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Valley Life | After Dark

Coffeehouse Kinship

Cafe's devotees have bonds built on Common Grounds.

May 21, 1999|RACHEL FISCHER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When you pull up to Common Grounds coffeehouse in Northridge, be prepared to feel like an outsider at first. The regulars seated outside promptly give you a close, curious inspection, as if your note pad and slightly beat-up Volkswagen denote you're an alien species previously undiscovered by coffeehouse natives.

Actually, for all practical purposes, you are an alien here, as Common Grounds is kind of its own little planet orbiting Reseda Boulevard. Oh, sure, the place has all the usual coffeehouse trappings: gourmet drinks, sandwiches that list sprouts as a main ingredient and lots of evening acoustic music for caffeine-fueled night owls.

But with many of the die-hard regulars having been there since the place opened almost a decade ago, Common Grounds by now has its own culture, and new blood gets some notice. If you want to know what I mean by die-hard, listen in as Al Gaines, 25, explains why he chose to live in Northridge.

"I moved to be near Common Grounds," said the self-described "professional student," who hereabouts is known only as Big Al.

Did I mention that part of the place's subculture is everybody has a nickname?

"I'll never leave this area [because of this place]!" adds Gaines. "I'll commute if I have to."

Reggie Wilsey, a 51-year-old hospital cook, can be found here every night. He walks over from his apartment building across the street.

"You pick up a lot of things around here," Wilsey said.

Known as the Cowboy around Common Grounds, Wilsey has an eclectic second hobby besides the coffeehouse: panning for gold.

"We see each other every day and hang out, like a family," said Yolanthe Davenport, 29, another regular. "We kind of think of ourselves as the grown-up Sweathogs."

Davenport, a Missions Hills resident and film student at nearby Cal State Northridge, has written an autobiographical poem about being a "coffeehouse loser."

So devoted to the joint are Gaines, Wilsey, Davenport and others that they once created a mock newspaper, "Common Knowledge," devoted to coffeehouse gossip and goings-on.

Another cafe loyalist, Ron Dultz, wrote a book, "A New Approach to Human Psychology," including a chapter about the positive psychological interactions people have at the coffeehouse. Unconfirmed stories abound about movies and songs that were inspired by the establishment.

Just what is it about this plain-looking place, anyway, that fosters such devotion?

Jen German, 19, a college student from Winnetka, should be able to give you an answer--she's been coming here for seven years.

"I used to hang out here in high school," she said. "I met the love of my life here. The thing about this place is that you walk in and there's always someone who knows you."

Maybe the allure is that Common Grounds draws an interesting assortment of creative spirits. These eclectics commingle with the other predominant crowd, college students from CSUN. The more strait-laced students often complain about the noise coming from the artsy regulars.

"Let's see, we've got hippies, Deadheads, ravers, two painters, a couple of poets," said Rick Rollson, 43, a transportation coordinator from Northridge. "We don't have very many accountants in here!"

BE THERE

Common Grounds, 9250 Reseda Blvd., Northridge. Monday-Thursday, 7 a.m.-midnight; Friday, 7 a.m.-1 a.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m.-1 a.m.; Sunday, 8 a.m.-midnight. Live music or other performances seven nights a week. Light meals available. (818) 882-3666.

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