It’s that third place…REALLY???

that third place

by Kenneth Justice

~ Christmas Eve 2013

Late last night one of my close friends called me, “Kenneth, what are you doing? Come hang out at the coffee shop with me” he said….he’s the guy I wrote about yesterday whom I met five years ago via him observing me get cussed out by this random old dude who didn’t like my taste in music.

Though it was too late for me to have any caffeine, we hung out for a couple hours late into the evening and talked about the usual sort of randomness that flows from our table; the various people he and I met at the coffee shops over the past week, Christmas even services at church, how his ailing mother is doing…..and all the other various things that friends talk about over a cup of coffee……

I learned a long time ago that coffee shops were for me that ‘third place’…psychologists have known for a long time that throughout the history of the industrialized world; humans have always had a ‘third place’…’s what Wikipedia says,

The third place (also known as third space) is a term used in the concept of community building to refer to social surroundings separate from the two usual social environments of home and the workplace. In his influential book “The Great Good Place“, Ray Oldenburg (1989, 1991) argues that third places are important for civil society, democracy, civic engagement, and establishing feelings of a sense of place.”

Our home is the first place in our life, our job/vocation is the second place, and the third place has varied throughout history and changes from one person to the next;

—) The general store

—) A barber shop

—) A tavern, pub, or bar

—) A coffee shop

For me, when I was a teenager I quickly learned how much I enjoyed hanging out at little café’s and coffee shops. I enjoyed the laid back social element, where there was the possibility of meeting someone new and having an interesting conversation…..or simply hanging out in a quiet atmosphere in order to read a book or study.

When I made it to Europe years ago I remember how excited I felt to be on the shores of the ‘Old World’ and visit café’s and coffee shops and meet people from so many different walks of life.

When I first visited Central America I was amazed at how much the coffee and café experience was a part of the culture there. Everywhere I went, from one city to the next, I would stumble upon the coolest little café’s where I could sip coffee and learn about the culture from the various patrons who were hanging out and who were excited to talk to me, an dude from the U.S. who came from thousands of miles away.

The landscape of America is definitely changing. With each new year comes the publication of more books by authors who describe the higher level of disconnectedness that Western Culture is experiencing. Gone are many of the small towns….having been replaced by mega-strip malls….gone are many of the local independently owned coffee shops…replaced by corporate chains…….

Also sad has been the number of corporate chain coffee houses which has decreased as places like Starbucks have been less interested in building physical brick-and-mortar buildings in favor of putting new franchises inside grocery stores and department stores like “Target”……For me,  hanging out at the Starbucks in Target simply isn’t the same as hanging out at a real coffee shop.

Of course, Western Culture has been changing long before I was born…and I am sure that ‘change’ is nothing new to the shores of the Americas and all across Europe and other parts of the world. Change is inevitable.

I’ve always been slow to the party when it comes to accepting ‘change’. I really enjoy my little routines…..I remember when my favorite coffee shop closed 18 years ago how sad I got…..I was only a 17 at the time but I had so many great memories from the place and when the owner sold the place and moved to Florida I remember feeling as though part of my family disappeared.

Because I enjoy the little ‘routines’ in my life….it also explains why I still enjoy things like Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Every year, no matter whether it was a good year or bad; I look forward to the Christmas Eve service at church, seeing the way the building is decorated for the holiday, seeing the nativity scene, listening to the choir, and even though I’m now in my thirties I still find it to be a special moment when all the lights go out in the sanctuary and everyone holds a little candle and sings “Silent Night”.

Last night as I sat with my friend at the café I told him that there were a lot of “church moments” this year that really bothered me, like when I ran into some really intense Christians on the street one night who told me that because I didn’t go to their church and believe exactly what they believe….I was going to hell. My friend empathized with me, “Kenneth man, I know what your saying, sometimes being a Christian means we have to put up with a lot of s**t from our fellow Christians” he said.  And that is okay…..because nobody is perfect….and life moves on.

I hope each of you have a wonderful holiday. Whether you are Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Agnostic, or whatever….I wish you all the best, and perhaps if you have a few moments you can tell me what your ‘third’ place is…..

For now, the sun is close to rising and I’m realizing it is time for my morning cup of coffee,



Categories: Culture & Society

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60 replies

  1. No words of wisdom. Just a sincere thanks for giving me a newer loving eye on this ragtag bunch God calls his family. And a hope that you enjoy your own Christmas traditions. Merry Christmas Kenneth.

  2. Merry Christmas to you too, I enjoyed reading this post!

  3. Merry Christmas to you too Kenneth. I don’t know about you, but I always had a better time at my local beer joint for the holidays (Christmas, New Years and especially St Patricks ;-)) then I ever did at home with my family. I think my friends at the local dive were just more interesting and accepting than my family was. That’s my ‘third place’.

  4. Kenneth…. Being around as long as I have, I can assure you, I’ve had a “few” “third” places in my lifetime. I’ve hung out at numerous coffee shops, diners, clubs, bars, etc..etc. But, these days, I find my most favored “3rd” is my own little world. My own mind, my own imagination, my own conscience. Here, at least, I can (for the time being) control the conversation.
    Have a Blessed Holiday..

  5. A very complex post, Kenneth. Even if “change is inevitable”, Christmas eve is the same. It’s up to us which is the impact: shallowness or profundity.

    It happens that my third home to be a coffee-bar. Where I used to go at 7 am before the student’s classes to begin and sometimes because the ambiance was so friendly I would forget that I do have courses. 🙂 Best time of my life. Now…the house is still stand but closed to the public. Nowadays, I may call wordpress my third place 🙂

    Merry Christmas, Kenneth. Thank you for being here for us…

    • Yea, I guess WordPress could totally be a third place also 🙂 too bad the coffee bar u hung out at closed…always disappointing when hey close up …merry Christmas too u to Dana!

  6. My third place is the cafe in HyVee. I work here but spend a lot of time here partly because of the wifi. Occasionally people talk to me. My life is a lot like yours and so I like your blog.

  7. This is the place . . for change. Is what I’m learning here. Everything seems to point in this direction. Connecting to the world like I’ve never experienced before. Many great new opportunities to meet and love. Thanks Kenneth

  8. Merry Christmas, Kenneth! I hope yours is a great one. Thanks for all the wonderful posts; I have truly enjoyed them. My third place is probably a book store, btw. Have an awesome holiday.

    • Thank you…and book stores are often tied with coffee shops in my mind 🙂 (only sad thing is so many of my favorite bookstores that I used to hang out at a lot have closed the past few years) merry Christmas to u to!

  9. The whole thing about change(culture, places, the first -third place etc.), could be summed up in a paragraph or two: It is a way of life. As such it can not be described, taught or even “held”. It can and will change if more and more people stop believing in it and stop following it. The question really is if we are fooled out of our ways of life and their natural change-growth, by cheap commercialism, easy and mindless ways, and last but not least going back to a less civilized way. I thing that if I agree on the first-second third place, the results as I experience them in Greece would be disheartening for all places. All are lost as an experience, as a way of life, as life itself. I think John Lennon said that life is what we miss while making plans about life. If our home, job and third places are not enjoyable anymore due to excruciating laws, hostile society and governments, in all if our lives are filled with fear then nothing is important, nothing is healing, nothing is experienced. We are already dead and we just don’t know it.
    Merry Christmas everybody! Because this is the only place hope is born.

    • Remember the Beatles song “penny lane” (well of course u do cuz your like a music guru!) I love the lyrics which talk the place they grew up and how everyone knew each others names,

      “In Penny Lane there is a barber showing photographs
      Of every head he’s had the pleasure to know
      And all the people that come and go
      Stop and say hello”

      I kinda had that song in my head while I wrote the article today….

      And I’m with you Vassilis, there is a lot that is disheartening about the direction western culture is moving towards; here in my community we used to have about 25 independent coffee shops but because the price of rent went up; all but one or two are now “corporate” because corporations are the only ones that can afford the high prices of rent……..

  10. Thanks for sharing, and Merry Christmas.

  11. If one should talk about disconnecting. it is mainly about us wanting to disconnect from our human form. We seek enlightenment. just afraid we look in the wrong places.
    We are disconnecting ourselves with everything physical in tthe hope we rise in our psychological beings. Again just doing it wrong if you ask me. we depends on gadget to get that feeling.

    Merry Christmas man hope your days will be filled with laughter

  12. My ‘third place’ is actually my first place – the home of my heart. All the best to you and yours.

  13. Merry, merry and have a great holiday. May each cup of coffee be delicious and interesting and may Santa bring you fabulous toys.

  14. My third space is where I found “civic engagement”. It is from this 12 step meeting room that I interact with others that volunteer to help people in my community. I take people into the juvenile jail to speak to 14-18 year olds about living healthier lives. We also speak at health fairs and rehab programs. Yesterday, I spotted a man I met years ago as our computer chair. He figures out ways to provide all the information in our city online. He walked in with a Santa hat with leopard print in place of the white. He always makes me laugh. When they called on me to speak, I passed to him. His words were my Christmas present. It inspired me. Enjoy all your spaces.

  15. Late night coffee is the best. I finally got to enjoy a cup last night with my baby sister as she finished her 13 hour shift as a nurse. I’m so thankful for those late night chats.

    I know where my ideal third place is but I can’t get to it as its in England. For now, I adore my coffee shops and best friends’ couches. One of my favorite third places is the front seat of a car going anywhere. I love a nice drive with lots of conversation.

    I didn’t know of this third place….how cool.

    Merry Christmas, Kenneth. 😀

  16. My third place to be is usually my favorite, getting together with my friends to movies, cafe, gym,concert.. Something different from my monotone life. Recently I add it your block in my third list place. I enjoy my morning coffee reading your philosophy and colorful chit chats.
    Enjoy the big night 🙂

  17. Merry Christmas Kenneth…though I have only been to midnight mass once or twice, I found the ceremony to be a very spirit one. As to my third place, I’d have to say WordPress and at the same time, I find it very odd that I find the greatest connections with people I cannot physically touch…yeah, things have changed alright!

    • Actually…don’t tell anyone but for some reason my church does midnight mass at 9pm the cheaters! Lol …and yes, could u imagine if I went back in time to the 1980s and told u that in the future you would have a ton of close connection with people u can’t see or touch?? How weird…u might have thought I was out of mind to say such a thing back then !

  18. I take my third place with me wherever I go. It can be meeting friends to go for a walk with our dogs, hitting the gym with a girlfriend, lunch with a coworker, dinner and a quiet evening in with my husband, and yes, even Skype with friends that live overseas. I, too, worry about the sense of community and how that seems to be lacking for so many people (and I include myself in this number), so for me it is putting forth the effort to be with those I love and care about, making certain that we have the forums and time to communicate.

    All this being said, I do miss the cafes in Paris, where it is okay to sit for hours, nursing just one drink.

    Happy Christmas. I hope you enjoy mass.

  19. My third place is the internet, is that sad or progressive? May you have a wonderful Christmas as well sir.

  20. As of right now, I do not have a second place anymore.

    I USED to have a third place when I could drive. It was the beach. Of course living in NJ, I can only go when the weather permitted.

    I guess now if I COULD have an off “season” third place it would be somewhere warm with a huge window overlooking some sort of body of water.

    Now, I meditate a lot, so I guess my third place could be within. I can imagine being anywhere I want to be.

    Ps. Your posts are always the highlight of my reading day. Thank you for being you.

    Happy Holidays

  21. You’re going to think I’m a horrid person because I love Starbucks. They tend to have a lovely atmosphere (and there’s one within walking distance from my apartment). I’m not opposed to smaller, mom and pop coffee shops. You’re right that they are disappearing. I rarely see them around anymore. Google could probably help me find some, but I much prefer a coffee shop I can walk to.

  22. I may have to agree with “dobetteralways”! The internet is it’s own entity though you can chose the environment to spend that time in. 🙂 My 3rd/4th place if not the internet would be out in a natural environment.. beach, mountains, desert.. more than likely with my camera.
    Happy holidays and thanks for visiting my blog.

  23. Thank you , Happy Christmas!

  24. I think a lot of our “third spaces” are disappearing since we spend so much time hooked up to the internet. The third spaces we have now serve as just a physical venue to be at while we are online, which explains the push for Starbucks franchises to seek out spaces in target and the like rather than open up new storefronts.

    Also, is it just me, or do these 3rd spaces always have to do with food? …


  25. You know Kenneth…I’ve never thought about a third place. That means I need to get out more eh? I need to go think on this some more. This is a great post.
    Many Hugs!

  26. I believe for many ppl the third place is FB, Twit, blogging etc. random n strange ppl who lie about almost everything and nothing (lol). You’re 35: great age to be, hope you accelerate really fast into what you r searching in this life.

    You running into those crazy christians is like me being told constantly by family, “coffee isn’t good for you; you drink too much”. Christian that I am, i wouldn’t be able to deal with them if I didn’t have the coffee, so at this point in the year, I would like to say, thank God for coffee.

  27. Wish you a warm and blessed Christmas. Happy holiday


  28. Sadly, I just moved within the past month (actually moved quite a bit in past few years due to personal reasons) and don’t really have a 3rd place right now. I feel surrounded by people at work, can feel surrounded by people if I visit a church or a coffee house but remain feeling completely alone. Perhaps it’s because I’m an introvert.

  29. My 3rd place is 4Points – that’s our area. I really like the whole area and have spent so much time in my car shuttling my kids around that I feel like I know every store owner and worker by name! My kids laugh that I know everyone and everyone knows me – I tell them it helps to read name tags and smile. I think that if you just take a few extra moments to make eye contact and call people by name when you can, it goes a long way to making life better in the long run. The truth of the matter is, I feel like I have family every where I go. I love to go to Target because I can see four or five of my favorite folks, at the grocery I get to chat with some lovely people behind the counters and my pharmacist knows me better than my doctor! At Starbucks (both in and out of Target), I am still trying to get them to come home to dinner with me, but we are totally flash mobbing them tomorrow, Christmas Day, because they have to open the shop! It is going to be a riot! I love my community. I love that they know me and would care if I didn’t walk through the door. I love that there are simple ways to make people’s days – just show up, smile, and be nice. That’s half of life right now.

  30. I don’t have a regular third place.

    Right now, it’s between a nearby convenience store, the local Wal-Mart supercenter, and the nearest Rite Aid.

    I’m so not kidding. The people that work the night shifts there know about my current health challenges pretty well. They are already working (and I’ll let them go back to work when needed), and they tend to have more time for me than anyone that is not my immediate family, especially when I can’t sleep. People during the day… rush rush rush.

  31. Happy Christmas to you and all. As semi-retired, full-time RVers, our “home” is the RV, wherever it is parked. Our “office” is the computer community of Facebook friends & relatives and the WordPress bloggers. Our “third place” is the local cigar lounge – and there seems to be a local cigar lounge everywhere we’ve been! We can count on an interesting mix of locals and other visitors, all of whom share a love of cigars, conversation and storytelling. One can walk in off the street to almost any cigar lounge, start chatting with the staff, sit down to enjoy a smoke, and find yourself being accepted by the regulars as one of their own. Some offer coffee, others have beer and/or wine, some allow you to bring in your own soft drinks. All have attractive decor and comfortable seating and at least one interesting character to remember them by. For all of society’s efforts to eradicate “vice” and “unhealthy habits”, I must say we meet more mentally healthy folks in cigar lounges than in any other gathering places – people who are happy to relax for an hour or two chatting with their fellows, solving the world’s problems, making each other laugh, and simply listening to each other. Thank you for identifying what this means to us!

    • I love cigar lounges! I wish I had more time to smoke cigars, I think its been more than a year since my last one….and I hate it that people think cigars are ‘unhealthy’ because they really aren’t (unless you’re sucking on em and smoking em all day long!) but once in a while is fine….great comments

  32. Hi Kenneth, I am new to your comments but have been reading your blog for a while. I love your style and tone and the posts are always interesting. I pray that you keep the blog going because I look forward to it.

    Anyway, I find that more and more, my small WordPress blog is becoming my ‘third place.’ Granted, it is largely insignificant to anyone but me, but it is a space where I am becoming more like the ‘me’ that I am meant to be. With it I find that I am learning to love, respect and be honest with myself. I figure it I can’t do it with myself then I can’t expect to with others. Merry Christmas and a very happy new year. Blessings, Lydia

  33. Don’t always have time to read your blog as it appears daily, but every 3rd day or so manage time to backtrack and catch up…hence my late comment here.
    My first place is home, my second the farm on which I work. And my home is on the farm. And my third place? The quiet no-exit road I live on where I walk in the evenings just after dark for half an hour or more and spend time communing with Jesus. Just Him and me, and sometimes the cat, enjoying the peace and solitude….and refreshing the batteries for the next day.
    Happy New Year and God bless.


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