Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Eastern State of Mind

When I was in places as diverse as Syria, New Zealand, and South Korea, people would always ask me where I was from. I'd say Seattle. There was a standard list of responses I would get from people all over. It usually included at least one of the following: Microsoft, Starbucks, Boeing, Grey's Anatomy, Frasier, Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam. They'd have a pretty good idea of where the place was. Once, when I preemptively started explaining where Seattle was, the Kiwi woman I was talking to told me (somewhat indignantly) that New Zealand schools taught their students all about where different American cities were.

Strangely, that doesn't seem to have happened around here in New York City.

When I was out getting a haircut a couple weeks ago, my stylist asked me where I usually went to get my haircut. I told him I'd just moved here. He asked where from. I said Seattle.

"Is that near Atlanta?" He asked.

To be fair, he was born in Uzbekistan. But he'd moved the USA as a small child and had been in New York for sixteen years.

The banker I sat down with a couple days at a Chase branch later did not appear to have any such excuse. He swiped my debit card to pull up my account information, and we made small talk. He asked if the address I had on file was the one I wanted to keep. I said yes, as I wasn't yet sure that my current New York address would be my permanent, long-term one. So he looked again at the address ending in "Seattle, WA."

"So," he said, making more small talk. "What brings you here from Wisconsin?"

Out on the west coast, we tend to think of the two coasts with pretty much equal weight. We've got San Francisco, they have Boston. We have Portland, they have Baltimore. We have Los Angeles, they have New York City. The plane rides between them are long and expensive, but sometimes part of life if you're working in the kind of profession that requires travel.

But the sense I get out here is that anything "out west" is somewhere far, far away where little happens and nobody is really known. Except for LA, which people have heard of and regard with a certain amount of awe and suspicion.

And that's how I ended up in the one place in the world where people both speak some English and don't know where my hometown is.

Then again, in a city where the main part of town is an island and where the other people from other parts of town or the suburbs are referred to derisively as the "Bridge and Tunnel Folk," I don't suppose I should be that surprised. After all, it is the center of the universe, right? ...right?


  1. The conversation I usually had went as follows:

    "Where are you from?"


    (Puzzled look).

    "Seattle, Washington."


  2. This has always annoyed me, but I did find something out the other day that made me pause: 80% of the US population lives within a 2-hour flight of Atlanta. A 2-hour flight from Atlanta puts you, at best, to the "border" between the Midwest and the West. So I suppose it's only fair that there is an East Coast bias.

    Still annoying for us out in the big empty West though...