by Chanara Andrews
“In four hundred feet, turn right,” Siri prompts me. Despite my unwavering loyalty to my handheld lifeline, I manage to get lost anyway. It’s my third day in Seattle, my second time utilizing public transit, and my first day of work; I’ve got all the makings of what Judith Viorst and Alexander would call a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.” Still, I journey on. The wave of relief I feel seeing the green “Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park” text over a set of double doors washes me up on the shore of reality as these same doors fail to open. I turn in confusion and despair and see excitement personified in a 5’3”, red-haired woman. “Chanara?!” Yes! I am Chanara! Please help me! I think this but simply respond, “Yes! Good morning, it’s nice to meet you.” The South in me wants to hug her upon meeting, but I’ve noticed that people don’t do that sort of thing up here. Thinking on this, I realize that there are quite a few disparities between here and home. I, Toto, am no longer in Kansas.
For clarity, I have no actual ties to Kansas. My hometown is Lake Wales, Florida, and I attend Spelman College, located in Atlanta, Georgia. When I accepted an internship position over 2500 miles from home, I knew things would be different. I knew that it wouldn’t be as sunny and that I would probably be said to have a southern accent. It wasn’t until I arrived, however, that the differences of culture and social climate became apparent. To be frank, Seattle is overwhelmingly white. I may be exaggerating this due to my nine month immersion in the sea of Black excellence that is Atlanta, GA, but either way, it was a bit of a culture shock to see so few people who looked like me. I was further disheartened when I attempted to connect with local undergraduate members of my sorority and was made aware that, due to the low number of Black students at the colleges and universities in Seattle, fraternities and sororities in the National Pan-Hellenic Council – historically Black Greek lettered organizations also known as the Divine Nine – have not had an on-campus presence for a number of years. Just when I thought I couldn’t be in a place any more foreign, I made the shocking discovery that there was no Popeyes or wing spots that could be reached in a reasonable amount of time for a reasonable price. For a girl whose heart beats for the five dollar box and a good JR Crickets combo, this is arguably Seattle’s worst offense.
What Seattle lacks in wings, however, it makes up for in coffee. As the birthplace of Starbucks, it comes as no surprise that nearly every other block in Seattle has a space that flashes the famous twin-tailed siren logo. Moreover, every nook and cranny has a different, less commercialized coffee shop than the last. I found that these coffee shops maintain a unique duality – they are spaces for both leisure and business. The patrons of typical Seattle coffee shop will range in age from sixteen to sixty. Most folks are on their computers, either scrolling through tumblr (as is the fashion of teen angst), working on school assignments, checking emails to schedule meetings, or any variation of the three. A table at which friends are chatting sits right next to a table at which a business meeting is held and, somehow, all of these things happen in harmony with the indie music station humming softly in the background. I have been able to find comfort in this scene. Many days after work, I head to my favorite of these shops to journal, make some calls to my family and friends, or just relax. It’s a small pleasure I’ve taken, and while it definitely doesn’t replace the physical and interpersonal warmth of the south, it has helped me cope with rainy days, familiarize myself with the goings-on of Seattle, and feel a little less lost. (Though I’m still hoping to see more Black people and wings in Seattle’s future.)