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Seattle Explored

A new comic novel pokes fun at Seattle and its residents. We’ll settle in on Seattle.

The top of the Space Needle sports a new coat of orange, called "galaxy gold" when it first appeared 50 years ago atop the structure, as part of the landmark's 50th anniversary celebration Monday, April 23, 2012, in Seattle. The Space Needle, 605 feet tall, officially opened on the first day of the World's Fair April 21, 1962. (AP)

The top of the Space Needle sports a new coat of orange, called “galaxy gold” when it first appeared 50 years ago atop the structure, as part of the landmark’s 50th anniversary celebration Monday, April 23, 2012, in Seattle. The Space Needle, 605 feet tall, officially opened on the first day of the World’s Fair April 21, 1962. (AP)

Maria Semple is a very funny lady.  She wrote for Arrested Development, for Mad About You, for Saturday Night Live, for Ellen.  Now she’s writing about Seattle.  She’s got a big comic novel out with all kinds of family craziness.  But the setting is deep Seattle.  The Emerald City, locals call it.  Oz.

We think of Seattle as the heart of coolness.  Cool, coffee, grunge, mountains.  She’s got a tougher take.  Stinging.  Wickedly funny.  A send-up.

This hour, On Point:  we’ve got Maria Semple and a great crew out of the Emerald City to settle in, with affection and a cocked eye, on Seattle.

-Tom Ashbrook


Maria Semple, author of the new book Where’d You Go, Bernadette.

Dan Savage, writes the Savage Love sex advice column. He’s the editorial director of Seattle’s alternative weekly, “The Stranger”

Knute Berger, editor at large and columnist for Seattle Magazine.

Jon Stone, executive director of Seattle’s annual Bumbershoot music and arts festival.

From Tom’s Reading List

The Stranger “And boy does Fox hate it here in the “dreary upper-left corner.” She hates that her husband loves it so much, has become a “bike-riding, Subaru-driving, Keen-wearing alter ego” of his old self. She seethes over the five-way intersections and bucolic drivers, and the simple fact that she lives in a state that borders Idaho. She rages against the homeless people with a snotty, entitled air of wealth (“Why does every beggar have a pit bull?”). ”

New York Times “Maria Semple made an instant, jarring discovery when she moved with her boyfriend and daughter from Los Angeles to Seattle, a city whose Patagonia-clad inhabitants like to talk about bicycling, the environment and the eternally dull question (in her opinion) of whether it might rain.”

Seattle Times “If you’re one of a long line of people waiting for your library copy of Maria Semple’s hilarious new novel “Where’d You Go, Bernadette,” which sends up Seattle’s new rich like nothing else, console yourself while you wait by viewing this “book trailer” (for the uninitiated, a “book trailer,” like a movie trailer, is a short advertisement for an upcoming book).”

Excerpt: Where’d You Go, Bernadette


North by Northwest – Blue Scholars

Black Hole Sun – Soundgarden

Seattle – Perry Como

Video: Maria Semple

Check out this video with Tom Skerritt, Jeopardy champs and author Garth Stein.

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  • Wm_James_from_Missouri

    The first time I went to Seattle I was tickled by the number of radio advertisements for underwater welders and scuba divers. Being from the Midwest, I had not ever considered that an industry would have to beg for people that wanted to don a BC and snorkel : )
    If the city of Seattle is in anyway responsible for comedy show “ Frasier”, I want to thank them. I am still laughing. Bring it back, please !
    I didn’t spend much time there but I could sense that it was a fun town.
    I wonder if we could convince the people of Saint Louis and Missourians to support a “redo” of the Arch. Let’s make it a mile high, carbon fiber, graphene enhanced alien detection antenna, that will locate new destinations for future carbon fiber Space Needle Elevator travelers. All aboard !

  • ToyYoda

    Seattle is a beautiful city and its people are quite friendly.  I went their for a business trip during the bottom of the financial crisis, and stayed the weekend prior.  During my weekend, I made it my quest to visit as many coffee shops as I could.  A girl, a total stranger, gave me a complement about my smile.  Another invited me to a party.  I struck up a random conversation with a Seattle-ite guy which lasted for hours, Another guy, who made his fortune producing movies and doing real estate in NYC, wanted to hire me for his latest venture.  All in one weekend!

  • http://www.facebook.com/alan.gignoux Alan Gignoux

    If Seattle has anything on Vancouver, it must be an amazing city. I have never been to Seattle but have spent a tremendous amount of time in British Colombia. The difference between the two seemed to be that Seattle (Washington State and Oregon) had a larger and more diverse economy – I wonder why?

  • MarkVII88

    We are traveling to Seattle for a week in October with our three young daughters.  My wife has a business meeting to attend and we’re taking the kids to see a performance by Raffi.  Any suggestions for fun things to do in Seattle with the kids while my wife is working? 

    • http://www.facebook.com/sean.mackinson Sean Mackinson

      The Space Needle is worth your money in the late afternoon or evening for a sunset! Views are spectacular of the city and the surrounding mountains if it’s clear, and you can stay up for as long as you want.

      Totally check out Pike’s Place market, all vendors are happy to have you sample everything.

      Beyond the touristy things, the city is well know for having many great parks in great neighborhoods..Volunteer Park and Cal Anderson in Capitol hill, Gas Works, Kerry Park, and Marshall Park north of the city and Lake Union.  The city is full of great things, ask around!

      • Mike_Card

        What about the Seattle Underground?

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AALX7Y7JTVM2JU57IT43VUGCQU S

      The Pacific Science Center
      The Seattle Aquarium
      The Museum of Flight
      Golden Gardens Park
      Yes, go up the Space Needle
      There’s a great kite shop near Gasworks Park in the Wallingford neighborhood:
      Gassworks Park Kite Shop
      3420 Stone Way N
      (between 34th St & 35th St)

      Seattle, WA 98103

      The Seattle Underground is totally hokey; the guide walks the group through what is now basically the basement level of a section of downtown and tells ghost stories. It’s not like archeology and there’s nothing interesting to see.

  • AC

    i’ve never been more scared to be alone than in Seattle. It was unsettling that sooo many young people my age were begging. And they didn’t just stand on the corner, they walked with you for several blocks, pushing.
    I was there for a couple of months and when at a new friend’s party, everyone had a tale of a crazy person that broke into their aparments…now, many were funny stories, but they acted like it was normal to just have random homeless people walking into their homes at all hours…i’d be terrified!
    on another note – i LOVE alaskan king salmon; eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day and time I’m there – Seattle has wayyyy better seafood….

    • AC

      also, tho you can see for miles down a road and even if there are no cars – do not cross until the walklight comes on….people will be appalled with you, stare and whisper….
      i’ve never felt like an uncultured redneck before, but I think that moment came close!!

      • AJS

        I empathize–I lived for years in New York, where no one waits for the light and absolutely everyone jaywalks whenever possible–and I have never got used to being an orderly pedestrian.

    • http://www.facebook.com/alexander.allen.56 Alexander Allen

      ah my trick is to never make eye contact with the homeless, they usually leave you alone if you do that

      • AC

        that goes against my nature, i don’t mind a chat, but following a person you don’t know is intimidation

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/QMDZ3LH5U2B4GAT7J2HS4TCP6E Jim

    it needs a subway… then seattle would be complete

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    She sounds like the people who move to the south and then complain about how it’s not like New York City.  Please, if you don’t like the place, why did you come and why don’t you go home?

  • Randy Lamkin

    I just read Where’s You Go, Bernadette and I loved it. Really smart, sharply funny but not mean. Do you know how rare it is anymore to find funny that isn’t mean? Why is that? I hope everyone listening buys and enjoys the book. Thanks Maria Semple! 
    Hilton Head Island, SC

  • DrJoani

     Went to Seattle to visit a friend in l987 and found it lovely (April).Saw the original Starbucks and had coffee there never dreaming it would expand world-wide. It was a little “hole in the wall” the.
    Loved the Pike Market and food in Washington in general and
    as for the grey haired ladies, you should visit Vermont to see the long and short of it.
    However, I did not MOVE TO  Seattle so am no judge of the “friendliness” or warmth of the people.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

       She lost me on that grey hair comment.  If all she cares about is dyeing hair to deny reality, she has nothing to say to me.

  • nikki hamburger

    I am from Washington state (born and raised) and maybe because of that I never have noticed the “Seattle Freeze” but I feel like the people were way friendly in Seattle the in New England when I moved here.  I guess people smiling at each other and saying hello isn’t friendly but I find that normally in Seattle and not at all in New England…people look at me crazy lol. 

    • SomeGuyNamedMark

      Odds are you are used to the fine details of interaction in Seattle vs New England.  If you were born in New England you most likely would be saying the opposite.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    A friend of mine tells me that a person can go walking in the woods without being eaten up with mosquitoes (listen to the previous hour) and ticks.  The climate stays in a temperature range that I like.  Those things make it three-quarters of the way to perfection without doing anything else.

  • http://twitter.com/baseballpajamas The Other Rob Ryan

    I lived in Seattle from 1980 until 2000. I loved the low-rez charm of Seattle when I first lived there, but I had had enough by the time I left: too many people talking about startups and stock options, too many millionaires driving up the housing costs, too much traffic, and way too much self-satisfaction. I left town with a weird sense of relief mixed with bitterness. I loved that town, but she changed. I felt nothing if not jilted. Beautiful place, but I’m never moving back.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    My impressions of Seattle were defined by Tom Robbins – lush, water-logged, and gray.

    And mushrooms – lots of mushrooms.

  • David_Salisbury

    I grew up in Seattle and moved to LA. Unlike Semple, I found the people in LA to be superficially friendly — strangers will tell you intimate details about their lives in the elevator — but most aren’t willing to go out of their way to help you. I also found the  LA culture to be superficial and exceedingly self-indulgent. I haven’t lived in Seattle for decades, although I’ve visited frequently, so I can’t comment on how it has changed. But, when I was growing up, we felt that Seattle’s culture was being eroded by people moving there from California. If Semple thinks Seattle is cliquish, she should try living in New England!! 

  • marshvegas

    I visited to Seattle twice and just love the place!
    Can’t wait to go back again.
    Let me just write some pro and cons from my visits to downtown Seattle.

    1. nice waterfront with plenty of places to enjoy the views of the sounds. If it is a sunny day can see hill and mountains surrounding the city.
    2. Nice street art/public art that is throughout the city.
    3. In my opinion, there is alot of great/varied cuisine although the city.
    4. If you look for it, there plenty of free/low cost things to do.
    5. Cool public market to buy all sorts of fresh produce/food products.
    6. Able to catch nice ferry rides to Bremerton and Bainbridge. These towns also have there own charm and things to do.
    7. The older part of town has some interesting architecture.
    8. The space needle….always cool to visit.

    1. Though fairly easy to walk the waterfront. The town where I was at was fairly hilly. So walking from the waterfront to your hotel or to other parts of the city not at/near the water front can be tiring.
    2. From what I saw. Driving can be challenging and parking seems a nightmare in the city. Of course one could say that about most city.
    3. Some of the “Tourist Traps” can be expensive.
    4. There seems to be a lot of panhandlers that aren’t shy about bothering you for money. Granted I seen alot worse in Newark and Elizabeth NJ.
    5. People say the weather is typically rainy and gray. But to be honest. It was sunny pretty much everyday each time I went (May and July).

    Now I know that this show is only about Seattle. But I would like to mention that I have also very much enjoyed the national parks and the pacific coast that are “around” Seattle. Mt Rainier was totally awesome and so was Olympic national park. And since I am an ocean person I loved visiting Ruby beach of the pacific.

    Again I had a wonderful time and can wait to go back.

    • http://www.facebook.com/alexander.allen.56 Alexander Allen

      they do call it the city of seven hills, I’ve been waiting for them to put in escalators in rue of sidewalks 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=708259356 Penelope Crampton

    My sister moved to Seattle over 20 yrs past, then my oldest daughter followed(who works at the Seattle Library),then I visited in ’03, and then again in’09 with my husband–
    Now I am a widow, and am moving to Seattle next January, loving all the place has to offer: seafood, outdoors, mountains and ocean, good people, smart people, Coffee!, and of course, to be with my family-
    I CAN HARDLY WAIT, and I am 62 yrs of age, discovering the rest of my current life–in Seattle!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=708259356 Penelope Crampton

    And the Troll under the Bridge, near Fremont!!!
    And the U of W bookstore!!
    And the Art Museum!
    And the Korean’s Womens Spa . . .
    And the Olympic Peninsula, the Hoh River and Rain forest,
    La Push 1st beach . . .

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Robert-Bristow-Johnson/575465356 Robert Bristow-Johnson

    not as big as grunge was in the 90s, but a wonderful sorta progressive group from Seattle is

    Two Loons for Tea

  • Rex Henry

    Everything I know about Seattle I learned on the tv show Frasier

    • http://www.facebook.com/alexander.allen.56 Alexander Allen

      I’m so sorry, that is not what Seattle is at all

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Microsoft–well, every place has to have its undesirable element…

  • superfinehelios

    I’ve been to Seattle 5 times. Fremont, Lighthouse tea (had coffee with Dave Matthews here), Gas Works, Hurricane Ridge, Starbucks first shop, Pikes place, Bumbershoot, Deception Pass, snowboarding in the Olympic mountains, kayaking on Union Bay. So lucky to have friends that live there. If I were to move to the west coast…it’d be Seattle. I just loved the vibe.

  • DrJoani

    Just read the excerpt which convinced me not to ask the local library to obtain the book.Unnnhhhh.

  • http://twitter.com/Peat_Ski Peat Ski

    My wife and I visited Portland and Seattle earlier this month on our vacation to the Pacific northwest. Maybe it’s because we went to Seattle second, but we found it to be a huge disappointment. Aside from Fremont, there’s nothing quirky about the place. It’s all department stores and people with way too much money showing off. It’s like the whole city wants to be Manhattan Jr. “Corporate” is an overused adjective, but it’s the first one I think of. Corporate and sterile. The people were nice enough but no nicer or more outgoing than anywhere else.

    Maybe there are little hole in the wall places to be found, but we couldn’t get anywhere quickly on the abysmal public transit. How sad is it that the best run part of their transit system is the monorail? 

    As for panhandlers/crime, I’m from a city, I’m not a country mouse or anything. But the sheer number of homeless people was startling. And they do menace, these aren’t the “can I have a dollar thank you god bless” kind of homeless. Waiting for the underground tour in Pioneer Square was off-putting, with all the lurking vagrants staring. And that was a tourist attraction! I didn’t see any police cruisers or bikes – just one security guard from the tour company.

    We did go see Dan Savage’s “Miracle” while in town. And that was fabulous. 

    I’ll pass on the author’s book. Next time I want to listen to someone talk about how weird and quirky a town is, I’ll watch Portlandia, since Portland has actual charm and quirk. 

    • Gabor Nagy

      I think you missed the good parts and got too much of the bad dumped on you. The geography is just out of this world!

    • http://www.facebook.com/alexander.allen.56 Alexander Allen

      Yes the homeless are annoying but you learn to ignore them, as for public transit taxis are the way to go lol, but I love this city, the u-district/capital hill are very “quirky”. Seems like you were doing too many of the touristy things, and no we don’t all have way to much money we just know how to be awesome

    • Keaton Tucker

      The homeless in Seattle is right at the national average. Unfortunately the city just put them all in two place near the city center. Some bad urban planning decisions in the past have made the city appear to have homeless everywhere. It sounds like you missed most of the city probably because nobody pointed you in the right direction. What’s cool about Seattle (and Portland for that matter) is the city is a collection of urban neighborhoods. Much like Fremont. If you liked Fremont you’d love Ballard, Capitol Hill, Wallingford, West Seattle/Alki. 

      Yes the public transportation system in Seattle is pretty bad. Keep your eye out though, we’re getting a ton of light rail that just broke ground. I blame it on the citizenry (which act like citizen architects a lot of the time) and the bad choices in the 70′s to develop around the automobile. 

      Seattle is all right in my book. Great place to call home.

  • http://www.facebook.com/cheryl.a.knott Cheryl Ann Knott

    I’m from Vancouver, and considered Seattle our lovely neighbour, that we visited often. I always found the Seattle people warm and friendly, with lots of great music and art.

    • Mike_Card

      I have spent a fair amount of time (3 or 4 weeks in each) in both cities.  Seattle is very pleasant, but I’d choose Vancouver, if forced to choose.

  • Mike_Card

    I haven’t been everywhere, but I’ve been to a lot of US cities.  Seattle is not at all unique in having long-time residents who are smug and clique-ish about that.

    In fact, I cannot think of even one place that doesn’t exhibit that smugness, including a lot of places that make you wonder what the hell is wrong with these people?

  • http://twitter.com/NeuroShrink Michael Lee Russell

    My Father was born in Seattle, I was born in Seattle, and Graduated UW in Seattle.  Your Guest sounds like a New Yorker and is from Los Angeles, and yes we didn’t want Seattle Californicated.  I am not surprised she sensed that. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=534202637 David Adams

    As Seattle native let me say that this woman knows nothing of Seattle. Microsoft? Grunge? Starbucks? Is she living in the same present I am. It sounds like she’s writing about the 90s.

  • Mark Makuch

    Jonathan Franzen liked it?  I’d be careful putting that on the jacket, it says ‘full of anger and poorly written’.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AALX7Y7JTVM2JU57IT43VUGCQU S

    I moved to Seattle from NYC in 1991, and lived there until 2003 when I moved to New England. I experienced the Califorication of Seattle. (Not enough New Yorkers there to create influence.)
    Pacific Northwesterners are cold, aloof, unfriendly, and have a very simplistic sense of humor. Pacific Northwesterners don’t understand sarcasm.
    I also experienced the insincerity that Maria described long before she was there; people saying “Let’s have dinner together,” etc. but it never happens. I had a very difficult time making friends, and Pacific Northwesterners tended to socialize with their high school friends well into adulthood. The people I developed friendships with were transplants from elsewhere.
    I called Seattle the Land of the Passive-Aggressive. People were superficially pleasant to my face, they’d tell me what they knew I wanted to hear, and then they’d call me an a-hole behind my back or turn around and do/say the exact opposite of what they told me. New Yorkers are direct; if they like you, they let you know right away, if they don’t like you, they let you know right away. No BS. Seattleites are adept at manipulating other people into doing what they want simply by not dealing with something. 
    In business, nobody was even close to on time. People show up whenever they want to, blow deadlines for no reason, and everyone accepts it. The lack of professionalism never ceased to amaze me. It drove me crazy.
    People were very provincial. I experienced clueless and quiet anti-Semitism often. It shocked me and was very ugly.
    And people walk around in pajamas. It’s as if people refuse to dress nicely for any reason. Seattleites actually have “dress sweatshirts.” I was horrified when I attended a wedding reception at a church on a Saturday night and saw people in sweatshirts and jeans; I felt overdressed in a velvet dress.
    But it’s a beautiful piece of real estate. There were a lot of things I enjoyed about living there. The people were not one of them.

    • Regular_Listener

       Northeasterner here – A lot of what you say there I have heard about (and experienced with) Californians – the plans that never materialize, the vacant, insincere smiles, the ungroundedness of the whole place.  I was only in Seattle for a week, so I can’t say much about the people there – I did notice how outdoorsy the whole city was – 60 degrees out and people are wearing their cargo shorts and looking like they are about to jump in a kayak – which was all right with me.

Aug 20, 2014
A man holds his hands up in the street after a standoff with police Monday, Aug. 18, 2014, during a protest for Michael Brown, who was killed by a police officer Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Mo. (AP)

A deep read on Ferguson, Missouri and what we’re seeing about race, class, hope and fear in America.

Aug 20, 2014
In this Oct. 21, 2013 file photo, a monarch butterfly lands on a confetti lantana plant in San Antonio. A half-century ago Monarch butterflies, tired, hungry and bursting to lay eggs, found plenty of nourishment flying across Texas. Native white-flowering balls of antelope milkweed covered grasslands, growing alongside nectar-filled wildflowers. But now, these orange-and-black winged butterflies find mostly buildings, manicured lawns and toxic, pesticide-filled plants. (AP)

This year’s monarch butterfly migration is the smallest ever recorded. We’ll ask why. It’s a big story. Plus: how climate change is creating new hybridized species.

Aug 19, 2014
Lara Russo, left, Cally Guasti, center, and Reese Werkhoven sit on a couch in their apartment in New Paltz, N.Y. on Thursday, May 15, 2014.  While their roommate story of $40,800 found in a couch made the news, other, weirder stories of unusual roommates are far more common. (AP)

From college dorms and summer camps to RVs and retirement hotels, what it’s like to share a room. True stories of roommates.

Aug 19, 2014
Police wait to advance after tear gas was used to disperse a crowd Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014, during a protest for Michael Brown, who was killed by a police officer last Saturday in Ferguson, Mo. (AP)

“War zones” in America. Local police departments with military grade equipment – how much is too much, and what it would take to de-militarize America’s police force.

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