A Clean, Well-Lighted Place (posted appreciatively by Jim Jennings)

In a roundabout way, but while still a high-school kid, I discovered “Beat” writers. You probably already assume that Kerouac struck a chord in me—as he did with several million of my cohort—that resonates to this day.

Among the settings in my imagined version of those 1950s New York days is something called the Automat. As I understand it (correction is invited) the Automat was an innovation in what we would now call “fast food.” Sandwiches and other prepared items were placed in refrigerated glass-fronted boxes that the customer could open after depositing coins. The cost of a server or cashier was eliminated.

The Automat could be open long hours. The ambiance would necessarily lean toward some sort of austere minimalism. Therein lies the appeal. A large room with rows of plain tables and a certain institutional blandness is very attractive to an imaginative introvert like this one. It is a blank canvas.

We would expect an art museum to have plain, off-white walls, the better to display its works. Along similar lines, the Automat would offer an appealingly empty stage on which the prototypical hipsters could meet to tell their stories and scribble their mad notes.

This comes to my caffeinated mind this morning as I sit in this corporate coffee (bagel) shop, thankful that the murmuring chatter almost drowns the canned pop music. There are nearby alternatives that I’ll explore someday, but my hunch is that this imperfect place is about right for my purposes.

Those alternatives are (I’m basing this on their names, their advertising and the view through their plate-glass windows) thoughtfully designed to jibe with a certain perspective on the world. Organic fair-trade coffee, herb tea, vegan pastries, servers with multiple metallic piercings and elaborate tattoos—you can embellish as you wish, but be sure to include that odd musty smell that such places invariably feature.

Yeah, I get it that they’re not “corporate.” But…whatever else I am, I’m also all grown up. I no longer wear a fake racoon-pelt hat and pretend to be Davy Crockett. I accept that I’m an aging adult with a tiny pension who wants a cup of simple coffee and a table by the window. I don’t require a contrived playhouse to pretend that something else is going on. I want a blank slate.

I’ll take it from here, thank you very much…

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