The nightmare of living in America’s friendliest town

You might think living in America’s friendliest town must be a fairy tale. Au contraire. It’s a living Hell. Forbes Magazine just came out with its ranking of the Friendliest Towns in America. Coming in at the #1 spot on their list? Sammamish, Washington, (true) my town for the past 22 years.

Sammamish beat out fierce rivals like Westerville, Ohio, Fishers, Indiana, Lake Wobegon, Hooterville, and the Merry Old Land of Oz for top honors. Forbes’s study ranked towns based on criteria such as crime rate, level of charitable giving, level of civic engagement, and the size of the check the town was willing to pay to Forbes Magazine to get listed as one of America’s friendliest towns.

Sammamish, a nice town of roughly 47,000 nice people, is nestled in the nice foothills of the Cascade Mountains – a convenient 20 minutes east of Seattle (or 2 hours and 40 minutes during rush hour). Thanks to its close proximity to Microsoft, Sammamish is an upscale community with low unemployment (5%), low crime (90% below the national average) and the nation’s highest level of double tall mocha addicts (97%).

Don’t get me wrong. The people of Sammamish are some of the nicest people you’ll ever want to meet. And that’s exactly the problem. They are really nice. Annoyingly, obnoxiously nice. By comparison, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood looks like the set of Real Housewives of New Jersey. 

Last week, I tried to enter the grocery store when I noticed two women in front of me, both trying to enter the store at the same time. It took them five minutes to successfully negotiate entering into the establishment because each of them kept insisting the other person go first:

“Please, go right ahead.”

“Oh, you are most kind. But I would not think of it. After you, please.”

“Why, thank you, but I believe you were here first.”

“Oh not at all. I believe you were here before me.”

“Oh, I am in no hurry. Besides, I believe you let me through first last week.”

I have seen slugs cross thresholds faster.

Everybody here is always volunteering or fundraising for some noble civic-minded cause. In the past month alone, I have received requests to donate to these fine causes:

  • A rally to stop discrimination against people who turn prematurely grey
  • A petition to designate stay-at-home moms an oppressed minority
  • A fundraising auction to raise money for people who lost money investing in the Facebook IPO
  • A call to reduce injuries in high school football by banning contact between opposing players
  • A campaign to end illiteracy among college graduates

Most of the youth league rec soccer games here end in a tie because parents don’t want to upset kids on the other team by causing them to experience failure. In Little League baseball here, there is a trophy for the league’s most sportsmanlike player. This year, it was 482-way tie.

People here don’t complain. They are far too polite for that. If someone here orders steak at a restaurant and the waiter accidentally brings them say, fish, heaven forbid they embarrass their waiter by pointing out his mistake. They will typically thank him profusely for suggesting a healthier dining alternative.

At the recent holiday display at the town’s City Hall, in an attempt to make sure not to offend any religious minority, the Three Wise Men were replaced by Mohammed, Vishnu and the ancient Egyptian sun god Ra. The part of Joseph was played by Buddha, and the entire display was tastefully lit by a giant 10 foot-tall menorah with eight candy cane-shaped candles. There was one minor complaint by a middle-aged occultist concerned about the exclusion of any reference to paganism. The town quickly rectified their error by adorning the Virgin Mary with a broom and a witch’s cauldron.

If you ask your neighbor to take in your mail while you are away for a week, it’s pretty much a given there will be a gift basket of homemade cookies on your front porch waiting for your return, with a nice handwritten note telling you how well behaved your cats were.

Thanking people is a big deal in my town. On average, people here thank each other 27 times a day. Some typical reasons:

  • Thank you for donating $10 to fund a painting class for dogs at the local animal shelter.
  • Thank you for baking the gluten-free, fat-free mango-celery tofu cookies for the kids’ baseball team post-game party.
  • Thank you for your help in the petition drive to change the name of Beaver Lake Middle School’s team mascot from “The Beavers” to the more socially acceptable “Semi-Aquatic Nocturnal Dam-Building Herbivores,” even though it’s slightly more difficult to fit on the players’ jerseys.

I have had it up to here with people holding the door open, letting me in front of them in traffic, or otherwise treating me with unrelenting courtesy. I had no idea when I moved here that all the folks from Mayberry had moved to the Pacific Northwest (and bought Lexuses).

I’m done with my rant. Oh my goodness! I just re-read what I wrote. I hope I didn’t offend anybody by my comments. I want to thank you for taking the time to read this column. That was very thoughtful of you. No really. You had so many other things you could have been doing over the past five minutes. I really don’t deserve your attention. Have a nice day.

That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.

PS:  If you enjoyed this week’s post, please let me know by sharing it on Facebook, posting a comment or giving it a.  I just want to thank to thank you so much. By the way, I love what you did to your hair. Makes you look years younger. 

© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2013

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  • Published On Jan. 02, 2013 by TEJ
  • One Comments

    1. Drew Fisher

      When your e-mail alert arrived this week, Tim, it was abbreviated to, “The nightmare of living in A..” and, naturally, I thought it was going to be, “The nightmare of living in Albany, NY,” something that we both have done. I remember spending most of my time in Albany wishing that I could be living somewhere else. Too cold in winter, too hot in summer, too boring at all times. Since then, gradually, my attitude toward Albany has softened, and when my wife — who never lived there — recently said, “You know, Albany is a great place,” I almost had to agree with her. The city has changed a lot since I was a teenager, and has a lot of cool restaurants and museums and stores that weren’t there back in the late 50s, but that’s not what’s made the difference. Our school paid me a very high honor last year and now fusses over me as though I were really somebody, but that’s not it, either. I realize that the place I really wanted to escape from was adolescence, when nothing is any good. Unfortunately, with no kids of my own, and a career in the media, I’ve never quite managed that.
      For the last 40 years, I’ve lived in Denville, New Jersey, which has somehow managed to locate itself in the Midwest, even though it’s less than 35 miles from Times Square. When I first moved here after living in Brooklyn, I was suspicious of people I didn’t know smiling, waving, and saying hello from the other side of the street, and having to wait more than 30 seconds while the cashier at the supermarket talked about soccer with the woman in front of me, and not leaping ahead when the light turned green at Franklin Road and Route 46, and so on. The bridge they put up over that intersection so kids wouldn’t get killed crossing it is an eyesore, and there are some truly stupid traffic signs around, but generally it’s a pretty good place, which at least partly explains why I’ve been here since before the Watergate break-in.
      One of the things non-journalists most frequently asked me when I was a journalist was, “Why is the news always so bad?” If I thought they could understand (not a frequent thought), I would tell them that “news” is what’s unusual, and we can be thankful that we live in a place that what’s bad is what’s unusual. I’m sure that the news in North Korea is always bright and cheery and good, and meanwhile there’s no Internet and people are starving to death. Happy new year to you and Michelle and Emmy and Rachel and the vast audience of VFTB!

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