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Sleepless in Seattle

Not long ago, the primary news source for Capitol Hill, the Capitol Hill Blog, ran a story about a man named “Joe”.

You see, Joe is a man who lives in Pike/Pine, and Joe is upset that a nearby nightclub (The Baltic Room) has been increasing their noise level over the months. To try and solve his problem, Joe has called the police on several occasions, and the SPD has been trying to mediate the dispute.

Frankly, I enjoyed the CHS Blog article. It was well-written and informative. Where things really got interesting, though, was in the comments section of the piece.

Joe was raked over the coals by people who are (ostensibly) Capitol Hill residents, and he quickly found himself outnumbered by people whose sole advise to Joe was:

Move.

Source: http://www.capitolhillseattle.com/2011/04/22/how-seattles-nightlife-initiative-could-help-this-capitol-hill-man-get-some-sleep#comments

After reading through the comments, I was speechless.

Then I started thinking, and wondering.

When did “thump thump thump” become part and parcel to living in the city?

I’ve lived smack dab in the middle of the largest cities in the USA all of my life. Washington DC, New York City, Los Angeles … hell, even when I lived in Las Vegas, my home was mere blocks from the Las Vegas Strip.

In DC, I lived in Adams Morgan (like Capitol Hill, only much more active) directly behind a row of bars and clubs. Yet, when I went home at night to sleep, I never heard “thump thump thump”. When I was in Manhattan, I didn’t hear “thump thump thump” all night. Same for Brooklyn and the Bronx.

Now, did I hear street noise? Absolutely.

I lived on top of a train station for many years and it rumbled underneath me every 3-30 minutes. I heard sirens constantly. I heard people talking on the streets below. I heard the horns of passing cars.

But, “thump thump thump” at 70 decibels for 3 hours straight? No. It never happened.

Why not?

Because whoever was doing the thumping would have gotten angry phone calls, broken windows, police visits, or some other unpleasantry. You see, people in the city have lives. They have bills, but no trust funds. Instead, they have jobs to pay those bills. Real jobs to support families, not internships or cute gigs at the local coffee shop that start at 11am. In order to get to work on time, city residents need sleep. In fact, the city-dwelling human has the exact biological needs of a suburban, or even rural dwelling human.

This brings me to a point.

While hipsters can be an economic engine for certain neighborhoods, they do present a problem in that their outlook on city life is decidedly suburban.

You see, hipsters aren’t real city residents. At least not for long. They’re just passing through. The average hipster is a suburban transplant playing make believe on daddy’s credit card until he “finds himself” (usually in skinny jeans) and moves back to the ‘burbs to start a family. To the hipster, “the city” is not a lifestyle, it’s a playground. A place to pose. A place to see and be seen. A place for the young, single person to socialize. It’s an extension of the dormitory.

To prevent themselves from being exposed to too many of the harsh realities of city life, hipsters tend to congregate amongst other hipsters, and before you know it … they are lighting up message boards explaining the ‘way of the city’ to the unenlightened.

The problem is, the hipster has no idea how to truly live in the inner-city for the duration of their life, nor do they intent to. To them, the city is a fad, and one that will be over soon enough.

I mean, look at the comments on the CHS Blog. Instead of protecting their neighbor against the outside commercial interests which infringes upon his quality of life, they attack him of being somehow unworthy of the neighborhood. The commenters prefer the “thump thump thump” to Joe, because the “thump thump thump” represents the very reason they left the suburbs.

To them, Joe is a cranky wanker that likes to live an anonymous, undisturbed life … but do you know what’s telling? Joe’s opinions are far more in-line with a typical inner-city resident than are the hipster rebuttals, but the hipsters don’t even realize it. How could they? They’ve no clue how to act. They just follow each other’s lead and parrot the dialog of the next guy with an ironic beard.

When I was 6 years old, much to my neighbor’s chagrin, I began playing the guitar. Acoustic at first, but I plugged in when I hit my tweens.

As a life-long apartment dweller, it used to be hard to practice. Above a certain volume level, I knew what would happen. When the neighbors came knocking on my door, and believe me they did, I always replied “sorry, I’ll turn it down”.

I never, ever, EVER, said “hey, this is the city, if you don’t like it, move!”

I never even thought it. After all, the only people I knew lived in the city. It was normal to me. Hell, I thought everyone other than the rich and famous lived in apartments next to a bus stop and a laundromat.

You see, I lived among real, life-long city residents. Had I opined that they should “move” if they didn’t like my distorted racket, I would have been ostracised from my own neighborhood. In addition, I would have gotten my ass mercilessly kicked (which Joe threatens in the comments at one point to the horror of the hipper-than-thou).

You see, the city is not about thumping clubs. TO THE CONTRARY, the city is about the opposite. It is about living and working among people, lots of people, but having a minimal impact on your neighbors. This is how REAL urban dwellwers exist successfully in the city for their entire lives.

They don’t run outside, make as much noise as possible, and yell “this is the city, it’s what we’re supposed to do!”

In these same neighborhoods, though, the same neighborhoods in which I grew up … there is a new type of city resident. The single, suburban ex-patriot poser. The resident for whom city living is not so much a lifestyle choice as a statement. A statement that says “look at me, l’m exciting. I go thump thump thump! At least for a couple of years.“ These posers tend to assume, for whatever reason, that everybody moved to that same neighborhood for the exact same reason.

The problem is, in any given city, and in any given neighborhood, there are all kinds of people. Introverts, extroverts, bookworms, party animals, gay, straight, families, singles, what have you. None of these people “belong” or “don’t belong” more than any other demographic.

A neighborhood is not a dormitory. It’s not a fashion statement. It’s not a piece of jewelry. It is, first and foremost, a home.

Sometimes, my family and I hang out where other parents of the great Pacific Northwest hang out. Exotic places such as the Aquarium and Seattle Center. When we talk with other parents, and they learn that we live at the confluence of Pike/Pine and Downtown, their faces contort.

“You mean, the kids live there too?”, they ask.

They cannot fathom it. In the last 20-30 years, middle-class white flight has become the norm, and anyone who resists the call of the strip mall and culd-de-sac is clearly eccentric and/or a witch. Most white people today would never think about raising their kids in the city, lest they attend school and mingle with “the blacks”, “the gays”, and “the other scary groups of people”.

Capitol Hill, Seattle

Capitol Hill, Seattle

It didn’t use to be this way, and these paradigm shifts are ruining our greatest urban areas. Urban areas which used to support life. Life from across the spectrum of humanity. Young, old, rich, poor, middle-class … No one “type” of person used to lay claim to the city, for the city was for everyone. Alas, peer pressure, a fear of minorities, and a love for the automobile has forced most middle-class white families out of the core.

I walk around Capitol Hill with my kids today, and it saddens me that they are one of few kids that I spot on Pine, Pike, and Broadway. Instead of feeling bad for my kids, however, I feel bad for other people’s kids, for it is they who are missing out.

Capitol Hill is a great neighborhood full of (mostly) great people. It’s a great place to grow up, and it helps prepare young minds for urban life into their adulthood. My kids think nothing of two men walking down the street holding hands. They think nothing of a white man holding an Asian woman’s hand, or worse … a black man holding a white woman’s hand. The smells, the sounds, the graffiti, the posters on telephone poles, the woman walking a deaf albino ferret on a leash, it’s all normal to them. They love riding the electric trolley buses, love taking the train, and abhor riding in the back of a minivan (trust me, I tried for awhile). They have friends, but unfortunately, most of them live closer to 15th Ave.

Why are they so unique, though? Why on earth would everyone not want to raise their kids here? They would prefer shopping malls and perfectly manicured lawns? Really? Why? To each his/her own, but it doesn’t appeal to me on any level.

Even more curious is why “alternative lifestyle” people see families on The Hill as a bad idea.

I thought you wanted inclusion? Acceptance?

How in the hell is that supposed to happen when every kid in America grows up in the the same sterile, close-minded suburb which caused you to come here to seek out a better life for yourself?

I’ll tell you something … nothing, NOTHING beats life experience. You can bombard kids with all the “we are the same” after-school specials you want, but until they live it, you’re still just cartoon characters.

Face it, many of you are just as close-minded, bigoted, stereotype-prone, and back-assward as the targets of your PC rantings. Perhaps it is you who should embrace diversity.

Most of the club owners on Capitol Hill, do not live on Capitol Hill. A great many of the patrons of those bars also do not live on Capitol Hill.

As such, and please pardon my french … fuck them.

I don’t really care what they want, and neither should you. They don’t live here. They come to Capitol Hill because they don’t want to shit and piss and throw cigarette butts on the beautiful white sidewalks of their home. The owners don’t spend the cash they earn here. They take it with them to wherever they live, and they help that economy.

Nightclubs are overrated as economic engines. The sales tax on beer just isn’t kicked back into the neighborhood in sufficient quantities to overcome the trash, noise, traffic, drunk driving and other policing issues.

The Baltic Room in Pike/Pine

The Baltic Room in Pike/Pine

In the interests of full disclosure, I live about two blocks from the Baltic Room and never hear it. Even if I did, I doubt it would bother me. As a person who was born and raised in “the city”, I cannot stand silence. As silly as it sounds, too little sound actually frightens me. I’m a person who opens his windows when it’s cold just so I can hear the roar of Interstate 5 and other street noise. It lulls me to sleep and I would freak out if I lived someplace “quiet”.

When it comes to clubs and bars, I’ve spent half of my life in these places. My hearing is damaged because of it. As much as I hate to admit it now, I’ve probably pissed on every Capitol Hill corner, and I didn’t always find an approved trash receptacle for my garbage at 2am. When I was out and about, I was not always what you would call a “model citizen”. Joe would have hated me.

That being said, I am completely un-American in that I can actually understand people who are different from myself. No matter how liberal or “alternative” people are in this country, they always seek conformity and consensus in their chosen group. Let’s face it, there aren’t a lot of punk rockers who dress in suits, carry a briefcase, have conservative haircuts, and are pierce-free.

If Joe is a resident of the neighborhood, and he is being bothered by non-residents, then he should be supported by his fellow residents. Within reason, of course, and 65+ decibels sounds reasonable.

Those of you who will surely shake your fist at me as you did with Joe, well, fuck you too. I’ve been living in the concrete jungle before most of you were single-celled organisms swimming in your father’s hairy hacky sack. I know you’re posing, and so do you. This is why you need to gang up on Joe.

I lived in the city before you got here, far larger cities than this one, and I will be here long after you leave. My kids will be here long before your kids graduate from college and come here to “find themselves”. If your kids bring a boom-box with them, and tell my kids to shut up and accept it because it’s the nature of the city, my kids are going to set your kids straight. Hell, if I’m still alive, so will I.

In any given neighborhood, it’s residents first. Period. I don’t care who got there first, who got there second, or who got there third. People must be secure in their homes, and nobody should fail to receive protection of the City Code because they chose the “wrong” street to live on. I cannot even believe that someone with an IQ north of 90 would even suggest otherwise. If “Joe” has decibel levels exceeding 65 in his apartment, then it is illegal, and no he doesn’t “deserve” it.

If you think he does, then you are the one that needs to leave.

You aren’t cut out for city life.

P.S. 2,000 words. This is why I didn’t bother to post this in the CHS comments section. Brevity is not my strong suit.

8 comments to Sleepless in Seattle

  • joshuadf

    Rex,
    As an urban dweller with kids myself, I agree completely. And if it makes you feel any better, I’ve been messing with Census 2010 data and found that Pike-Pine has one of the highest density of kids per acre in King County:
    http://joshuadf.blogspot.com/2011/04/population-under-18-per-acre-i-have.html

    • Seattle Rex Seattle Rex

      Very interesting. Thanks.

      One other thing I might offer is that, compared to many (most?) cities, Seattle’s inner-city schools are actually quite good.

      The teachers are excellent, and in the past 2 months there have already been field trips to Pacific Science Center, The Aquarium, and Benaroya Hall. Next month they are taking a cruise of Elliot Bay.

      Growing up in inner-Seattle certainly presents some challenges (kids definitely can’t ride their bicycles in the street or play in the yard), but the benefits far outweigh the negatives in my opinion. By a wide margin.

  • K-Dub

    If any of those idiots who railed on Joe were to have the same disturbance happen to them, they’d be singing a different tune. I used to live above Vito’s before they were shut down for a little while, and also back when management didn’t give a rats ass about the adjoining apartment building. One of the many times I called the SPD, a dispatcher gave me a, “That’s what you get for living above a bar” lip. Needless to say I had a few choice words for her. It got so bad that the landlord stormed into the bar one night and flipped out on the place. Music stopped on a dime and everything. Leading up to all that, they had actually been great for a period of months. The cause? The bar changed hands yet again, and the new people in charge refused to work with the landlord like the last ones did. You are absolutely right that these people do not care one bit about the neighborhoods.

    And I sympathize about trying play to an instrument without disturbing anyone. I play drums, and grew up in a rowhouse in Baltimore. Believe it or not, some people dug it once I got really good. But there were definitely some spats with others (haters ;P). Did everything I could to muffle/mute the drums, never played evening hours, etc. Never could do enough, though. Just the way it was.

    • Seattle Rex Seattle Rex

      I played the drums for a few years, but because of the issues you presented, could not really go after them. I used to use drum pads at home, but it just wasn’t the same.

      With the guitar, at least I could use headphones plugged into a practice amp.

      It still didn’t sound satisfying, but it was certainly better than “tap tap tap” on those little pads.

  • Bob Calhoun

    Congratulations on a great essay! I’m glad to read a more reasonable perspective on this noise issue, as often the Capitol Hill hipsters are more vocal. Boy, am I tired of reading their oft-quoted advice: “move to Bellevue.”

    The thing I dislike most about hipster attitudes is the unquestioning acceptance of the more negative aspects of living on Capitol Hill (loud noise, litter, illegal postering, etc.). These things are NOT inevitable.

  • A-Chan

    Nice post. I am not sure, though, that you are aware of how loud 65 decibels of bar noise is inside one’s own home. While traffic noise is usually easy to get used to and often even soothing, 65 decibels of bar noise is unbearable. As I wrote in the Capitol Hill Blog, NYC places a limit of 42 decibels on music from bars and clubs inside a residence with the windows open. This is more reasonable. Ultimately, though, I believe that these sorts of noises are not well measured by decibel readings; the best standard is in fact the simplest: Noise from a bar should be in violation if it is plainly audible inside a residence with the windows open.

  • Kimberley

    I had paragraphs of advice other than “move”. Unless you know the commenters personally, I don’t see how it’s any different for you to assume that they are male, bearded, hipsters, young, from the suburbs, etc. than it is for them to assume that Joe is a stick-in-the-mud or whatever.

    @calhoun Viewing loud noise and music posters as acceptable doesn’t mean you’re unquestioning. Perhaps you’ve questioned whether the benefits outweigh the drawbacks and decided that they do. :P That said, it seems to me like many of those issues could be resolved with better infrastructure (e.g. more trash cans and recycling bins, public city bulletin boards that are designed to house posters, classes for club owners to learn how to soundproof their facilities, etc.)

  • Drew

    What happened to the “Frankly, I…” paragraph?

    I’m new here, btw. Going through posts chronologically like a real stalker. Gem of a site… great material!

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