I’m sitting at Intelligentsia in Silver Lake drinking a cup of coffee from Burundi. In many ways this feels familiar, and if it was 2009 it would be unremarkable. But it’s 2019 and it feels weird, to say the least. A coffee shop that was once the mecca of LA east side hipster culture, in many ways the unquestioned north star of 3rd wave coffee culture. I’d often sit here for hours writing and chatting with friends who happened by, surrounded by celebrities and punks, bike messengers and young local politicians. A place so iconic that it was represented in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. It felt electric and exciting. It was the town square.
Today my company includes standouts such as people obviously from out of town taking selfies of themselves to prove to friends they were here, some possibly homeless people taking up half the seats outside, a definitely homeless guy who keeps coming in trying to fill an old paper cup with all of the milks and sugars they have on the condiments counter, spilling most of what he tries to pour all over the floor, screaming that the containers are empty and leaving, only to come back 10 minutes later and repeat the cycle, and while the milks get refilled, the puddle on the counters and floors remains. A 25 year old Veruca Salt song blasts from the ceiling mounted speakers. Everyone inside has a laptop, no one outside does. There’s a mother who handed her child a bag of goldfish crackers so that he won’t distract her from Facebook on her iPhone, the kid not having it has dumped most of the crackers on the ground, the mother hasn’t noticed. A artist in one corner has filled half a notebook with with nothing but straight lines, suspiciously glaring at anyone (me) trying to see what he’s up to. Someone’s dog just shit on the iconic blue geometric tiles.
It feels weird.
In many ways, it’s kind of representative of my visit to LA. The reason I’m at this particular coffee shop is because the 3 previous coffee shops I visited were a bust. No parking anywhere near, or no seating available in the shops. These places used to be Cheers for me, I’d walk in and know everyone. On a bad day I’d only know half the people. I’m exaggerating but you get my point. I haven’t seen a face I recognized all day, but honestly why should I? Having moved out of this city more than a year ago, I wouldn’t expect things to stay the same. Shops I’d hoped to visit have closed, restaurants have new menus and friends have busy schedules. I’ve made, and cancelled several dinner reservations. I’ve found myself driving around without any real idea where to go, I’ve parked somewhere and put 2 hours on the meter, walked around for 5 minutes and then gone back and driven away, calling it a day and going to sleep by 5pm. It could just be jetlag.
I have a confusing relationship with LA right now. I don’t want to rely on that cliche’d ex-lover analogy, memories of attraction balanced with self preservative distance and 2020 hindsight, but it’s apt. When does home stop being home? I wrote about the idea of “home” almost a decade ago, questioning what makes something home. I don’t think I answered it very well then, I don’t know that I have the answers now but increasingly for me, home is more of a feeling and less of a place. I feel at home in various places, but no place really feels like home to me. I used to say that Los Angeles was the first place that I ever lived that felt like home, but I think now that’s more about the time and the people, and less about the location. I feel at home when Tara and Ripley are near me, and they are too far away right now. They get into town tomorrow, so maybe they will bring some home with them.