By Kenneth Justice
~ Last week at coffee one of the patrons found out from one of their friends that I was on a coffee house tour and they came over to my table with a bunch of questions, “Since you’re such a coffee house connoisseur what’s your favorite hangout near the house? Is there some Indie-café you frequent?” she asked
When I told her that my favorite place near the house is a corporately owned one (the national chain with the green mermaid logo) she got a disappointed look on her face; I suspect she was looking for some cool little hole-in-the-wall hipster café that nobody knows about.
Don’t get me wrong, I love supporting locally owned businesses and I’m not the biggest fan of corporate chains…..but when it comes right down to it; I love coffee shops because I love the community atmosphere, the people, and the connections that are created. And while there are dozens of Indie café’s near my house that I stop by regularly; it’s this one particular green mermaid coffee house that has one of the most diverse atmosphere’s around.
—-) from my observation the patrons are 30% Caucasian, 30% African-American & 30% other
—-) the employees that work at this particular chain are some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met at a coffee house
—-) the regulars that hang-out at the coffee house are warm and friendly; whenever someone that I haven’t met sits down at our table the regulars always introduce me and give me a short bio of who the person is
An older Jewish woman told me the other day, “I love this coffee house so much; I get more community here than I get with my relatives”
I’ve written before that I believe we are social creatures. We crave community and we crave making connections with other people. In more communal cultures community occurs as a natural way of life. But here in Western Society community is something that has slowly died away over the past 100 years,
—-) Most people don’t know their neighbors
—-) Most people have to schedule their friendships
—-) Most religious institutions have to create ‘men’s groups’, ‘women’s groups’, ‘college groups’ etc. in order to stir the people to hang out together outside of the religious services.
When I visit Latin America I’m always astounded at how people are simply hanging out…..everywhere. They hang outside together at the grocery store, they hang outside together at the bank, they hang outside together along the side of the road……they are constantly hanging out with each other and talking, sharing stories, sitting quietly…..and simply enjoying each other’s companies.
The United States isn’t like that. If I asked a friend of mine to sit alongside the road with me and sit on the curb he’d probably think I’d lost my mind. But in communal cultures hanging out anywhere and everywhere is a normal way of life.
And so coffee houses here in the United States are slowly becoming the one last bastion of unscheduled community. Sure, there are churches all around me that say they are about community, hell they even have the word ‘community’ in their name, “Oakland Community Church”, “Kensington Community Church”, and “Fellowship Community Church”…..and while it’s not my intention to dis their ‘community’, let’s call a spade a spade; the only community they offer is scheduled community. You’re welcome to show up to a service or meeting at a particular time; but if you simply drop by unannounced your likely to find the doors to the church locked.
Coffee houses are places where you can come by whenever you feel like enjoying a cup of coffee, studying for a test, or meeting a new person or one of the regulars to relish in unscheduled community. There are no pretentions at coffee houses; yesterday at my table was a retired school teacher, a 20ish college student, a licensed lawyer, and a barista on break; everyone’s opinions are valued and everyone’s conversation is encouraged.
Unscheduled community is slowly disappearing all across the Western World. Remember when our parents would talk to the neighbors for hours and hours into the late summer evenings? How often does that occur anymore? Thanks to the invention of central air conditioning, most of us don’t sit on our porches to beat the summer heat; but instead we close the window shades and huddle in front of the little box that entertains us.
Unscheduled community is in many ways a beautiful thing. It’s been a central part of humanity’s history and sadly……I wonder if it will one day disappear for good.
And having said all that I think I’m going to go get a cup of coffee right now,
If you haven’t heard I’m currently on a 100 coffee house tour all across the Western World. I will be Chicago this weekend! Check my homepage for dates and locations.
Categories: Culture & Society