Real life has a nasty habit of muscling in on the fantasy

I never thought I’d replace Cork Coffee Roasters after moving to New York.

Real life has a nasty habit of muscling in on the fantasy

There’s neither rhyme nor reason to how I managed to find a bit of sanctuary in there with my paper or book.

It’s as loud and cramped as you’d expect any modern cafe to be. But there’s that coffee and that view of Shandon and all the backs and forths on Bridge Street.

I won’t name and shame the dear friend that placed two of their cups in my hand as a parting gift almost four years ago. And as I type, my sister Louise is somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean with a few bags of Morning Growler; our very own corner connect getting us our fix.

But I did settle into a Williamsburg institution called Verb Cafe. It’s been here long before the likes of me moved in to smooth the edges. This district’s story is far from unique — the cycle of rat-infested poverty, cheap rent-seeking artists and musicians followed by the hangers-on and everyone ultimately chased away by the money-hungry landlords who sat on these crumbling structures back in the day, when the knife was mightier than the pen.

Verb has been an increasingly vital haven from the creeping Dunkin Donuts-ification that has spread over the East River from the long deceased East Village.

Crucially for me, it’s a Bridge Street away from home, an offline sanctuary where I can actually get a few words down without refreshing Twitter.

Not for long. Verb will close down at the end of the month and Williamsburg will move a step closer to bland.

I have no right to feel disappointed, of course. I’m only a blow-in. But there must be a verb for the sort of righteous and misplaced indignation that meandering caffeine-fuelled columnists and aggrieved racehorse owners send out into the world when their hopes are dashed by merciless reality.

And there must be a word for the anti-climactic finale that seemed to suck all the air out of Belmont racecourse in Long Island on Saturday evening.

The 6.52pm race, the 146th Belmont Stakes, was all about California Chrome going for the Triple Crown. It was a stunning finale but nobody seemed to enjoy it.

Not as much as me anyway. It was my first visit to the genteel venue and it felt like a Páirc Uí Chaoimh away from home.

All those trees surrounding an arena while the reassuring stench of cigarette smoke hangs on the air the way it used to during October county finals.

Everyone wanted the charismatic Chrome to win — it would be a victory for all of us who felt like a “$10,000 miracle horse from a one-horse stable”, as one writer described the apparently carefree poseur whose last great act went maddeningly unappreciated.

Chrome damaged a hoof on the punishing ground but still managed to make one last push at the top of the stretch. The fresher Tonalist had an extra kick too, so California Chrome had to settle for a dead heat with Wicked Strong, cue the groans in the grandstand in spite of the adrenaline flowing all around.

Cue the rage for the losing connections.

“You know what, this is Chrome’s third big race,” said the mustachioed Steve Coburn under a 10-gallon hat. “I’m 61 years old and I’ll never see another Triple Crown winner because of the way they do this. I look at it this way: If you can’t make enough points to get into the Kentucky Derby, you can’t run in the other two races. It’s all or nothing.”

Suddenly because of one man’s rant, a romantic story lost all its lustre. One of the sadder elements was his wife tugging on his jacket as he spoke to NBC. She was like a jockey reining in a stroppy thoroughbred, trying desperately to get him to shut the hell up and stop that complaining.

But he was off and running: “It’s not fair to the horses that have been running their guts out to have somebody to come up (like this). This is the coward’s way out in my opinion.”

You’re right, said most of the 20m television viewers who would never darken the door of a racetrack (much like myself). And I’m sure a large chunk of the over 100,000 boisterous revellers would have agreed too if they could focus on anything but the next container of booze.

He didn’t back down on Sunday and invoked children in wheelchairs playing basketball. Then the waterworks arrived Monday when he apologised to the world on live television for letting his emotions get the better of him. Once again, we all learned the futility of yearning for the way it used to be.

“I don’t know,” said the chap who knows my order at Verb when the umpteenth customer asked him what would happen next. “Everything’s going to be all right.”

* johnwriordan@gmail.com Twitter: JohnWRiordan

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