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Good tunes, good vibe, good (N/A) brews, open early-ish — Nickel City is one local spot that could be your new third place. Photo by Anthony Mariani

He bounced the mini-basketball off the floor. Once. Twice. Three times.

“Will you stop, please?” I pleaded from the recliner beside my dear 12-year-old in the living room.

“Gosh,” he replied, bounce, bounce. “I was ugly in that picture,” motioning with the ball toward the blown-up photo of our family hanging above the couch. “I was really ugly. Let me see how my mustache was doing.”

BAM (300 x 250 px)

He pressed his face up close to the image. “I had no acne. I had clear skin, and I had no mustache.”

I shifted in my seat, almost spilling my laptop onto the floor. “You have no mustache now. And never had acne.”

A. bounced the ball again, this time off the wall.

“You need to stop that now,” I snarled toothlessly. “You’ll get the walls all dirty. That, and it’s annoying. Can’t you see I’m trying to work?”

“Mom’s constantly working, and right now you’re playing Mario Kart.”

“I haven’t played a video game since 1983 — what?”

A. bounced the ball off the floor. “It’s just frustrating circumstances. I need you to understand that. I’m not energetic. I’m just mad. Freaking mad.”

He bounced the ball off the wall again.

“Dude!”

“I’m just mad, OK?” he cried. “I’m gonna throw this at your face.”

My eyes jumped from my head, and my body turned to steel.

And my wonderful, kind, sweet, legitimately hilarious son A. bounced the ball off the face of mine in the photo.

“I gotta go,” I said, slamming my laptop shut, putting my feet down, and standing up.

“Where you going?”

I cruised past him. “I dunno.”

And I really didn’t. Where does a WFH a-hole parent married to another WFH parent who has to live with an a-hole WFH’er go when he wants to get some work-work done in peace?

As I was loping toward the bedroom to change, I heard my lovely wife banging around the laundry room. “… a married WFH a-hole parent who also has to get up every five minutes to do chores,” I should have said. I went on scuttling toward my dresser, head down, my footfalls soft, shame heating up my face.

Here were my options. Go to the office to work. The plus: I’m not dealing with stir-crazy, nonstop-talking seventh graders. The minus: I’m in an office. Pass. Some other plays: any number of the big-box restaurants out near us in Alliance (pass again), a Starbucks (feh), or someplace, anyplace in town. But it has to be quiet-ish, and it has to be comfortable, meaning you can work for an extended period of time and not feel compelled to buy something every 30 minutes to justify your seat.

Some co-workers had recommendations for me. Christina Berger suggested a few trusty locales, including the Central Market on Hulen.

“To specify,” she writes, “at Central Market, their downstairs cafe is chaos! I always go upstairs near where the cooking classes take place. There’s a balcony up there with some tables that’s far more peaceful.”

Christina also likes Buon Giorno downtown and the Whole Foods in Waterside. “BG,” the coffeeshop, she says, “also serves pastries and panini, so you can stay awhile. Whole Foods has a coffee bar and an entire premade food section to choose from. … Neither are very quiet, but I like ambient noise when I’m writing.”

Laurie James feels there’s a “need” for “third spaces — a not-home/not-work place. Sociology has been pondering this for years. My 23-year-old had these in college. Now, she only has bars, and she wants something else. So, I truly miss Eurotazza on Camp Bowie for this purpose.”

The long-closed coffeeshop is where James wrote when her daughter was attending the Fort Worth Zoo’s preschool, and while Laurie says trying to be creative in coffeeshops is “pretty dicey because I feel I have to keep buying things to pay seat rent,” our chief food critic reports that Black Coffee across from Texas Wesleyan is “pretty peaceful after the morning rush.”

There’s also your local library, she adds.

As for Buck D. Elliott, he says that down on Magnolia, Cherry Coffee, owned and operated by a fellow Horned Frog, is “fancy-ish and has a nice vibe.” Just like Buck!

Based on these suggestions and a quick Google search, Fort Worth also has some rent-an-offices in addition to all the usual coffeeshops and bars/restaurants. Once again, I wasn’t looking for an office setting. I’ve spent nearly all of my working life in an office. I’m done with that noise. I wanted a comfy, semi-quiet spot where I could sip on something — “coffee ‘til (N/A) cocktails, y’all!” — and maybe distract myself occasionally by looking up at the Copa on TV or by chatting with another living, breathing human being. Didn’t think I was asking for much.

After a quick stop at the Weekly offices to grab my mail (as always, lots of prisoners claiming they’re being railroaded), I found our Nissan Rogue named Jovie (from Elf) taking me in the direction of the Near Southside. Magnolia and SoMa have pretty much everything I was looking for. I just wondered if I would I find all my (meager) criteria in one single place.

On Main, I stopped and peeked inside Crude coffee. Way too packed. I hopped back inside Jovie and ended up at Nickel City, an undeniably cool spot that seems to import its crowd from lands far and wide through some kind of spacetime portal — I’ve imbibed at Nickel City a million times over the years and have run into a friend or acquaintance only once, which is definitely a me problem (parenthood zapped my socializing long ago) but is still weird. Just one person in — what? — five? six years? Except for the bartender and a couple other employees, Nickel City was empty, which really resonates because the place is so cavernous.

I plopped down in a corner booth with my N/A beer. Quiet. Peaceful. OK, not too bad. I opened my laptop, cracked my knuckles, and started reading over a story of mine. Groove-oriented vintage R&B jived and funked through the air. OK, I’m definitely feeling this. No 12-year-olds literally bouncing off the walls. No inane, outright crazy conversations. No laundry. Not too bad.

About halfway through my story, a couple waltzed in. Surely, they’re not going to sit on this side of the bar. They ordered drinks and food at the counter and turned toward me. OK, this place is huge. There’s no way they’re going to sit anywhere over here. They kept coming. Closer and closer. Kerplunk. They not only sat on my side of the bar but in the booth right next to mine. Well, I mused, they may be sitting on my lap, but surely they’re not going to start talking loudly about work nonstop …

In the process of finishing my Run Wild IPA (Athletic Brewing Co.) and ordering another, I perhaps not so slyly relocated to another corner booth somewhere near the center of the room. I forgot where I had left off on my story. As much as I love the Nickel, this was not doing it for me.

I polished off my second N/A, loaded up Jovie, and made my way to the only remotely comfortable, possibly quiet joint I could think of that was open at this time (around 2 p.m.).

With the demise of my forever third place, Lola’s Saloon/Fort Worth, the Chat Room Pub has become my go-to. The Chat carries a few N/A labels, plus some THC seltzers, and I sometimes run into good people here. I sauntered in, ordered a Howdy, and grabbed a chair at a high-top conveniently not too far from the bar counter. Whoosh! What the? Arctic blasts of air buffeted my head and torso from a vent right above my head. Curling my lips, I moved to another high-top. The wintry weather followed me. And a third. At this point, I had accomplished maybe two or three emails and one read-through of my not-long story. This wasn’t doing it, either. I paid my tab, got back into Jovie, and, shoulders slumped, slunk back onto 35 headed toward home.

If you look up “third places,” most of your answers will involve exercise groups (*gag*), garage bands/bars/open-mics (not good for the sober/sober-curious), and virtual hobby meetings. Churches and libraries once served as third places, but with libraries cutting back or closing and a lot of us realizing Big Religion did more harm to us than good growing up, Laurie is right: There’s really not much.

Experts feel the only legitimate coping mechanism for us WFH worker bees desperate for some peace and quietude is better time management. Work when it’s work time, and bounce basketballs off the walls and admire nonexistent mustaches when it’s not. Do not respond to that nonurgent email when it’s basketball/mustache time. Like Michael Corleone’s family, work will only pull you back in!

Inside, the house was quiet — A. was on his iPad, and my wife looked contented watching the latest Skinwalker Ranch. (Holy shit, now there’s a cone of dark matter above the Triangle! Is this where Nickel City gets its regulars?) There was no guilt in my soul. I managed pretty much zero work on the town, but by escaping the house for a little, I was able to recalibrate, center, recharge. Now, all I’ve got to do is write this story. Somewhere.

2 COMMENTS

  1. This article is horrible. First off, it’s written like a third grade essay. I can’t believe that the editor of the weekly actually wrote this, maybe his WFH brain is truly mush. Second, I’m getting serious “dad of the year vibes” with this publicly documented domestic dispute. Instead of melting down, how about going outside for a little bit and tossing the ball around with your son? But instead you leave in a huff and go to a bar. How stereotypical, but way to save face with the N/A beer. Third, the air is too cold at The Chat? Really? What a pussy. I can’t believe this was even documented.
    If these are the shit articles we are going to get from the Weekly, you might as well close up shop now and save yourself from any other embarrassment. This article isn’t important nor was it needed.

    And now I’ve wasted 5 minutes typing up this comment. Maybe I should get my panties in a wad and head to Nickel City.

  2. First place, Association of Alternative Media Awards

    First place, Diamond Awards (twice)

    First place, First Amendment Awards

    Second-, Third Placements, Lone Star Awards (multiple)

    What? Sorry, I can’t hear you over all my PROFESSIONAL WRITING AWARDS.

    Secondly, if you’ve ever even glanced at the Weekly over the past decade, you’d know A. is a recurring character and that our relationship is wonderful. Stressful at times but wonderful.

    Third, it was a rushed attempt at humor that fell flat. Touch some grass.

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