“Coffee and cigarettes” is a 2003 movie by Jim Jarmusch. If you didn’t see it yet, I recommend it. You may be surprised to see a Roberto Benigni (Oscar winner for La Vita e Bella) at the beginning of his career. Benigni played in many Jarmsuch movies, and there are at least two that I remember of: Down by Law (in which he plays an inmate trying to escape, together with Tom Waits and John Laurie) and Night on Earth (in which we also find rare gems like Winona Ryder as a cab driver).
The paragraph above is a good example of the beginning of a conversation over coffee. We start from some common ground, and then we spiral out, finding similar patterns. We go back and forth, without a scenario, just surfing the wave of words. And coffee.
Of all the conversations over coffee that I ever had, I enjoyed the most the ones in coffee shops. There is a certain magic surrounding these encounters. Truth to be told, I only have conversations over coffee in coffee shops these days, mainly because I work from there. But since I mixed them a lot, the “coffee shop” it’s still a temporary place in time for me. It’s like I just got down from the train in a train station, spend some time there, and then I hop back on the train, not knowing where it will stop tomorrow, which station I will get down to. I try to get down at different stations as often as I can, trying as many coffee shops as is reasonably possible, although I do have some favorites.
These coffee shop conversations come without the pressure of a topic, or of an outcome. The subtle, underlying presence of coffee is enough of a pretext. We’re already enjoying the smell, the texture, the taste, and conversation is just a fragile social glue, tying together the context with invisible, tiny strings. We learn about the other person background, name, occupation. We may even get into personal stories. We build together the promise of another encounter (maybe) or we just enjoy the uniqueness of this singular discussion, this unrepeatable conversation with a person we will never, ever see again.
I met and made countless friends during conversations over coffee. It’s an impromptu ritual, devoid of religion, but with a consistent turnaround. Engaging in it is almost guaranteed to generate some sort of change in the fabric of reality, some subtle nudge that will push my path in a different direction.
You see, as a location independent person you have to build a different way of interacting. You need to rely more on flexible, slim social approaches, because you don’t have the luxury of a fixed, predictable, 9 to 5 job with a corner office. Your social circle is constantly moving, sometimes shrinking, sometimes expanding, and the most accurate evaluation of who you gotta let in, or who is not welcome, starts with an encounter in a coffee shop.
From afar, it may look just like a conversation over coffee.
It’s much more than that.