My Old Kentucky Homesite

Do You Want Cream and Chitchat with That?

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 12/01/2009

Slowly, but not so surely, I’m getting acclimated to living in Kentucky.  Unfortunately, I haven’t found my niche yet. By “niche,” I mean hang-out, a place where I can grab a cup of coffee and stumble into an interesting conversation. Unlike in New Yawk – or Florida, for that matter – the Starbuck’s shops here have drive-in windows, so I don’t even have to get out of the car for my caffeine fix. On the downside, the only thing there is to talk about during my coffee run is whether or not I want whipped cream with that.

The local bookshops/coffeebars (or is it “coffeebars/bookshops”) are unsatisfactory as hang-outs. Lexington’s Barnes & Noble, one of the few places in town that’s actually an inconvenient distance away from my house,  may be the worst stocked store in the entire nationwide chain. The last time I was there, my discount coupon burning a hole in my pocket, four different books that I wanted were not available at that particular location. Of course, since I was not looking for Christian Fiction, Graphic Novels/Manga, or the biography of a famous horse, I probably didn’t stand a chance. Anyone acquainted with me knows how excruciatingly painful I find it to walk out of a bookstore empty-handed, particularly when I have an opportunity to save 40% off the purchase price of any hardcover. But empty-handed I was, although I think I fled the premises in time to prevent myself from becoming empty-headed.  Lexington’s B&N is not a bookish place; it’s a big box for semi-literates to shop in.

The other big Lexington book store is Joseph Beth, one of five in a regional chain. Its variety of merchandise is somewhat better than the Barnes & Noble’s, although you still can’t find every single Dickens novel or Shakespeare play amid the candy, totes, and sweatshirts. There is a very good selection of magazines, and a generous sampling of current books that are not best-sellers, but the politics section leans heavily to the right. Oh, well … it is in Kentucky, and the book-sellers do have to make a living. There are always plenty of people browsing, but the place is unusually quiet, at least to my Manhattan-trained ears. I’ve been there about a dozen times and have yet to hear any arguments about whether or not a particular author is any good. Perhaps Kentucky’s literati are more polite than the ones I’m used to back in New Yawk, but I haven’t been able to butt into a single juicy disagreement. And no one has snuck up behind me to look over my shoulder while I thumb through a volume on one of the sale tables. Back home, someone would surely say, “Don’t buy that. It sucks.” (Kentuckians, it seems, are too genteel to offer unsolicited literary advice.) However, there are seats scattered throughout the premises, and a terrific “bistro” that serves food good enough to make it a destination even for someone who would rather watch TV than read. But because it’s really rather restaurant-ish, with individual tables and booths that have plenty of space between them, there’s nothing on the menu for the chat-hungry.

Most of the people I’ve met casually in luncheonettes and delis are sports fanatics, folks who actually think it matters whether or not the local college team wins. The Lexington Herald-Leader, our alleged newspaper, often has a sports story above the fold. This makes perfect sense, because nobody here seems to care passionately about anything else. Except their religion. Everywhere I turn, I see a church. Forget going anywhere on a Sunday morning; the traffic is ridiculous. If I were a believer, the first thing I’d pray for would be a better city infrastructure. I’d also want more people who ask themselves, “How would Jesus drive?”

For the time being, I’ll have to keep hunting for that loud diner – the kind you can still find on many New Yawk street corners – where coffee comes in a cup that has pictures of Grecian urns and the words “We are happy to serve you;” and where you can easily join the discussion at the table behind you just by turning around and making a sarcastic comment.

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4 Responses to “Do You Want Cream and Chitchat with That?”

  1. srsny said

    Sadly, about a year and a half ago, the Sherri Cup Company of Connecticut discontinued the “Anthora” cup design so beloved by on-the-go New Yorkers. However, a clever retailer has taken up the design and sells the classic cardboard carry-alongs – as well as other anthora-themed products – at http://www.nycup.com/shop.html. Apparantly, there are a lot of nostalgic New Yorkers (both current and ex-) because the takeout cups are currently out of stock.

  2. Srsny:
    Another piece of my past bites the dust! Next, I suppose you’ll be telling me that New Yawkers have all started speaking softly.

  3. the chaplain said

    Have you tried checking out bookstores around the university? Sometimes independent booksellers set up decent shops in university neighborhoods. Independents are also cool because their selections are often more varied and interesting than what’s offered by the big box chains. The downside is, they probably won’t offer any 40% discounts. Still, I love giving independents my business.

  4. Chappy:
    There is an independent bookseller not far from the university, but in addition to reading material it also sells a lot of incense. Walking through its doors is like entering a time machine to the late ’60s. Ah-choo.

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