While the back booths, each spacious and fitted with an outlet and a lamp, are the coveted spots, I prefer to sit in the front. That’s where the action happens: the deft movements of the baristas, the shrill sounds of the steamer, the meetings and greetings of people who come and go from Mars Cafe just as often as I do. Some of them I know personally — the Des Moines renovator from whom I took the mayorship; the filmmaker, professor and dad; the community leader and music man; my urban environmental history professor who constantly asks if I’m paying rent on the place yet; a sorority sister who was smart enough to find this gem as a freshman; the Iowa Public Radio producer — and some of them I only recognize by face.
Jameson has taken to ringing me up before I place my order and Daniel asks, “No cosmo today?” if I purchase anything besides my usual. My bank account is depleted and the caffeine doesn’t affect me until I have a raging headache in its absence. My car and the inside of my backpack and all my bras smell like that strange, not-just-coffee but distinctly Mars after-smell that I’ve abandoned trying to get rid of.
I go to Mars when I need to write. I go with company and I go when I tire of my company and want to be by myself. But I choose to go there to be “by myself” because I’m never really alone; I’m with baristas and strangers who have started to feel like friends in a shop that makes this town feel a little bit more urban and a lot like a place I now call home. I used to go because it reminded me of Chicago; now I go because it is connects me to the people that I want to know and aspire to be in this city. For me, it is quintessential Des Moines.
I lost the mayorship today after a two-month run. It’s not a big deal, really, although the virtual crown fit really nicely on my avatar. I wrote the above about a month and a half ago and had it waiting in the wings for the day I lost the title. For people who don’t know Foursquare, don’t know Mars Cafe, or don’t know either (the worst fucking combination there is) this won’t make sense. But between October 12 and December 19, Mars Cafe and the unspoken perks of being mayor have propelled my life in so many ways.
I can assume that when I return to Mars in January that the baristas will still know my name and my order; Matt and Larry will still stop by my table to talk when they’ve got a second; I will still sit for hours in my favorite banquette when the opportunity allows; I will still have the contacts as a past mayor as I did being the mayor for life in Des Moines, life after Drake and life as an urban planner; and Amedeo will still share tables with me, unless his second round of mayorship has gone to his head. (It hasn’t. He put it best when he said, “Without it we wouldn’t know each other, which means more to me than the title.”)
Mars has been more than a coffee shop for me. It is for all of us that are there just about every day. It will continue to be more than a coffee shop even without my virtual crown. I’m fairly certain that the only thing that will change is that you’ll see his face when you check in instead of mine. Amedeo’s face is fine; we’ll all survive.