Seattle is a safe city

Seattle: In the shadow of the boomtown

Every night where the richest man in the world has found happiness, thousands look for a warm place to sleep. At the wheel of his bus, Jacob Fryar sees his hometown Seattle changing - for the worse for many.

Jacob Fryar has discovered new tents again today along line 32. People under fluttering nylon skins and between cracked tarpaulins. Young and old in their home on the sidewalk. Right in the center of Seattle. Right next to it, new office buildings that should have grown out of the ground just as quickly. The further his yellow-green metro bus is from the city center of the west coast metropolis, from construction cranes and shiny new buildings, the quieter Fryar's passengers became on their way home. In the rearview mirror he watched a man in a dusty work jacket and a woman in a hospital shirt fight the warmth of the evening sun and the rocking of the bus, struggling to keep their eyes open.

After seven hours on duty, Fryar, 64 years old, is also tired. His left leg hurts, his neck stings. But when he stops the bus at the last stop at the North Seattle Interim Park & ​​Ride on 103rd Street and the passengers struggle out of their seats, Fryar's spirits also awaken. "Go on with the car, right, mate?" He chats briefly with the work jacket man, joking with another. "Take your time," he worries about an older lady while shouting "Thank you" from the back door answered with a wave. "It's been a long week," says Fryar - more to himself - as the last passenger gets off the bus. Another tour until the end of the day. Another trip through a city that he does not recognize more and more often and that is becoming more and more inhospitable for him and his passengers.

Global group location

Jacob Fryar has been guiding metro buses through the streets of Seattle for 16 years. He saw the neighborhoods and passengers change. How more and more cars crowded in front of his windshield, how unknown accents mingled with the familiar rumble of his bus and how more and more people got on to warm themselves up after a night on the sidewalk. Over the past decade, Seattle has seen unprecedented economic and population growth. Seattle is now home to global companies like Amazon and Microsoft and billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates. The top 20 percent of the workforce now earn more than half of their income. At the same time, 12,000 people live here on the streets. The economic boom was good for some. However, life in Seattle is becoming increasingly difficult for workers and middle classes.

With a view of the Space Needle, observation tower and Seattle landmark - built for the 1962 World's Fair - Fryar slips into his leather gloves, closes the doors and steps on the accelerator. This is where his route begins. "Next stop: Mercer Street & 3rd Avenue," comes the loudspeakers of the bus. Fryar pushes the sleeves of his dark blue uniform a little further up and points to a street. "I lived down there when I came to Seattle twenty years ago I couldn't afford that anymore. The rental costs are crazy. " He would have paid $ 400 for his room back then, but today you have to shell out at least three times as much for the same place. Lots of people would share their homes in order to be able to afford the rent. Or work extra hours to be able to pay all the bills, says Fryar as he stops the bus at a red light. The average rent for a 50-square-meter apartment in Seattle is $ 2,083. A home of around $ 830,000 - 200,000 more than two years ago. Rents and real estate prices have risen faster in Seattle in recent years than anywhere else in the United States. Mainly responsible for this development are large companies like Amazon, which are creating loads of well-paying jobs, pulling people into the cities and thus driving up property prices.

Real estate bubble?

The working and middle classes in Seattle have less money to live on. While wages rose in the tech industry, they stagnated in the low wage segment. Ten years ago you would have got a good burger for six dollars, today you pay double or triple in a decent restaurant, says Fryar. With a legal minimum wage of $ 15 an hour - bus drivers start out with $ 23.16 an hour, at Fryar's age around $ 32 - dining out becomes a luxury. For five years he paid off the installments on his motorcycle. When he trims the hedges in his front yard, he wears uniforms that are already too washed out for duty.

At home, that's a little house, just outside, where he lives with his wife. Twenty years ago it was still affordable for a bus driver and a teacher, today it would be worth significantly more. But that also means: Fryar has to pay a lot more taxes. Even as a happy home owner, he suffers from developments in the real estate market. The house is worth significantly more today, as the monthly tax for it has risen significantly, says Fryar. The majority of the people in Seattle today have to spend well over a third of their income on housing. More and more people cannot afford to live directly in the city. They move to the outskirts and commute to work, many on the bus.

"And that's what it looks like when you can't even afford a room," says Fryar as he drives the bus past a tent complex under a car bridge. Dozens of tents are in the shadow of the Magnolia Bridge, no residents can be seen. It's one of those settlements that have the sanctuary of the city government. "It's enough if you don't have a job for a few weeks. If you're unlucky, you have to pack your life in a couple of bags."

Tilted plans

Seattle has the third most homeless people in the US today. 12,000 were counted at the beginning of 2018. Only in New York and Los Angeles do more people live on the streets. Experts name housing and living costs, the dismantling of the already barely developed social system and the current opium crisis as the main causes. Seattle's mayor has announced that it will spend $ 63 million on homeless citizens this year. But the high real estate prices make it difficult for the city and aid organizations to offer emergency accommodation or social housing. In mid-May, the city of Seattle passed a new tax to combat rising homelessness: Companies with more than $ 20 million in annual sales should pay an additional $ 275 per employee, so an additional $ 50 million should be available for social housing. After fierce resistance from Amazon, Starbucks and Co., the tax was abolished again immediately. Fryar read in the newspaper that Amazon - one of the largest employers in the city with 40,000 employees - had threatened to stop expanding its headquarters.

Seattle's problems are also an expression of nationwide developments. In no industrialized country is wealth more unevenly distributed than in the USA. 41 million Americans live in poverty. At the same time, three men - Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett - own as much wealth as half of all Americans. It was only in December 2017 that the Trump administration decided on massive tax breaks for the wealthy and companies. It is widely warned that this would make the poor even poorer and the rich even richer. The announced savings will make the social system even more holey. Already today, nine million poverty-stricken Americans have to survive without welfare.

Homeless people are also a challenge as passengers, says Fryar. "If you can't even afford a toothbrush, you have no money for the bus ticket." On this trip, too, passengers with torn clothes get on again and again. It lets homeless people sleep undisturbed - the bus as a short protection against rain and cold. But sometimes he too has to ask people to get out, says Fryar, almost apologetically.

As a bus driver, Fryar has already driven more than 40 different routes through different parts of the city. He saw construction cranes spinning over the streets and new skyscrapers grow into the skyline. In general, people are more stressed, more exhausted than at the beginning. "More people, more traffic, more stress." And more passengers, that would mean less time to get from A to B. Above all, little time for breaks and chatting. "I don't transport freight, but people. And everyone likes to look in a friendly face, "says Fryar. The exchange with the passengers is also the reason why he still enjoys doing his job. "Often all it takes is a smile, a nice greeting, or a joke, and a shitty day just gets a little better."

Dangerous job

Especially for people in the poorer areas, the bus is usually the only means of transport. "If you are happy to have a roof over your head at all, you usually don't have a car - and neither do your friends." On routes through the southwest of the city, passengers would often ask for the cheapest motel, the nearest soup kitchen or women's clinic. Many would want to make friends with the bus drivers, simply because they sometimes need a dry place for the night, he says. In the poorest neighborhoods, the tension of his passengers is really noticeable. In some neighborhoods, bus drivers are repeatedly threatened, spat on and beaten. So far, Fryar has been able to prevent such situations. "I know how to avoid arguments. I have three big brothers," he says and laughs.

“If you drive the same route every day, you always see the same faces. Many stay in the same lousy neighborhood, take the same bus as young people and then later as adults. Others manage it, find a steady job and move to better areas - a good thing, although then I usually lose sight of them. "

Rich neighborhoods, no guests

Dozens of stops after the bridge-covered tent settlement, Fryar drives through the campus of the University of Washington, past spacious parks and venerable brick houses. Then he stops in front of the University Village, where chic boutiques and the first physical Amazon store invite you to shop. Eventually, Fryar steers the bus - the 32 turned into a 75 - through one of Seattle's richest areas. "Next stop: Sand Point Way & 106th Street," says the tape colleague. Houses on the shores of Lake Washington, with SUVs under the carport and jetty for the motorboat. Nobody gets in or out here, the piercing beeping of the ticket reader pauses. “The people here all drive,” says Fryar.

Beep, beep, beeeep. A few kilometers further on, passengers get on again, and the walkways turn into small front gardens. Instead of water and motor boats, Fryar looks at tents and shopping trolleys full of the remnants of leftover citizens. Back at the park-and-ride in Northgate, Fryar's route ends. After nine hours on duty, the last passengers leave his bus. "Thanks! Thanks! See you tomorrow! "Most of them get into their car now. They drive even further out to places where rents and houses are affordable.

On the way back to the base, Fryar sits alone in the bus. In a few minutes he will finally be able to get out and stretch. Sitting all day, no movement, just a short break. Heart problems, back pain and diabetes are common among bus drivers, says Fryar. Nevertheless, there are colleagues who, even when they are over 80 years old, still steer 20-meter-long buses through traffic. Some would continue to drive the bus part-time in old age. If the partner gets sick and needs medical treatment, then you just have to keep going to work - just because of the insurance. A couple pays $ 1,700 a month for this, Fryar says, glad that his wife is healthy and that his leg has more good days than bad. Fryar wants to keep going, because of the health insurance, because of the bills, as long as it goes and it's fun. After all, his employer offers a retirement savings plan. Forty percent of Seattle workers have no prospect of pension payments.

It's enough for Montana

It is just after 6:30 p.m. when he parks his bus in the garage. He turns off the engine and takes off his leather gloves, massages his leg, slips out of the driver's seat and straightens his back. Then he limps up the stairs to the lounge. Fryar would like to travel to distant countries with his wife, but with a bus driver and teacher salary, the two prefer to travel to the mountains to meet friends in Montana.

Fryar reports to the boss - "no special incidents today" - logs off and gets into his Ford. On the way home, in the slow rush hour, he pushes his way through a city that he says he knows like the back of his hand , but in which he feels less and less at home.

After a weekend in jeans, T-shirt and rubber clogs, Jacob Fryar will slip into his uniform again on Monday morning and pull on his gloves. He will smile again, say hello, joke and try to make the everyday life of his fellow citizens a little more pleasant. Because people, they would simply long for a safe place in a world that is becoming more and more insecure, says Fryar. “We almost forgot that each of us can create such places ourselves. And if there is only a place for a few - and on four wheels. "

"This story was created as part of the two-week TransAtlantic Storytelling Summerschool 2018 of the fjum_forum journalismus und medien".

Seattle as a travel destination

Seattle: Around 3.8 million inhabitants in the metropolitan region, around 704,000 in the city. Seattle has been voted the "most liveable city" in the USA several times and is a well-known location for global corporations, including Starbucks and Boeing. Traditionally, the steel and wood industries are located here. With the port, Seattle is an important trading hub in the North Pacific. The city is quite extensive hilly between the Puget Sound and several lakes.

On road: An all-day regional transit pass for the entire transport network within the city is recommended for the visit. Available from Orca vending machines.

Sights: The landmark - the "Space Needle", a 184-meter tower from which you can see Mount Ranier, a 4,392-meter-high volcano in the middle of a national park, still comes from the 1962 World's Fair.

The city is an interesting one Museum location - the Seattle Art Museum is well equipped and modern. The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, for example, has a large collection of Native American art. In the Museum of Flight you can learn about the history of aviation.

To do: Seattle is a city for foodies. One point of contact is the Pike Place Market. Due to its maritime character and many Asian influences, the cuisine is very varied: from crab in an industrial ambience to Szechuan cuisine in an exotic retreat, there is everything. Washington state also has viticulture, just half an hour from Seattle.

Seattle is also a city for Music and film: The Seattle International Film Festival is currently running with 400 films - the oldest and most frequented film festival in the USA.

Tip: Museum of History & Industry (Mohai): The museum is showing the show "Seattle Style: Fashion / Function" until October 14th. Background: There is hardly a phase that is more associated with Seattle than in the 1990s than grunge bands how nirvana and the style of lumberjack shirts shaped the alternative rock subculture.

At the same time, Seattle is also the location of Outdoor clothing manufacturers, Street wear and designer fashion. The visitor embarks on a journey through time into the fashionable past of Seattle and into the future - it is also about sustainability, ethical attitude, nature and leisure behavior. In addition, there are textile rarities from the middle of the 19th century to the present day. There are guided tours as well as citywide Seattle Style Month in September.

Tourism information: Visit Seattle.

("Die Presse", print edition, May 18, 2019)