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Northern Exposure II

olympia7

5) Cost

To some extent, yuppies, single urban professionals, and hipsters have overrun Seattle and Portland.  They stand around Lloyd District cafes in fedora hats drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and decrying conditions in Darfur before retiring to their $1,500 studio apartments procured by their excellent credit scores, and paid for by their corporate slave jobs.  While they are far less annoying than douchebags and gangbangers, these are still not my people and I don't want to pay a premium to live next to them.

Instead of paying out the ass to get a small-ish apartment in the Pearl District, I paid the same amount to get a large house 1000' from the waters of the Puget Sound, within walking distance to Downtown, for about what it cost me to live in Las Vegas.

6)  Authenticity

Olympia has an interesting feel.

Despite its influence, Olympia remains an understated town.

Most of what is considered Pacific Northwest Culture by the mainstream media is generally a product of Olympia.  PNW music and art has always gone 50 miles north to Seattle to get a boob job and facelift for mainstream consumption, but Olympia has been the true alternative epicenter of the region for decades.

The seminal label Sub Pop records was started by Bruce Pavitt in Olympia in the early 1980's.  The Melvins are from a small town 30 miles west of Olympia.  Nirvana spent the majority of their career in Olympia.  The legendary K Records was and is still based in Olympia.  Slim Moon founded Kill Rock Stars in Olympia.  Riot Grrrl is a product of Evergreen State College in Olympia, etc, etc, etc.  I could go on.  Really, I could.

Even though the town could have always made a mainstream case for itself, it's never been an attention whore.  It's generally been content to live in the shadows and pass the mic.

It's not just music and art that thrives in Olympia, however.  The business climate is also very friendly toward the do-it-yourselfers of the region.

While there are shopping centers and malls toward the edges of the city, national corporate retailers are not well-represented Downtown and there is still a sizable demographic in the city which is still staunchly anti-corporate.  Small businesses thrive in the city, and even though they cost more ... people actually support them.

Imyself bought into a food co-op on Sunday, and even though they are more expensive than the Smith's on Maryland Parkway in Vegas, I would rather pay the extra to support a small, user-owned establishment.  Whenever possible, I try not to contribute to the Walmartization of America.  It's a personal choice.

I'm also fond of the homes I found here in town.  My own house was built in the 1910's, and there are no McMansions in my line of sight. 

Except for a minority of people who are really, really into the alternative/underground/DIY thing ... Olympia is still relatively unknown on a national level.  It's not cosmopolitan and it's not cool.  Partly because of this lack of sellabilty (along with its smaller size), posers and hipsters will never be quite as prevalent here.  In theory, this should keep the place fairly consistent going forward.

7)  Cultural Familiarity

During the 80's and 90's, Olympia and Washington DC were very culturally incestuous.  Especially in what many would consider the "independent scene".  DC was the nexus of the DIY movement, and Olympia quickly adopted the ethic as their own.  DC's Dischord Records begat Olympia's K and KRS ... and a large number of Olympia bands can claim DC musicians and producers as their own.  Ian McKaye produced the first Bikini Kill record (most of that group had been DC residents at some point).  DC native Dave Grohl lived on Pear Street during the recording of Nevermind.  Tobi Vail, Lois Maffeo, Kathleen Hanna and the members of Bratmobile were dual-citizens ... again I could go on and on but suffice to say that, never before have two distant cities collaborated to such an extent in endeavors which were not really commercially viable.  There is a strong kinship between the two cities, and it's kind of a beautiful thing.

To this day, there are a large number of DC transplants in Olympia, and vice-versa.  When you consider the fact that government is also the primary industry of Olympia, you can see why the cultural transition between the two cities is fairly seamless.

Sure, Olympia is a much smaller town (by far the smallest town in which I have ever lived), and is almost completely void of black people (and thus DC's black culture), but it's still retained a large amount of the alt-DIY atmosphere which is somewhat nostalgically familiar.  In and near Downtown, it's easy to spot people walking around with mohawks, women walking down the street dressed in tutus, and men in scraggly beards walking finger-painted dogs.  They don't attract stares or scoffs.  It's not uncommon to turn a corner and encounter an impromptu jam session by local musicians on a city sidewalk, or poets screaming out spoken word pieces in an alley.  Olympia has more category #1 weirdos per-capita than possibly any other city on earth, and you get the impression that they are truly weird, not just pretending like many of those in more "hip, cosmopolitan" neighborhoods.

Ilike Olympia because, in many ways, it reminds me of my own hometown.  Not exactly, of course, but enough not to be foreign.  Sure, it's smaller -- but it's also cheaper (houses are 1/4 the cost), the weather is better, there is less traffic, and less crime. I guess you could call Olympia "DC for pussies", but at 42, I'm okay with that.  I've done my time in the real thing.

As such, this (along with the rest of the PNW to a large extent) will be my home for the foreseeable future.

Of course, I'm not going to leave my Vegas home abandoned.

My first trip back to Vegas is scheduled for sometime in the next couple of weeks and I'm already curious as to how I will feel.  Will I still hate it and want to get back out as soon as possible?  Will I start loving it again after being away for a couple of weeks?  Will Steve Wynn beg me to stay because he realizes that, despite my faults, I'm still better for tourism than a douchebag DJ and a dozen ringtone bands?

Who knows?

With the exception of finding a decent game of Blackjack, anything can happen in Las Vegas.

Read Northern Exposure I


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