By Seana Sperling
I returned to Seattle in 1993, and Broadway on Capital Hill had lots of charming little coffee places, book stores, thrift stores, and a Lock and Key store with a live cat in the window (most of the time). Q Patrol was out on Friday and Saturday nights and made the entire community (both LGBT and straight) feel safer. Grunge Rockers paraded down Broadway in torn jeans and plaid lumberjack shirts, with assorted chains dangling from pocket wallets, while alternators with magenta, green or blue hair raided thrift stores for 50’s and 60’s clothing. Drag Queens were not confined to Pride and small venues, but strolled freely on Broadway any time they felt like it. Now an Office Max and a Bank of America has replaced the thrift shop and bagel place, and the Language school where I worked for eight years.
There seems to be a growing social trend in Seattle to be linked up, grouped up, dressed-up: cookie-cutter-style and it seems that few people want to think independently any more. Everyone wears skinny jeans and hoodies (including myself). It reminds me of a toy store shelf filled with Barbies that all have the same shapes and faces.
A scarier reality is that very few are looking to be different in action, thought and deed as well. The creation of the Flash Mob exemplifies this. If everyone else is doing it, it isn’t scary. Most like to follow rather than lead. This is the popular trend in behavior.
It seems that the culture of sameness has even filtered into our lexicon. Have you noticed how “Thank you so much,” has become prevalent in the media and also fashionable for many that work in customer service? I first heard this phrase from an adult student from Japan in 1994. When he said the words, it sounded very sincere and I started using the phrase. Then in the new millennium, everyone and their hamster began saying, “Thank you so much.” Due to overuse, the phrase lost its’ charm for me, so I stopped using it. When I hear some people say it now, it sounds snarky.
The attitude of sameness is reflected in the profusion of boxes, I mean buildings, that are being erected in the city. There are cranes everywhere, erecting boxes of housing, boxes of offices, boxes of retail and garage space and boxes of who knows what else. Even though some have kept the historic façade, what lay within is still a box. It is interesting how a town’s architecture can reflect a pervasive attitude.
There were so many distinctive spots in Seattle in the early 1990s, like The Cyclops (the old one), Septieme (Belltown), and the Blob in lower Queen Anne. (The Blob was not the real name as it had many incarnations). There were many more, but now all are specters buried beneath the glittering condominiums that replaced them.
Art culture has also been affected. Just recently I heard that both The Varsity and The Harvard Exit theaters are shuttering and who knows what cineplex or condominium will replace them. We have lost other resources for independent art as well. Consolidated Works in South Lake Union was among the many innovative venues lost. Con Works had multiple forms of art: theater, film, a gallery featuring local artists, etc. Then it was stolen from its’ creator and a few years later shut down. I wonder what the developers have turned it into. Pacific Northwest Ballet will stop using Maurice Sendak’s set designs for the Nut Cracker in 2015. I wonder what they will be replaced with. Perhaps it will be Disney characters?
Once in a while I will see one of my neighbors decked out in glorious purple from his beard to his boots. I wave to him and recall the earlier years of Seattle when independent thinking in style of dress, mannerism, etc. was not the exception, but the rule. I applaud his independent spirit.