erik lundegaard

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The Seattle Decade

The 1990s were The Seattle Decade.

I say this without pride. I arrived here on May 22, 1991, thinking that Soul Asylum was the coolest band in the world and everyone used Macintosh computers. Seattle set me straight. Nirvana blew away Soul Asylum and Bill Gates blew away Steve Jobs. And thatís just two ways Seattle changed the world. Add fashion, the internet and coffee to the list. Such power this city has had. Such money floating around town.

And absolutely none of it touched me.

I never saw Nirvana or Pearl Jam in concert. I use a Mac. Iíve worked at Microsoft, yes, but only as a temp.

In October 1996 I interviewed Jeff Bezos for a local publication but thatís as close as Iíve gotten to amazon.com. If Iíd begged them for a job then Iíd probably own an offshore island now. Maybe I would have purchased the Seattle Mariners away from their current cheapskate owners. Ah well. The Mariners' loss is another World Series title for the New York Yankees.

The Jeff Bezos interview is my version of ďHow I almost became a millionaire.Ē Itís a fairly common Seattle sob story and mine isnít nearly the worst. A friend was offered a job at Microsoft in 1987 but chose to work at a bookstore instead. Heís still there. I think he got a twenty-cent raise last year.

This is perhaps the most painful part of living in Seattle in the nineties. Peter Jennings, the most trusted man in America, recently told us there are a million millionaires in the world today ó ten thousand of them at Microsoft alone. Worse, most of these Microsoftees arenít like the current Mariners ownership who never seem to be around (or even alive). No, these millionaires actually live among us.

You may share a season ticket package with friends to the Seahawks or the Mís, and you may strike up a conversation with the couple sitting in front of you, late thirties, friendly, with two squirming kids. The wife is pretty and the husband looks like a former jock; you suspect heís a little league coach somewhere. They bring food to the game in a large paper grocery bag. The husbandís sharp about sports. You like his comments. Then one day you find out he just retired from his job. At Microsoft. Is he one of the ten thousand? He nods reluctantly. And suddenly a wall goes up. Youíre separated by a million different things ó or at least nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand. You wonder where you went wrong with your life.

Which begs the question: What happened to the good old days when rich people knew their place? Instead, like some Bizarro version of the Red Scare, these wealthy capitalists have infiltrated our ranks. They could be anywhere. They could be anyone ó your friend, your spouse, the person sitting next to you on the bus. Be vigilant! Look for the tell-tale signs of Microsoft money. Shorts in all kinds of weather. A kind of body-softness in men and body-hardness in women. A tendency to use bandwidth as a metaphor.

Meanwhile a recent UW study informs us that 40% of Seattleites don't make a living wage. Meanwhile Peter Jennings tells us that the 200 richest people in the world now have more money than the 2 billion poorest.

Nice guys don't get paid. Some small comfort, from earlier in the decade, from Soul Asylum.

ó originally published in Seattle Magazine