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Jesus Walks

Traveling through Europe, I visited my first 'automat' that was famous in the early '60s in American cities, but of which I had never experienced. An automat was simply a room with tables and chairs or stand-up counters, and banks of individual refrigerated food and drink compartments behind glass doors. Put your money in a slot, open a door and take out your fare.

This automat in Vienna, Austria was interesting to me, not because it was in an automat, but because of the ambiance. It had a glass wall from floor to ceiling, that faced out to a roofed but open outdoor tram station where people spilled out-of and squeezed into the trams, and rushed to and fro just outside the glass wall. Inside it was completely silent except for the hum of the running motors. And just on the other side of the glass, as close as a few feet away, people hurried by, came and went, talked back and forth. Trams came and went and all without a sound, a silent movie. It was an interesting disconnect that was fascinating to me.

There was a similar ambiance in a coffee, donut and quick snack shop in the Mission District of San Francisco, where I would sometimes stop for coffee, at the corner of 22nd and Mission called the Chile Bowl. It was one those quick in and out places with Formica table tops, plastic seats and not very good coffee. What it had was that almost floor to ceiling glass wall that ran the shop's total length and looked out onto the busy corner of the 22nd Street hustle and bustle to Mission, the buses, traffic, taxis, and inside usually complete silence, when it was mostly empty.

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