Late this afternoon, I was walking through the crowded shopping galleria in nearby Kichijoji, doing a little Sunday shopping, when Liz called me on my mobile phone. "Are you near a computer?" she asked. No, I wasn't, I replied. Why?
"I'm looking at the Africa webcam," she said, "and there's this huge herd of elephants there right now."
I'm the one who told her about this: a live webcam put up by the National Geographic Society, pointing at a watering hole in Botswana called Pete's Pond. Live video feed of wild African animals coming down to drink at the watering hole. People I know, including Liz, rave about the monkeys, zebras, antelope, and elephants they keep seeing. Of course, all I've ever seen is a flock of turkey-like guinea fowl and a couple of warthogs.
"Liz," I said, "it's official: I hate you."
"You gotta see it, it's so cool!" she said.
Fine fine, I says, I'll see if I can find an Internet cafe somewhere, it's sweltering out anyways and I could use the air-conditioning.
Finding an Internet cafe in the shopping district wasn't difficult; finding one that had space was. It was at the third one (a place called Popeye Media Cafe) that I found a space, after a brief wait.
Internet cafes are bit different here, as I'd forgotten: not just Internet access, but also a library of comics (manga) and magazines, video games, and DVDs, along with unlimited soft drinks from dispensers. They also try to, since there are so many of them, differentiate themselves stylistically: all three I dropped by looked differently, with this particular one going for the sleek black Blade-Runner vibe.
After a bit of pidgin communication at the front counter, it was agreed that, yes, I wanted Internet, no smoking, no massage (I assume that meant one of those fancy electric massage chairs I've seen in appliance stores, but I didn't press the issue). Only smoking seats were available, so I took that, with the counter person emphasizing the word "reclinera couple of times to be sure I understood. I was issued a receipt with the time and my booth number, and I threaded my way through the dimly lit narrow aisles (why the hell did they paint everything, including the ceiling, black?) to my booth.
Well, a cubicle, really, with a sliding door, roughly the size of a bathroom stall, painted black with brushed metal panels. Into this was fitted a table with the TV and computer (with attached stereo headset) and an honest-to-god vinyl recliner. I managed to wedge myself in and into the chair, boot up the computer, and navigate to the Africa webcam.
Naturally, most of the elephants were gone (one remained, knee-deep in the water), along with a couple of zebras. Typical. So I used my time to to do aimless web browsing, drinking some free Cokes and eating some soggy microwave french fries I bought from a vending machine.
It was when I was leaving that I figured out why the counter person kept emphasizing "recliner": one of the empty booths I passed, I noticed, did not have any seats at all. Instead, it had wall-to-wall cushions and a low table for the equipment. Whether it was for two people to get cozy or for people not used to sitting in chairs when playing video games/using computers I don't know, maybe both.
Someday I'll see these damned elephants, but not today.