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Wanna spoon - Romancing the Late-Night

by Lila Allen

June 9,2010

In high school, I lived and died by the greasy spoon. I am, if nothing else, hopelessly and recklessly enamored of the romantically mundane. But in high school, I was particularly enamored of a diner called Athens.

Athens: where I fell in love for the first time. Athens: where my heart was smashed out for the first time, like those smoldering cigarettes burning through the tissue holders in the bathrooms; where my waistline expanded with every grilled cheese; where trouble found me for pancakes too late for a sixteen-year-old. I debated politics in its sticky booths, discussed art and film over pitchers of tea, and analyzed culture across a cracked table.

But the most amazing part about Athens is that my memories aren't unique – Athens was a site for late-night post-bar debauchery, for family dinners, for prom dates, for the church crowd on Sunday mornings. Athens was a community happening, filled with lively and diverse characters, conversation, the occasional evening drama, and a love of Greek food.

Athens, in other words, was a place we all shared.

When CPCC bought Athens in 2005 for the construction of a parking deck, I said I'd go Greenpeace: chain myself to the building, write a letter to the school president, sign a petition! But all good things, as they say, must go. Athens went. And it's only over the last few months that I've started to make room for another 24-hour spot, though it lacks the grit that I always loved about Athens.

Amelie's French Bakery, on North Davidson Street, has experienced immense success (and at all hours) from a crowd ranging from stumbling partiers to polished mommies. What brings them to the same table, more than a love of croissants, is a desire to be a part of something active, organic, and unpredictable. The chaises longues and other comfy, upholstered furniture reinforce the idea that lingering is a part of the experience, and that Amelie's is intended to be a temporary home and a meeting place for the community at-large. In my writerly six-hour stints there, I have seen meetings, book clubs, study sessions, rap groups, artists, writers, children – all at the same time, and it is wonderful. Amelie's isn't my place any more than it is theirs: it is a community space, a pastry-stuffed forum for discussion, innovation, and learning. What I miss about Athens that I've re-found at Amelie's, other than a second wind, is a connection to a neighborly, evolving experience.

And as I tip-tap-tap on my laptop, I realize that these universally-loved meeting grounds like Amelie’s and Athens are perhaps one of the greatest overlooked cultural tools that a community may possess. They provide a window into other cultures, other languages, other ideas. They feed our bodies, of course, but they also feed our curiosity and our intellect. They make conversation a commodity itself, something to seek out at 1 a.m. in addition to a scone and tea.

And what better time than now to engage in a conversation with a stranger?

As we turn the corner into the next decade, particularly with recent legislation, some of the groups separated during the Aughts – straight/gay, American/ “Other,” known/unknown – are finally back in the same room. With the potential repealing of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, that room is the military; under health care reform, that room is a doctor’s office. Other groups – illegal immigrants, even people who just appear to be illegal immigrants – are being thrown out of the room all together. All of these changes are controversial. All of these changes are worthy of and thirsty for debate among American residents and citizens.

And this is where Amelie’s, Athens, the Landmark – wherever your place may be – comes in. Even if it’s just a shared memory in a shared place, having a spot to share with one’s community is valuable unto itself. Places such as these are the breeding grounds for cultural development, community color, and oral tradition. Some of the best and most meaningful conversations, memories, and of course, meals, come when we least expect them. Bon appetit, mes chers – I’m lost, once again, in the romance of the 24-hour joint. Come join me.

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