I’ve got friends in “third places”

It’s no secret that I’m a coffee addict. If it’s before 9:00 and my under-eyes are sagging and the world has pressed my face into a scowl, you can be almost positive that I haven’t had my coffee. My caffeine cravings coupled with my love of books, acoustic music and quiet murmurings make me the perfect candidate to be a coffee shop regular — and I am.

You can find me at Kaldi’s, Lakota or Coffee Zone on most days, pressed in a corner, doing my homework or procrastinating doing my homework, researching or focusing my eyes intently on my newest favorite book.

So today when we talked about so-called “third places” (not your home or work) in our reporting lecture, I had to laugh. I am the poster child for hanging out in third places. I am the exact opposite of a homebody; I’m an active body, constantly going and doing and interacting with people.

Directly after lecture, I was starving (hyperbolically, of course. Mom, don’t worry, I’m not starving myself) so I decided to go get a late breakfast at the Broadway Diner. I perched myself on a barstool and began to drink my coffee. I pulled out my book and was all caught up in the story when I felt a tap on my shoulder.

“Ma’am,” a kind-eyed, middle-aged man wearing Carhart coveralls said, “are you waiting for anyone to sit here?” He pointed at the barstool next to me on which I had placed my coat.

“Oh, no!” I said as I removed my jacket from the seat. I was confused, though, because there were about four open other seats  further to my right.

He went on to make conversation with the waitress.

“That’s my friend,” he said to me as he sipped his sweet tea. “You know, her section is all of the seats to the left of this line.” He pointed at the place where the two different pieces of the counter meet. The barstool on which he sat was the first one to the left of the line.

I went on to ask him how he knew the waitress. He said that she used to work at the restaurant Dino’s Steakhouse before Dino died in a car accident a few years ago and the restaurant closed.

I learned that the man was a construction worker in Columbia that was working on the building on 10th and Broadway. Paradoxically, he wasn’t sure that he liked the downtown development because it changed the character of the town and it made it more difficult for the owners of smaller properties to find students who wanted to rent.

I learned that he grew up in Columbia, graduated from Rock Bridge, his mother makes the best biscuits and gravy (apparently the Diner’s weren’t as good as his mom’s), he’s been working construction for 20 years and if you want to keep your feet warm, you need to get bigger boots so that your feet can move and the air can flow around them.

In this cold weather, the construction companies will put up a sort of shack outside of the buildings. The workers will work for 30 minutes and then take a 15 minute break to warm up. He said his hands and feet froze pretty quickly, so that was a good amount of time.

As I put on my coat and said my goodbyes to my new construction worker friend, I had to laugh. I had just witnessed the power of third places in action.

My friends always tease me because I love to go to breakfast alone and read a book, but for me, it’s almost an exercise: Who can I get to talk to me?

Third places are an incredibly valuable resource to a reporter. In the age of technology, we can’t forget about the power of talking, asking, listening and most importantly, being present.

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