The Seattle Spirit

I have arrived in the US and though my first meeting with Americans was the unpleasantness of the land border crossing from Vancouver to Seattle, my general impression is that Americans share the hospitality of their Northern neighbours.

Seattle is most commonly known to be the home of McDreamy, Starbucks (463 in greater Seattle metropolitan area) and a celebrated 90’s chick-flick starring Ryan and Hanks. But it is also home to 1700 homeless people on any given night. Downtown Seattle which in the daytime is jam-packed with American and Asian tourists becomes a ghost town by night time, where the corners fills with homeless men and women.

A truck stops.

On the side it reads ‘Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission – Men’s Shelter – Search and Rescue Van’.

Two people get out and turns to the elderly homeless woman at pier 58.

They talk to her, bring her food, water and supplies.

In the van sits other homeless who have been picked up.

They look so tired.

While bringing supplies to the homeless woman, the driver of the van tells me that it is a privately funded organisation and that they drive out voluntarily 3 times a week. My shock that so many homeless people rely on the share goodness and charity of their next is mixed with a profound respect for the people who voluntarily three times a week leave the comfort of their own homes and families in order to provide a little bit of comfort and conversation to those unfortunate creatures of the street.

Quirky Seattle history

Seattle has surprised me a lot. As Vancouver, Seattle can boast of a quirky and fascinating history based on clever individuals, unfortunate events and dirty secrets. The first white settlers arrived in the Seattle area in 1851. One of the main reasons that pioneers who crossed the Oregon trail to the West, ended up in the later state of Washington and city of Seattle was, according to the guide at the Underground Tour, that the federal government feared that the English would claim the area for themselves. This is particularly funny after having been told by the guide in Vancouver how fortunate it was that that city got the railway or it and the rest of British Columbia would most likely have been American today. I trust the border drawing turned out to everyone’s satisfaction in the end.

But the first decades of Seattle’s existence were filled with stupid decisions and negligence of the problems it was to build a city in the middle of a swamp. The worry was to construct the city rather than to consider sanitary issues as well as the continuous surprise of the tidal waters. But as our comedian guide at the Underground Tour said, it was these early years that laid the foundation of what has later been known as the Seattle spirit.

Seattle Spirit: Even though you realise your decision is monumentally stupid, you stick with it

However, the citizens of Seattle have also proven to be rather clever at times. In the 1887 occupational survey of Seattle, it came to the notice of some that there seemed to be quite a few seamstresses in the city. Within a 6 block stretch around Occidental Street and the entertainment district, 2500 seamstresses worked. This was as an old amused man remarked especially astonishing as only two sewing machines existed in all of Seattle. Immediately afterwards, the city of Seattle decided to introduce an entertainment tax of 10 % on saloons, bars and off course seamstresses. Until the end 1890’s this tax stood for 85 % of the city’s revenues.

Another clever idea of the citizens of Seattle was in relations to the gold rush of 1897. Though no gold has ever been discovered in the state of Washington, Seattle became central in the turn of the century gold rush. The gold rush was based on findings in Alaska and Yukon and Seattle so happened to be the last American ‘outpost’ before the goldmines. And Seattle decided to take advantage of that by mining the miners as it was notoriously named. This happened in two ways. First, when the hopeful gold diggers were heading to Yukon. Due to the Canadians weariness of rescuing yet another young eager American who had been surprised by the harsh climate of the White North, the Canadian government had made a list of items that any gold digger going to Canada should carry with them. And Seattle’s merchants were there to supply every last item. Second, for those fortunate souls who struck gold, Seattle’s entertainment district and many seamstresses were more than happy to help spend it.

It seems that the West coast is full of stories from brothels and saloons about scandals, corruption and sex. I am sure that Portland will be no different.

But then what shall be the most memorable to my stay in Seattle? What is that one thing that can be crossed off the before-I-turn-30 list? In Vancouver, I met Missy and what can possibly be as frightening as holding a snake in your hands? Well, if you are scared of heights like me, then the visit to a 35 story skyscraper might jut do it for you. For the first time in my life did I get up into an actual skyscraper, the Smith Tower from 1914, and went out to the open air observation deck. Now 35 stories is not that tall when comparing to what is build around the world today, and I have been at the top of the Eiffel tower once when I was a kid as well as several East European radio towers. However, as a kid I wasn’t as afraid of heights, observation decks of radio towers are inside and I really don’t care how tall the tallest buildings are. I was in a skyscraper, and I almost did pissed my pants.


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