Seattle Reality Checks

In 2015, I wanted to move to Portland, Oregon.

When people asked me what my Plan was, I’d tell them, “I’m going to move to Portland and work at Powell’s.” Some people thought this was a cop-out, not knowing I was describing my Dream Life. I couldn’t wait to work at my favorite bookstore in one of my favorite U.S. cities.

That did not happen.

My quest to move proved a discouraging failure: I couldn’t find a job or affordable housing and all my predictive budgeting put me in massive debt. My dream started to look impossible.

In the wake of that disappointment, a new idea formed: What if I moved to Seattle?

At the time, that plan made perfect sense: my brother and sister-in-law lived in the city; most of my friends and family lived nearby; I knew Seattle pretty well from years of daytrips. Scrolling through Indeed.com, I saw plenty of barista and food service jobs. That settled it.

In September 2016, I accepted a job offer and moved into an apartment downtown. Right away, I started settling in by unpacking my books and exploring nearby restaurants. I felt fairly optimistic, a rare occurrence for me. People here would appreciate me! I would fit in right away! I was MADE to live in a city like this!

In the almost two years since I moved here, I’ve seen the ways my life differs from the picture I’d formed in my head.

These days I wonder: Is it possible to break up with a city?

The Cost of Living is Too Damn High

In January of 2017, I received a raise that some of my friends resented. They accused me of making “big bucks” while they struggled. When I whined about low funds, they rolled their eyes. I was making $3 more an hour than they were; I had no right to complain.

In truth, my “raise” brought my hourly rate up to the new Seattle minimum wage, a whole dollar more than I’d been earning previously. I went from bleeding money every month to barely breaking even. I gave up the goal of becoming a regular at the bubble tea place – I couldn’t afford it.

My Cupboard Under the Stairs

As a student, I used to think rents in Ellensburg were overinflated. I mean, come on: $800 a month…for a STUDIO?

What I didn’t realize was while solo living situations were overpriced, larger accommodations were more than reasonable. Houses were rented out for less than $1000 a month. 1- or 2- bedroom apartments ran for $750 max.

This difference really hit me when my brother and I moved into new apartments the same month, his in Ellensburg, mine in Seattle. For $600 a month, he’d landed a ground-floor two-bedroom close to campus. For the same amount, I’d settled for a 170-sq ft studio with a tiny bathroom, an even smaller kitchen, and no storage space.

I had a hard time not resenting his good fortune that first year.

I still live in the same tiny apartment. I frequently drool over friends’ slightly larger spaces, only to pale when I hear their rent.

My worst moment of apartment envy came when an acquaintance complained about the size of his place. The poor guy thought his 1-bedroom unit was too big. I almost punched him in his stupid face.

I Miss My Car

I spent a summer living in Arlington, VA near Washington, D.C. and I LOVED it.

Arlington was tiny enough that I could walk everywhere, from church to the park to the library to the grocery store. Any time I wanted to go into the city, I walked to the subway stop a block away from my building. I spent the summer seeking out popular cupcake spots in the D.C. area. I would map out my route in advance (this was before smartphones), hop on the appropriate subway line, and ride my way to Cupcake Heaven.

I NEVER took the bus if I could help it. In fact, I went out of my way not to, even when it meant splurging on a cab.

I expected Seattle to be similar. When I took a job at a downtown cafe, I figured I’d rely on the Light Rail most of the time and walk everywhere else.

Not so.

Seattle is a BIG city. The Light Rail plumbs the darkest depths of South Seattle and travels as high as Husky Stadium, but north of that? You gotta take a bus.

My brother used to live in Northgate, a harrowing 40-minute bus ride from my apartment in the best of times, and getting to that bus stop required a 20-minute hike uptown.

Upon moving here, I was most frustrated by the lack of convenient churches in my neighborhood. I was so desperate NOT to take a bus, I ended up attending a church four Light Rail stops and a 20-minute walk away.

I finally caved and switched to a church on a popular bus route.

I spend most of my life downtown, occasionally venturing to Capitol Hill on days I’m feeling adventurous. When friends invite me to events in Greenlake or Ravenna, I respond, “I would rather die.”

Down with Washington Drivers

This is a statewide problem: NO ONE IN WASHINGTON KNOWS HOW TO DRIVE.

Seattle drivers daily ruin my life and I DON’T EVEN OWN A CAR.

Stop signs, I’ve learned, are just a suggestion. I can’t tell you the number of people that think slowing down counts as stopping. GUESS WHAT, FRIENDS: IT DOES NOT.

Other times, drivers hang out at at stop signs so long I start to worry. I can’t, as a pedestrian, guarantee that these drivers are paying enough attention NOT TO RUN ME OVER. It’s especially annoying when they sit for MINUTES at a time, only to release the brake pedal the second I step onto the crosswalk.

My BIGGEST pet peeve: no one uses their turn signal correctly.

The three types of signalers are:

  • The Quick Flickers
    These drivers flick on their turn signal for one second before turning it off. This is the preferred method of a close relative and it drives me INSANE.
  • The Absent-Minded Signaler
    These drivers leave their turn signal on so long, it confuses the issue. Did you turn the signal on by accident? Are you trying to turn? Are you waiting for me to pass so you can merge? WHAT DO YOU WANT?
  • The Technical Turn Signalers
    IT DOES NOT COUNT AS SIGNALING IF YOU TURN ON YOUR TURN SIGNAL AS YOU’RE TURNING. The signal is supposed to communicate intent; it’s not a tool for emphasizing your poor choices.

I’ve started daring drivers to hit me. Every time some idiot charges impatiently into the intersection, I stop, stare them down, and think, “Do it.”

They back off. Follow-through is not a Seattle driver’s strong suit.

The War on Terror, Part 1

I’ve gotten in the habit of calling people “terrorists,” the logic being that anyone who violates my right to walk home unimpeded is an enemy of freedom.

The giant families that spread across the sidewalk? TERRORISTS.

The rude old ladies who defiantly walk down the center of the sidewalk? TERRORISTS.

The awful human beings who drift from side to side? To some, freedom fighters. To me, TERRORISTS.

I met the ultimate terrorist last week on my way home from work. For context’s sake, the sidewalks in my neighborhood are upsettingly narrow thanks to the many bike lock-ups, mail boxes, and street signs planted every few feet. As a result, individuals can block an entire sidewalk by being careless with their space.

Which brings us to our terrorist.

I came upon this guy walking down the hill AS SLOWLY AS POSSIBLE on the left side of the sidewalk. I kept trying to pass him only for him to sway into the center lane, blocking my escape route.

I walked a ways behind him and waited for my moment. I tried to time my escape between sways, preparing to breeze past him before he swayed again. THIS GUY started WHEELING AROUND every couple of steps to LOOK at me, somehow taking up EVEN MORE SPACE. Every time I tried to make a move, he would turn and stare.

Eventually, I gave up and stopped walking, because I preferred STANDING STILL to babystepping behind this goggle-eyed idiot.

I have encounters like this everywhere I go. It happens most often when I grocery shop, but Target browsing is a close second (tourists are the worst kind of terrorists.) I can’t go anywhere without someone either blocking my path or stepping into my bubble.

I’ve stopped fighting it. The terrorists have won.

The War on Terror, Part 2

I interact with the men in my neighborhood on a daily basis, though never by choice.

Friends don’t understand why I go ballistic when someone shouts, “Hey girl!” from across the street or approaches me asking for money.

My friends think, “They just want a dollar,” or, “They just want a smile,” or, “They just want a ‘hello.'”

Really, the men in my neighborhood ask for so little. Why not give it to them?

My friends don’t see the lengths these men go to to get what they want.

I have had men leer at me, scream at me, and follow me home.

I’ve been called everything from “beautiful” to “white bitch.”

The men in my neighborhood blow smoke in my face, lean in close when I try to edge past them, and block my path. They call out, “EXCUSE ME, I’M TALKING TO YOU.”

The homeless among them sprint toward me in the middle of the night. Some wait outside my building. Some block the door so residents can’t get in. Several have tried breaking in.

I can’t go half a block without some man demanding my time, money, or attention.

When describing my neighborhood, I’ve used words like “sketchy” or “shitty” or “high-crime” to cover the fact that I don’t feel safe here.

It’s hard to feel at home when men are literally lying in wait outside my door.

A Society of Assholes, or the Seattle Freeze

My friends believed in this phenomenon before I did. I heard them use words like “snobby,” “uppity,” and “expensive.” They frequently complained about the coldness of Seattle, so unlike the warmth of “the country.”

For those who don’t know, the “Seattle Freeze” describes the icy reception Seattleites give newcomers. This is not a city of bright greetings or casual conversations – everyone is in a hurry and no one wants to talk to you.

Before I moved here, that concept didn’t bother me. When I lived in a small town, I HATED running into people I knew everywhere I went. The folksy pride in local landmarks also infuriated me: the best coffee IN TOWN is not the best coffee in the STATE, much less the WORLD. It’s not even the best coffee in the COUNTY.

The Seattle Freeze meant I could focus on my work without having to be everyone’s best friend. It meant I wouldn’t have to endure advice about the BEST spots in town from people I barely knew. I couldn’t wait.

Contrary to what I was promised, strangers still try chatting with me. We’re talking EVERYONE, from tourists to homeless people to bikers to librarians to commuters to random dudes on the train. These assholes try to strike up conversation ALL THE TIME and I HATE IT.

Weirdly, when I TRY to make friends, no one’s interested. I felt this most strongly at my former church – every Sunday morning service, Bible study, or artist support group provided opportunities for stale conversation, forced smiles, and wandering eyes. I could understand if others were shy, but the ubiquity of these behaviors made no sense to me. Did NO ONE want to be my friend?

I’ve come to expect a certain distance in my Seattle relationships; in general, the people I know prefer quips to closeness. An “intimate” Seattle conversation consists of 10 minutes of small talk, 20 minutes spent discussing Seattle’s tech giants, and 30 minutes sharing complaints about rent prices. Best friends meet MAYBE once a month to attend a cultural event no one enjoys, such as the Seattle Symphony or sports trivia.

I had a hard time adjusting to this culture when I moved here. I’m still having a hard time. I remember being excited to meet fellow artists, theater lovers, and musicians. I thought for sure I’d find my people here.

I thought I’d meet more men here, too. I thought I was trading in blue collar boys and farm hands for slam poets and art freaks.

I underestimated the tech population.

Instead of artists, I’m surrounded by tech nerds and engineers.

In other words, I’m in hell.

City Life: Expectation vs. Reality

My view on city living has shifted significantly.

In college, I wanted so badly to move to a big city that I purchased a duvet that listed international locales. My senior year, I pasted a cutout of the New York skyline on my wall and inhaled books on city life. My friend Jeremy once showed me a stock photo of some skyscrapers; I immediately thought, “I’m going to live there some day.”

When I moved to Seattle, I never expected I’d hate it here. In two years, I’ve discovered I’m less of a city mouse and more what my friend Eddie calls a “town mouse.”

Which sucks.

I think of all the people who didn’t understand or support my move, who suggested I commute from my parents’ house, who promised ominously I could always return to Bremerton or Ellensburg if things didn’t work out. I think of the friends who told me I would hate city life even though they’d never experienced it themselves. I think of one former friend who insidiously inserted soliloquies about the superiority of small town living every time I brought up moving. Even though most of these people aren’t in my life anymore, I hate the thought of proving them right.

Leaving Seattle would feel like an admission of defeat. I would feel like I couldn’t hack it. The thought of moving makes me feel like I wasn’t strong enough to last.

But I’ve been miserable here. Something has to change.

I have an ideal image of city life born from mornings in friends’ breakfast nooks: I imagine waking up in a well-lit, spacious apartment I share with my partner. Every morning, I breakfast at my kitchen window. The view is nothing special – just a bunch of fire escapes – but I love it and lobbied hard for my partner to love it, too. I picture the day ahead of me: I can think of an event on every block. In this scenario, the business appeals to me; I love the bustle and creativity that comes when large groups of people intersect. Looking out the window, I feel so still.

It’s hard to let that dream go.

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