Someday, Somewhere

August 13, 2005 psipsina

I have a little work to do, so I grabbed my laptop with its wireless card (new, courtesy of my new job) and was faced with the question:

Should I go to the Starbucks, which has a T-Mobile wireless connection, a subscription to which gets me onto the T-Mobile wireless network anywhere there’s a hotspot?

Or should I go to the Someday Cafe, which has its own wireless network, a subscription to which only works at the Someday? (Well, I’m not totally sure about this, but it is a distinct possibility. The login page is definitely Someday-specific, anyway.)

(We do not have wireless at home – this is the first time either of us has had a laptop, so there’s been no need – and plugging the thing into the router in my study, which is in the attic, at 11:30 am in August is not an option unless I want the CPU to melt.)

Well, the economics suggested Starbucks, but the truth is, I just like the Someday better. It’s an endangered species – a coffee house where the comfy chairs are all from the Goodwill next door or people’s parents’ basements. The tables don’t match, the carpet is ugly but functional, the antique tin ceiling has been painted a blue that grades from hydrangea at the center to a color that can only be called cyan at the edges, and the interior has never been visited by a designer, or at least by one who is any good. It’s a little grubby and very comfortable. It’s shabby-chic. You never feel that You Are Not Good Enough to be at the Someday.

A few months ago, some guy left his coffee table here for several weeks with an invitation to customers to carve it.

When you approach the Someday, you are faced with a large poster with a life-size, full-length photo of the guy who runs the espresso machine, with the caption, “Do you think that Starbucks’ all-new, made-in-Switzerland espresso machine can make better espresso drinks than Willie?”

No one kicks you out of the Someday, even though it’s always packed. You can stay the whole afternoon for the price of just one cup of coffee.

I forgot to go to the ATM this morning before I came in, and realized I had exactly $2.00 on me, this after I’d ordered a bagel and a coffee. The Someday, bless them, does not take credit cards. While I was saying that I could easily hop across the street to the ATM, the guy next to me in line was offering to spot me the difference and Willie was insisting that the coffee was on the house.

I like to think that would not have happened at Starbucks.

When I first came to Boston, I thought there was nowhere I’d rather live than Harvard Square. But Harvard Square is almost completely branded now, even more than it was eight and a half years ago – there are a few holdouts, like Ma Bartley’s (one of the best places in the Boston area to get a burger), and the Greenhouse (a great place to get a cheap decent meal) and Burdick’s Chocolates, which no words of mine can do justice. But these are rapidly becoming the exception, not the rule. If you go to Harvard Square, you could be almost anywhere on earth, or at least anywhere in the Northeast – there’s a Gap, an Au Bon Pain, a Citizens Bank, a Sovereign Bank, and a Bank of America, two Starbuckses, a Peets Coffee, a Body Shop, a Loews Theatre, a Pizzeria Uno, a Staples. Aside from Harvard Yard, which I hope will not become the Bank of America / Tweeter / Gillette Yard any time soon, there is very little that identifies Harvard Square as Somewhere.

In Davis Square, where I now live, the local joints still outnumber the national chains. There’s the Someday Cafe, the Rosebud Diner, Johnny D’s music club, the Somerville Theatre (which doesn’t seem to be affliliated with a chain), locally-owned barbershops, a vacuum cleaner and sewing machine repair place, Redbones, Diva, two or three very small banks, Macintyre and Moore books, and the list goes on. These are places you’ve never heard of unless you’ve been in the Boston area, and everyone of them is worth coming here for.

When I compare Harvard Square with Davis Square, I am reminded of a story I heard about Portland, OR, when I studied urban design. Large public aquariums were (and still are) hot attractions, and based on the success of the aquarium in Baltimore, cities all over the U.S. were jumping on the bandwagon and building their own. Portland, however, turned down the opportunity. One of the city officials said, “If every other city in the U.S. has its own aquarium, why would people come to Portland to look at fish?”

If every city in the U.S. has a Starbucks (or a dozen, or a hundred), why would people come to Davis Square to have a caramel macchiato?

But they might, just might, come to Davis Square to say hi to Willie. Or to catch a second-run movie for 5 bucks at the Somerville Theatre. Or to hear live music at Johnny D’s. Or to order a rosemary lassi at Diva. Or to get inexpensive cuts of meat at McKinnon’s butcher shop. Or to do business with a bank that is not owned by some $838 billion holding company in Charlotte, NC. (Not that I have any specific bank in mind, you understand.) Or to let Nick and Kristen serve you your usual drink, even before you order it, at the Rosebud.

Davis Square is Somewhere.


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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Thumbs Up: Diesel Cafe &l&hellip  | 

    […] The chains are certainly consistent, but each is consistently bad in its own unique way.  Local was the way to go.  I used to get my coffee at the Someday. […]

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