East vs West: “why” vs “why not”

A friend of mine grew up in the PNW, but went to college in Maine. We were talking about the East vs the West, and she said she did not like that the East coast follows tradition for tradition’s sake. I found that very interesting, and upon reflection, I somewhat agree with her.

In the Northeast, guys wear a suit and tie to (most) job interviews. On the highway, you keep right, except to pass. Well, most people keep right except to pass. The ones that don’t are honked at. There is a system, and there is order. In the PNW, if you wear a suit and tie to a job interview, you will most likely be looked at strangely. On the highway, people drive wherever they want.

However, once you dig below the surface, you see that the PNW does have traditions and requirements, even though they don’t see them as such. Take the suit requirement. The PNW is marketed as “do whatever you want/be who you are”, and to an extent, that is true. But wearing a suit and tie to an interview in a lot of places will almost certainly automatically disqualify you from the job. That’s not “do whatever you want”. The PNW isn’t devoid of rules. Their rules, when they have them, are just more hidden.

Another PNW rule is – when you are driving, and someone lets you merge in, you should wave at them. Yes, you should give a little friendly wave because someone let you in. If you don’t believe me, read this article about all the different times you should be waving. Now, I am all for thanking other drivers. On the East Coast, you flick your lights to let a semi in, and then the semi that gets let in usually blinks their lights off and on to say thank you. I like that, it’s nice. But this is not a rule, and I don’t get upset when people don’t say thank you. Here in the PNW, as you can tell by that article, it’s pretty much a rule. When people don’t do it, PNW drivers get upset. They don’t honk at you (since another rule is no honking). They just are upset, and write about it on their blog.

However (and this is a big however), once you get past the little rules, the West Coast is a lot less attached to any sort of tradition. Where did the computer revolution happen? California. Not New York or Massachusetts, but California. There are a lot of computer companies in Massachusetts (just google Route 128), but there aren’t a lot of startups in Massachusetts. When you think of ‘startup’ you think Silicon Valley, Seattle, or maybe Austin. New York is starting to get into startups, but still isn’t nearly the hotbed that the West is. I think the reason for that is this being unattached to tradition.

In Boston and New York, there are ways of doing things. You don’t have to do it that way, but your life is a whole lot better and easier if you do. So, people follow paths that are already set. In the PNW, people don’t say “why” they say “why not”. Have you heard of Uber? This company decided that taxis were crap, and decided to make a modern transportation company. They started this in San Francisco. On the East Coast, we shrug at our horrible taxis, but no one (as far as I know) tried to do anything about it. It’s just “how it is”. The only bright idea I ever had was to put credit card readers in taxis – not upend the whole system. On the West Coast, people said “I’m going to change that”, and they did.

If you google Uber, you see they’re all over the news. Taxi companies are screaming bloody murder because Uber is taking all of the transportation business. Well, duh, when you give me a good app on my phone, GPS to tell me where the car is and how long until it reaches me, and a clean towncar (or Prius, now, too), why would I take a taxi? That’s just crazy.

I miss the East Coast and all of their rules. I miss everyone knowing how to go through a four way stop properly. But the West Coast is so very intriguing. There are people here that are trying things. There are people here that are saying “why not?”. I know the Silicon Valley computer revolution happened decades ago, but the East Coast didn’t really learn any lessons from it. IBM is still IBM. DEC sprang up, but then died because they couldn’t deal with change. Here on the West Coast, companies aren’t just dealing with change, they’re the ones creating change. Amazon was just an online bookseller – why the heck would they start selling cloud services? That’s just crazy, right? That’s not what they do. Yet, today, EC2 is one of the most popular platforms out there.

So amidst all my grumpiness surrounding Seattle architecture (see my post from last week here), and my grumpiness surrounding Seattle rules (see above), this “why not” attitude is incredibly attractive and inviting. And this attitude pervades almost everything. On the East Coast, I almost certainly have to work a cubicle 8-5 job. Out here on the West Coast, people work from home or in coworking spaces. On the East Coast, I can drive an internal combustion car. In the West, Elon Musk decided that this was the future and it was time to have electric cars that were actually useful. And so he did. You can buy Teslas on the East Coast too, but that’s another West Coast thing.

America’s center used to be manufacturing. It’s center used to be from Pennsylvania to Michigan. That’s now the rust belt – manufacturing has moved on. Now, America’s center is knowledge workers. America’s center is innovation, is our “why not” attitude. That attitude can be found throughout the US, but it is strongest in the West. I love that about the PNW. This “why not” attitude is attractive, and is one reason why we live here and why we stay here.