Sunday, May 6, 2012

Bumped His Head When He Went To Bed (A Seattle Primer)

Bumped His Head When He Went To Bed (A Seattle Primer)
By BJ Neblett

Rain poured down the day I arrived. Big deal you say, it rains all the time in Seattle. Actually that’s not entirely true. Places like Savannah and Miami receive more rain yearly than Seattle. Chicago comes close to matching the Emerald City in annual precipitation. Only most of what falls on the Windy City is white and slushy and requires shoveling. I’ve seen it rain for four days straight in Houston, a hard, driving rain that floods the city and makes national headlines. That’s because the inventive Texans cemented in the sides and bottoms of the bayous. The original earthen bayous were designed to absorb as well as channel. Now the water has no place to go but up.
            In 1958, an unusually wet summer dampened my school vacation and washed out nearly a quarter of the Philadelphia Phillies home schedule. Despite the rain, Richie Ashburn had a career making season, leading the league in a number of categories. The next year went dry and so did Ashburn and the Phillies. Then he retired.
            The main difference in Seattle, which receives a very average 37 inches per year – world rain fall average is 36 inches – is the type of rain fall. Natives of Charleston, South Carolina, (50+ inches) can set their watches by the weather. Just about every hot, melting day from May thru September moist air blows in off the Atlantic. The down pour starts about 4 PM and lasts usually less than thirty minutes, a heavy, soaking rainforest type shower. Then the sun returns and so does the humidity, with a vengeance. Steam rising off the sticky ground can cause Viet Nam flashbacks.
            South Florida (more than 60 inches) has much the same routine as Charleston. The same is true for New Orleans. Only Florida gets a break with some cool breezes, not to mention a few hurricanes. The Big Easy just swelters.
            Everyone knows about San Francisco’s (16-32 inches) famous fog. Caught between the mountains and the bay, it makes for perfect temperature inversions. Nights and mornings in ‘Frisco are reminiscent of London. Ironically, because of a shift in the Pacific currents, August can be windy and chilly in the city by the Bay. I believe it was Mark Twain who said the coldest winter he’d ever spent was the summer he spent in San Francisco.
            Seattle is a different animal altogether. Damp would be a better description than rainy. Nestled at the end of a long dog legged islet, and sandwiched between mountains, King County is the recipient of Pacific Ocean winds tempered by North Pacific Drift, an extension of the warm Japan Current. (As if it’s not enough that we import everything else from Asia.) All of that meteorological mumbo jumbo translates into a mild climate and nearly non-stop coastal breezes which skirt the Sound and pick up plenty of moisture, raining down the dog leg like…well, like…what runs down a dog’s leg.
            Nearly every day you can wake up to overcast skies and a light mist or drizzle. By late morning the front has moved on and the sun coyly reveals itself. It’s great for hangovers, easing you into the pain. I think it’s where Carly Simon came up with the line, “…clouds in my coffee.”
            Considering the northern latitude, the shy sun doesn’t hang around very long in Seattle. Often not long enough to completely dry things out. In winter, the darkness comes early, like 4 PM early. Children’s lunchboxes have head lamps. Moss and slugs should be the official shrub and animal of the area. Like I said, damp.
            That doesn’t mean the Great Northwest never gets wet. Sometimes it comes down so hard Saint Swivens would feel at home. Some days you feel like building an ark. Overcast and gloomy, it’s the number of days leaving your head lights on in the office parking lot category where Seattle stands out, not total rain fall.
            The natives like it like that. No fooling. The web footed denizens of the area are proud of their reputation of wet weather. They perpetuate and encourage the stories, and why not? It kept them nice and secluded for decades. Lewis and Clark heard about the rain, turned southwest and wintered in Oregon.
            Once, if you asked the average American to locate Seattle they’d probably inquire, “Which country?” Seriously, legend has it when DB Cooper parachuted with his stash of cash into the Cascades a high ranking F.B.I. official asked for a map of Canada. Seattleites enjoyed a peaceful existence of blissful obscurity. It gave them a chance to drink all that coffee.
            Then came the ‘80’s, and Reganomics, and greed is good, and the me generation. Somebody spilled the coffee beans. Astute investors in California looked north. Soon they had snatched up every available parcel of the highly undervalued land. Property values and the resultant taxes went through the overcast sky. Locals were not happy. Big Foot sold his holdings and retired to Cabo San Lucas. He runs a beach bar there now.
            By the time the smoke cleared in the ‘90’s the damage had been done; in more ways than one. The rest of the country was wise to the fact that Seattle is a clean, pretty, modern city with friendly citizens and a moderate climate. Not exactly beach weather in the summer, but you won’t freeze your buns off in snow waiting for the Monorail either. Hey, Boeing, Nintendo, Bill Gates, and a half million Hippies can’t all be wrong.
            Yes, Hippies. Ok, maybe not half a million, but the largest aggregation since Woodstock.
            You remember the Delphian ‘60’s and the corybantic ‘70’s, right? Well, if you do you probably weren’t doing it right. But you know what I mean: long hair, sandals, beads (and that was just the males); black light posters, candles, incense; peace, love and recreational chemicals. In 1977, at the first appearance of lighted dance floors and platform shoes; with thumpus uninteruptus echoing in their foggy brains, the entire Hippie population of the U.S. packed up their VW Microbuses and headed northwest – California was too weird, even for them. When they found they couldn’t go any further they stopped in Seattle. Canada had just kicked out the last U.S. draft dodger and was closed for remodeling.
            You wondered what happened to the Hippies, didn’t you? They are all here, lock, stock, and New Age bookstores. You don’t have to look too hard either: that bearded guy serving you your double tall skinny mocha; the girl with the pretty blonde hair and large natural melons. The great damp northwest and the counter culture generation are a common law marriage made in heaven. The area is perfect for them to grow their organic…crops.
            So, the next time someone tells you about rainy Seattle you’ll know better. But don’t let on you are hip to the myth. Just smile, nod your head politely and ask about the coffee.
            And don’t go for the lines about earthquakes either!

                                                                                                            Seattle, WA
                                                                                                            August, 2009

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