I always felt the best way to spend your days would be to saunter from one coffee shop to another reading your book, making chitchat whilst ordering a flaky Snowball and eavesdropping on nearby conversation. Let me tell you, it is. Twelve days into my NYC homesteading and I've already indulged in my fair-share of coffee shop stints. Currently I find myself propped up in the window of a West Village caffeine staple - Joe - on the corner of Waverly Place and Gay Street. The tête-à-tête unfolding behind me reads like I'm making it up - laundry, divorce, family planning and final edits of a book. All in a New York minute, the big questions of life addressed right there. Easy. As. Pie.
It's all so quiet outside and the stark lighting inside the coffee shop casts further shadows out onto the street, a little eerie truth be told as the wind picks up. A couple sit in what looks to be a companionable silence outside on the bench sipping from their small, blue take-away cups, while the guy behind me rattles on, spewing advice on how you should never marry someone who you couldn't imagine getting a divorce from. In a shared space where no-one else is speaking this is heavy business. Not the chirpiest of topics but I've heard that one before. Didn't someone famous utter those very words? Alec Baldwin or someone equally opinionated and in no way shy of airing their views. Or maybe his particular morsel of advice concerning divorce centred on the issue of obtaining a prenup while you still had a shred of respect for each other. These dramatic types are forever entertaining when it comes to matters of the heart and outlandish sums of money. Indeed, it would seem romance plays second fiddle to the grand orchestration of playing up to the public personas. Romance schbromance, eh.
I digress. Joe's sports an element of reclining-in-your-living-room cool, at least around this hour. 7pm on a Tuesday evening and everyone is on a solo caffeine buzz now my chatty neighbours have bundled up their laundry and headed off into the Village night to further ponder the question of separation and book re-edits.
Paper-thin Macs, sturdy textbooks, fancy water bottles and espressos abound. No-one is talking. Not even the baristas exchange a word as one adds up the grand takings from their tip-jar (the highlight of any server's day). This is not how I pictured the Greenwich Village coffee houses immortalised in the grand tradition of the Dylan tales. Something tells me there would have been red wine in cups and guitars strumming loud in that scene. Maybe throw in some talk of revolution and the night ahead blown wide open by sing-along and stories into the small hours. Here right now, I suspect my fellow Joe-dwellers will continue on starring at their screens while mentally preparing themselves for tomorrow's fresh new influx of work material at dawn.
A detour passed the Chelsea Hotel on 23rd Street earlier this evening drove home the depressing truth that those former glory days of the beatniks, free-wheeling troubadours and eccentric roaming souls with worthy tales to tell and capable of instilling fire in the gut long after they have past have gone.
It just seems a little sad somehow that we sit with earphones in starring at devices of varying sizes and the music-makers hone their craft alone in their rooms on programmes that eliminate the marking of individual quirks and leave little room for the human error that sometimes wrought about a chance glimpse of genius.
I acknowledge I am a tad idealistic and needless to say more than a little ignorant when it comes to matters of artistic craft in whatever form it may take, but didn't the most innovative, fresh and inspiring artworks emerge as a result of bustling back bar rooms and coffee shops streaming music loud into these very streets of the storied West Village. Now everything seems to be going on in each of our own heads, a solo effort of sorts as we each struggle inwardly in our need to connect. And then all at once when we see, hear and feel an artwork made flesh, and God forbid collectively love it, we proceed to label it commercial pulp.
Oh we're a funny breed, I think as I exit the cafe, white headphones in ears and head bowed low to play battle against the early autumn wind, already anticipating my next solo coffee shop excursion.