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Coffee Shops in Downtown Chicago

April 9, 2012

The first title to this post was, Formal Season.  It was because I tried to use this phrase while dress buying in the Midwest.  I suppose there were two reasons for the retail assistant’s confusion:

1) Apparently, formal season isn’t a thing, and it is something I must have made up.

2) I had just told her I went to Davidson College, she had deduced that it must be an online institution. How do you arrange a formal, and find a date when you are attending an online institution? Well, I can’t really shed light on that because Davidson College could not be farther from being online. We don’t even provide our students with adequate IT services.

I am in Downtown Chicago for the weekend to spend time with my family over easter, and of course the internet is broken.  Not only do I not attend an online school, but apparently I don’t live in an online accessible apartment building either.  So I have happily situated myself in a Starbucks close by in order to blog.

At first, I didn’t really have any idea what I would be blogging about. A part of me really wanted to write something semi serious to tag off the campus buzz Alexa’s post generated.  Another part of me really wanted to write about formal season. I decided, however, that the formal season theme might be slightly cynical, or might make me look like one of those people on Pinterest who obsessively pin wedding photos when they have no plans for a wedding.  In so many words, an upperclassman girl.

I might come back to that, but for now, I am inspired by the Chicago’s entertaining coffee shop culture.

Right now there is this homeless dude absolutely passed out and snoring like a train engine in an armchair by the fireplace.  In any other situation, he might be aroused, asked to leave, maybe told not to come back.  But in Chicago, the hipster sitting next to him is currently adjusting his beanie cap and playing on his iphone like this man doesn’t even exist.

I am sitting at the new “community table” at Starbucks.  It is designed to seat about seven strangers who will do whatever it is they need to do at a coffee shop together at this table.  This is the reality: it is a whole lot more space for two people to sit at opposite sides of the table and pretend the other does not exist.  This dude has a stack of motivational books next to him and he looks to be doing math problems.  I would say he is an econ major, but he is definitely middle aged.

At the window, two women are having a joint therapy session with each other.  Girl we have all been there.

So it is a pretty diverse group that I have the pleasure to be in the company of.

Just to keep you up to date, the homeless man has just shown a sign of life: a big nose pick.

Coffee shops, since their rise in popularity in Enlightenment France have always served the unique purpose of bringing intellectuals together to discuss politics, new ideas, and in many ways artistic expression.  Sure, in a city you are going to find aspects of coffee shop culture degradation (ala the homeless man.) But some creative consulting agencies (such as chicago based Doejo) Are actually looking for their next big hire at these coffee shops.  Coffee shops get this rep for either being super corporate, or super left wing politically. Maybe it is the alt music, the fair trade coffee options or beat poets affinity for espresso, but most coffee shops love towing the liberal line. Sometimes, to a hard line fiscal conservative, it is kind of nice.  I go through life constantly scrutinizing the idealist, fluffy, granola liberal lifestyle.  But I walk into one of these coffee shops, greeted by the sound of Joshua Radin,  and a dude in one of those south american ponchos frothing my chai tea and I think, this could be the life. 

Which is why I wonder, are the people who camp out in coffee shops with the bongo drums and a dark roast pissed about the amount of entrepreneurs milling around with capitalist ideas in coffee shops?  More and more, coffee shops are becoming a central location for entrepreneurs to meet with one another and work on new ideas.  The Coffee Shop is becoming the 21st century version of its french enlightenment former self. And I kind of like that vibe better than the crunchy one.  This way, I don’t worry about the stray piece of wheatgrass finding its way into my dirty chai latte.

The homeless people are really cramping my vibe though.  Apparently 6:30 is the hour where they hold court here. And I don’t want to sound ugly, but its pretty warm outside…..

I have about one month of school before I am back here spending the summer interning and working downtown.  The scary thing is, I have started to realize that I need to look at these interning opportunities as potential entry level job opportunities.  Could it be that 1 year from now I will be a single twenty something working in downtown Chicago?

Im thinking 60-40 Chicago or Shanghai.  But a lot happens in a year.

If I am homeless I know I will be welcome in this coffee shop.


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