On “the atrium” at Western Washington University — Forrest Henry
Early in the morning on Western Washington University’s campus, a student leaves their class from Arntzen Hall 100. They are tired. They woke up late and had to run to their first class at 8 in the morning, and it dragged on for an hour which felt a lot more like a decade. As they stumble out of the lecture hall with a horde of equally bleary classmates, their eyes are drooping, their feet are dragging, and they could really do with a coffee. And then, despite being only barely visible through a doorway, they see it. A Starbucks Coffee place, promising a warm place to rest, the wakeful and nearly narcotic smell of newly ground coffee beans, and most of all, their favorite 12oz Caffé Latte. In a measure of desperation, they muster your last vestiges of strength and practically run to your salvation.
This area is a small food court called “the atrium”. The lowercase letters seem to be some sort of attempt at new age aesthetic, but seem pretentious in the context of the simplicity and mundaneness of the location. The mother of two children attempts to excite them when she sees the sign. “Ooh, the atrium”, she enthuses, hoping that this will be a fun and enticing distraction. The group’s faces fall as they enter, realizing that the atrium is not its own restaurant, instead of a disappointing conglomeration of other locales. It houses the aforementioned Starbucks, a small grocery store which sells snacks and refrigerated sandwiches, a Subway and a relatively unpopular pizza place called “Topio’s”. It is actually unclear whether or not any of these locations are truly part of the atrium, but this is of little concern.
Despite the undeniably convenient location of this particular Starbucks outlet in Arntzen Hall, overwhelming demand and a lack of suitably experienced student employees has gated the location behind a nearly impassable line. The line sweeps beyond the rows of cleverly placed displays of snack bars, blocks several doorways, curves around several times, and often does not come to an end until it has stretched a good way into the next room. Despite the generally unfaltering reliability of quality from Starbucks, this line is often so daunting as to deter even the most coffee starved customers. However, it is still undeniably Starbucks, and those who are able will choose to endure the line, if only for their morning coffee.
If you follow the line, you will find yourself in the small grocery store. Anyone who would come here hoping to stock up on anything substantial for the week will be sorely disappointed. Despite advertising itself as a regular grocery store, this establishment closer resembles an AM PM gas station convenience store. It sells a colorful variety of snacks, and an array of bottled drinks. By far the best aspect is the small bread and soup table in the counter. A bowl of soup and a roll is a popular combination for many students, although my personal favorite is the somewhat overly salty yet nevertheless cheesy bread. Overall, despite its mildly disappointing nature, the grocery store’s main outstanding feature is its lack of outstanding features.
Through a small dining area and past a homely fireplace surrounded by comfortable armchairs, the other main eating hub can be found, brightly lit by natural light. There are two food places here, Subway and Topio’s.
Topio’s pizza is okay. Its slogan is one of those slogans that truly means nothing, while pretending to mean everything; “classic pizza, modern flavor.” Unsurprisingly, the pizza at Topio’s is neither classic, nor features a modern flavor. However, it is certainly an improvement over the pizza in the college dining halls, which varies between bad and inedible. Topio’s, on the other hand, is generally consistently decent, which is a lot more than one would expect, and the calzone they sell are favorites.
The slogan of the atrium, at least according to its main sign, is “seating, eating, meeting,” which is surprisingly accurate for what one may find there. This is unlike the rest of the slogans in the area, which seem to falsely advertise grandeur and fine dining. A college food court, in any context, is not an inherently grand or interesting thing. Therefore, advertising it as such creates a lot of distrust among potential visitors, and it becomes hard to differentiate the falsely grand from the truly grand. No student wants their food court to be fancy, they want it to be functional. The phrase “seating, eating, meeting” accurately reflects what the atrium truly is. A simple eating area which has focused largely on function over form, and this is perhaps its most spectacular feature.