“And here we all are, having coffee in Brooklyn!” Taylor said at the PLG Coffee House and Tavern, a short walk from Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. “I’m from Michigan; my wife is from San Francisco. You’re from North Carolina. Is anybody really from here?
“This is supposed to be the best coffee shop in a hip neighborhood,” his wife Lisa added. She looked at the packed Sunday morning crowd. “This would be great if we could afford to buy.”
Taylor, a white man about half my age, beamed, sipped his coffee, and waited for his brunch sandwich. Taylor was raised in Michigan, ran cross-country at John Carroll University near Cleveland and currently consults with tech start-ups, or something equally hip. Lisa looked appropriately subdued and distant for a woman whose firstborn is due around Thanksgiving. Lisa is a fellow Penn alumnus and track standout, class of 2010. She earned her law degree at Columbia and works at a firm in the Big Apple.
Probably prompted by the pending new addition, Lisa, Taylor and I talked about the cost of housing and education. We agreed the business of higher education, particularly the old guard brick-and-mortar universities, such as Penn, Duke and UNC Chapel Hill, had failed to adapt to the technologies of the times. As for housing, a young professional couple could barely afford to buy a starter home (not just in Brooklyn but in Anywhere, USA). Lisa and Taylor finished their coffee and brunch, and trudged out in a late October downpour to check out other possible neighborhoods to move to.
What kind of neighborhood did Lisa and Taylor see as hip enough for their first child?
I looked around the PLG. The coffee shop was packed that stormy Sunday morning. A young Latino woman served coffee. A slightly older, artsy, inked white woman gathered used plates and cups from tables. A redheaded man with a dreadlocked beard prepared breakfast food in the back. A tall, slender woman with a bag marked “African-American Design Nexus-Harvard University” sat and opened her laptop where Lisa vacated. Two spectacled souls wearing yarmulkes sipped espresso, sat across from each other and bent over their iPads near the window. An African-American man about my age, reading an actual newspaper, sat in the corner near the door. He looked like he’d been sitting there since the last time the Knicks won a championship. Kanye’s “Jesus is King” album drifted from the sound system. (Few seemed to like it.)
Noon the next day I hopped public transportation (a cost-effective way of getting around), had lunch with my son and called a cab. Rosario drove me to LaGuardia. I listened to cool Latin hip-hop while young Rosario told me about growing up in the Dominican Republic and how grateful he was to live and work in America.
At midnight, the unnamed airline shuttled Wilmington-bound passengers to John Hotel in Little Chinatown, Queens. Jordan, a Chinese college student, manned the graveyard shift check-in desk. He wore a Baruch College sweatshirt and appeared to be doing his homework.
When I arrived home the next day, I waited in line at a Wilmington coffee shop behind a smiling interracial couple. The man wore a Wisconsin sweatshirt.
Is anybody really from here?
I sipped hot coffee and felt warm gratitude for the opportunity to travel, for Brooklyn, for Wilmington and for the accepting melting pot that is my America. As we approach another high-stakes election year, I know my America is not everyone’s. Some people fear the neighborhood melting pot. Their idea of diversity is some people in the neighborhood go to First Baptist and others go to First Presbyterian, and some people even fly Wolfpack flags. Ol’ 45 and others will demonize immigrants, blame the dread “other” for America’s ills. After my recent travels I can only wonder, Who is this other? Is it Jordan? Rosario? The PLG patrons? Maybe Lisa and Taylor?
I don’t know who the “other” is, but I did figure out the PLG in PLG coffee stands for “Peace, Love, Gratitude.” This Thanksgiving I hope Lisa and Taylor’s baby is born healthy with an opportunity to grow, learn and travel in a healthier melting-pot America. I also hope the fellow travelers I met find a little “PLG,” and Wilmington becomes the “PLG” capital of NC.