The problem with travelling is that people inevitably ask you where you’re from. It’s unnecessary; I’m here now. Isn’t that enough? I’m from Flight 736, that’s where I’m from. Why must we discuss further details? Because going into it more results in two pressures. First, if I in any way act in a manner not befitting a proper citizen, they will forever refer to me as that “asshole from Seattle.” Which is fine, I guess. It may be a good name for the column.
The second issue relates to the inability to do justice to anything. If invading aliens killed everyone except you and demanded that you explain how the most basic things work, like a television, a cell phone, or democracy, you’d probably have a little trouble with it. Well, there are no aliens here, but when people ask me to describe Seattle in a few words, I blank.
I am a terrible ambassador for this city. The worst. Your parents can probably describe your love life with more accuracy than I can describe Seattle. Imagine watching a person trying to explain why he’s standing over a dead body, until the corpse reanimates out of frustration and explains it himself. That’s how bad I am (what a long walk).
To be fair to myself, I do make an effort. When asked, I usually resort to a few basic lines. I tell them Seattle is really a city of distinct neighborhoods; that’s what I love about it. I tell them it rains often. I tell them we have a lot of water and hills and bike lanes and horn-rimmed glasses. They ask me about Frasier and grunge and the Space Needle. “I didn’t watch Frasier,” I say, “I watched Fresh Prince of Bel Air.” After mumbling various additional details, I eventually shrug my shoulders and look off in the distance, waiting for them to change the subject.
I don’t know why it’s so hard. If Seattle were ever arrested and placed in a line up among other cities, I certainly wouldn’t have any trouble identifying it. “That’s the city, officer,” I’d say. “You sure it’s not Vancouver or Portland?” “I’m sure. I’d recognize that skyline anywhere.” Then Seattle would realize the jig is up and crash through the looking glass and choke me. This is getting weird.
On New Year’s in Toronto, I did a horrible job representing Seattle. After leaving a party and heading to another, I got into a heated yelling match with a cab driver. As I got out of the cab, the following exchange occurred:
“Where are you from?”
“Oh, that must explain everything,” I said sarcastically, like an idiot.
In the exchange, not only did I make Seattle look bad, but now yet another Canadian thinks (or rather continues to think) that all Americans are assholes. I didn’t have the heart or the sobriety to tell him that I was also Canadian. That’s mainly what I feel guilty about.
Do I owe this city more? Should I be able to give people the full experience of living here in a few sentences? Isn’t it enough that I live here? Isn’t that all Seattle needs from me? Are you going to answer these questions or do I have to carry this whole conversation? Unbelievable.
Despite my inability to articulate, people seem to perk up when they hear I live in Seattle. They find it inherently interesting. There’s always a friend they know living there, or a band they like, or some reference to a movie. The smarter ones are aware that the city is not all its obvious references. One girl told me that the real Seattle is probably overshadowed by things like Starbucks and rain stereotypes and Kurt Cobain. She hasn’t even been here! My chest was pounding, but it may have been because I was still angry about the cab driver.
I hope in all my travels that I do Seattle some modicum of justice, so tourism doesn’t completely halt to a standstill. After receiving tons of questions about Seattle, and trying to juggle all the things I should mention like an Oscar winner struggling to remember people, I simply stopped rambling and said, “It’s nice. You should visit.”
Then I asked them about their own city, and smiled while they couldn’t think of a goddamn thing.