I’ve been trying to find a cafe in Philadelphia that can truly become mine. When Zack and I lived in Graduate Hospital, I liked to go to Good Karma on 22nd and Pine to write my columns. The atmosphere was clean and simple, it wasn’t too loud and the lattes were wonderful. I wasn’t in love with the place, but it worked.
After moving across town, I have tried writing in three different coffee shops within a 5 block radius, but only today, at Bodhi on 2nd and Pine have I felt like I could return here with good creative vibes. Philadelphia Java Company on 2nd and Christian was too loud. Between the chatter and the whirring of the smoothie machine and the dogs and the babies and the Michael Jackson playing (crikey), I had to take my laptop outside in the blistering heat to get anything done. At Red Hook on 4th and Fitzwater, the punk rock music blaring from the speakers was jarring, even with headphones on. Cupcakes were in the same case as the paninis (come on, no one wants pesto-enhanced icing) and the A/C was barely in effect. The view from the window seat (my favorite place to sit, in any cafe) was bleak: the empty storefronts of fabric row glared at me from across the street.
So here I sit, at Bodhi, with a glass of peach green iced tea and a container of locally made strawberry yogurt (Williamsport, PA, holla!). The window seat offers me a foot rest and a view of Headhouse. The other customers here are completely silent, and soft ambient music is playing quietly from above. There is a shelf of local goods for sale, and charcoal sketches on the walls.
I’m not sure if knowing that Webster’s Bookstore and Cafe in State College doesn’t exist anymore makes it more or less easy to find my next “place.” When news spread last summer, I was already in Texas and while devastated, I was glad that I wasn’t in Happy Valley to watch it get torn down book by book. Of all the coffee places in State College- Irving’s, Saint’s, both Starbucks, both Dunkin’s, and more- Webster’s was my favorite cafe for many reasons. First, there was the “third place” state of mind. You could expect the same people- students, professors, locals- in Webster’s at most times of the day. You got to know names and faces of people you might never meet in your typical 11-3 college class schedule. Seth, my favorite long-standing barista, always called me by my first name and said hi when we ran into each other downtown. A beautiful girl with a “g” tattooed on her chest whom I always admired would later become one of my closest friends after making me a dozen yemaya melts. During the “Summer of Women,” Webster’s became a sort of unspoken meeting place in the middle of day. Friends would just congregate there, at the benches across the way and on the stoops next door.
Then there was the food and drink. All local, mostly vegan, and expensive as hell. I don’t even want to know how much of parents’ allotted food budget was spent on gourmet grilled cheeses, which were both the perfect hangover cure AND study aid (I ate them a lot). Their baklava rivaled my Greek cousin’s. Their Mexican hot chocolate was perfection.
Sometime during senior year, I was on my way out the 501 door with my laptop and books when Amber asked me, “What do you do when you go to Webster’s?” Was it to be social or was it to get work done? Depends on who was there, I suppose. I knew Dyanna from Webster’s before I even knew her name, and I don’t think that’s unusual for the typical cafe crowd. But yeah- more work was done at Webster’s than any floor of the library or at my desk, that’s for sure. The crowd, though some called it “hipstery” and “unwelcoming” (which I never understood, as I am not a hipster and consider myself to be very welcoming) encouraged creativity without ever saying a word. I worked on all of my writing there (most of it at the window seat, occasionally looking up to watch the pedestrians on Allen Street) throughout all four years of my undergraduate life.
Sure, the fluorescent lighting was less than superb, every once in awhile someone would “forget” about my breakfast sandwich order and sometimes the place smelled a little musty, like old books (duh) and dirty dishes, but Webster’s served a purpose unlike any other establishment in the most central of downtown State College locations. Even if it wasn’t actually, it felt like the center of Centre County. I attended club meetings there, and professor’s office hours, too. Zack and I had our first “coffee date” at one of the two-seaters that sat against the wall of the cafe in September of 2007. We routinely did our homework together amongst the sci-fi section in the back.
I miss Webster’s.
It’s 3:40 pm, and Bodhi is suddenly bustling. I’m going to give up my window seat and let someone else enjoy the view.