When I first visited Seattle, I was overwhelmed at how nice everyone seemed. Really, I was! I even found the entry where I wrote about how people were so polite and quiet and completely unlike my own city, where getting stared down by a stranger meant they were either going to fuck you or fight you. It was a nice change of pace is what I’m saying.
Since I’ve moved to Seattle, I realize that what I thought was niceness isn’t really. It’s not mean, either, but it is a sort of pathological reserve. At first I found it alarming, and I felt myself yanking on my mental leash whenever I thought about saying something to a stranger. It’d only spook them, see, and talking to strangers is just not what Seattle does. Want to spot a tourist in Seattle? Okay, who’s a) holding an umbrella and b) asking for directions? Seattleites don’t do either one of those things. We would rather squat, miserable and Lovecraftian in the rain, and get on the wrong bus to the wrong neighborhood than ever address another person.
Which is…kind of nice? I have a hard time explaining this to my Midwestern friends, but I’m not kidding – once you realize that the pressure to conduct small talk with someone you don’t really care about is lifted, that is when you feel truly free.
There is one thing that bothers me about Seattleites, though, and I think it’s related to this pathological reserve. It’s reserved to the point of being completely unaware of one’s surroundings or the fact that in most cities this kind of thing can get you hurt, and while I don’t think the base motivation for it is aggression or rudeness, it still comes across as aggressive and rude. And I do not react well to aggressive or rude.
When walking down the sidewalk, especially in groups of two or more, and upon encountering someone else walking in the opposite direction, Seattleites do not move the fuck over. They don’t move over! They don’t even shrink up a little bit, or drop to single-file for just a second! They just keep on walking the way they are – I have literally had people stroll on by while I’m forced to walk in the street because they are completely fucking unaware that it is not socially acceptable to walk three abreast in a city where other people exist.
When I first moved here, I’m step to the side. Then I started stepping to the side but with an exaggerated sort of show of how inconvenient it was (I was clearly practicing my Seattle passive-aggression during this time). For the past year or so, though, I’ve kind of thought “fuck it” and just started shoulder-checking motherfuckers.
The most recent time I shoulder-checked a motherfucker was a couple of weeks ago. I’d tried to go to the 12:30pm matinee of Jurassic World at the neighborhood triplex, but when I got there the line was halfway around the block. So I decided to walk a couple of miles to the weed store to see about their new breath strips (just like Listerine but containing 10mg of THC, yay Washington!), and then back again to buy a ticket for the 3:30pm show, pick up a secondhand book across the street, and kill the next couple of hours reading it in the craft beer bar next door.
(It occurs to me now that Me From Four Years Ago would have hated Present Day Me and called her an insufferable hipster; to which I say, “hey, fair point.”)
ANYWAY, at some point between the theater and the weed store, I encountered a group of three people walking towards me on the sidewalk. It’s a regular-sized sidewalk and I was on the very edge of my side, and of course, because this is Seattle, the person closest to me didn’t bother moving over or even acknowledging that I was there (which of course lead me to wonder if I had died and was a ghost, which happens more often than it should, honestly). Instead of falling over into the street like I would have done in the beginning, I lowered my shoulder and really took that lady out.
I’ve mentioned before that I have the kinds of shoulders that could carry water to a Russian village (as Isabel says, “dem collarbones tho!”). They’re not narrow. They’re pretty strong. My clavicles are like crowbars. And I was tired of being pushed around. So I lowered my shoulder and braced for impact, and I almost knocked that idiot right over.
“WHAT TH—” she sputtered.
I looked back.
“Next time I’ll knock you all the way down,” I said, which I still think was very helpful.
Then I went and drank beer myself and watched a very emotive Spanish man in the bar basically French kiss a dog, so at least the balance of aggression was partially restored.