Coat-rack commons

by Rob Horning

10 January 2006


I’m always surprised at those restaurants and barber shops and doctors’ offices that have coat racks where you are expected to hang your jacket, far away from where you will actually be sitting and with no one in charge of keeping an eye on it. The coat-check scheme extorts a tip for precisely that sort of protection, but these untended coat racks and closets harken to a past era, quaint and small-townish, when the public trust was such that one would’t hesitate to hang your jacket properly and politely in its given place, as though you had gone to visit one of your friends’ homes when you went to the Glendale Diner or the Country Place tavern. I don’t use them, but I’m touched by them and their promise of universal trust. Public space could once be designed with such honor-system practices in place to provide social order; it is implicit in the way things were laid out and in the infrastructure of shared terrain, and one still encounters the traces of that regime in those regions that have remain uncorporatized. Nevertheless we bring the distrusting mentality brought on by corporate/anonymous space with us: You’ll find me huddled in my parka in the restaurant, trying not to spill more coffee on it. Or I’ll be putting my coat on in the narrow aisle and brushing the arms of it against unsuspecting patrons as they are trying to drink theirs.

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