One of the more surprising things about being up at 3 am is just how quiet the city can be. Without the constant din of traffic, other more subtle sounds become apparent. For example, some traffic lights, once they turn over into their “flashing yellow” mode, emit a barely perceptible “click-click…click-click…click-click”. Streetlights in lesser states of repair often have a constant buzzing sound. But as soon as a car drives by, these sounds are instantly muffled.
Once so long ago, this was the perfect time for me to write. I’d bundle whatever relevant books were needed, as well as a yellow legal pad, and head off to a place where the coffee was hot and the food was merely passable. The quality of these places never mattered much. The fact that they were open at all was all that was needed as a selling point.
A restaurant during the early hours of the morning is a different world from the one that exists during what one might term “regular business hours”. Once the post-bar crowd leaves, solitude starts to weigh heavy upon the patrons. Most customers arrive alone, and those who show up with a party more than one tend to speak in hushed tones. Much like the outdoors, sounds normally not noticed now get amplified. A radio being played in the back can be easily heard, and coffee cups clinked together become their own symphony.
Ah yes, coffee – the beverage that rules the early morning. Beer or liquor may have dominated the night before, and orange juice will often become more popular as the third shift evolves into the first, but the time between 3 and 6 am is coffee’s domain. Quality rarely matters at these hours; as with the restaurant, the fact that coffee exists is welcome enough. There are no gourmands at this time of day. In fact, a day could be made based on the mere whiff of the dark, earthy aromas that come from the pot.
The wait staff is versed enough to leave the customers alone. A look at the coffee cup and a refill without a word is the best possible customer service. If a patron needs anything more, they usually know enough to speak up.
This temporary stasis lasts only for two, maybe three hours if one is lucky. The meditative state of this scene is easily broken by a simple conversation. Typically someone comes rolling in between five a six o’clock, usually a regular. They speak louder than the 3 am crowd, and start talking with their favorite waitress about the state of their lives. Often they complain good-naturedly how “gawd-dammed early” it is, oblivious to the fact that out of everyone in the restaurant, they are likely the one who was most recently asleep.
Once the din of the day begins, the 3 am crowd has to leave. The sanctuary of the night has been destroyed. But this is acceptable to them. In 21 hours or so, the church of early morning will re-create itself. It always does.