I was sitting in a beautiful spot in my neighborhood called Darling Coffee with Noah. We have a little tradition most Saturdays where I take him to a pizza place for lunch and then for dessert at Darling. I get coffee or tea and a little dessert. A favorite of mine are the lemon poppy seed shortbread cookies. Noah always gets the No-Nut Brownies, unless they've sold out. In that case he will settle for a Campfire Cookie.
Darling was packed. Noah and I scored a spot on a bench. People filled all of the tables, window seats and stools. A long line of people waiting to order snaked almost to the door.
People were eating and socializing, relaxing, reading. A significant number of people seemed settled in for the duration, sipping coffee and staring intently at laptop screens.
The scene unfolding before me is a small business success story. A full house of delighted looking customers. A happy buzz that happens when a place has become a community gathering place. Just what our neighborhood needed.
Maybe because this is still a new business, maybe for entirely different reasons, maybe for no reason at all, I started thinking about all of the people that were at Darling Coffee on this given day at this exact time.
First, I considered the mass of people as a group. Then I began to study individual people. Finally, I included Noah and myself in my thinking.
If these people were not at Darling Coffee at this time, where would they be?
I wondered if this person or that, clearly designating this space as a workplace, would be sitting with their laptops at the Starbucks that opened several blocks away on Dyckman Street. Would the people enjoying lunch simply be eating at a different establishment?
How many people would just be at home?
When I turned the question to myself, I found it difficult to answer. Did the little ritual that Noah and I developed come about because Darling Coffee opened? Did that trigger it? Or was there something going on where no matter what, a Saturday tradition was ripe to happen?
In asking myself the question, I realized that it might be impossible for most people to answer it with any certitude. This would almost always remain in the realm of speculation. It would be a permanent maybe.
I thought of a study I could do where I would ask people to think about the question and speculate about where they might be. Knowing that it might be ultimately unanswerable for many would force people to ask themselves questions and imagine an entirely different scenario for themselves on a small scale.
The project might be called If not here, where? I would take some very lovely photographs of my subjects. I would photograph them at Darling and then again at the place they might be if Darling didn't exist. The place they would be if it never opened.
I saw myself gently approaching people with beautifully designed cards describing my project. It would be like a calling card. It would invite them to participate.
Noah jolted me out of the reverie. He interrupted my thinking before I could flesh out the idea or think of the caveats.
We left Darling to take a hike in Inwood Hill Park. The questions I asked myself, and the idea I had, remained suspended and brand new. I chatted amiably with Noah. During the lulls in conversation, I photographed the rocks, bark and plants that peppered the trails. That is where we were, and that is what we did. That much is certain.