Stuff to do in Seattle

I often get emails and tweets from total strangers asking me: “I’m coming to Seattle! What should I do?”

Initially I thought it might be worth making a list, but I actually think that 7×7’s list of 100 things to do in Seattle before you die is pretty solid. I’ve personally done at least half of these and found these items to be either tasks that I’ve enjoyed, or could easily imagine myself enjoying.

So, if you’re coming to Seattle and you and I have never had an in-person conversation before, please: Just consult the list.

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.

The Portland Chronicles, Part 3: Odds and Ends

This is Part 3 of my series chronicling my adventures in Portland last weekend. You can also read Part 1 and Part 2.

The hipster culture in Portland can be a bit overbearing, but one of the best parts is the feeling of discovery you can get while walking down any random street. We had the opportunity to do this a few times, and a wide variety of reactions filled my head, including: “I didn’t know you could sell a 30-year old vintage, stained smelly chair for $80!” and “Apparently, creepy doll heads combined with Christmas lights can exist as part of a thriving doll art market.”

I took this photograph of a woman who was manning the cash register at a “pipe shop.” Her true passion was making her own perfume. The shelf behind her is loaded with her different scents, and the ingredients she uses to make them. Some of the scents were okay; others were underwhelming. But at the heart of it all was the dream to make something valuable, something beautiful, no matter how niche. And that’s an impulse I can totally relate to and admire.

The Portland Chronicles, Part 2: The Food Scene

This is Part 2 of my series chronicling my adventures in Portland last weekend.

Here are a few random observations on the food scene in Portland. The photo is of some Danish pancakes we enjoyed from broder, a Swedish restaurant. 

– We spent about 48 hours in Portland about 6 of those hours were spent waiting for food. Clearly, we were doing it wrong. That being said, it is ridiculous that a) several of the hottest restaurants did not accept reservations of any kind, leading to wait times of up to 3 hours, and b) even when we showed up right at opening time (5 PM) on a Sunday evening (after learning our lesson from the massive wait the night before), we were still forced to wait 90 minutes to get seated because a ton of people had gotten there at 4:30 to start putting their names down on the wait list. Basically, it’s best not to try to go to the hottest restaurants at all unless you can figure out a way to occupy yourself for an extended period of time.

– The food is very good and slightly cheaper than it is here in Seattle. But does it blow Seattle out of the water? Is it mind-blowingly good? Is it the best food I’ve ever had, bar none? The answer to these questions is no. And it’s certainly not worth the amount of time we spent waiting, especially when you compare it to the relatively tame 60-90 minute waits that will greet you in Capitol Hill.

– List of places we ate at: Pok Pok, Ox, Toro Bravo, broder, Tasty n Alder, Voodoo Doughnut.

– While we waited in lines and restaurants for food, we actually struck up random conversations with two separate groups of gregarious strangers. We learned a lot about their lives, their professions, their city. One guy was a urologist who told us about this one time a schizophrenic tried to cut his own penis off (he was only partially successful). This is 2x more conversations that I’ve had with random gregarious strangers in restaurants in all of the 18 months I’ve been living in Seattle. I guess the Seattle Freeze is a real thing.

The Portland Chronicles, Part 1: Voodoo Doughnut

This is Part 1 of my series chronicling my adventures in Portland last weekend.

In Portland, there’s this place called Voodoo Doughnut. If it was possible for a doughnut shop to be a brick-and-mortar embodiment of “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” this would be it. This place sells doughnuts that are mediocre-at-best, but people in Portland seem to believe they are AMAZING AND OMG HAVE YOU HAD VOODOO DOUGHNUTS BEFORE THEY ARE SO GREAT!!!

We got in a line with 50 other people and waited 45 minutes to purchase the doughnuts. The doughnuts are wacky and creative, to be sure. There are some that have stale breakfast cereal on them, some that have M&Ms on top, one that actually had a piece of bubble game baked into the frosting (complete with inedible plastic wrapping and everything). These Voodoo people sure are wild and crazy! The problem is that the doughnuts these toppings are positioned on top of are dry, overly doughy, and bland. At least the doughnuts themselves are pretty cheap.

We finished our purchased and got outside to eat a few of them, only to become immediately, wildly disappointed with our purchase and the time we had just wasted. Near our picnic table next to the restaurant, several drifters started panhandling. I did not offer them any money, but I did offer them some doughnuts. Their eyes immediately lit up. “Really?” one of them asked, in disbelief that I would dare part ways with a Voodoo doughnut, that most valued of food items.

“Tell you what,” I said. “You can have two of them!”

They were so, so grateful. In exchange, they let me take this photo of them.

It’s a weird thing to possess something that’s useless to you but of great value to those around you. In these situations, I would recommend you count it as a blessing, and I’d encourage as much generosity as possible. Especially in the case of Voodoo doughnuts.

Seattle to Portland: a Timelapse

I just got back from a weekend trip to Portland and I have some thoughts on that city that I’m looking forward to discussing with you guys. In the meantime, I thought I’d share this timelapse I recorded of the drive down there. This video was assembled by recording one image every two seconds. Most of the drive took place on I-5. The exposure got a bit wonky at the end, but I’m still pretty happy with the final result.