Write of Passage

Willett's Baltimore Transitions / Expressions

Willett .

Willett .
Baltimore, Maryland,
June 15
Write of Passage, Inc.
Willett Thomas is the President of Write of Passage, Inc., a 501(C)(3) communications, training, and publishing organization formed in 2010 to assist underserved artists and writers. She is also a freelance writer, writing in and about Baltimore. She recently relocated to the neighborhood of Greenmount, where the exterior shots of the HBO series, The Wire were filmed. She's pleased to report any rumored resemblances to the television series are greatly exaggerated. *** Like us at Facebook ;-) http://www.facebook.com/WriteofPassage

Editor’s Pick
OCTOBER 13, 2010 8:59AM

The New Café Culture, Or What’s Cornbread Gotta Do With It

Rate: 21 Flag

“A girl’s gotta have her cornbread.” This is what I hear as I sit at my usual table at Station North Arts Café, a spot I am found at so often that upon seeing me those not in the know are often compelled to ask:  (1) If I’m one of the owners (2) If I’m undergoing a major kitchen remodel that, of course, has gone terribly wrong, and last, and strangely most often asked (3) If the mouse taking up residence in my kitchen, is exercising squatter’s rights. No, I answer to all, nothing so dramatic. I simply like the cafe’s vibe.

A wonderful laid-back vibe providing all who cross its threshold unfettered access to B’more society -- the poor, the not as poor, black, white, black and white, artisans and politicians. A “Yeah, that really happened to me, no shit lie,” entrée to a storied cross section of humanity, I know under no other circumstances would I have an opportunity to mingle so freely with.

From the doctors who work for Baltimore Department of Health Services, so tight-collared (not all, but enough), you can’t help but wonder how food finds a way down their constricted little gullets. On to those artists, both young and old, who often look as though the tofu loaded chili dogs they practically inhale might very well be their last suppers.  And, yes, I’m there too, at the café, at my table mere inches from the drip none of the upstairs tenants will lay claim to, most mornings (no weekends) between 8 and 10am, mainly because I do indeed like the vibe, but also because, though I never applied, I am a member in good standing of this new café culture.

I qualify as a member in good standing because of what is proving to be my no-end-in-sight underemployed status. Eighteen months and counting, I have sought shelter from a deluge of economic cutbacks and belt-tightening, forced to make a space for myself under what was already an overcrowded umbrella with those like and totally unlike myself: struggling artists, struggling students, struggling single parents, struggling emancipatees (free to not be a burden to their struggling single parents), all in an effort to keep from being swept away by a storm no one bothered to warn us was coming.

 Indeed, I am a member of this newly fashioned underworking-class, one of those who gets up each morning ready to meet a new day, bathed, combed, de-wrinkled (as wrinkle free as khakis and a baseball cap can be without heat intervention), lips coated in Chapstick, no lipstick, considering the destination -- a hole in the wall, under foreclosure, rent haphazardly paid by the upstairs tenants (also café members in good standing) and the downstairs café owners to the City receiver, our little refuge from the storm – our neighborhood café.   

It’s only a quarter past nine when I hear Jesmine gleefully repeat for the third time “A girl’s gotta have her cornbread.”  The first and second times, it’s cornbreadeasy to ignore her, but the third time I feel compelled to get up, go to the counter to learn the source of Jesmine’s glee and the riddle of just why a girl’s gotta have her cornbread. Not taking into account the obvious: the beautiful brown crust the cast iron pan imparts, the dollop of whipped sweet butter placed artfully atop each piece, the preserves and/or real maple syrup that is optionally yours for the asking (though not clearly listed as so on the menu). No, the answer to why a girl's gotta have her cornbread isn’t as simple as because it’s damn good! 

Instead, I stay planted in my seat, too preoccupied with cutting the humongous shrimp in my salad into smaller, salad stretchening pieces. Besides, being a member of this new café culture, knowing why a girl’s gotta have her cornbread is a prerequisite.

Just as I know why a crack head, and/or meth head takes that long deep hit, or why my mother, who is a diabetic and a sugar fiend, has to have her nightly Pepsi. Or for that matter, why I was once compelled to pick up the phone at 2am to make what I kiddingly told myself would be the very last call ever to Mister Man.  One call for "closure" that would turn out to be the first in a long series of very last calls ever.

I understand.

Sometimes you’ve gotta get yours, if only to let everybody know that though you may only have two sticky nickels to rub together, if you truly want it -- job, boyfriend, girlfriend, lake house, mega million lotto winning ticket, that oh, so good cornbread – regardless of what appears to be a no end in sight downward spiral, all of this and more continues to be well within reach.  Sometimes you've gotta let 'em know, that even while standing in the eye of the storm, you're still in charge.

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Rated for cornbread imagry and sister-girl moxie :)
Rated with hugs for the words and the cornbread I can no longer eat.
I missed you!!
God, I love cornbread too. And here's to making the best of underemployment...Standing in the wind clutching my cornbread with anticipation of that first bite.

Great post.
Sometimes you've gotta let 'em know, that even while standing in the eye of the storm, you're still in charge.

That line absolutely spun this piece from really, really good to "Holy Shit . . . she's so right."

Here's to easier days . . .
To all: Just got back from the cafe, no cornbread today, just coffee and good conversation (as usual).
Willett, you brought that cafe alive with your writing, and the mouthwatering cornbread doesn't hurt! I agree, cafes can be a welcome home away from home, and a place of solace and community. Best wishes to you.
Bravo! And now this girl must have some cornbread NOW!
Hi Readwillet! I really enjoyed reading your description of the cafe and the people in it. It reminded me a little bit of the Billy Joel song, "Piano Man."
What came across to me in your writing more than anything else was YOU. I love the spirit that was reflected in your words and the simultaneous recognition that things haven't been going well but that there is still hope and that the goals you want to reach are within reach.
I can't help but root for you! Here's wishing you multitudes of cornbread!
One tough woman. And oh the cornbread. R!
Glad to see you again. Very nice, and I wish I had one nearby.. sounds like home away from home...homemade cornbread mmm.
@Rita -- It is a cool place. I don't know what I'd do if I couldn't hang out at this little cafe. Station North Arts Cafe rules! Much love to Kevin and Bill, the owners.
I always look enviously at the people ensconced in the booths of the coffee house next to our office, tapping away on their laptops. "How", I wonder, as I dash in and out with my to-go coffee "do grown-ups get time to sit and read, think and drink coffee?" Now I know one way they do it, and I'm not so envious anymore. Best of luck on the way to full employment - I know you'll get yours eventually, in the best possible fashion.
@Blue in TX -- As much as I love the cafe "life," I'm afraid I would trade it in with little thought for a solid 9-5 right about now. Thanks for reading and commenting.
Finding a good coffee shop is the equivalent of discovering two ounces of loose diamonds beneath your mattress in the middle of the night. Enjoy, at least until you are no longer underemployed.
Wow, you are sooooo lucky to have found a great coffee house!!! I had one when I lived in Michigan. But now, where I live in NC not one is to be had. Just don't get it. Good luck with the unemployment---I will send you positive wishes.
@From the Midwest -- I am blessed to have found such a great community of friends and associated "characters" with my move to Baltimore. I know I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be and happy to here. Thanks for stopping by.
I agree, that last line is perfect. Thank you.
Next time I'm in nearby D.C., I'm stopping at the Station North Arts Café. Since I know what you look like, I'll try to sit close by and eavesdrop on you, hoping you talk as well as you write.
@Leon -- Sounds like a plan. The second you walk through the doors you know you've arrived some place special. Seriously, drop by. I'm bound to be there. Also, the owners Bill and Kevin, also friends, will make you feel very at home.
great writing, has layers--this is great writing.
Enjoyed reading your version of "Cheers" morphed into a welcoming neighborhood cafe. Also reminded me of Tracy Morgan's most quoted line from #30rock "I love this cornbread so much, I wanna take it behind a middle school and get it pregnant."
rated ~~
@Ollie's daughter -- I hadn't heard that one, but it's great. I really am glad I've found a cafe home in Baltimore. It's always good to be somewhere everyone knows your name.