Friday, July 15, 2011

Ode to the Coffee Joint

              How do coffee shops maintain themselves as havens for work and socializing?  Like any other business, they must create an ambiance that is customer friendly to whatever demographic or clique they choose to cater to, the great equalizer being those who are willing to spend money.  In my former home town, an allegedly coveted coffee shop, once famous for hosting a beat poet or two, folded.  The naive bleeding heats of Boulder, mostly newcomers to the town, claimed that the landlords were greedy to have asked for more rent.  Perhaps, but this is beside the point.  What is the value of a benevolent landlord, or a charitable coffee shop, for that matter? The business, Penny Lane, may have been a cool hang out back in the day, but it had deteriorated into a loitering spot for people who liked to play chess for hours without spending money.  If commons such as these are so valuable, then all interested parties, do set up a not for profit hang out that accommodates this practice.  I have been to one, in or around Half Moon Bay, Ca, and I did find it very charming for its books and casual, if not downright lackadazical service.  The cashiers were charming and smart and the baked goods were good; not free. The scenery was the ocean, an unbeatable commodity.  Penny Lane, however, was a throwback to a bygone era in Boulder.  It smelled bad, the service was average at best, and there were not enough spaces for reading or studying as much as there were dark corners for lurking.  There was also a stage for local performances, which was a plus.  Clearly, there were not enough paying customers to support this business.  The landlords, a Greek family that had roots in the city that  doubled the amount of time that Penny Lane did, found tenants who could pay increased rent.
             Another highly idiosyncratic business establishment which is, or was, a small but global chain based out of SF is Espresso Roma, colloquially referred to as "the Roma."  The title betrays the seemingly predatorial quality of its patrons, in that they very closely resemble vagrants.  The space is, one would imagine, prime real estate while the proprietor has not seen fit to repair the rotting would floor.  The attitude among the last crop of employees reflected a certain disdain for the status quo and how it had left them, and the seemingly pitiful place where they work, out of the loop of prosperity that is enjoyed by other establishments.  The style of service aims to be cool by being offensive and oblivious to their function as a shop that professes to serve coffee and baked goods.  You see, when you approach a counter and are asked, scornfully, "what's up," it leaves room for so much verbal abuse that it is almost arresting.  What is up? What is up, j-hole, is that I am standing here waiting for you to take my order.  A simple "hey, what can I getchya," or even "what do you want," would be delightful.  "What's up" is that you are a douche who will not be garnering my hard earned money.  Not even a quarter, you self important ass face...yes, I realize how my attitude may be apart of the problem:)
           Experiences like those are what makes people who aim to avoid the maladjusted and unskilled barista for the overworked and under appreciated Starbucks employees.  I appreciate them for their professionalism and simple gratitude.  It becomes less charming when they push their baked goods, which are unhealthy and tasteless.  Their assemblage of corporate music compilations exude the soullessness that they profess to decry.  The most charming employees are those who look exhausted by the grueling routine and have a hapless look on their face.  My heart goes out to you as well as my tips, thier tips rather, as infrequent as they may be (since I am not a regular coffee drinker); but they are not paltry, I don't think. 
           Then there are lovely places where the people and the product are complimentary on the whole. The thing is that, in a place like Austin, TX, in a time such as July, the establishment should have air conditioning that is at least equal to what one has at home.  Otherwise I am inclined to stay at home and drink and eat for less.  Who needs to be distracted by the chitter chatter of people, the noise of music that other people choose, or the person sitting next to me who is fond of beating on his bare foot to the rythym of the music.  Whatever happened to Bobby McFaren?  Is he still alive, tapping on the soles of his feet alongside a symphony orchestra somewhere? Stop it, just stop.
            I finally left, after reading only a small portion of what I intended to, having become bloated, yet unnourished by the sugary, milky, watery drinks and ice tea that I was compelled to order to justify my visit.  I went home to enjoy a real meal in the cooler air conditioning of my place...but I miss the company.