Coffee Shop Comfort

by Amelia Kanan

When you move or travel a lot, you find certain establishments that become security blankets. For me, there have been a few: famers’ markets, dive bars and coffee shops. The details obviously vary depending on the locale but the overall vibe is something I can rely on. There are always farmers to question at a market, dive bars provide a place to cry alone and earn free-pity-drinks and coffee shops…well, they have this power to annoy, anger and comfort me in the only way “home” can.

My dependency on coffee shops began in high school, a time when I was perpetually grounded. I was only allowed to leave my residential perimeters if I was playing a sport or studying. By this time, I had fully embraced my free spirit within which led me to renounce competition in any way so sports was not an option. Nor did I believe in the idea of ‘institutionalized education’ aka school (which was a big reason for the grounding). However, to get a little bit of freedom, I opted for a disguise of studying instead.

I would come home from school, fill my oversized patched sack with books and walk a couple miles to the only independent coffee shop around. On my way, friends would drive past and stop, “Hey, Amelia! Where are you going? Want to come with us?”

Sometimes I would go with them and partake in the things that validated my parents grounding and other times I would actually have them drop me off at the coffee shop, where I was supposed to be pretend studying.

The man who owned the coffee shop hated teenagers. This only made me want to prove him wrong about his agism. I attempted to do so in all kinds of teenage ways: talking about things that I had know real understanding of and ordering drinks that I didn’t actually like drinking. I would also read a lot, trying to prove that I was something I wasn’t: quiet and intellectual. My performance of proof also included the justification of flirting with the 20-something-year-old who worked there. His name was Rob and side note- I wish I remembered his last name so I could look him up on facebook because I wonder who he actually was and why I loved him so much.

I would also go to the open mics, where I would read my poetry allowed and unintentionally make people fear for my mental state of being. “Every night, I say good bye. And every morning, I cry because…I am. Alive.”

Here’s the thing: I had friends. Actually, a lot of friends and yet, this part of my life was something I kept very separate. It was like my little secret. My own special world, that allowed me the chance to disappear from my actual life and be someone who I wanted to be rather than the person who I actually was.

When I went to college, I had another coffee shop. It was in my neighborhood and had that same sort of second hand furniture feel just like my first one. This time, some of my best friends were actually a part of this world too. However, unlike most of them, I had already experienced a first love of this atmosphere as well as heartbreak so I was jaded. I thought open mics were lame, I didn’t think it was quirky and unique to talk to the crazy, old regular and I didn’t care how cute the guy was at the counter…I was over him. I would say, “That’s so 1999”, even though it was only 2001.

This caused some social problems. I had another group of friends, who actually hated the coffee shop and anyone who hung out there. So although I wasn’t in a secret world anymore, there I was again, living in two separate worlds. There was a place for me to be wild, loud, funny and dumb and another place where I could be serious, quiet and even, dare I say…wise?

Once I moved after college, I found a number of coffee shops where I awoke to a comfort in anonymity. It was new but familiar to be a fly on the wall where I could experience the regularity of characters and not have to engage. I began to relish in the ability to order my coffee, get a table near an outlet, put on my headphones and work – undisturbed.

After a few other moves, I’ve discovered a balance. I can now walk into a coffee shop and feel a sort of comfort that makes me smile and validate the barista with a genuine “Thank you” and find a true tolerance for open mic participants.