There are, at any given time, a couple of ongoing citywide conversations taking place in the city of Seattle. One revolves around transit. Everyone has a bus story, about the crazy person who sat next to them, and people share with each other their ideas about routes, drivers, vehicles, and neighborhoods. I enjoy listening to and being part of this conversation.
Additionally, everyone has a solution for fixing all the transit problems in King County. I'm guilty of this myself. One is reminded of the national conversation during our days under Bush II, when everyone you spoke with knew exactly how to solve the Iraq war. It's human nature.
The other great conversation in Seattle is the ongoing discussion of The Freeze. You're familiar with the Seattle Freeze- the idea that people in Seattle are uniformly standoffish or afraid of talking to strangers.
Here's how the Freeze conversation usually starts. Two people who are strangers to each other meet inadvertently. They're at a bus stop. They're at a gallery opening. A friend's birthday party. They do not know each other, and were not trying to meet each other, but, incredibly, unbelievably, they did, violating all notions of The Freeze. How on earth did this happen? In a city possessed by the Great Freeze? At some point in the conversation, they realize this, and together marvel that they even began talking, since the Freeze would seemingly dictate that such things simply do not happen. But wait- it did. How amazing!
The interesting thing about this hypothetical conversation is that it happens all over the city, all the time. The Freeze, though discussed and believed in daily, can be elusive. It is violated with abandon. You can avoid talking to people very easily in Seattle, but you can't help observing that the Freeze is not a hard-and-fast rule.
There are a couple interesting points I want to make note of, though I am not entirely sure to what conclusion they lead:
-Most people who have the above conversation, in my experience, were not born and raised in Seattle. In the true spirit of America and the idea of America, Seattle is overrun with people, like myself, who originally came from other places. Specifically, it seems overrun with people from California (also like myself). Hope you guys don't mind. We just really love the place.
-The Freeze does exist, but it exists in any city where there are also people. To what extent does it exist? Is it like the rain here, existent but overly dramatized? Or is it really as pervasive as everyone says it is? Moreover, why does the Freeze exist in Seattle? The popular theory is that it gets cold here, and people get used to being indoors- "indoors" meaning carousing with only yourself or people you already know. You become uncomfortable with strangers because you're inside all the time trying to stay warm. After all, it's bloody freezing out there. That theory sounds like it makes sense, until you remember that New York and Seattle have roughly the same latitude, and nobody thinks New York is crippled by a Freeze.
-Nobody- and I mean nobody- actually likes the Freeze. Without question, any discussion of the Freeze is by definition a negative evaluation of the Freeze. There isn't a single person out there who thinks the Freeze is just fantastic, and anytime it's brought up, most of all in the hypothetical discussion outlined above, we all take a moment to note how appalling the concept of the Freeze is. As in, if only this darn city didn't have a stupid Freeze. Which of course begs the question- if everyone thinks the Freeze is so terrible, who are these nebulous souls who keep it up?
-In the discussion over whether or not Seattle is friendly, let us not confuse being friendly with being talkative. Being friendly involves actually thinking about what you're saying. And no, I promise I'm not trying to make snide comments about the East Coast. It only sounds that way!
-If you strike up a conversation, the other person is usually receptive.
-If Seattle has a freeze, there are other places that handily qualify as Pleistocene glaciers from the last great Ice Age. "This would never happen in Brussels," a girl from Brussels told me when I asked her about the book she was reading. She explained how people keep to themselves to a fault, ostensibly out of politeness. Seoul is the same. Try starting a conversation with someone on the subway in Los Angeles. Or better yet, walk the length of the car, just to see if anyone is talking to each other.
-Certain sections of Seattle are less frozen than others. Any discussion about cities will involve generalizations.
Yesterday I found myself on a plane flying into Seattle. The lady next to me, Julia, was coming home, like myself. She's been teaching elementary school for a long time and loves it; she was as warm and kind a presence as I've come across. In the space of ten minutes a person can impress upon you a living warmth that doesn't insist upon itself, but invigorates you all the same- the good works that you have inside of you stir into awareness. What does it mean, to be kind? Radiating off of you, your gentle and complete essence. You don't need walls to hide behind. The night air is still crisp, but the cold doesn't bite anymore.
Also like myself, she once lived in LA, but has chosen Seattle as her home. I asked her what she liked about the place. She voiced two big reasons of my own- "For one, the people are friendly. And there's nature. You can go outside." How's that for a different view from the Freeze reasoning outlined above?
"Seattle is how LA used to be," she mused. It's a great migration of sorts. We remember a way, a time when things were still growing, and we keep searching for that, finding and claiming it eventually, here in this great city.
People do talk to each other in Seattle. More often than not, they enjoy being talked to, and like all humans, they enjoy being listened to. The only thing is, you have to be the one who starts up the conversation.