Whether you’ve canceled trips to Tahiti or Texas, odds are, you’re also longing for places a little closer to home.
As the coronavirus pandemic shutters public activities and limits communal spaces, there are places we all miss—places we used to gather with friends or complete strangers to live life together. Many of these are “third places”: social environments that are not your home (first place) or work (second place) and strengthen our sense of community, identity, and relation to others.
Let’s reminisce about 10 places we all miss right now.
Top Picks for You
The smell of freshly-popped popcorn, smothered in butter and salt, wafts from the concession stand. The lights in the theatre dim and a hushed reverence falls over the crunching, happy crowd. Larger-than-life images transport you inside the film; impressive 3D effects make you jump, sometimes knocking elbows on the armrest with your neighbor.
Before COVID-19, you might wait months for a movie to premiere at the cinema. It’s palpably different watching Netflix on your couch. Perhaps we need the escapism of movies now more than ever. While waiting to return to the cinema, we can dive into a vault of classic films.
That Coffee Shop
At your local coffee shop, you claim the wooden table by the window with a frothy latte. You feel at home here: reading, catching up with an old friend, or just staring out the window at passersby. Coffee shops are more than meeting places for friends and strangers: it’s a second living room to sip espresso and nibble croissants; a public place to relax alone without feeling lonely.
When coffee shops transition to takeaway only, the baristas look stressed behind their masks and plexiglass barriers. Owners struggle to stay open while others shut their doors permanently. Ordering a latte and a pastry is a treat in pandemic times; an indulgence we are lucky to have.
Every Single Concert
Singing along with a mass of sweaty, dancing fans turns into screaming far too easily. The bond that links concertgoers together is unique, whether it’s at an EDM festival or an intimate indie gig. You know you’ve experienced something that can never be duplicated—not exactly. Seeing talented artists perform live is a unique, euphoric experience.
Musicians still need us as much as we need them. Digital concerts offer the opportunity to see bands in cities (and countries) we might not have traveled to, sometimes streaming in real-time. Go ahead and sing—or scream—along.
Possibly the most important third space, the library is one of the last public places we can go where we aren’t expected to buy anything. You can use the printer, the restroom, and the Wi-Fi or simply wander rows of waiting-to-be-borrowed books: tattered paperbacks with yellowing pages and crisp dog-eared edges that strangers have cried, laughed, and grown with.
Everybody is welcome here, whether you need to escape from the weather or escape into a fantasy. When libraries are closed, education, community, and well-being falter. In lieu of libraries, authors host digital readings, friends exchange childhood classics, and free e-resources abound. Some libraries are even offering contactless pickup.
Family photographs adorn the walls. Your least favorite are the images of you as a baby, sporting chubby cheeks and teary eyes. From the distinct smell to the porcelain animals decorating the mantle, the familiarity of this place pulls you back to your childhood. Sometimes, your only response is to roll your eyes like you’re still a rebellious teenager.
We’ve lost the ease with which we could visit our parents, grandparents, and grandchildren. Memories of chaotic family dinners and summer vacations have become precious keepsakes tucked away in our hearts. Some of us no longer have our loved ones with us at all. If you can, you might pick up the phone, call them, and try not to roll your eyes. You can send groceries, songs, letters, and photographs—including some new ones for the wall.
A Friend’s Party
Gathered in the musty basement, half of you sit on mismatched sofas and relocated dining room chairs while others stand, gripping beer cans. You don’t know everyone, but the host introduces you, then dashes upstairs to replenish the rapidly depleting liquor supply and turn up the music.
Casual friendship is difficult in a physically distant world. Video parties pop up, apps offer games, and even work events connect through the camera on your computer or smartphone. With the right people, it can almost feel like a friend’s house party. The best part? Anyone can be invited and attend, no matter where they live—and they don’t have the excuse of being busy.
The dingy, amber-lit room features a peeling bar covered in sticky stains. A dull roar emits from the other patrons as they clink pint glasses and moan over the game playing on an archaic TV. You can put your head down, anonymous among the dreadful memorabilia sporadically stuck on the wooden walls or challenge the most recent winner to a game of pool, claiming your spot in line with a cluster of rusted coins.
Cleanliness isn’t really a staple of dive bars—drinking, mingling, and terrible karaoke singing create an ambiance that doesn’t easily comply with the new health regulations. To survive, watering holes are spilling onto the streets, creating makeshift patios in parking lots, and selling cheap beer to-go—sometimes with the option to tip your favorite bartender electronically.
Museums and Art Galleries
Behind the glass doors, a magical world awaits—transporting you to courtyards draped in Roman statues, open-concept galleries displaying Van Gogh’s artwork, and prehistoric reincarnations of Stegosaurus fossils. Standing in the same room as ancient artifacts, you’re close enough to see thousand-year-old inscriptions carved in stone and individual strokes of oil paint composing a masterpiece.
Creativity, history, and knowledge overflow in museums and galleries. Impressive digital displays and interactive videos allow us to visit virtually, but institutions are in trouble. When lockdown ends, hopefully, we will have gained a newfound appreciation for these integral cultural sites.
Outside on the playground, children shriek and giggle as the sand transforms into lava. In the linoleum-floored hallway, first kisses are snuck beneath harsh fluorescent lights. In the classroom, you learn much more than sin, cos, and tan: hierarchy is your first lesson, followed closely by cliques, crushes, and coolness.
Believe it or not, kids miss school. Switching to distance learning has impacted motivation, social interaction, and even the number of steps students take per day. Healthy school lunches and access to a laptop is a hurdle for many. Parents are affected as home offices become jungle gyms and playdates are canceled. Through these difficulties, you don’t need to get caught up in the details—pajama pants are a totally acceptable school uniform.
Gyms and Fitness Classes
Upbeat music flows into your ears, pumping you up. Your muscles are on fire, but the burn is good—you know the sizzling soreness precedes success. From the squishy mat where you stretch to the treadmill where your sneaker-clad feet pound, workouts, and fitness classes grant you endorphins and increase the strength of your powerful, capable body.
We go to the gym, in part, to be motivated by others and to form a community. It’s hard to be inspired by solitary home workouts. Free online resources and live-streaming classes can help you get (back) in shape until it’s safe for fitness centers to reopen. But if you aren’t exercising as much during a global pandemic, go easy on yourself. You’re doing great.