I hope that my vicious lie doesn’t forever taint my daughter’s valuation of public space.
Tired of being cooped up, my older daughter and I went Sunday for a meandering walk, which ultimately headed downtown. Before reaching the fountain (our destination), she started to complain that she was cold. I suggested we find a place to sit inside and get some hot chocolate.
Our first choice, because it was near, was Lavelle’s. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t open for another half-hour.
We moved on to Two Street Station. Sadly, that was closed, too. My daughter was disappointed: a young child, she has trouble dealing with failed expectations and changes of plan.
I suggested one last place: McCafferty’s, which lay on our way home. I promised that, if it wasn’t open, we’d make hot chocolate once we got back. I asked her to brace herself and not to lose her cool if it was closed.
It had closed fifteen minutes ago. Well, nuts.
As we walked away, I said,
That’s okay. As soon as we get home, we’ll make some hot cocoa, and it’ll be better than anything we’d have gotten at any of these places.
Why was that a lie? It’s not because cafés produce such whiz-bang good cocoa, or because I mistakenly bought non-fat milk at the grocery store, or because we’d run out of cocoa powder and had to use some second-rate instant stuff.
It’s because sitting in a downtown café affords the opportunity of people-watching. For most people, nothing is so interesting as other people — and that is why people pay money to eat in restaurants when they could make the same food at home.
The fun of people-watching is one reason we create inviting public spaces. It is why having neighborhoods safe for pedestrians and rich with destinations where people might see each other is important. It is why no hot chocolate you make, however tasty, and drink at your home, however cozy, among the same old people, however beloved, will ever be the same as a mug of cocoa in a friendly place full of new people.