Living on the South Shore, I often find refuge in the warm, calming atmosphere of a coffee shop on Main Street in Patchogue.
Even on the brightest days, the Roast Coffee & Tea Trading Co. is dark and cozy. Tables are side by side with little room to walk between. Strangers share space at the large farm-style table toward the back.
Finding a seat can be difficult on a crowded day, but the noise of the customers comforts me. Despite the din, it’s impossible not to overhear bits and pieces of people’s lives, some sad, some heartwarming and some hopeful.
I have been present for first dates of those looking for love via the internet. The scenes are the same, two people awkwardly introducing themselves, talking a bit louder than expected and laughing as they share stories.
I watched as a family sat and played the board game Apples to Apples as they sipped coffee and hot chocolate.
Another time, a woman told someone on the phone — and the rest of us in the shop — the sad story of how she lost custody of her daughter and is working to have her back in her life.
I have seen old friends meet by chance on a busy day. Once I watched a young student spend hours studying, perhaps for an exam. She was young, appeared confident and worked hard. I prayed that she would succeed.
I have seen friends with crochet needles in hand help each other in the creative process.
The people who fascinate me most are those who come in alone. Some wear headphones to block out noise or listen to music. Some focus on their work, usually on computers, and seem to ignore the world around them.
I wonder what kind of impact their activity will have in this world. Could one be the next J.K. Rowling, creating a literary empire? Could one be preparing to run for political office to one day change the world? Maybe one is writing the lyrics to a future No. 1 song, or a letter to a loved one in the military. What effect will their words have?
Sunday afternoon is my favorite time to visit; it’s a peaceful moment before the busy week ahead. I go alone and order my usual cup of Earl Grey tea and sometimes a cranberry scone. As much as I love the atmosphere of this special shop, I admit I’ve never been a coffee drinker.
Once I find a spot in the crowded room, I settle in. I type on my laptop, retreating to my own world. The sounds soothe me — the grinding of the coffee beans and the steaming of the milk, the baristas creating their coffee magic.
Laughter and the music from the overhead speakers calm my nerves and help me focus.
Sometimes I read professional development articles for my job as a teacher, and sometimes I send out digital newsletters for a gym owned by a friend. Sometimes I blog about my work or write just to get out my thoughts and ideas.
In the shop, I feel part of the pulse of its microcommunity. I smile when I think that perhaps I am unknowingly a witness to something extraordinary.
Reader Kristine Houghtalen lives in Patchogue.