- The WiFi didn’t always work.
- The vinyl seats – the big ones upstairs, the ones like couches – were pretty worn. Some people might call them shabby.
- Even though the table next to the bathroom was big, you were better off choosing one of the other ones near the front, because the smell wasn’t always the freshest.
- At lunchtime or late afternoon, kids came in and clustered six or eight around one table, and it was hard to get anything done, almost impossible, even with headphones.
I am trying to count reasons why I shouldn’t be sad that Connecticut Muffin on Montague Street has closed down, reasons that should convince me that I will, in fact, be better off writing somewhere else. And that’s as many as I can muster – four.
If I am going to do this properly, be rigorous about it, I should make another list too – a list of reasons why I wish it wasn’t closing. But that list would be full of feelings, and feelings are much harder to describe. And they don’t fit on a list. And sometimes feelings aren’t even real, sometimes you only think they are.
Standing on the street, looking at the newspaper plastering the inside of the windows, my feelings are real. Shock, that comes first - I was only here on Friday. And it turns out that what they say in books about people’s feet being rooted to the spot when they’re in shock is true, because I can’t seem to turn around and walk away, just like I can’t seem to read beyond the first line of the little white sign that says they’re closed, but I can’t seem to look at anything else either. And even though shock isn’t finished yet – it’s only settling in – another feeling elbows it out of the way. Sadness. And in this city of a thousand coffee shops I am crying. I am crying because this coffee shop has closed.
I shouldn’t be crying. It’s a coffee shop. No-one is dead, no-one is dying. It is ridiculous to cry.
And yet, I am.
If I was to write a list of the reasons why I am crying, a list that would make you understand, I would tell you that a lot of my last novel was written here, and that since I started my new one, this coffee shop has become (had become) the only place where it seems I can write it. Tuesdays and Fridays are my writing days, and you’ll find me on the 2 train, heading downtown and into Brooklyn, getting out at Clark Street with an excitement even the slowest lifts in the world can’t dampen. Down Henry Street, past my favourite church, onto Montague, and I’m at my “desk” – the big table upstairs in the front– by 9:45am, writing by 10. I have 20,000 words or so now that I’m almost happy with and they’ve all been written here, nowhere else, and standing looking at the newspaper covered windows I can’t help but feel as though my characters are trapped inside.
So maybe after reading that, you might understand a little more. You might cut me a break. And when I told you how I love their Vanilla Chai Tea Latte made with almond milk and that finding one of those –especially a good one - is hard, you might nod. And when I described how Madeline would have this made for me every morning before I even ordered it, how she would start to steam the almond milk while I claimed my table upstairs and have it ready by the time I was at the counter, you would probably see that this place was no Starbucks. You might even begin to see that this coffee shop, a little shabby as it was, was more than just a coffee shop. At least to me.
I like Starbucks, by the way. I write there too. In fact I am writing in Starbucks now, a block away from my old coffee shop. I am drinking a chai tea latte (soy milk, not almond) and their WiFi is working, as it always is. The vinyl in this Starbucks is less than two years old, it’s not worn yet. So relocating here, bringing my characters with me here, shouldn’t be a problem, right? It certainly shouldn’t be cause for tears.
And yet, it is.
Because it’s not just about my book being born in that other coffee shop, or the big table like a desk overlooking Montague Street, or even Madeline and the almond milk chai. It’s all of that and more than that – something else, another feeling, something that doesn’t fit on a list at all.
I’m not from New York. I’m from a place that’s much smaller, a place where it’s not unusual to know the name of the person behind the counter in the newsagents or the butcher’s or the coffee shop. Last month, when I was home, I was in the local Starbucks (we have those too) and the woman working there remembered my drink order and apologised for not instantly getting my name right. I didn’t take it personally – after all it has been three years since I moved away.
And this knowing everyone and everyone knowing you can be suffocating – I found suffocating – and anonymity was just one of the hundreds of things about New York I fell in love with, right from the start. And I still love this. I love how I can get on a subway and not worry about getting stuck making small talk to an old work colleague or someone from school. I love how my business stays my business unless I choose to make it yours too. I love how, running in Riverside Park, listening to Macklemore on my iPhone I can throw my hands in the air at the part of “Victory Lap” where he throws his hands in the air. Because no-one knows me. And no-one will talk about me. And no-one will care.
Writing this, as often happens me when I’m writing, I am explaining something to you and something to me at the very same time. And I can see how, after three years of living here, that I have carved out spaces, pockets of the city that have become mine. And how even though I love New York’s density, its energy and its anonymity, its swirl of lives and voices and footsteps, that without having these spaces just for me, I might somehow get lost. That whether life is up or life is down or life is flat-lining, I need these spaces to stay the same, to be there for me. I need people to know my name.
And this little coffee shop that was a little shabby inside, might not have looked like much to you, but it was one of my spaces.
And that, to me, makes it worthy of a few tears.
Maybe even more than just a few.