Fun Fact: Stores in Seattle sell more sunglasses per capita than any other US city.
Depending on where you’re from and what you know about western Washington, this statement comes off as either surprising, ludicrous, or weirdly but inexplicably believable. Regardless of one’s immediate reaction to this assertion, I think it’s reasonable to agree that at the very least, it’s unexpected. Of course, by virtue of curiosity, the immediate logical response to hearing such a statistic is to ask “how” or “why” it came to be. If you asked me why I think stereotypically-rainy Seattle retailers move sunglasses so well, I’d probably hypothesize about the low angle of the sun over the mountains, or the prevalent outdoor culture of the city, or the probability of mild photosensitivity in a population that endures a mostly gray-skied winter, or even the likelihood that people who use sunglasses rarely may be more prone to misplacing them (which, oddly, seems to be the most popular theory on why this is true). I’d also probably question how accurate this “fact” actually is; while tour guides have been perpetuating it since the 1970s and I can’t find anything to disprove it, there don’t seem to be any concrete statistics readily supporting the claim, either. From my point of view, these all seem like reasonable ways to approach and answer that question. But then again, I might be full of shit.
In a similar fashion, I was recently asked why Seattle sports teams (at least of late) seem to have (or are perceived as having) an exceptional home field advantage that far exceeds many of their opponents’ home fan bases. The most recent of example of this, of course, is the Seahawks – 17-1 at home over the last two years and Super Bowl bound this weekend – but it’s a phenomenon that has also been quite evident in soccer with the Sounders and, once upon a time, basketball with the Sonics (I exclude the Mariners because baseball tends to have the lowest correlation between win percentage and home/away status). As a transplant from the east coast megalopolis, I don’t think I’m necessarily qualified to answer the “how” and “why” of (perceived) Seattle sports fanaticism…but then again, self-analysis is frequently more difficult than critique of another, so perhaps my outsider status actually makes me more qualified than a native Washingtonian. Or I might be full of shit. We’ll see.
Fun Fact: CenturyLink Field, home of the Seattle Seahawks, recently set the Guinness World Record for loudest outdoor stadium with a reading of 137.6 decibels.
If you’ve followed the NFL at all this season – and thus have been stuffed to capacity with whatever the sports media’s story of the week happens to be – you already know this particular fact. Seattle broke the record early in the season. Kansas City usurped the title shortly thereafter. Not to be outdone, during an overwhelming victory over the Saints on Monday Night Football, Seahawks fans returned to glory with a deafening in-game effort. This isn’t unique to just the local football team; the Sounders, widely considered as having the most passionate fan base in the MLS, play in CenturyLink as well and boast similarly overwhelming acoustics. Moreover, anyone who remembers the 1996 NBA finals surely can recall seeing the climbing decibel measurement at the bottom of the television screen when the Sonics took the floor at KeyArena. The secret to all this noise? Much like the grunge bands coming out of the city in the early 1990s, these arenas were built to be loud.
Architecturally, CenturyLink was purposefully created in such a way to deflect all crowd noise back onto the field of play. Steep, covered seating arrangements, a tall bowl shape, and specific lines of curvature all contribute to the exponentially building volume that occurs during home games. KeyArena also features steep sight lines, but brings the noise as a product of its small stature; the first time I set foot inside it – albeit not for basketball, but a Black Keys concert – I was amazed that a professional basketball team had played in such a loud, compact place (granted, this was cited as one of the excuses for the team’s indefensible relocation, making it both endearing and ultimately detrimental). I was not surprised, however, that my ears continued to ring for a solid day after the show had concluded.
Interestingly, Husky Stadium, home of the University of Washington football team, reportedly holds the record for loudest collegiate crowd, coming in at 133.6 decibels. Considering this stadium has an overlapping fan base but is devoid of any architectural modifications, perhaps sonic enhancements are only part of the equation of the Emerald City’s home field advantage.
Fun Fact: Seattle’s average annual precipitation (in inches) is virtually identical to that of Dallas, Texas.
You may have heard that Seattleites almost never use umbrellas, and it’s likely you attributed this to some sort of grizzled irreverence to rainfall. On the contrary – it doesn’t actually rain that much here. There’s a wet season and a dry season, and while it is frequently cloudy (yet always green), storms are few and far between. New York, Boston, DC, Miami, Nashville – all of these cities have significantly higher yearly precipitation totals than Seattle. In fact, if one takes note of the total rainfall in each team’s market during the course of the MLB season, the Mariners are ranked only one spot above the Diamondbacks. This brings me to my actual point – Seattle is frequently perceived inaccurately, and its residents take notice.
These superficial misunderstands, however slight and innocuous, contribute to an overall underdog attitude when pitted against other, more highly-regarded urban areas. Seattle doesn’t have the acclaimed tourist attractions that draw visitors to other west coast hubs like San Francisco or Los Angeles. Tucked away in the top left corner of the country, it isn’t as if travelers are connecting through it and stopping to look around, either. Frankly, it goes mostly unnoticed in the grand scheme of national news and media attention, which is perceived as quite a slight locally. Seattle is considered a Beta Minus global city, meaning it contributes to world economic and cultural trends as much as Abu Dhabi or Edinburgh. It’s the most populous city for well over 600 miles in any direction (Calgary, Alberta is the closest metropolitan area of greater size). With apologies to Vancouver, it’s THE city in the Pacific Northwest, and yet…no one seems to care.
I think this feeling of being misunderstood manifests itself in the passion the city’s sports fans pour into their teams. When they’re given a voice, they do their best to optimize their time in the spotlight – “No, really! We’re pretty great! We swear!” There’s certainly a slight passive-aggressive aspect to it, but it mostly stems from a desire to be seen in a better light. And this is an important distinction to make – Seattle wants to be perceived as “better”, not “better than”. There isn’t a population it’s trying to emulate or a city it uses as a measuring stick for success. This isn’t DC, where sentences begin with phrases like, “The brunch scene is great here, but in New York…”, or Boston, whose sports fans seem just as happy to watch their rivals fail as their own teams succeed. Seattleites just want Seattle to excel. And they will scream until their ear drums burst and their lungs collapse if that will help them get what they want.
Fun Fact: Bikini baristas – drive-through espresso shacks staffed by women in swimsuits and lingerie – both originated in and are found frequently throughout the greater Seattle area.
It saves face with its density of Boeing engineers and Microsoft and Amazon techies, but at its heart Seattle is a pretty quirky place. There’s a personality here, a love for nature, underground music, and alternative approaches to life that is truly genuine. And the people of the city embrace these idiosyncrasies not because they think it will make them seem cool, but because they actually think these traits are cool. It would be foolish to suggest an entire metropolitan area is immune to the trends and peer pressure of the nation as whole, but I’d also venture to guess that flannel still will be in style here when the last of the disingenuous hipsters have moved on to something else.
Where I see this belief in self the most is in the infectious civic pride that permeates the city when one of its own succeeds. Imagine one of those network singing competitions that slowly whittles down participants until the culmination of the season. Oftentimes these shows feature some sort of biographical bit where the final competitors triumphantly return to the small town in which they reside, whereupon they are treated to a hero’s welcome as the pride of such-and-such, population 3,500. This is how Seattle treats seemingly any of its native sons and daughters who succeed on a national or worldwide stage, including – strangely enough – its multimillion dollar professional sports teams. Macklemore is a god here right now. People can recite the discography of Sir Mix-a-Lot. And at this moment in time, the Seahawks, repping the blue and green, are the pride of the Emerald City. In the sufferable week of Richard Sherman analysis we all just experienced, the general tone of talk radio in Seattle was (predictably) in defense of the cornerback. But what was far more interesting was the demographic of people who not only had an opinion on the subject but could speak intelligently about the team. I kid you not – I spent one of my commutes last week listening to a local NPR broadcaster discuss how he had been getting together to watch the games this season with a group of men who knit while they watch football. Everyone is ALL IN right now. People don’t just jump on the bandwagon here; they drive it.
If you step outside at night here, the skyline is lit up blue and green. During the day, a “12th Man” flag flies on top of the Space Needle. And starting yesterday, free “Seattle Mix” Skittles giveaways throughout the city commemorated Marshawn Lynch’s endorsement deal with the candy brand. Loud, proud, and undeniably odd – those are the qualities of a home field advantage.