“Welcome to West Seattle”: A new arrival’s story

What’s it like to move to West Seattle? A writer who recently arrived from elsewhere shares a few vignettes.

(Peninsula, looking north from Sea-Tac Airport – photo by Gatewood resident Long Nguyen)

By Marika Malaea
Special to West Seattle Blog

I

We were driving the last of our stuff over the West Seattle Bridge when reality finally hit: We were moved! I bounced in my seat, riding a wave of anticipation. “We’re almost there!” I said in a rush, anxiously euphoric. We came around the bend and I saw the welcome sign. “Look,” I cried, “we’re official!”

I shielded my eyes from the sun, trying to read the whole thing. “It says ‘Welcome to West Sea….’I trailed off, confused. I leaned forward to peer out the window, blinking several times – then turned to stare at my boyfriend, unsure of what to say. “Why are there half-naked metal children leaping onto the freeway?” I asked.

“Welcome to West Seattle,” he said, laughing at me.

II

I saw an ad on Craigslist for a vintage industrial desk, and I had to have it, despite the message attached: “First come, first serve. No, I won’t hold it for you, I’m not your mother. U-HAUL, I’m not going to help. If I ignore your email, it’s gone so don’t email me again. No flakes.”

I sent the guy a message, noting the desk was in West Seattle and that soon we would be residents. Would he be willing to hold it until the next morning, just seven short hours away?

The response I received did not reflect the ad’s original tone.

“Hey, I can hold this for future West Seattleites! You will NOT be sorry you moved here! They don’t call it God’s Country for nothing! I’ll just put your name on it and you can get it whenever. Good luck with your move, and welcome to West Seattle!” Four puzzling exclamation points later, I was happy the desk was mine.

“That was weird and awesome,” I said to a friend, pulling up the email. “You’ll drink the Kool-Aid soon enough,” he smirked at future me.

III

Being close to Alki, I thought a change in diet would complement what I imagined would be hours of enjoyable exercise, forgetting for a moment that my body rejects both diet and exercise equally.

I envisioned walks on Alki with visiting friends, strolling tours of Lincoln Park, window-shopping on California, and buying fresh crab for a salad at home. Instead, a curious pattern began to emerge: Bakery Nouveau, Cupcake Royale, Sugar Rush Baking Co., Little Prague European Bakery, Original Bakery, Alki Bakery, Little Rae’s Bakery, and Bernie’s Place, which sounds like a bar – but no, it’s a bakery.

I blame diabetic shock for my poor decision-making.

“It’s not the dive into healthy living I thought it would be,” I told my friend through a mouthful of cupcake, mere minutes after powering through a donut. “At least you have good restaurants and diverse food options,” she said, licking purple frosting from the cupcake liner. “My neighborhood has these two things: fast food, and unhealthy hookers.” I wondered how she was qualified to make this medical assessment, working at a bank near Lake City Way. “West Seattle has been great so far,” I grinned into my cupcake, “in that I haven’t seen a hooker yet – in poor health or otherwise.”

IV

When I announced on Facebook we were moving to West Seattle, I received 23 e-mails from 23 people with roughly the same message: ‘OH MY GOD! WEST SEATTLE! BEST PLACE EVER! YOU WILL LOVE IT!’ An impressive 14 people told us we would never leave, in that non-joking, Kathy-Bates-in-Misery sort of way.

The e-mails read like love letters to their old flame, West Seattle. Friends recounted happy memories and shared their former lives. ‘You know I proposed to Katie during a Lincoln Park sunset?’ wrote one; another remembered a breakfast club from thirty years back. One recounted his best blind date, which began at The Rocky Horror Picture Show; a friend recalled streaking with friends on Alki as a teen.

Two weeks after moving, the natives started checking in. ‘Is West Seattle treating you okay? Have you tried that place we suggested for dinner? Are you meeting good people here? Is there anything we can do?’

I was genuinely touched by their messages, and shared them with my boyfriend. “We’ve moved into a cult,” I announced over dinner. He nodded his head in agreement. “It’s cool,” he replied.

V

Since moving to West Seattle, I’ve become a reluctant expert – one might say hostage, depending on the day – to the life of Eddie Vedder. While partially responsible for an ill-advised flannel phase, Pearl Jam gets full credit for widening my gaze from pop-music tunnel vision to the greater world beyond. Ninth grade with them made me seriously regret eighth grade with Paula Abdul. But no, I will not stalk this rocker with you.

“Where does Eddie Vedder live? Do you know him, have you met? Is he close to your house? Does he live in your neighborhood, or down the street? Did you know he has kids? And that the song ‘Alive’ is about the deceased father he never met? And that he did the whole soundtrack for Into the Wild? Let’s drive around and look for his house this week! Let’s dress in all-black and investigate!” The thought of two women, driving around Alki in matching thief outfits and staking out the house of a guy who plays guitar just doesn’t appeal, for some odd reason.

Besides, knowing where he lives isn’t necessary. When showing friends around, I just pick a random house and say, “Don’t tell anyone, but Eddie Vedder lives there.”

VI

The ultimate reward for moving here was revealed to us last month.

One afternoon, my friend and I were driving through The Junction. “There’s something important you need to see,” he said ambiguously. We drove past the Sunday Farmers Market, and turned into a lot. “Voila!” he cried with a wave of his hand. I looked around, confused. “I grew up in a small town,” I said defensively, “but that doesn’t mean I haven’t seen a parking lot before.” He laughed, and pointed to a sign outside – it was the something important I had to see:

‘FREE PARKING – THE JUNCTION: THREE HOUR LIMIT.’

This kind of news was one degree higher than winning the actual Lottery! I leaped from the car and broke into song as rainbows shot from my eyeballs. Goodbye, stupid parking fines and surly meter maids! I thought.

When I arrived home, there was a white envelope stuck to the windshield of our car. “Expired tabs, I guess,” my friend read from the ticket. I sighed, pathetically, and shook my head. “A future without parking tickets felt so achievable,” I complained to the cat next door.

VII

There’s something about West Seattle that turns your friends into superheroes and the bridge into kryptonite. “Say goodbye to your pals,” said a long-time resident. “Just plan on making new ones,” suggested another.

I protested that my friends were awesome – and above all, loyal – so there would be no need to restructure my entire social group. Then I started inviting people over to my house.

“Goodbye forever,” lamented a friend who lives eight minutes away. “Let’s be honest: I will probably never make it Out West,” stated another. “Well, not with that covered wagon attitude,” I rolled my eyes at him.

A few friends explained they would come on the weekend, because of the journey and all. “A journey is something that Hobbits sign up for when trying to save Middle Earth,” I reasoned. They waited until the weekend.

My friend had never been to West Seattle, so she drove me home one day. We shielded our eyes as we rounded the bend, and she spotted the roadside children.

“What in God’s name are those?” she gasped and pointed out the window.

That’s our half-dressed, log-leaping, Prozac-happy welcome committee, I thought to myself with pride. I laughed out loud, and said to her, “Welcome to West Seattle.”

44 Replies to ""Welcome to West Seattle": A new arrival's story"

  • SarahScoot March 12, 2010 (10:23 pm)

    I know where Eddie lives…

    Great story! Well-written, colloquial, and engaging. Love.

  • SLS March 12, 2010 (10:25 pm)

    Love it. I’ve lived here 17 years and counting and understood every detail of this story. You’ll find that there are two groups of people when it comes to West Seattle: those who get it, and those who don’t. I used to try to convince people that it “wasn’t that far away” and that the commute wasn’t that bad, but now I do the opposite, since we’re nearly full over here and it’s become increasingly crowded. Guess our utopia caught on. See you at Nouveau!

  • JBL March 12, 2010 (10:27 pm)

    I really enjoyed this article. Growing up in north Seattle, Out West did kind of seem a little too far to drive. Now I have a house with my wife close to the Junction and I love it here. I find my friends giving me the same reaction I gave my girlfriend in highschool – “West Seattle is so far away! It might as well be Tacoma!” Oh, I’m so happy I moved here. Psss…we can’t speak too loudly. I’d like to keep this side of town a secret.

  • k March 12, 2010 (10:30 pm)

    Great story! What a fabulous piece of work.
    Thank you for putting our little slice of heaven into print.

  • neighbor lady March 12, 2010 (10:46 pm)

    I spent years on in a co-op on Capitol Hill and only ventured to the hinter-lands of WS to visit Alki with friends from out of town. Now we’ve been here 7 years and it’s hard to imagine living anywhere else (OK, maybe that’s not entirely true, as the tropics sound lovely in March when you live in Seattle….). Welcome! Sounds like you’re going to be right at home.

  • CMC March 12, 2010 (11:24 pm)

    This was fun to read. I have to stop myself from gushing over West Seattle sometimes when I’m in non-West Seattle circles. My favorite story, though, is when my husband and I moved here three years ago from Queen Anne. My mother-in-law who lived in the Central District at the time said to us, “I can’t believe you are going to move all the way out there and isolate yourselves like that”. (This from a woman who had lived in Redmond for several years.)Anyway, she moved to West Seattle within the next year and she couldn’t be happier! Hi Pat!

  • Brian March 12, 2010 (11:27 pm)

    A new finger on the pulse. Lets go ahead and keep this kind of quiet, if you please. Waaaay too many strip malls listening from across the bridge. Thanks for this missive from a pilgrim….it reminded me of why I smile every time I get home.

  • Herman March 12, 2010 (11:28 pm)

    Every time a developer lops off some trees and tears down a bungalow for a boxy McMansion I swear that I’ll leave West Seattle forever. But even after years of that mistreatment, it still beats the North End. Or the East Side.
    .
    Can you imagine if we buried the utility lines here? It’d be paradise. Walk down Erskine sometime and mentally erase the utility wires, you’ll see what I mean.

    • WSB March 12, 2010 (11:34 pm)

      Well, you know you don’t even have to walk down Erskine. Gatewood Hill (the real one, east of Thriftway) and the west slope of Charlestown Hill have the undergrounded utilities. Ultimate views. Sigh.

  • mafiamama March 12, 2010 (11:47 pm)

    I lived there for two years and don’t share any entusiasm for west seattle at all. But glad you like it. It is still a good read as is your writing all the time. <3 to you

  • Bonnie March 13, 2010 (12:14 am)

    Welcome to West Seattle. April will be the anniversary of me living her 20 years. 20 years! OMG! I grew up in Burien and West Seattle seemed so far away. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else now. (hubby lived here so that is what brought me here. glad we didn’t go the other way and move to Burien)

  • JanS March 13, 2010 (1:12 am)

    I’m from the east coast near Philly. I married West Seattle (met him on the east coast in the army). We married late 1974, divorced end of ’95. All my friends asked me if I was going to take my daughter and go back east. All I could say was…why would I do that? I’m still here, have lived (and worked-since 1980) in West Seattle for 35 years, and don’t plan to leave.
    Daughter left WS for a few years, tried downtown, tried Magnolia…guess what…she lives in the apartment right next door to mine – lol…

    great story…welcome to the neighborhood!

  • Whiskey March 13, 2010 (1:15 am)

    Good god. I recently moved here myself.

    I’ve listened to PJ since Green River.

    I’ve had beers with EV.

    This person needs to get in tune with reality.

    And this makes “news” in the blog?

    God save the kweeen.

  • Gini Johnson March 13, 2010 (5:27 am)

    Tell your friends that they don’t have to pack a lunch to come to West Seattle. We are closer than they think. They will feel the magic and want to move here. I know because I sell Real Estate and I meet folks every week from the other side of the bridge that are wanting to live in God’s country.

  • KITTY March 13, 2010 (6:18 am)

    I Love West Seattle….DON’T love the “walking on logs” things when you drive into West Seattle…Will someone please pay to get rid of that?!!! Anyway, glad you like WesTSEATTLE

  • Gretchen March 13, 2010 (6:21 am)

    LOVE IT!

    And yes, please keep this just between us. I love that no one is here unless they live here. (excluding Alki but I don’t go there when everyone else is there) Makes for more meaningful interactions when i start seeing the same people at Thriftway as often as me.

  • JayDee March 13, 2010 (7:00 am)

    Thanks for the story. I too have had people remark how far away my home is from anywhere. Really? Have you ever driven to Sunset Hill in Ballard? It has comparable views but with crappy surface streets it is an eternity away. Ditto for Madison/Leschi. Or god forbid, Magnolia? Sure, great downtown area in Magnolia, with 25% of the cool stuff we have, but a rat’s nest to drive to or through.

    As long as the West Seattle Freew…Bridge exists it is easy to get here (or leave for those unfortunate enough not to live here).

  • West Seattle Art Attack March 13, 2010 (7:28 am)

    We moved home to West Seattle after 2 years living in Italy. The family had fun but wouldn’t trade West Seattle for anywhere in the world. Our first meal home we went to Easy Street for breakfast and spent the next hour hugging friends and chatting on the sidewalk as people wandered by and saw us for the first time in a long time. My daughter did a happy dance in the middle of the street during a “walk all ways” moment with her good friend who’s part of the famous Husky Deli family. West Seatle truly is home and the people that live there are family (except Ryan Cox who is not a welcome part of our family at any time). Glad to be back!!!! (four exclamations later)

  • Amanda March 13, 2010 (7:41 am)

    We love it too. 3 years this month, and trying to get all the Eastsiders over here as well! Thanks for the article. It was super cute ;)

  • Carraig na splinkeen March 13, 2010 (7:51 am)

    One only sees the metal children walking on logs if living in that part of WS. I think the “true” welcome is the Admiral Point overlook.

  • Andrew March 13, 2010 (8:05 am)

    I’ve lived here most of my life, going on 42 years. There is no place like West Seattle.

  • JBL March 13, 2010 (8:15 am)

    I’m not a big fan of the logs eitehr, but I always look forward to see how they’re decorated….but whatever happened to all the happy birthday, anniversary, etc. signs hanging on the overpass when you come off the bridge. That was going on for years until just recently when I moved here and I noticed that nothing is up there anymore. Was there a new law passed?

  • wisepunk March 13, 2010 (8:18 am)

    After living at 74th and Linden for 4+ years, the lack of hookers is a welcome change. Coming up on my one year anniversary as a WSite and loving it!

  • alkigirl March 13, 2010 (8:46 am)

    Shhhhhhh!!!! WS is getting way overcrowded!!! Keep it quiet about how nice it is!! I am 4th generation Alki, and my daughter is 5th generation….my great grandparents were pioneers in the early 1900’s. My parents still live on Alki and can barely find parking in their own carport!! My 87 year old mom, who also grew up here, hates walking on the beach anymore, because there are so many people that practically mow her down on bikes or roller blades, and no one stops for her to cross the street. When I grew up on Alki, it was a nice place to go to relax….not anymore. Most visitors don’t respect the privacy of the residents, and park even where is says “no parking” making it difficult to get down your street. I see people leaving garbage on the beach and it makes me sick! As a kid, going to Alki Elementary, I signed a “promissory note” to not litter…and I still keep that promise! I used to walk the beach as a kid and pick up garbage left by visitors. Alki is a mess anymore….thanks to visitors….stay away, unless you can respect it!

  • Cecile March 13, 2010 (8:58 am)

    I love West Seattle!!

  • kc March 13, 2010 (9:23 am)

    About 9 months ago, I landed my dream job and moved from WS to sunny and sandy Newport Beach, CA, where it is rainfree and 70 degrees nearly everyday…but it is no WS. I kept my house in WS and have been back about every other wknd sense and have recently decided to pursue a move back. I cant wait to leave this “beautiful paradise” and the great job and get back to the rainy grey NW. There is definitely no place like WS!

  • PeterT March 13, 2010 (9:41 am)

    Moved to West Seattle from the NYC area in August ’86. My first impression was that people said ‘hello’ to you as you passed them walking in the evening on Alki. We didn’t do that back home.

    Went through nine months of trying to find work upon my arrival, and then a separation and divorce. My family was all back East, so my only support here was myself. In the absolute depth of depression during all of this, I thought seriously about moving back. I took a long bike ride, and wound up down on Alki. It was one of those August afternoons. You know what I mean. I looked at the mountains, the water…and I thought to myself ‘How can I give all this up ?’

    I stayed. It was a scrape, but things got better. Much better. And living here helped all of that. Staying here was one of the three best decisions I made in my life. Four years later, I decided I wanted to live in other areas, so I spent two years on Whidbey, and 10 years in Issaquah, but West Seattle always remained the best, always called to me.

    In 2002, we bought a place on Beach Drive and moved back. I’m here for good.

    Every day, I thank the heavens I live here.

  • sun*e March 13, 2010 (9:57 am)

    Ssshhhhhhh! West Seattle is the best kept secret! People don’t know that it’s always sunny in West Seattle. ;)

  • miws March 13, 2010 (10:57 am)

    Welcome, Marika! And thanks for a fun story!

    .

    Wesseattle native here, of nearly 51.5 years. (Always feel I have to give full disclosure though, that about 4.5 of those years, around 40 years ago, was spent over on the Kitsap Peninsula. But hey, as a kid, didn’t have much say in the matter.)

    .

    I’ve also mentioned in the past, at how amazed I am, 25+ years after the opening of the Highrise Bridge, people from other parts of Seattle still think WS is out in the middle of Timbuktu! I had cow-orkers, nearly 35 years ago, that lived in the North End, such as Northgate, Lake City, and such, that would say “You live waaaaayyyy over theeeeerrrrrrrrrre?!?.

    .

    Now granted, we did have to deal with the “twin” drawbridges going up for ship/boat traffic, and the train crossings practically on the Harbor Island side approach/deproach, but it still wasn’t all that bad.

    .

    After the “ship hit the span”, on June 12, 1978, and for six years after, it was a bit of a struggle at times, but we survived! ;)

    .

    Mike

  • dawsonct March 13, 2010 (11:00 am)

    I don’t get the “West Seattle is soooo isolated” meme, But won’t fight it.
    I lived in Ballard in the late ’80’s, and worked in Bellevue (I know! I was in my 20’s, and humans are still pretty dumb at that age). Half of my commute was from Ballard to I-5. No matter what route I took, or how many laws I broke, it took about 15 minutes to get to the freeway, and then 15 minutes to Bellevue. Ridiculous.
    I like Ballard, but W. Seattle has it beat in so many, many ways.
    W. Seattle: Ballard without the isolation, Capitol Hill without the annoying hipsters.

  • Rose March 13, 2010 (2:10 pm)

    50 years ago my grandparents owned Gilmore Hardware which was just north of the Admiral Theater. My brother and I would go to matinee’s at the theater on Saturday afternoon and then hang out at the hardware store until our dad picked us up. We’d sit in front of the store and watch the Hi-Yu parades down Admiral. I’ve lived in West Seattle since 1959. OMG – I can’t believe I’m that old! I can’t imagine living anyplace else.

  • sudanfox March 13, 2010 (2:42 pm)

    Having recently helped paint my dear daughter (that would be Ms. Malaea herself) and her BFs’ bungalow in WS, I get it! The strong sense of place, roots, pride and, of course, pastries!
    But, alas, not one mention of bacon in this written treasure!I’m sure there will be a future story-if not dedicated to WS purveyors of fine bacon dining- bacon will at least play a strong supporting role!
    Well donesweet bee!

  • clickdesign March 13, 2010 (5:43 pm)

    Shortly before we opened a business here, we asked our neighbor who was self employed if living and working in West Seattle meant that there would be entire weeks spent without leaving the peninsula. She smiled and said “those are the good weeks!”.

    While we can get onto I-5 from our house without a single traffic light (try that in Ballard!), we love living in a neighborhood where we can get to work, to the beach, to great shops and restaurants and hardly put any miles on our car. We rarely leave and that’s fine.

  • JanS March 13, 2010 (6:13 pm)

    I realize that it’s not really this, but my friends kid me about getting me “off the island”…I live here, I work here, I shop here. I use metro and Zipcar mostly, and sometimes rides from friends. I don’t mind not leaving. It’s great here !

    To the gentleman who thinks we need to get a life ( who says that they have recently moved here and already had a beer with EV)…lighten up…we’ll suck you in eventually ;-)

  • d March 13, 2010 (6:45 pm)

    JanS –

    ;) so true. ;)

    And, Marika, welcome aboard the island. Nice story.

    Group Hug West Seattle!!!

  • Harpie March 13, 2010 (7:23 pm)

    I had to read portions of this out loud to my husband, whom I “imported” nearly three years ago. As a native, with two native generations behind me, I’m completely sold on the “cult” appeal of our urban suburb, as well as all-too familiar with its rep as the hinterlands. One of my best high school chums (I attended a north-end parochial school) said it best: You only go to West Seattle because you *have* to. But once it’s in your veins, it’s darned hard, nay impossible, to ever see yourself leaving.

    Thanks for a charming reminder of why West Seattle just keeps getting better.

  • FromTheWatchtower March 13, 2010 (7:48 pm)

    Thanks for the enthusiastic, honeymooners love letter to your new home! I’ve lived here for twelve years now and always tell people “it’s my favorite part of the city…” I don’t think I could live in any other part of Seattle. If I have to move out of WS- it will be out of state. ;-) Welcome, Marika and The Esquire!

  • DrMcCarthy March 13, 2010 (8:32 pm)

    I discovered West Seattle when I started going to school at WSHS. It’s felt like home ever since. =) And I would like to echo everyone’s sentiments about keeping it quiet….I hate when “out-of-towners” come in and don’t know there’s no turn on red at the Junction intersection. As a permanent pedestrian, I don’t appreciate being endangered when I’m trying to “walk all ways”! There should be a West Seattle Driving Test before you’re allowed to enter WS. =P It’s the best neighborhood ever!

  • JoB March 13, 2010 (9:31 pm)

    When we moved to West Seattle, we rented the house above Eddie Vetter’s place… and listened in vain for a year for the elusive sunday afternoon jam session:( did see Eddie though.. we chatted over produce in Thriftway:)
    and found the rhythm of the seasons on the sound. Gray whales and Orcas proved to be as present and as elusive as Eddie…
    now we live in a little Westwood hollow in a wee house surrounded by our garden…
    and just the thought of moving away is enough to move me to tears.
    the joy of those kids on the logs have always made me smile… right away you know you’re not in Seattle any more:)

  • homebuh March 14, 2010 (1:27 am)

    Loved the personal entries on your move to WS! We love West Seattle too– my husband and I fell in love with it over 16 years ago after moving from Texas…we lived in Mukilteo, New Castle (Renton!) and Leschi/Mt. Baker area…but settled in W. Seattle finally. We moved away for short time, to another state, came right back and still get goose bumps seeing the Olympics, the ferries, the sunsets when heading west. I do think the entry to WS off the bridge does not give visitors any indication of the lovliness of our area… Walking on Logs statues would be better placed down at the beach or in a park setting, just weird to have them off the main road and they are not asthetically pleasing in the spot where they are…that whole area needs some serious landscaping help. Not just a good cleaning up and cutting of brambles, but a total overhaul.

  • KBear March 15, 2010 (9:24 am)

    “we rented the house above Eddie Vetter’s place… and listened in vain for a year for the elusive sunday afternoon jam session”
    .
    You must have had him confused with the guy from Pearl Jam.

  • T-Rex March 15, 2010 (9:34 am)

    Eddie is my neightbor! My home is just to the north of his and my bedrooms peer right into his backyward. Which right now appears to be getting a swimming pool.
    Welcome to West Seattle, don’t forget to go by the Rockpsort for a good cocktail or cold beer before they leave us. I believe this will be their last summer open as the lease is up.
    West Seattle Days is coming up too!
    I cannot ever imagine living anywhere else in Seattle!
    Cheers!

  • SD March 15, 2010 (3:13 pm)

    What a fun ode to West Seattle from a newbie’s perspective! I moved over here from Leschi in 1994 and have lived here ever since (Morgan Junction area)…I really don’t see moving to another neighborhood, I love it here.

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