I posted the item below from an Ann Arbor coffeehouse, wi-fi-ing from my Apple PowerBook. I was interrupted in the midst of putting it together by a call on my cell phone. A man glanced my way as I talked, and I know he was thinking what I was thinking:
God, are you insufferable.
And God, was I ever. But I can’t help it. I overstayed the time necessary to eat a piece of stale crumb cake and drink an overpriced cup of coffee. It wasn’t the wi-fi that held me — it was the atmosphere.
Is it so wrong to like the “third place?” I don’t think so. I’ve been working at home for weeks now, and damn, but it gets lonely there. People are social animals and we need to see other animals to feel we aren’t the only gazelle left on the savannah. Offices are the designated place to work, but the last one I had seemed almost designed to be depressing — windows waaaaay across the other side of the room, dust and grime on everything, a computer that crashed every half-hour, lousy coffee. My sightline was the back of my neighbor’s computer and a wall, with a filing cabinet against it. Above the filing cabinet, an American flag printed on a newspaper page, with “September 11, 2001” printed above. Believe me, if you worked there you’d find any excuse not to.
Hence the Third Place. Alan, in the midst of midwifing a breech-presenting series one year, would print copies of all the stories and take them to a nearby restaurant, where he’d blue-pencil the crap out of them in peace, away from his phone and the thousand stinging ants of the newsroom. Only anyone seeing him there — and perhaps some of his very own supervisors — would have said, “That guy is goofing off,” when in truth he got more done in the third place than he did in the office.
The Ann Arbor third-place scene is vibrant, to say the least. Starbucks and Espresso Royale windows are always full of laptop-open students, what looks like business meetings and other activities only tangentially related to coffee-drinking. Office managers should take note. Windows good. Coffee good. Comfy chairs even better. Third place: Good.
Linda said on May 26, 2004 at 8:28 pm
My husband and I neither one like coffee, could never learn to like it, so we don’t hang out at the many Starbucks here in Vancouver. But I always feel like I am missing something when we drive by and see people hanging out at them. I know we could drink other things besides coffee, but somehow it just seems like it wouldn’t be the same.
Lex said on May 26, 2004 at 9:19 pm
Greensboro is building — has almost finished — a new park right in the middle of downtown. It’s two blocks from the office. It’s convenient to restaurants and coffee shops, and it has its own chairs and tables.
And free wi-fi.
Now THAT is an amenity.
alex said on May 26, 2004 at 10:52 pm
Funny, but just today a young whippersnapper in my ad class was telling me I should get out more�and do my work at Starbucks rather than trying to deal with it at home. I didn’t say it, but what came immediately to mind is how silly I’ve been thinking people look sitting there with their laptops. It reminds me of when I was young and took my books to coffeehouses and didn’t get anything done because my real agenda was to be on the make.
Working at home has actually been quite stifling, however. Maybe he�and you�are right.
Whitcomb said on May 26, 2004 at 11:12 pm
Let me put in a word for the neighborhood bar. There are still some left. I am fortunate to live only about four blocks from said establishment. No laptops to be found–just working stiffs, ranging from nurses to newspaper reporters. This is a place for two-fisted drinkers, football fans, gamblers, people plugging Springsteen or Sinatra on the jukebox. Nobody’s writing the Great American Novel there. On occasion you can have an interesting discussion about politics or even religion.
I most enjoy Lucy, a Sunday night semi-regular who is about 80. She downs three or four beers over the course of a couple hours, tells great stories about the America of 50 and 60 years ago, and she takes a six-pack home with her. She’s a peach.
I don’t want to romanticize this too much; the bar has its share of dolts too. Still, it’s a comfort.
Nance said on May 27, 2004 at 9:24 am
Well, it’s interesting, Alex — third places are not for most kinds of work , I don’t think. I’ve heard that in LA, certain coffee shops serve as offices for screenwriters, but I can’t imagine getting any real work done on a writing project there. Too many distractions. But for the sort of work you can do with half your brain — answering e-mail, returning phone calls, filling out expense forms, stuff like that — I think they’re ideal. If nothing else, they bring you in contact with other people and new landscape. And that’s gotta be worth something.
Bob said on May 27, 2004 at 9:31 am
I used to study in a lounge at the Student Union. The space was cavernous, all the other people there were solitary bookworms like me, and the nearest one was usually at least thirty feet away, but for some reason my study time was always more productive there than in the solitude of my dorm room.
That was forty years ago. Now, the place is probably full of cell phones and clickity-clickity keyboards, if it exists at all.
Ric said on May 27, 2004 at 11:46 am
My “third place” is a greasy spoon in Columbia City called “Country Post Inn” where I can get breakfast + tip for $5 and get more “hard thinking” work done than I ever could at home or the office. I go there before work when I need to get bids and quotes done…
Carmella said on May 27, 2004 at 9:25 pm
Shady Nook, Parnell Ave, Fort Wayne, late 70’s. ….sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name… And they did!
ashley said on June 1, 2004 at 4:10 am
This is Ronnie Virgets’ ode to the third place…if you ain’t from New Orleans, you may not get it.