It was already dark when I emerged from the depths of my office building, and the wind was sporting a cruel edge. With no plans for the evening, and having grown weary of my bare room, I decided to stop by the Tea Lounge again, and give it a second shot. The odds were against a second saturnalia of discordant sound; as I stood in the subway car, swaying back and forth as we rocketed through the chthonic gloom, I thought of the couches and cushions and soft lighting and drinks and that decided my mind.
Arriving, I was glad to hear Bob Dylan over the speakers, audible over the murmurings and laughter of the many people ensconced and gathered here and there about tables, in the depths of armchairs, sitting at the bar. I dumped my bag and coat in a well lit corner of a couch, and ordered myself a pot of Earl Gray Blue. Ah! Delightful to sink into the cushions, to pour myself a steaming cup of tea, and to crack open my morbid account of the Great Influenza.
I must have sat there for some three and a half hours. During that time, I had ample opportunity to observe the people about me. This was a quintessential tea house; the crowd was young, hip, and most everybody was drinking coffee. The Tea Lounge has free wireless, and as a result about 80% of the people there were on their laptops. They didn’t seem to be writing, not in the ongoing, oblivious to the world sense, but rather checking things, scrolling, clicking, peering up and around them like lemmings come up for fresh air before diving back down.
Once, at Starbucks, I sat down and wrote a short story. It all came out in a roaring rush, and I just typed and drank coffee for a couple of hours. At one point a barristas came over and asked me what I was doing. I looked up in surprise. Writing, I explained, writing a short story. Isn’t that what people do in coffee shops, I asked? No, she replied, not really. They check the news, write email, do homework. During the year she’d worked there she couldn’t remember seeing anybody simply writing away like that.
Nor read, apparently. At the Tea Lounge, other that the people who were studying or mucking about on their laptops, I was one of the few who was actually engrossed in a book. I’ve heard the old maxim, that real writers don’t write in coffee/tea houses, that they do so in a quiet place with no distractions, where there’s a door they can close and keep the world away while they plumb the depths of their imagination, but still, I would have expected more readers. The couches there are great! Instead, people would come, sit for about 45 minutes, and then, as if uneasy or restless, rise and go. The tea house was a quasi-social venue, one in which people uneasily waited for either conversation to spark up or friends to arrive, and if either failed, departed.
I must have drunk about five cups of tea, ate a salmon quiche, and read about 280 pages of my book. It was great. I’ll be heading back, though my quaint belief in coffee house writers and readers has been violently detonated.