Coffee and a Byte

In a sleepy little corner of Bedford, a dog the size of a Shetland pony walks his owner. Nearby, in a sunny corner of a coffeeshop, Ray Benne, master of caffeinated ceremonies at Cyber Pete's Internet Cafe, intently observes the canine vs. human tug-of-war, and wistfully recalls gentler days when the beast was a puppy.

Excitement comes in Mayberry portions at Cyber Pete's, which Benne opened three years ago in a community where the only meat market is run by a guy who wants your order, not your phone number. The big menace of this afternoon, and just about every afternoon here, is the daily passage of a minivan that thinks it's a tractor-trailer rig. Suddenly, a burst of static and disembodied voices interrupt the cultivated serenity of the coffeeshop-cum-living room.

"He has a CB powered up about three times beyond what he needs," sighs Benne, a longtime independent computer researcher and programmer, of the driver. "Every time he goes past, it overrides the radio."

One of the few coffeeshops in town that's open 24 hours on weekends, Cyber Pete's boasts four networked computers and that "sincere familial atmosphere" that Disney can only attempt to re-create with overgrown mice and dopey cow-dogs. It's easy to see why Benne describes it as "the Cheers of coffeehouses." On a Saturday night, kids lounge on a ratty sofa and cram around a tiny table for a card game. In the back, several students are lit by the warm glow of a computer monitor, sharing coffee with peers in far-off cyberspace. A singer named Tracy Marie emotes through Jewel covers, strumming an acoustic guitar, while a fiftysomething man butts heads in a chess match with a ten-year-old girl. It's a place where, engrossed in their recreation, nobody would be bothered by the multiple piercings of the guy at the next table or, for that matter, an especially loud game of bridge.

"I'm not so much the owner of a cafe as a cruise director," notes the towering Benne, who looks like he'd be more at home in the woods, ax in hand as he builds a log home from scratch. Such presence probably helps keep the patrons in line: "I haven't had to throw anybody out since

I started it."

--David Powers

Cyber Pete's Internet Cafe, 665 Broadway Avenue in Bedford, is open Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Wednesday from 6 a.m. to midnight; and Friday from 6 a.m. through Sunday at 9 p.m.

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