Downtowne Coffee House (Talent, Oregon)

Friday, September 2, 2011

For the record, bicycling sucks. The number of loogies I've hocked and the burning, hollow feeling in my chest has me inclined to believe that flavor of paleo dieter who is convinced aerobic exercise is bad for you.

Some people say that bicycling and other forms of intensive exercise are relaxing. The panting from point A to point B does, I admit, give me time to think, but this is only because I have to distract myself from what's really going on. This is why I'm stringing these sentences together while I pedal: otherwise there is only the horror of wind rushing past my ears and the monotonous pain in my legs. Bicycling are running are good times to think not because they make thinking easier but because what's in your mind is the only thing between you and nothing. This is why runners so often have earbuds, so that they don't have to rely upon the labor of their own thoughts to be distracted. It's a matter of psychic survival, not pleasure.

There is a Calvin and Hobbes comic (actually I've mixed up at least two different comics) wherein Calvin's dad stuck gets stuck traffic on his way from work, and when he gets home, going bicycling. To get ready he has to pump his tires, grease the chain, do some adjustments. He gets rained on, and a passing car splashes him with muddy water, which veers him off course into a ditch. He returns home mangled, scraped, and bruised, and says, "the secret to enjoying your job is to have a hobby that's even worse."

Which brings us to the question: why did I bike here this morning? I had planned on driving. But when I was going to leave, my father was gone with the car. He was, as he likes to say, gone with the Schwinn. Except, err, with the Subaru. When I was harrying myself to get ready to bike, he came back with the car. I was determined to bicycle anyway, even though it would take way longer (if you don't want to get hit by a car, to bike from Ashland to Talent you have to take the bike path instead of the more direct route along Highway 99) and I couldn't find a hat (if I bike without a hat in this cold, breezy weather we've been having lately, my ears would quickly throb in pain, making me dizzy and nauseous). I had already wasted an astonishing amount of the morning getting ready to leave, but for some reason (or no reason at all) I was attached to the idea of biking. Maybe because I'm so desperate for material that I need to put myself through something I can convince myself is an ordeal.

An ordeal that I have to alienate myself from to survive. One can get carried away with this idea of false consciousness that is the basis of the kind of cognitive therapy that is so informally popular: Yesterday someone I know said that she prefers to think about the snowfall in the horrible winters where she lives as extra water for the depleted lake--which is interesting because it's wilful cognitive dissonance. Let's get carried away: The acquaintance across the street who has devoted himself to an older woman and her spiritual teachings is deluding himself that she holds some deep wisdom to distract himself from the truth that he's at a loss for what to do with his life. One of many problems with this type of thinking, of course, is what one designates the truth. Personally, I go for whatever is most depressing. There. I admitted it.

Speaking of distractions, supposedly this blog is about cafes. Supposedly I'm writing about Downtowne Coffee House in Talent, because I've run out of cafes in Ashland to write about. (My girlfriend says that if I were in a city, this blog could go on forever. There would be so many cafes, and new ones would be popping up, and others closing, often enough that I would probably never run out of cafes to write about.) But this dissonance between my supposed subject matter and what I'm actually writing is less about the survival of my psyche than it is about the survival of the blog. Writing about cafes is a pain. I actually have to, you know, take notice of things, and come up with a way to frame it. It's much easier to just spew whatever comes to mind. And ultimately, I tell myself, it's about where I'm writing, right?

The other thing is, I've grown nostalgic for those highly conceptual posts I used to write (Case, The Roasting Company, Mix). I miss having ideas I was thinking about. (Well, bad ideas.) I don't really anymore, thus the posts have devolved (or evolved) into semijournalism. Boooring. What am I, writing a newspaper column? In an attempt to recreate how I used to write posts, I've grabbed hold of the most basic theoretical idea that found its way to me this morning, and I have run with it.

Meanwhile, Downtowne Coffee House offers its own dissonance from where it is: downtown. Its sign, showing a city skyline on a night-blue background with a yellow moon and a street lamp the likes of which the Woody Allen surrogate in Midnight in Paris would've romanticized, evokes both another place and another time, in its cute way. The cafe is in fact smack in the middle of downtown Talent, but the downtown(e) it would have us imagine is nothing like downtown Talent. This kind of imaginary sumptuousness is at the heart of cafeness: cafes give us different coordinates to imagine the world. As I've said before, in a cafe we're not where we are. Such dissonance makes us feel comfortable.

It's not so necessary that the way a cafe attempts to transport us is coherent. The sign outside and the beautifully designed music posters from the early part of the last century in the bathroom agree, but I sit across from a vaguely Central-American-looking concrete head statue whose cranium is a pot full of succulent plants. The two male employees here today are dressed in black band t-shirts, black hats, shortish black cargo pants, and (yup, you guessed it, black) combat boots unlaced down to the foot. The music has vacillatedfrom not-often-played early Pink Floyd ("The Gnome") to spacy electronica to Bob Dylan to Loreena McKennitt. There's a photo on the wall that looks less old than it is trying to look old (with sepia tones), of this same place but called "The Espresso Shack" (back then?), the front porch filled with middle-aged people looking into the camera. There are all sorts of paintings on the walls, from bland landscapes to childish Paris cityscapes, and lord knows what the incandescent green light in the ceiling fan is all about. It doesn't matter, because it has funk: the great comfort of benign decay.

I did have some justification for venturing five miles away (by bicycle) to Talent. Though I suppose I don't really have to have a justification, because I've already taken this blog as far as Oakland. Talent is becoming a kind of new Ashland. Gentrification has left Ashland nearly impossible to move to, so people are coming here where the housing market is not so absurd, and in the past decade Talent's downtown has been growing, becoming something cool or wanting to be. At least, this is the story that people tell. I have no idea.