Sunday, September 27, 2015

A Guide to Seattle, Hipsters, and You

Red Mill Burgers, opened 1994 (original 1937)
I've been staying with some friends who have a house in Shoreline, which is just north of Seattle. The house is big enough that they can avoid me, which is good, because they are a couple and I worry about imposing on their couple time. But they have been nothing but completely gracious about hosting this unemployed, homeless migrant (not refugee, Los Angeles isn't that bad.) They insist on sharing Suzie's home-cooked dinners with me, she cleaned out their garage so I could get all my possessions out of my car parked on the street, they let me use their washer and dryer, which make the cutest little dings when they are done, and Suzie has driven me around town so I can see the wreckage that all the Californians moving up here has wrought.

Actually, Seattleites have been blaming Californians for driving up housing prices and bringing traffic congestion with them way before I moved to L.A. It's kind of like the "punk is dead" refrain that started in the late seventies and continued to declare that punk today is nothing like real punk which is gone forever thanks to these posers with no concept of where it all came from! That said, it's hard not to think Seattle is going the way of San Francisco where you seemingly need a high paying job at a tech firm or a trust fund to afford a decent place within Seattle, and the traffic, while far from what it is in L.A., is going in that direction. It's cracked the top 10 in the US, above Chicago and just below Boston. The condos that were popping up around the city before I left, like thistles that you don't notice until they get so tall and sturdy you're not sure how to remove them, or took over a whole area seemingly overnight (ahm, Belltown), have taken hold in or around practically every neighborhood that had it's own unique personality and people.

I think the condo buildings might be somewhat tolerable if they weren't so horribly ugly. They look like giant square building blocks, interchangeably mindless and towering over the buildings that actually have character. They look like they went up overnight, without a thought for how they would look in the area or fit in with the existing architecture. What happened to Ballard, my tour guide has told me, is what every other neighborhood that has a chance to head off uncontrolled growth is trying to avoid. Ballard was once the part of town known for having a lot of old people that drove painfully slow and vaguely nautically themed bars for the people (i.e. men, mostly) from the fishing boats that come into the port from Alaska. It was the Scandinavian part of town. Tourists would sometimes go there to see the locks, and I took my Scandinavian relatives to the stores that sold Scandinavian flags and potholders, and to commune with other people who knew what lutefisk was, and ate it! I'll wait while you look up what lutefisk is, and check out the videos of the lutefisk eating contest that was held at the Ballard SeafoodFest every year. Every year, that is, until 2013. That is the last year they had the "crowd-pleaser" lutefisk eating contest, as far as I can tell.

They still have the SeafoodFest, but I sure didn't see any signs that this was still the Scandinavian part of town. It is now the absolutely overrun with condos and precious hipster restaurants and bars part of town, wait, that's everywhere. Didn't see many hipsters though. Ballard, long ignored by the cool kids and left to the old sailors, had been discovered by hipsters that were over it with Capitol Hill and driven away from Fremont by the brewpub fratty meat market crowd, but it was the secret, only appreciated by those willing to make the trek for a handful of dive bars and diners. Where do the hipsters go now? When the hipster themed businesses move in, you know they are only going there to work. It is awful, absolutely awful, that so much of Seattle is so generic and expensive and flavorless, when it used to have such distinct neighborhoods, places that were unique unto themselves, and so uniquely Seattle. But, this is not new for Seattle, and not new for any growing city. The whole reason Ballard was the secret cool place for a moment was that unappreciated, quirky places are only that until other people figure it out. It's kind of a Seattle thing to always be looking for what is odd and unappreciated, and appreciating it until everyone else figures out how cool it is and ruins it.

That said, Seattle is bursting at the seams with people moving here and not enough housing and asphalt and places to hang out to contain them all, which, like San Francisco, is driving out the locals and people with personality but not tons of disposable income that can't afford to compete with not just Californians, but with people who are recruited here by certain Seattle-based businesses, businesses who are too good to hire University of Washington MBA's. They throw bonuses, high salaries, and perks at people who put in their two years of burn-out and then are looking for another job locally, or are ranked and involuntarily yanked, with the same result. Rank and yank is the employee motivational method proudly followed by another powerful and admired company, until it went bankrupt due to such massive fraud that it spawned my specialty, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. It all comes around.

Seattle is still here though, the real Seattle, the weird fishing town. To quote Art Chantry (look him up) in the movie Hype! (look it up), which came out in 1996, "So all these people come here, and then there's all this publicity, and... "Northern Exposure" and "Twin Peaks" and all this stuff, and everyone wants to come here and live the good yuppie lifestyle, but all this time there's all these people that are underneath that were here first and they're just starving and they're all crazy."

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