When I lived in the city, a scene like the one above would have led me to conclude that the guy on the bike was probably a missionary of some sort. More than likely a member of the Church of Later Day Saints, who oddly combine bicycle riding with a suit and tie in the attempt to convince whoever falls under their gaze that some guy with the unlikely messianic name of Joe Smith discovered the revealed word of God written on some plates buried in his back yard. Whatever. While far-fetched to my very self-consciously rational and reality based urban persona of the time, it was really no more or less strange to me than any of the other folks who would stand on the street corners and hawk spiritual advice or try to separate me from my spare change. A simple “no thank you” or a refusal to make eye contact would usually send them on their way, their offers to “save my soul” or to “help a brother out” were to me just another harmless distraction of a day in the city.
In actuality the picture above is not of a religious believer seeking converts, but is Seattle’s Mayor Mike McGinn. And while I have no knowledge of whether or not the Mayor is a religious man, he is most definitely a believer and a missionary for that belief. When this missionary comes to you and offers salvation however, it is not so much an invitation as it is a threat. Follow me to the green promised land and you will be saved. Refuse and you will pay a price. And unlike the religious missionary who can only threaten the non believer with retribution in the next world, this priest has the power to coerce belief in this one.
My wife is employed as a hairdresser in the heart of urban Seattle. She has been at the same salon in the same location for a quarter of a century so has been witness to the ups and downs of the local economy as it relates to the downtown core and has pretty much seen it all. In recent years, using the long game strategy of gentle diplomacy and quick tactical strikes when necessary, I have been making small inroads into changing her political philosophy, though she would still describe herself as a good, progressive liberal democrat of the typical Seattle variety if pushed into thinking about politics, which she will normally avoid like a trip to the dentist. Lately however, my inquiries into “how’s business” have been returned with invective filled diatribes on how much she is growing to hate the city and in her particular rage at that “worthless, fat-ass, mo-ped riding dip-shit”, who was somehow ensconced into the Mayor’s office. “Everybody in town hates him!” she rails. “My business is down 30% since he took office!” I nod my head in sympathy, while thinking that perhaps if the citizens of Seattle stopped voting for those candidates in which the words progressive, or community organizer, or environmental activist, appear anywhere in their resumes, things might improve. I keep this thought to myself and she continues.
“He has converted half the downtown street parking into bike lanes and doubled the fees on the remaining spaces while simultaneously emptying the jails and halfway houses of every methamphetamine sotted, schizophrenia suffering, piss soaked alcoholic or violent sociopath, and dumped them into the one square mile area surrounding my salon! The majority of my client’s commute from the suburbs, and they are quickly losing their sense of humor regarding the opportunity to shell out a half days wage for parking while subjecting themselves to the chance of being mugged or gang raped in an alley in exchange for a cut and color!”
“Hmm…” I say, careful not to bring politics into the conversation, as being a good, progressive liberal democrat of the typical Seattle variety, she doesn’t see the connection between our new mayor being a progressive and her recent downturn in business and generally will become very defensive if I attempt to explain the connection. “Why do you think he has raised parking fees” I innocently inquire. “Surely he must know that this will discourage automobile traffic downtown.”
“This is part of his plan to incentivize alternative transportation methods like walking, buses, and bicycles. It will be good for the environment.”
“Hmm…the environment. Are hairdressers part of the downtown environment?” I retort. “What?” “Are hairdressers part of the environment? That is are hairdressers, or downtown business people in general, and their desire to entice consumers to travel to and purchase goods and services from their businesses the sole reason that the environment called “downtown” exists at all”.
“Well…yes…I suppose so.” she says. “So how is making it as difficult as possible for customers to get to these businesses good for the “business environment” of downtown?” Anticipating that I am about to go on a political rant, she pre-empts me and goes on.
“But what really pisses me off is the constant gauntlet of psychotic episodes in progress that I and my clientele must negotiate just to reach the front door of the salon. Once inside I feel like a 19th century pony express courier who has at long last entered the sanctuary of Fort Apache after a long, difficult, and dangerous ride through hostile Indian territory. Why don’t the police put a lid on their intimidating tactics.”
“Well…I’m sure that most of the police force would agree with your observation on the need to protect law-abiding citizens from undue harassment from panhandlers and drug addicts but unfortunately the Mayor has determined that the free speech rights of the homeless include the right to back you into a doorway and demand money before letting you go on your way.”
“Bullshit!” she says. Certain that I am now conjuring up facts just to make her look foolish. “That can’t be true!” “Look it up.” I say wearily. “He vetoed a city council resolution to ban aggressive pan handling on the grounds of free speech and concern over potential lack of legal representation for those extorting cigarettes and spare change from you.”
“Well…that’s just crazy.” she says. “Which part?” I counter. “The part where the mayor says it is the right of the homeless to extort money from you, while at the same time restricting your right to make an honest living unless you and your clientele toe the green line he has drawn in the sand? Or the part where the citizens of Seattle continually elect ever more progressive candidates to office, and then can’t figure out why they always end up flat on their backs getting fucked ever harder by each successive democratic administration to come down the pike in what has become a one party city.
“I guess I see your point.” she says. “But as evidenced by that little tirade of yours, Republicans are creepy, so what’s a girl to do.”
“Yes…” I say. “Some are, and some are not. Just like Democrats don’t you think? And for the hundredth time, if you call me a Republican again I may strangle you with your own brassiere. Why not just drop the labels and look honestly at some opposing ideas. Maybe tell your friends in Seattle to do the same. You never know what you might discover.”
“Hmm…maybe I’ll look into it. I still think you are a crazy Repub…..asshole…but I’ll look into it.”
Not to use a dirty term but…that’s progress!