Tag Archives: coffee

Surveying our postponed lives

Last year, I had a lunch on the calendar with an old coworker set for March 12. We hadn’t seen each other since my son was born and we had lots of work gossip and life updates to share. Of course, as the date arrived, the COVID threat grew and we decided it would be safer to postpone. We pushed it back to April 30, then August 13, then again to January 13 (the worst date out of all of these), and May 12, then finally over a year later to May 26, 2021. With vaccinations and revised CDC guidelines in tow, it looks like our lunch is finally going to happen. We are not close friends or family, not in either’s inner quarantine bubble. I think we both acknowledged this and while we were looking forward to catching up we also didn’t take the rescheduling personally.

Of course, we could have cancelled, but I don’t think either of us wanted to give up on the lunch. We just wanted to be safe. Also, it was nice to have something normal on the calendar even if we knew it might have to be moved.

Many people have talked about how COVID gave them a new understanding of their closest network, who matters most in a time of crisis. I also think COVID has given us a new appreciation for the influence of a broad network of weaker ties on quality of life. There are loads of people I admire, but don’t know particularly well, who I have missed this year. I even miss strangers. The friends laughing at a table nearby, the interesting clothes people wear, the small acts of kindness on the street.

There have been far more serious casualties of COVID-19 than a lunch date or a wedding. Important communal sacraments and traditions have been postponed, some opportunities to grieve or celebrate feel lost forever. The entire experience of the pandemic will be a part of us, regardless of how we experienced it. I don’t want to forget the small things that keep a city and community moving forward during non-COVID life which has plenty of disappointment and excitement on it’s own.

One example that I have been daydreaming about lately is being in a full, buzzing coffee shop again. Since the first fall when I moved to Richmond almost 14 years ago, coffee shops have been my home away from home and I have missed them dearly. I miss real mugs, real plates, and silverware. I miss the caffeine-induced brainstorm. I miss the community board with events and vendors. And of course, I miss the eavesdropping and people watching. You just can’t fit this into a take-out container.

Sometime this summer or fall, whenever they are ready to reopen, I imagine myself in Sub Rosa with a cappuccino at the bar around 10:30 a.m. on a disastrously busy weekend morning. With myself, the Times, and who knows what former friend, neighbor, or coworker that might walk by. Croissant flakes and dirty dishes are everywhere along with the smell of chocolate, polenta, and smoke. I’m grateful we all united over COVID by staying away, but I can’t wait to see everyone and catch up on the other side.

From Drinking Songs to Pet Theories

I recently felt convicted on behalf of the individualistic, intellectual, global community. Didn’t we used to sing drinking songs together? It seems like these days we spend our time talking and debating rather than getting lost in something greater … something that unites.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between beer and coffee. In 2010, Stephen Johnson gave a TED talk titled, “Where good ideas come from.” I highly recommend it. In his presentation, he argues that the advent of the English coffeehouse played a significant role in the development of ideas during the English enlightenment. With the coffee house, Johnson states, the English people moved from a perpetually drunk society to a stimulated community of thought and collaboration. The ideas that transformed society emerged, at least in part, from within the incubator of the coffeehouse. So I originally saw this as a good thing. Don’t we need good ideas to progress? Well, yes, but I think we’ve lost something in the process of becoming enlightened and thoughtful. In short, we’ve lost drinking songs. We’ve lost this social tradition that connected us to each other and our sense of belonging and place.

I see the effects of this coffeehouse culture on my own upbringing in Tyler, TX. My friends and I would often meet for coffee at the “local” Starbucks and talk about life. These were great times we spent laughing and solving the world’s problems. But they didn’t unite us or connect us to our city in a meaningful. We never spontaneously burst into song with steins of beer sloshing around as we sang, “Tyler, oh Tyler! Da-dum de-dum de-dum …” Or anything of the sort.

In addition, the people that did drink together in high school did not usually do so with members of the older generations because they were partaking in something that many consider immoral. Thus, if there were a drinking song for Tyler, they wouldn’t be singing it. Instead, they would still be stuck in the teenage ghetto while their parents either condoned or condemned from afar. It really is a tragedy. When it came time for me to look for colleges, I felt no remorse leaving that city in the dust. I had clearly not connected to it’s people or culture in such a way that made me feel like I belonged. I had not yet come of age.

Here’s the deal: It’s not about beer and it’s not exactly about drinking songs. It’s about the cultural traditions that unite people.

The thing about these traditions is that they have to be taught. This teaching process requires close, intergenerational relationships. Drinking songs clearly had an incredible ability to galvanize that “togetherness” of community because they eventually became Baptist hymns and even the national anthem of the USA. The difficult question for me is whether this generations is producing material that could be redeemed in the same way. Does our philosophizing  bring us together? As I sit here at my computer developing this theory I wonder if instead I could be singing a drinking song (or any song) with a group of people. Granted, it’s 10 a.m. on a Thursday, but my point is this: I don’t want to care more about my pet theories than our collective humanity.

I think it’s time to start singing.