Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sweater Vest Smackdown

I am seven miles into an eight mile run when I encounter the first stoplight of the afternoon. I sidle onto the curb beside a well-dressed young lad who looks like he's straight out of a Land's End ad, sweater-vested and khaki-panted, and toting a scrunched-up paper lunch sack, to patiently wait for the light to change. I have learned to wait, semi-patiently, for the light to change. This does not come naturally. I am from the Northeast, after all. When I first arrived in Seattle with the intention of staying, I was amused and slightly disconcerted to note the serenity with which pedestrians waited at traffic-less crosswalks until the signal turned green. Didn't they have somewhere to be? Couldn't they see that NO ONE was coming? I did, and I could see, and I wasn't going to idly stand by while valuable time slipped through my fingers. I crossed the street as I damned well pleased.

But several months have passed since then, and I, ever flexible, am trying to adapt. I stand politely next to Mr. Sweater Vest and wait. A minute passes, the light turns green, and I am off for this run's final mile.

A few seconds later, I catch an argyle-patterned blur. The sweater-vested one zooms past me on the sidewalk, lunch sack still in hand. He darts ahead with surprising speed. My ego protests, and I give chase, but there's no catching this one. He cruises into the distance, and I bemusedly make my way home, wondering at the contents of the magical sandwich bag.

Don't get me wrong; I chose Seattle. After a geographically stable childhood in small-town Massachusetts, I spent my 13 post-high school years roving from Montreal to New Hampshire to California to Washington to the Canadian Arctic to Montana to West Africa to Vermont to West Virginia to France to Michigan to Oregon to East Africa, with lots of to-ing and fro-ing in between. My backpack is worn out. I sold my skis, and my beloved road bike, after hauling them from temporary home to temporary home five too many times. I don't know who my mayor is, and have missed just all about all of my friends' weddings. For a good while the adventure of all that movement was worth the inconveniences, but somewhere along the line I realized that there might be advantages to a bit more stability (it might have been the night when the miniature bed on loan to me from the French school district collapsed beneath the weight of an unsuspecting houseguest).

My adventures are by no means over, but I'm increasingly feeling the need for a semi-permanent "place to hang my hat" (à la Bruce Chatwin) - a place from which to base my exploits, where I can store not only my headgear but also my new bicycle and my eventual skis, where I can invest in a bed that won't fail me at crucial moments, around which I can build the sense of community and self that I realize more than ever is important for my sanity. Chatwin was a bit cavalier about said place, but I was pretty deliberate about Seattle. First and foremost, it's ringed by exceptional mountains and glacier-green rivers, the most beautiful landscapes I know. It's full of ambitious, active, outdoorsy folks who aren't afraid of a little rain. It's an internationally-minded place, home to some of the most diverse neighborhoods in the country and a significant refugee contingent, including a sizable population of "Lost Boys" from one of my beloved former homes, South Sudan.

I did not come here to be a hipster. In truth, I make a pretty pathetic hipster. If you have a hipster mustache, I am probably already laughing at you. I do like cupcakes, but damned if I'll fork over three-fifty for one. Don't ask me to swing dance, even if I do look kinda cute in my decidedly unhip jeans and sweater combo; my stumbling and fumbling will totally mess up your hard-earned hipster moves. How do you pedal so effortlessly by me on that unforgiving Seattle uphill stretch - are your hot pink knee socks turbo-charged?

Maybe I'll adjust in time, but meanwhile, please join me as I gape and gawk at all that I am not, and reflect on the long and winding path that brought me here, the fabled land of hipsters - Seattle.

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