Tuesday, September 21, 2010

the dragon is sleeping

It's been 20+ minutes already since I've sat down here, in what used to be the lair of the enemy. Is it still? Yes...but its power feels diminished. Starbucks, great Starbucks, has kept its 5:30 opening time, the earliest in the neighborhood, but taken down the walls, filled the moat of paid wifi use. Can you imagine when you would have had to pay $10 to do this? Can you imagine that you might have to pay $20 to do it again?

Frankly, yes.

But, for the meantime, that combination has me sitting here working on this chapter, hoping to mail it off in just a few hours so that I can...go back to sleep. And start the next one. I'm not expecting great profundity, but will open up the lines for a few observations of the whozits and whatsits of the Starbucks clientele, here at the corner of Center and Oxford Aves. in Berkeley. Mom, you'd be proud.

  • 6:13am. There's been a definite pick-up in the activity level in the last 10 minutes. An interesting mix of construction workers, students (?), folks from the street, others who are harder to brand so immediately. Probably for the better.
  • 6:15. I look at my latte. Kind of an uncharacteristic drink for me. Its foam and lack of a discrete surface on the top makes me think there just isn't much to photograph today. Sorry, Lalitha. I still like this pic best. :)
  • 6:36. They are still, it seems, calling their drinks "tall, grande, vente". I think it's a matter of personal linguistic principle though that I will never use words other than "small", "medium", and "large". Even seeing the labels recently for two drink sizes at a donut shop, "small" and "regular" for the ice drinks, have ideology seeping through. And I know inside that so does the three-part S/M/L division but I'll wait another year or two before I admit that. 
  • 7:19. We're still 45 minutes before the start of 8:00 classes, the first round of the day (and how much Berkeley High School traffic is there up here, just one block but feels like a world away) and there's a quiet rhythm to the place--music still echoing in the background, calling itself background music, and conversations here and there, the crumpling sound of the waxed pastry baggies that they give you with their $1.65 donuts and $1.95 scones and everything else. Huh. $1.65 for an old-fashioned donut, sitting there right next to the muffins and scones. Looks so out of place apart from its donut brethren.
  • 7:22. Somewhere there's a blog post waiting to be written about the politics and risk-taking of the electronica-encumbered body as it pertains to...urination in cafes. Sucks to have a computer and want to keep your seat and still have to take a piss. OK, I said it.
  • 9:47. Oh my god, I'm still here. Having been here for almost 4 hours, I think I just logged my 100th overheard perky "Have a great day!" It's time to get out of here.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

weekend millings at strada

The last few weeks I've started carrying around an audio recorder on the weekends, to capture hourlong to-be podcast pontifications with longtime buddy Ray in the form of the new 'radio' show, Talkin' Trash with Ray & Dave (Facebook page here). Tongue firmly in cheek, which, as far as I see it, is pretty much where it should be all the time...

But carrying a recorder around with me is something that I've always meant to do anyway. We collectively spend so much time looking at and taking pictures, that it seems to me that photos end up as the default and normative media-type stand-in for our memories. Wherever you go, if you want to remember it, you should first and foremost remember to take your camera, pose for the camera, and take a picture. Maybe a video if you've got the equipment and wherewithal, and maybe a series of photos if you want to capture various aspects, different people, different angles...

But for me the sounds of a place are perhaps more evocative of the place than are the sights; for some reason, experiencing the sounds as they unfold again in time can transport me to that place in my mind, while at the same time not allowing me to affix labels so easily, to categorize, tag, and stash away in some box in the mind, as I feel I do with photos.

Sure, I'm being over-dramatic here, but I do think that audio recordings of place, phono-graphs of sorts, deserve a better place in our own everyday media practices. And, as I look around thinking about buying a handheld recorder that will hopefully be somewhat faithful to the sounds without breaking the bank or requiring tons of equipment (looking at the Zoom H1 now), I'm hopeful that, just as carrying a camera helps me to see, carrying an audio recorder around will help me to listen, to be present and attuned to where I am.

For starters, here's a 40-minute recording from a few days ago, weekend millings at Caffe Strada, one of the favorite spots here on CN. Click the link to go to the audio file:

weekend millings at strada