What does someone like me do in their spare time? Today, it was write some Venkatesh Rao / Ford Prefect fanfic, per his birthday request. Happy Birthday!
From Venkatesh’s Facebook:
“I’m bored by ‘how to understand Trump voters’ posts and thinkpieces. I now understand them as well as I care to, having read probably ~100,000 words of thinkpieces about them.
Moving on. I don’t normally share my birthday, but today I turn 42, which is of special significance in my religion, (this is the age My People fully understand Life, the Universe and Everything). So since I have written 100s of 1000s of selfless words for you guys, I demand a very specific kind of birthday present back from those talented enough to give me one: an insight into us elite coastal liberals written in Hitchhikers Guide style.
Like any self-absorbed elite coastal liberal I now want to know more about ME and MY kind. Our tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Tesla-driving, Washinton-Post-reading, Netflix-loving, left-wing freak show back here on the West Coast. So tell me something about me/us that I/we don’t already know, in Douglas Adams style.”
Ok then. For your consideration…
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the PNW
Ford settled back on the artisan pinewood stool and took a long pull from a dark Buffengrimmelhoffenbock +20 to eye roll craft beer.
He could feel the weight of the air pressing down. Like a wet chilled towel. Which was exactly what he had wrapped on his head, the better to block the cotton ball comfort zone that the region provided, or so the Guide had claimed.
He was impressed. He had never known an area to be filled with more pale skinned people who refused to make eye contact since he had been in Britain, yet here he was. One did have to admit, it was pleasant. Not too pleasant, but just right. The type of day where you could discuss just about anything, as long as no one was upset.
The towel began to drip.
Ford irritably pulled the towel from his head and lay it across the back of the chair. Just one moment, he thought, how bad can it be? With one hand he tousled the water form his hair, with the other he absently fished through his knapsack. A girl last night had given him a hat. Tanisha? Tara? It didn’t matter. He had noticed that the region had a tendency of making people fade away the moment they were out of sight. She said the hat really brought out his emotional qualities. This was rubbish but it brought her out to his AirBnB, so this was workable.
He pulled on the black beanie and then without thinking, scooted it to the back of his head.
The young waitress finally arrived with his sandwich. It wasn’t the most amazing sandwich. In fact, it was probably the most boring thing the had been created. All Ford knew was that half of the customers had been eating it and it was sometimes best to blend. Especially in a place like this.
“Sorry for the wait. I’m just really out of it. I had to get up really early to catch the bus from Burien, and I’m running on fumes”, she rambled in that odd, Pacific Northwest way, where you couldn’t tell if she was talking to you or someone slightly taller standing behind your left shoulder.
Ford raised his eyebrows. “Why don’t you live here? Fremont’s pretty gnarly, there’s, like, a dispensary and a PCC right here…”
She focused in and scoffed. Obviously the hat wasn’t working. “With these rents? No way.”
Ford thought for a moment. This didn’t make sense. This neighborhood was filled with people. It wasn’t that bad. A little rent increase is just the cost of development…
“Maybe if you learned how to code…”
The words barely left his lips before she cut him off. “I have a PhD.” And, with that she strode back to the kitchen.
He gazed after her sadly. Some people just didn’t appreciate how good they had it.
Ford had scoffed when he had seen the sign that said ‘Welcome to Fremont, the Center of the Universe’. Skepticism was needed here. He had been to the edge of the universe, tasted the finest Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters, and survived. He knew, like anyone really, that anywhere other than the edge of the universe could be considered the center of the universe, which made a lot of this labeling a bit excessive and redundant. However, as he sat on the patio of the Red Door, idly picking at his turkey and mayo on white bread (hold the tomato) sandwich, gazing out at the joggers and the gentle milling of the Google employees, he was starting to reconsider. It was nice here. Clean. Why wouldn’t someone want to live here? This was probably one of the finest places on the planet. I mean, Google is buying real estate here.
He languidly applied some Dumbledab 10% Hufflepuff Sativa blend into his vape and took a thoughtful pull.
Why shouldn’t the world be like this? He, no, We, deserve this (he mussed). People just didn’t understand how good it could be. It was probably an education problem. Nothing that couldn’t be fixed with some Ted talks. And coding, he reminded himself. Code fixes everything.
He looked down at his sandwich. It was by far, the whitest piece of food that he’d ever seen. He took a meditative bite. It was perfect. It tasted like privilege.
As he was savouring that first, bland bite, his phone buzzed.
Ford looked up.
Across the stone patio and refurbished pine tables, his friend, Venkatesh Rao was gently making eye contact and wiggling his phone. In Seattle, it is the paramount of rudeness to barge into a room and wave your arms and shout. Civilized people just didn’t do that. Obviously, though, something was amiss.
Eye contact achieved, Venkatesh slid up to the table, and scooted onto a bench. “Ford, man, Ford, where have you been man?”
“Here. I’ve been here obviously.” Ford looked askance. “You OK? want some Hufflepuff?” He gently waved the vape in Venkatesh’s general direction. The faint smell of superheated monomers and root beer arced off it.
“No, man, no… Wait.. What’s on your head?” Venkatesh touched the beanie gingerly, almost superstitiously.
“We gotta get you out of here. When’s the last time you got out of town?” he asked, plucking the beanie from Ford’s thoroughly bedraggled hair.
“I go to Ballard sometimes…”
“Oh, c’mon, I mean when’s the last time you got out of Seattle?” Venkatesh began to search the ground “There it is!” he exclaimed. The towel had fallen to the floor, obscuring a corgi dachshund mix wearing a scarf. The dog was unimpressed with the events and returned to its nap.
Ford took a slow pull from the vape. “Probably not since Bernie had the nomination stolen.”
“That’s no good. That’s no good at all!” Venkatesh began fumbling awkwardly with the towel. “We need to get this back on your head…”
“I don’t know. Just look how great it is here.” Ford gestured widely at the canal, the joggers. There was even a hippie girl practicing hula hoop. To be fair, it was pleasing, pastoral almost. If your pasture had modern art scattered around it and the sheep had been replace by double income just having their first child home renovators and girls with dreadlocks.
As Venkatesh tucked the last flip of the towel into the makeshift headpiece, Ford’s eyes refocused and he came to with a shudder.
“What did they do to me?” He gulped nervously. “I felt.. I felt like Dent. I had become an episode of Dent makes Money and moves to the Big City.”
Venkatesh shook his head a bit. “Well I’m not sure it’s thaaat bad…” He trailed of as Ford leapt to his feet and swung around.
“No it is! Watch this.” Ford swayed towards a table with a few men in their 30s, last year’s polo shirts beginning to stretch over this year’s programmer’s belly. “Hey you. Yeah, you look like hip intelligent zudes. I have a question.”
The coders looked confused that anyone would break social norms and talk to strangers, but were mollified by the praise. You could accomplish a good deal by telling the intelligentsia that they were smart.
The programmers then engaged in the standard Seattle greeting, a subtle head nod and an abrupt break in eye contact. They silently and considerately appreciated his head wrap. They sipped on their hop infused ferments.
“So, I hear that Amazon is going to be building a physical store in Ballard. Like, a place your order, drive through store. What do you guys think about this?” Ford leaned in.
These may be workers from the Google caste, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t like you were just not going to use Amazon. They were all Prime members. It’s like how half the Microsoft employees had iPhones and the complete iPhone ecosystem. That and the Microsoft phone was terrible. At the end of the day, we’re all friends here, right? And they knew this. So, of course there was a unanimous chorus of, “Ah that’s going to be great”, “Ease of Access”, “It seems like the logical progression of the marketplace”, along with one edgy “It’ll be useless once they get their drones up”.
Ford settled back on his heels. This was too easy. Like taking flibs from a Panduvien drunk. “And what about them setting up around here? There’s a space open along the trail, next to the chocolate factory…?”
The group leaned back in shock! “You have to be kidding!”, “Think of what the would do to the foot traffic here?”, punctuated with a classic, “Not in my backyard!”
Venkatesh winced. Ok, maybe it was that bad.
The group returned to their previous conversation as the pair backed away slowly. “As I was saying, the trees on the hill were restricting my view of the Sound, so I had to remove them. Of course, cutting them down is illegal, but if someone were to notch the bark so it dies, well then, it’s a public service. The city pays you to do it…”
Ford spun abruptly on his heel and marched to the bar. “Two of your strongest beers!”
The bartender looked up from her phone. “Well, on tap we have a Triple Fleeced….” Ford grabbed the glasses and looked pleadingly at the barkeep. “Just… Pull the beer…”
He leaned in conspiratorially as he slid a pint to Venkatesh. “The Guide says the fish here… They fish are loaded with cocaine and antidepressants. They drugged the salmon! Who drugs fish, man?”
Ven pulled on his beer. His eyes instantly began to water. Incidentally, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy mentions the Triple Fleeced GlutenHasslehoff. This beer, it’s written, is artisanally crafted by a community of Hipsters in the Earth city of Portland. The commune members maintain total silence and only communicate to the outside world through their website, Slack channel, and prolific postings about the niche music genres. An example of this was the flame wars of 2015, over the defining treble notes of post fuzz witchhouse. The beer has an impressive 32% alcohol content. It’s said that TetraHydroFuran is used in the process to ‘increase bite and bring out notes of pine trees and sadness’.
“Here, here! listen to these guys over there.” Ford was manic. The haze had worn off and he was lurching from table to table, eyeing people from behind umbrellas and planters filled with succulents.
A couple of the employees were talking…
“It probably isn’t going to be that bad. A lot of his 100 point list looks good. I say let’s just wait it out.” The speaker was cut in the classic Seattle mode. Flannel shirt cuffed up, a well trimmed beard that was serious yet sensitive, and a pair of Dickies. “The way I see it, it’s probably just 4 more years of the same stuff.”
The other side of the conversation was a little rougher around the edges. He was wearing a mechanic’s workshirt, probably some sort of clever work uniform, and a pair of baggy slacks. “What about the people getting hurt? Like literally hurt? The racist graffiti and the attacks on people of color? People are chanting “Build a Wall in classrooms…”
“I don’t think it’s as bad as all that. The way that I see it, these people already existed, so it’s nothing new, right? Now they’re out in the open.” The first guy leaned back in his chair and stroked his beard. Another dude with a topknot at the table nodded appreciatively. This was a chill and calm way to see the situation.
“I just don’t understand why so many people voted for Trump?”, he continued. “I mean, obviously, they feel disenfranchised, so probably their vote was mostly about saying a big fuck you to hipsters. Which I feel as well.” With that considerate and encompassingly magnanimous view, he took another sip of his hand crafted small batch brew and a healthy bite of the vegetarian black bean burger with quinoa salad. “I just refuse to believe there are that many racists in this country. I mean look at how great it is here.”
Now Ford winced. Not moments ago he had said the same thing. He clutched his towel protectively and sneaked a glass of water to remoisten it.
“I mean, I feel real safe still, so I really just don’t care.” With that last pronouncement, he turned back to his burger. The other coworker, in shock, wandered off…
Ford scooted over to Venkatesh. Venkatesh noted the difference in work attire “So, that guy there, the one without the uniform, he’s probably salary.”
Ford nodded sagely. He had heard of this before. “Of course that’s the thing where you get paid even if you don’t really do a job.”
“Well, yes, but it can also mean you get paid the same as someone else, even if you work twice as hard. Nights and weekends.”
Ford pulled back with a sour look on his face. To be fair, he was opposed to any sort of serious work whatsoever, but the thought of working twice as much for half the pay. This was astounding. “Why would anyone do that?”
Venkatesh scowled. “It’s a culture thing. Why do you think Amazon hires single people with dogs?”, he muttered darkly.
Ford considered this. He came up with an answer and then dismissed it as depressing and took another pull on his vape.
Out of the corner of his eye, Venkatesh saw Ford take another huge lung full of vapor and chemicals. He smacked the vape out of Ford’s hand. It cracked on the ground and broke. Ford started forward and then stopped. That vape had really been a help here.
Venkatesh stood up and grabbed Ford by the collar. “OK, OK, we can fix this. We just gotta get you out of here. Don’t worry about the vape. Where we’re going, you can’t take that.”
Ford looked up, a twitch in the corner of his eye, nervousness across his brow… “Where are we going?”
Venkatesh gripped him by the shoulders and gave him his most ominous stare.
With that, he pulled him by the coat and they ran for the door.