Sunday, August 02, 2009
Swork in Eagle Rock
Last month, someone driving east on Colorado Boulevard fell asleep at the wheel and woke up to find he had driven into the front window of Swork. Luckily, it was three in the morning at the time of the crash, and no one was seriously hurt.
In 2006, someone drove into Swork's front door -- very slowly. That accident happened in the middle of the day, but the car was moving so slowly that the people typing on their laptops outside Swork had time to pack up their things and get out of the way. (The driver apparently had a seizure or heart attack.) No one was seriously hurt during that accident either.
After last month's accident, Swork put out hastily printed out slips of paper by their cash registers; on these little slips, Swork's management noted that the shop had been hit "again" by a car, and asked their customers to contact Councilman Jose Huizar and to demand that he have safety barriers installed around Swork.
The image that immediately came to my mind when I read the slip was Swork as Eagle Rock's version of the Green Zone. For the most recent wave of the neighborhood's residents (semi-artsy/yuppieish types, priced out of places like Los Feliz and Silverlake, and looking to spawn), Swork is much more than just a coffee shop: it's a beachhead. It's our Plymouth Rock, our Tranquility Base, set at the dead-center of Eagle Rock, in the cross-hairs of Eagle Rock Boulevard and Colorado Boulevard.
But Swork as Green Zone may be a more timely analogy. Swork, opened in 2000 on the very vanguard of the "discovery" of Eagle Rock (one imagines its owners with those boots visitors to the real Green Zone like to wear), is the original headquarters and nerve center of the ongoing "liberation" of Eagle Rock: we self-appointed liberators come to free the neighborhood (whether the existing residents wanted it or not) from the oppression of its muffler shops, its smog-check centers, its martial arts studios, its sad nail salons -- the general tyranny of unhipness. That glorious liberation, which was off to such a strong and promising start during the last decade, began to show signs of trouble around the time of the first Swork car incident.
Swork is a place where one could sit after last month's accident, sipping one's double nonfat latte, contemplating the boarded-up windows at the front of the store, and consider whether the liberation of Eagle Rock had been premised on concocted and hyped intelligence. Did we liberators buy too readily into an echo chamber of rising prices and breathless hype about those rising prices, blather about the "next Silverlake," delusions about nowhere to go but up?
That it feels like you're back in a time where the dot-com bubble is still inflating when you're in Swork is appropriate. The interior of the shop (which has a vaguely Scandinavian, Ikea-snack-bar decor) features a set of computer terminals on which customers can use a code given out with a purchase to check their email and browse the web: a business model that was cutting edge sometime in 1996. (I've never seen anyone using the computers. They have wireless as well.) Even the name "Swork," some kind of unholy amalgamation of "success" and "work," with the umlaut above the consonant W (as if to say "We love The New Yorker but don't actually know what these two cute dots are for,") smacks of an era of Pets.com, of futurists waxing rhapsodic about a new, forever expanding economy free of the cycles of the old, non-Wired past.
Do not get me wrong. I love this place. I have never been to the Eagle Rock Starbucks. Mrs. Octopus and I start every day with a few cups of Swork's Truck Driver (extra bold) blend at home. I go to Swork whenever I can, just to hang out. The people that work there are unfailingly nice. Their coffee and pastries are very good -- though not cheap by any means. Every now and then I will get one of the more rococo Sworkuccinos, which are delicious but seriously unhealthy. The seating, inside and outside, is comfortable, and there's a nice play area for babies and toddlers and their Alternamoms and Alternadads in the back of the store. Swork gets busy when Occidental College is in session. (I do sort of enjoy being in the very late-90's environment of Swork surrounded by students highlighting their biochemistry textbooks and trying to write their papers about Weimar culture -- it takes me straight back.)
This is a place that is absolutely central and crucial to the identity of Eagle Rock today -- a place obviously still in transition. It's here to stay as the cornerstone of modern-day Eagle Rock. The "liberation" may not play out as many of the neighborhood's newer residents might have imagined, but Eagle Rock will continue to change -- and Swork will remain at the center of all of this for the foreseeable future. Though they will need to hunker down and watch out for the incoming traffic.
Swork is open every day until 10.