Looking at the big picture through older lenses

By Chuck Sigars | Jul 10, 2019

We entertained a couple of friends from out of town a few weeks ago, although I’m not sure how entertaining we were. We didn’t tap dance or anything.

It wasn’t unusual. A high-tech conference in downtown Seattle will draw people from all over, including, in the case of one of my friends, from Scandinavia. She’d never been here, and with limited time to play she had specific things in mind.

We kept our noses out of their itinerary, then, other than a couple of suggestions. We met them for dinner one night, swinging by their hotel in downtown Seattle to pick them up, and during our meal I mentioned an observation I often make when I leave home and head south. It’s a specific observation, made at specific places.

These are destination places, usually. The theater, the symphony. Restaurants. Downtown shopping.

These are always fun venues for observing and imagining other lives, watching strangers pass by, and in these places and at these times, I see differences. I see what I described to my friends as Seattle People.

I’m not really referring to contemporary Seattle, which is mostly different because of economics. This isn’t news to you – Seattle feels very affluent these days, filled with the latest talent snatched up by Amazon and Google, young people who bike to work from studio apartments that rent for far more than any mortgage payment I ever made.

I see this, but I’m not talking about them.

These are usually older people, in fact. They certainly would qualify as affluent, I think, in most communities in this country, although that’s based on more observation and no real information, other than it’s an expensive city to live in.

And they appear very, very fit. Not fit for their age; fit for their country, for their demographic, for their time.

Good health is often an indicator of economic success, obviously. There’s also the cultural emphasis here on being outside and active, something we share with similar regions (e.g., Colorado). When lists are generated on this subject, Seattle is always near the top of healthiest cities, usually just below San Francisco and just above Portland and San Diego, with Denver bringing up the rear of the top 10 (and Scottsdale, and Washington, D.C., so once again, follow the money).

It’s just a thing I notice. People around my neighborhood look like normal people, a wide variety of types and appearances of health. When I travel down I-5 for 20 minutes or so, suddenly I see Seattle People. I’m probably expecting to. Just a thing.

And as I said, it’s the contrast that makes me notice.

My daughter will call me on this sometimes, being a member of her particular generation, growing up when she did, experiencing what she experienced. She calls me on being judgmental about body types. She’s wrong, I think, but I get it.

There’s a great scene in “Up in the Air,” the George Clooney movie from a few years ago. As Clooney’s character tries to teach his young partner (Anna Kendrick) some of his travel tips in the airport, he mentions that she should avoid standing in security lines behind parents with small children (always takes forever) or older people (bodies full of metal).

He suggests Asian businessmen, who wear slip-off shoes and travel lightly, according to him.

Kendrick is appalled. “That’s racist!” she says, a perfect line. Clooney shrugs and murmurs about stereotypes, not really seeing the point in having an argument.

But it wasn’t racist, of course. It was a cultural observation, not a judgment, and it seemed a valid one. Her reaction was perfect, because it pointed out the emphasis her age group seems to have developed about fairness.

I’m all for fairness, and I don’t necessarily have a problem with this hyperbole in service to it. If you’re going to overreact, overreact about injustice, OK. You can refine this with time and stop your knees, eventually, from jerking so much, but sure.

Let’s work on avoiding the attraction of spontaneous judgment. I’d like to be much better when it comes to this, personally.

But I’m not fat shaming anyone, no matter what the kids think. I started getting doughy as soon as I got out of high school, long before anyone was talking about an obesity crisis in this country. I spent a lot of years closer to 300 pounds than 200. Judging someone else because of their size would set off an early-warning system for hypocrisy, no doubt.

I just remember what people looked like, 50 years ago. I trust this memory, mostly because we have visual evidence, films and video and photos. This isn’t a revelation, or shouldn’t be, but my personal archive tells me conclusively that we’ve all become bigger.

Again, none of this is breaking news. And I don’t think obesity is our most pressing concern in this country, despite the headlines. It’s just that as I age out of relevance, which is normal and natural and expected, I wonder if my only asset left is what I remember.

I’m not sugar-coating the past. I just can’t help noticing that things are different, and when I spot someone bucking the trend, I wonder. Maybe Seattle People aren’t resisting as much as just not changing, reminding the rest of us that we don’t have to. Maybe that’s their secret.

Or maybe it’s tap dancing. I’m just speculating. They seem really fit.

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