I get this a lot.
Are you picturing misty mountains of emerald green? Happy Amazonians chilling by the channels with their dogs and coffee watching the boats traveling to and from the locks? Perhaps you have lingering memories of glitter speckled vampires and you just know, know deep in your heart, that everything will better once you get to Seattle?
Well, while Seattle certainly has those things, this isn’t a beginner city.
But, what do you mean? All the tech companies are there!
Yes, there is a lot of tech here. We have some amazing work going on in medical science, online shopping, gaming, and yeah – it is pretty gosh darn cool.
We also have some issues – tech is a white male dominated industry. Are you a highly educated upper middle class white male? If so, cool for you! You’ll be a step ahead of every woman and every person or color! Unfortunately, you’ll still be competing against every other highly educated upper middle class white male and you won’t have the local-boy advantage…
But, you have a $15 minimum wage! Even if I don't get a tech job I'll still make good money!
Right now the minimum wage is $13/hour if you work at a large company like Target or McDonalds…but you only get that if you don’t get healthcare.
If you do get healthcare, no matter how the health plan works for you, try $12.50 – That’s Starbucks.
$12 if you work for a small company that provides healthcare.
$10.50 (but at least $12.00 total comp) if you work for a small place like a café that doesn’t provide healthcare but counts your tips.
But, that’s way more than I make now!
Awesome. I totally believe that, and it may look like way more than you are making now - but how much are you paying in rent right now? Do you have enough saved to make first and last and deposit on a studio apartment in a bad part of town that costs you $1000/month not including utilities? Are you willing to sign a lease on an apartment you haven't seen? Or are you willing to compete and bid up the rent when the landlord (or more likely property management company) invites 10 people into the same apartment for a group viewing?
That's $40 a background check too, and don't forget that you may get your credit run a bunch of times too...and you still may not get the place.
Are you going to drive to this minimum-wage job? Can you afford parking? Public transport? Are you going to bring your bike? What will you do when you get a ticket on your car, you lose your Orca card? Your bike gets stolen?
Even APodments go for about $800/month right now. Sure, you could get a room with some friends – maybe a couple months with them and you’ll get a room in a big house…maybe. But you’ll be competing with cute college kids with money to burn and the above mentioned upper middle class white guys with jobs at a big tech company. Oh yeah, and every landlord will want to know where you work, how much you make, and if you have pets. Pets will cost you here - license fees, vet fees, insurance fees, a larger rental deposit, and pet rent. Pets pay rent in Seattle.
But, I’m cool / pretty / awesome and I make friends super-easy, I’ll network!
Great! You go network and be all sunny and bright- be advised though, a cold spell is coming. It is called the Seattle-freeze and there are lots of theories on it. Like Bigfoot, lots of people swear it exists and lots of folks say it doesn’t or doesn’t affect them. My personal theory? Seattle has a lot of transplants, and since we are new and you are new we can chitchat, grab a coffee, meet up at a drop-in Crossfit party and you’ll be sure to meet up again…sometime. When is sometime? Well, never. Sometime means never in Seattle. Welcome to the freeze.
If it affects you it can be really hard to overcome, and perhaps I’ll save a Combat the Seattle-Freeze post for the future, but just be aware – the Seattle freeze may exist for you. It can affect your job interviews, potential friendships, potential romantic interests – what are you going to do when your would-be employer will get back to you sometime, when that cool person you met at the bus stop says let’s get coffee sometime, or the person you thought was your own personal glitter-vampire will give you a call back…sometime?
Also be aware of the Seattle Blues - winter here isn't especially cold, but it is especially cloudy. Low gray clouds, not really raining, sort of misting - just enough to frizz your hair but not enough to grab an umbrella. Picture this for months. You wake up to gray skies, work, come out to gray skies, go to sleep - rinse and repeat. Do you get affected by seasonal affective disorder? Are you prepared for the Seattle Blues?
But, Seattle is so alternative! I has to be better / more accepting than here!
Yeah, you’re right. Compared to other parts of the country, fewer people will look down at you or be openly hostile to you for being gay, queer, trans, or any other minority. But, just ‘cause they don’t care what you identify as doesn’t mean they won’t judge you. Racism and classism are pretty big here.
Also, where you work, how conventionally or unconventionally pretty you are, and how much money you have play an important part in acceptance in Seattle. Are you a professional alternative model with an outgoing personality, an established home-base, and a website bringing in spending money while your superior IT skills let you live as a remote-nomad? Or are you in-between-hormones-weight-fluctuating-dealing-with-heavy-emotional-damage-new-transplant with few no skills, no friends, a backpack, and a fuzzy non-defined dream of communal housing and egalitarianism? Either way you can still make it – but one of you is at a distinct disadvantage.
While being more accepting than some other places - Seattle still has racism, classism, misogyny, bigotry, transphobia, homophobia, and all the rest. Sometimes they come out in less obvious ways. How will you deal with the situation when you and 10 other people are vying for one apartment and the white married couple from Google are chosen over your mixed-race queer self? Even though you got there first and signed the papers - that landlord might forget when he gets offered an extra thousand a month on top of what he was asking. Can you pay $1500 extra a month to top them?
That stuff still happens here. Oh - and when you do get that apartment - don't be too quick to unpack. Your rent will go up next year. It may intentionally go up a lot in order just to get you out. Or, your building may get sold to a redeveloper who doesn't have to honor your lease. You have 30 days to GTFO. Sue? Sure, go for it, you pay for a lawyer and it will get postponed until your bank account runs dry. Your building will be torn down, redeveloped into high-end townhomes of 1000 sq feet selling for 400k, and they will all be sold and moved into before you get your day in court.
But I heard you have a lot of homeless services!
Seattle also has an underground, a notorious underground of child prostitution, slave trade, drug addiction, and homelessness. Lots of kids come here running away from violence and despair only to find a different kind of violence and despair here. There are a lot of homeless kids here. A LOT. We have a lot of homeless services because we have a lot of homeless to serve.
The youth shelters, they run out of space. Youth shelters are safer than the streets – but they aren’t cozy campfires and sing-along songs. This is a tough place to be a young person and a lot end up homeless or in trafficking situations. What makes you different from them? What will prevent you from becoming them? How do you identify a trafficking recruiter? How do you tell the difference between someone who wants to help you and someone gathering information about your life and dreams in order to use it all against you later?
Shelters also set strict rules for when you have to line up to get a bed, line up to wait for food, line up to take a shower, and grab your belongings and head out. You'll be up and out of the shelter, blinking sleepily at the world, long before the library opens. Coffee? Well, unless you can pass, all the bathrooms are for paying customers only.
Also, there is some money involved with all this as well. You, as a homeless person, mean money to certain 'advocates.' Their funding goes up if you are on their roles. If there are no homeless people - then their job is redundant. They have rent to pay, kids to put in soccer, movies to see - and the more people in shelter the bigger their program gets and the more funding they can raise. Prison operates the same way.
But it is so pretty!
It is totally pretty! I love going to the beach and going camping in the woods and going on adventures - I even have an adventures tab! But the geography isn't without danger. Earthquake, tunnel collapse, wildfire, terrorism - are you the type of person who actually makes plans for this stuff? You don't have to be an apocalypse prepper - but do you carry an emergency kit in every vehicle? Do you keep a kit at work and another at home? Are you prepared for no electricity, no water, no cell phone? Where is your meet up point? What roads will you use? What if you or a loved one is injured? What if someone you don't know is injured? Will your building survive an earthquake? Have you digitized your photos and personal documents in case they are lost in a fire? Can you do CPR and make a splint?
Not that everyone needs to be a field medic - but there will be an earthquake, we are having worse and worse wild fires, and we are a major city.
Seattle can be a really cool place. There are amazing people here from all over the world. We have a fairly decent (for America) public transportation system. Our geography means you can chill at the beach in the morning but spend your evening on the slopes. We have a big ferris wheel, lots of great parks, an aquarium and a zoo, and great art museums. There are some really great progressive schools, research opportunities, child care programs, and social justice programs. There are public events, music, and really well-known companies to work for.
It also has horrible traffic, racism, classism, bigotry, gentrification, a child sex trade, a slave trade, gangs, drugs, and a huge cost of living. Oh – as a bonus, we are pretty high per capita on serial killers….that’s for the sparkle vampire fans.
Now, before you say I should just leave if I don’t like it – you should know, I love it here. I love it here even knowing that there are people suffering in the Jungle homeless camp. I love it here even knowing that there is major gentrification going on in the Central District. I love it here even knowing that there are people who are facing raising rents, hard drugs moving in, and violence. I love it here even knowing that I'll get stopped and checked out by the drug dealers down my street who literally stand in the street and make the cars stop in order to check who is coming down "their" block. I love it here even knowing that there are serial rapists and sex offenders.
I love it despite these things. I don't want to forget these things because I want to talk about these things. I want to work to make these things not just disappear so we can't see them but for them to become part of our history. I don't want to sweep them behind an Emerald Veil.
I tell you these things because I want you to love it here too. I don’t want you to be surprised by how many homeless people there are, by seeing really young looking girls walking Aurora, by wondering when ‘sometime’ is.
Seattle is really cool, but it is just as messed up as anywhere else.
So, if you come here, come with a plan, come with your eyes open, come prepared, come to help solve the problems and enjoy the adventures.
Welcome to Seattle.