Quick: what comes to mind when you think of Diner, Seinfeld and Friends? Yes, I know they are all old, but thanks to syndication and Netflix, nothing is that old. I am hoping you envision folks gathering at their favorite eatery, discussing everything from today's news to last night's bad date. In short order, (to stretch the theme) conversation.
And now what do you think of when I say Starbucks or any of its clones? My guess is you see individuals with laptops and earphones attached. A place where even if you tried to talk to someone, he or she wouldn't know it.
I am here to tell you that there are places left where one can not only speak freely with table neighbors, but maybe even make new friends. Yes, at any age and yes, in cosmopolitan areas where people rarely look up from their gadgets, are moving way too fast, and prefer to know those whose names come in bold face.
My husband jokingly tells people that only his wife -- okay, curious to the point of nosy -- could go to a local coffee shop and find a community. Whatever. I began stopping by my chosen hangout for an iced coffee and newspaper perusal before hitting the gym at the nearby 92nd St Y. Gradually, the familiar faces started talking and swapping tidbits from restaurant recommendations to crossword puzzle hints.
Did I mention the place does not allow computers?
Let me point out that there is not the slightest bit of glamour to what can only be called a dive, although Katie Couric is a regular, and stop-in guests have included Julianna Margulies and Chris Noth. The owner is crusty -- not Soup-Nazi crusty -- but he has been known to offend a few former regulars. There is not a booth or soft chair in sight, generally no working bathroom, or hot food. There are baked goods but they would hardly make any top ten lists. The drinks, of course, are quite good and plentiful.
Back to those coffee shop conversations. I have discovered that relationships without history can indeed be liberating. These chats may start with the world outside, but eventually move easily into more basic and non-judgmental stuff. People even interrupt when they overhear something interesting, but somehow, no one seems to mind and the following day, we tend to gravitate to one another.
Did I mention that the tables are close together?
These may be people with whom you have nothing in common in terms of how you live, your tastes in culture or politics. It helps, of course, if you are not always fond of talking only about yourself, and are capable of forgetting what time it is for at least an hour or so.
Did I mention the clock at my place rarely works?
Let me be clear: I like my laptop as much as anyone and spend a lot of time on it--at home. I have plenty of meetings at Starbucks, and when traveling to unknown cities, I practically crawl to that green logo. I have a full social life and had previously thought I couldn't take one more friend until someone died.
But giving myself this respite, even in a neighborhood nook with poor lighting and some odd characters, has been an unexpected gift. Find a coffee shop near you and see what happens.