State of the Nation / Stato Della Nazione

After nearly nine years in Seattle, I’m still delighted by something as simple as a 62 degree day in April. The memory of the delicious kiss of warm-yet-crisp air on one’s skin fades so quickly after October; when it returns, it’s as surprising and welcome as a $20 bill rediscovered in a coat pocket.

Skimming up Harbor Steps to catch the bus, I noticed more loungers than ever keeping tabs on the blue sky, finally cleared of this morning’s endless showers. No one cared that the bus was stuck in gridlock—we had sweet, salt-scented air to breathe and sunshine dancing in our eyes. A fellow passenger took a hard seat next to me as the bus took off, and we laughed about it together. A shy girl with long strawberry hair looked up to surreptitiously watch our exchange, and she smiled, too.

The cool kids headed up to Capitol Hill to check out the grand opening of much-beloved Elliott Bay Books in their new space—and to stand in line at Molly Moon’s after dinner, which may be the other true sign that spring is here. Pike and Pine were blocked off at 10th to allow ped traffic to wander freely between brick buildings, as bicyclists careened and swerved between cars, families on foot and taxis making shortcuts.

Herds of beautiful, gamine gay men strolled lazily across the crosswalks in tight T-shirts and skinny jeans that even I could never hope to fit into. As I watched the walkers and bikers, the sunbathers and tourists, couples dining al fresco,  the community college students and baristas heading home, my thoughts wandered over to the state of the nation.

How can I know in real time how people are living in great urban places across the country? What’s important to them? How do they get around? What do they eat and shop? Where do they hang out? What do they wear? What do they play? What do they listen to? Where do they go to work and school? How do they exercise? What are their families and friends like?

What is it like to spend a day traveling their routes, navigating their streets and alleys, driving their cars, working their mass transit networks (or wishing they had them,) hanging out in their parks, visiting their libraries and museums—and how can all of this inform my perception of Seattle and the rest of the world?

It’s one thing to read a book or an article, listen to a piece on NPR, watch a film or have a conversation; it’s impossible to truly know any of these things on a personal level without traveling to a place itself. A few days in Austin was an eye opener and a salient reminder of this, but it was just the beginning.

If I toured a new city each month, think of all the data points to be discovered, not to mention the delight in discovering brave new worlds that will tell me something about my home city and enrich my own experience of it. What do they do differently? What’s the same? What are we doing better in Seattle? What trend haven’t we discovered yet?

Now, I’m wondering where the cool kids are hanging out in Charlotte or Boston or Minneapolis or Taos when the weather hits 62. Perhaps it’s time to buy my next ticket.

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