A cafe that does not offer free wifi is a rarity in these parts — northeastern United States. Yet La Colombe, tucked away with a touch of Euro-snobbery on 19th street, between Sansom and Walnut Streets in Philadelphia is a cafe that is staunchly without wifi. The outsider is easily marked when he asks without reservation, across the small yet spacious room, “What’s the wifi here?” and his question is met with looks of bewilderment laced with a sort of pitying as if to say, “Oh, you poor sap with your wifi dependency. You’re clearly out of your element here. And is that *iced* coffee in your plastic sippy cup?” [internal eye roll — that’s when you look straight at the person but inside you are totally eye rolling.]
The plaid shirt and jeans wearing fellow to my left, also seated at one of La Colombe’s non-tiled table tops, confirms my “Um, I don’t think so” shake-n-nod and we both share a glance into which is built an affirmation that neither of us would ever raise such a question; perhaps wondering also who let this poor bloke in. (See, euro-snobbery latches onto you even if you are perfectly nice in other domains of your life!)*
Plaid Shirt, who like me was texting and presumably emailing or engaging in other communicative practices that one does on a smart phone just minutes earlier, resumed typing into a word document open on his laptop screen, already filled with words. He’s a double-spacer. This stands out to a longtime single-spacer — how can you know what you’ve written when it literally goes off the viewable page? Next to him, a woman with chin-length hair that is almost evenly salt and pepper, stands up as she prepares to leave. Her navy coat goes on atop her navy turtleneck, jeans that are a perfect medium blue held in place with a complementary chestnut belt, and a navy blue scarf that is sheer on one side and has a velveteen leaf pattern on the other.
Most everyone in the cafe is sitting alone at a table for two, along the wall leaving the inside seats empty. Some of us with laptops in front of us, others reading a book — sometimes two at a time — with a notebook where notes are scribbled in between meaningful glances upward, to the right, straight ahead… in search of a word, inspiration, a plan for lunch…
The navy woman was dressed much too warmly for today when the sun is doing more than merely smiling down; it has warmed each molecule of air. I would appreciate the warmth more if the exterior of our house was being painted in this gorgeous weather. Instead, I am awaiting confirmation from the painter so that we can schedule a start date. Today! I want to exclaim. What is the number of phone calls after which eager morphs into nuisance?
Coffee refill: $.50.
I am usually a tea drinker and even in the height of my coffee consumption (these were known as the Cosi-dissertation years when I consumed more shots of espresso in a three year period than most people might or should consume in a lifetime) I was a “fluffy” coffee drinker. My 20 ouncers were only a quarter to a third actual cocoa bean and the rest was sugar-free flavored syrup and steamed milk, but never foam. I loathe foam. But here, in La Colombe where the even the average schlub is in his Monday smarts and spectacles are de rigueur, and writers writing are the plentiful attraction whether in digital or analog form — here, I drink coffee. Oh sure, their lattes are divine and even finished off with that coveted fancy leaf design that is the result of the artful pouring of steamed milk into expectant espresso. But the coffee beckons, served in sizable coffee mugs bearing the same set of designs that adorn many of the small table tops and served most often atop a mis-matched saucer. Before the no-smoking laws went into effect, my lungs and hypersensitive nasal passages wouldn’t allow me entry even as I longed to join the throngs of writers writing, with their shaggily disheveled hair, array of canvas sneakers that might seem ironic in another cafe, and horn-rimmed glasses. Now, seated amongst fellow clickety-clackers and croissant snackers, surrounded by a new collection of paintings that echo the melancholy of the burnt tomato colored walls, I feel a strong desire to sit back and light up.
*Although it is probably self-evident, this post was sent after I left La Colombe and relocated to a wifi-friendly spot. Totally worth it.