Buffy the metropolis slayer

At the heart of the city breathes the soul of a 12-year-old girl. She must be found and stopped.

To every city there is a spirit, and an incarnation for every metro area under heaven. Were the souls and guiding forces of the cities of our nation made flesh, New York would be a man in his mid-'30s, the kind with razor-cut hair that walks fast and jabbers into a cell phone on his way to a Very Important Place where he does Big Things. Los Angeles would be the blonde at the bar who looks 25 until you see her in direct sunlight, when you realize she's easily 50 and she's laughing because hey, you bought her drinks all night and slipped her the tongue a couple of times and you can't take any of it back now, sucker, and tomorrow night she'll do it again to some other poor schmuck. Las Vegas is the blonde at the bar who looks 50 though she's only 25. Chicago's behind the bar wiping down a glass and wearing a dirty apron. Ask him his age and he'll throw your ass outta here.

Seattle is a 12-year-old girl, and she's starting to annoy me.

Let me be more explicit. Seattle is a city designed, planned, and run by a 12-year-old girl. Don't hand me that Paul Schell/Ron Sims line; I'm talking real control here. (Trust me. I've seen the city and county administrative buildings, and if actual politicians were using those for important affairs of government they wouldn't look like that.) Somewhere in this town there is a prepubescent girl whose vision of Seattle maps our destiny, and I say we've got to find this kid and shake her till she snaps out of it. The life of the city may hang in the balance.

Now, I can't hold the little darling responsible for things like the shops and storefronts, though with names like "Bizango" and "Maxine's Pickety Patch, a parade of happy flowers and gifts" it's pretty easy to see who's controlling the wealth. But I do hold her responsible for making the cultural touchstones of the city so very giddy. There's the local obsession with latte, and what is a latte but a warm milkshake with a little appetite-suppressing caffeine added? What's all that sidewalk art in Belltown and Capitol Hill but hopscotch writ large? Where else but Seattle would otherwise reasonable property owners endure 50 weeks a year of ugly yard to have two weeks of waving daffodils? What about the cycling mafia? And do you think Safeco Field would go over so well (even with the cost overruns—just watch) if it wasn't so darn pretty?

Most of this city couldn't be a bit prettier, one jot shinier and happier, just like we ordered it fresh from the DELiAS catalog or something. See the pretty mosaics at the bus stops! Look at all the cool murals brightening up those scary dark underpasses! (Oh, we have one troll under one bridge, but isn't he cute? Look, he's eating one of those cute little Volkswagen cars! Did you know those come with flower vases built in? Isn't that cute?) And to keep the big nasty cars from going too fast, our girl plops little gardens in the middle of already crowded streets. (What do you mean they block visibility? People should just slow down and look at the flowers.) Even Boulder, whose own guiding spirit has been following Phish around the country for the past few years, managed to work out a more reasonable traffic-slowdown solution before he traipsed off.

Meanwhile, traffic flow in this town resembles a forced evacuation from an anthill. We can't lay down pavement that doesn't crack and buckle within a year; we're critically behind the mass-transit curve; and god help us if we don't start planning Son of '99 Viaduct soon. But our 12-year-old has outgrown playing with blocks and mud pies, and prefers to concentrate on the mysteries of makeup: Urban cute-ification—totally; urban planning—nu-uh.

I have been Las Vegas. I have been Chicago. I have dated New York—he was a jerk, but at least he could handle a transit system. (And by the way, grownups don't have to go to bed when Mark Sidran tells them to.)

There's a little Los Angeles in all of us—whatever you think of the old broad, she knows how to hold her booze. (Hint: not in a state-run package store, the governmental equivalent of Mom and Dad's locked liquor cabinet.)

But Seattle is where I have to draw the line. I may have been Seattle a few decades ago, but I have a firm headlock on my inner child now, and I don't let her run large appliances, much less design infrastructures and plan budgets. Where's a guiding-spirit reform school when you need one?

 
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