Sounding Off on Seattle

If Silicon Valley and Portland had a moody lovechild with an obsession for grunge, it would be Seattle. The unassuming cloud-covered city may have an outsized footprint in the world of business (Amazon, Microsoft, Boeing, Starbucks, UPS all started here) but it still somehow manages to maintain its countercultural edge: tattoo and piercing parlors sit alongside artisanal coffee shops, a sophisticated and innovative culinary scene and eclectic art galleries.

Its vibrant startup ecosystem, no doubt catalyzed by the presence of tech giants and the intellectual environs of nearby “U-dub,” birthed online marketplaces such as Avvo and Zillow which, together with satellite campuses from the likes of Google and Facebook, justifies its new title as “Silicon Forest.” All of this commerce lies amid a bustling port surrounded by lush evergreen trees as the imposing peak of the perennially snow-capped Mount Rainier looms overhead. It boasts, in many ways, one of the most iconic postcard-worthy cityscapes.

Seattle’s political DNA is unabashedly leftist. It was the first city to push for $15 minimum wage in 2014, currently requires all property developers to include lower-cost units in their projects or face a fine, and most recently, legalized marijuana on a ballot measure.

Environmentalism is the main religion here, evidenced by frequent paroxysms of street activism, the ubiquity of recycling bins and overrepresentation of Patagonia jackets, though fortunately, it seems to largely work in concert with pro-business policies. Ride-share pickups had their own distinct area at the airport, and Uber, barely tolerated and outright restricted in the more left-leaning cities, even had staffed counters where tourists or anyone without smart phones can order cars in person. As I waited in the passenger pickup lot that was clearly optimized for efficiency, I noticed that every single car was a freakin’ Toyota Prius. It turns out that the city mandates that any Uber/Lyft driver who wants to do pickups at SEA-TAC airport has to drive a car with over 47 mpg rating.

When I got into my ride, the friendly driver asked if I wanted to karaoke which didn’t strike me as odd at all on account of my unapologetically Asian face; naturally, it is usually rebuffed because of my sheer disdain for communal singing. This was no ordinary ride-share experience: my driver was a web developer by day, but was inspired by James Corden’s carpool karaoke to launch Seattle Car Karaoke where passengers can sing karaoke to any song of their choice and have it live-streamed on social media. Had I not been suffering from a severe sleep debt, I would’ve absolutely rapped to “Baby Got Back,” a decision I would surely regret later when an anonymous hack tries to shatter my political ambitions or attempts to humiliate me in a montage video. The concept alone is so delightfully weird, for who could, after expecting nothing more than the drudgery of a routine commute, not find pure joy in a moment of silliness and wild abandon?

Oh and here’s the kicker: this is the brainchild of a, wait for it…. Filipino. You cannot make this stuff up.