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If it’s Monday night at Nomad Cafe, it must be trivia time

on January 17, 2009


The constant swooshing of the espresso machine steamer is hushed to a lull. The chill coffee shop music is put on pause. Even the wireless Internet is shut off.

This routine only happens a few nights a week at Nomad Café, when a corner of the coffee shop—normally filled with round cushion seats for those patrons who prefer sipping their lattes on the floor rather than at a table—gets turned into a makeshift stage for live music.

But if it’s a Monday night—which it happens to be on this recent weeknight—there can be only one reason most of the attention in the café is focused not on the front counter, but on the stage: It’s trivia time!

As most of the café’s daytime customers trickle out, in come the trivia buffs who huddle around tables spread throughout the room in teams of two or four. Most folks hold quiet conversations among themselves while taking swigs from their house beers and white wine, anxiously awaiting the start of the weekly event. For the most part, however, the atmosphere is quite subdued.

Then general manager Justin Garland, one of the organizers of trivia night, walks from behind the barista bar and takes the microphone, sensing the crowd’s impatience.

“Okayyyyy,” he says, revving up his voice like an announcer. “You guys all, like, sat in the back tonight,” he continues. “I feel so lonely up here.”

His standup comic introduction is followed by an awkward silence, except for a lone regular who gives him a loud “whoo.”

But as soon as he mentions the prize for tonight’s winners—$150 cash—the crowd suddenly perks up, pens and pads ready for Round One.

Know-mad Trivia Night started off as an idea Garland, 28, and fellow employee, Terra Tice, 26, shared nearly two years ago to liven up the evenings at the coffee shop.

They had begun noticing that, on most days, business at the café would be busy during the morning hours and gradually die off during the evenings along with people’s coffee fix.

But on the nights when Nomad hosted live music, business would hold steady throughout the day, Garland said. This was not the case on Monday nights, which were about as stale as week-old baked goods.

Thus, the creation of trivia night, a game normally played at neighborhood bars (translation: another excuse to get drunk before the weekend comes). Garland assumes that most of the people who began coming to Nomad’s trivia night were in it more for the fun of the game and less for the booze.

Many of the original participants have since moved on, Garland said. But a new batch of participants—mostly in their mid-30s—have begun showing up, giving nights like last Monday that same Know-mad vibe.

And they cease to disappoint in the creative quirkiness department. They have team names such as Kate Winslet’s Two Golden Globes, Think-Pair-Share, Bangkok Phuket and Imaginary Friends, which happens to be just Dave, the only one-man team for the night.

“I love Nomad, so any excuse to come here is fine with me,” Dave, who didn’t want his last name used in this story, said as he explained his reasoning for participating in trivia night nearly every Monday.

As a book editor, it also gives him a chance to keep his literary chops fresh. He usually knows most of the trivia questions. Except he has a hard time, he reluctantly admits, during the “multimedia” round in which participants are challenged to name off a series of songs, most of which are way past 58-year-old Dave’s time.

“I assure you, as long as I’ve been a book editor,” he explained, “the most I’ve ever gotten on a multimedia round is 3 out of 10. And that was an amazing night.”

Christine Salera, 30, said she started coming to trivia night with her friends—all first-year Oakland teachers—because they decided they needed something to do at the beginning of the week. It’s also the only time of the week when she can “try to pretend I’m not teaching,” she said.

“I’m only useful for the media questions, though,” Salera said. “Other than that, I heckle my friends about anything they happen to be sensitive about.”

The questions that are asked remain challenging every week, focused mainly history and geography, thanks to the trivia knowledge of Garland, who keeps a running list of facts in a black Moleskin notebook he carries around with him.

He credits that knowledge to the liberal arts education he received from the University of Puget Sound, a small private school in Tacoma, Wash. Just don’t expect him to ask questions about what Brit Brit has been doing this week or what Jennifer Garner decided to name her baby, Garland says, because pop culture is not his forte.

He also welcomes debate among participants who, at their own risk, choose to dispute the answers to his trivia questions. That was the case Monday when he asked for the answer to the question: “What is the seventh prime number?”

The correct answer was 17, but several participants disputed that answer, claiming that the number one was not a prime number because it had no factors.

Garland then went to the judges’ table (a.k.a. his trusty laptop) and recited a textbook explanation he found on the Internet for why it was.

“And you guys are teachers?” he joked with the audience.

“We teach our children that it’s a prime,” one woman joked back.

Accepting the final answer, she eventually threw up her hands and decided to chalk up that point. “We’re leading our children astray,” she wailed with a big grin on her face.

Nothing short of a classic moment that has been the reason, Garland said, Monday nights are fun again at Nomad Café.

“It really has created this trivia community, where pretty much the same people are there week in and week out, they all know each other, they all comfort each other and poke fun at each other,” he said. “And that’s what we’ve been trying to do—build a community and get people to know each other.”


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  2. Britney Kate on June 29, 2009 at 9:07 pm

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