This morning (early) I walked into a local coffee shop and the counter person recited my order exactly before I had a chance to open my mouth--medium chai latte with the house chai and skim milk in a mug--even though I haven't set foot in the place for the past three weeks.
It's true that I ordered that same drink roughly once a week for the first six weeks of the semester, but (a) I didn't always order it from the same person and (b) I haven't been in there, as I've mentioned, for three weeks.
This, I think, is one of the great things about being connected to a community: there's always someone who knows me, or at least a little bit of me. If I fail to enter that coffee shop ever again, that knowledge will eventually fade away, but for now I've established enough of a habit that the counter girl knows me as the woman who comes in early on Tuesday mornings, orders a medium chai latte with house chai and skim milk in a mug, and then sits in a comfy chair reading poetry for a half hour or so before going on her way.
Being known for a particular habit feels like having a place in the world. At 7:00 on a Tuesday morning, that's my arm chair, and I can greet the regulars and make some random chit-chat and feel that I belong.
Likewise when I walked the dog up the big horrible hill (in sudden heat) yesterday, I waved to every car that went by and I would have chatted with any neighbors if they'd been out and about. They know me as the woman who walks with the black mutt (although the mutt is walking a little more slowly these days), and if I'm out there without the mutt, I can count on someone to stop and ask if she's okay.
It's different when I visit my dad's neighborhood in Florida. Traffic can be heavy even in the quiet neighborhoods so there's no point in waving at every car, but I do make a point of saying hello or good morning to anyone I happen to pass on foot--but the only people who ever respond have accents indicating they're not natives. They're outsiders in the neighborhood where I grew up--and at this point, so am I.
If I settled in and stayed a while they'd get to know me as the woman who always says good morning, but a two-week visit isn't long enough to make me real to anyone in that neighborhood. Here, however, I can miss my usual Tuesday morning ritual of chai latte and poetry in the local coffee shop for three whole weeks without fading entirely from local memory, which suggests that if you sit in the same spot often enough, it will eventually become your spot. (At least on Tuesday mornings.)