by Laura Anne Gilman
I’ve been in the Pacific Northwest – particularly Seattle, or the Specific Northwest, as a friend once called it – for a month now. (all right, five weeks, I was slow in posting this). I’ve learned where the local supermarkets are, the pet supply store, the drug stores, and the basic bus routes I need to get to friends’ homes. I’ve made some friends in the building, and learned the noise habits of my neighbors. And I’ve gotten my writing space set up, at least for the moment.
In other words, the first tendrils have made their way into the ground, and found the ground receptive.
It hasn’t all been easy, though.
My original worry had been time. I’ve spent my entire life on the East Coast, and even there I woke up thinking “all right, Europe’s already awake and moving, get on with it!” So how would I react now being an additional three hours behind that? Would the feeling of being behind before I even woke up stress me out?
…A little, yeah. But it’s about the same level it was in New York, so I suspect it’s a generalized worry that I’d feel no matter where I lived. I guess that’s a relief? ;-/
What’s thrown me the most, though, are more external and – no surprise – completely out of my control.
The first was a shock. I went downtown to get my library card (because that’s what everyone does their first week in a new place, right?) and was walking at mid-day, right around lunch hour, thinking “where is everyone? Is today a holiday I forgot about?” There were people there, of course, running to grab lunch, do errands, etc, same as in any city. But the relative density of people was far less than what I’m used to, even in the quieter parts of NYC. And when you compare it to a regular workday in Manhattan, with the locals, the office workers, the tourists…
I knew Seattle was a smaller city in terms of size. I’d forgotten that it’s much smaller in daily population as well. And it may sound strange, especially to those of you who live in smaller cities or towns, but that lack of density is…disturbing. I don’t like focused crowds, but I like busy places, the hum and energy they create.
I’ve found my solace in walking over to Pike Place Market every week. There, although the hum of energy is different, it’s similar enough to soothe my nerves, and helps me keep my walking-in-crowds skills intact.
The other thing is one I’d been warned about – road traffic. I’ve learned why pedestrians in Seattle don’t cross against the light – because Seattle drivers seem to take the first three seconds of the red light as a personal challenge. Not all of them, no, but enough to keep you wary. I’m used to a city where stepping off the curb when waiting for the light to change is SOP and crossing against the light is an art and a science, where experienced drivers acknowledge skillful pedestrians with as much respect as annoyance and hand gestures. This dividing line between pedestrians and drivers, where ne’er the twain shall acknowledge each other, makes me twitch.
I haven’t actually driven in the city yet, waiting until I’m more familiar with the streets. I’ll report back on the differences in that, then. Ditto when I get on my bike.
(Cyclists fall into two categories: assholes who think they don’t have to obey traffic signals, and legit co-users of the road. You may guess where I fall)
Also: curbside hailing of taxis seems to be much less popular. I didn’t use cabs very often in NYC (the subway would get me most places faster) but they were always there, at the lift of a hand, all the immediately-recognizable yellow (or pale green) of a city medallion. Here, they’re not so easy to spot, and most are call-dispatched, not hailed.
There are things I seem to have taken to quite easily, though. The sense of writing community out here, which I’m just dipping my toe into – so very different from NYC’s publishing culture. Cloudy days, for another. I appreciate the hell out of the clear blue sky and sun (and we just had a gorgeous run of that for the year’s end festivities), but when I wake up and can see eleventy different shades of blue-grey out my window? That’s gorgeous, too. I pop my vitamin D supplement, and listen to the gulls crying in the mist, and think “yeah, this doesn’t suck…”
And the sunsets are gorgeous.
But I say it here and now: if I ever trade in my beloved waterproofed leather jacket for GoreTex, it’s time to stage an intervention and book me on the next flight back to NYC.