For today's Nature Saturday, I drove east of the Cascades. There's a stigma to the no man's lands east of the mountains; I've had the impression that it's dry and ugly, undesirable, and deserted.
What I found instead surprised me. I've only scratched the surface of the east side of Washington, but what I saw today looked a lot more like a less-inhabited Front Range in Colorado than ugly fly-over country.
The mountains were still covered in pine trees and it had that same high-desert allure as the Rocky Mountains. Charming old barns stood next to new homes, and everyone was friendly. The air smelled like flowers and pine, and the sky was big and beautiful. I bet they get real thunderstorms here, I thought to myself longingly as I hiked under big puffy clouds on some unnamed mountain.
The costs here are way lower than on the western side. Sure, the western side is gorgeous, like a runway model in a red dress walking down a crowded street. It has the kind of beauty that you can't look away from. But the eastern side of Washington is like the pretty girl next door; you fall in love with that woman.
When you've had a bad day, you want to come come home to the girl next door; she'll cook you up a nice dinner and give you a smile that'll light up the room, she'll listen to your woes and hold you tight as you forget all your cares.
The Western side is beautiful, but cold. She's got expensive tastes, she's demanding, she's secretly happy about the 6 feet of distance rule and wishes it could be implemented full time, she's well known in all the 'who's who' of social circles, she's well educated and always knows the right things to say, but she's passive aggressive and she never stops working, always working, always striving for more money, but for what? An extra million dollars takes a lot of work but doesn't get her very far in an area where the cost of living is so high.
With remote work increasingly becoming the norm, is it worth it? I can spend a million dollars on a mediocre house in Seattle, or for the same amount I can get 30 acres and a nice ranch just two hours away, on the 'wrong' side of the mountains.
I want a high quality of living at a low cost (don't we all?) and I don't see that happening on the west side, or in any of the major tech hubs. I do see that happening in smaller towns or mid-size cities surrounded by nature. In a 'second tier' area, I could wake up and go for a hike before work! I could breathe in fresh air. I could be friendly to my neighbors. I could afford land to grow fresh food. I could have a much higher quality of life for half of the cost.
So, why am I living with the model? She's not the one I dream of at night. She's not where I see my future. But she's 'cool'. People in cities around the world know who she is, and they take me more seriously. She can introduce me to people who could help me in my career. She herself can give me a great job at a big company that would pay me a big salary. And if I leave, her influence and power leaves too. I become a 'no one', in the IRL world.
But she's no longer as powerful as she thinks she is. These days, people are increasingly meeting and maintaining friendships and business relationships online. We have coworkers we adore but we've never seen in person. We have a crush we flirt with who lives on another continent. We mentor people in other cities, we make dinner with our siblings via video chat, we strike deals with people and even start companies while living in completely different places (one of my successful founder friends is doing this!).
So how long do you think we'll continue to stay in the big, crowded, expensive, polluted cities? How long until the power balance changes and it becomes the new cool to live elsewhere?