Cool? Or too cool?

Posted: December 20, 2011 by terryvandrovec in Uncategorized
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I just flew back from Seattle and, boy, are my arms tired. Actually, my heels are sore, not my arms. That’s what I get for hoofing it around the Capitol Hill neighborhood in Seattle in a pair of high-top leather boots.

But what else was I supposed to wear? I mean, you can’t cruise around in Jimi Hendrix’s old haunts in your grandpa’s wide, all white New Balance sneakers.

This was the crux of my second visit to Seattle …

Just take a look around. The city is filled with natural beauty: mountains, waters, evergreens – even the sky seems somehow more majestic, almost alive. It’s like being in one of the Twilight movies … or so I’m told. Ah, who am I kidding – I saw (and sort of enjoyed) the first two installments with my wife. (Go, Team Jacob.)

That’s offset by all the amenities and architecture of a modern city – skyscrapers, sports stadiums and shipping docks. And most of the buildings have their own look, creating a patchwork quilt rather than uniformity. In fact, if there is a common thread in terms of looks it’s that most buildings look older than they are, weathered by year-round rain and moss.

From what I can tell, the weather seems to set the stage for the Emerald City. Any idiot can see that Los Angeles, for example, is a nice place to live. It takes a more keen eye to appreciate what Seattle has to offer and therefore it seems to attract a more discerning crowd. In a way, it’s like a Wes Anderson movie – not everyone likes it or gets it.

But here’s where things get complicated: Is Seattle – and I’m generalizing, here – legitimately cool? Or has that become a schtick?

What I mean is, there are an infinite number of hip places to go and things to do. In less than 48 hours, I partook in the following: A walk past the Space Needle, the EMP Museum and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to have a late dinner of roasted pork ravioli and a Maritime microbrew at Palace Kitchen; one of 12 restaurants run by chef Todd Douglas; breakfast consisting of coffee, an almond croissant and brioche de noel at french bakery Le Panier, which is located near the original Starbucks in the famous Pike Place Market on the waterfront; watched a college basketball game at the intimate and old Alaska Airlines Arena on the University of Washington campus; had a burger covered in bacon jam and an espresso beer at Skillet across from music club Chop Suey and snagged desert down the street at High 5 Pie.

And every place I hit seemed cool and was filled with cool people. Of course, cool is a subjective (and potentially useless) term. To be more specific, I’m talking lots of plaids, skinny denim, tattoos, thick glasses and boots. And they were listening to cool music. To be fair, this was by design – I try to avoid chains and suburbia when on the road.

On one hand, I feel like I’m willing to give Seattle the benefit of the doubt. The cool-seekers could live elsewhere – San Francisco, for instance, is probably an easier place to live in that the weather is better. One of my college roommates (nickname Gabe-a-tronic) lives there. He’s from the Midwest and is a genuine dude, but has always been a big fan of music, especially that of independent bands. From what I can tell, he hasn’t changed at all since moving to the Queen City – he just seems to fit in there, to be at home.

However, once a place gets a reputation for being a center of cool, it’s bound to attract posers and therefore is subject to pretentious change. Think about the grunge movement of the 90s. Most people would agree that was (and is) a fairly genuine form of music, especially when compared to, say, glam rock. That seems to indicate Seattle is grounded at its core yet the success probably opened it up to a wave of folks trying to come off as genuine.

But is any of that true? Do the waitresses at Skillet wear whatever clothes magically show up in their closets? Or do they put as much time and thought into it as the average suburban teenage girl? I’d venture to guess that many claim to be in the middle, their style being a reflection of who they are, a real if somewhat planned form of self-expression.

In the end, I’m not sure there’s anything wrong with any of this. It’s entirely possible that I’m the one with the problem, I’m the one who spends too much time analyzing the looks and attitudes instead of just enjoying the poutine and McMenamins Ruby – perhaps I have a developed an inferiority complex from living in the supposedly uncool Midwest all my life.

Regardless, Seattle is one of the great American cities. I’m glad I got to go back, and that I didn’t waste much time sleeping.

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