Leaving Seattle, amid pondering

Leaving Seattle

Famous 1971 billboard (via HistoryLink.org)

This is it, folks, my last at-bat for New To Seattle. After five years and nearly 300 postings, I’m moving on again, to what will be something like my 16th home in 45 years. My new place of habitual abode is in–drum roll, please–Las Vegas. It was family reasons that brought me the 1,100 miles from the Los Angeles area to Seattle, and family reasons that are bringing me the 1,100 miles from Seattle to Vegas.

I lived in Seattle only a half-decade, but boy have I seen change. Among other things, Seattle has become one giant construction zone. That’s due partly to an influx of population but also due to, I think, over-optimistic estimates about how long it will take for the Seattle boom will turn into a bubble (I think it already has) and then peter out into the inevitable bust (right around the corner, I predict).

From what I can tell, public officials and local business leaders are making long-term capital projections assuming that the extraordinarily elevated levels of current growth will continue to rise rather than using the historic, much lower growth rate and adding a little. I saw this kind of flawed thinking happen in other metro areas I have lived in over the decades, including Houston, New York and Los Angeles.

Over time, of course, things bounce back, as evidenced in the adjoining photo of the famous billboard that went up in 1971 after Boeing, the Seattle area’s biggest employer, reduced its workforce by a stunning 60,000 jobs in just four years. Since then, Seattle economically has done OK.

But the powers-that-be now are assuming there will be no counter-reaction to the skyrocketing cost of living and taxes (including the nation’s highest big-city sales tax rate) all this growth is entailing. Or that nothing very bad will happen. Like, say, a new volcanic eruption of relatively nearby Mount Rainier, “the most dangerous mountain in the United States.” Or a catastrophic earthquake in Seattle, the prediction of which just won The New Yorker magazine a Pulitzer Prize.

When I arrived in Seattle in 2011, residents hereabouts still debated whether there was such a thing as the Seattle Freeze, the notion that Seattleites aren’t all that friendly to newcomers. In my view the Seattle Freeze is quite real and has been around for a long time (I found one veiled reference to it in a 1941 book). Long-time visitors will recall I frequently wrote about the concept (just enter the term into the adjoining search box and hit enter).

Why not so much recently? It’s become accepted as fact, not opinion, by such esteemed organs of local public opinion as The Seattle Times and now has its own Wikipedia entry. Piling on, perhaps, some out-of-town publications have put Seattle on lists of America’s snobbiest cities.

Seattle certainly has its positive attributes. No state income tax. Lots to do. Beautiful scenery. A thriving cultural scene. Terrific restaurants. Modest violent crime for a big city. Interesting public art, and plenty of it (including a statue of Lenin). The Seattle Seahawks. A huge local soccer scene (I know that isn’t everyone’s cup of frappuccino, but hey, I have refereed youth soccer for a long time and wrote a novel about it.). A lack of mosquitoes. A surprisingly mild climate for so northern a city (even if the locals are a tad defensive about the rainy weather, a newly crowned Miss Seattle bitched about it, and other tourist venues needled Seattle about the lack of sun.)

There is also an enduring quirkiness. More dogs than children (by a 3-to-2 ratio) Dogs allowed to ride public buses. Enthusiastic TV weather forecasts of brief sun breaks. Car washes that remain open in the rain. An utter disdain for umbrellas and raincoats. The coffee culture. A counter-culture neighborhood named after a war criminal. And, of course, legal pot.

Clearly, Seattle has come a long way since its omission from the U.S. map on Saul Steinberg’s famous 1976 cover for The New Yorker, “View of the World From 9th Avenue.”

But this all competes with bad drivers, careless pedestrians, dreadful signage, dodgy charities (too numerous to link here, but click on the nearby category cloud box for “Seattle charities”), a local landscape prone to calamity and that great creator of local heartbreak, the Seattle Mariners.

Seattle politics today are overwhelming liberal, and I find touching and sincere the expressed concerns by public officials about the homeless population. But I do think this gilds the lily of Seattle’s earlier outrageous history toward the disadvantaged. Gringos arriving from Illinois in the 1850s chased away Chief Seattle and the other indigenous Indians, although without most of the bloodshed found elsewhere in the country. (City fathers have sort of tried to blame the racial clearing on Christopher Columbus.)

For most of its history under gringo rule, Seattle was one of the most segregated, racist cities in the North. It continues to be one of the country’s whitest big cities.

In case you wonder (or even hope), in leaving Seattle I’m not exiting the blogging game. I obtained the domain name NewToLasVegas.com . It is up now. I hope you’ll follow along. I intend to keep NewToSeattle.com running for awhile. Its archive–especially my numerous commentaries on dodgy charities that solicit nationally–draws a lot of traffic. I’ll continue to respond to comments.

OK, I’m out.

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Leaving Seattle, amid pondering — 8 Comments

  1. Just found your blog while checking on the US Armed Forces Association after being asked for a donation . I’ve decided not to contribute, even though my two oldest sons served 25+ years in three branches of the military. It will be better for me to work for and contribute to Operation Home Front and the Wounded Warriors group.
    RE: your Seattle comments: I was born in West Seattle during WW 2 and have seen tremendous changes there, although every time I’m downtown I see another hole in the ground, which is sad. No one is putting up buildings similar to the older ones, with walruses, shells, etc. and the tall clock that stood on 3rd. Ave. downtown for many years (75 ?) is now gone. I’m sure you know what the new buildings are compared to — I’m not going to say it online! Anyway ,I hope Las Vegas becomes a good place for you.

  2. Well, we “followed” you to Seattle and will now follow you to Las Vegas (which I will count as one of the rare benefits of communication technology). One could argue that geography is irrelevant to those of us who stay in touch primarily in the virtual world, but we’ll still indulge ourselves in a little melancholy, Bill. We picture you in Seattle muck and drear, and reflected in those infrequent, crystalline, sparkling days on the Sound, and (affectionately) enjoy your poking holes in the carefully woven fabric of pretense that Seattle wraps itself in. You have your work cut out for you, Mr. Barrett, finding irony in a city that so shamelessly wears its failings proudly on it’s sleeve.
    You’re the man for the job, though: best wishes for the happiest of landings.

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