On Friday afternoon, just as the clouds considered parting, I decided that a negroni at Bathtub Gin would be the best end to the week and beginning of the weekend.
I adore watching Marcus work, his hands moving deftly as he talks. Something else takes over when he mixes a drink, enabling his fingers to move fluidly as his sleepy dark eyes lift to meet mine, asking questions like, “Whatcha been up to?”
Like flipping through a Sears catalog, my memory raced through major events from the last two months. “New job, published my book, trip to Detroit, trip to Vegas, my uncle died, trip to Detroit, film festival, planning for my return to Italy. You?”
As Marcus poured the unearthly red concoction into a martini glass, twisting two skinny but fragrant strings of orange peel into the drink, he snorted, “Detroit and Vegas, huh? Our nation’s brightest cities.”
The bitter Campari slid over my lips as he wished me, “Cheers,” in his sonorous voice like always. “For me, a lot of the same old, same old. Working, missed the film festival, nobody died, didn’t fly anywhere, opened a new bar next to Shorty’s on Second.”
After two months of continual newness at my job, it felt comforting to be sitting at a familiar bar where my bill is often mysteriously cut in half. I traded jokes with Marcus and talked travel with the young married couple, Claire and Reese, to my right. This dark little hideaway has always felt like an extension of my living room, though never more so than it does now, after years of tucking myself away inside its dark, cool brick walls at the well-preserved wooden bar.
And then, they came in.
A crowd of six or seven men, mostly Americans in their 30s and 40s, along with a couple of late 50-something Brits who were, as their countrymen say, already in their cups. Red-faced and puffy, the gray Londoner spilled his martini on Claire and Reese within the first five minutes as his younger brethren circled me.
The outing was in honor of Todd, a foxy Michigander about to leave for the East Coast. After six years in Seattle he couldn’t take any more of the passive/aggressive wimps, he confessed loudly. His company was moving him to Maine at his request, where he hopes to find people who speak their minds–loud, brash straight-shooters without a drop of namby-pamby Northwest treacle.
“Everyone warns you about it when you first get here, you know? The Seattle Freeze. It’s so fucking true. Here’s to no more Seattle Freeze!” he declared as his friends clinked their martini glasses in the air, a gaggle of friendly olives bobbing like tiny green lanterns above our heads.
That’s when it occurred to me that I’m celebrating my 10-year anniversary in Seattle this week.
Life today could not be any more different than it was a decade ago. My own struggles with its icy social climate aside, I give the city its due as an incubator of the woman I am today. In navigating its icebergs, I’ve found a wealth of worldly, creative friends–the caliber I had long wished for when I lived in Arizona, but found very few of.
Then, there’s the city itself. When I visited in 1999, I distinctly recall nearly passing out the first time I walked up Boren, swearing that it was the devil’s mountain. Today, I clamber up Queen Anne hill with little effort, an incline that ultimately served as my training ground for Civita.
In the sweltering heat of Arizona, outside was the last place any of us wanted to be; we hid from the sun and sweated in the 90+ degree evenings. In Seattle, I delight in resting back into the soft grass near the Eagle at the Olympic Sculpture Park. From my blanket, I watch the passing sun and clouds, smelling the gentle brine of the Sound as runners and bicyclists tread past, calling me to follow them along the waterfront.
With this, the underground dinners, art shows, film festivals, marathons, plays, bike races, readings, concerts, P-patches, political protests, cafes, kayaking, parades, old brick buildings, piers, urban neighborhoods, ferries, and countless random strangers I’ve met at bars and restaurant counters throughout town. The way Seattle thinks, eats, breathes, and moves was nothing short of a miracle to me in comparison with the cultural and climatic desert from whence I came.
Like any relationship, the places we go–and especially the places we stay–change us over time. Whether it’s Civita, Chicago, Paris, Seattle, or even Tucson, they complement and challenge us, helping us to grow, to become something different if we let them. Their topography shapes us as we explore their hidden and open spaces, investigate the materials from which they’re made, and get to know their cult of personalities–the artists, chefs, politicians, business owners, bartenders scholars, athletes, youth, seniors, and people who live on the streets.
They also prepare us for the next place.
While I empathize with Todd’s sentiment–a frustration flung at a society seemingly impossible to join or understand–I think there’s something valuable to be gained from pausing in a place where one feels out of phase. We’re programmed to search for and feel comfortable with places and people who are most like us, but do they teach us anything?
This is a timely question, as I struggle to decide what Seattle is to me today. Outgrowing Arizona was as important to my development as the presentation of vast opportunities in Seattle. Now, 10 years later, as I’m discovering an even broader field ahead of me, much of which rests outside its shore, I’m forced to weigh whether Seattle is the right place for me to be and for how long.
Like the hill on which I live, Seattle itself has served as my venue of apprenticeship for whatever happens next. There’s a lot about it that still fits, but there are also spots where I’m feeling tight in the skin.
That’s the rub with finding places or people that fit well. They aren’t guaranteed to always meet our needs, and if seem to, does it mean that we trade growth for comfort? Or, is finding both actually the signal that we’ve found our “right place?”