It was touch and go the last few weeks of summer in Madison for me. Madison Coffee and Tea closed down for a re-model and a re-boot. As excited as I was about the changes, it wasn’t easy being deprived of my window work spot for weeks at a time.
It’s hard for an established business to decide to give itself a makeover. First, there’s the investment it takes and the money lost while the place is closed down. Then there’s the risk of losing loyal customers; it’s hard to please everyone when you make a change. I applaud MC&T for being brave enough to take that plunge.
As you can see from the pictures, the interior looks amazing. I love the new wooden counters in the windows and the stools. Exposing the beams in the ceiling and painting everything white gives the space a nice open feel.
Then there’s the cappuccinos, produced by a new espresso machine imported all the way from Italy and as good as you’d get in any big city. Coming soon, they’ll add locally made bagels and sandwich items that insider information tells me will be delicious.
Even before the coffee shop closed for their renovations, I’d been going there a little less frequently than normal. It wasn’t about the coffee shop as much as the new writing space my husband helped me create in our house. Writing Nirvana, as he calls it, is a desk in our bedroom looking out the upstairs window. There’s a comfy chair in the corner and usually cats on the floor (when they’re not walking back and forth across my lap). It’s a good space for writing and as a consequence, I didn’t have as much need for the coffee shop.
Here’s what I forgot over those months, though, hanging out in Writing Nirvana. It’s a quiet space. A good space for writing, but there’s something to be said for getting out of the house. There are distractions in the coffee shop, to be sure. Friends who wander in and out. Conversations to eavesdrop on. The sound of the espresso machine and the entertainment of the action on the street outside. But there’s more to life than uninterrupted writing.
A community is an abstract concept. I don’t know everyone in Madison. Not even in downtown Madison. I can think of myself as connected to them, but that’s a feeling. An ephemeral thing that exists mostly in my own head.
What is it that reinforces that feeling? That keeps it alive? That convinces me that community is something real and not just a pleasant fancy? Places like the coffee shop are where the rubber hits the road when it comes to community, so to speak. They are the interface between imagined community and a real community made up of real people. They are the places where community the ritual of community is enacted. They are the fuel that feeds the fire of community feeling.
So as I’m writing this, I’m back in the coffee shop window, watching to see who comes in every time the door swings open. Catching up with folks. Drinking an excellent cappuccino. Maybe I’m not getting quite as much writing done, but that’s okay.