Within the span of an hour last weekend, I went from holiday shopping at several small businesses in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood to getting my COVID-19 booster shot at Amazon’s headquarters downtown.
In one neighborhood I saw yet another reminder of how some people view the e-commerce giant in their midst. In another, I confronted my own often vacillating opinion of the company. The distance between the two was a very short drive, but it’s been a lengthy journey.
I’ve been in Seattle for a little more than 25 years. Amazon arrived just before me. In the time since, I’ve witnessed the great change Seattle has undergone, much of it over the last decade as Amazon and other tech companies have grown tremendously in the city.
I’ve spent a lot of that time documenting the change as part of my personal hobby as a photographer, and more recently as a reporter for GeekWire. I enjoy street photography — capturing old businesses, signage, architecture and scenery. I like images that illustrate the juxtapositions between what was and what’s now.
I also get a kick out of a variety of so-called street art such as stencils, stickers and posters that are well designed or convey a message that’s worth a double-take. In Capitol Hill, and in much of Seattle, it’s all part of the landscape. Because of the industry and people I now write about, I can’t help but see and ponder the anti-tech and anti-Amazon messages. There have been plenty.
Last weekend I was drawn to another variation of the ubiquitous “Go home tech bro” sticker, slapped to a light pole near Pike Street. This sentiment has made me think for years about who might be sticking it, and whom they’re sticking it to.
The cry to leave is not unique to Seattle. “Tech bros” are surely being told to go home in San Francisco and Austin and New York and elsewhere. Tech changes a lot of things, or, tech jobs and salaries do. Good jobs attract more people and more people means higher rents, fewer houses, lousier traffic, etc. Beloved dive bars and longtime mom-’n-pop’s get knocked over in favor of cookie-cutter apartment buildings and soulless chain stores. The lack of affordability for many sets in, and artists and others are forced out.
But for nearly two years, Seattle has seen what it looks like when the tech workforce and many others do indeed “go home.” Even as the stickers tell the “bros” to leave the city permanently, remote work during the pandemic has had the desired effect in the short term.
The lingering health crisis has emptied out downtown Seattle, Pioneer Square, South Lake Union and other neighborhoods where tech is concentrated. With the recent rise of Omicron, and with adoption of hybrid or fully distributed work styles, no one is quite sure when or if people will return to offices.
For anyone who appreciates the vibrancy of Seattle as a growing and bustling city — despite the many real pains that have come with that distinction — seeing the place now can be depressing.
If this is what it looks like when tech goes home, is it a place worth living or visiting?
“It’s an opinion that’s not widely shared in Seattle, thankfully,” Jon Scholes, CEO and president of the Downtown Seattle Association, said of the anti-tech messages. “Certainly not by the majority of small businesses, arts and cultural orgs and nonprofits that rely on tech workers as customers.
“Seattle has always been a tech town and a leader of innovation and that’s a source of pride for most Seattleites,” he added.
After photographing the sticker on Capitol Hill, I went to get stuck at a pop-up vaccine clinic that Amazon was facilitating on its sprawling headquarters campus.
The clinic started on Oct. 23 and ran through Dec. 19, operating on Saturdays and Sundays. It followed a previous effort this year which ran from Jan. 24 through June 5. In the 42 total days of operation for both clinics, 125,915 shots were administered, according to Amazon.
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that a company that deals so heavily in logistics was so adept at moving people in and out of one of its buildings in such a timely manner. What did surprise me was how happy I was to be there, mainly because of how easy Amazon made the process.
Volunteers at every turn offered guidance to the hundreds of people moving through lines for the Pfizer and Moderna jabs. In an unsettling time, with a new COVID-19 variant taking hold in the city just before the holidays, dozens of Amazon volunteers took time out of their own weekend to help run this clinic. And they seemed to be smiling behind masks while doing it.
The next day when my good friends screwed up their appointment time to get boosted at a local drug store, they panicked about how they would get shots before traveling a few days later. I told them to just walk up at the Amazon spot and that it was such a well-oiled machine I was certain they could get in.
They texted 30 minutes later with shots in their arms. “Yay Amazon!”
It made me feel lucky to be in Seattle, and glad that the company’s workers showed up for people in need. And I’ll remember it the next time a sticker snarkily tells those workers to go home.