I applied to five colleges, each offering a different landscape, culture and experience. When I narrowed it down to my final two options, Clemson and The University of Georgia, Athens’ downtown was what won me over.
I loved the boutique clothing stores, the independent music shops brimming with used CDs and the darkened venues where I saw Morphine, Jump Little Children and Pavement perform for under $10 each. I loved rooting through the picture frames and t-shirts at Junkman’s Daughter’s Brother and getting 25 cent ice cream at the drugstore off Milledge Ave.
My freshman year, I did not have a car. Pretty much, my entire universe existed within that mile of downtown. The world was comprised of people aged 18-25. There were no “adults” and no kids. We essentially had created a utopia which supported our own needs and desires.
I immediately fell in love with Blue Sky, a little coffee shop downtown, and everything that coffee shop culture had to offer. I didn’t even drink coffee, but I relished having a place to write, to think and to hang out, outside the four walls of my dorm cell. In other words, it had little to nothing to do with the coffee – and everything to do with the experience.
When I moved into my apartment last July, I unpacked boxes of CDs and painstakingly alphabetized them on a bookshelf. I reminisced about rifling through bootleg concert CDs in independent Athens music shops. Again, while I enjoyed the end product (finding a CD to purchase and listen to), I placed a higher value on the experience.
At some point before I graduated and left Athens, a Starbucks cropped up within spitting distance of my beloved Blue Sky. I remember my outrage – how could big business creep into our little indie town, whose only franchised resident was a GAP? Quite simply, who would choose a visit to Starbucks over Blue Sky? I feared this was the beginning of the end. Big business would overtake Athens, and Broad Street would become another suburban highway.
Fast forward ten years – as a City-dweller, I have come to expect a Starbucks on every corner. I am still not a coffee drinker, yet I do adore (and rely on) my iced grande skim caramel macchiatos. I have not deliberately spent time in a coffee shop since I left Athens.
Until the advent of iTunes, I continued to purchase CDs regularly. Post-Athens, all of my business went to big-box stores – the Best Buys and Circuit Cities. Once downloadable music came along, I fell for the immediacy. I could have a song within seconds.
In other words: I traded experiences for convenience.
I became a creature of habit who frequented coffee shops for caffeine – not to seek oasis from my everyday life. I forgot the enjoyment I derived, searching through plastic bins of CDs, to discover songs that I hadn’t already listened to 30-second snippets of. Everything became about the end result and the not the journey to get there.
I often tell myself that one day, I will hop the subway down to St. Mark’s and pay a visit to one of those dark and gritty CD shops. And maybe that same day, for old times sake, I’ll walk by the Starbucks into a random coffee shop and break out my journal.