It’s gotta be 10 years that I’ve been going to Common Grounds, my friend Dusty’s coffeeshop off Walker Avenue — at least once a week to write my column, often more than that, sometimes more than once a day.
It was one of my places, the way the bar used to be one of my places, the way the office used to be one of my places.
It had been about a year since my regular patronage had subsided when I stopped in on a Monday, after my first vaccine shot but before my second, during those prime afternoon hours when, pre-panorama, it might have been difficult to find a seat.
It was still difficult on this day, because the seats, tables, easy chairs and booths were fully occupied by… people I had never seen in there before: young people — younger than me, anyway, which I realize is a demographic that grows literally every day. But still.
I saw something similar on Saturday afternoon in downtown Greensboro: newly-minted twentysomethings moving along the sidewalks, filling the café tables, zipping around on electric scooters, which are blue now. What the hell?
I saw some olds too, folks my own age or within shouting distance, cautiously navigating the crosswalks and glancing at everything. They looked like tourists.
I used to see it when I worked in the bar all the time: Every five to seven years, the crowd turns over. People get married, move away, die or find another bar. Most often they just age out, which is what’s happening here.
Most adults with something to lose have been locked down for a year, canceling travel plans, eating at home, avoiding crowds. We’ve been baking bread, digging into Netflix deep cuts, fixing up our kitchens.
While we’ve been hunkered down like hibernating cartoon bears, the young people have been out there making a scene, keeping cultural life going, taking up the seats in the coffeeshop.
I noted back in July 2020 that the teenagers had taken to staying up all night. Since then, some of them have gotten their drivers licenses, come back to college, been vaccinated, turned 21. And they’re all out there, some of them for the first time as young adults. They’ve been out here the whole time, everyone spitting in each others’ mouths no doubt; it’s almost the whole point of the thing.
It doesn’t matter if I approve or not. A city belongs to the people who are out there in it, its culture defined by the ones who show up.
Call it the analog revolt: After the panjandrum, our digital youth have acquired a taste for life in person.