The caffeine-fueled search for your “˜third place’


illustration by Yessenia Lopez

Last Thursday I arrived at the Alamo Quarry Starbucks, intent on getting my calculus homework out of the way. To the dismay of both me and my dead computer, every seat adjacent to an outlet had been taken. I reluctantly forked over the price of a venti iced coffee and sat at a high table, limited to busywork that didn’t require a computer. After about 45 minutes, one woman packed up her things and left, leaving a coveted empty seat next to an outlet. With glee I flopped into it, a deserved reward for my patience. In the following two hours I completed my calculus homework and even got a jump start on an essay for my First-Year Experience. In all of this time, however, I had only ordered a single coffee. I felt somewhat guilty for not being a better patron of the establishment, but as a college student on a budget I had no intention of ordering a second overpriced coffee.

In an attempt to validate these concerns, I called coffee shops around the area. The first store to pick up was Local Coffee in the Pearl, and the barista on the other end introduced himself as Kyle. To my surprise, Kyle reassured me that Local loves students who come and work for however long they need. Having used Local Coffee to get work done before, I was relieved that my long visits were not viewed by the employees as nuisances. Knowledgeable Kyle, sympathetic of students everywhere, even explained to me the philosophy of an urban sociologist named Ray Oldenburg and his study of  “third places.” He described them as “homes away from home,” where the community can come together and enjoy each other’s company. To all Trinity students who might feel guilty about claiming a spot next to the charging stations at Local for hours on end, Kyle wants you to know that he hopes his third place is warm and welcoming.

My conversation with Kyle drove me to seek out more information about the idea of a “third place.” On the Project for Public Spaces’ website, I found the following quote that I felt accurately reflected Kyle’s sentiment: “The character of a third place is determined most of all by its regular clientele and is marked by a playful mood, which contrasts with people’s more serious involvement in other spheres. Though a radically different kind of setting for a home, the third place is remarkably similar to a good home in the psychological comfort and support that it extends “¦ They are the heart of a community’s social vitality, the grassroots of democracy, but sadly, they constitute a diminishing aspect of the American social landscape.”

The best part about this definition is the room for flexibility in its interpretation. Everyone reading up to this point probably has their own third place in mind already, a place bound to be different from that of everyone else. Whether your third place is as close as a corner in Coates Library or as far as the local coffee shop in my hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts, you can find all of the psychological comforts of home within it. So the next time you feel that all too familiar urge to get out of your dorm room, seek out somewhere that offers you the ability to focus comfortably. Personally, I recommend Rosella Coffee Company. The cozy atmosphere and proximity to campus make it a personal haven where I can comfortably construct tense thesis statements and evaluate complicated integrals. Plus, I can order a bottomless coffee “” for $3.03 with tax “” and eliminate all guilt of using an outlet at length with an empty cup.

Regardless of the sanctity of your optimal third place, I encourage you to share your findings. As a first-year who came here from out of state, all of my knowledge about local hotspots has come from other Tigers. Without all of the varying suggestions from students about the best places to hunker down and work, I fear that I could have been doomed to study in my dorm room.

So please do your part in saving the fate of a classmate’s paper by informing them about your favorite third places. You could be the key to rescuing someone from cabin fever, all with a little help from a local barista like Kyle.