The Art of the Outdoor Caf--
Listen to/Watch entire show:
By Marc Porter Zasada
Sometimes it seems like genuine caf-- life has returned to Los Angeles. After all, coffeehouses have spread like little flagships of public civilization, and people have become deeply addicted to their lowfat double caps and their spiced oolongs.
But of course, I know something's missing, and we're still a long way from a Paris or Amsterdam. Angelenos sit a little stiffly, we're a little rushed, and you'd better bring along a script to redline, a confidence to share, a cellphone to shout into, or a laptop to sit and ponder.
It's still not quite okay to spend hours at an outdoor caf-- here, just sucking coffee through sugar cubes while you stare meditatively at the gaudy parade of careless humanity.
And it's not like your L.A. friends will accidentally drop by to shoot the breeze as friends might in Asia or the Mideast. No, here you first have to find a mutual opening in your schedules, and then triangulate on Mapquest.
Nevertheless, this morning the Urban Man awakens full of optimism, and heads for Edgemar Plaza on Main Street in Santa Monica to try for some pure outdoor caf-- lounging. I've chosen this place even though its really just a minimall tucked behind a coffeehouse. I know Edgemar was designed by Frank Gehry in his clever chainlink-and-reinforced-concrete days, and it includes a little Himalayan craft shop, a MOCA store, and a restaurant still trendy enough to set the right tone for the day. Casual but chic pedestrians drift, and actual pigeons strut across a postmodern fountain.
These omens are good--but just in case, I carry a full complement of technology and I take a chair at one of the umbrellaed tables, where I let the still-trendy restaurant, along with the whole humming metropolis protect my back. The Urban Man recreases his fedora and notes a laughing, big-hearted breeze rolling in off the sea like a line from Steinbeck. The only thing missing is a cigarette, but I never learned to smoke.
Now, conventional wisdom claims that everyone in L.A. wishes he were a public personality, well-known in caf--s. But actually, Angelenos tend to be the most private of private citizens. Celebrity or shlub, we usually keep our public appearances short and carefully scripted. In general, we prefer tinted windows, home theaters, and dark restaurants. We chat and run. Since we need the lighting to be just right, outdoor --s present something of a challenge.
In fact, unscientific studies estimate the average stay at an outdoor table here at a mere 36 minutes, and sure enough, this afternoon, come 40 minutes, the Urban Man does get a little antsy.
For a moment I consider lowering my hat, booting up my laptop, and plugging in my headphones, but I resist an escape into the private realm. I think, "Better to tune into the giddy music of nearby conversations."
Sure enough, two women have gathered for shy confidences, and an executive rattles his newspaper magnificently. A handsome man in a theatrical frock coat strikes up loud conversations among strangers. Is he a celebrity, a street person, or a celebrity street person? In any case, I admire the courage to arrive with no appointments, except with the city itself.
Later, when I go into the coffeehouse to get a second iced chai latte, I leave my laptop out on the table as an act of faith in public life -- and when I return, it's still there, so I think, "All's well that begins well."
Surely, I'm getting the idea. In fact, why not this table, every Wednesday for a time, from say eleven to one? They won't miss me at the office, and I'll ask my friends to drop by, as people do in more civilized nations. I won't be hard to find: The Urban Man will be the guy wearing the gray fedora and trying hard to lounge just the right way.
Copyright -- 2006 Marc Porter Zasada
Click the Full Details link to view the complete transcript. Tapes are not available.
Engage & Discuss
BROUGHT TO YOU BY