Damn you, Coffee House Café! You're one of the few hip, happening, alternative gathering spots in downtown Salem. And I'm a hip, happening, alternative guy who frequently stops in for a latte.
I enjoy having my drink prepared by a tattooed, pierced, black-clad barista with an attitude, a pleasing contrast with the staff at the squeaky clean Starbucks down the street.
During the day I feel like I fit right in at the Coffee House Café. Beard. Longish hair. Impeccable '60s counterculture credentials. Progressive politics. We're on the same radical wavelength.
But last night I realized that our relationship has some rough edges.
Laurel and I met up at the Coffee House Café at 7 pm (well, 7:20 for Laurel – she was her usual late self) for an Argentine Tango lesson that'd been billed on a café bulletin board.
We clutched our dancing shoes in bags. I noticed a neatly dressed older guy (meaning, given the age of the evening regulars, over 25) sitting on a stool, also holding a shoe bag.
As 7 pm approached 7:30, and no sign of a Tango lesson was in evidence, aside from chairs and tables cleared to the side to open up the wood floor, I walked over to the guy to learn what he knew about the delay.
"Somebody told me that the instructor is on his way," he said. "Otherwise, I don't know what's happening." Nobody else seemed to either. The café staff appeared blissfully unconcerned that the lesson was already half an hour late. No apologies or even an announcement.
I couldn't tell who else was there to learn Tango, and who was just hanging out. Bongos were drumming outside. Cigarette smoke was heavy over the sidewalk. Skateboarders bounced in and out, carrying their ride. Sneaker-clad youths ran this way and that, meeting up with and parting from friends.
The only people who looked at all uptight were us old fogies who had the obviously unrealistic expectation that just because a café had said there'd be a Tango lesson at 7, somebody should be concerned when 7:30 comes and goes, and the prospective Tango'ers are sitting around clueless about what's going on.
This was the first moment I felt very old. I started to reminisce about going to concerts in Golden Gate Park and other Flower Power venues back in the late '60s.
We never cared when the happenings happened. Often a band – the Jefferson Airplane, say – would be hours late. We'd just go with the flow – easy to do when you're stoned out of your mind and 20 years old.
Not so easy when you're high on a caffeinated latte and pushing 60. Suddenly today's counterculture seemed dreadfully self-absorbed, unorganized, and lacking discipline. Hell, I've got better things to do than watch a bunch of weirdly dressed kids run around trying to get their act together.
That was thought #1. Thought #2 was, Oh, shit! I'm sounding just like my mother did in 1968, when I was 20 and she was 56.
As the evening wore on, I felt even older. The distressingly youthful Tango instructor finally showed up. He looked about 16, just like our family doctor does. A similarly young crowd materialized around him, eager to try something new.
Dance shoes weren't in evidence. The other older guy had taken off, realizing sooner than Laurel and me that this wasn't his scene. We stuck around for a bit longer, perched safely on a couch, not wanting to markedly raise the average age on the crowded dance floor with our geezerish presence.
Plus, it was obvious these kids weren't taking the lesson seriously. They were fooling around. Not paying attention. Joking with each other. Dancing however they felt. Not respecting the instructor's authority.
Oh, shit, I'm sounding like my mother again!
Laurel and I went home, feeling older than when the evening began. But not in a bad way. It'd just dawned on me that my baby boom generation has passed the counterculture baton on – some time ago, really. I'm now the person I rebelled against in the '60s.
And that's OK.
We'll continue to take Tango lessons at the RJ Dance Studio. On a nice clean floor. In an organized class. Which starts and ends on time. Wearing neat clothes.
I'll still drink lattes at the Coffee House Café, supporting a place for youths to hang out until they become like me – old enough to wonder What the heck is the matter with kids these days?