Published: April 12th 2012April 12th 2012
I’d like to offer an opinion about Seattle. Only problem is I am at a loss to do so. A few months before embarking on this trip I had the opportunity to attend a conference there. I rejected this out of hand since it was February, which meant it was cold where I was, and doubtless be cold, and wet
, in Seattle. Anyway, one of my student comrades did go, and beforehand he and another quasi-intellectual-beer-drinking-archaeologist type brainstormed what we thought Seattle was renowned for. We came up with the big needle thing, but then we thought, they have one of those in Calgary and Toronto and any number of cities. It must be famous for something other than that… - Grunge maybe? We drew a blank. “Good Coffee,” my wife suggested, although she’d only been there as a wee tot herself. My decision not to go to the conference was clearly sound. BTW James spent his time in Seattle, outside of the conference, in his five-star hotel room smoking cigarettes and watching porn, so I was no more informed about the city upon his return.
Yet here I was with my family, driving up a wide pot-holed
freeway past Tacoma and Seattle’s southern suburbs connecting the two cities along interstate 5. Maybe it was the contrast of having just been to Mount Rainier National Park, but it just seemed a bit more manic than I’d imagined it. I’d booked a couple nights online at the Holiday Inn for our stay there, only problem being, in my typical style, “Holiday Inn, Seattle” is all the information I had bothered to gather (I don’t write things down – a bad habit I developed when my memory used to work some years back). As always, Jennifer gets a bit ticked off with my slapdash approach to such things and that is why we charged up past Seattle on the highway and headed north on my assumption that the Holiday Inn we wanted, was either ‘North’ or, had ‘North’ in the street name? We stopped at a Mall in the north, with north in its name, if I recall correctly, and I pestered random people to help us with our predicament. People really are quite useful these days with their magic phones that have internet and maps and all sorts of stuff on them, and thanks to a combination of these
Mandalay going green
Olympic National Park
people and their ‘apps’ we found our hotel, up there in the north, somewhere.
Jennifer was still plugging away at her thesis which is why I’d selected a hotel with a pool and complimentary breakfast so that the kids and I could be entertained and fed with the minimum of effort. The all-day complimentary coffee in the lounge may not have been especially noteworthy, but it was a selling point as well, providing fuel for Jennifer’s writing. Three days later we were ready to check out and leave Seattle, and so we did. All I had really seen of the city due to the rain and my laziness was the inside of our hotel and the Korean restaurant across the road. “Now wait just a minute”, I said, or words to that extent. “The sun is shining…we need to see something
of this city, don’t we?” But I was at a loss to back up my argument with actual stuff we ought to be seeing.
The receptionists suggested that all tourists must, and do, visit Pike Place Market; fruit and vegetables… a fish market? This isn’t - insert developing country here
- ! Why
Brookings Beach, Oregon
(People like to look at the pink sky just before the day turns dark)
would I want to go traipsing around a market looking at people buying cabbages? But we did, we navigated our way south past the big needle thing and found a place to park the car under a big flyover and walked to the market past drunken-grungy-pothead types in a small park who asked us for money. Begging off tourists? This isn’t – insert developing country here
- ! We had about three hours to spare before our ferry left for the Olympic Peninsula, so we got stuck into buying berries and exploring the market. Rather worryingly, it seemed the local Starbucks™ was somewhat of a tourist attraction. This led me to conclude that Seattle was destined to become the Amsterdam of Coffee. Although I understand this link is tenuous, a growing contemporary dependency on the drug severely calls into question coffee’s ‘recreational’ qualities. However it does have a vital medicinal function treating many of the ailments brought about by industrial capitalism.
Leaving Seattle, the view back towards the city from the ferry was lovely. It was a gloriously sunny day, so all was good. We stayed in a hotel in a place called Port Orchard, which had
a pool and breakfast, and Jennifer continued writing her thesis.
Next day I was into it: REALLY into it - this was the reason we’d headed west from Montana - the drive around the top of Olympic National Park promised to be epic. Just as we got into the nitty-gritty of it, however, the sky descended on us and it began to rain. Half-way up our drive into the park proper the Ranger at the ticket kiosk told us we were wasting our time as far as visibility was concerned, so we back-tracked and continued on our path west to the Pacific Coast.
The highway passes through a slither of the Park at Lake Crescent on its way round, and so we pulled over as the rain had subsided. The low clouds remained, hugging the tops of the rain forested mountains as they rolled around the perimeter of the misted lake. It is one of those scenes where one just imagines seeing something exactly as it looked a hundred, a thousand -- ten hundred million thousand years ago!
Our destination that afternoon was Rialto Beach, where Olympic National Park meets the
a fertile phone box
but who stole the phone? Olympia National Park
Pacific Ocean. When one imagines a beach, it doesn’t really matter what the beach itself is like, you really want the sun to be shining. The two go hand-in-hand, like “peantee-butter ‘n’ jelly”, as my three year old would say. And, though the rain was just clearing, the clouds were still dark and menacing and the dark gray ocean was angrily rolling and crashing in the wind. We’d brought along bucket and spade for Kiva and Mandalay. I wanted to explore the wider area, but the kids’ attention span would be severely limited due to the dreary conditions.
Having, and furthermore traveling with, kids puts a severe squeeze on that commodity commonly referred to as ‘time’. Problem is, as with most things, one doesn’t realize how valuable it is until it is gone. Yet, in contrast, when you are gifted even an ounce of this most precious of commodities, you grab it and you cherish it.
Promised half-an hour of this commodity all to myself I took off hastily down the beach over the hulking mounds of rain-saturated driftwood, pebbles, sand and gravel. My intended location was a collection of sea stacks at the
far end of the beach, though the scale of everything filtered through the mist made calculating distances deceptive. After some 15 minutes I looked back at the distance I’d covered and saw that my family was barely visible in the haze, with the distance still left to travel similarly distant. I conceded that heading all the way to the end of the beach would leave me with minimal time to take it all in before I was hurrying back over the sand on my return journey. I then saw a magnificent piece of old sculpted driftwood. This would be my spot to take it all in.
The less-than-favorable conditions meant that there were perhaps just a half dozen other people scattered along the entire length of the beach. It was there I sat and watched. I’ve been to many an end of the world candidate spot in my time; this had it down to a tee. Reaching land’s end on the edge of a continent and looking out into the Ocean, I want it to feel as though nothing exists beyond. It was magnificent, prehistoric. I’d love to go back there one day, though I fear I
might return on a bad day, and the sun might be shining.
We were camped a mile or so away from the beach at a designated campground. It rained through the night, of which Jennifer spent a large part cooped up in the shower block, her laptop plugged into a power source, putting the finishing touches to her thesis, as the deadline was now almost upon us.
After breakfast and packing up the tent the following morning, we pit-stopped at a town called Forks for a coffee fix. If you’re a fan of the Twilight movies/books this realization may peak your interest somewhat as the plot of this saga is based in and around this town. Actually, I don’t think any filming took place here but that is beside the point. Basically all one needs to know is that there are vampires, one of whom is called Edward, and then there are shape shifting Native American people who turn into wolves, one of whom is called Jacob (which I feel is a rather charming name for a wolf). Apparently wolves and vampires don’t get along, so as far as I know, we as ‘fans’
(from the Latin word fanaticus
: “insane person”) of this epic narrative are supposed to select one of these dichotomies as our ‘team’. For me, as a man, I believe this is a no-brainer. Do I want to smell like a wet dog, or do I want to live forever? If you are female, the choice is slightly more complicated. Do you want to marry a hot dark guy who can turn himself into a wolf? Or, do you want to be married to a bloodsucking cold-blooded dead man for all eternity? To me the choice is clear, but then teenage lust has been known to cloud one’s judgment.
Until I visited this town I believed ‘forks’ were implements for getting peas from the plate into my mouth. However, it appears other tourists aren’t so ignorant, and they flock here in droves to be able to order a Werewolf Burger or a Bellasagna from the local Twilight-themed restaurants. Inhabitants of Forks include former loggers and the local native Quileute People who have shifted, not only from wolves, it seems, but from selling all things native (that old fad), to Twilight mania peddling.
Here you can
Olympic National Park
dive back into Olympic National Park driving inwards and upwards away from the coast. This is the rainforest. Some people have a hard time with the logic of using that term so far north because it evokes images of tropical climes, monkeys and bananas. A good mnemonic is to focus on the word RAIN in that word. Even though it wasn’t raining during our visit, it still felt as though we were navigating our way through the holes in a giant wet sponge. I’ve never seen something so verdant in all my life. It may sound like a metaphor to say the foliage was dripping from the tress, and that it enveloped and consumed everything in its path. But it was, and it did.
As we left the park and drove south it began to rain, and I mean RAIN…it rained and rained and rained heavy and hard. We keep our stoves, BBQ, bedding and tent up on the roof rack inside a well-worn waterproof storage bag. We weren’t optimistic. That night we spent a good part of our evening watching our bedding tumble round and round in a dryer at the campsite…but this blog is about
to be hijacked and we’ll never get that far in this story.
Jennifer needed to get her completed thesis sent off which meant we needed internet. This being North America we pulled into a Safeway Supermarket in a town called Aberdeen for a spot of Cantonese inspired lunch and mooched off their WiFi. Even though I’d finished writing my own thesis some weeks previously I had yet to send it off as I’d been waiting patiently for Jennifer to finish hers so that she could run the rule over mine before I submitted (my attention to the details of grammar is crap). So driving down the coast in the relentless rain I thought now was probably a good time to inform her of my great idea. This meant another pit-stop at a WiFi spot, this time McDonald’s, so as the kids could clamber round inside the play zone while I munched on burgers and unleashed my new toy. Enter the Kindle…
It is important at this point to add some context for what is about to proceed. For the previous two-years I had been immersed in the world of anthropological theory
which gradually narrowed in focus until all I was reading and thinking about was the cultural constructions of race and authenticity, the Incas and the tourist’s quest (notwithstanding the Packers winning Super Bowl XLV and the Canucks falling at the final hurdle in the Stanley Cup).
We’d bought our Kindle just a week or so earlier in Idaho and now filled it with the thousand or so books we’d borrowed from the internet. I thought now was a good time to treat myself to a little light reading. Stuff White People Like, by Christopher Lander, caught my eye as I clicked through the chapters and stopped at “Stuff White People Like #17 Travelling”: “White person travelling can be broken into two categories – First World and Third World. First world is Europe and Japan, and man, this travel is not only beloved but absolutely essential in their development as white people…What’s amazing is that all white people have pretty much the same experience, but all of them believe theirs to be the first of its kind. So much so that they return to North America with ideas of writing novels and screenplays about their experience. The second type of white person travel is Third World. This is when they venture to Thailand, Africa or South America. Some do it so that they can one up the white people who only go to Europe. But like with Europe, white people like to believe they are the first white people to make this trip. As such, they should be recognized as special and important individuals.”
Okay, I thought, not very deep, but I’ll give you that one. So onwards I clicked until this caught my eye (#71) “Being the only white person around”: “This concept ties heavily into (#7) Diversity and (#19) Travelling, but is important that you fully understand how white people view authenticity and experience. In most situations, white people are very comforted by seeing their own kind. However, when they are eating at a new ethnic restaurant or traveling to a foreign nation, nothing spoils their fun more than seeing another white person. The arrival of the “other white people” to either restaurants or vacation spots instantly means that lines will grow, authenticity will be lost, and the euphoria of being a cultural pioneer will be over.”
My own anthropological research had drawn similar conclusions. From that moment forth the book began to read like an ethnography of the Pacific North West. I was hooked.
Starting from the top, apparently, the thing White People like above all is (#1) Coffee “I promise you that the first person at your school to drink coffee was a white person. You could kind of tell they didn’t enjoy it, but they did it anyways until they liked it – like cigarettes. White people all need Starbucks, Second Cup or Coffee Bean. They are also fond of saying “you do NOT want to see me before I get my morning coffee.” White guys will also call it anything but coffee: “rocket fuel,” “java,” “joe,” “black gold,” and so forth. It’s pretty garbage all around. If you want to go for extra points – white people really love FAIR TRADE coffee, because paying the extra $2 means they are making a difference.”
The birthplace of Starbucks, Seattle, and its appeal to white people immediately began to make more sense.
In the late 1990s I set off on my very first year
off (Stuff White People Like #120). Before I left England people predominantly drank tea, and the coffee they did drink came in a jar and it was served in the home. With my back turned a “Starbucks” opened 65 stores in the UK. It appeared a sitcom called Friends (which had piped in laughter to let the viewer know exactly when to laugh) had tenderized the general public to such an extent that upon my return to England, previously rational people now felt compelled to order a pint of coffee for five-quid from something called a coffee shop. Starbucks now boasts 11 million Facebook fans (fanaticus
) worldwide, which is more than any teenage speed-dealer could have ever dreamed of. Coffee is not just a drug it seems, it’s a trendy drug.
I guess in this respect I consider myself a postmodernist white person because I drink tea (#13): Green Tea, Chamomile, Chai, White Tea, Rooibos Tea, Jasmine Tea, Oolong Tea, Black Tea, Orange Pekoe… the list goes on…. In fact I travel with a big zip-lock crammed full of the stuff, drinking and collecting as I go. I’m fanaticus
Regardless, the point is, all my
confusion about the appeal of Seattle was washed away reading this book as the city seemed to posses virtually every conceivable attribute white people hold dear, I even began to wonder what came first, Seattle or White People?
Even that strange suggestion that visiting tourists visit Pikes Place Market to see “local herb merchants” had an explanation: “White people like Farmers Markets for a number of reasons. The first is their undying need to support local economies, and the idea of buying direct from the farmer helps them assuage the fears instilled in them from reading Fast Food Nation. Just like with farmers markets, white people believe that organic food is grown by farmers who wear overalls, drive tractors, and don’t use pesticide. In spite of the fact that most organic food is made by major agribusiness, and they just use it as an excuse to jack up prices, white people will always lose their mind for organic anything. Never mind the fact that if the world were to switch to 100% organic food tomorrow, half the earth would die of starvation.”
Some in Oregon have caught onto this fad and set up
rustic and ramshackle looking mini-mart-kets from old barns in and around the rotting wagon wheels and wineries white people love to tour around during the warmer months. The price of fruit at some of these mart-kets is eye-watering; the berries are doubtless picked by the same low-paid Hispanic workers who pick the berries you find at Wal-Mart. Though, fortunately by cutting out transportation costs and that wretched middleman (white people hate corporations #82) the price actually skyrockets. Truly an economic miracle: that kilo of blueberries which cost $10 at Wal-Mart now costs closer to fifty when sold from the back of an old shed… but they’re worth every penny, because they make white people feel at least five times healthier and more caring than you for buying them.
Another thing that white people love is wine (#24). I’m guilty as charged when it comes to this. But then we are dealing with alcohol, I can either choose to get pished on beer (though remember, exotic beer encountered whilst traveling (#17) or that made in a microbrewery (#23) is acceptable), or I can acquire the myriad cultural benefits that come with becoming a member of Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin
The first EV-ERR, Seattle. (Notice the fanaticus)
minus the burps and beer belly.
It seemed many a winery we visited in Oregon had tapped into this demand. My gripe is that many have become a one stop monopoly shop. You go to a tasting, the price of the wine then offered for purchase is unquestionably overpriced, but something takes over the mind, and it isn’t just the alcohol. If that wine were sat on a dusty shelf in a supermarket somewhere, at that price, alongside its competition, it would sit there for a very long time. Yet the idea of buying this plonk direct from the source, seeing the vineyard, the cellar, the oak barrels, and other white tasters, is a wonderful counter balance to the alienation white people increasingly feel in this ‘modern world’ of ours... It doesn’t matter how you are seduced, at the end of the day you’re still getting screwed! Fortunately, white people can generally afford to pay for this special servicing.
White people also love Portland, Oregon. I have to confess I was at a loss when it came to this one. Admittedly I was only there a few days, and admittedly the children’s museum was awesome, but
I failed to see the appeal. Okay, it does have the highest rate of microbreweries and Trader Joe’s per capita and more than 20 coffee houses in Portland have 4.5–5 star ratings…whatever that means! It was also named the “Greenest city”
in America by Popular Science: but isn’t that a bit like being awarded the prize for firmest man boobs at fat camp? It reminded me of Newcastle upon Tyne…though admittedly the closest I’ve come to visiting that town was watching Byker Grove when I was a kid.
But lets not stray from the fact that Oregon is a wonderful state, the coast is wild, rugged, untamed and beautiful, the string of volcanoes that form the backbone of the state are stunning and offer up some spectacular outdoor opportunities if you like going where the wild things are (#127). Beyond the realm of the Subaru Outback, to the east of the mountains, the sun shines relentlessly and the climate is dry and spring-like for much of the year. And, Oregon has no sales tax.
So anyway, armed with this new guidebook we rolled into northern California and down towards the city white people love
even more than Seattle or Portland: San Francisco (#91).
Afterword: As a final word on some of the revelations uncovered in this blog, it is important to remember that however progressive these left-leaning city-dwelling white folk today think they are, they haven’t really changed that much since the 1980s yuppie era of consumerist greed. The quest for status is still there. For example, I returned to grad school (#81) in order to acquire a liberal arts degree (#47), I actually moved to Canada (#75), my music taste - and its procurement by piracy - is better then yours (#93), I have visited more countries than you (#19), I’m more easily offended on behalf of other people than you (#101) and I’m an expert on your culture (#20). Furthermore I have gifted children (#16) who are multilingual (#78), wear New Balance Shoes (#96) and love nothing more than eating hummus (#112) and camping (#128)”
Disclaimer: My wife finds this book extremely obnoxious and would likely need the space of a whole other thesis to fully explicate why. One reason, however, is that she says most white people she knows do not share the traits expressed within the
book as the white people she knows are God - fearing Republicans from America’s Midwest, a.k.a “the wrong kind of white people.”
There are more photos below