Let me tell you a little about Bellingham, Washington, “City of Subdued Excitement.”
I didn’t grow up in any place like this. The particulars of Bellingham are not what bring me reminders of my childhood. I feel Washington reminiscences every now and again, but not based on what Puget Sound has to offer. It has a lot to offer.
I think I moved to the Sound not because I thought it would remind me of my childhood or be exactly like where I grew up. I knew the stark difference between the eastern and western half of Washington, even if I forget the particulars. But the sound is what I considered Paradise when I was a kid. Being here was living the dream. I remember visits to my family in Seattle, coming to the pier and feeding the seagulls. Seeing and feeling the mightiness of the ocean – letting it strike fear in me. Looking at the ocean life, barnacles clinging to the wood on the pier, jellyfish and seaweed washing up to the surface. There was a completely different world down there. What a terrifying and thrilling idea of exploring its depths and knowing it – encountering it. The thought brought shocks to my soul.
Bellingham is the best of Seattle without the worst of Seattle. We’re right on the water, which is beautiful. But the beauty that is here is somewhat untouched and uncommercialized. Which any good Northwestern Puget Sound Granolahead like me should think of as a good thing, right? (But I am also a Capitalist. I think it’s good for businesses to be on the water. I love shops and boutiques and cafes and restaurants and pubs. We all do. We can’t deny it. We live in those places – it’s our culture).
The reason the waterfront in Bellingham is not developed and pretty like other towns, I’m told, is actually geological. The land by the water is not deemed safe – the ground itself is from land that was brought in to create a sort of beach or shoreline where there really was nothing before. I’m not sure what the shoreline did consist of back then, perhaps just sheer cliffs of rock? I’d have to research this more to find out exactly. Anyways, the point is that there are only old, condemned buildings from closed down factories along large portions of the shore here. Which I think is sad, but I guess there is nothing anyone can do.
There are some nice parks. The coffee shop I’m sitting in is located in a park that is basically a strip of a walking path along the water. The beaches in Washington are not “beachy” in that they are not long bars of sand that people lie on in their bathing suits and towels. This is just a place where the water meets the land along a sharp, cold edge. Rocks and shells and remnants of sea-life are mostly what you find there. And the water is cold. The weather is gray and damp most of the time. On beautiful days like today, where the sun is shining, you feel obligated – it is your natural duty to go out and soak it in.
The people in Bellingham…how can I describe them? They all have reached a certain level of Cool. Everyone here is attractive. I haven’t seen very many not-cool looking people. Only people who reach even higher levels of cool. They all know how to dress in a way that makes them look chic and sophisticated and high-class, yet at the same time like they could survive in the wilderness for months with only a stick and their jacket and some shoes that they bought at REI. The men look like they build log cabins in their spare time, with their burly beards and waves of thick, dark hair. Yet even with long hair they somehow embody a look that is clean-cut – this is the way they have groomed themselves. The tattoos are designed. The book under the arm is spiritual, or obscure, or a classic that takes weeks to read. The soup and the coffee are hot.
The women do color in a quirky but coordinated sense. I sometimes wonder about the purple stockings, brown boots, yellow skirt and hunter green top look. I would see someone like this in Texas and immediately think that they have something to say. There is a reason – they are trying to look this way. Hipster, I would say. But here it’s like…everyone just woke up with those clothes already on, they didn’t even have to dress themselves. The girls are pretty. They wear their hair in ways that illuminate the curves of their faces. They wear makeup and jewelry. They have white, shining straight teeth, which usually form the shape of a smile. I feel intimidated but at the same time somehow comforted in their presence. I don’t seriously think of them as judging me. My intimidation probably springs more from the fact that I get the sense that they want to be my friend.
I’m here and it’s a different culture, but in many ways it’s very similar to what I left in Austin. I feel like I am just closer to the tree where the fruit was picked – like these are the “originals.” There is so much embedded in that as a stereotype…too many shallow assumptions. But I’m okay with embracing it lightly because there is a bit of truth to it as well.
Bellingham, I’m not sure if I found you, or if you found me. Let’s stick together for a while.