Wednesday, July 19, 2006

At the Coffeeshop in the Summer.

There's something about sitting in a familiar coffeeshop and passing the day in conversation with a bunch of folks you've known for years. Having the summers off has been one of the joys of my chosen profession. I like nothing better than getting up before noon with no obligations, and being able to go wherever the day takes me. Consequently over the past five years I have found myself visiting the Beehive in the South Side several times a week.

Of course many of my friends and family have the hardest time understanding why I would want to spend hours at a coffee shop. For better or for worse it's not a typical destination for most Americans, beyond the quick stop for the necessary fuel that enables a supercharged work ethic. It's much more likely that folks will spend hours at a bar, getting obliterated and dropping their inhibitions. As far as I'm concerned, I don't find being surrounded by a mob of over-stressed and overworked "revelers", actively working to drop their repressions and personality checks, to be that stimulating anymore. By God I used to. But no more. I prefer the neurotic and obsessive discretion of the coffee-drinker.

The joys of my chosen coffeehouse are many. Within the last five years, the Beehive has tripled in floor space. They have smoking and non-smoking sections, healthy and fresh foods, a variety of reasonably priced drinks, computers with internet access, free wireless, local artwork hanging on the walls, and a diverse staff and clientele. One can find musicians, goth kids, millionaires, artists, intellectuals, chess-players, bicycle punks, academics, craftsmen, foreigners, tradesmen, professionals, service-industry employees, and folks that fit no discernible category. It's a great place to sit down and watch what's going down in the lives of many different folks.

For me the attractions extend into a personal realm. I myself am an alumni of the Beehive. While I was pursuing my master's degree I worked at the now defunct Beehive coffehouse/theater in Oakland. In addition to all the charms the original location had, the Oakland store showed a variety of independent and foreign films. They also booked cutting edge music. And a few years in, they even opened a fairly hip bar called the Pollinator. I made some close friendships during my relatively short employment stints there. The employees were treated to after-parties in the theater that included sneak previews of the new films and kegs of beer. Ultimately I respected my employers enough to spare their business my inconsistent service approach, and I moved on. Years later I moved to the South Side and re-established my roots with this institution. As I now viewed the place from a customer perspective, I developed a whole new appreciation for the place.

I have had many great friendships as a result of spending time at the Beehive. I have talked to folks I would have never anticipated having contact with. I improved my chess and scrabble games. And I've always looked forward to running into unexpected patrons. I never know who I might run into there. It could be someone I haven't seen in years- a reminder of a long lost period of my life here in Pittsburgh. I am almost assured of running in to one or another of my close friends, whose lives still find their center in the South Side. Hell... in the summer I may even be inspired to cross the street for a dose of the dropping inhibitions of the imbibers. When it comes right down to it, the Beehive is one of those crucial things that makes Pittsburgh my home. I'm grateful for the staff, the owners (who have become personal friends), and the customers who have made it a very special place for me.

*Addendum: Jeez, how could I forget this... I had my first two shows at the Hive. The first was with a talented local sculptor named Mike McFadden, and the second was a solo show of 30 photos. What a great entry into the "world of art". Many thanks to Bob Ziller, who still curates the work on the walls of the Beehive, for the opportunities.


Blogger John Morris said...

I hang out in bars to meet drunk girls with impaired judgement. But, it doesn't work and I stay and drink.

12:36 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

You'd actually have to go up and talk to them to achieve maximum efficiency.

3:08 PM  
Blogger Dagrims said...

Nice homage to your "comfortable place". I've often thought fondly of having a place where I was known as a regular.

5:51 PM  
Blogger Dagrims said...

Looks like I will be in Pittsburgh next week doing some accounting work. I'll call you when I have all the details.

I'll buy a round of drinks for us at the Beehive one evening.

6:56 AM  
Anonymous jefg said...

I can see (and have) why you find both comfort and intellectual stimulation at the Beehive. The only place I'm a regular is on the couch in front of the TV, which is where I find MY comfort and intellectual stimulation, such as it is. Like Dagrims, I've thought about what it would be like to have a, diner, coffeeshop...where one is accepted as a regular. I've never been a regular anywhere, except in the cyber world of a chatrooms or IMs. Hmmmm...though in the last month it appears it may be in the pool at 90 degrees, talking golf, food, politics, local happenings and maintenance of our properties.

8:56 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...


Hey, that's a surprise. You are welcome to stay here if you don't already have accomodations.

9:55 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...


I have found that the experience of being a regular on a message board is very similar to being a regular at a physical location. I've never quite achieved chat rooom regular status. A pool seems to be a fine place to establish a little community... except that its scope will be limited to a few months of the year (given that you are a northerner).

9:57 AM  
Anonymous jefg said...

Did I tell you that a Starbucks has now opened less than 1/2 mile from the house? I went there for the first time yesterday. In summary, the kids working there are friendly (do they call them Baristas (sp?)?...what's that all about?), the surroundings are modern and clean, the flavored coffees are ridiculously expensive, the regular iced coffee is nothing special, but $2.15 and tip. Conclusions: (1) the iced coffee is good enough, but I can get the same for practically nothing just up the street. also with A/C and good reading material ( place); and (2), they will do well regardless.

10:33 AM  
Blogger Susan Constanse said...

A solution for John:
Coffee-blended beer.

I love the sprawling, comfortable quality of the Beehive. I just never seem to have the time to sprawl and be comfortable.

2:05 PM  
Blogger John Morris said...

In the kind of "freelance" hustle high tech economy of today; the coffee shop is one of the lynchpins as constant points of contact.

I would argue that the city of the future's primary funtion is to be one giant coffee shop.

9:16 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...


I like that conception. I fantasize about getting a laptop (yeah,yeah... I know that's just one giant straight man set-up) and being able to do work in a stimulating environment with plenty of opportunities for distraction and collaboration.

1:25 PM  
Blogger John Morris said...

That coffee shop function is the role that San Francisco plays in relation to Silicon Valley. a lot of the napkin brainstorming and organic stuff happens in the city while a lot of the grunt large scale execution happens in the valley. People wouldn't want a huge R&D facility or chip Fab in the city, but nearby it's great.

Off of Sand Hill road ( the address of most of the major venture firms )in the valley is a hole famous as the legendary plce where the plan's for hundred's of companies were born. They sponsor a great soap box derby thing every year.

5:25 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

Someday I hope to visit San Francisco.

10:37 PM  
Blogger John Morris said...

I did love it. The setting is just stunning. I kind of knew that it was not wise for me to hang around it. You know what it's like to fall in love with something that is just not realistic.

Given my interest in business I had someone drive me around Silicon Valley which really was a waste, it was just a bunch of blandly atractive office parks. But it did have a nasty edge that I liked.

Oracle, the Database king had a big billboard across from a competitor that said- You are now passing roadkill on the information super highway.

If the city itself doesn't remind you of Pittsburgh, I will be shocked. San Francisco is sort of what Pittburgh would be like if it loved itself. People there really love it and make huge sacrifices to stay.

Also speaking of the hatred of sprawl. San Francisco hates LA and everything it is about.

8:30 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...


It's kind of sad that even with a city that cool, the masters of industry still feel the compulsion to congregate in office parks.

As far as a resemblance to Pittsbugh-- I remember a hippie friend I had in college had a Grateful Dead poster with a depiction of San Fran. I always marveled at its similarity to Pittsburgh.

It is ALWAYS out-of-towners that love Pittsburgh. I have absolutely no interest to go back to the East Coast for anything other than an extended visit. The only time Pittsburghers beging to care about their city is when they perceive outsiders with influence trying to do something with it. Then all of a sudden it's their city... and they fight against whatever you are trying to do.

Many native Pittsburghers are like kids who only want to play with their toys when someone else wants to share them.

2:56 PM  
Blogger John Morris said...

The history of and geography of the two cities is very strong. They are both Victorian Boom towns with hills. They both had periods of decline ( although San Francisco was never close to flat on the floor like Pittsburgh was ) and they are both college towns in a way with great schools.

They also were at one time both cheap to live in. I think that if the Dead were starting out today they might be in a big houe in Pittsburgh.

But that is where the similaries end. I think that people there always thought that the place was great in some deep way.

To my knowledge the city is super laid back ( although that is changing as a business cuture has entered the city ) but the one thin that could start a fight there is the mention of LA. I mean they hate that place. New Yorkers hate LA but are sort of far enough away to just think it's a joke. Violence in NY comes by metioning New Jersey. But LA and it's lifestyle is seen by people in San Francisco as direct threat. They know what will happen if they give an inch to it.

3:33 PM  
Anonymous jefg said...

Been to San Francisco a few times, as well as Oakland, Berkeley and some of the suburbs across the bay from whence San Francisco draws many of it's workers coming in on the BART. Like Pittsburgh, it has its very distinct neighborhoods that give the city its unique character. Biggest difference might be the cost of housing. I've also been to Seattle, and I'd give Seattle a nod in some ways as being more like Pgh. than SF is. Of course, their "Hill" district is quite different than yours.

5:13 PM  
Blogger John Morris said...

I have never been to Seattle. As far as the price thing goes- San francisco was not always that expensive, it became hip and then it got expensive. I think that those two cities and a few more American ones are good ones to look at when looking at development ideas. Another one that I know is Providence, RI which is another old manufacturing center with hills and colleges. Recently it has exploded. But it's close to Boston.

12:34 PM  

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