Ah, spring is here and sidewalk cafés are again blooming across America! Some of my friends are thrilled at this seasonal turn. I am not.

My memories of outdoor dining skew toward the mildly traumatic. Such excursions often begin with companions who all but squeal “Let’s sit outside!” Confronted with such enthusiasm, it’s hard to argue for an indoor seat, and if I do I’m accused of being a troglodyte and killjoy. Enduring a long, silent, and pouty indoor meal is never fun, so I usually capitulate and go outside. Thus I leave the comfort of civilized shade and air-conditioning, and take my seat in the petting zoo set aside for masticating humans.

Wayne Curtis is a contributing editor to The Atlantic and the author of And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails.

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On Virginia’s Eastern Shore, in the middle of a patchy square of lawn that fronts a fading seaside motel, a plywood sign emblazoned with orange spray-paint letters announces the motel’s latest amenity: free Wi-Fi. A continent away, in the gray outer reaches of San Francisco, in a part of town where tiny, dingy laundromats outnumber Starbucks by a ratio of about five to zero, the tiniest, dingiest laundromat in the neighborhood displays a similar notice in its smudgy front window. This sign is fashioned from laser paper rather than plywood, but the slapdash aesthetic and straightforward message are the same: free Wi-Fi.

 

In between these two down-market outposts of communitarian idealism, approximately 42,361 other establishments — including a truck stop in Gila Bend, Arizona; the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky; and the oldest strip club in… More…