"Cafe Q"-nundrum

First: Pictures of my favorite spot in Baltimore, the sculpture garden of the Baltimore Museum of Art. I wish I could say I come here all the time, but it's kind of my secret, stress-relieving place. I only come here a few times a semester, when I really need a break. It all started when my ecology teacher told me there was a hybrid tree there, a maple and an oak, and I naively thought I would find it and fall in love with it. I pictured a small treehouse even, or at least me sitting against its trunk, furiously scribbling in my little red moleskine brilliant new story ideas.

I took these with my Blackberry earlier this week, at the height of my finals madness.

**Needless to say, I never found the tree.**

This will be turning into a travel blog soon enough, so I'll hold onto my food-roots while I still can. In that spirit, I would like to describe to you a little place we call Cafe Q.

Picture a typical collegiate coffee stand. It's definitely outdoors, probably on a quad with benches and elm trees and arbitrary plots of grass, and its wheels have rusted into the asymmetrical cement slabs that pave the area. The umbrella (there has to be an umbrella) is some primary color, or generic green, and there are Styrofoam cups and a glass or plastic box full of greasy, brown-sugary baked goods... The coffee, you'd imagine, is bitter, thin, and a little bit metallic from the ancient carafes it comes out of. Taste it: bright and weak, it hurts your teeth, and if you leave it sitting for too long, sediment will settle on the bottom and grit across your tongue when you drain the last cold dregs--which will invariably come at the same time as a slamming shut of a book or laptop as you get up to leave. You're late for Frisbee or beer pong or something.

This is not Cafe Q. But somehow, the proprietors of the Milton S. Eisenhower Library have managed to take that most holy of finals traditions, the tooth-yellowing, cringe-inducing, legal stimulant we call coffee, and label it organic, and sell it for ten times its worth at our five story library.

We don't have an outdoor coffee stand or a paved quad with elm trees; we have Cafe Q, and the MSEL Terrace (tables, umbrellas, on an admittedly panoramic corner between the library and the language science building). The only Frisbee I've seen played is competitive Ultimate Frisbee on the practice fields or the freshman quad. And, well, we do have beer pong. We have lots of beer pong.

The logic of Cafe Q is simple: fake college coffee = fake college experience. Th eironic tip jars are a nice touch, and so are the hip baristas. They even have fake classy sandwiches and fake classy italian sodas. (The whole concept is a little thin-strung and confused; is it meant to be classy? is it meant to be pure fuel? why does it taste so bad if it's organic?) Disclaimer: the amaretto gelato is amazing.

But why, Johnny Hopkins, why torture us so? Is mammalian evolution or comparative politics not confusing enough? Now we have to decide between organic french roast and organic guatemalan? Between a waxy, dispoable cup and a $5 refillable mug? Between the man in dreads and the girl with the nose piercing and orgo books?

I maintain that the entire venture is a distraction. We want to have the egyptian salad and the turkey and brie sandwich, but we also want two dollars of coffee that tastes like pure caffeine, to get us through applied math or advanced french. So while we, students of Johns Hopkins University, are sitting inside the library at 4 pm (or am) on a Wednesday (or Friday), we can at least have a taste of our preconceived notions of college life, if we can't live it.

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