Coffee Culture

04/18/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Lester Sloan Writer/Photographer and professor of photojournalism at Savannah State University

Coffee culture is changing the rules of engagement for some residents of Los Angeles, forging a subculture that promotes a sense of community among people who remain wedded to their automobiles. This is not to say that we have gotten out of the habit of one person per car as we negotiate the freeways; that's a hard habit to break even when gas prices were $4.00 per gallon, but we seem to have developed an appreciation for the company of others outside of our cars, especially when caffeine is involved.

My point of reference is that stretch of road (a little over a mile and a half) on San Vicente Boulevard, between Barrington and 26th street, a part of Brentwood in Los Angeles. There are roughly a half dozen places that are considered exclusively coffee venues: two Starbucks, one Peet's Coffee and Tea, a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf and the coffee shop that was once a part of a neighborhood landmark, Dutton's Bookstore. Noah's Bagel also gets a nod. Each has its regular klatch of customers, consisting of car jumpers -- those who park, pick up a brew and go -- and place sitters. It's among the later that I've noticed the change.

They include people from every walk of life: retired doctors and lawyers, students, Hollywood actors, writers and stunt people, bikers (non motorized) and often club members -- to the visible and invisible homeless, who are, at times, indistinguishable from the moms and dads in jogging attire pushing 1,500 dollar strollers. There are the stripped-down joggers at the end of their run, nursing a blended cold coffee drink, and the Ph.D. candidates roughing out their dissertations. They all have one thing in common -- a love of the brew from beans, and maybe an unexpressed desire to be part of something that resembles a community. Day after day, I've watched the ebb and flow of espresso defenders, drip drinkers, latte lovers, and cappuccino connoisseurs blend into something that seem to foster habits of engagement. They willingly share space and form friendships with those who have viable 401K's (though somewhat diminished) and Vets living from check to check, supplementing their income by begging at intersections where main streets converge.

Coffee Culture is about as close as one gets to New York where such closeness is mandated by the necessity of sharing public transportation, but people there can appear isolated while surrounded by humanity. It seems that in Los Angeles, coming together around a coffee cup has become a metaphor for community. In places far and wide, when we gather together around a brew from roasted beans, for an instant, we are a melting pot.