UNITED STATES—The cafe next to the laundromat celebrated the first year of new ownership last month on Fountain Avenue, triggering a festival of remembrance. I heartily took part, since I am reputed to be a person who goes back to the beginning, before the beginning.
I have been there for a lot of it. Often when asked for my business address I put down 7962 Fountain Ave. Nine years ago in this very spot I earned money for a plane ticket to Europe, when it was a dry cleaners. Attending the dry cleaning is great for anybody who likes to spend time reading. Anyhow the dry cleaners wasn’t doing so hot, and maybe I helped push it over the edge. A producer, Thom Mount, had his suits and shirts laundered weekly. The garments came back from the plant, one shirt with a spaghetti stain on it. I had failed to properly inspect it, and we lost a client. Oh, well.
The dry cleaners limped on, meanwhile, Prasan Patel the brother of Nayan, my boss, older and more Indian in outlook, had a dream to transform this space into a cafe. It was the year before the great recession and he sank a lot of dough and vision into making the space a Starbucks manque with a twist. It was themed around Om, in Hindu tradition, the cosmic sound for harmony.
A lamp turned on in the neighborhood the minute Om—now spelled out in neon over the sidewalk—opened its door. People who came to the laundromat could look forward to a cup of joe. The first year of Om there was a lot of experimentation, for example, at first the hours extended to midnight and sometimes past. So you got to see the night owl vibe. That rolled back to 10 p.m. finally.
The space is without parking. There naturally emerged a sense of community among those who lived in the neighborhood and walked here. Community of course is a big vague word which means recognizing people for who they are in all their quirks and glory—something that so many people are starving for. Not only was it Hindu themed, with monumentally heavy, painfully stiff teak chairs and a day couch, and tables where many spent all day and much of the night at laptops. It had this person-centered heart. After sipping of it a while, it became clear that what one now looked for in a cafe was not sold at Starbucks.
Uniquely at Om, there would be a regular who one saw daily. We might chat, and nod, and for months, years, not know what they did. Or we might not even chat, but there was an awareness of these individuals. Later they’d turn out to be just the person we needed or somebody with the answer to our problems.
For instance, my ex-wife said there was this professor at UCLA I had to meet, educational philosopher Peter McLaren. For ages this guy with long white hair and leather jacket spent silent hours at a laptop. We never spoke. One night I arrived around closing time. The man had gone into the bathroom, and I looked at the titles of the books. Paulo Freire, socialist histories of Central America, and the academic like. When he came back out I asked, “Are you Peter McLaren?”
He said yes. We chatted often and he plied me with articles about Che and lesser known political leaders of central America. I got to see the photos from his travels and talks from Turkey to Tamaulipas and received a good deal of intellectual stimulation at a low ebb. That’s why I like to say about Om, you help me remember who I am.
It was an experience, and new people were helped to remember who they were. An 18-year-old Yevgen was manager after the first manager left to study meditation. There were music nights, usually Saturday. Acoustic guitar, Ryan Dilbert, Matt Miller, who later formed the group Graydon. One of the harder rock nights drove the people in the upstairs apartments nuts. We had to remember to keep it down, likewise the experiment with a patio in back, where a few smoked and anyone who talked was sure to be eavesdropped on.
To be continued…