisitions in its history, Amazon getting people talking about its drone program, and a bunch of our local/celebrity chefs continuing to gain notoriety and win awards, it feels like Seattle is having a “moment” right now. It’s an amazing city full of entrepreneurial vigor and it’s incredibly exciting to be here during this formative period. While Boston will always be my home, I’m glad to be part of the Seattle during this time of my life.

Here’s hoping that 2014 brings even greater adventures.