The Third Place

Fri, 12/16/2016 - 9:45am

Over in Newport one night I was sitting in a comfy chair in Starbucks, reading and sipping, ahem, a libation. It was a standard issue large black coffee, just like the gods made it—why trifle with success. Several years ago, this was a nightly drill when I stayed on my sailboat while working for the ferry company during the summer run. (That’s when the M/V Nelseco ran out of Fort Adams.) I wasn’t interested in the coffee; too many choices. It was all about the comfy chair— I love the comfy chair— and my book. Plus, it was a fun people watching place and I could also charge my flip phone. The guy who got Starbucks rolling wanted to create a Third Place. You would not be at home or work. This place would be something experientially different—a Third Place.

In a nutshell, a Third Place is: low key, a home away from home, a neutral ground, a place for conversation, a familiar place (we see the same folks and maybe meet new ones), and it’s a welcoming place. Think of the old television show, “Cheers” or simply the idea of a community living room and you get the general idea. Better still, think of a Coffee Klatch with roiling, and bubbling gossip—because inquiring minds want to know, stuff—and you have the essence of a Third Place. I went walkabout one day in New York City, and ended up aimlessly strolling around Greenwich Village. There were Third Places all over that part of town. For example, there were studious guys at a spot at Washington Square playing chess, chatting, sipping, and smoking. There were lots of things going on in the heads of these guys — not just chess. Later, I stopped in to a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop, and there were some baby-boomer hip cat types having a serious Klatch. We can all spot a serious Klatch: slow sipping, furrowed brow eye drama, and forced whispers; conversely, we can also spot a Klatch rife with chortles, guffaws, and giggles.  A New Yorker I know told me that the city had loads of places like this. Then, something happened, and the city got Starbucked — heavily — and the company became too hip for its own britches; some had to close — a belt tightening of sorts. Most importantly, I saw fewer comfy chairs and longer lines of hip cats ordering tragically cool coffee drinks. This is not my idea of a — Third Place. It was more of a scoot in and scoot out kind of thing. Just sayin’.                 

I have developed a very high standard for a Third Place. The comfy chair is a must. If there is no comfy chair, then that clambake gets blown on the quick. As stated earlier the coffee really is a non-issue. (I drink Folgers instant at home. I make the bride her tea, then I pour hot water into a cup. Bingo. Done.) Most importantly, my Third Place must have good food — if the bride’s travelling I forage around town — I don’t cook, ever. In my quest for a functional Third Place I’ve found a couple of reliable stand-bys. I’ve found that Panera is a suitable place: great comfy chairs, lighting, and grub. Plus, I can write and read in relative peace — no barking dogs or singing bride. Win, Win! Moreover, I usually run into a fellow geezer to yak with about something of no consequence–no heavy lifting. Barnes and Noble over in Newport has a good setup. I love scoping out books; however, they’re pretty scant on the comfy chairs. One must be judicious and vigilant seeking out a Third Place. Ahem, we must adhere to certain standards.  

Java Madness in Wakefield is a great Third Place; it has a great location, comfy chairs, good food, coffee, and entertainment. If we look around, and pay attention we’ll find these places right under our noses—wherever we live—because they are necessary for people to socialize, integrate and engage. In Paris back in the 1800s, there were these guys called Flaneurs. These guys were basically idlers and loafers. They’d stroll around aimlessly in the “City of Light,” and then maybe find a café or saloon — a Third Place — to hang out and discuss things germane to their world. What these guys also did while they were idling away in Paris was pay attention to what was happening in their milieu. Perhaps some Flaneur noted how the Louvre evolved from a 12th Century fortress into a museum—stuff like that. Some of these guys sketched or wrote down what they saw, and the term Flaneur morphed in to an artistic and literary context. They were witnesses to their surroundings. They were also known as Boulevardiers. Between their collective strolling and idling, these guys needed a Third Place to sit down and compare notes before they strolled home.

Bowling alleys, bars, poolhalls, barber shops, and concerts, are examples of a Third Place. For example, I met my wife while hanging in a bowling alley when I was a teenager. And, I got all fetched up in myriad shenanigans in bars and pool halls when I was a young, out and about kind of guy, and had way too much time on my hands. (‘Nuff said about that.) All the aforementioned contained the elements of a Third Place. I know, right now I got you thinking about your favorite Third Place. I know that some of you will stop by my car shack and inform this scribbler of your Third Place, and please feel free, as this inquiring mind wants to knowFinally, my favorite Third Place is a hideout in Newport, so standby.

To be continued...