#Coffeehouse conversations

By David Ryan Polgar (Hartford, CT Resident Blogger)

From now until March 11, West Hartford’s Playhouse on Park will be presenting the musical “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”

Clipping from an article about Espresso Yourself in Winterset, IA

The musical is based on a wildly-successful collection of essays published in 1988 by the author and minister Robert Fulghum. The concept is simple — the world would be a better place if we applied the lessons we learned in Kindergarten.

Kindergarten, however, is not the only place where we learn a thing or two about life. For me, everything I need to know I learned in a coffeehouse. If you want to learn about people, grab a cup of coffee and sit down. A coffeehouse provides an ideal environment: customers are well-fed and caffeinated, conversations are free-flowing, and the background music creates a soothing ambiance. Also, given the close quarters, time spent with your drink usually includes overhearing coffeehouse conversations. This unintentional social spying has taught me a lot about relationships.

I’ve noticed that a lot of people go on first dates at coffeehouses. While an upscale restaurant might seem like the obvious choice for the occasion, a coffeehouse makes sense. An upscale restaurant requires a large financial and time commitment—a coffeehouse date is affordable and allows for an open time frame. If the meet-up is going bust, one party has a quick escape hatch. No need to awkwardly utter, “check please.” People, however, are usually at their sharpest when they just finished a double espresso. The likelihood for a spark is greater.

What’s interesting about sitting right next to couple on their first date is that I am an accidental player in their life. How important that date is in the grand scheme of their lives depends on future events that I’ll never be aware of. If the first-date couple go on to marital bliss, then I become a minor actor in a story they will repeat for forty years. “Remember our first date at the coffeehouse…”

I’ve also noticed a great amount of similarity in how first-date couples talk to each other. It’s what I like to call the Greatest Hits Conversation. Given that they don’t know each other well, each person runs through their top hits—their best stories. It’s a selective, well-curated, display of who they are. The greatest hits are catchy and memorable, so there is a good chance that the other person will tune in and nod along. What happens, however, when that couple moves past their greatest hits?

This is what separates the couples that grow from the couples that perish. After the greatest hits have been played over and over, one person either tunes out or digs deeper into the other person’s catalog of stories. As the first-date couple moves along in a relationship they’re either going to develop an appreciation for the b-sides and rarities, or they’re going to decide that they just liked the catchy stuff.

All of this, and more, is on display as you finish your coffee and scone. As Ferris said in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” A coffeehouse is a great place to catch it.

David Ryan Polgar is a West Hartford resident.