April Fool: 22 Things About Seattle That We Wish Were a Joke

The people, trends, and events that even our cynical minds find hard to believe. (Online exclusive! Two bonus April Fools' jokes!)

There's nothing funnier than a good April Fools' spoof. We've done some memorable ones at this paper over the years. But right now, reality is giving fiction a pretty comical run for its money in Seattle. So we're taking a tip from the Uptight Seattleite and subverting the dominant paradigm, offering up a list of people, events, and trends we wish were a joke—but, sadly, are not. 1. Dan Savage is threatening to run for mayor.

From Mike the Mover to the Owl Party, unfunny joke-candidates are a tradition in Seattle, and a fairly benign one. But the sex columnist's threat to enter the mayor's race is a whole other level of ridiculous. Righteous as ever, like a KVI hot-talker for the Pike/Pine set, Savage claims his lunge for the spotlight is all for the sake of our political system. "I have a love for democracy," he declared last week. "And it doesn't flourish in places where people aren't challenged by legit candidates at the ballot box." But Savage's presence only insures that any "legit" candidates remaining on the fence will immediately flee, rather than run the risk of ending up on a Muni League debate stage with the biggest attention hog in town. Savage claims he'll bow out if "somebody else jumps in," but last we checked, a couple of legit candidates already had jumped in. Dan has apparently designated himself kingmaker, which is perhaps unsurprising given that he previously took credit for getting Greg Nickels elected in the first place. ("The mayor of Seattle is the mayor of Seattle because of us," he told an interviewer. "He won by 1,500 votes, and we put him on the cover and people voted for him.") Like the fruit-smashing comedian Gallagher, who ran for California governor in 2003, Savage's candidacy will be an embarrassment for all concerned, but at least Gallagher didn't pretend he was upholding any principle other than the revival of his own flagging career.2. The Convention Center wants to double in size.

You remember former Seattle mayor Paul Schell's old line about how you should "fix the roof while the sun is shining?" Well, the Washington State Convention & Trade Center has turned that idea on its head. In the middle of the worst economic shitstorm of our lifetime, the folks running this Chamber of Commerce darling want to put a giant new addition on their house. With help from servile state legislators like Sen. Ed Murray, the WSCTC is looking to spend $766 million in King County hotel-tax revenue to double its event space. As usual, we're told the project will more than pay for itself as even more conventioneers descend on our city, emptying their wallets in the process. Which sounds great if you happen to be the owner of a hotel, Cheesecake Factory outlet, or Levi's store. Everyone else will just see more of downtown given over to the tastes, needs, and interests of Midwestern claims adjusters, and even more diesel-spewing Gray Line buses idling under the giant glass canopy that encases Pike Street (thanks to the previous convention center expansion in 2001). Ironically, the WSCTC is already scheduled to expand its space by almost 20 percent next year, when it takes over a building across the street. But apparently, in these boom times, that's just not enough. Or maybe it is. As The Seattle Times' Jim Brunner has pointed out, the WSCTC's move is basically just a money grab to prevent the state legislature from diverting the hotel-tax stream, as it did last year, to unworthy causes like education and low-income housing.3. The take-'n'-bake pizza phenomenon grows exponentially.

Like turtlenecks, feathered bangs, Oingo Boingo, and Reebok pumps, take-'n'-bake pizza is one of those ideas that really shouldn't have made it into the 21st century. In fact, it shouldn't have made it at all—at least turtlenecks looked awesome with gold chains, and vintage Molly Ringwald is still adorable. Meanwhile, take-'n'-bake pizza is utterly pointless, seeing as the entire point of ordering pizza is to acquire it in ready-to-eat mode. Making a 30-minute round trip to Papa Murphy's, only to have to come home and cook the pie for another 30 minutes—uh, yeah, try to explain the logic of that. Yet not only has Papa Murphy's stood its ground, but from that ground the three-location 'Zaw chain has sprouted, peddling the relative freshness of its ingredients. While 'Zaw at least has the sense to deliver their unfettered pies, thus reducing take-'n'-bake's pointlessness by half, it'd still be better—lots better—if they had the temerity to cook the fucking things. It's not that hard; your customers have been doing it for years. And while we have no idea why any take-'n'-bake operation would have customers in the first place, we're sure they'd appreciate the experience all the more if you invested in a goddamn oven.4. We're getting more public transit we don't use and less of the transit we do.

They're bright orange, they're empty, and they seem to putter back and forth endlessly without reason: That's the South Lake Union Streetcar. Then there's the Metro buses: Yellow and aquamarine, they're packed to the gills every rush hour with overburdened commuters. Which transit system would you rather see get more money? Sorry. Mayor Greg Nickels' toy gift to Paul Allen is the one slated for expansion, as the Seattle City Council voted to explore extending the line to Pioneer Square and the U District. An extension to First Hill was slipped into the Sound Transit package approved by voters last November. Meanwhile, King County Executive Ron Sims announced in February that bus service may need to be cut by 20 percent due to a projected $100 million funding shortfall in 2010. Granted, the trolleys and buses are funded from different sources, but come on—$40 million per mile to lay down new putt-putt tracks when we could increase our bus trolleys for a fraction of that? Sounds like it's time to seriously rethink our whole scheme for getting from point A to point B.5. The state can't distinguish between unreal phony wrestling and real phony wrestling.

There's no difference, says the state Department of Licensing, between 6'10", 300-pound World Wrestling Entertainment starThe Undertaker slamming a beefy opponent to the canvas in a jam-packed sports arena and that wimpy kid known as Kung Fu Banana, dressed in a banana outfit, rolling around on a Capitol Hill barroom stage with his buddies. The Bananaand friends must obtainprofessional wrestling licenses, the DOL ruled last month—a decision whose absurdity made it all the way onto page one of The Wall Street Journal last week. Like the multimillion-dollar WWE, the Banana's amateur theater group, Seattle Semi-Pro Wrestling (SSP), qualifies as "a form of sports entertainment in which the participants display their skills in a physical struggle against each other in the ring." No matter that the SSP's "ring" had no ropes, and that the wrestlers weren't exactly skilled. As a "professional sports event,"the comedy shows required oversight to ensure the safety of the participants, ruled the DOL. So after six years, the costumed wrestling troupe—drag queens, presidential impostors, caped crusaders, and the lot—has folded its mats and isweighing its next move. If the monthly shows are to resume, each "professional wrestler" has to get a $15 license and pay for a physical. The group also needs to buy a $50 promoter's license and have a doctor/medic on hand ($40 license). Oh, and they'll need a new "arena." Their venue, King Cobra, folded in February. If you're scoring it, that's a takedown and a pin.6. Howard Schultz's solution for recapturing Starbucks' soul: Instant coffee.

In February 2007, Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz issued a call to arms to the company's "partners." In a memo bemoaning that Starbucks stores no longer had "the soul" they once did, Schultz wrote: "We desperately need to look into the mirror and realize it's time to get back to the core and make the changes necessary to evoke the heritage, the tradition, and the passion that we all have for the true Starbucks experience." And what bold new initiative resulted two years later? Via, an instant coffee that you make by yourself, at home or at the office, far from an actual Starbucks store. (The new third place: your desk.) The sound of the grinder, the hissing of steam, the gurgling of the milk, the fancy Italian names, the dance of the baristas—apparently not even Starbucks has time for that anymore. Instead, the company has poured its marketing might into little envelopes of coffee crystals that seem contrary to everything that made Starbucks a multibillion-dollar international brand. This is an item that's not only overpriced ($1 for 8 ounces), but actually drives you away from the core product. It's like Schultz is pissing on the green mermaid herself.7. We're broke as nuts because of Tim Eyman.

Raucous college parties typically feature two kinds of guys who will urinate in the punch bowl. One is the chronic inebriate who mistakes the bowl for a toilet and can barely undo his fly. The other is the College Republican who pees there just because someone poorer than him might drink it. Tim Eyman is the latter. The Mukliteo initiative-master has made revenue increases almost as hard to come by as constitutional amendments, worked tirelessly to ensure that car tabs on a Bentley cost the same as on a hooptie, and capped property taxes below the rate of inflation so that essential services slowly wither and die. (He got a big assist on the latter from Chris Gregoire and the Democratic leadership: After the measure was deemed illegally misleading by the state Supreme Court, they called a special legislative session to reinstate it.) Now that we're facing an $8 billion budget shortfall, Washingtonians who voted for Eyman's initiatives may be having second thoughts. But while we doubt he's losing any sleep over the disappearance of programs for the poor and disabled, we can at least comfort ourselves with this: Eyman's been successful in only four of his past 11 initiative attempts. His Kool-Aid may be potent, but it's surely not potable.8. A beloved block of Pine Street was leveled to make way for . . . a mound of rubble.

It's not enough that developers have license to throw up any towering, fake-brick, leakage-prone, fast-cash-out eyesore during good times. They're also free just to mow down a swath of the cityscape and leave nothing in its place when the tide turns. One year ago, the 500 block of Pine Street was brought to the ground, and with it a half-dozen quintessential Capitol Hill businesses like Manray, Kincora Pub, and the Cha Cha (some of which were able to reopen elsewhere). This was back in those heady days when building more and more condos seemed like a really great idea. Except this time it turned out not to be. The economy had already started to turn by the time the businesses were evicted and the buildings knocked down. With the condo market in the crapper, the developer has no intention of doing anything with the property now, and would happily sell it off—if there were anyone to buy. City zoning won't even allow the land to be converted into pay parking. So instead, the Hill has been gifted with a vacant lot. The rounded heap of gravel stands as a tribute to the principle that in density-mad Seattle, neighborhood preservation gets sacrificed to pretty much anything—including nothing.9. Kerry Killinger's still not in jail.

Back in 2002, when Killinger received a Medal of Achievement from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center for his "inspiration, dedication, and leadership," the Washington Mutual CEO was praised for positioning his bank "for success in a deregulated environment." Well, temporary success, anyway. Six years later, Washington Mutual became the biggest bank failure in the nation's history, thousands of Seattle employees were kicked to the curb, fortunes were lost, and JPMorgan Chase acquired the company for about the same price as a stale ham sandwich. Known back in the bad, old, regulated days for its slogan "The Friend of the Family," WaMu did indeed take full advantage of a laissez-faire environment: Its shoddy lending practices and lust for market share in the subprime mortgage sector helped make the company a Wall Street darling, lifting it to a $50 billion market capitalization. But when home prices sank, so did the house of cards. And while your 401(k) is decimated, Killinger is likely doing just fine. He collected $88 million in compensation in the years since Fred Hutch honored him—plus another $16.5 million in severance when he was finally forced out last year. He's still got his mansion up in the Highlands. He may not have committed Bernie Madoff–style theft, but it sure seems like somebody got seriously ripped off.10. Ken Griffey Jr. is the Mariners' left fielder.

Some ballplayers manage to play in the field into their late 30s because they have great genetics, watch their diets, lift weights, stay injury-free, are first basemen, and/or take enough steroids and HGH to turn Renée Zellweger into Ron Perlman. Ken Griffey Jr. isn't one of them. He began his career as a lithe 19-year-old and is now a curvy 39. For the past three years he's been "the worst defensive outfielder in baseball," according to USSMariner.com statmaster Dave Cameron. He covers ground like a third-base coach. He fills out his uniform like a manager. His right hamstring features three titanium screws. He hasn't been able to hit left-handed pitching since Bret Boone was a Mariner. What he can still do is hit right-handed pitching—one more type of pitching than most of last year's team could hit—which would make him a great designated hitter against the same. Unfortunately, he expects to be the regular left fielder, and no doubt the M's gave him the impression he will, given that they got him to turn down a starting job with the nearer-his-home Atlanta Braves. Why would the M's do this? They think Junior nostalgia means ticket sales, even if it means losing games.11. Mexi-Fries®.

Neither Mexican nor fries, this inexplicably popular item on the Taco Time menu is uniquely responsible for giving local Mexican food a bad name. Founded in Eugene in 1959 by a petroleum-products salesman, Taco Times outnumber even Taco Bells in the Northwest, and Mexi-Fries® have been driving business since the '60s. What makes them Mexican? The plastic freezer bag they're dumped from into the fryer? The "original seasoning" they're flavored with, aka salt? The fact that you can dip them in Ortega-grade hot sauce? We love Tater Tots (which is what these essentially are, in disguise) as much as anyone. But these are so bizarrely bad that the Mexican government should send cease-and-desist letters demanding an end to the prefix. They're an affront not only to two nations but to the potato itself.12. Mars Hill church just keeps getting bigger.

The Seattle movement with arguably the most enthusiastic adherents isn't locavorism, "green building," or even anti–Prop 8 rallying; it's devotion to a homophobic, misogynist, ranting, raving, and cursing (he's edgy, see) pastor in Ballard. Mars Hill is one of the fastest-growing congregations in America. Last year the church added a downtown campus after purchasing former nightclub Tabella for a cool $3.95 million. And now head pastor Mark Driscoll is being named a theological trendsetter by Time and interviewed by ABC as an expert on Satan. More than 12,000 people follow Driscoll on Twitter. (The semi-national No On Prop. 8 campaign has less than half that many.) That's a lot of fans for a man who spews venom at women, gays, practitioners of other religions, and anyone not hip enough to be down with a pastor who uses the F-word. Driscoll touts his strict Biblical reading, but glosses over the legions of passages on loving your neighbor and caring for the poor. Instead he zeroes in on a few questionably interpreted verses justifying his hostile attitude toward pretty much everyone not exactly like him—straight, male, Protestant douchebag. Somewhere in the Bible Belt, that kind of conservatism might make sense. But come on, Seattle, why is this guy so popular? Is it because his worship band wears skinny jeans and sports tattoos? We're pretty sure what Jesus would do is tell Driscoll to shut the fuck up.13. The mayor's opponents can't raise a nickel.

This past fall, a prospective challenger to Mayor Greg Nickels commissioned a poll that showed the mayor with a 32 percent approval rating. The same poll also showed that if voters were faced with a choice between Nickels and a nameless, faceless candidate, they'd vote overwhelmingly for anybody but Greg. Since then, things have gotten a lot worse. Seattle's economy has gone to hell, rendering the mayor's "world city" vision moot. And this isn't even taking into account December's "Snowpocalypse," which paralyzed the city—except for the mayor, whose route to work was cleared religiously by an otherwise inept crew of SDOT plowmen. Remember, this is the same guy who was first elected on a back-to-basics, potholes platform. Eight years on, he's become exactly the sort of politician he claimed to loathe, an ivory-tower, bare-knuckles Boss who kowtows to developers and is ripe to be toppled. That is, if someone can actually raise some dough to mount a credible run against him. Sure, 7'2" James Donaldson could ride his celebrity, small-business emphasis, and choirboy demeanor to victory. And Mike McGinn's environmental bona fides are sufficient to make Nickels look like he's blowing diesel fumes out his ass. But the fact that the mayor has sewn up moneyed constituents to the point where his opponents can't rub two dimes together—and that the Steinbruecks and Licatas of the world don't have the sack to take on an infinitely vulnerable incumbent—speaks volumes about the powder-puff nature of Seattle politics. In any other major city, a mayor such as Nickels would have half a dozen credible, well-funded opponents by now. But that's not the Seattle Way.14. One guy who coaches linebackers will earn more than a 10-professor department at the University of Washington.

The money thrown around by athletic departments has long been a bone of contention at universities, where coaches often make way more than professors. Football programs like the Huskies may bring in their own money through ticket sales and donations, but lavishing millions on something arguably so peripheral to the mission of an institution of higher learning seems wrong when programs at its very core are starving for funds. That's never been truer than now. Earlier this year, the UW hired 46-year-old Nick Holt away from USC to be its defensive coordinator and assistant head coach. Holt's three-year contract is worth $2.1 million, or $700,000 a year. That's more than the amount earned by the entire classics department faculty, consisting of 10 professors. Yet at the same time UW President Mark Emmert (who himself makes $900,000 a year) has been warning of the devastating impact of budget cuts under consideration in Olympia, and academic departments have been told to prepare for as much as an 18 percent reduction. Holt's salary "doesn't help us make our case," says Janelle Taylor, president of the UW chapter of the American Association of University Professors.15. For four hours every weekday, the Montlake Bridge does not open for boaters.

Don't you hate it when you whistle for your manservant and he's not available? Fortunately for me that's only the case four hours a day, because Antonio works the other 20. Kind of like the Montlake Bridge. From 7 to 9 a.m. and then again from 4 to 6 p.m., I am unable to sail my pleasure craft, Market Forces, through the cut because they won't raise the bridge. I'm forced to bide idly in the bay, something you'd never see in a Ralph Lauren commercial. Someone asked me the other day why I can't confine myself to one body of water? Apparently, socialism is making a comeback. Worry not, though: There are few things more pleasurable than passing through at either side of the rush-hour period and watching the backup spread to the arterials, local highways, and interstates. Each time, it's like a little bonus of bailout money. That great poet of American manhood, Ernest Hemingway, once wrote, "If the book is good, is about something that you know, and is truly written, and reading it over you see that this is so, you can let the boys yip and the noise will have that pleasant sound coyotes make on a very cold night when they are out in the snow and you are in your own cabin that you have built or paid for with your work." Amen.16. Washington is unrivaled when it comes to taxing the poor.

We compost, drive hybrids, fret over non-recyclable grocery bags, love Hope and Change, call for blue-state secession and W's impeachment, read What's the Matter With Kansas?, snicker at red-staters' inability to recognize the harm of their economic ideology...and tax the poor like nowhere else in the United States. Yes, liberal Washington—which hasn't voted for a Republican presidential candidate since Dutch in '84—has the nation's most regressive tax system. Your second million dollars of income? Untaxed. Financial consultant services? Untaxed. A bottle of laundry detergent at a Seattle mini-mart? 9.0 percent surcharge. The poor pay about 18 percent of their income in Washington taxes, the rich about 3 percent. Thank you, poor folks. Remind us to throw you a dime next time we see you. Oh, and sorry about those social-service cuts in the state budget. We've got no choice. We're overtaxed.17. New freeway improvements are for people who want to park.

Prep work began last month to block off First Avenue South, and by today, April Fools', crews are expected to close part of Third Avenue South, all in an effort to eventually improve freeway traffic flow—to and from a couple of parking garages. Safeco Field and Qwest Field arethe main destinations of what is known officially as phase two of the State Route 519 South Seattle Intermodal Access project. The $75 million worth of ramps to and from I-5 and I-90 are needed to improve ferry and freight traffic connections to the waterfront, the state says. But it's hard not to notice a south ramp will feed traffic to the entrance of the M's garage (already accessed by a new $100 million roadway, phase one of the 519 project), while a new north ramp will head directly to the Seahawks' garage. In fact, traffic will enter at a new upper-level portal of the Qwest garage, requiring a $39 million elevated loop roadway to get there. The structure will rise up, around, and over Royal Brougham Way. It seems wretchedly excessive. Or as Vince Koskela, head of the little watchdog group Taxpayers on Strike, puts it: "Why do you put a bridge on top of what's already a street?" Why? So that by 2010, Eastsiders will be able to speed right out of Paul Allen's garage and straight into that freeway backup.18. Chris Cornell is still making music.

If there's been a single moment in recent history that should sum up how Seattle feels about Chris Cornell, it was when Tad Doyle joined the singer's former Soundgarden bandmates onstage at the Croc on March 24. Stepping into Cornell's lead-vocalist shoes for a handful of the seminal grunge band's classics, Doyle lifted his shirt to reveal his massive gut, mocking Cornell's affinity for performing shirtless and joking, "That's half a Cornell right there." Since leaving Soundgarden, Cornell has come to embody everything that grunge railed against—sort of like the hippie uncle who pulls his VW bus onto the exit ramp marked "white-collar defense lawyer" two hours after a Dead show at the Greek Theatre. Audioslave was an embarrassment (and arguably the worst band name ever), as has been Cornell's foray into the world of male modeling. But the narcissistic sack-wrangler's truest gone-for-good moment came with this year's release of the Timbaland-produced Scream, a universally-panned, sample-heavy R&B train wreck that puts Cornell in the ring with boy-band creampuffs like Justin Timberlake. If nothing else, the fact that Cornell's April 27 Showbox show is sold out proves there are at least a thousand like-minded douchebags living in Greater Seattle.19. Election '09 is another sausage fest.

When it comes to Seattle's top dogs, there's nary a bitch to be found. Our only female mayor was the one-term Bertha Landes, who served from 1926 to 1928. King County hasn't had a female Executive since creating the post in 1968. There are currently three women on the nine-member city council, one of whom is leaving. And of the 15 people who have so far filed to run for a council seat, Jessie Israel and Sally Bagshaw are the only females. What the hell, ladies? Sally Clark, don't you want a promotion? Sally Jewell, you're running one of the last big Seattle business successes, REI—maybe it's time to parlay that know-how into the political sphere? Storm co-owner Anne Levinson, you're a "political dynamo" (according to The Seattle Times) and a former deputy mayor—no interest? Getting people to run for office around here is always a challenge, but the refusal of local women to step up seems especially disheartening. Hard to believe that while women dominate at the statewide level (Gregoire, Murray, and Cantwell), we can hardly get any to kick this nanny town's butt.20. Sleepless in Seattle is still this city's defining movie.

When the obituaries of the principal participants in this film are written, will Sleepless be mentioned anywhere near the first paragraph? Not likely. (OK, Meg Ryan—maybe.) Yet 16 years after New York writer-director Nora Ephron put a lonely, widowed Tom Hanks on a houseboat on Portage Bay (or was it Union Bay?) we're still cursed with the association. It's the first pun that comes to mind, the first lame headline, the wacky slogan on the cheap T-shirts sold to tourists downtown, the first cinematic reference point for anyone you meet, on any airplane flight, in any corner of the world. Hard as it is to believe, our city has produced nothing else as memorable as this trifle, nothing with anything like its iconic impact. It's as if Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (which was a more popular movie, by the way) were still the touchstone whenever the popular imagination considered Manhattan. And it's only going to get worse: A musical version of the film, with a reported budget of $220 million, will open next year on Broadway (no doubt with a trial run at the 5th Avenue first). Why couldn't it have been Disclosure (which came out the year after Sleepless) that claimed the Seattle brand? There, you'll recall, corporate executive Demi Moore rapes poor, innocent Michael Douglas (who then sues for sexual harassment). That's a musical we'd pay to see.21. D. Parvaz enjoys safe harbor at Harvard while her P-I colleagues are on the street.

An editorial and "pop culture" writer of Iranian descent, D. Parvaz (née Dorothy) earned a prestigious, year-long Nieman Fellowship at Harvard, where she's set about chronicling "the moral and social underpinnings that created the country's current political climate." But if Parvaz wants to get to the crux of her Cambridge thesis, she should look in the mirror. Formerly co-anchoring the P-I's insufferable "Saturday Spin" section with comedienne Cathy Sorbo, Parvaz epitomizes the sort of lazy pundit who simply riffs, in the most predictable ways, on everyone else's reportage—a sort of fifth-rate Frank Rich, an aggregator before aggregating became en vogue. But her interests aren't limited to politics; in her second-to-last column, Sassy D slammed the octuplet mom. This is the journalistic equivalent of bragging about nailing a date after slipping her a roofie. Sadly, such incidents were all too common during Parvaz's P-I tenure. Sadder still, she'll no doubt end up with another high-profile gig after her fellowship ends.22. Duff McKagan has been forced to fill the void of credible financial pundits.

Somehow, over the last couple of years, the world's financial press managed to miss a little story we might call The Imminent Economic Catastrophe. In fact, as Jon Stewart recently observed, networks like CNBC and pundits like Jim Cramer did nothing but puff up the CEOs and talk up the stocks. Into this void of incompetence has stepped the unlikely voice of Duff McKagan, a regular columnist on our Web site who was recently invited by playboy.com to become a financial blogger. A graduate of the Albers School of Business at Seattle University, McKagan's experience isn't on Wall Street—it's in the studio with Velvet Revolver, collating receipts for Guns N' Roses, and running the business that is Loaded (his new album, in stores Tuesday). But as we've now learned, listening to the puffy "experts" doesn't exactly encourage responsible financial planning. Two things in life are certain, though: Duff McKagan's not going to steer you toward a Ponzi scheme, and nobody ever lost their shirt from looking at porn. OK, bad example.

 
comments powered by Disqus