I Wonder Why

Denise Walker

Did you find yourself in the dark, shivering under blankets, eating cold rations during the recent wind storm? Did it have you wondering why we are so dependent on overhead power poles to keep the lights on?

Could there be a better way?

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"It’s only a skirt if you’re wearing underwear."

A Seattle guy set out to liberate men from their pants – his solution?

The Utilikilt.

If you’ve ever seen a Utilikilt, chances are you haven’t forgotten it.  Maybe you thought it was cool to see a Scottish-esque kilt with cargo pockets. Maybe you had a more visceral reaction ...

Whatever your feelings about them, they are part of the Northwest. The idea was born here. They’re manufactured here. They even have their own store in Seattle’s Pioneer Square Neighborhood. Why, then, are they so polarizing in their own hometown?

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Courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives

Today’s stylish way to get from your high-tech office to an urbane lunch date was once so old, rickety and decrepit that it was melted into scrap-metal.

The revival of streetcars in Tacoma and Seattle would be a surprise to our civic leaders from the 1930’s. But they used to be prolific throughout the Northwest. What happened? Was it a conspiracy, or just the changing tides of fashion?

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There’s a large swath of native prairie southwest of Olympia that’s very strange looking. So strange, in fact, that some have even said it was created by aliens. 

What makes it strange are “things” called The Mima Mounds.

We can tell you some things they are not, but we can’t tell you what they are. In fact, people have been trying to figure them out for centuries.

“It’s probably one of the most poorly understood phenomena in earth science,” says Paul Butler, professor emeritus of Earth Science at the Evergreen State College.

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Justin Steyer / KPLU

We in the Northwest are prone to navel-gazing over matters related to our character and the things we do … and don’t do.

Maybe it is the months of clouds, mist and rain, but like the proverbial Eskimo has many ways for talking about snow, we in the NW apparently have many paths to introspection.

Is Seattle a great but lonely place to live?

The city often ranks pretty high on those lists of the best places to move to – There’s the food, the water, the mountains, the music. But once people get here, they find it’s pretty tough to make friends. There’s even a name for it: The Seattle Freeze.

We wondered: When did the freeze set in? And, how can a newcomer ever break through it? 

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There they sit. On the shelf in the KPLU newsroom. Two dozen of them. Each in their own day-of-the-week slot.

Seattle Post-Intelligencers from March 2009, the month the paper ceased publication after 146 years.

We wonder: Why haven’t we been able to toss those papers and relegate the printed P-I to the dark depths of the archive stacks at the public library?

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MOHAI

A lot of people in the “Rain City” take pride in the fact that “real” Seattleites don’t carry umbrellas. But, I walk around town with a portable roof over my head. 

The result? I stay dry, my hair doesn’t get tousled, and I can use my iPhone while I wait for the bus. I also get dirty looks. Granted, my umbrella isn’t small. I actually call it my yurt. That might have a little to do with it, but the reality is this region is anti-umbrella.

Why? Is it weather denial? Affinity for wet jeans? An attachment to rain jackets?  

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We’ve all seen the billboards and giant posters hanging off the sides of buildings: “The Northwest has a higher incidence of Multiple Sclerosis than most anywhere on Earth.”

But do we really? Turns out the answer is more complicated than the awareness campaign that got everyone talking about MS in the Northwest.

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PLU Library Archives

Everyone went a little crazy. Police were called, road blocks set up.

It’s 1954, early spring, and tiny chips, pits and dings are popping up on car windshields throughout the Puget Sound region at an alarming rate. Suddenly, communities from Anacortes to Tacoma are in the grip of a textbook case of mass hysteria. (In fact, it is in the textbooks.)

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Bellamy Pailthorp / KPLU

Do I have an accent? You hear me on the radio. I hear myself on the radio, many times a week in western Washington, and I didn’t think so. But, a researcher at the University of Washington in Seattle tells me I do have an accent – it’s in the way I say that very word “accent.”

Apparently my pronunciation is a dead giveaway that I grew up here in the Northwest.

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Fear of a ticket from paternalistic police? Group angst? Peer pressure?

Whatever the reason, even if a car is not in sight, Seattleites will often wait patiently for the light to change rather than … jaywalk.

Pedestrians in this city are unlike their fellow walkers in San Francisco, Boston and even Portland, Ore., and the culture of waiting at the light goes back decades.

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Associated Press

This is the first story in a new KPLU series called "I Wonder Why ... ?" Each Friday, we'll explore what makes our corner of the world special – unique attributes that amaze, irritate and sometimes just puzzle us.

In this first story, we tackle Seattle's reputation for having the loudest fans in the NFL. This isn’t a particularly noisy place ... after all, you can get a ticket for honking your horn here.

So, we wondered why we're so loud in the stadium and just how loud are we?

Check out the rest of the story at I Wonder Why ... ?

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