I have always been one to opt for the benefits of anonymity and independence over a close, cozy community. Benefits of anonymity? you might say. And indeed as I write it, it sounds so post-industrial and alienated – like I am that modern social malaise that so many commentators have commented upon. And yet from the inside, it feels like there is a freedom in being anonymous. I don’t have to pretend I’m interested in things I’m not, or interrupt my reverie to engage in small talk. Formulaic pleasantries make me start to itch rather quickly. In a place like New York City, you can cry in public or have a meltdown or step outside the lines in any number of ways, and there’s no danger that somebody will judge you, and tell the neighbors, and then remind you of it time and time again. They can’t because you’ll never see them again. The sheer number of strangers we all meet makes keeping tabs on each other impractical.
All of which may make me sound like a loner, but I’m not. I have lots of friends, and generally feel like I can barely spend enough time with them, so why dilute my efforts. Perhaps it is a cool-headed calculation to only expend my social energy on the most rewarding returns. Perhaps its just the introvert in me. But whatever the reasons, I have always valued the ease of anonymity: not being a ‘regular’ anywhere, not knowing about the secretary’s children or seeking out gossip that doesn’t really affect me.
So imagine my surprise to I find myself not only a regular, but a chatty favorite, at the concession stand in my work building. Fair enough, there aren’t so many other options around and I do go there several times a day to feed my coffee habit. But still, a devoted anonymous urbanite could skillfully give only a polite veneer and semblance of interaction, and still remain wholly unaffected by the experience. I blame it all on Armando, who seems to be one of those preternaturally upbeat and good-natured people that I only of dream of being. Armando is from Oaxaca, Mexico, I learned, when we chatted about that fact that I was going to Oaxaca for my honeymoon last year. He and Benjamin, one of the other two dynamos at the concession stand, are in a Mariachi band together called the Conjunto Dinamico, and they play all over the tri-state area. Yolanda, the third member of the concession team, who may be Benjamin’s sister of girlfriend, I’m not sure, often goes to watch their gigs. It is always obvious when they’ve had a late show the night before, because they are sort of squinty eyed and tired looking (though never-the-less flawlessly efficient and good natured in their service).
I am discovering the benefits of being a regular. When they see me coming in the morning, they pop in a whole wheat bagel in the toaster without me having to wait in line to order. They remember that I like my iced coffee with poco hielo, and recently have started chilling decaf coffee just for me. If I’ve forgotten to stop at the ATM, they say ‘don’t worry about it’ and let me pay later. The biggest benefit, perhaps, is the enthusiastic greeting and ‘Que pasa, Kate?’ that I get every time I go. Corny as it may sound, I feel special and recognized in the crowd that is New York City… or at least my big office building. I am now Facebook friends with the Conjunto Dinamico, and if that’s not a commitment to relationship, I don’t know what is.