Wednesday, December 30, 2009

open door politics

If you’ve sat right next to the door at Berkeley Espresso at night, this image might evoke some strong memories. Or, rather, that image juxtaposed with the image below it. Juxtaposed with the one below that. And the one below that. And below that. And that. And, you get the picture, right?

I didn’t remember how much of a mini-drama there is unfolding around this door at the corner of Hearst and Shattuck Avenues until I sat there last night next to a woman who was obviously suffering from the cold. Bent over shivering every time the door opened and stayed open. And that was quite often.

You see, every time the door opens, it gets stuck. There’s a little metal door stopper at the bottom that does what it should when it should, and then does what it should when it shouldn’t. Maybe it’s greased too well, or just needs to be replaced. But anyway, as soon as the door opens, that thing is on its way down, dragging along the ground as the door’s being pushed open, and then digging into the concrete outside when it’s released.

A couple walks in, and she shivers again. Obviously indignant at this, another guy gets up from his chair several tables over, and, shaking his head slightly, steps outside, kicks the door stopper up, and pulls the door shut. Exaggerated movements, as if the couple that now stands staring at the menu on the wall has the slightest clue about what’s going on.

Now, normally this sticking thing’s not a problem for me. Actually I kind of like it. If you’ve had a coffee at Berkeley Espresso at night, when the breath and body heat of 25 computer users and emanations from 3 or 4 tall leafy mini-trees create steam that fogs the cafe’s long wall of windows, you know: it can feel like a sauna in here. That’s probably why the two guys over there were looking at each other, laughing slightly, slightly annoyed at the guy who went and closed the door. This must be an ongoing thing.

Yeah, I guess that’s the camp I’m in too. That little door stopper is a lifesaver sometimes. The ‘inner reaches’ of the cafe can be especially oppressive, where you have to squeeze your way into a seat and have even more trouble extricating yourself from the tangle of wires, chairs and glares of the oft-times library-ish crowd, breathing, exhaling, emanating, steaming…

So here we are in the corner seat by the door, where there’s just enough cool air coming in from the outside to balance the waves of heat and humidity inside (ever experienced BEING advection fog before? It’s quite stimulating actually…).

Yup, you got it, the door’s open again. Another couple has just left, talking with each other excitedly—must be the first time in hours by the looks of it, after they packed up their laptops and books from another evening studying. Meanwhile, as the cool air sweeps back in, those of us remaining look up, glance around at each other, and then fix our gazes on that little door stopper, wondering who’s going to make the next move.

Monday, December 28, 2009

"I'm not allowed to serve you here."

Just a brief thought in the midst of sitting down in a familiar Berkeley spot, back to the wall, looking out across the length of the cafe. A pretty heavy computer-using space and time--the table in front of me has four friends, by the looks of it, sitting around the four sides of a square table, all peering into their screens and occasionally at each other. The thought crosses my mind that this is the modern version of sociality. They're talking occasionally to each other (are they chatting too?). 3 power cords stretch from the table across the floor to a 4-plug outlet. They, like I am, are attached to the wall and half of their souls are, like mine, talking to each other from within the network.

The door opens and in walks a familiar figure--an older looking homeless man with a shopping cart spilling forth with worldly possessions. Long frizzled grey beard, a slightly bent over posture and slow, short, dragging steps. He's been here before and apparently his name/face is on the no-fly list. The young barista looks up at him and says immediately, "I'm sorry, I'm not allowed to serve you here."

He turns around, slowly, maneuvering his cart, opens the door, and shuffles out. Step by step. He's been here before, and he'll probably be back.

Meanwhile, the five of us keep our eyes (mostly) cast on the screen, the remnants of soul sitting in these wooden chairs willfully, seamlessly, easily selling one more bit of themselves to the network.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

An outlet for creativity

It's with a mixture of pride and guilt that I write the first line on this new blog.

Guilt because...nah, let's start with the pride. For the inspiration behind this blog, I credit my long hours and days of sitting with my good friend Taekjin in countless cafes, poring over books and looking into screens, gazing into laptops, scoping out the scene, searching often in vain for available electrical outlets, even occasionally deploying unconventional tactics (how many cafe-goers do you know who carry extension cords and desk lamps?)...and other sordid details that will no doubt become clear as the Spring 2010 semester at Berkeley unfolds.

Chronicling these experiences, the hundreds and no doubt thousands of hours spent in and around cafes in the Berkeley and San Francisco area, has long been a desire of mine. Yeah, I'm proud, and I was even thinking about writing "dream" or "fantasy of mine", but I'm not sure it quite qualifies for either of those. That's where the guilt part comes in. Because, truth be told, every word of every post written on this blog represents (already) and will no doubt represent, at least in part, some form of procrastination from the work that I should be doing in order to get this doctorate written, PhD finished, and no doubt well-paying job landed. I guess that's a tension that's going to run through these pages.

But thanks to conversations with certain friends about New Years' resolutions, I thought, what the hell--why not just hit the "create" button and start writing, and see what comes of this. Of course, the world does not need one more blog. And there is no way in hell that the thoughts here are going to--can come close to--approach the kind of insights and coverage of local cafes and their menus, prices, and atmospheres so well chronicled by the thousands of pithy and opinionated users on sites like Yelp.

But I do have dreams for a project like this--that something of the bent for qualitative description and reflection that are the tools of the trade in the area of educational research that I'm working in, and something of the literary, critical, and digitexual interest that animates my own online ventures (how else to justify the vanity of having something like 20 or 30 profiles on different social media and other sites?), will give Caffeinated Nomadology some insights into cafe life in Berkeley and surrounding domains that are worth reading. Or at least worth writing.

OK, I said it: I have dreams about this.

But I don't have my heart set on doing this alone! In fact, dear reader, if you think you've got a thoughtful or funny angle on the subjective side of plugged-in cafe life--the tastes, sights, sounds, smells, attitudes, events & perspectives only visible to those who've spent a good part of their lives alternately on screens, surfing, reading, talking, meditating, and living in cafes--I'd love for you to join the team.

So I'll stop there for now on the platitudes and mission statements for this first post. I guess what this blog's about will become clear as it actually gets written. For now, having moved from Cafe Leila where there was nowhere to plug in a 3-pronged cord in the front room where computer use is allowed (smell a future topic, anyone?), to Local 123 on San Pablo, I'm glad to have finally found an outlet for creativity.