A Power Outage
Connecticut was hit very hard by hurricane Irene. As I write this there are still half a million people without power and in an area like mine — a lot of homes have well water and no gas source — you may not have water, a working stove – or flushing toilets for that matter. We have an abundance of trees and outside of my small town’s downtown area most of the power, phone, and cable lines are overhead making us especially vulnerable in any major wind, snow, or rain event. We have no mass transit other than a Metro North spur line – which is still down for the count. In other words, it can feel like you’re disconnected from the world and functioning within your own little sphere. Your lifelines become food, water, and your iphone or blackberry (if you can find a place to plug in your charger).
Coffee Shops Act As The Town’s “Water Cooler” And General Store
In my town of 20,000 we do have a Starbucks, a Dunkin’ Donuts and a handful of other coffee shops – and they have become the office water cooler, the town general store, the coffee klatch of times gone by, and the source of an electrical outlet and wifi. Downtown has power so the coffee shops have power.
Thank goodness the post hurricane weather has been phenomenal. So, what do you do – you get into your car where you can listen to the radio desperately hoping for an estimate for power restoration (which you don’t get) and go hang out in town at – where else – the coffee shops, or sidewalk benches, or restaurants (especially those with outdoor seating).
By far, the most popular places are the coffee shops. Yes, the caffeine is a drawing card – but so is the conversation and sharing of war stories while you wait in the line that extends out the door onto the street. Unshaven men and women without a stitch of make-up smile and converse. Kids beg for donuts (and in most cases get them ‘cause their isn’t a whole lot of produce to be had — and who could wash it and/or cook it, anyway).
The Golden Ticket
Our local Starbucks must be breaking all sales records. It has the golden ticket. Aside from coffee and bathrooms, it has outdoor space with tables, a lot of seating on chairs and retaining walls, and a major bonus: wifi and for those in the know – outdoor electrical outlets built into the retaining walls. It is so crowded that you have to launch yourself in the direction of an empty space when someone vacates.
The amazing thing is that everyone is friendly and cooperative. Tables are shared. The Starbucks staff, overworked, has been as friendly as ever. The coffee is flowing – but most importantly, the place itself has reverted to the general store of old – the downtown center – the water cooler in the office. It is the place to share stories, to connect with humanity, to speculate, to rage at the power company and the cable provider. It is the place to recharge your mind and to recharge – literally – your cellphone, iPad, and laptop!
So, for those in many towns and cities who sometimes protest the proliferation of coffee shops, or bodegas, or local bars or restaurants – think about what they offer. It’s not only food and drink but the humanity and kinship that goes along with it – not only during crises but when you stop in everyday for your morning coffee – or your Sunday breakfast at the diner – or your burger and beer to watch the game. For many of us, these places become part of out social structure – something that is heightened during times like power outages or critical events.
Time To Post
It’s time to get into my car, turn on the radio, drive into town hoping to spot a utility truck working on downed wires, go to Starbucks to get a cup of coffee and an update on power restoration (opinion, true or not), and stake a claim to a perch outside where I can grab on internet connection and post this online.