Transforming International Travel and Inspirational Coffee Shop Signage

ThirdSpace1I’m in the best coffee shop in Canada. Well—the best, according to a Buzzfeed article, and why would you ever trust a source whose name is basically a 21st century synonym for “rumourmonger”?  It’s called Third Space3 Coffee. It’s got hardwood floors and beechwood tables, along with some retro swivel chairs whose backs have been tin-plated to look like some sort of steampunk supervillain’s throne. That’s all cool, or at the very least eccentric, but the rest of the décor is kitsch, especially the hard-mounted, block-lettered signs propped up along the peripheral shelves, broadcasting embarrassing maxims like, “This is My Happy Place,” “It’s Not Too Late to Start the Day Over,” and—seriously—“I Just Awesomed All Over the Place.”

Only half of me is here. Flesh-self, human-self, just ordered a cappuccino, but mind-self is on the other side of the country, with my passport. It’s being held by the French consulate while I try to sort out how to get it back before Canada Post workers go on strike. If I don’t have a passport in my hand in two weeks, I can’t go to Japan. I’ll miss the once-every-three-year reunion with my oldest, dearest friends. It’s distracting and worrisome. It is not My Happy Place.

The stereo in Third Space3 plays “A Day in the Life” as my coffee arrives. It’s my favourite Beatles song. Turns out I ordered a latte, not a cappuccino—my mind is elsewhere—but it doesn’t matter. It’s a very good coffee. The barista’s name is Skyler, though. And I’m glad I didn’t order a tea, like the retiree at the next beechwood table, because his tea is steeping in a bona fide laboratory beaker. Is that hip, I wonder? It looks like a urine specimen.

ThirdSpace2I’d like to suppress my cynicism and just enjoy myself. It is the first time in a week I’ve had the time to write in a café, and that’s my favourite thing, and I shouldn’t have to filter the experience through a veil of bile. Live the Life You Imagined, crows another sign. I don’t know what I imagined, but I don’t think it involved reducing the efforts of everyone around me to a curmudgeonly punchline. Somebody hand-picked those pithy maxim signs. Somebody ordered those laboratory beakers off the internet. Somebody tin-plated those rumpus room chairs. Why should I have to crap all over their ideas in order to be happy?

The consulate told me to send them a FedEx pre-addressed envelope. FedEx can’t do that, apparently; under duress, they agreed to arrive at the consulate bearing a pre-addressed envelope, into which the consulate staff must immediately insert the passport, or else the transaction gets cancelled. This is what happened yesterday, either due to the security barriers, or the language barrier, or simply the obduracy of two bureaucracies butting heads. Everyone knows my address, but nobody is willing to transport passport-self, paper-self, mind-self across the threshold.

This is My Happy Place. Third Space3 Coffee is owned by a not-for-profit foundation that “cultivates community” in the form of “intentional relationships.” I know this because its mandate is broadcast on the 62” flatscreen TV which dominates one wall of the café. The manifesto is part of a slideshow that mostly features ads for the foundation’s sister concern, a “Wellness Facility” on the second floor, staffed by dieticians, acupuncturists, naturopaths, and a tattoo removal specialist.

If I could inch past my cynicsm and ignore the cult-y smiles of all the wellness experts on the big screen, I’d be prepared to acknowledge that “intentional relationships” are actually a pretty good idea, and this community is probably more in line with my own ethics than anyone else I’ve met in Kelowna. But I don’t want this community, not today. I don’t want to meet Skyler, who is now on his smoke break. I don’t even want to meet the bright-eyed, freckle-faced, nose-pierced girl who’s replaced him. I’m gonna guess…Shandra? Nope. Don’t care. My community exists elsewhere. Sort of. It’s a bit spread out right now. But some of it is meeting in Japan soon, and I’ll be a cultists’ uncle if I’m going to miss that.

Just before coming to the café, I tried applying for a replacement passport. But my birth certificate is in Sydney, and I don’t have proof from the consulate that they’re still holding my passport, and anyway they don’t print new passports in Kelowna, so I should maybe just wait till I’m in Edmonton next week…

I decide that this is not the best coffee shop in Canada. The bathroom is outside the shop, way down the hall. I leave my backpack at my table, deliberately, as if I’m daring Kelowna to steal it while I’m having a pee—steal the few remaining vital documents I have, so that I’m reduced to nothing, no paper-me at all, just body-me. I Just Existentialized All Over the Place.

My bag is still there. My tablet is inside. I Google “Canada Post strike” anxiously. It turns out the news is good—the lockout has been postponed for at least 30 days. I send an email to the consulate, asking them to revert to Plan A—sending my passport to Edmonton by Priority Post—and I’m surprised to get a reply almost immediately. “Très bien, nous l’enverrons dès lundi matin.

I breathe out. Paper-self will be reunited with body-self. I won’t relax completely until they’re back together—just in time to get wound up about the trip itself, no doubt. But for now? It’s Not Too Late to Start the Day Over.

I am a part of a community. Not a “Third Space” community of wellness and intentional relationships, but a “First Space” network that includes all relationships, intentional or random, social or bureaucratic. And I can tug and strain against the bounds of these relations, or else I can use the web to move around within, maybe not ending up exactly where I’d planned each time, but still somewhere connected, somewhere human.

This Is My Happy Place. Yes and no. It’s just a place—one with good coffee but bad décor but good music but inconvenient washrooms but, okay, fine, cool chairs. I’m grateful I feel welcomed here; I’m grateful my backpack wasn’t nicked. This is where my body’s at, and that part of me is happy. And for now, that’s good enough.

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