This is guest post by the esteemed John T. Glover
The road through Aberdeen is strewn with psychic graffiti left in the wake of passing Puget Sounders on their way to surf in Westport or stay in a cabin at Ocean Shores. It’s a kind of pall born from indifference, vapid hostility, and eyes that can easily overlook what’s right in front of them.
“Only one more hour to the beach, kids!”
“What the hell do people do around here?”
“God, no wonder Kurt left.”
“This is such a dead little place.”
These sentiments and worse litter Highway 12 as it melts into downtown Aberdeen and vacationers peel off toward Ocean Shores or take 105 to Westport (…and the rest of the Cranberry Coast), leaving the city behind and thinking about it little, if at all, for the rest of their journeys. Why is that? In the words of Rodney Dangerfield, why doesn’t Aberdeen get any respect?
The prosaic answers are many, and easy. Logging and fishing have both declined in Washington in recent decades, with ill effects for the economy and for the people. Aberdeen is an hour away from the I-5 corridor, and what some people think of as the only part of the state that really matters. Nirvana came out of Aberdeen, and whether Kurt Cobain or Krist Novoselic actually hated the city or not, many people were left with that impression.
Every year as a child, I used to go to the coast with the family–once, twice, three times or more a year. We passed through Aberdeen and enjoyed it every time. Whether stopping at Duffy’s for lunch, browsing through junk shops, or stopping at the grocery store for kitchen supplies for the beach, it felt like home. That familiarity, ultimately, is why Seattle and the rest of so-called “enlightened” Washington tends to look down its nose at Aberdeen.
There was a time when Seattle was a working-class town – the kind of place where parades and hydroplane races were the height of summer fun. Seattle had dreams of being a bigger city and those dreams have largely come true, despite endless debate about its troubles. These debates reflect a persistent, unabated insecurity about Seattle’s status as a big city, and those who are insecure are right to be so. Some days it seems that for every step Seattle takes toward growth, it takes two steps away from it, usually at the behest of forces wanting a time capsule of Seattle, not a living, breathing city.
“Where,” you may be asking yourself, “does Aberdeen enter the equation?” Aberdeen represents Seattle’s fears of what it might become, what could lie just down the road if the pro sports teams go away, Boeing truly closes up shop, or Microsoft starts looking for someplace more congenial. What if Boeing had never set up shop in Seattle? What if Grays Harbor had become the center of PNW shipping? These fears are mostly unfounded, of course, if for no other reason than that Seattle (and the rest of the greater Seattle area – Everett and Tacoma, I’m looking at you) would have rather a tough time contracting to Aberdeen size.
And yet… the fear is still there. You can almost smell it in the snidely bemused tone folks sometimes take when it comes to happenings in Aberdeen. Both Seattle and Aberdeen grew up as lumber and fishing towns, with active rivers and harbors, plenty of business, and lively trades in vice. Could Aberdeen have become the metropolis that Seattle did? Could Seattle have run its course with the decline of logging and fishing? We’ll never know, but it’s hard not to wonder. Aberdeen will remain the place that it is – at least for now – but there’s no telling what changes the future may bring.
Next time you’re on your way to the beach, take a look around the city. Stop and look for ghost signs, visit the history museum, check out the library. Heck, take a look at the local newspaper. Aberdeen is closer than you think.