A location “agnostic” surprise

Nina Lutz
9 min readMay 10, 2022

Have I written in a while? Nothing complete.

Enjoy this rant/personal post about Seattle, for now. The tech society visual communication programming will return shortly.

It’s February 2021. The only job offer I have that makes the most sense is located in Seattle. I have to be onsite, HR says.

I’m graduating so soon. I’m *technically* location agnostic. And I know that, of course I know that. But I’m mad.

Seattle, Washington.

I went for a wedding, once. Did the Space Needle. Ate some fish.

Seattle, Washington.

I went for a conference another time. Mostly stayed in the hotel. We went to a brewery. I don’t drink beer.

You’ll get a relocation bonus.

“It’s grey there!” my friends say “And everyone likes to hike! You hate hiking! And RAIN!”

One of my friends is excited. She says that I am going to like it, that I will have a Bella Swan moment. I don’t know if that’s the moment I want, but I might have to embrace it.

I have 3 college acquaintances there. One I was decently close to for a bit, but we fell out of touch. Another is a newer one, who I got closer to over Twitter after we met with me lending him laser cutter hours back in 2018.

I ask them where I should live. I pick an apartment a 10 minute walk away from one of my acquaintances and a 20 minute one from my office. It looks like a cool neighborhood. Lots of good food and bars. The exact scene I have missed during COVID.

Emerald. That’s how a podcast I started listening to in 2017, when I lived in SF and commuted to Cupertino 5 times a week, described the PNW. The podcast is “Tanis” — always a little spooky, but it was good to be jumpy when you’re awake at 2am in architecture studio.

I always said “Well, I’ll never live in Seattle” and hit “play” on the next episode.

I was sad, I think, because I was scared. I *knew* SF. I didn’t *know* Seattle. I was so tired from the hell of COVID and graduate school. I didn’t want to *learn* Seattle.

I thought I would get SF. I thought they would give me SF.

“I’ll take less salary for SF.” I say before I sign. The recruiter says she’ll ask management. They say no. How confused they must have been — less salary in SF?!

I could see SF. There was a maybe of a romantic partner in SF. Entire social networks and friend groups I could slip into. Rooms I could imagine standing in. Bars I used to do comedy at. Gatherings I could hear the music of. Good Mexican food, after 6 years in goddamn people thinking ketchup is spicy Boston.

“Roadtrips are fun?” I say to my friend as we load up my car. I bought a Kia Soul in May, in one of the worst markets to buy a used car in. A lot of “worsts” in the last two years, I guess. I love my stupid box car though.

It’s July 2021. We’re tan and a little hungover from Fourth of July on the Cape. My thesis is in. I don’t know if any of the professors will read it. I have 2 shots in my arm and we aren’t wearing masks. It’s weird, I guess.

We either laugh at or deny that only 2 years ago, in 2019, we drove a lot of this stuff from Phoenix to Boston, where I thought I would spend 6 years for a PhD. Life changes, I guess.

“I should probably learn about real estate,” I say, since I’ll be working at a real estate company. I’m a little quiet on LinkedIn, but it’s there.

I didn’t know the Rockies went North past Colorado. Our tire gets stabbed in Montana. But it doesn’t go out until Washington. IKEA, actually. We did make it, so that’s a win. I get a new tire while my friend Ubers back to my apartment and my internet is setup.

My apartment is nice. The noises of the city are loud. We unload the car and go to the bar nearby. It’s one of my favorite places now. I’ve never really been a regular in this way before.

I forgot how piercing sirens can be, after being in the Cambridge suburbs. I forgot how loud buses are. I have a balcony now, which is weird. It’s nice. But weird. The large bay windows are a waste on me, my blackout curtains mocking them.

“Yea, we’ll do brunch once I’m settled in!” I say to my college friends.

The next week, a girl from work asks me the same thing. I’m not settled in, but I go. We end up talking about Boston and art. I guess I passed the test. She’s my first friend here. I laser cut versions of her paintings now. I’m still trying to bully her to get a tattoo gun so she can tattoo me.

Other friends come through — friends of acquaintances, friends of friends, a roommate of a high school friend, a high school acquaintance, more people from work. I have a social group of sorts now.

I host my first wine and cheese by December. It’s the first winter in 6 years I don’t have to trip over snow. I host my first powerpoint party by March, with more friends.

I discover it’s actually not that grey. People are lying when they say it’s so grey here. Maybe they’re jealous that we can walk to the water and stare at the mountains. Maybe it’s because when you go on dates here, it’s not just tech people. I went on a date with an arborist. Turns out, it really is just about trees and it’s not a cover for the CIA.

It is cloudy a lot. But it’s not just grey. It’s white and blue too. It’s specs of sunlight through. It’s blacks and rumbles when it does rain. I guess the winter gets a little gloomy, but I will take moments of “I want the sun” to shoveling snow any day of the week.

It makes you appreciate the sunny days. It propels you outside in a way you have never felt before. Everyone else is too. I walk by people outside just basking in the rays like lizards as people near them use the park. I’ve never slowed down like that. I don’t think most cities do.

I still don’t bask. But I get it now. The desire to bask.

I’m still not into nature, but I will do a baby hike. It’s so weird — I can drive 30 minutes and see waterfalls on a well manicured 30 minute walk from parking. I have opinions about parks now. I will never go camping, though.

“I dunno. I give it a year. Then I’ll move to SF.” I say, in Canada to my friend. He lives in Vancouver.

I know I like it a lot by fall. I still don’t know if it’s forever, but it’s for a bit.

I think it doesn’t really hit me until this April, when I go back to Boston for 2 weeks.

I didn’t miss Boston, I realize as I walk through the Common. It’s nice to see people. But by day 5 I missed Seattle. I missed seeing the mountains and the boats and buildings that are made after the invention of the automobile.

People from Seattle texted me throughout my trip. The weather was stunning in Seattle, too. Not the wicked wind on Mass Ave as I ducked away from seeing an old professor across the street.

I haven’t really ever missed a city before Seattle.

“You HAVE to try a Settle dog” my college friend, now closer than ever, says at midnight in a diner that has been overrun by the drunks and teens getting out of the Billie Elish concert. My friend is visiting from Vancouver and we did a bar crawl that night. Our food is free because of the wait.

I haven’t had a Seattle dog and I refuse to try it. But I’ll fight anyone from out of town who says it’s gross.

“It’s Pike” I say to a high school friend, “There’s no ‘s’ and no apostophe.”

“Ok, sure.”

“No, dude, look at the sign.”

“Huh, you are a local.”

I didn’t want to end up in Seattle and even before I arrived I was making an exit plan to flee to SF.

And I could. My manager has given me permission, based on where I am in my role (girlie just got promoted woo!).

But I no longer want to go back to SF.

It’s a 13 hour drive from Seattle to SF. I leave my apartment at 6am and arrive at 7pm over the Golden Gate Bridge. I forgot how bad the traffic is there.

My hotel is by Russian Hill. I walk up to Philz in the morning. I forgot how steep the hills are and how unwelcoming the shuttles are.

I drove down because my friend is previewing grad schools in South Bay. We spend the day and night roaming SF. I go to all the old haunts. I drink a Philz and walk past the Painted Ladies. It’s nice, to be back. To see Castro and walk to Inspiration Point while eating a Hot Cookie. We sit at Harvey’s and then at Twin Peaks. I look down from the second floor “I thought I would miss it more.”

I guess I didn’t know that all those rooms and gatherings I could so vividly picture had me in the corner of them.

The Mexican food is still better, though.

We drive down to Santa Cruz. “You should see the mountains in Washington, these are baby mountains.”

It’s pretty — but the redwoods don’t feel real to me. Just like the gardens near Golden Gate. It feels like a fortress.

The beach is too sandy. I don’t get it. The beach at Port Angeles isn’t so much loose sand — it’s compact and stony.

My friend doesn’t end up taking the grad program.“I have roots, a community — I don’t want to give those up. And I love it in Boston. I don’t think the West Coast is me.”

To uproot oneself is painful — some don’t recover.

I still have amazing and close friends in Boston. I miss them. We call and text. I go to see them. They come to see me. We meet up in other cities.

But I don’t know if I have roots in a city the way some people do.

For four years, I worked in a lab called “City Science” — I wrote code and math for urban simulations. I saw so much more of the world than I ever thought I would — so many cities and so many people who had different relationships with cities.

I never really *got* it. That personal relationship and identity with a city. I get it, logically. But it’s not *me*.

I’m from Phoenix, and I’m proud of that. Going to MIT, it feels like a badge of honor to not be from NYC, Boston, or SF. I don’t know if I’m very Phoenician though. I guess the the motif is cool. And I miss the Mexican food.

It makes me sad to think about leaving Seattle. But did I only feel happy leaving Boston because of how hard COVID and my college experience were? Did I really feel so left out at SF just because it had changed?

If I left Seattle, I would miss the stupid mountains and the stupid clouds, though. I would miss the fact that people here will regularly ask you to camp, no matter how times you refuse. I would miss being a lizard in the first sunny day in weeks. The scenic drives. The day trips that take you to completely new places like Canada, Twilight, or a Bavarian Village.

I wouldn’t miss the lack of Mexican food. But that’s really it.

It’s really scary to move to a new place where you don’t *really* know anyone. And to a city that you don’t even know if you’re going to like. It’s really scary to not know where you want to end up long term.

I can technically go anywhere, I guess. I don’t have a partner. I don’t have responsibilities to anyone, really.

I guess that makes it all the more scary. What if I pick the wrong place? What if I pick a place and everyone around me leaves? What if there is no Mexican food?

I don’t know.

I know that I feel happier in Seattle than I have in other places. I know that when I travel now I compare things to Seattle and I never have done that before. I know it’s the first city I’ve ever missed when I’m away from it or think about leaving it.

For now, I think Seattle is the right place. And I’ve never been happier to be wrong in my life. And anyone who knows me knows that I *hate* being wrong and it is an EXTREMELY rare occaision.

I don’t know what my next place will be. But. If you’re scared about moving to a place for a new opportunity — I hope you can have this pleasant and humbling surprise happen to you as well.



Nina Lutz

Instead of making computers think like people, I want to use them to make us think about other people.