Java Jive

by Ellen

You know what I miss?  Coffeehouses.

Coffeehouses - the Denny's of the next generation, but even more prevalent. My fellow Gen-Xers and I spent our youth in the back booths of Denny's; crammed together in groups of five, or ten, laughing and gaming in a swirling nicotine haze, stretching that unlimited-refill cup of coffee until five in the morning and generally annoying the hell out of the waitresses (you had to tip well). Today's kids have the coffeehouses...but unlike Denny's, they have spread and multiplied to ridiculous proportions. You wouldn't see three Denny's restaurants in a one-block area. You wouldn't see a Denny's booth at the grocery store. Or in the library.

Not that coffeehouses are a new phenomenon, I know. They've enjoyed a certain counterculture appeal since the 60's, and I confess I also passed many a late night in my early twenties in them...usually real hole-in-the-wall joints, furnished with aging overstuffed couches and filled with music and smoke and students playing chess and carrying on all sorts of discussions. But these coffeehouses are bright, clean and corporate - upscale smoke-free establishments with wireless Internet access catering to quiet students individually absorbed in their mobiles. Not that there's anything wrong with that, I guess...but it's a different universe.

Ah, but I digress. Time to veer away from the "kids today" speech, because frankly I sound old.

I was quite the coffee addict for a while (though these days I confess I'm more of a tea drinker), but I am not a fan of the contemporary coffeehouse. Once while out running errands, I had forgotten my customary mug o' coffee from home, so I popped over to the little coffeeshop in the library. I had been in line for a minute or two when a woman approached the counter, identifying herself as a film student, and asked the employee if she could film him making the coffee. Oh, and could she film me buying the coffee? And interview me about coffee? Well, why not!

And boy, she wasn't kidding. She disappeared briefly, and returned with lighting equipment, tripod and camera. She even miked me. And so I sat and sipped my overpriced ambrosia, casually answering questions about why I like coffee, my coffee drinking habits and frequency, what brands of coffee I favor. After regaling her with tales of my all-day addiction and my Zen love of the percolating pot and the ritual of preparing and sipping coffee, I think she was surprised to hear that my favorite coffee is "the cheapest". But really, I was a gourmand, not a gourmet. With all the sugar and creamer I would pour in there, it really didn't matter too much anyway. Spider Robinson would disavow my existence for saying that.

The funniest part? I didn't exactly plan to be filmed that day. The coffee-phile she interviewed in that brightly lit nook appeared in geek glasses, burgundy hair askew, pentacle necklace and a Beatles 'Rubber Soul' shirt. A relic of the 'classic' coffeehouse if I've ever seen one.