Witless in Seattle

It started way back in 1993 when movie actor Tom Hanks played a grieving widower who found it hard to get some shut-eye while living on a Lake Union floating home until he met Meg Ryan. “Sleepless in Seattle” became a national catchphrase, doing as much to keep the U.S.’s northernmost major city in the public consciousness as the Space Needle or the TV shows “Frasier” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”

You still see everywhere plenty of references to “Sleepless”–or, more often, silly plays or puns on it. Frankly, headline writers just can’t give it up. From this year alone: “Sleepless in St. Louis” appeared over a newspaper medical advice column in Missouri about insomnia. “Sleepless in Beirut” led a story about that violence-plagued city’s surprisingly active night life. “Sleepless in Shuttle” was a London newspaper’s grammatically challenged effort to caption an item about a malfunctioning alarm clock in outer space.

Thanks to the often-hapless athletic teams in Seattle–which Forbes recently declared the country’s “most miserable sports city“–visiting scribes who think they are being original are fond of writing about “sleepless” local fans.

Brutal candor requires that I plead guilty as a serial offender. My Forbes story two years ago about the merry swindlers of Washington State’s second-largest city carried the print headline “Sleepless in Spokane.” (The more blunt title over the identical online version: “Fraud: Scam Capital of America.”) And after I became New To Seattle this summer, one of my earlier posts about the poor street signage hereabouts was entitled “Signless in Seattle.” Then, of course, there is the headline over this post.

Still, in my judgment, nowhere has the popular Nora Ephron-directed movie resonated more loudly in commerce, culture and the subconscious than in the environs of Seattle itself.

Earlier today, I heard yet another radio commercial for a gutter-protection company that uses the trade name Leafless in Seattle. There’s a local business called Dripless in Seattle Superior Paint & Remodeling. A gluten-free bakery in the Greenwood neighborhood is Wheatless In Seattle.

A Renton tanning salon goes by Sunless In Seattle. Dog breeder Seattle Labradoodles brags that what it produces is “shedless in Seattle.” A Bellevue home cleaning firm is Spotless in Seattle.

The name of one medical marijuana dispensary says it all: Painless In Seattle.

A few years ago, local author Carylton Cooper published a diet book entitled Carb-less In Seattle. Apparently, a lot of copies were sold.

I hear it all the time in casual conversation. “We’re not rainless in Seattle like this very often,” a soccer coach whose youth team’s match I refereed on a bright, sunny day last weekend said after I mentioned my recent relocation. Assorted civic and business leaders have been described in my presence as “clueless in Seattle.” At least twice I’ve been told specifically that folks in City Hall are “brainless in Seattle.”

I just Googled these last two phrases and got a whopping 101,000 hits. So to me, the essence of Seattle’s civic persona is clear: Less is more.

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