Uncontained Rants...

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

a treasure in the rough

Given our über-busy culture and often-violent world, sanctuary can feel like a faraway notion. Yet, taking the time to reflect on what is important to you is crucial, so that you can envision, articulate and then help create the kind of world you want. And even if you’re not the reflective type, having that time and space to “get away and re-group” works wonders for the soul. As many of you know, my safe haven can most often be found where espresso beans and run-down furniture abounds, so I’m delighted to share my new favorite coffeehouse.

Nestled among the tree-lined streets of Long Beach’s boho “arts district” is Portfolio Coffeehouse, a spacious coffee dwelling which also serves as an art space for locals. I arrive on a cool crisp evening, my over-sized bag stocked with my goods—journal, pen and my latest read, The Life of Pi. If there ever was a “dog park” for personal computers and their owners, this would most definitely be the place. The soft glow of laptops help to create individual shrines to technology at every well-worn table. After-hours in the salon next door produce images of models in faux fashion and high end glamour flickering endlessly on flat screens hanging from the ceilings. Its eerie emptiness under the sterile glare of track lighting stands in stark contrast to the warm glow of lamps and candles in the coffeehouse.

Stepping through Portfolio's doors, I breathe a sigh of relief as the tension slips readily from my shoulders. Something about the thick heady scent of roasted beans in this coffee haven is comforting, settling my mind and soul. Walking up to the counter, I exhange pleasantries with the barista, who looks a bit weary, but always hands me a soy latte with a smile. As I slowly pass tables littered with books and papers, I think back to the many pained hours I've spent hunched over a class reader while nursing mugs of herbal tea. Looking at this quasi-library for the local college and professional set, I’m reminded of a friend’s bewildered expression in Vietnam, witnessing our conversion of a table at a local coffee shop into a chaotic array of papers and notes. I guess in some countries, people go to coffee shops to…well, drink coffee. Strangers glance over their laptops and books as I pass by, some more protective of their space than others. Outside on the patio, patrons relax, slumped comfortably in their seats, watching the passing traffic and exchanging anecdotes with passing pedestrians. Further down, the chess players huddle around a string of tables, looking more like beat poets and beer guzzlers then board game aficionados (I later find out this is the local AA watering hole). I follow a guitar solo into the next room and am instantly swallowed by the sounds of the jazz band, each musician lost in his own world, blissfully at the mercy of his respective instrument. As I sink into a nearby couch, it seems to engulf me entirely, my legs lifting off the ground as I’m devoured by its velvet cushions. I glance around curiously at the nearby patrons. A handsome bookworm sits hunched over a manuscript with his back to the band, seemingly oblivious to the cacophony of sound behind him, yet applauding passionately at the end of each song. As he turns back to his work, I watch his fingers tap briskly and without error over the keys and am reminded of that friend who has a thing for “jazz hands”. A woman seated next to me stares blankly at the blinking cursor on her screen, her thoughts obviously elsewhere, perhaps silently musing on life and love. A couple seated in the corner whispers intimately to one another while a mysterious gentleman throws curious looks my way. I smile politely but avert my eyes quickly, as glances which linger a second too long often solicit unwanted introductions. The middle of the room seats a group of men, gathered around a cadre of mugs and bottles, trading viewpoints and sound bites regarding local politics and business, not to mention the latest celebrity gossip. (“Did you see Tom Cruise on Oprah?”) I close my eyes for a second and take a deep breathe…

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