Percolating With A Passion

MiMi Yeh

It’s hard to want to study after spending a long day on this icy wind-blown chunk of sunken rock we call UMass Boston. It’s true that there is a library. Rumor has it there even used to be a place called “Ryan Lounge” and that students would go there to relax, occasionally sleeping. Like love and romance, that little myth went the way of the dinosaurs once construction was done.

When the day is complete, who really wants to spend any more time here than they have to? As a full time student, I know I’m clamoring to see something other than the concrete blocks that litter this campus. Knowing at some point in the course of my day that I’m going to end up walking through the lower level McCormack Garage smelling the sewage-scented, dead air doesn’t really draw me to UMB for my leisure time. If anything, I’m almost tripping over my own racing feet as I hope that I’m able to hold my breath until I get to the bus stop.

Yet, there is a little ray of hope and it shines down over my favorite coffee shop. Hard to believe that one could complete so much reading in the noisy, smoky atmosphere created when the top floor of smoking-permissive Café Algiers fills up. Give anyone enough caffeine and you wouldn’t be surprised at what they can accomplish.

As I went through my desk recently, I found a patch I’d picked up from some random event but had never sewn on. It remains my favorite with its pithy little “Starbucks girl” in the center of the circular monogram and the slogan “Get the f*ck out of my neighborhood.” That about sums up my opinion of the corporate coffee that food retailers are trying to shove down my throat.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s not that I don’t appreciate the mass-produced art masquerading as “homegrown” or the yuppies incapable of the multitasking capacity that yapping on their cell phone and ordering coffee requires. What I do resent, however, is paying $5 for the burnt beans that gave their little lives for my four-ounce double espresso. I resent having saucer-sized tables and uncomfortable chairs to sit in at a place that has all the warmth of a mortuary. This is not a sit-down atmosphere. The tow sign will never be mistaken for a welcome mat. Instead, the implication here is chew then screw. Eat your food standing up and then get out so someone more worthy than you can use that space. Time is money.

I miss the days of places like Curious Liquids. It was a place near and dear to my heart with its refurbished bar and a basement straight out of the “Cask of Amontillado,” although so far as I know there were no people inside the walls. Little alcoves were crammed with huge chairs exploding with stuffing. It was the sort of place you could sit for a couple of hours and relax with a book, one of your own or one of the many odds ‘n’ ends that graced the shelves of the downstairs bookcase. Unfortunately, the owner of the building decided its status as a neighbor to the steps of the State House made it a prime location and raised the rent several times, driving Curious Liquids out of business. It stands empty still.

Thankfully, there are a few places on the outer edges of society that have not yet succumbed to the plague of indiscriminate consumerism. Central Square’s 1369 CoffeeHouse is one such locale. It offers the usual score of pastries and flavored coffees but still fosters the lingering and loitering that commercial America despises as bad for business. Whether it’s information on open mics and poetry slams or a warm place with reasonably priced coffee, this is a good place to stop and rest for a few minutes. Some of these under-noticed niches also provide board games and books to their patrons if you know enough to ask.

Places such as these help to create a feeling of community. Take Trident Booksellers. Granted, the food is overpriced, but the location doesn’t have the false ambience that most of Newbury Street has. A coffee and bookstore combo, it has survived for over 20 years despite being at what was once considered the “undesirable” end of Newbury Street. On the walls are the works of local artists, providing a venue where work may be viewed at leisure outside a gallery or a museum. This also gives the struggling artist another outlet through which to sell their work while giving the place an interesting, ever-changing décor that seems somewhat more personal than the stock murals that haunt Starbucks and Au Bon Pain.

These days, the only places that brag about the near-extinct bottomless cup of coffee are Denny’s or Bickford’s and, while they are suitable for breakfast or the ever-popular, post bar-hopping meal your average twenty-something Bostonian has after 3am, there’s something special about these little caffeine oases that struggle and manage to maintain their individual identities. Dunkin’ Donuts is good for the hurried, harried human being but for flavors to savor, try visiting your local non-alcoholic watering hole.