I still remember walking into Big Red, a hole in the wall in small town Nebraska, with my grandfather on a Saturday morning. The smell was that of strong black coffee and my grandfather’s Old Spice cologne. Gary, the owner, would greet everyone that walked through the front door by their first names. He was a partially bald oddly proportioned man, but friendly, consistently juggling mugs of coffee and the coffee pot. As we took our seat others were now saying “Good morning, Fred” or “See you got those girls with you this weekend, you’ll have your hands full, Fred.” Gary followed close behind with a coffee mug full of jet fuel and donuts for us. The donuts were always dry and frankly weren’t very good but hey they came with pink frosting and sprinkles. Grandpa would always let us drink his coffee even though I’m sure my grandmother gave him the stink eye half the time. The room always had a haze about it. I don’t remember people smoking in there, but maybe they did. I can still see my grandfather melt into the back of the chair with his first sip of coffee and the smile that would cross his face as his community embraced him in conversation.
I never gave much thought as a young adult about the desire to have a connection to my community, like the one my grandfather received every morning from his favorite spot, until more recently. Having a tribe. Somewhere to belong. Somebody that knows your name when you walk through the door and smiles. I guess I always figured I was more of a nomad finding people as I went and an ever changing tribe. I guess maybe it worked before, but I find myself craving a deeper connection with my neighborhood. Really truly being able to ask a neighbor for a cup of flour or their grandmothers pumpkin pie recipe without judgment of eating carbs or gluten. A place where friends and neighbors are interchangeable words.
South Downtown is missing some identity, a neighborhood spot, a community hub of sorts. I’m hoping this can change and that change will not only be embraced but welcomed. We all desire a sense of belonging and as our city changes and more neighborhoods become real neighborhoods, I’m hoping mine will also be on the list.
Connect. Converse. Have coffee with a neighbor.