Free to be somewhere else | Chuck's World
My wife insisted that I be 25 before we got married. It was the only conversion I needed to make, and it was easy. I just waited until July, and it happened without me doing anything.
That was in 1983, and four days later we got married. Two months after that, we moved to Seattle, which means I’ve been in the Pacific Northwest just about 31 years.
By the way, I’m going to be doing all the math in this column. Some writers make the readers do the calculations, but that strikes me as rude. So trust me on the numbers.
And somewhere over those three decades, I became a Pacific Northwesterner. It just happened. I didn’t have to fill out a form.
Gradually, I just became assimilated, or assumed the characteristics, or adopted behaviors and sensibilities, and probably all of the above.
I came to understand without thinking how to cross a city street (when the light is green), when to take I-5 and when to opt for Hwy. 99.
I learned when it was inappropriate to wear hiking boots (pretty much never), where to shop for what I needed and when, what kind of ferry line to anticipate, how to respond to strangers on the street (polite but distant), and how to mind my own business.
And I’ve become acclimated to our harsh winters, when we might barely make a high of 44 and then dip down to a low of 43. Thirty-one years is long enough to learn when to unhook the hoses, change the wipers, and store the sunglasses in a convenient place, just in case there’s snow.
I’ve also bought two fans a year, on average (one tabletop, one standing), which now have their very own room, for that inevitable heat wave that strikes us each summer, or sometimes every third one.
The thermometer zooms into the mid-80s, and if you don’t like seeing a lot of flabby flesh you’d best not be knocking on your neighbors’ doors unannounced. It’s like living on the sun.
I’m a native, now. Get snobby and technical all you want, but I can correctly pronounce the name of every town in the state and I can get you to the airport from any direction. I’m a native.
So what’s funny is that sometimes I feel like an Arizonan. That’s where I lived as a teenager, and sometimes it just pops up, an odd sensation that I’m truly a Phoenician. It’s brief, just long enough to make me curious about culture.
Because it varies, of course. Seattle is different than San Francisco, which is different (very) from Los Angeles. Missoula has its own ways, as do Phoenix and Albuquerque and Boise.
These are minor, usually, but the natives know and recognize strangers on sight. And that’s before we talk about those weirdos on the East Coast.
I shouldn’t have said that. But come on. I enjoy a visit to the right coast of our country as much as anyone, but those people are just different. They talk differently, walk differently, stand too close and speak way too fast with way too many vowel sounds.
You can pass through four states just to get some ice, and you’ll need ice in the summer. They speak loudly and often, and usually to complete strangers. They do not recognize street lights.
And their coffee of choice comes from a donut shop. I’m stopping now.
Then there’s that big swath of country in the middle, from the Great Lakes to the bayous, from ice fishing to shrimping and everything in between. Flyover country, the breadbasket of America, the Great Plains and the Deep South and purple mountains majesty.
Not that they’re really mountains out there. But you know.
So it surprised me to discover the cultural artifacts of another, brief period in my life popping up from time to time. And it made me realize that I’d probably easily transform if I were to move to, say, Boston.
I’d be a jaywalking fool inside of six months, probably, rushing toward Fenway Park on the off chance that the Sox might win.
Because Americans move. It’s one of our defining features, along with snack foods.
We’re sometimes dragged across the country, or across oceans to reach it, and sometimes we go voluntarily, but we’re a mobile society, and some of our greatest national literature comes from that impulse, from Huck and Jim on a raft to the Joads heading west, to Jack London to Jack Kerouac and on and on.
And this is what gives me hope, or I’ve decided gives me hope, as we mark the 238th anniversary this week of a group of mostly wealthy, educated elites signing their own death warrants, depending on what would happen.
We know what happened, which is why we mark it, but it hasn’t been easy. It’s ugly out there on the political landscape, but then that’s nothing new. What’s also not new is that the answer is seldom legislative or judicial, but actuarial.
Old generations die, new ones arrive, and they will, some of them, move around, and find out what we share.
And if they end up here? We’ll introduce them to decent coffee. We’ll point out real mountains. We’ll teach them to cross the street on green, and we’ll understand if they eventually have to leave. It’s what we do.
We’re free to move about the country, and I’m going to call that independence, and celebrate.