I picked my sister up in downtown Vancouver for our drive to downtown Seattle. As we navigated a couple of blocks downtown, in our hometown, we saw some terrible drivers – truly awful. Think: there’s a green light, but to these guys it did not mean “go”.
“It’s like every cluck in the country is at this intersection!” my sister said, in the voice she uses to imitate our dad.
Years ago, when our dollar was stronger, I visited Seattle regularly. We’d stay with friends or rent a hotel room, and spend the weekend visiting different neighbourhoods, eating brunch, and wandering around. Seattle and Vancouver are similar sizes, but Seattle always felt so much bigger: so many stores and things we don’t have – like Tillamook cheese, beer at convenience stores, Nordstrom Rack, and Trader Joe’s.
I loved those trips.
And then I stopped – our dollar weakened, Vancouver became more expensive, and I had less time off. Until this overnight trip last week, I hadn’t been to Seattle in years.
When we arrived in downtown Seattle, it took me a while to find the hotel. I myself became a terrible driver – one minute, it was safe to turn; the next, I was surrounded by buses, the lone car in the bus lane. Cluck me.
We wandered around downtown a bit, and I was surprised at how out-of-place I felt, in a place that used to thrill me. My clothes, which had just that morning been serviceable, suddenly seemed ratty or worn. My hair even more straggly than it did in January. I saw a pair of jeans and thought: “Oh, I’ve seen that style in the magazines.” Because that’s how little I get out now.
Everything – everything! – seemed so expensive. I saw a shirt that I liked and took a picture of it, instead of trying it on. I kept thinking about all of our upcoming expenses, and about boring things, like how I haven’t signed up for critical illness insurance yet.
My sister and I decided to go for dinner at the hotel. We didn’t have a lot of time before our show, so we wanted to do something quick.
As soon as we walked into the restaurant, I froze. It was too nice.
My sister, who, smartly, has not yet boarded the train to mortgagetown, was oblivious.
The maitre d’, alas, was too attentive.
Me: “Um, is this the hotel restaurant? Is there somewhere else to eat? I thought there was a bar in the lobby?”
Maitre d’, sneering: “The bar only serves appetizers.”
My sister: “I want to EAT.”
I shuffled to a table, reluctantly. As soon as he cleared and I had a chance to glance at the menu, I hissed: “The first item under Entree is $38 US dollars! That’s like $50 Canadian dollars!”
My sister (clearly stressed): “Oh God. What do you want to do? They’ve already poured us water.”
Our waiter: “Hello!”
Me (tensely): “Can we have a minute, please?”
If my sweater felt worn before, now it was positively threadbare. I felt like something out of a cartoon: suburban woman in Gap Outlet dress thinks she’s so chic, interesting (because she blogs about her dog, Netflix), visits Big City for one evening, is shocked at prices, longs to go home where biggest snob is not Maitre D but cat.
My sister: “Maybe we’ll just get salads and slip out?”
Me: “I should have known – we shouldn’t have even come in.”
Sister: “I thought you wanted to splurge? This was your big night out?”
Me: “Yeah, but like PF Chang’s, not $40 pomegranate-braised tenderloin!”
That’s when we started to see humour in the situation.
We both ordered only salads. When the waiter asked us what we wanted to drink, and my sister said: “Just water”, I started snickering.
When the waiter told us that he was going to bring bread for the table, I nodded, my eyes tearing from trying to hold back my chuckles. The whole situation was preposterous, like something out of Fawlty Towers.
Me: “Oh god, we’re so obvious.” At this point, we’d still managed some semblance of cool.
And then he brought our salads.
The salads, you guys, were so small. America is the land of plenty – I’m constantly amazed at the portion sizes – but not here. This was no Cheesecake Factory. These were, very clearly, European appetizer salads.
Both of us lost it as soon as we looked at them. When the waiter asked if I wanted pepper, I could barely answer: “No thanks.”
We asked for the bill and shuffled out of there so fast, giggling the whole way to the convenience store, for our snack of $2 candy and $8 cooler wine.
Perhaps the restaurant run-in wouldn’t have seemed so funny if I hadn’t spent the whole day being shocked at prices. The week before, my husband mentioned an article he saw on the CBC about Vancouver millennials having the lowest discretionary income in the country after buying property.
When he mentioned it, I was surprised that the story was newsworthy at all. Obviously, that’s part of having high home prices in a place – it makes it harder to buy a home, which affects young people starting out the most.
Years ago, when I went to Seattle, I felt so sophisticated – I could buy clothes and go out for dinner (though, more for affordable empanadas and Margaritas than $40 pork), and I didn’t think too much about the cost. It was how I’d treat myself for working. I’d pick up PF Chang’s (or something like it), almost weekly.
Now, I work much more, and I treat myself far less. I wonder how much the city I live in has affected how I see my discretionary income, and what reasonable prices for things are. I wonder if 5 years ago, when homes were cheaper in Vancouver, if I would have winced at a $30 t-shirt.
I didn’t feel sophisticated at all – I felt like a rube.
Ih the morning though, a copy of The Seattle Times had been slipped under our room door. The main headline? “Million-dollar-home count triples across Seattle area in 4 years“.
The median price for a single-family home sold in Seattle last month reached $637,250, up from $425,000 four years prior, according to the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.
In East Vancouver, the benchmark price is now $1,345,400. In the West side of Vancouver, it’s $3,199,600.
When I saw the headline, I didn’t feel like a rube at all. Instead, I thought: “Oh, how quaint!”