May 29, 2009

First Person:

Post-mod Café Culture; Wise up, you are renting a chair

By Al Carlos Hernandez

If the local pub is viewed as the place to wind down, then the local Starbucks or café is the place designated to amp up.

I’m not sure if the proliferation of coffee places is a TV reaction to folks growing up seeing old school “cool hang joint” places such as Cheers, Friends or Frazier. Maybe Frazier and Friends are responsible for instigating a cultural trend that set up a paradigm for a national radical chic caffeine addiction.

No one leaves a coffee clutch and says, “Hey I’m going home to crash.” It’s more like, “I’m going to sprint six miles home, then paint the ceiling with my tooth brush.” Those in the know tell me that if you have Benzedrine and caffeine in like quantities, the caffeine is much stronger.

As a cultural Latino who began drinking coffee when I was 16, I have a philosophical and financial aversion to buying a four dollar cup of coffee. Unless, of course, Juan Valdez rides up on his burro, grinds the beans by hand, serves me himself, and my kids get to ride his donkey.

People seem to adopt a certain pedantic behavior when in a coffee house. Most people bring something to read (but never a Star magazine.) Others bring laptop computers, IPods, and/or Blackberries. For some unknown reason people have a need to look and act smart. It’s rare to hear people “doing the dozens” or “talking smack.” Conversations and yes, I make it a point to listen (like you don’t), are usually dry in a pathetic attempt to be deep, meaningful and philosophical.

Starbuckites should make it a practice to study consumer economics. Wise up, you are not buying coffee. You are renting the table.

There seems to be an aggregated effort to use big words, quote Cervantes, do math, and muse pensively while getting your full-tilt wire on. It seems bone nuts to watch someone talking to themselves until you see the little wire and realize their muted dialog is whispered into a cell phone. This is where the coffee place and the local bar differ.

In our community we have noticed that there is a whole new generation of law enforcement people who, rather than frequent the local Dunkin Donuts, frequent the local Starbucks. It could be a generational thing. Maybe the young guns prefer scones over jellies, or visit the local cafes to visit with former liberal arts classmates, or career counselors from college.

It makes me very nervous to know, given the police proclivity to racially profile suspicious looking ethnic folks, that the young gun buzz-cut rookie with a ‘nine has just downed two triple double jumbo African crank bean lattes and can out run a squad car.

Armed police personnel on the job should be required to drink decaf.

What I find ironic is that folks go to these places to be around people, yet on almost every occasion we notice someone sitting alone in a corner with headphones on and a laptop.

Why would tweet on Twitter or update your Facebook with people you don’t really know when there are real, not cyber-people right beside you with whom you can make human contact? Those who study body language will tell you that when you truly communicate you use five languages at the same time; speech is just one of them.

Being alone in public seems like an oxymoron.

Maybe it is a macho thing but I always drink my coffee straight up, no sugar, milk, half and half, marshmallows, whatever. People seem to have a ritual of doctoring their drinks and, depending on the hubris or banality of the customer, make a theatrical event out of placing an order.

“I’ll have a half-café, decaf, with a spritz of hazel, with a non-dairy splash of cream, in a room temperature blue mug served by a transsexual with a hairnet in comfortable shoes.” Not that there is anything wrong with that. Okay, yes there is.

I hate when people draw attention to themselves by acting hyper-particular, as if they are so special they need to be treated with regal deference. If I worked at a café I, like most of you, would stir their designer drinks with the same toothbrush I used on the ceiling.

Cafés are a much better place to meet and greet people than bars. Alcohol is a much more dangerous drug than caffeine. Frequenting cafés rather than drinking establishments will greatly reduce the incidence of unfortunate marriages.

Al Carlos Hernandez is contributing editor to LatinoLa (lationla.com)

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