Welcome to Seattle, Young Man
A recent visit to Seattle reminded me of my arrival at the city decades ago. I hope the city gives more recent arrivals all the wonderful things it brought me.
Dear Seattle Newcomer:
I saw you on my recent trip back to Seattle. I was arriving at the new Capitol Hill metro station, and you were just emerging up from the escalator, stepping out into the daylight, enjoying the sunlight on your face.
You were young, in your mid-20s, tanned and a bit scruffy, slender, but carrying your heavy backpack with ease.
You looked around, and I thought about asking if you needed directions. But no, I saw from your face that you weren’t lost — just excited to have arrived in Seattle, probably for your very first time.
First things first: don’t get used to that sunlight on your face. Sunny winter days like this one are pretty rare in Seattle!
But as for the city itself, I really hope you enjoy it as much as I did. And who knows? Maybe the city will change you as much as it did me.
I can’t say for sure, because your Seattle is definitely not my Seattle.
I first arrived in Seattle in 1989. All those shiny skyscrapers to the west of us? They’re mostly new, along with the hip cafes and coffees shops filling Pike and Pine streets, and even the light rail station you just stepped out of.
But don’t worry: I'm not here to harangue you about how much better my Seattle is than your Seattle. That fact is, Seattle had changed a lot by the time I arrived too — and so many people told me how much better it had been “before.” I hated that kind of talk then, and I still hate it now.
When I arrived in Seattle, I was about your age, and I had $1500 to my name — which is about what you look like you have. I’d packed everything I owned in my car, just like it looks like you have everything you own in that backpack. A friend had offered me his basement to live in for a month.
The basement was dark and musty, but I didn’t care. Back then, I would’ve put up with almost anything to make my way in the world.
I wanted a lot of things from Seattle: to become a writer, to live in a city that had long beckoned me, and — yeah, I’ll admit it — to fall desperately and hopelessly in love.
More than anything, I wanted an unconventional life as far as possible from the boring suburbs of Denver where I’d grown up. A life my parents told me over and over was neither possible nor smart.
I didn’t care. I knew what I wanted.
Nonetheless, life in Seattle took some adjusting.
The Pacific Northwest’s grey skies and dank weather couldn’t have been more different from Colorado’s three hundred days of sunshine.
But I ended up loving it. All that gloom made me feel like I lived at the end of the world, in the best possible way.
Back in Colorado, I grew up eating things like meatloaf and Ragu sauce on spaghetti — definitely not “pasta.” But I quickly discovered Seattle’s fantastic Asian food — everywhere, not just in the International District. Pad see ew and tofu with black bean sauce quickly become my meat and potatoes.
I found a room to rent in a rundown house with along with four roommates. It wasn’t much better than the basement where I lived that first month, but it also had a million-dollar view of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains.
Although these days, it would be more like a five-million-dollar view.
That view made the city feel massive, like I really did live at the end of the world — and it made me feel alive with endless possibility.
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