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Saturday, October 16, 2010

the politics of coffee

A photo of a cup of coffee.This morning, after I dropped Eliya at Moss Landing to go kayaking with a bunch of scientific minded kids, I drove to a coastal blink-of-an-eye hamlet by the freeway and entered a local cafe known for its wonderful variety of pies.

The entire weekend crowd consisted of a young dude in a funky wool cap and his laptop. He looked up and smiled when I entered. It was a good beginning. A friendly crowd of one always makes me feel welcomed. No line. Not too many people staring, making silent judgment about the way I walk and talk and dress and order...

The girl behind the counter looked busy doing something, but I wasn't sure what. I waited for a few minutes hoping she would notice me. Eventually she did and promised she'd be right with me. After several more minutes she asked me what I wanted. I asked for a cup of coffee. She motioned toward a heavy wooden dresser behind me and insinuated in some nonverbal way that I should serve myself.

I got myself a paper cup, after paying for the coffee, and started pumping coffee out of a tall thermos. The pump went dry before the cup got half way to the top. Oh, well, no rush, I thought. I picked the empty thermos and gave it to the girl. It's empty, I said.

She took it and turned to serve another woman who materialized out of nowhere. Eventually, someone came from inside the kitchen and took the empty thermos, I guess to fill it up.

I waited. In the meantime I learned about the customer's family and friends and what she thought about a bag of granola. The customer dropped a pen. I picked it up. Then waited some more. It's a small town, I thought. No rush. One customer at the counter, one sitting at the table, and no coffee. So what? We have time. People talk, bond over family ties. The dude at the table finished reading whatever he was reading on his laptop, folded everything and left. And I was still waiting. Waiting for some coffee. In a small artsy cafe at the end of the street, a block away from Starbucks.

Oh, come on, be good. Have some patience. It's the weekend. Take it easy. Everything is cool. I kept on waiting. And waiting. Suddenly something stirred inside me. Are they going to bring the coffee, I interrupted the friendly conversation that meandered next to me. Uh, I'll get it for you, the girl behind the counter said.

She disappeared into the kitchen and came back with a cup of coffee. "Let me know if you want some more," she said, as she handed me a half-filled cup.

I looked at the half-full cup (or half empty, you decide) and out of nowhere said to her that I no longer wanted any coffee. I just wanted to leave.

The woman with the granola bag got really mad at me. She insisted that I take the half-full coffee cup because that was what I wanted, right? You wanted coffee, here it is. She frowned at me and was about to start a fight to defend the honor of the girl behind the counter.

But I did not feel like getting mad at anyone. I left the artsy cafe and drove to my favorite, always busy French bakery, where the friendly woman behind the counter poured me a cup of coffee (after I handed her an empty dispenser/thermos of French Roast) and warned me to watch out because it was very hot.

And no, as you see, it was not Starbucks.

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