Monday, March 17, 2014

Things change.

Last night twitter delivered to me this gem : Inside The Barista Class. It's worth a read, especially for those of us who have spent some time in hospo. Near the end, it begins to talk of the relationship between hospo staff and the customers. Or rather, of the interactions between hospo staff and hospo staff and between hospo staff and various groups of customers.When the neighborhood is still rough around the edges it feels like there is a certain amount of camaraderie amongst the staff and the customers - everyone's broke, everyone is trying to get something to work, somehow. 

Rarely spoken aloud, the tendency of Greenpoint’s service class to take care of its own was one of the only outright gestures of solidarity I witnessed, the only place where a distinction was made between the server and the served
Checks for Negronis, artisanal spicy pickles, hand-roasted coffee beans, and sometimes entire locally sourced meals disappeared with a wink and a nudge reminiscent of Fight Club’s ominous waiter scene.  
I've experienced that feeling of community, something I am immensely grateful form, but as a customer and a staff member. Strangely enough it makes me wary of being overly friendly with staff of somewhere that I'm newly venturing to I think.

As the neighborhood transitions and you get new types of customers slowly appearing, things change though. I used to live, many years ago in Shoreditch in London. At the time everyone thought it was in the process of gentrification. Even then though it took me a while to figure out that the backfiring car that I heard at least once a week were actually gunshots. Last year I got the opportunity to have a wander through the old neighborhood 10 years on. It was recognizable in terms of physical structure, they way that it felt though was just ... worlds apart. The area had become affluent.

There are some who are making similar observations. In my absence the area rose as an area of start-ups bringing with them new and crazy ideas. The writer, Cory Doctorow, I think gets it right when he describes start-ups, the ideas are crazy and most of them fail, those that don't often succeeding not because of their original idea but because they've learnt something from the failure of their first idea and come up with something new. The new Shoreditch started out as a churn of ideas and people some of which ended up succeeding, most of which didn't. As it became successful though, as in Greenpoint, the area becomes a little more polish, the mainstream begins to takes notice and almost by osmosis, moves in.

I think the first time I saw this phenomenon described was in William Gibson's Bridge trilogy where the San Francisco Bay bridge had been damaged, closed and then occupied by an interstitial community - a wild, unregulated place that new ideas come from. They are, almost by definition unstable - eventually either dieing or more likely producing sufficient success stories that they get taken over. Strangely enough - there is also a school of thought that maintains that areas like these are necessary, it's where new ideas that the mainstream either can't conceive of  or would have great difficulty in passing through entrenched power structures are conceived of.

It's sort of sad really. It means that I'll have to keep moving because these sorts of areas are, for me at least, the best places to live in.