Café U.S.A.

It is not a lovely day. The city is tucked into another slow, gray day. At 3:30 p.m. it’s very quiet, during business hours of course, but it’s also flu season, evident in the throats of the few people downtown hawking phlegm on the streets. It felt like a good time for a hot drink.


Stepping into a coffee shop is a pretty standard experience. Instant smell of roasting coffee beans and a quick sweep of the room to catalog open spots to sit comfortably separate. Then notice the music which, at this point in the day, is always energetic but subtle about it. The people sit around coffee and are much livelier for it, and the volume of the music requires everyone to be fully engaged if they want to have a conversation. The lighting is low-key with small, dim bulbs hanging from the rafters, hovering a few feet over the tables. There’s a big green menu that looks like the scoreboard in the outfield of an old baseball diamond, with big bold numbers announcing the prices. Across a I-Beam running above the register reads, in the same big bold lettering, the prices of the most basic café equipment: drip coffee 2 dollars, cappuccinos 3 dollars, espressos $3.50.

Next to the register are typical café accouterments: journals and leathers for your aspiring writer,  usually seen tweaking and scribbling in the corner (and spying for his reporting class). Two young men sitting against the wall, both with their own appropriately weathered notebooks, banded closed with thin, black elastic, talk about their courses at Lane Community College. One leans to the other and says “I’m about three-quarters through philosophy…” before Australia by The Shins seizes the open air.

Four older men sit a table away on a business lunch. Shoptalk occasionally breaks through the music, the topic apparently being the new Sizzlepie being constructed blocks away. “What do we have to do…” one man says. “…pilot the water system…” replies another. “Would it help if I…?” says a third. Another song comes on, this time it’s The Way We Get By by Spoon, which I recognize hearing from television. In other words, they’re sell-outs. Like coffee culture apparently.

The Yelp! reviews here make mention of hipsters, the anti-commercialism teeming along the West Coast. They blame or thank Portland and Seattle, with honorable mentions to San Francisco, that this is a coffee shop and not a Starbucks. It’s becoming less obvious whether or not the people here care about any of that, and just like the style, blissfully ignoring the fact that every song is Shazamable (in other words, popular enough), that their register is an Apple iPad, that the entire shop looks like it was furnished by Etsy. Not sure if they care, and it probably doesn’t matter.

One of the young men next to me, with a skid of sideburns and wearing a flat cap, grabs his moleskines and folder turns to other young man and says “Stay warm out there.” The other man replies, “You too, stay alive.”

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One Response to Café U.S.A.

  1. Ma says:

    Looks like an interesting place.

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