here in the Atomic
Cafe in Beverly, Massachusetts, a town North of Boston.
It's nearly five o'clock in the evening the day before New Year's
Eve. Outside the trees that line the street are lit with white fairy
lights and though it's not yet dark, it's not light either.
Cafe is a uniquely decorated little coffeehouse frequented
by local college students, moppy-haired book readers and people
who wear hats that somehow look cool on them but would not look
out of place upon the head of a little old lady. It's a place where
the aroma of coffee mingles in the air with the driftwood of quiet
conversations drowned out by the noise of cappuccino makers and
music by artists you may never have heard of.
My friend Karen and I stand and briefly survey the menu.
"Hey does that have AirPort?" asks the guy behind the
counter as he points at my laptop.
"Well hey, we've got an access point here, you could test it out.
You'd be the first person to do so in fact. Some guy saw it on some
thing, so I guess it must work. I don't really know too much about
it though," he said vaguely.
As he speaks, my PowerBook makes its usual little sound to alert
me to the fact it has indeed logged into the AOL instant messenger
network. A few thousand miles away a couple of my friends' computers
announce, "Simon is now available." Sure enough, I now
have wireless internet access.
Karen and I sit by the window and watch the world go by while we
take occasional sips of our drinks and eat our overpacked sandwiches,
replenishment after what seems like an age spent at the North Shore
Mall. Like all such shopping meccas it was bursting with wannabe
clones of manufactured teen idols and people on post-Christmas shopping
missions hell bent on finding whatever it was that Santa didn't
I am not a shopping mall kind of person and I wouldn't imagine
many of the folk who come here are, either. If they were then they
may very well be Abercrombie
and Fitch type peopleif they could afford it, but
who can? That shop is so over-priced. It seems like a lot of money
to look slightly disheveled, but then I suppose it's an expensive
disheveled look. Actually, when I think about it, it isn't very
Cafe' at all; probably more Starbucks
I take another sip from my coffee mug that may well have been kissed
more times than the Blarney
Stone. The music changes and outside street lights now
illuminate the traffic on Cabot Street. Only a few people walk by,
but those who do can't help but glance in through the coffeehouse
Karen steps outside to get something from the car and inadvertently
locks the keys in the trunk. She's pretty annoyed at this and ordinarily
I would be too, but it's no big deal. Our friend Anne lives nearby
and she'll be able to call AAA.
A lady in a bright yellow coat with a blue hat that looks like
a crime against fashion approaches the Cafe on the sidewalk. She
appears to be caught up in conversation with her conscience or something
and is clearly unaware that I am looking at her. She walks in quick
little steps that give her the air of being busy and wrapped up
in her own world. I'm betting she is not a coffeehouse person.
She looks like the kind of person who avoids anything other than
the most essential interaction. She passes and makes no attempt
to even take a cursory glance at life in the Cafe or watch her reflection
walk with her for a moment. One of the many Eleanor
Rigbys of this world perhaps?
I wish we had places like this in England. One of my more obscure
aspirations in life is to open a coffeehouse called PoshCoffee.
We'd have special days like Mocha Monday, all Mochas half price,
acoustic Tuesdays where people could bring instruments in and jam
with others, and even though I have no love for poetry we'd have
to have poetry nights from time to time. There would be books aplenty
that would be exchanged and borrowed on the honor system. The place
would be drenched in words, be that in print, conversation or song.
Like I said, it's an obscure aspiration.
Karen returns with Anne. They come in and bring with them a few
wafts of cold winter air that dance around me before disappearing
to wherever it is cold air goes. They inform me that AAA is on the
way and will be here shortly, and it's clear that Karen is still
irritated by her mistake. The muddled moment unfolds in front of
me as they unwittingly rephrase one another's sentences, talking
to themselves but directing their remarks to each other.
I offer to buy a round of drinks for us. I wonder, is that a coffeehouse thing or an English pub thing? I mean, I can't recall ever
having been involved in buying a round of coffees before, so perhaps
it's not a coffeehouse thing. I offer anyhow.
"Are you paying?" Anne's quizzical tone confirms that
the 'rounds' idea is indeed foreign.
"Yeah, What d'ya want?"
"I'll have a small butterscotch steamer please," she says as the
momentary melee they created settles like fading rings on the surface
of a pond.
I walk up to the counter, sit on one of the stalls, and order our
drinks from a guy wearing a knitted hat. A couple of places down
from me a guy still sits there working on his laptop drinking his
coffee at what I earlier noticed to be an impossibly slow rate.
Four gulps and I can polish off a cup of hot tea, but Americans
can make a coffee last half an hour with ease.
AAA arrive in a brightly colored tow truck complete with bright
yellow flashing lights. The guy looks like he could be in a grunge
band when he isn't towing cars and legally breaking into them in
order to rescue people who have locked their keys in the trunk.
Getting into the car took him all of a few moments without so much
as a murmur of displeasure from the car's alarm, something that
should perhaps concern owners of Chevy Malibus?
Karen and Anne come back in and take their coats off once more
as the AAA truck turns off it's flashing lights and moves onto the
next distressed motorist. Karen apologetically explains that she
somehow makes a habit of locking herself out of cars. The two of
them sit down and talk to each other again, I look over at them
and hear words but make no effort to understand the sentences. It
was a drama that I was detached from and I don't feel the need to
jump on it's coat tails.
It's dark outside now. It looks the kind of evening where you'd
pull up your coat collar and hurry home, but it's not that cold.
It could be winter wandering weather, and with stores still dressed
for the holidays perhaps it's a good time to catch up on some window
shopping, making mental notes you're sure to forget.
Karen and Anne sit across from me planning our New
Year's Eve that we're spending in Boston. We'll be making
the most of the city's special 'First
Night' events that will be going on throughout the day
and night, climaxing in a spectacular firework display to salute
the arrival of 2004. I'm not much of a planner. I tend to find my
way through these things much as a motorcycle weaves its way through
One day I'd like to chase the New Year around the world, repeatedly
turning back the hour on my watch as I cross different times zones
returning to the year that has just past. I suppose before I do
that I should probably learn the words the "Auld
Lang Syne". Then again, when the time comes to sing
it, no one really cares about the words anyway!
Karen and Anne leave to get some gas for the car. I'll have to
walk back to Anne's house in a while, so it looks like I'll get
a chance to catch up on my window shopping after all. The music
changes again, and once more I can't say that I have heard this
artist before now.
I like the Atomic
Cafe. It has a very laid-back ambiance. PoshCoffee
would be a mixture of this place and coffehouse called the Java
Café that I used to frequent back in California, the place
where I borrowed the idea for Mocha Monday. The fact I can sit here,
sip a butterscotch steamer and write a meanwhile while wirelessly
connected to the internet is just cool. It's a mixture of geek coolness
and arty coolness I think.
Well, it's getting late and my laptop only has a little battery
power left. I suppose I should take that as my cue and make my way
back to Anne's house to join the others. We're having salad for
dinner. It doesn't look to me like a salad day, but still.