Spendy Seattle

Bus more, want less.

Oh God, what is happening. Three dollars for a cup of tea? And the name of the tea is “smarty pants?”

And yet, it’s sort of worth it. It’s gotten me a warm table in a cafe. It’s given me time to think and reflect. It’s given me a chance to lurk on the people around me, to spy. And it’s gotten me writing, which is always a good thing. So maybe three dollars is actually a good deal. Maybe I should’ve paid more.

Despite being many things, Seattle is not cheap. In fact, it’s wretchedly expensive. But with a little ingenuity you can still keep the costs down. Take samples, for instance. Everyday I go to Trader Joe’s and I get samples and free coffee. These are the things that lure me in, but the convivial atmosphere is what makes me stay. There are other people doing exactly the same thing. Usually they’re older, male, and unkempt. They conspicuously lack shopping baskets, probably because they’re not shopping. Sometimes they even talk to me.

“I take my coffee like a drug,” one guy said.

“What other drugs do you take?” I¬†wanted to say.

But of course I would never say this, because it would be demeaning, and these guys are drifting through the same Seattle I’m drifting through, figuring out how to stay afloat (and hopefully thrive) in a sea of shimmering affluence.

I’ve also figured out how to save on the bus. The Orca Card, the transit card we use in Seattle, is not the best (unless you have a monthly pass, which I currently don’t). It’s better to pay in cash. When you pay cash the driver hands you a physical, paper transfer, and this transfer (depending on the generosity of the driver) usually lasts longer than the two hours you have to transfer with the Orca Card. And even if it doesn’t, there’s always the possibility it will, there’s always the possibility that she’ll give you a transfer for 16 hours and you’ll be riding the bus all day with your tongue wagging. But with the Orca Card this chance doesn’t exist.

The best way to save, though, is to want less. It’s still something I’m learning. I yearn. I pine. I covet. But when you want less you spend less, as my friend Gilbert nicely summed up in a recent article. There was also the time I was talking to a Dutch guy, he’d been biking for the past five years and smelled like an alleyway behind a restaurant, and he told me, “Man, at some point I just stopped wanting.”

At first I didn’t know what he was talking about but now I’ve had time to think about it and realize he was some kind of Germanic-speaking, smelly Buddha. It’s that simple: You just have to want less.

Except for the Trader Joe’s samples. I’ll never stop wanting those.