Westbound: Four Weeks In

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.

quietly down to dusk

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.


About Laura Anne Gilman

Laura Anne is a recovering editor-turned-novelist, with an Endeavor Award, a Nebula nomination, another Endeavor award nomination and a Washington State Book Award nomination under her belt. Her most recent series is the award-winning "Devil's West" trilogy, starting with SILVER ON THE ROAD, and her same-universe story collection, WEST WINDS' FOOL, AND OTHER STORIES OF THE DEVIL'S WEST. The novella GABRIEL'S ROAD was published by Book View Cafe on April 30th, 2019. Her Patreon, featuring original fiction, writing advice, and original Rants, is at https://www.patreon.com/LAGilman Learn more at www.lauraannegilman.net, where you can sign up for her quarterly newsletter.


Westbound: Four Weeks In — 17 Comments

  1. Here in Oakland, I also wake up thinking, “Oh, my God, it’s already 10 AM on the East Coast.” But when I lived in DC, I felt the luxury of being the early part of the nation, probably because I moved there from Texas. On the East Coast, many of the things that start at 9 AM start at 8 AM if you’re on Central Time.

    And I’m having the opposite city population effect. Austin is a big city (the fastest growing one in the country), but while it’s much larger than Oakland, it’s much smaller than the Bay Area. There’s not NYC-level pedestrian traffic at all hours around here, but there are way more people walking places here than ever do that in Austin.

    Enjoy Seattle. It really is a wonderful place.

  2. I have lived in San Francisco for over ten years, and still I miss the density of people, which brews a kind of energy I find deeply nourishing. And my speed setting, as a pedestrian, is significantly higher than most of my fellow citizens.

    That said, there’s much to be thankful for here. I have a lemon tree! And neighborhoods full of interesting stuff. And I can eventually get anywhere on public transportation, sometimes with a show (oh, MUNI, you are filled with weirdness).

    • And my speed setting, as a pedestrian, is significantly higher than most of my fellow citizens.

      Oh dear dog, yes, this. I forget sometimes that New Yorkers apparently walk faster than any other humans on the continent?

        • We’re busy people! We’ve got THINGS to do! People to yell at! 😀 Even our otherwise-ambulatory NYCers move faster than everyone else, I swear.

          More seriously, I’ve had to adjust my explanation of how far away things are, because “it takes about ten-fifteen minutes walking” doesn’t mean the same thing to my new neighbors as it does to me…

  3. Fun to see your impressions. As a 4th-generation Northwesterner, I can tell you that any leather jacket just isn’t going to cut it here for most seasons! Break out the GoreTex and get used to the rain. 😉

  4. I just moved up to Seattle from Long Beach (before that I lived in the Bay Area all my life) and I’m still getting used to it. Really cold temperatures (and rain!) still startle me, although you’re likely used to that. 🙂

    Pike Place Market is pretty awesome, and there’s a great bakery across the street that has espresso brownies to die for. I always forget the name of it (The Three Sisters?) but if you’re there by the market, there’s a short street that runs right up to the main entrance, facing where the big bronze pig is. Stand on the street (it’s a right-angle bend, IIRC) and look to the right, down that arm of the street there, and on the right-hand side of that street, walk down just a bit, keeping an eye out to the shops and such on the right hand side. The bakery has a display window on the sidewalk, then you walk right around a corner of their shop (there’s one of those open-access shopping center-places there) and there’s a window where you order. Definitely worth finding. 😀

    I don’t get there very often, unfortunately. (Or maybe fortunately. [glances at waistline] ) I’m in West Seattle. If you go to the waterfront behind Pike Place market and look across and a bit to the south, to what looks like an island, that’s West Seattle. I’m over there, about a mile south [waves] across from Westwood Village. There’s a place there called Eats Market Cafe that has these wonderful burgers with bleu cheese and candied bacon. I don’t eat those very often either, but they’re great. 🙂


      • Hah! on the rain/snow.

        I actually scouted out Seattle pretty thoroughly in previous visits, and West Seattle is nice – but my twinling lives northeast of the city and warned me she’d NEVER come to visit if she had to deal with the bridge traffic out there….

        • OMG the bridge! O_O Shortly after we moved here here, a couple days before Thanksgiving, Nature decided to dump two or three years’ worth of snow on Seattle in one afternoon. My husband worked downtown and took the bus home. His boss sent everyone home at around two, and it still took him over nine HOURS to get home. There were abandoned cars all over the place, some drivers abandoned their busses, other busses ran out of fuel because they were stuck in traffic so long, and had to be abandoned because no one could get to them with gas. Then the West Seattle Bridge iced over and was closed to traffic. Some people on Jim’s bus who lived near to the other end got off there and hiked across and home, but we live quite a ways south of there and Jim had neither clothes nor shoes to walk, so he stayed on. The bus had to go down to the 14th Street Bridge and then try to loop back, which of course meant hours more in traffic. It was horrific.

          It’s not usually anywhere near that bad, though. 🙂


  5. The time thing is interesting. I used to work with one office in California and one in C Asia (obviously much further ahead than the UK). We adjusted. I like the sense of having enough time when dealing with the US: I can send emails at 10 pm and know that we’re still in America’s business day.

    • I really do miss being able to drop something in my editor or client’s in-box before they’ve finished their morning coffee. And no, having the night work after they’ve gone to bed doesn’t have the same satisfaction, because then I’m chasing it rather than leading.

      But so it goes. Time is such an artificial construct of our own making, and yet it shapes us and dances us to its tune….