Need some fashion advice from Rachel? Wondering how Joey’s audition went? Hunting for Chandler because he did something mean to you? Chances are they’re at Central Perk.
Have a sudden and urgent need for great waffles or all the bacon and eggs? Wondering where Leslie is pulling an all-nighter creating color coded binders? Just need some solid life advice from Ann? Hit up JJ’s Diner.
Need coffee coffee coffee and a conversation with Lorelai at breakneck speed? Curious what Kirk’s new odd job is? Accidentally on purpose slept with your ex-boyfriend who is married and now need to talk it out with your mom? Everybody’s at Luke’s.
JJ’s and Luke’s and Central Perk—they’re all places our favorite characters go for a drink or a meal, sure. But they’re also places for conversation and community. All of these TV land locales are what sociologists and urban planners call third spaces.
A third place is a public gathering place like a coffee shop or a library, a church or a park. It’s a place where people can relax and socialize when they’re not at their first place—home—or their second place—work. I first learned about third places on a trip to Seattle, where my hosts frequented a store called Third Place Books. Part bookstore, part coffee shop, part restaurant and bar, the store offers a space for people to work or just hang out as well as community events like lectures, workshops, or concerts. Third places often function as venues for community meetings, practicing of hobbies or passions, and even political discussion. Barber shops are a perfect example of third places—those who frequent them don’t get a haircut every time. Sometimes you just stop by to shoot the breeze with people from your neighborhood. Urban planners and social philosophers love third places because they encourage residents to get out of their houses or apartments and spend time together. American culture in particular is very private and individual, so creating spaces where we can get together and get to know each other is a major goal of many communities.
Third places are on my mind because I’m living alone for the first time in my life. After years of roommates, I bought my own place, and it’s lovely. It’s quiet and I get to decorate however I want and if there’s a mess, at least it’s my own. I get more than one shelf in the bathroom and pantry. I don’t have to enter the house with a hyperbolic amount of noise in order to warn roommates and their beaus that I’m home. I’m an introvert who spends eight hours a day performing in front of teenagers, so the solitude and silence at home is generally welcome. But with the advantages have come some unexpected and strange experiences. This weekend, I realized on Sunday afternoon that save saying “Good morning” to some people at church, I had not spoken a single word aloud for more than twenty-four hours. This was strange. When I had roommates, we’d sometimes share meals or leftovers, or we’d at least be welcome to use a splash of someone’s milk in a recipe. Now I end up making weird substitutions for missing ingredients or eating strange, cobbled-together meals like a bowl of cereal and a plate of roasted kale because there’s no one here to judge me.
All of this is to say that I’m looking for a third place. I drive past several potentials on my way home from school each day, and there are three or four more I could walk to from home. So I’ve been testing a few out. Some are too quiet, or too pretentious, or don’t have enough outlets for laptop charging. Some are so busy I feel bad taking up a table all to myself for an hour. I’m testing one out this very minute that’s great but also happens to be outside—not ideal for a Michigan winter. But I’m hoping to find one soon, a place like Luke’s or Central Perk where I’m a regular, where I feel comfortable and when I can pull in after school simply out of habit.
An official third place is supposed to fulfill a set of conditions. They’re not supposed to cost much money, they should be homey, and they should be enjoyable by people of all types—they’re “levelers.” They’re also supposed to be social. You should go to a third place to meet someone, to have a conversation, to network. This is an aspirational descriptor of third spaces for me. As I test out various spaces, I spend most of my time reading or grading papers or on my laptop. I’m not participating in the social aspect of the third space, but I hope with time that I’ll settle in to one and start recognizing people. Maybe I’ll get to chatting with a barista, or I’ll meet another teacher who enjoys a good four p.m. beer.
What I love about places like Luke’s or Central Perk is the sense of belonging and routine they provide for my favorite characters. The gang always sits on the sofas and armchair in the middle of the shop. Luke brings Rory and Lorelei coffee without even asking. I guess I’m just looking for that place “where everybody knows my name,” though I’ve never seen Cheers. Maybe it’s time to do some more research.
Abby Zwart (’13) teaches high school English in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She spends her free time making lists of books she should read, cooking, and managing the post calvin.