Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Park Slope Cafés

I had to do something in Park Slope recently, which reminded me of a great sociological mystery that I was never able to solve. Park Slope is a stereotypically swipple part of Brooklyn, which, among other things, means a predictable oversupply of "quirky" French-themed cafés.

Someone once told me that most Chinese restaurants in America get their menus, decor and many of their raw ingredients from the same supply company, ensuring a homogenized feel across the whole Chinese take-out place marker sector. It would surprise me if the same thing didn't apply to "quirky" cafés in gentrified neighborhoods all over the country. Actually, it wouldn't even surprise me if the same company was doing both.

This post isn't about decor though. It's about these cafés' workforce. In Park Slope their cash registers and coffee machines are exclusively manned by sensitive, 20-something swipples who seem as though they could have come directly from the neighboring brownstones. These brownstones are genuinely beautiful and cost millions. Everyone I know assumes that the hipsters of Park Slope, DUMBO, Williamburg and other such places, to a man, are spoiled, ridiculous, do-nothing children of wealthy, but definitely to-be-pitied parents from places like Ohio or Michigan. Then why are some of them working in cafés? You certainly can't live in Park Slope on the money they'd pay you for serving coffee. I have a middle class office job and I wouldn't be able to afford living there. Neither would my boss, his boss, his boss's boss and so on.

Their silly left-wing affectations aside, swipples tend to be smart, attractive, healthy people in the very prime of their lives. If they actually needed money, couldn't they have gotten better-paying jobs than serving coffee? I mostly tinker with Excel and Access for a living and I've never seen a swipple sitting in one of our cubicles. In fact, it's unthinkable. Not only would they have better options, but they would also consider such work too boring for words. As if serving coffee wasn't boring.

They pride themselves on being independent-minded, and yet the amount of brainwashing needed to convince someone that working the cash register, no matter where, is more exciting than tinkering with Access queries to produce financial reports seems astounding to me.

I really don't know how to explain this. Perhaps these particular swipples lack the rich parents of most of their brethren. Perhaps they don't even live in Park Slope, but commute to it daily. Or maybe they live in those brownstones 12 to a room, like Salvadoran construction workers, happy just to have reached their own demented version of the promised land. If anyone has better ideas, I'd love to hear them.


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  2. I think you may be a bit paranoid about young attractive people of Western European descent. Only a minority have rich parents. The cafe owners chose these people for their appearance.

    I lived in the northwestern part of the San Fernando Valley for a while. There were Mexicans working in the restaurants and stores. In Thousand Oaks a few miles west there were none or they were white Mexicans.

  3. Park Slope is a very expensive, self-consciously hipster neighborhood. It's not THE most trendy neighborhood in NYC (that would be Williamsburg), but it's close. I know I'm not the first person to have wondered how 20-year-olds can afford million-dollar 19th century brownstones there. And that neighborhood IS full of 20-year-olds.

  4. They don't afford them. They live elsewhere or they live with their parents.