Latte privilege

I lived there for three blissful years, but every time my consort and I go back I am still surprised by how melanin-rich Philadelphia is.

On our last trip, after we got off the false-advertising Megabus and used Amtrak’s Wi-Fi at the magnificent 30th Street Station to search out a lunch stop, we wound up at the new Walnut Street Cafe (best flack team working, apparently) and were impressed by how “diverse,” as HR would say, the front-of-the-house team was, from host to open-kitchen cooks to servers. You just don’t see that in Manhattan.

But as the Starbucks Incident down the street from where I once lived proves, it’s complicated.

Consider what happened when two white olds stopped for coffee in hopes of free Wi-Fi at La Colombe Torrefaction in scary-rapidly gentrifying Fishtown. We ordered two espresso, succumbing to the lure of the “workshop” blend for an extra 50 cents for one, then found seats and got the sad news that there would be no Wi-Fi. Then we waited and waited, long enough for me to find the facilities with no receipt needed, while Bob kept an eye on the barista taking just short of forever. Twice he went to the counter and saw cups lined up with his name noted, but still we waited and waited. Finally Ms. Easily Agitated threatened to go see why the joint was making Slow the Art of Coffee look instant and Bob jumped in to keep my crazy at bay. Within minutes we had two espresso in front of us, on the house, and a promise of the special on the way, also gratis. Turns out the barista was dissatisfied with what he’d been pulling, thanks to something to do with the unseasonably cold air swooping in every time the door opened, and the expeditor(/manager?) had not realized until Bob asked him to check when the order went in that we had, indeed, been waiting at least 20 minutes.

The E(/M?) came over to offer us free pastries to compensate and we said no, since we’d just had lunch at Cheu Fishtown, and then he offered a pound of coffee beans, ground to our specs, which Bob immediately accepted. So we were feeling pretty happy when he stopped back to ask how how the special was and give us a little advice on using their blend in our Illy machine at home. Profuse thanks were proffered from our side of the high-top table, and the E/M? said: “Well, you were so nice about it.”

The overkill-nice was all the more amazing when I made a second pit stop and looked in the mirror and realized I looked not just like an old but like a homeless one — because I hadn’t packed the right clothes, for warmth I was wearing one of Bob’s T-shirts under my Lucky-loud-Brand top, and inside-out at that, to hide the NOLA logo on its blue front.

I have no idea whether black patrons would get equal treatment there; I don’t even recall anyone but whites there at all.

But I do remember thinking, as I do every time we tow our bags across one of the bridges over the Schuylkill from that magnificent train station, of the young black man who was paralyzed by a police bullet and eventually somehow managed to hoist himself out of his wheelchair and into the river to drown. And that was 40 years ago. I love the city, but it has clearly not MOVEd on.