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(Coffee) Shop Talk

Welcome to the shop where I talk about things that go well with coffee, which is almost everything.

It is one of those few times in your life when you really want the light at the end of the tunnel to be the lamp of an oncoming train. For several minutes it is not. You lean on the metal pillar of the platform and stare at the non-train light, thinking about how late you are. The light duplicates itself and half of it moves toward you ever so slowly. It’s so slow, you can’t believe it’s a train. Maybe, you think, it’s really one of those out-of-order trains, or a red trash train coming inexplicably in the middle of the day. As it gets closer it moves faster, a little faster, a little faster than that. When you can read the “6” inside the glowing green diamond, it still seems unbelievably slow. Now the flat gray front charges forward, filling the mouth of the tunnel, moving at a decent speed but still seeming sloggish. Only when it clears the tunnel, clears your point of vision, does it flash by in a blur of strange faces and sheet metal.

Deep down, you know that the train is really slowing down as it approaches. Otherwise it would never make sense, let alone make it to its destination. But it seems to move faster, then to gradually flash by slower until it stops, doors perfectly aligned with those on the platform who have good eyes.

This happens in the tunnels. Fast is slow, left is right, and what you formerly thought of as your sense of direction does nothing but betray you as you exit. Helpful signs say “Broadway and Houston, Northeast corner,” or, “Broadway and Houston, Southeast corner,” to provide direction for those who have already memorized which sign will bring them closer to their destination. North and South mean nothing on the whole island of Manhattan. You go up or down the streets, back or forth across the avenues. Cross-streets replace compasses. The grid is less helpful downtown, in the villages, and in the heights, but no one goes there without a map unless they already know where they’re going. Well, almost no one. Most of the tourist traffic at the intersection of Broadway and Houston is circular, as people go around and around, looking for the downdown 6 train, which an unhelpful sign without a directional arrow tells them is located on Bleeker street. Bleeker street runs parallel to Houston and isn’t particularly well marked. If you find yourself in this position, walk towards Happy Paws, away from the BP station, until you get to Bleeker Bar. Then go right to the green lamps.

If you do eventually make it to this semi-mythical street, I do not under any circumstances advise you to actually board the downtown 6 train unless you are absolutely too tired or too drunk (or too poor) to shop. If you weren’t planning to shop, abandon your plans. As you come up on Bleeker, do not turn right toward the green lamps but rather left, and keep going. There are more boutique clothing stores than any but the most fevered imagination can conjure. There is an antique map store, antique book store, non-antique book store, antique everything else store, and, eventually, all the glories of the West Village (which is in no way superior to the East Village, but since it seems you were trying to leave the East Village anyway, I don’t mind directing you to a fresh stomping ground.)

Forget 5th Avenue. Any tourist can find it, and its wonders are well-documented all over the world. Dive into the tunnels, loose yourself and all sense of rational space, find the green diamond, and let it take you to the jewel of the urban jungle, that treasure trove of antiquarian collectibles and FIT graduates, the fabulous, the walkable: Bleeker Street.

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