Seattle is full of character. The massive sprawl of the city has created distinctive “neighborhoods” where people express themselves freely and with abandon. Just walk down any street on Capitol Hill and you’ll easily see abundant displays of personal expression in the piercings and elaborate tattoos. Go for a jog in West Seattle and you’ll want to wear either a sundress with big sunglasses or a pair of yoga pants to shop for groceries.
Personal choice and freedom of expression seem to be a way of life in Seattle and you’re just as likely to order a burger from a waitress who looks as if she’s ready for a glamorous night on the town as you are to order a coffee from a heavily tattooed barista.
We had a lot of time to people-watch while in Seattle. No excursion would be complete without at least two stops at coffee shops to have a mocha and a bun. With every sip we sat back, rested our tired feet and watched as people sauntered past us on their way to home? To work? To a date?
Back home, there’s little people-watching unless you are at a Starbucks in a mall or taking a break with an icee at your grocery. Any watching one might do is confined to an enclosed space. There are few streets where you can sit nursing a drink and watch as the world walks by to destinations and experiences unknown. The fact that everyone drives everywhere is, of course, partly to blame, but it’s also how we define “getting a coffee”. Rather than an event where you meet up with friends or kick back with a newspaper or a book, it’s more of a chore that happens at the drive thru on your way to work. It’s not about the experience of coffee drinking but more about getting the beverage with the caffeine as conveniently as possible on your way to something else.
But as I kicked my feet up in a cozy coffee house and geared myself for the next item on our overly enthusiastic itinerary, I noticed something odd.
For a city with so much personality, I felt a bit, well, bland.
My clothes didn’t feel distinctive enough in their jean short and t-shirt combination and my simple bobbed hair and lack of makeup made me feel rather inconspicuous next to the well-coiffed, ruby red women around me.
Back home, I would have been almost unique (in a slightly preppy sort of way), but here, I didn’t stand out enough to warrant a blip on anyone’s fashion radar.
Grant it, I have always found pairing clothes to be a trial by error exercise with more time spent discarding clothes and frantically searching for “something to wear”. Style has never come easily to me and I’ve always been one step behind everyone else. I take just a bit too long to gather up my confidence to wear the latest style so that when I’m finally ready, the world has moved on and it’s back to square one.
So, I found it odd that in a city where I should have felt at ease in my own skin, I felt, well, boring. Even my plain skim milk mocha wasn’t as fashionable as the drinks my coffee drinking compatriots around me were probably sipping as they typed away on their laptops! I remember looking at my barista with a sideways glance of distrust when she asked me if I wanted a “spicy” mocha. “What does that entail?” I asked her, as if she was planning to spike my drink. Apparently, spicy entailed milk infused with red pepper flakes. I declined and carried my drink back to my table cradled in both hands.
Perhaps it wasn’t the city that was making me feel dull. The more I sat watching people, the more I reflected on myself. Each person was like a mirror where I compared myself to them – that person looks a bit extravagant with their coal rimmed eyes, so my natural eyes must look really plain. Or that person looks really confident in that tight bright blue mini dress – I wish I had that much confidence to pull it off!
In a way, while all of that comparison watching didn’t always make me feel good about myself, I did come to realize that I actually liked being me. I knew where I was with my jean shorts and t-shirts. I knew what to expect when I picked up my mocha and took a sip of it’s milky chocolate. I was, in a way, comfortable in my own skin and with my own habits.
And while I might have wished I was more outgoing or more of a risk-taker (I sort of regret not taking her up on that spicy mocha), I knew that in that small way, I was also unique.