While stumbling through life at the cringe-worthy age that is female adolescence, I used to parade around the house proudly in an oversized, second-hand Stanford University sweatshirt. It was white (or, as white as second-hand and worn regularly by an 11-year-old can be) with an evergreen tree and the mascot red cardinal, if I do recall. My mother bought me two of my favorite sweatshirts at that age – one said YALE, the other STANFORD. Yet when push came to shove my mother mostly campaigned for me to attend Shoreline Community College. I am still working that all out in my head, but I think what it mostly boils down to is that Stanford University sweatshirts and Shoreline Community College tuition are about the same price.
Back to the sweatshirt. In conjunction with my parading, I swore – SWORE – that I was moving to California THE. DAY. I. TURNED. EIGHTEEN. PERIOD. I was a passionate pre-teen who also spent the days immediately following rural summer camp circling livestock classified ads, pleading with my parents that our urban backyard could totally support a horse.
The stable-in-the-city ambition died a fairly swift death, but I was all California, all the time for YEARS. You see, I watched A LOT of Beverly Hills, 90210 and thought that palm trees and beach cabanas were Where It’s At. Seattle didn’t have cabanas, or Stanford, or Dylan McKay. California was my destiny.
No one ever explained to me the subtle differences between the Bay Area and Beverly Hills – that one was known for nerds and one for narcissists. Perhaps my precocious, smarty pants sweatshirt-wearing self was a little bit of both.
Well, I never moved to California. Fast-forward six years later and I was applying and accepted to the state university 20 minutes from my parents’ house, and nowhere else. Fast-forward four years after that and I came thisclose to moving to Hawaii, which was the early 20s love affair equivalent to my 12-year-old intoxication with all things Beverly Hills. I mean, I came really, really close to moving to Hawaii. Sold my car, quit my job, emailed the moving announcement to everyone I knew, CLOSE. People got me sunscreen and ‘So you want to live in Hawaii?’ books for Christmas. I’m not kidding.
I’m 30 now and somehow, all the palm trees and convertibles in the world have never quite been able to lure me away from my seductively soggy city. So what is it about Seattle that has made me what I am increasingly coming to realize is quite the minority – a third generation Seattle native who’s never lived anywhere else?
Well for starters, I am blessed to have all of my family here. My husband’s family, too. And I don’t feel the need to spend as many hours baking in the sun as I did at age 12 or 22. And I actually drink coffee on a regular basis now, so I have found somewhere to spend my money on every corner. Beat that!
Seriously though, I’ve been struck recently by how rare it is to meet people my age who have lived in Seattle their whole life. This has become especially apparent in the new mom world. Throughout my pregnancy prep classes, my PEPS group and local mom Facebook groups, it is truly a rare occurrence to meet another mom (or dad) who was born and raised here and has never left. Seattle is increasingly a city of transplants – a melting pot of burned out New Yorkers, snowed out Midwesterners, techies from San Francisco and hipsters from Austin. Some come for jobs (we do have Amazon, Microsoft and Starbucks to name a few…), some for the culture (it’s a great place to write, research, be outdoorsy or dive into your dearest political cause), and some for reasons unbeknownst to me. But they keep on comin’.
I think I valued Seattle the least when I hadn’t really been anywhere else. I didn’t travel beyond the three West Coast states until my early twenties. Between ages 20 and 30, largely due to traveling with my husband for the small business we own, I’ve boosted my “states seen” roster to about 25. Not bad for a sheltered West Coast girl.
Here are some of the things I now know to be true about Seattle, now that I know what I’m missing in much of the rest of the country…
1. THE AIR
The air truly is not crisper, cleaner or fresher anywhere else in the country. Except probably Alaska. But seriously, I am NEVER moving to Alaska. I always savor those first deep breaths of Seattle air waiting outside for the shuttle bus after coming home on a flight. I’ve been a lot of places and there really is nothing like coming home to that air.
2. THE NEIGHBORHOODS
No other city I’ve experienced has such a rich, diverse and welcoming mosaic of neighborhoods. I am convinced there is a pocket of this city tailor made to suit just about anyone’s tastes. From the rowdy bars and funky fashion of Capitol Hill, to the patchwork of parks covering Magnolia; from the sunny stretches of California-esque Alki Beach to the Craftsmans and coffee houses of quaint Queen Anne – Seattle’s got it covered.
3. THE FOOD
We do not mess around when it comes to our food. What did Virginia Woolf say? “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” Mine has been quite the era in which to grow up here, and witness our food scene explode. I was educated on truly good food at a young age, working at a landmark Seattle fine dining restaurant from my mid-teens to early twenties. It was there I learned about wild salmon, tried my first of many crab cakes, learned about the art of cheese, and developed an appreciation for wine. I’ve spent many a lazy afternoon wandering one of our many farmers markets, have eaten at bakeries that transport me to a hybrid of Heaven and Paris, and shopped at grocery stores more beautiful than my house. We love our food and our food loves us.
4. THE PEOPLE
Our people are passionate AND polite. One of the most literate and liberal cities in the country, our residents may read you (no pun intended…) the riot act for voting Republican or failing to recycle, but chances are they’ll follow it up with a smile and invitation to sushi. Though I’ve heard it can be hard to break into Seattle’s dating scene, most out-of-towners I’ve talked to remark on how NICE people are here – whether it’s the guy who made your coffee, the valet who parked your car, or the neighbor who lent you a cup of sugar (the last two places I’ve lived I really have been blessed with neighbors who have come through for me in a baking pinch – it’s a priceless trait).
5. THE WEATHER
There, I said it. The older and wiser I get, I actually appreciate our weather. Between the low sun ratio and high education ratio, I’m willing to bet our city has one of the lower rates of both skin and lung cancer. By the end of winter I AM itching for a week in Hawaii, but other than that our weather is pretty darn tolerable. It almost never gets REALLY hot or REALLY cold. The rest just depends on how creative you are with your fashion choices and indoor activities.
6. THE BEAUTY
This is the blue, green and city-lights-sparkly icing on the cake, you guys. Puget Sound, the FERRIES, Lake Washington, Lake Union, The Olympics, The Cascades, The Locks, Green Lake, Alki Beach, Golden Gardens, Kerry Park. NO WHERE else I’ve been has a laundry list of scenic selling points like that.
And that’s my list. It took me 30 years and two almost-moves to make it, but there it is. For the foreseeable future, anyway, I think it’s safe to say you’re stuck with me, Seattle. It’s pretty cool to be raising my son here. Maybe he’ll go to the same Ballard elementary school as me and my grandma, or touch the mermaid tile I made in 4th grade, still embedded in the sidewalk at Golden Gardens Park. Maybe he’ll be a Husky, too, or one day get engaged on the dock at Green Lake like his dad and I did. I’m realizing the fact that all of these things are even possibilities is a pretty cool legacy that I’m passing on to him. I’m lucky to have gotten to know this one place so well.