When the story of the Third Place is fully told, it will be what happened in the first twelve months with the Sky Reach collaboration that will be best remembered. The success of the effort was strong enough as to be almost overwhelming.  The community took to the initiative as though they had been waiting for it for years, which I suppose in many ways they had.  The past decade of lost opportunity and sense of hopelessness were quickly being replaced by a firm hope that our city was on its way back.

It was shortly after the deal had been struck with Sky Reach that Mrs. Dawson, Finn’s grandmother, died.  It was a sad time for us all.  Though her visits had become increasingly sporadic, we always treated her as part of the family.  Her house had become ours and we all understood that if it hadn’t been for her timely and remarkable generosity with Dad all those years ago that the Third Place would likely never have existed.

Mom had continued to visit Mrs. Dawson as she became more infirm and we understood she didn’t have long.  Yet her loss hit Dad especially hard.  He saw her as part of his own history, and our family’s, and with her gone there was a kind of empty space in the restaurant for him.  I think it was then that he seriously started putting plans together for retirement.

Confirmation of that came in the form of a letter directed to Finn and me on the day of our marriage, which was held in a United Church but where the reception was held at the Third Place.  It hadn’t been a lavish affair, but had been intimate and meaningful.  A few speeches were given.  Daisy’s was hilarious, as she recounted adventures from our past as young siblings.  Finn was short and to the point in his thank you.  Alessandra was there, as was Aakriti, and they joined together in wishing us good fortune going into the future.

But it was the speech shared by Mom and Dad, delivered affectionately and with clear emotion, that was the highlight of the reception.  Instead of just wishing us the best, they spoke of the deep enchantment they shared for each other and how their love had not so much survived over the decades, but adapted and grown in their lifelong journey together.  It was only then that they wished for us what they had and were still enjoying.  When Dad concluded by saying that love such as theirs required a legacy of some kind and that they had found that in Daisy, Finn, me, the Third Place and, of course, the community they loved.

It was as we were driving away after saying goodbye to everyone that Finn found on the seat of rented car an envelope that merely said, “For the two of you, when you have the time to reflect,” written in Dad’s unmistakable handwriting.  We agreed to read it later in our honeymoon, when we felt more settled, although each day it seemed to call out to us for our attention and we were at times tempted to read it on one of our excursions around San Francisco.

It was only near the end of our first week, when we cuddled up before a fire in our small chalet overlooking the ocean and hills of that great city, that we felt the time had arrived to open the envelope.  Knowing Dad, we knew it would have serious content, but also some directions for us about the restaurant.  I opened it, surprised to discover how many pages there were, and began reading out loud for both of us.

 

Hello, you two romantics.

Mom and I pretty well summed up how we feel about the two of you during the reception and it’s unlikely anything will ever change that.  We are so proud of you both.

You are now a team, not merely lovers or spouses, and it’s as a team that these thoughts are delivered to you.

To get the business out of the way first, we both want you to know that we visited our lawyer last month and set out the proper documentation for passing the Third Place over to the two of you.  Of course, Daisy is in the mix as well, but as she hasn’t fully decided on what her future will be, Mom and I will just trust both of you to do what’s right for Daisy. We depend on you fully to do the fair thing, perhaps even welcoming her in as a full partner should she ever feel the inclination to settle in with you.  We both expect that she’ll eventually arrive at that place – the Third Place.

While your Mom has remarkable resources for living in the moment and focusing her love on our family and friends, I’ve always angled towards the philosophical – you two surely know that.  My belief in Third Place has never been about making money for the family or even making something of myself.  The last couple of decades have produced a profound worry in me that something is seriously wrong in our modern life and that it is the result of democracy (people) and capitalism (money) moving too far away from one another to be of much good to struggling citizens.  It is this understanding that prompted me to start the restaurant and to design it the way I did.  But I did want to explain my concerns a bit further so that you can lead the Third Place to a point where it can begin to heal the wounds between democracy and money. I hope you understand what I’m about to put down here.

It seems almost unheard of to think of capitalism and the democratic state being at such odds with one another, but that is indeed what we have at present. We believed these two great entities would be mutually reinforcing – a complementary partnership that would better determine how money and power should be distributed.  It is now clear that, in recent decades at least, we were wrong.

I think we all failed to understand that democracy moves its dynamic horizontally, whereas capitalism always was tempted to distribute its wealth vertically, creating haves and have-nots.  It was a tension that has been going on between the two systems since their inception and fledgling partnership, but it is now apparent that, with the greatest concentrations of wealth nested with the top one percent and citizenship itself in disarray, that capitalism has vanquished democracy, severed the partnership, and moved on its own destructive course.

I have watched in America, and to a lesser degree here in Canada, as those with wealth – businesses, individuals, even countries – have poured their wealth into the legislative process in order to purchase it outright, at the expense of citizens and their dreams.  This dynamic has been what has created such despair in communities like our own.

There are far more corporate lobbyists in the world’s political capitals than there are legislators.  Money no longer needs to be in competition with democracy anymore, since it can just buy the entire system outright.  We have descended to the point where we now have pay-to-play governments.  The world’s political capitals once served to balance the interests and tensions between citizens and corporations, but now the very nature of politics has become a mere extension of capitalism itself.  By permitting money into the very sinews of politics, it has created a virtual political market, where political agendas are all up for sale.

Since financial markets have been waging a subtle war against democracy for decades, citizens themselves no longer know where to turn for leadership.  To the financial industry with all of its remote billionaires?  Or to democracy with its equally out of touch elites?  Either way, citizens lose, and because of their own greed and desire for more, more, more, they lack the true understanding of their own power to change the world for the better – and for all.

So where, then – where can they turn to see capitalism and democracy actually work together, mutually strengthening the other, and creating wealth and accountability in the process?  I didn’t know the answer, and so I set about to create a solution – the Third Place.

I think to the surprise of everyone, it actually worked.  The wealth we earned there was turned back into creating a democratic experience and treated our customers primarily as citizens and not mere consumers.  The secret to our success wasn’t in the design but in the hearts of our customers – struggling, decent, but often worried people who yearn for a better way. Not necessarily a journey back to the past, but a step in the direction of economic justice.

We can never rely on business to provide platforms for our discourse because the Commons itself, the public space, no longer exists, but must be created again, not digitally, but with flesh and blood and longing and justice and with equality.

This is why our community, our world, really requires the two of you right now, because you both understand the stakes.  If capitalism has triumphed over democracy, creating a new age of political powerlessness and economic want in the process, then the only path ahead is to work towards reversing that process – not to put one over the other, but to place them in their proper partnership, side by side.

For that to happen there must be those places where such an arrangement is practiced, shared, and empowered.  That is what the Third Place has become.  I never started out to create a successful business but a shared experience and we – all of us – have done it.  I ask only that you keep these expectations in mind as you move forward as the new proprietors of one of the finest restaurants we could have conceived.  It is yours now to shape even further, to include more ideals, and for you to become leaders of a new democracy.  I can’t think of anyone better equipped to take that journey and it’s in that understanding that Mom and I pass you the torch.

 

I look at these words now, years later, and realize that Finn, Daisy and I have become the embodiment of a dream – a democratic vision of a better place.  The pairing of Sky Reach with the Third Place has been emulated around the world, mostly driven by Aakriti’s remarkable resource of wealth.  We chose not to franchise the restaurant and kept it just as it was: the original stepping stone to a new marriage between capitalism and democracy.  The lineups to get in are longer than ever and the work is hectic, but we are always aware that this was the birthplace of a new way of being and we have chosen to spend our lives there.

As Dad predicted, Daisy joined us following a brief stint in Britain.  Her task is to run the restaurant, while Finn oversees the linkages to Sky Reach.  My responsibility remains the management of our financial estate.

And Mom and Dad?  While usually here with us, they spend five months each year in the Old World – Greece, Italy, France and Britain.  There are times during the day when I picture them in my head walking the Ponte Vecchio bridge in Florence or traipsing the Cairngorms in Scotland, always holding hands and always looking to the future.

They deserve all of it because it was on that one fateful stormy night that they invited a stranger in who just happened to be a business genius, showed wonderful hospitality, and then went on to partner together to create a new kind of economy.  And through those efforts our city was reborn in the process – a quiet life had changed a community.  All this because in that magic place between work and home, a more refined citizenship is still possible, still waiting to be rediscovered.

 

Thank you for taking some time to read the Third Place.  If you wish to acquire a copy, it is available in paperback ($6.99) here, or in a free digital download version that can be read on all devices here.