Evo's Coffee Lounge

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

I forgot that Evo’s exists and that I still hadn’t written an entry about it. I never come here. Well, I have years ago--once to chat with a friend who was back from college and who, not at all like an Evo’s regular, came for the sheer otherness, and once back when I was a part of Rogue IMC, Evo’s was where we met weekly. But for roughly four years I had not been. I pass by it almost every day though, seeing its grizzled loonies outside smoking.

Why do I never come here? The barista who I almost knew in high school puts it succinctly: When I admit that I never come here and thus did know he has worked here for the past two years, he says “a lot of people don’t.” There are those who go to Evo’s and those who don’t. More than any other cafe in Ashland, Evo’s is a scene. To create a scene some must be excluded, but it’s not that Evo’s exludes them; they, like me, exclude themselves. One avoids Evo’s not because of its coffee or its service or its location, but because of its people.

(That barista who I almost knew: The same compulsively charming persona from high school now stands behind the counter smiling his “go away” smile at customers. This is the problem with his charm--it’s always sliced in half, one part signalling its amused distaste for these perfunctory social niceties. He keeps himself safe this way. In all likelyhood he will never read this.)

Evo’s is also broadly inclusive, opening its doors to various form of alternativity that might elsewhere clash. Here it is all part of the same dream of another world: anarchists, new agers, punk kids, tribal tattoo-wearing hippies, nomads, back-to-the-landers, environmentalists. All tied all together by an airy fairy. Evo’s fits into a familiar brand of west coast counterculture, but it is also its own peculiar self, its own resolution of the conflicts between Ashland and Ashland. In a town at times obsessed with suburban safety, cleanliness, and anti-smoking, Evo’s is a happily unwashed corner where one can smoke in the sun, and bask in an inflated sense that one is, in contradiction to one’s surroundings, real. Any actual grit is of course kept under wraps, but here one can feel gritty.

The large parking lot distances it from the main street, and imparts shelter from the unsightly cheeriness of downtown. It is the darkest cafe in town, with just a window in the door, and two tiny rectangles streaming sunlight through the roof, so that from a very interior-feeling interior one peers out at the ghastly world.

Inside there’s a long-haired skeleton of a man dressed in tie-dye and military surplus using Sharpe markers to make swirly black-and-white ink drawings of photographs, and several wackies on laptops.

But Evo’s has an expansive exterior--a generous porch, a shaded circle and a sunny circle of benches where people who don’t necessarily know each other sit and discuss all sorts of things, but not anything. This circle is an open discussion, but who really wants to participate when phrases such as “so many people livin’ beyond their means” hold currency?

The reason nobody comes here, I imagine, is the same reason I’m so uncomfortable sitting on the patio: out here it’s the lunatic fringe. There’s an argument in the fringe. The circle is a loose gathering. It’s not a meeting, there is no purpose or punctuality. It’s where you go if you don’t know where else to go--it provides an undemanding sense of belonging. You don’t even have to talk. Nobody has to know who you are. You can come and hang and take off. Everyone is passing the time, may even be imagining themselves to be resisting the need to be productive. You strum your guitar, you twiddle your hair, you talk, you listen.

If this sounds easy-going, that’s only what everyone involved wants it to be. Each wishes individually for a laid-back receptive audience, and finds instead other people full of their own spiels. Under the pretense of lazing about sharing company seethes an enormous tension. While they’re brought together by something--circumstance, acceptance--these are people with very different, often strong opinions and neuroses. They sometimes clash like family. One is smug, has it all figured out, leans back in a corner and snipes, the other is passionately hopeful and Christian, and suddenly, they swap. The Christian becomes the aggressor in retaliation, harboring up morality behind him against this irresponsible hate-monger. “You haven’t said one positive thing all day!” He rails, he threatens--”oh, I’m gonna do more than hit you.” Neither budge, one attacking, the other coolly sniping, egging him on. Some try to stop the feud, saying to the angry one “we love you, but you’ve gotta calm down, you’re all wound up.”

The two of us on the patio within earshot of all this act as if nothing is wrong, or try to. She’s talking on the phone, telling her friend how her “beautiful journey has begun.” Out here at the lunatic fringe is the very core of Ashlandness, a core ever displaced, until it ends up sitting on the Evo’s patio babbling in heated argument with itself.

When the angry man wanders off and the discussion calms down a bit it’s all conspiracy theories and superiority over the mainstream. Apparently American Spirit cigarettes are laced with psychotropic chemicals because they know that the alternative folks smoke them, and they want to target them. It’s mind control, man. The smell of pot on the wind.