Tuesday, May 14, 2024
Spokane's Youthful Spirit Unveiled in Throwback Inlander

Spokane’s Youthful Spirit Unveiled in Throwback Inlander

As we continue to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Inlander, we will be revisiting different articles from the past each week. This week, we are sharing a piece written by Marty Demarest and originally published on Aug. 30, 2001. Additionally, keep an eye out for our 30 Years of Inlander feature in every issue of the paper until Oct. 12.

Maya holds her cigarette casually, appearing as if she has something more important to focus on this evening. She looks down the nearly empty street and expresses her reasons for leaving Spokane. “There’s nothing for me to do here. It’s not fun. There are no jobs that interest me. Unless I want to become just like the people already here, Spokane doesn’t seem to have a place for me.” I suggest that it might be difficult for a city to know how to accommodate someone who is still discovering themselves. This earns me a quizzical look from Maya. She glances down at the pavement, takes a drag from her cigarette, and releases a trail of smoke into the air. She looks up at me and says, “You know, I don’t think this city even believes that someone like me needs to discover who I am. I’m just expected to be like every other young person, right?” Maya is 19 years old and has lived in Spokane for twelve years. She wants this to be her last year here. She flicks the burning ember off her cigarette with her fingers, but it quickly extinguishes before it reaches the ground. Maya’s concerns echo those of many young people in the Spokane area. They often believe that the grass is greener elsewhere. With cities like Portland and Seattle calling to them, it’s easy to see why Spokane might seem lacking. But is the absence of an all-ages music scene really the issue, or is it simply a normal part of growing up to criticize your hometown and yearn for a fresh start elsewhere? By asking teenagers and young adults in their mid-twenties about what it means to be young in Spokane, there is no clear consensus. In fact, some have even come to appreciate Spokane more after living in other cities. Nevertheless, asking the question is a starting point.

The commute in the Valley can be challenging. Laurie suddenly realizes she is a Spokanite while sitting at a stoplight on Argonne. “I thought to myself, I’m a single mom. I’m 22. How would my situation be better somewhere else? I have a job here, my friends have lived here their whole lives, my son can grow up with familiar kids, and my parents are around to help. If I move, I would have to find a new job, a place to live, and be lonely for who knows how long just to feel like I’m back to where I would have been if I stayed. So I decided to stay here.” For Laurie, like many young adults, this decision is not always easy. She explains, “My friends in other towns, especially the ones who left Spokane, keep asking when I’m going to leave. Then I tell them that I grew up here and I’m happy here. They don’t understand. They start asking why I like it, as if there’s something wrong with liking the town you grew up in. It can be hard. But then they start telling me all their problems, and I think to myself, the worst thing that happened to me today was bad weather. They just spent fifteen minutes talking about how bad the traffic was. And I’m here, in my home!”

Michael, a sophomore at Gonzaga University, grew up in Seattle and can talk at length about its virtues. “It has so much to offer,” he says. “The waterfront, clubs, SAFECO Field, and all the touristy stuff. Even though I grew up there, I still enjoy doing those things once in a while. It has plenty of malls, like Pacific Place and Bellevue Square. You can always go to the beach. It’s just a nice place to live.” However, summarizing Spokane takes Michael even longer. “I guess Spokane is often described as a small, quaint city, and I can see why. Being near Riverfront Park and Centennial Trail while at Gonzaga is a draw. In the spring, it’s a great place to hang out, and I enjoy jogging and staying in shape, so Centennial Trail is nice. But other than that, there’s not much of a reason for me to go downtown. There are malls and movie theaters, but I did all that stuff in high school. It gets old after a while. There needs to be something that attracts college students to venture off campus and explore new things. Maybe even city-sponsored events that cater to college kids. It’s funny, college students are a big part of this town, but it seems like some businesses don’t take advantage of that fact.”

Fred’s job is to understand how young people perceive Spokane. As the dean of enrollment services and financial aid at Whitworth College, he needs to know what he can tell prospective students about the area that might appeal to them. He also needs to have a clear perspective on how their relationship with the community might actually work, as opposed to the imaginary ideal. “Sometimes students have this romantic notion of being in a large city,” he explains. In reality, even if they are in a large city, most college students’ lives revolve around the campus and the people they meet there. Their lives don’t necessarily revolve around what’s happening in the surrounding community to a great extent. “Of course, there is a difference between what is available in Spokane and what is available in Chicago due to sheer size. We have fewer museums, fewer cultural events, and fewer concerts. We don’t have as many coffee houses or places to hang out. On the other hand, students don’t have a lot of extra money to spend on all these things.”

I forgot to ask Brad how much the paint job on his truck cost. He’s 19 years old and drives a white truck with silver-flame detailing along the front and hood. He has parked it in a row of trucks, all shiny and appealing, though lacking the silver flames, at the Aspen Sound parking lot. These trucks, including Brad’s, are shuffled around like dominoes by other young men. Everyone here is clean and well-groomed, with neatly styled hair and usually accompanied by one or two others. They seem to prefer conversing with each other while seated in their parked vehicles, listening to music. While there may be several reasons for Brad’s attachment to his truck, and the attachment of his friends to their vehicles as well…

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