When I decided to start trying to write seriously about two years ago, I thought that I would need a space to write. I have an “office”/”reading room” at home, with a CD-player, lots of books, a comfy chair, and a nice desk and computer where I would occasionally “telework” before I retired. But I find that there are too many easy distractions around the house, especially in my office. When I sit down at my computer, I’m usually checking my email, checking social media, playing games, surfing the web. Mostly relaxing, but non-productive activities.
For writing, I thought that I needed a new space, maybe outside of the house, but not too far away. I considered the local library. But it was often crowded, with limited seating. And something about libraries just felt stifling. Maybe it’s the thought of the old librarian, gray hair in a bun, glasses hanging on a chain around her neck, telling you to “Shh! Be quiet”.
But then I found “Vigilante”. It was a new coffee shop a short drive from home. It was located down an alley in a part of town that was hoping to revitalize as part of a nascent arts district. The redevelopment had been slowed during the Great Recession, but seemed to be starting up again. Vigilante originally opened as a coffee roastery, but after a couple of months had started serving their freshly roasted coffees.
My wife and I had gone to Vigilante several times as a welcome alternative to the typical suburban Starbucks and to try to help the local businesses. It was a funky space, built in an old industrial garage. There were three large glass garage doors at the front of the building and uneven cement floors. The seating was basic, definitely “repurposed”. A hand full of square shiny, aluminum topped tables, with thick square brown wood legs are each surrounded by four short, metal “shop” stools. The roasting equipment, the brewing equipment, and the seating area all shared the same space. So if you get there at the right time, you can watch the roasters as you sip your brew, with the smell of roasting coffee beans filling the air.
Vigilante has a unique vibe. The neighborhood is a mix of students and young adults from the nearby University of Maryland, or drawn to the developing “arts district”, and older, longer-time residents, with a bit of a hippy/70’s bent, who were drawn to the many older Victorian homes in the area. The result is a mix of hipness of the younger folk with their Apple laptops, iPads, and iPhones, and tattoos and piercings that comes with any coffee shop, and the more laid-back, somewhat intellectual atmosphere of the older residents. Add to that the personal interests of Chris, the owner/founder of Vigilante. Chris takes coffee very seriously, and Vigilante is a place for serious coffee drinking, where added sugar and milk or cream are frowned upon. Chris is also a skateboarder. Custom painted skateboard decks and parts are prominently displayed on the walls, all for sale, making Vigilante probably the only coffee shop where you can also buy an espresso made with fresh in-house roasted beans and a custom made, hand decorated skateboard to go.
The first couple of times that my wife and I went there, I noticed that most of the other customers were hooked into their laptops, mostly Apple MacBook Airs, taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi. “You know,” I thought, “this place has pretty much everything I need to write.” There was the Wi-Fi; coffee; seating with places to put your laptop, coffee, a pastry, and maybe a book or some notes; and it wasn’t too crowded. Just enough people to keep it from being “like a morgue”, but not enough activity to be a real disturbance.
I started going to Vigilante on an almost daily basis. I bought a new tablet computer and keyboard to replace my worn-out, clunky laptop. I soon found that 2:00pm was a good time to start. It was a fairly quiet time, between people taking a break at lunch and teachers and students from the nearby high school and University of Maryland stopping by after school. I got to know most of the baristas and they got to know me. I’m a creature of habit, with distinct likes. The baristas soon recognized me and knew my standard drink, an Americano. I was often greeted with “Hey, Americano, Bob?” In fact, one barista suggested that I just change my name to “Americano Bob”.
Well, it’s been over two years now. Vigilante has grown and expanded its seating area. Some of the staff has moved on and lots of new staff have been brought in. More people have discovered Vigilante, and sometimes it gets a little crowded. They have even gone to rationing their free Wi-Fi, limiting connections to 2 hours during the week, and turning it off on weekends, to help people “regain their social skills”. Chris, and a couple of original baristas, have kept the original comfortable vibe going. It’s still a very friendly, comfortable, somewhat funky space with great coffee. Just right for me to write.