Tuesday, February 02, 2010

A long love letter, in some fashion, to one of my favorite places in Knoxville

I used to work at the Panera in Bearden. There, I climbed the corporate ladder from washing dishes to (wo)manning the cash register. To most, this kind of promotion would seem desirable. For me, it was an adjustment, as I am slightly uneasy around people I don't know well.

It's sad, but my biggest source of social anxiety while working there came from seeing the same people over and over again, what you would call regulars. I'm bad with small talk, therefore when given two minutes to speak to someone on a regular basis that I don't know at all, well, let's just say it's not my cup of tea.

When I'd ask any one of them, "What side item would you like?" I was really thinking, "Why are you here all of the time? What goes on with you when you leave this place?" (and, "I hope you know how foolish I feel in this flare-encrusted Panera hat.")

I have a sister who worked at Starbucks for a while. She used to talk about how Starbucks aspires to be people's "third place," their first being home and their second being work. The "third place" functions to take one away from the stresses of the first and second place.

This idea has always intrigued me, being a regular or making some random place your home away from home. I was never able to imagine having a place like that, or even more so, needing a place like that.


Last Saturday, early in the evening, I was bored staying inside due to the slush on the ground, so I went down to Old City Java. I expected the place to be fairly empty, but when I walked in, the line almost reached the front door and patrons filled the seats. I decided to walk into the second room to find a seat while the line died down.

I saw a friend who pulled out his earphones and invited me to sit with him. We talked for a while, one of those unexpected conversations that flows smoothly and provides unforeseen encouragement.

I took in my surroundings as we talked: a boy with a guitar on the couch behind me, playing softly for a few minutes, across from our table, a smartly dressed couple sitting with a girl whose religious affiliation requires her to wear a head covering, a couple of cool looking dudes in the window playing backgammon, and on the other side of us, five or six attractive Spanish speaking students, having a discussion that, to me, sounded pretty intelligent.

I finally went back to the counter to find the guy working delicately make a leaf out of latte foam. I ordered a cafe au lait and he went on about what that meant and names of other drinks that are in different languages. I was happy for him to enthusiastically carry the conversation, as I nodded up and down in return.

I went back to my table where my friend had his earphones back in, reading his book. I pulled out my sketchbooks and accomplished more in 30 minutes than I could in a few days at home.

I finished my coffee with milk and gathered up my things. On my way out the door, another Java employee who was not currently working called me by name and wished me a good night.

As I walked to my car while evening set in, it dawned on me. It was the fourth time I had been to Java that week.

I may not be as regular as a regular, but I think I found my third place.

photo from Java's Facebook page

Old City Java
109 S. Central Ave.
Knoxville, TN, 37902


Robert said...

a truer post this could not be. thanks B for calling out what so many Knoxvillians have felt forever.

Anonymous said...

This is really sweet, B. Back when I didn't have internet at home and Scott was on the road, I used to go to Java every Saturday and Sunday for a while.

No offense to the Pol, but Starbucks is far too sterile to be a true Third Place. Java certainly does a better job.

Unknown said...

I can never remember if his name is Joel or Noel (I think it's Noel), but I would bet dollars to donuts that he was the leaf-maker and coffee-discusser. Ask him about his tattoos sometime.

Patrick Beeson said...

Thanks for sharing your experience!

I'm proud to call OCJ my "third place" as well.

And as Joe mentioned, the latte-art guy was undoubtedly Noel. :)

ck said...

B, you are the best writer on this blog.

Java has been a comforting constant of urban Knoxville for me for the 12 years I've been here. "Third places" are so much more important than most people think. Unfortunately, my third place is shuttered up- Hint: it was across the street from Java. Le sigh.

jerkson said...

Java is my second place. I was there on this busy ice covered Saturday when the rest of town had shut down. Noel once drew me a free-hand skull into my latte.

Anonymous said...

Hey-you forgot to mention the cool art on the walls!!!!

max said...

shout out to Nathanna (local design duo) who designed the new Java theme / card you see in that photo right yonder. www.nathanna.com

Unknown said...

I think Java is a modern good example of a third place that most people seem to go. Local coffee shops and even pubs seem to have had that feeling for centuries. They seem to be a true community center. :) As examples, I go to TV Shows. Fraiser, Friends, and How I met you Mother, all have one thing in common. They mostly only show the three places your talking about, Home, Work, and coffee shop/ pub. :) This was a great blog, thank you.

Wax S. said...

Nice, Max, we were talking about that just the other day. I thought it was Robin Easter. Thanks for the info.

max said...

Wax, they've designed a few you may have seen already. Here is a link to some of their work: http://www.nathanna.com/h/work.html

And here is a link to a little Wigshop post we wrote about them a few months ago: http://www.wigsphere.com/2009/06/my-kind-of-people.html