…and they’re taking the aquavit

Commentary on the “Seattle Freeze” has come up again recently – we even brought it up in church. The whole, ‘you know you’re a seattlite when…” and, conversely, “what is *up* with seattle?” It’s so hard to get people to gather, to commit, to do.. anything! Well, perhaps.

I can’t say I’m a true blue Seattle ‘native’, but I grew up nearby, then went to school just far enough north to not have to come home often. I’ve spent a fair amount of time away from the city, but have been back for ten years. I can’t explain the way we are because, until I heard others talking about how difficult it was to get to know people, I didn’t really think about it. I’m aware of friends and family who have relatively small community circles, but that’s just how they are. Perhaps that’s a Seattle trademark, maybe it’s just a personality trait.

Seattle culture is an indoor culture – coffeeshops, pubs, music venues, theatres, gyms. We don’t readily talk to people on the street. It’s kind of weird to stand out in the cold/wind/rain and chat for any length of time. People tend to get involved with groups based on interests and activities, then burrow into their community. For whatever reason, it’s uncommon for people to have much free time. Outdoorsy people go do outdoorsy things on the weekends when they’re not working. Artsy people do artsy things. Regardless, we always feel the need to be doing something for our good or the greater good.

I know this is a far different city than the Seattle my mother was raised in some years ago. And some of the change is good. Every city needs new people coming in or passing through, our communities are better off because of it. But Seattle has had some pretty major influxes in recent decades. Consider our boom/bust economy with major employers that do well and then suddenly stop doing well, and either go away or come back again (Boeing, dot-coms, Microsoft, Washington Mutual). Perhaps that’s what I would pinpoint in our defense: this city and area is *always* changing. Some 50+ years ago you could describe Seattle as a sleepy port/fishing town of Scandinavian heritage (and Ballard was that way up until about ten years ago). But in recent decades we’ve seen – in part or in full – the Northwest way of life commodified, exploited, clear cut, drained, sold, paved, and mocked. Perhaps we ‘natives’ are a bit wary of newcomers.

Have you seen Northwest art and architecture, especially from the 40s, 50s and 60s? It’s good stuff. Did you know that in the Central District the Black Panthers were active in the 60s? Or that when one of the mainline churches decided not to host Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., another church quickly picked him up? Pioneer Square used to be a jazz hotspot, but the last remnant, Buzz records closed, and people avoid it like they avoid other homeless camps. We can’t quite seem to figure out who can or can’t live in this city. Like when Chinese workers were shipped back to San Francisco.

Just curious, how many locals have you met? More often than not, I find that I’m among the few people in a room who has any claim as a Seattle ‘native’, which makes me wonder, who’s perpetuating the Seattle “freeze”? If there are so many transplants in the area, why are seattlites getting blamed for a way of being that isn’t necessarily true to the people of this area? Then again…perhaps we’re all transplants.

– k. daley mosier