The other day, Josh described Seattle drivers perfectly. He said that in normal cities, people tend to approach driving as a kind of stratagem. We have our Point A, we have our Point B, and we have a definite plan on how to get from one to the other, a plan that includes factors such as lights, construction, and traffic. Driving is a focused exercise in many cities, one requiring attention and reflexes and skill.
In Seattle, though, there is no strategy. At least none that I can see. Or Josh, and he’s lived in the Pacific Northwest for something like 20 years. In Seattle, people still have a Point A and a Point B, but no specific plan on how to get from one to the other outside of “I’m gonna go there in my car.” Seattle drivers are mostly vacant and totally guileless. They don’t know what defensive driving is because to them, there’s nothing to defend against. They pay no attention to other cars, signs that lanes are ending, or basic rules regarding passing, turn signals, or the fact that people typically drive on roadways. Driving to and from work every day feels like an endurance trial, because at least – at least! – three times per way every day, I’m forced to swerve out of the way of someone who has decided to merge with no concern for me in my physical object next to them, someone who has blithely ignored the “MERGE NOW, LANE ENDS” signs posted for the past ½ mile, or someone who has decided for no reason other than they don’t feel like driving anymore to just stop. Sometimes in the middle of a freeway. I have never been a more defensive driver than I must be in order to survive in Seattle, and this is coming from someone who once lived in Southern California.
I try listening to music during my commute, but KEXP isn’t as great as everyone says it is and also my car doesn’t have an AV jack. Yes I know, there are these things I can buy that plug into the cigarette lighter and you know what? Those things suck. The only good one I ever had was a cassette tape thingy that went into the tape deck of my Lumina. All this technology and we can’t make a decent iPod adapter.
This means I carry CDs in my car, and that probably twice a week, I make mixes to drive to. I have to do it this way; listening to the same songs for more than a few days makes me feel crazy enough, but when I’m stuck in the daily traffic-idiot maelstrom, they make me want to murder myself. So I’ve started burning podcast episodes to CDs, and my latest one is Welcome to Night Vale.
Do you know Welcome to Night Vale? I’d been hearing about it on Tumblr for about a month or so but never bothered to start listening until recently. It’s great. It’s a community radio broadcast in the fictional (or is it?) desert town of Night Vale, “…where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful and mysterious lights pass over us while we all pretend to sleep.”
The broadcast itself is written as a sort of hybrid of Lovecraft, the X-Files, and Twin Peaks, and if no one knew any better or this was released on the radio several decades ago, would be the kind of thing that inspired nationwide panic like “The War of the Worlds.” It’s so inventive and dark and weird and morbidly funny, and in true Internet style, its fandom has been drawing maps of the Forbidden Dog Park and sketching out compulsory scouting insignias (just…listen, it will make sense then). Cecil Baldwin is the narrator/public radio announcer, and his “sweet, sonorous voice” is a perfect sort of lull to when I’m inching across the Aurora Bridge every morning, wishing everyone around me a slow death by hooded figure or glow cloud (again, just listen).
The first literary genre I ever really loved was horror, and although I don’t read it frequently anymore, I always end up rediscovering something every few years or so, and Welcome to Night Vale is a new little itch to scratch.