San Diego has lost a little bit of its luster for me as of late. This is a new development, and a feeling that I've not experienced since transplanting here from the Midwest seven years ago. I'm not exactly sure what it is; but since a recent trip up to Seattle, our sunny patch of the planet just seems to be missing something. I can't exactly put my finger on it. It is a bit unsettling; so I've been trying to sort it out in my mind over the past few weeks and nail it to the wall. I'll start with my feelings about Seattle and go from there. Maybe, if I can articulate what it is that Seattle HAS, I can move closer to discovery of what San Diego HAS NOT. As I meandered around Seattle, I tried to drink in the atmosphere and let it sort of saturate me with feeling. I took one full day by myself and just wandered around the city with no plans and no map. Here are some of the feelings that I can recall from my experiences there: Seattle felt like a green and silver and black city. It's a round and hilly and dense, yet open and airy city. It's a black T-shirt and Toms city and a city of chunky, angular, asymmetrical hairdos (yes, definitely "dos", not "cuts"). It's a "where are all the blondes" city? It's a daytime nap city and a city that offers hugs freely. It's a skinny jeans and one-speed bicycle city. It’s a red, blue, green, or purple handkerchief tied around the neck or hanging with jaunt from the back pocket city. It's a city of furtive sunshine and ferocious rock concerts (the female bands were the most ferocious of all!). Being a maritime city, it's a place of unkempt beards and ever-creeping, unabashed tattoos. It's a city where in coffee shops and on sidewalks, artists freely paint scenes of daily life in bold earthy colors and strangers discuss literature and philosophy with expressive eyebrows jumping, while eyes darken and lighten alternately, barely concealing both excitement and deep doubt about the world and life. It's an earnest city which struck me as odd to be known as a suicide city: I didn’t perceive depression, only sincerity. It's a city where people walk, bike, or take the bus to work. It's a city with a public library that beckons and begs one to take the day off work just to get lost perusing the endless shelves or read a book cover-to-cover. It's a city where an umbrella feels oddly pretentious and unnecessary: Let it rain and come what may! It's a city of telephone poles and alley walls held together by the staples on posters advertising punk concerts, performance art shows, edgy plays, and festivals encouraging exhibitionism and nudeness. It's a "come as you are" city, and (big surprise here) it's a city of dark, aromatic, complex, and delectable coffees. Aha! There is one thing that is definitely missing here in San Diego: Good coffee. I am an avid coffee drinker, and now that I know what a cup of coffee can be--available at any of the three to four coffee shops which inhabit every city block in Seattle--I feel that I'm on an endless and fruitless quest to recreate that cup here in San Diego. Don't get me wrong, there are some wonderful cafes here in San Diego. Mystic Mocha in University Heights comes readily to mind. They make fresh-baked muffins, mesa-esque pancakes, and chilaquiles heralded by Gabriel himself. The coffee is not bad; in fact, it’s as good as or better than anywhere else I’ve found in San Diego: it’s just not what I now know as “Seattle coffee”. Art, I believe, is another difference. Sure, there is art here in San Diego—I regularly enjoy the Ray At Night scene and trips to the Spanish Village Art Center in Balboa Park—but our art here feels small-scale, token, and hesitant. In Seattle, I felt that I was bombarded by bold art in many forms. It assails you from all sides in all places and seeps into your pores and thoughts from the rock posters, the ubiquitous shop-front galleries, the library—which is like one giant experimental performance art installation playground—and at night the caterwauls and screams, searing riffs, and skull thumping beats issuing forth from the peeling-paint windows and menacing red doors of cafes and clubs filled to bursting with bouncing bodies. The waves of sound hit you about the same time as the blasts of hot, dank air, rife with smells of whiskey, pot, and a cornucopia of breath and body odor. Intriguing, to say the least. Crunchy almost. I must admit, I haven’t exactly sought out an “earnest” music scene here in San Diego, but from what I can gather, it seems to be mostly stuck on repeat, happy to draw heavily on past acts and sounds. The Zeros reunion show was the big news on the music scene last week, and it seems like two out of four home-grown acts here in San Diego play some form of tired Reggae, while another of the four—depending on the gender of the performer—sounds eerily similar to either Jack Johnson or Tristan Prettyman, and the last of the four is a punk band hopelessly wishing to be the next Green Day or Blink-182. Yawn. While in Seattle, I also was blessed to attend the Freemont Fair, which is one giant, un-selfconscious (and notably, un-corporate-sponsored) summer solstice prayer to the earth and humanity and art and fun. There, I saw things that made me laugh loudly, cry inwardly, and at times cringe, too, but in a good way. Wearing a birthday suit was apparently not enough for one emaciated, pale reveler (think a young, pony-tailed and Day-Glo slathered Mr. Burns). He found it necessary to draw additional attention to his “nethers” via a cock ring. I first spied him among the nudist bicyclers in the parade, which was disturbing enough, then later casually eating a spring roll in a crowd of children with their parents (still “out there”), and finally rounded out the full experience when hours later he bumped into me from behind when I had to stop suddenly in a crowd. Hey! Is that a gun in your pocket . . . or, no, it’s just you, wearing a cock ring and nothing else, in tight quarters. This, and passing by the SLUGS’s (Sun Lovers Under Grey Skies) publicity booth just after eating an elephant ear, sopping wet with grease, I could have done without; but these experiences, like most others in Seattle, still felt true and earnest and oddly reaffirming of life’s wonders. To be fair, Seattle is a lot less spread out than San Diego. We do have some great neighborhoods, and some that are very similar to the feel of Seattle. I think if Balboa Park were removed and the Gaslamp District, Petco area, Littly Italy, Morena, Hillcrest, Mission Hills, North Park, University Heights, Normal Heights, Kensington, South Park, and Golden Hill, and some wet, green forest were all sucked in towards the center and piled on top of one another, it would rival the density and feel of Seattle. I guess Seattle just seems like it was “happening”, for lack of a better word. People seemed to sincerely be enjoying themselves in the time and place they were in the moment, and were satisfied with present company. I don’t recall seeing many people in public with friends, ignoring them while having and extended conversation on their cell phones, making plans for some “better offer” later. In San Diego—and, I guess, in southern California in general—this is all too common. Why come out to a café and sit, right across from your in-the-flesh companion, and talk to someone else, lady who I see on the patio right now? I see at least one more pair of pals doing the same, and there are at least four other people here just gabbing away on the phone. How about you two across the room talking way louder than is necessary? Why bother conversating at all, when it is stilted because you both have one ear bud in and are already searching for the next song, because the one you’re listening to is all of thirty-six seconds deep? Oops, I’m starting to sound preachy, judgmental, and curmudgeonly now. Here, people just often seem to be dissatisfied with where they are and what they’re doing, eager to be on their way somewhere else. I am no exception: I often find myself in this unfortunate mode of being. It’s easy to get sucked in, isn’t it? I guess it comes from a good place, from our desire to be movers, doers, and to be liked. Is that all that bad? We, like our fine city, though, spread ourselves out too much and get pulled in too many directions at once. It dilutes or intensity and makes us seem un-earnest. When we do that, we only sell ourselves short, and don’t allow ourselves to soak in and truly enjoy our experiences.

Comments

magicsfive June 30, 2009 @ 8:36 p.m.

I don't think you are sounding preachy, i thought it was a nice take on your perspective. I just moved to the seattle area from san diego, do you want to trade places? please? :)

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comment July 1, 2009 @ 12:26 a.m.

Hey I will tell you about my experiences in Seattle. Imagine yourself as a dark skinned person of black descent and almost everywhere you go people of not dark skinned descent stare at you. Small children look at you like an animal in the zoo. As far as your time outside, you feel almost claustrophobic with the heavy gray clouds overhead and the constant rain poring down. Everything looks foreign and confined to you. You are very aware that you are on a very north out post of civilization and Canada’s around the corner. The gentle Pacific that you have been raised with all your life is gone and instead you have this cold angry body of water that people don’t swim in they just look at.

Its so interesting that the people who always write articles like this are NOT from San Diego and are of a particular race or background and born and raised in a different state.

I know you had your “experiences” but your perceptions are shaped by who you are and how you were raised. As a true San Diegan you don’t speak for me.

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rickeysays July 1, 2009 @ 2:20 a.m.

It sounds like you're looking for the "bohemian" experience, which you're going to find a lot more easily in Seattle than SoCal. Try visiting Hollyweird, you may find a nice compromise there.

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