“Ah, le café,” says my old friend Claude, who is not a Frenchman but plays one in coffeehouses. “Ze life of ze mind in ze company of ze people.” It is 3 o’clock at the Town Square Coffee Bean, prime sitting time for a fellow like Claude, but the Bean has, like, four tiny tables, each of them occupied by two people who are texting. Claude is crestfallen. “Where are ze tables?” he says.
It’s been nearly 15 years since Claude began an illustrious career of sitting in caffeine clinics recovering from the shock of growing up, and one of the things he loved best was that these places not only allowed you to waste your time sitting for hours reading, say, free weekly publications, but seemed to base their entire business model on it.
Over the years, Claude worked his way from Café Copioh to Café Sensations to the Green Valley Jitters to a gloriously roomy place on Eastern Avenue called The Cup Stops Here, which stocked board games and old books and sold peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches.
Here’s the thing about those places, though: gone, gone, gone and gone. At some point, even before the recession began, it became clear that it’s actually expensive to rent a bunch of space for people like Claude. And so, for everyone except the proprietors of The Beat, the golden age of opening coffeehouses because, well, that would be cool, came to an end, and our local Claudes woke to a cold new java dawn of devastatingly efficient, closet-size Starclones that advertise free Wi-Fi but actually want you to leave.
So au revoir, board games and bananas and the strange man reading Baudelaire in a maroon recliner. In a town that can barely afford to have a college, it was folly to think we could sustain Claude’s post-collegiate cuppatopia.
Time to grow up.
And hit the bar.