“Along the way I stopped into a coffee shop. All around me normal, everyday city types were going about their normal, everyday affairs. Lovers were whispering to each other, businessmen were poring over spread sheets, college kids were planning their next ski trip and discussing the new Police album. We could have been in any city .... In spite of which—or, rather, all the more because—here I was, sitting in this coffee shop, drinking my coffee, feeling a desperate loneliness. I alone was the outsider ... Of course, by the same token ... I had never felt this loneliness there. I could drink my coffee, read my book, pass the time of day without any special thought, all because I was part of the regular scenery. Here I had no ties to anyone. I'd come to reclaim myself.” ―Haruki Murakami, Dance, Dance, Dance
Perhaps the thing I loved most about New York in the days when I was loneliest were the coffee shops. In my twenties, before I met my husband, before we had children, my salvation was being able to go into a simple diner and order a cup of bitter black coffee, the kind you don't try to dress up with cream and sugar, but drink it straight, like medicine. The server would keep refilling that cup for as long as you sat there, watching people come and go, locking eyes with the other ones who sat as long as you, who maybe also had nowhere to go that wasn't screamingly empty, and so you sat hunched over a notebook or novel, chipped cup of coffee cradled in your hand, connecting you to the pulse of the town. Coffee shops are much fancier affairs these days, artfully old world in decor, with pressed tin ceilings and wood-framed glass cases, marble counters and chalked menus on blackboard, and sweet things concocted in expensive ovens. But there are still those who sit for endless stretches of time, knowing no one will rush them. They still keep each other company, lost in books or magazines or laptops at their random tables. Mostly, they appear to ignore each other. Occasionally, though, they look around and meet each other's eyes with a quiet knowing, almost a welcome; it says, You are not alone and neither am I. Here we are.