Seattle Times recently posted what might be one of the most exhaustive pieces about the "unspoken" rules of our town. These are not any old rules, but the ones that make Seattle unique and identifiable. A good number of them did not make any sense to me, as they concerned cars (I do not know how to drive). The locally famous Seattle Freeze and passive-aggressiveness are, of course, mentioned. And so, too, is the low status of umbrellas. Our city has for sure plenty of rain, but rarely is it anything like the real rain, the sin-washing rain the New York taxi driver Travis Bickle longed for.
All in all, what the Seattle Times piece made clear to me was our city's lack of a culture. We are, in essence, culture-less.
Sure, Seattle is the most cultured city in Washington State. In this respect, Spokane and Vancouver, WA are obviously cultural wastelands. As for the whole of Idaho, it is a cultural Death Valley. And what you will find in the whole of Montana and Wyoming is nothing good to eat. The kitchens there are barely better than feedlots or salt licks. These places—and much of what us coastals fly over with the kind of horror experienced while watching Midsommar—don't have anything like our art house cinemas, world-class jazz clubs, superb Vietnamese restaurants, great bookstores, and galleries.
Just this Sunday (April 2), I walked into Cafe Racer and by chance experienced a brilliant performance by the cellist Lori Goldston and drummer/composer Chris Icasaiano. It was intense and had the kind of power you feel when a distant storm is slowly approaching and tossing the waters of a seaside city. There was a lot of culture in Cafe Racer that evening. And there will be lots of high-grade culture in the Royal Room when some of the best jazz musicians in the city pay tribute to the recently fallen Trugoy the Dove on Saturday. It can even be argued that Seattle is more cultured today than it has ever been. (The same, sadly, cannot be said about San Francisco.)
Now recall for a minute that excellent scene in Toy Story. It happens like this: Mr. Potato Head approaches Hamm the piggy bank and declares he is a Picasso—he has arranged his parts in a way that looks like the tortured figure La Femme qui pleure. Hamm shakes his head, says he doesn't get it and, as he walks away, is called an "uncultured swine" by Mr. Potato Head. Seattle is not uncultured in this manner.
The cultural sense I have in mind is: There's nothing that makes a person who has spent their entire life here distinct. This, I think, is what the Seattle Times' story was going for. What separates us from the rest? What makes us unique? It has to be this, this, and that. But, seriously, can you imagine, say, a Brooklynite declaring, upon seeing someone walking on Atlantic Avenue in the rain without an umbrella, "She must be from Seattle"? Of course not. The same goes for this whole Seattle Freeze business. It is, in this sense, culturally unremarkable and far less important than being cultured. If you do not state to a New Yorker or Bostonian that you call home this remote and cloudy part of the world, you, by all appearance and manner, come from nowhere.