Columns, Opinion

WHITING: Sorting through coffee grinds and hipster pretense

I’m in the back of Espresso Royale, from a point at which I can see that the sun is out once again through the window. But my Dashboard weather widget tells me not to feel too bad, that the Northeastern climate still has some heating up to do and that the academic mission I’ve started on is a noble one. I shouldn’t get distracted by such unimportant topics as climate change.

I feel so picturesque every time I visit a coffee shop that isn’t Starbucks &- I’m not a Royale regular; I prefer to do whatever reading I’ve been assigned in my corner-double dorm room under my covers, book in one hand and flashlight in other.

But such a comfortable practice rarely inspires productivity. Today, I decided it was time to grow up, put clothes on and leave my messy nest in order to actually write the eight pages of art history research I have due on Wednesday.

An empty mug sits next to me on a mahogany table, on which a collection of library books is spilled next to yesterday’s issue of The Boston Phoenix. I’m wearing my hipster glasses, but instead of focusing, I have spent the last five hours narcissistically musing on my studious appearance.

But studious, I am not, as The Beatles get the best of me, and my eyes drift from the art words in front of me to the artwork on the walls. As a coffee shop amateur, I’m dangerously fascinated by this ambiance. Even without the World Wide Web at my fingertips, there’s an equally distracting slice of the outside world surrounding me.

It seems Espresso Royale is the perfect venue for a people-watcher like myself. I should save myself now and run to Mugar before someone realizes I’ve been doing nothing but stare at others over the past hour, forgoing my Boston University studies and, instead, engaging in a type of work more suitable for The New School for Social Research.

I’ve started conjuring up stories about all the people who walk in and out of the café. I start to wonder if I can really judge people solely upon what they wear, how they stand in line or what they order. I feel Sherlock Holmes-esque as I try to decipher their auras.

There’s a girl who just walked in donning black tights, high heels and a tweed coat, even though it’s mild outside. She’s sporting a long, blonde braid and speaks with a foreign accent, the origin of which I can’t make out over the Rat Pack tunes playing overhead.

She doesn’t stay long. She orders a croissant and speeds out. I pretend she’s an art student, perhaps here via exchange with the Sorbonne, who hopes to someday curate the Centre Georges Pompidou. Or maybe she came here to flee a bad French romance. She’d make a good character in a Paris Je T’Aime-like film. I secretly wish I knew her. Maybe someday, if my first hypothesis is right, I will.

I glance at the boy next to me, who is wearing a gray scarf and black glasses that look somewhat like my own, only he’s putting them to good use and diligently writing down some mathematical gibberish I can’t discern. He’s drinking what looks like black coffee; he’s been here since the morning, too. Maybe he dreams of solving the energy crisis someday. Maybe I’ll read about him on Wikipedia and never make the connection that I once sat next to him at a coffee shop on an April Saturday.

A man with red tennis shoes and a mountaineering backpack just sat down near us. It looks like he decided to forgo his staple trail mix bar for a muffin. He has a Nalgene with a Boston Marathon sticker on it. He’s probably getting ready for next Monday. I’ll probably watch him run past me as I cheer him on his 25th mile.

Even if what I’m making up about my muses is incorrect, I know there is much to be learned just in our immediate surroundings. I’ve come a long way from Wayzata, Minn., population 4,113, where I know everyone at the local Lunds market. I wish I knew these people&-what the girl to my right blares in her big, silver headphones, what book the guy in the plaid shirt is reading.

A girl just entered, talking on her BlackBerry and wearing high-heeled boots and necklaces. She looks important. She might be coming from an interview for a summer internship program in London; I like to imagine with British Vogue. Maybe I’ll meet her when I take Anna Wintour’s position down the road, at a party thrown by the French girl with the blonde braid.

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