This column was originally published in The News Tribune, Tacoma, Washington.
My wife turned to me the other day as we drove around doing errands. “You know,” she began, a tease of the dramatic in her voice, “there’s something special about the people here.”
I knew what she was getting at. I had noticed it too.
Though more anecdotal than scientific, we reached our consensus with the same unabashed certainty.
We have found that the good folks here in Washington act nicer than people in California.
Yep. And it didn’t take long before the evidence began piling up.
Soon after settling into our new apartment we began walking the dog round the neighborhood. I knew something strange was afoot right after taking our first steps. With the usual assortment of passing cars, came an unusual assortment of casual waves. Aimed in our very direction, they were hard to ignore.
“Do we know them?” I quizzed, doing a double take as they motored past.
“No,” my wife answered, “I believe they’re just being friendly.”
“Really?” I answered incredulously. My facial recognition software was in full swing, struggling to match the culprits against a short list of acquaintances.
As usual, she was right, because it kept happening. Imagine, perfectly good strangers, showing little regard for maintaining their status, acting friendly. What nerve.
Could a mere distance of some 700 miles affect that level of societal change?
Truth be told, anyone can act friendly toward a cute couple walking a cuter dog. The real test of one’s metal would be if you popped us into some righteous competition; in other words, another car.
What separates a Californian from a Washingtonian? If you were guessing endless sun, occasional dips into pure political lunacy, or the near epic quest for white-on-white teeth, you’d be close.
What really defines members of the ‘Golden’ State (though downgraded a carat, or two, as of late) is the culture of the automobile. You know, endless freeways, drive-in dentistry, road rage, etc.
It is a perfect societal manifestation of ‘man’ and machine.
Californians are not especially proud of their driving habits, but it gets them there. You either drive like there’s no tomorrow, or there won’t be.
In short, never signal for a lane change. If you do, the guy next to you will move to block. Stay well above the speed limit unless you enjoy being the nosepiece of an 18-wheeler.
Never, take your eye off the rear view mirrors. No matter your speed, there’s always someone younger, someone faster, who sees you as just a slalom gate between here and there.
Finally, avoid any semblance of common decency toward your fellow commuters. This is a sure sign of weakness and you will be set upon as lions to gazelle. It will not be pretty.
So imagine my bewilderment upon entering Washington. All the “rules of the road” no longer applied. As if you had abandoned the laws of nature — voluntarily.
Here, the majority holds to the posted speed limit. You drive responsibly and act as if you’re navigating a busy freeway, not an arcade game.
On crowded thoroughfares, I have actually witnessed drivers waving cars from side streets and parking lots to slip in front of them. In contrast, mummified remains, as common as palm trees, still wait in perpetuity to make the same maneuver in California.
Exaggerations? Well, perhaps.
Disregarding all my hyperbole, moving to Washington has been nothing but a welcomed change for my wife and me. The pace of life is a shade slower. The people are warm, friendly, and approachable. There are more opportunities to stop, chat, and share.
Whatever the reason: an influx of mid-western sensibilities, military bearing, or the shared camaraderie of harsher weather; this is a great place to call home.
Most importantly, living here comes with a side benefit: I’ve become nicer too.