Black Coffee at a Seattle Bus Stop
I woke up thinking about Ethiopians in Seattle. In the past weekends of shuttling back and forth between San Francisco International Airport and SeaTac, I noticed elder Ethiopian women wrapped in their white netela. They often occupied a strong spatial presence on the Link train and E line that I rode out to Northgate. The flowy cotton gauze of their traditional garb conversed about a distant landscape to the cloudy and snowy Seattle that shuttered past my transport window.
I found a 2014 Seattle Times article on my phone this morning titled Being Ethiopian in Seattle . It informs me that “In 1980, the federal government started placing Ethiopian refugees in Seattle, one of a few cities chosen to receive what would eventually be thousands of people — at least 10,000 now just in the Seattle area.
“It is the first significant migration of black Africans to America since slavery times,” Joseph Scott [an ethnologist and sociologist] told me when we spoke Monday at his home in Southeast Seattle.”
I read those words, as I stood in line, behind a car, on foot, at a drive-thru gourmet coffee shop near the hotel I was staying. I was picking up a late breakfast of coffee and scone, after forcing myself to sleep in late. The night before we had played our first game of the April Spiel at the Granite Curling Club. The theme was Fairgrounds. We, the team called Los Californios, comprised of my Mexican Mixed Doubles teammate Ramy Cohen and our coach Barry Ivy, played at 10pm against AK Frosty Freeze, a team who had flown in earlier from Fairbanks, Alaska. We wore Best in Show ribbons for large animal showmanship, and they dressed as snow cone servers. In the 8th end, they got the better of us. The loss put us into the B bracket and our next game would be at 11pm the next day. Therefore, I made myself stay in bed late.
The young woman at the drive-in gave me my coffee, and I looked around Aurora Avenue for a place to sit. I went to the E line bus stop to eat my breakfast and take in the sight of mid-morning cars and travelers. Unless you curl in a large Canadian city, it is very likely that a trip out to a bonspiel will land you in a somewhat forlorn part of town, possibly previously industrial or an urban sprawl next to a strip mall or in this case, car dealerships, discount grocery stores, fast food joints, and sidewalks that abruptly and unapologetically convert into road shoulders next to speeding lanes.
Stiff from too much sleep and a lot of takeout weight shots the previous night, I sat sipping on my 16 oz café latte with an extra shot of espresso, under the shade of the bus stand. Along came an elder Black man with bad teeth, pushing on a walker, “Could you please scoot over?” I did, and laboring with the cricks in his body, he managed to sit down. “Where’d you get that coffee?,” he asked. I pointed to the hut a few yards over, “Over there!” I placed my empty cup between us on the bench, and worked on my scone. “You’re not going to finish that?” he asked. “It’s empty, but would you like a coffee?” “Yes,” he replied, “With 5 sugars and lots of cream.” “Ok, let me just finish this and I’ll go get it.” We got into a brief conversation. He lived nearby, “here and there,” he said, which made me think that he was probably in a vulnerable housing situation. I explained that I was staying at a nearby hotel. Neither of us were actually waiting for the bus. This was our park bench, a public hang out space, with a view to life on Aurora Avenue.
I went for Seth’s coffee, and when I returned there was another Black man at the stop. “Sit down awhile,” said Seth. Our new companion warmed to me on seeing that I had brought Seth breakfast. We got to know about each other. “I’m originally from Compton, California. I came to visit my cousin and I liked it out here,” he narrated. We talked about how much recognition Compton has received after the recent N.W.A. movie came out, and about how much we both admire the Williams sisters. “I used to watch them practicing tennis growing up, when they were just pee wees,” said our bus stop friend. The E arrives and takes him away. It is time for me to get a move on too. My personal trainer gave me a band and disc slider workout to take with me during hotel stays, and I want to try it out today. I say my goodbyes to Seth and from across the street I watch him as he lingers in the warmth of the bus stop drinking his coffee.
I am now thinking about the first significant migration of black Africans to America as slaves, and cotton, and whether my gourmet coffee may have come from Ethiopia.