Chai with a Local and the Beauty of a Go-To Spot
Updated: Jul 30
With a heyday from the 80s to early 90s, Cheers may have been before our time, but that’s not to say it didn’t in some strange cosmic sense influence our travels - and life habits, in general.
Sometimes you want to go… where everybody knows your name!
Okay, first thing’s first: No, we didn’t become regulars at a bar in Istanbul within a week of being there to the point that “everyone knew our name” (certainly enjoy a beverage or several, but that would be particularly excessive…).
But, it’s the essence of this Cheers theme song that really matters.
A Step Back - Disrupting Chipp’s Routine (and Creating a New One)
This one needs to go back to San Clemente, California in 2013, when Chipp and Jenna first met - Chipp stationed at Camp Pendleton, and Jenna living and working up in Huntington Beach.
Chipp, ever the (curmudgeonly?) creature of habit, had his Saturday morning routine, and he adhered to it religiously.
Wake up and, book in hand, stroll out to Del Mar - the main drag through San Clemente - to post up at the same restaurant, in the same chair, and order the same dish (eggs benedict with a bottomless cup of coffee). Slug coffee, eat eggs, then push the chair back, throw one leg over the other, and read for an hour or so - no need to even order - everything just showed up. Routine.
Enter Jenna… She didn’t realize it at the time, but it was a big deal when Chipp first brought her along on this Saturday tradition.
We finished eating, Chipp opened his book and…
Jenna: “So, are we going to talk, or am I just going to sit here and watch you read?”
Well played. Looks like this would be Chipp-Saturday-morning, modified moving forward.
Two lessons learned: 1) sometimes life happens, and it happens for the best; and 2) when one routine ends, make another!
Needing a Quick Bite...
Bringing it back to Istanbul.
We covered it in an earlier post, but that first week in Istanbul turned out to be far more work and travel, than travel and work. We still needed to eat, though, and we found an absolutely delicious, open-air kebab restaurant a couple blocks up the street from our place.
Judging by the Turkish ministry-of-something-food-or-health-related certificate on the wall, some old guy owned the restaurant, but you wouldn’t know that by being there. It actually seemed like a group of three or four teenagers - and their friends - ran the spot.
We’d swing by to grab a bite to eat, and it felt a lot like hanging out in the common area of a dorm - kids popping in and out, chatting, swapping YouTube videos, heading outside for smokes, and - oh yeah - occasionally cooking up some delicious kebab platters.
When they ran out of a vegetable, the older kids would just send the youngest across the street to the local produce market (assume they had some sort of deal, because we never saw any money change hands in these veggie-related errands).
Our second night in Istanbul (after finding and eating at this place the first night), Jenna got sucked into a long work call so couldn’t break away for a bite. Easy - Chipp would just go grab some takeout from the kebab joint.
With a combination of one or two Turkish phrases, some English, and some charades, Chipp ordered some takeout and was told (pointed) to grab a seat.
...Becomes Chai with a Local
Americans like their private space. If all the tables were filled at a cafe, we’d normally just leave it at that - standing around until the food was ready.
But, that stool just looked comfortable, even if there was an older Turkish lady sitting across the table from it. Okay, let’s try the Turkish-people-seem-to-be-more-okay-sharing-“personal”-space-than-Americans thing.
Pointing to the chair with a “lutfen” (“please”), the Turkish lady quite animatedly insisted Chipp sit down. After some Turk-lish greetings by Chipp, it became apparent that the lady spoke pretty good English - turns out she’d learned during a summer-long trip to London on tour as a traditional Turkish singer.
After some small talk (life in Istanbul, Turkey in general, living during the COVID era, etc), she yelled something to the kids running the shop. A couple minutes later, two of the ubiquitous-in-Turkish-cafes, curved glass cups of piping hot chai came out.
For the next few minutes, we just sat there and chatted, drinking chai, with Chipp getting an awesome, local’s perspective of the neighborhood (she lived just around the corner).
Food order eventually came out, and Chipp headed home.
Routine Isn’t Just for Work
Not sure whether it was something the older lady had said - or just Turkish hospitality - but the next few nights, as Chipp repeated this takeout process during a stretch of late-night work calls for Jenna, the chai kept coming.
It only took a week, but a solid routine found its way into our life. With Jenna on calls (that part wasn’t great), Chipp would wander up to the kebab restaurant, yell out a poorly-pronounced Turkish greeting, order some takeout, and grab a seat - chai delivered shortly thereafter - to hang out, watch the world go by, sip chai, and wait for the food.
Unfortunately Chipp didn’t see his Turkish “mentor” again, but somehow she’d set the chai precedent.
Yes, having a work routine is important - especially while trying to balance work with travel and seeing new places. But, routines in life are important, too. They have a way of grounding you. We certainly can’t control everything - even more so in new countries - but we can control setting a routine, something to hold onto in a new place.
The Path Ahead
Grabbing onto some sort of regularity - even thousands of miles away - can give you a slice of home pretty quickly, that is, a sense of being part of something.
We’re still too early in our travels to know whether we’ll find a good corner bar where everyone knows your name, but we’ll certainly work some good routines into our life on the road, wherever we go.