My first impulse was to title this post “Requiem for a Coffeehouse” but I concluded that was both too somber and, I hope, not really accurate.
Last autumn I mentioned the Crosstown Coffeehouse in the first of two posts about Alameda. Dropping in for at least an hour or two – often many more – had become a part of my daily routine when I was in the East Bay which was frequently. (My partner worked for an Oakland-based company and the job required his being in the office roughly every other week.)
FAITH AND JENNIFER BEHIND THE COUNTER
Sadly for me and especially for its employees and local customers, the first version of Crosstown will come to a close next Friday, 24 July. A dispute with the landlady who owns the building is irresolvable and the result is that the coffeehouse’s lease will cease at the end of July. The last week of the month will be spent boxing up equipment and supplies for storage.
Fellow Norcal blogger Steve Brown and I made Crosstown the first stop on our whirlwind one-day trip to Alameda this past Friday. While it was fun to introduce Steve to the coffeehouse as a way to begin the visit to Alameda, it was bittersweet for me knowing that it would be last time I’d see it, at least in its current incarnation.
My first connection with the coffeehouse is intensely personal. I don’t rightly remember if it was the very first time I went there but it certainly is the first time I have a specific recollection of it. My mother died on 14 June 2007. The very next morning – a Friday – I went to the coffeehouse.
The reason then was unbeknownst to me, but approaching 10:30 a.m. the place began to fill up with very small kids, moms, grandparents, nannies and a few dads. Pretty soon the “why” became clear as Cowboy Jared took the floor and proceeded to sing and play guitar, drawing in the zero-to-five year old crowd with his twangy tunes. The place was filled with noise, fun and silliness – just what I needed less than 24 hours after my mother left us.
And seeing those kids running around, singing along, and just generally being small kids reminded me that my mother had also been that same age a long, long time ago in the 1920s. (Of course, she would probably have been listening to some fellow in lederhosen playing an accordion since she grew up in Bavaria, not California.)
Call it the great circle of life if you like but in some way she was present with those children that morning.
Many more Friday mornings at Crosstown would ensue for me over the next two years. None, thankfully, were freighted with the same significance although I usually remembered that first Friday when the pandemonium reached fever pitch. Funny thing is that there usually were one or two other “unaccompanied adults” there during the Cowboy Jared show, who presumably like me, actually enjoyed the commotion and were able to work on a laptop during the bedlam.
Of course, most other mornings were quieter but true to the community center mission of the coffeehouse, different groups met there including parents, seniors, jobseekers, and so on. I actually used the space once, too, for a business travel presentation. While I was never at Crosstown at night to hear music or attend a meeting, once or twice I enjoyed hearing Keiko playing piano standards late on a Friday afternoon.
While no coffeehouse is exactly like any other one, the feeling I got at Crosstown echoed what I enjoyed many years ago in Seattle. Places now long gone including Cause Clbre, Surrogate Hostess, Still Life in Fremont, and most of all, the Honey Bear Bakery were my homes away from home when I lived there between 1985 and 1990. Fond as I am of Chico, I haven’t found any coffeehouse here that draws me in, in the way those places did, or that Crosstown Coffehouse in Alameda has done more recently.
Faith, Crosstown’s manager as long as I’ve been going there, believes strongly that Crosstown 2.0, as she expresses it, will be better than v1.0. I’m inclined to agree with her both because I want to and because I think she’s right.
FAITH AND YOURS TRULY AT THE ENTRANCE TO CROSSTOWN
Crosstown began originally as the brainchild of Pastor Dave Nederhood of the Alameda Reformed Church two blocks up Encinal Avenue from the coffeehouse. It was part of an effort to build community in Alameda. What was once a dingy bar at the corner of High Street and Encinal Avenue, was transformed by volunteers into a large coffeehouse with a stated purpose to be a gathering spot for the neighborhood and Alameda as a whole.
Along an at times bumpy road, Crosstown obtained non-profit status and learned a lot about operating a business. That experience and the lessons learned cannot be erased. The organization’s board and volunteers will live beyond the life of the soon to be shuttered High and Encinal location.
Equally important, they have acquired a legion of fans in Alameda that I think will be the eyes and ears that look for a new location, and once found, become the arms (and wallets) that turn it into something remarkable. Don’t discount the possibility that like a swarm of bees, Cowboy Jared may lead an army of 4-year olds up and down Alameda’s arterial streets until they settle on a favorable spot with a more agreeable landlord.
When that happens, the Crosstown board and fans will pitch in and turn it into the new community center and coffeehouse that embodies the first Crosstown’s spirit and draws people from near and far. I’m counting on it and looking forward to that day.