Coffee's Near and Distant Past

Coffee's relatively sudden emergence as a symbol of upwardly mobile social status came as a shock to those who became acquainted with it years ago. "There was a jazz fingersnap in the audience in a beret and sun glasses and a black silk scarf knotted on his neck above his Oberlin sweatshirt. He had begun to snap vigorously in abstract patterns about halfway through the scream, nodding and weaving, eyes closed, shaking his wrists like a maracas player, whispering "dig it" and "Groo-oovy!" - "solid" - "existence" - "Dhammapada, man" (Sanders, p. 6.) These lines from "Tales of Beatnik Glory" will recall to some the beatnik days of coffeehouses and poetry readings. Jack Kerouac gave the "beat" phenomenon its name in his 1957 On the Road. "Beat suggested the quest for beatitude, a life style of inner grace often pursued through the cult of Zen Buddhism. It appeared to refer as well to the special state of blessedness attainted by those who were down and out, especially the drifters. In each sense of the word, the beats rejected the canons of respectability- organized religion, striving for material success, homage to the state (Leuchtenburg, p. 106.) According to Leuchtenburg, the "beatniks" shocked Eisenhower's America in sundry ways: the popularization of marijuana and homosexual expression, for example. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who owned the City Lights book store in San Francisco, entitled one poem "Tentative Description of a Dinner to Promote the Impeachment of President Eisenhower." The beats' concern for self seems to be the only way in which they mirrored conventional, square society: "We're no action group, man... I stay cool, far out, alone. When I flip it's over something I feel, only me" (Leuchtenburg, p. 107.) The rebellion of the "counter culture" that shook the 1960's took root in the beat society of California.

Cafes, formerly intertwined with communication and counterculture, found their way to the computer screen early in 1995. Exploration of the cafeculture at the Octane Interlounge in Rockford, Ill., or at the IDT Megabite Cafe in midtown Manhattan, cost $10-$15 an hour. America's new pasttimes of cyberspace and coffee had joined forces. "To many, the premise seemed inherently flawed -not to mention a crude bastardization of a caffeinated icon hereto fore associated with Sartre, Hemingway and the Beat poets" (The New York Times, 1997). Cafes took on a whole new meaning, as Americans visited cafes without leaving their homes or businesses.

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