By Kenneth Justice
“If the rent keeps going up I’m not sure what the future will hold” he said
I just returned from a whirlwind coffee house-blogging trip to Chicago. In less than 48 hours I met with fourteen different people. I had conversations with two different people that lasted 5 hours each, and conversations with another dozen people that varied from 20 minutes to 2 hours.
When I first came up with this concept of visiting 100 coffee houses throughout the Western World I had no idea what type of response to expect;
—) would strangers be interested in sitting with me over a cup of coffee and talking about life?
—) Do the relationships we build through social networking translate into real life?
—) It’s easy to spend hours-upon-hours lost in the world of the Internet commenting on Facebook and Twitter……but can we meet in real life and be just as interested in the conversation?
The answer so far is an emphatic “YES”. Now with Atlanta and Chicago under my belt the trend is becoming quite clear; the relationship’s we build via the Internet can and do translate into real life. On Saturday morning I hung out with TK who’s an Iowa transplant to the Chicago area. I’ve known from reading her blog that TK is a fairly passionate person, but meeting her face-to-face is even more impressive. Passion and energy for the things she believes in exudes from every fiber of her body.
People often ask me, “How the hell can you sit in a coffee shop and have a conversation that lasts five hours? Don’t you get bored?” But sitting there with TK for nearly five hours the time literally flew by. In fact, I hadn’t realized we’d been talking for so long and in that time I neglected to check my emails and blog; so I want to apologize to those people who I wasn’t able to alert about the schedule change between my two coffee house stops.
The simple fact of the matter is that much of the Western World is fluff. Turn on the television and you’ll notice a lot of the subject matter dealt with in Reality Shows and Sit-Com’s is typical fare; a whole lot of unimportant banter. To borrow the colloquialism, it’s much ado about nothing. And so there are a lot of disenfranchised people in the world; men and women who want to have serious discussions about the things that matter most. That’s the thrust behind my own blog; to write about important topics in a simple and straightforward manner….to write about the things that matter most.
And so it’s no surprise to me that TK and I connected via the blogging world. Two people who are interested in subjects that matter. Sure, we both have our hobbies (she has quite a few) but we don’t want our lives defined by the things we enjoy doing recreationally. We want our lives to matter, we want to contribute positively to discussion in the public forum.
Filter Café in Wicker Park was positively awesome. Jeff the owner is very much a people person so it’s no surprise why he got into the coffee shop business. As we sat there for a couple hours talking about Filter Café and how it came into existence, Jeff would say hello to various customers as they walked by the table. He must have known at least 30 or 40 different people by their first name; pretty impressive if you ask me……..and isn’t that the charm of an independently owned business? To be able to walk in, order a coffee, and sit down at a place ‘where everybody knows your name?’ It’s the whole ‘Third Place’ philosophy that I’ve written about before.
Sadly, the city of Chicago doesn’t appear to have any serious rent-control laws in place so Jeff and Filter Café are subject to steep increases in their lease each year. It’s a sad development we’ve seen all across Western Society; cool little independent businesses that struggle to keep up with the growing cost of rent.
Why aren’t more people outraged when we see more and more independent business’s closing because they can’t turn a profit due to out-of-control rent and leasing prices? I remember seeing a futuristic Sci-Fi moving from the 1990’s in which Taco Bell had bought out every single restaurant and in their dystopian future the only place to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner was Taco Bell.
Is that what our future holds? Wal-Mart and Taco Bell on every corner of every city? Perhaps that is an overstatement and things will eventually turn around. But just this past week it was announced that the Anchor store for the chain Barnes and Nobles is closing down here in my community, “We can’t compete with Amazon.com” the CEO said.
In some ways its poetic justice; with the rise of Barnes and Nobles during the 1990’s in my community, the overwhelming majority of independent bookstores were put out of business. And now nearly 20 years later, the Dot-Com’s are now putting Barnes and Noble out of business.
Where is Western Culture headed? What does our future hold for us? Those are the type of questions I ask myself as I continue this year long venture to visit 100 coffee shops….I hope to see you in Pittsburgh in two weeks!
For now, I think I’ll have my morning coffee
Categories: Culture & Society