Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Cafe Society

When relocating to a new city, one of my most pressing tasks is to locate the locally owned coffee shops. Louisville, Kentucky where I moved from prides itself on many very good coffee houses all around the city. Since we've moved to Flagstaff, we discovered Late for the Train. I frequently visit the one on N. San Francisco during my lunch break.

I usually order the Cafe Americano with plenty of room for cream, and occasionally one of their very chewy chocolate chip cookies or brownies. The Late for the train staff are always very friendly and lately put up with my picture snapping with no complaints or eye-ball rolling.

Now that the weather is warming, the usual suspects sip their coffee on the sidewalk. Bikes are almost always tied up outside the shop, too. I've noticed several coffee/bike blogs out in the blogosphere so I assume there is some sort of relationship between bike commuting and visiting cafes.

I must admit, the summer between junior and senior year of high-school, I took a class trip to Europe and when in France became enthralled with French cafes and the people who patronized them. Regardless of their age, drinking tiny cups of coffee in white porcelain cups, they all seemed infinitely more sophisticated that I was or would ever hope to be. Reading newspapers or passionately engaged in rapid conversation (in French, of course) and wondered where, oh where, could I find such a place in Greenville, SC, where I lived (or perceived to be imprisoned for at least one more year). Venturing out on my own, I found a cafe and ordered a coffee with all the skill of a practiced master of 3rd year high-school French. In awe of coffee, my surroundings, and the impossibly then, well-dressed, chain smoking inhabitants of the cafe, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I had been born in the wrong country. Or at the very least, was living in the wrong city.

I have since returned to Europe twice and am always content to while away hours at a cafe, be it in Lisbon, Vienna, or Prague. An I do mean hours. A few years ago in while visiting Berlin with a friend and native of Germany, my sister was surprised to find a typical visit to a cafe can be 2 hours with no need to feel rushed to give up one's seat. She was impressed.

It was at a Viennese cafe that I first considered bike commuting. From the cafe where I sat with my mother we observed hundreds of bike commuters going about their business in designated bike lanes and on the multi-use paths off the street. All dressed in normal clothes for work or school,carrying their belongings in messenger bags, wicker baskets, and panniers. Before that trip, I had never considered bike commuting as urbane or stylish. More than that, it looked easy and fun. As I've mentioned before, I was already working as the legislative aide to a Metro Councilman known for his preference for bike commuting and I was beginning to see where he was coming from. At that time, we frequently scheduled our meetings at coffee shops in downtown Louisville or in our district. He always pedaled straight to the front door, wasting no time looking for a parking spot, and pedaled off an hour or so later to his next event with no worry that he had incurred a parking ticket or let the meter run over. Sheer glamour? No. Convenience and a slice of coffee cake without guilt? Definitely.

As I wrap up this post, I conclude that the connection between cafes and bike commuting would have to be the opportunity to experience a slower pace of life. Time spent at a cafe can constructively be spent savoring the taste and aroma of fresh brewed coffee, listening to the buzz of conversation going on around one (hopefully not one sided cell phone noise), watching the variety of characters arrive and make their rounds among the other customers they know, and pouring over a stray edition of the New York Times Book Review (score!). My bike commute offers much the same. I never know what I am going to see. Every ride is different and must be savored for that difference. Monday afternoon, I rode past a soccer match on the ball field off the FUTS near my neighborhood. Tuesday I road home in the early evening and enjoyed the simple quiet of a lone ride at dusk.

More on other Flagstaff coffee shops worth your time this weekend, I hope.


letsgorideabike said...

What a beautiful and thoughtful post! I love coffee shops, so I can help support your theory.


She Rides a Bike said...

Thanks Dottie. I'm afraid this post was a little on the self-indulgent side but when I discovered cafes and coffee houses I found an alternative to bars and discos, which never felt very satisfying in terms of meeting people since they are more conducive to chit-chat than conversation.

Kelvin said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


BikebytheSea said...

Cute blog :)

I had coffee at "Late for the Train" before I took the train back to SoCal. Loved the name!

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